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Fireplace Demo and Remodel Part 3

Fireplace Demo and Remodel Part 1

Fireplace Demo and Remodel Part 2

It’s been weeks (almost months!) since my hubby started our fireplace demo and renovation. This home improvement project included the demo of the existing mantel, reinforcing the 2×4’s behind the sheetrock which was replaced with hardy board then recovered with ledger stone. It has proven to be one of the biggest we’ve taken on and definitely took longer than we expected. Aside from expanding the scope of this home improvement, Steve made several changes behind the scenes (wiring, installation of tubing behind the fireplace for ease of changing wires in the future then scratched that idea) before he could continue with the final steps of adding the stone.

Once the stonework began, it was a slow process. We chose a stone color (glacier white) in which prepared corners were sold. We thought this would speed up the “brick laying” process. The corners give a very nice finish to the edges but they were more difficult to work with when the layers of stone didn’t line up with the firebox and tv enclosure openings. The corners (affixed with a metal bracket) had to be cut horizontally. In the long run, they served their purpose beautifully but cutting them made for slow and challenging progress.

The prepared corner pieces sold with the Ledger Stone had nice, finished edges giving a professional look to the corners.

In addition, the stones were so heavy only three feet could be glued at a time in order to ensure that the stones did not fall or shift before the mortar holding them to the wall dried.

Due to its weight, stone could only be added up to three feet at a time.

Building a wood frame inside the firebox opening as well as the tv enclosure proved to be an ingenious way to provide a solid edge in which to align the ledger stone and add additional support as stones were added above. Using blue painter’s tape provided a great surface to prevent the mortar from drying to the wood frame. The wood frames were removed as the project progressed clearly revealing smooth edges. We really weren’t sure how this “trick” would work and we both were relieved to find that the edges were perfectly even and the wood detached without a trace.

The wood frame built inside of the firebox and tv enclosure proved invaluable for straight edges.

Working around his full-time job and not wanting to feel rushed (and potentially making mistakes), the hubs made like the tortoise at a slow and steady pace. In the end, it paid off. Each row of stone is straight, level, and perfectly placed.

You may be able to see in some of the original photos that there was a tv cabinet to the right of the fireplace. We decided to remove that cabinet and subsequently removed the shelving to the left of the fireplace as well. The final, FINAL phase of this project will include can lighting centered above the space to the left and right of the fireplace (which Steve is wiring as I type); and symmetrical “floating” shelves that will give more of a modern flair. The walls and ceiling will be repainted to tie it all together.

I will post FINAL before and after photos to show the changes made but for now I’m posting the final photo of our newly completed stone fireplace. Completed just in time as the temps dropped in North Texas recently and we really needed the use of the fireplace to keep the living room/kitchen area feeling comfortable.

We learned a lot throughout this process including the fact that if our house is ever hit by a tornado all the extra LAN cables/speaker wires/random cables hidden in the walls will likely hold the house up. But our main takeaways are as follows:

  • Although there are no grout joints, ledger stone requires precise positioning to keep rows level.
  • Working with ledger stone requires patience and plenty of time to allow the mortar to dry before building too high.
  • Building a wooden frame created a perfect edge and extra support.
  • Finishing the inside of the tv box with wall compound (all the way to the outer edge of stone) and painting it white gave a smooth, professional look to the overall enclosure.
  • The final product is beautiful and totally worth all the effort.

What do you think? Are you a fan of the traditional fireplace or the new and improved one?

What’s the largest home improvement project you’ve attempted?


Polish Pottery Shopping in Boleslawiec, Poland

Boleslawiec, Poland, has long been known to American military wives as the city for Polish pottery. Within driving distance of many of the bases in Germany, it is a favorite destination for overnight bus trips and Girls’ Weekends Away.

My first trip to Poland was with the USO somewhere back in 2002. For approximately $80 each, my friends and I boarded a bus in early evening, watched movies, talked, and laughed-until-we-cried while the bus driver drove over 8 hours to Boleslawiec. After a short nap, we disembarked one after another at the popular shops donning colorful Polish pottery. Our pockets were full of German Francs, American dollars and even some zloty for those of us who had time to plan for the currency exchange. No Visa (or any credit card, for that matter) was accepted. Even then, with plates, teapots, baking pans, and serving utensils, spread out across dirt floors, the selection was overwhelming. The stores were rudimentary but the experience was memorable.

Decorative pieces of Polish pottery are in abundance in Boleslawiec.

On my next trip, my friends and I drove. Why pay the increasing cost of the bus when that cut into our shopping money? Still, the drive was brutal. Crossing the boarder was ominous with seemingly miles and miles of 18-wheelers clogging the lanes. But we mapped the route including the last gas station accepting military gas coupons at the border and braved the traffic. We talked the entire trip (well, likely I talked the entire trip!) and 8 hours flew by.

The most obvious sign that we had arrived were the enormous potholes dotting the roads. We often joked that we could get stranded if we hit one of the “sinkholes”. Often, we arrived late in the night and I would white-knuckle it to our hotel not wanting an encounter with the police. Rumors were abundant of Americans being stopped and bribed by the police or cars being stolen right out from store fronts. But I always packed plenty of candy and sodas for the children loitering around the shops. A few pieces of candy went far in exchange for watching my vehicle. When I ran out of sweets, a few American coins did the trick. The children were thrilled to show off the few words of English in their vocabulary; despite their dirty and sad condition.

Change given during a recent shopping trip in Poland.

On one of our early excursions, my girlfriend, Kellie, and I had invited our teen daughters along. Arriving after midnight, our Bed and Breakfast owner had already gone to sleep and did not respond to our knocks at such a late hour. We returned to Kellie’s minivan truly perplexed on what to do. We were exhausted from the long drive and it was bitterly cold outside. Driving around and around looking for another hotel in which to stop, it soon became clear that we may have to sleep in our car that night; something neither of us had packed for nor considered an option in the past. It was close to one o’clock in the morning and our girls were shaken. We tried to put on a brave front but both of us were at a loss on how to handle the situation. A police car pulled behind us and put on its lights. Relieved and terrified all at once, I pulled to the curb and put on my strongest face.

“I noticed you have been driving for a while. Do you need help?” He spoke English! We tried to hide our enthusiasm still unsure whether he deserved our trust.

“Yes sir. We had rooms at a bed and breakfast but we arrived after hours.” I had pointed over my shoulder towards the direction we had come despite the fact that the bed and breakfast was several miles back.

“I know of a hotel not too far up the road. Would you like me to take you there?” We were breathing a sigh of relief while squelching visions of axe murderers and body snatchers. One of the girls in the backseat was visibly crying. I was shaking my head as if we really had any choice. Carefully making a u-turn in the dimly lit road, I followed the police car into the parking lot of a hotel we had already past but had refused to stop. A huge, bald man looking like someone out of a horror movie stood on the porch, arms crossed. The officer stepped out of his patrol car, said a word to the burley man then headed into the establishment. We sat in the car arguing if and which of us should get out. The officer reappeared and approached the driver’s window in which I rolled down.

“They have a room for you.” Pointing to the oversized biker who still hadn’t taken his eyes off of us, the police officer added, “It’s okay. He’s security. He will show you where to park your car in the secure lot.” Well, if this guy doesn’t kill me, my husband will when he hears what we’ve done. I obediently drove the van into the lot, removed our overnight bags, and followed the man back to the front of the hotel. “Goodnight,” he called after us after taking up his post again.

We went straight to our room, fell into our beds, and promptly left the place without breakfast in the morning. On our drive home, I vaguely remember us making a pact to never share the story with anyone… especially our husbands. However, we made many return trips and never experienced anything remotely as fearful; but of course, we were pro’s by then.

Typical European breakfast of rolls, deli meats, cheeses, and jams.

Generally, the hotels were/are quaint and affordable. Most had (have) onsite restaurants serving the family’s finest Polish delicacies. The European breakfast spread of “brotchen”, deli meats, cheeses, and jams were always a favorite. Hard-boiled eggs were an occasional treat. I’ll never forget the morning, the owner of the hotel in which we stayed came out to greet us at breakfast and asked how we ate our eggs. When I answered that I normally ate scrambled eggs, he asked how we do that. Good-naturally, I explained how I cook my eggs happy to expound on his knowledge of American culture. Before I realized what was happening, he promised to make me scrambled eggs and whisked off towards the kitchen. In minutes, he brought back a surprise. My friends and I were touched that he was so excited to make us feel at home with his first attempt at eggs “American-style”. We stayed at his hotel each visit to Boleslawiec thereafter; often recounting that story to other friends.

During my excursions I would learn to meticulously select pieces labeled with a “1” sticker indicating that the piece had been inspected and no flaws were found. Other labels, “2’s” and “3’s” could be acceptable for decorations only. The highest quality is imperative for oven bakeware needing to withstand the heat of the oven,. The most unique pieces were stamped with “unikat” indicating that the item was hand-painted. Originally, most were painted with shaped sponges and few “unikat” patterns were available. Since then, many new designs have been added. Often, the design is a reflection of the store/manufacturer and avid shoppers are able to identify from where it was made simply by the colors and patterns.

Beautiful honey pot still donning zloty price tag.

Signed logo of unikat wax melter.

This unique lasagne pan has handles, an added bonus when lifting the weight of the ceramic and its contents from the oven.

It wasn’t until years later, after upwards of 20 trips to Poland, that I learned many Polish people have never seen the popular hand-made ceramics made in their country. It was move-in day for us in Germany (again!) and I cautioned the Polish movers to be very careful with my Polish pottery. Pointing to the English written on the oversized boxes, the Polish mover said in a thick accent, “Americans love this Polish pottery but I have never seen.” I laughed at the irony and asked him if they would like to see my collection. He nodded affirmatively. Slicing the tape, we pulled out piece after piece, unwrapping the paper and setting them on a nearby table.

“You do not use Polish pottery at your house?” I asked him to be clear that we weren’t having a miscommunication. Several of the movers stood around examining the goods. They all indicated that they had never seen it before.

“It is so heavy. The Americans love it, but Polish people do not use this.” They brought in several more boxes of the heavy kitchenware relieved to have it safely delivered. I was dumbfounded.

Many things have changed in Boleslawiec, Poland. The roads have been paved. Stores are cleaner; the wares sit on shelves. Clean bathrooms have been added. The children are in school. And Visa is now accepted (for a fee). Tours are given of the manufacturing facilities and artists can be seen painting many beautiful designs. Numerous restaurants have opened to serve visitors traditional foods.

The fabulous Opalkowa Chata Restaurant serves delicious traditional Polish food to weary shoppers and locals alike.

The beautiful front lawn of the Opalkowa Chata Restaurant.

All these years later, I still use many of my original Polish pottery dishes. As a matter of fact, I can count on one hand the number of pieces that have broken. I’ve added to my collection and love to display it in my home. In my experience, Polish pottery cooks evenly; it cleans easily; and it is beautiful. The perfect combination for any kitchen. Every time I use them, I am reminded of the wonderful people of Poland working so hard to outsmart poverty. I am happy to have done my part.

If you’re interested in learning more about Polish pottery and online shopping, check out these (unaffiliated) links:

Pottery from Poland

Polish Pottery House

Trip Advisor

Na Zdrowie!

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Why My Boys Cleaned Toilets and My Girls Mowed the Lawn

I’m a girl. My husband is a boy. There are things that I do better than him. And there are plenty of things that he does better than me. That doesn’t mean he’s lesser and I’m greater or vice versa. But as a team, we get the job done.

In our home, our children were required to do daily chores including (but not limited to) washing dishes, vacuuming/sweeping floors, taking out the trash, and mowing the lawn. Chores were assigned based on age and ability (not “willingness”) and were expected to be done in a timely manner. I never came behind them to “fix” or complete their chores. If their task wasn’t done to my expectation, I would explain/demonstrate accordingly then require them to try again (sometimes with my help as necessary). This exercise taught me just as much about patience and diligence as it taught them good cleaning habits.

One thing we never did was differentiate the chores based on gender. Bathrooms were divided (or as they got older, alternated) amongst the children. Lawn mowing, pulling weeds, or cleaning up the dog poop was shared by all.

My children will attest to disliking this plan; but I’m convinced it taught them many things. Most of all, they learned:

  1. Skill and practicality. Someone needed to clean the bathrooms and mow the lawn. When my children were young, I was blessed to have weekly help. The deep cleaning was done by someone who was not chasing after the children or teaching them to read. Anyone who has raised even one child understands the sheer exhaustion from changing diapers, shuffling kids to play dates, and keeping up with doctor appointments, grocery shopping, and the routine tasks that just seem to pop up every day. However, I distinctly remember walking into my kids’ bathroom one day to find toothpaste smudged in the sink and dirty clothes strewn about. When I asked the child to whom the clothes belonged to put them in the hamper, he responded, “Why? Bianca will be here tomorrow. She will clean it up.” That night as I discussed my day with the hubs, we decided that Bianca would need to seek employment elsewhere. We were not raising pampered kids. At times, this required me to stop what I was doing to show them how to do a task; but usually after a short demonstration, they could finish.
  2. Discipline. As a family, we’ve traveled to many wonderful places, met great people, and experienced much of the world. But it was very important that my children understand that discipline does not come from fun but hard work. At some point, they would need to fly the coup and I was determined to ensure their success. I also learned discipline in teaching not just taking over.
  3. Empathy. My boys may never need to clean toilets as adults; but they will be able to appreciate and relate with whomever is cleaning their toilets. The same goes for the girls. If they have no need to run the mower as an adult they will remember the hot, muggy summer days in which they struggled with a machine that didn’t always run properly or go the direction in which they forced it.

My daughter, Micah, recently told me a story from her days as a manager of a local movie theatre. Two teen girls had just been hired as ushers whose duties included doing bathroom checks. Anything out of order in the bathroom was their responsibility to wipe down, pick up, or sweep. They lasted just one evening because they refused to “clean” the bathroom. We laughed remembering how Micah, on a different occasion, had been the only one willing to clean up vomit after a sick patron. The task was simply to pour disinfectant powder over the mess, allow it to dry up, then vacuum it up. Definitely not glamorous; but, ultimately, earned her a promotion.

If doling out chores sounds harsh, perhaps it is. But I am pleased to say that as adults my “kids” have no problem doing whatever it takes to get the job done; and I attribute that to being conditioned to work from a young age. I’m not talking slave labor. They had lots of playground time, birthday parties, and field trips to entertain them; but not until after the work was complete.

Crochet Equals Productive Relaxation

Crochet is defined as using a single (shepherd’s) hook to interlock loops to create fabric. I would go one step further and change the word fabric to work of art, clothing, or other textile product. Limiting the definition to fabric implies that one must then take the fabric and use it to construct something new when in fact the end result of crochet is the constructed item itself: a sweater, scarf, or baby blanket. The possibilities are (almost) limitless. I have an entire collection of Pinterest pins of free-form crochet stuffed animals I plan to tackle one day.

I have crocheted all my life. As the story goes, my mother taught me to crochet because she didn’t know what else to do with me. Apparently, I was a busybody from birth and crocheting kept my little hands and the rest of me still long enough to give my mother a little bit of sanity. I heard her laughingly say that numerous times throughout my childhood; but, I couldn’t appreciate the humor until I became a mother myself. I can honestly say that all of my children learned to crochet at some point in their lives. It’s a mom sanity-saver for sure!

As a tot, I remember circling our home in tiny loops of yarn. I made chain necklaces, bracelets, and belts for my siblings and other family members. Eventually, the entire house became ensnared in brightly colored, acrylic yarn. But I distinctly remember one day watching my mother crochet intricate pink roses and realizing that I wanted to do “real” crochet. Alas, I had grown bored of making simple loops. It was then that I learned the single crochet. Oh, the glory of it. Now I was living! Sitting in our living room, my mother busy with her silver hook and mercerized cotton, the high of feeling grown up and crocheting like my mother enveloped me. (I am grinning from ear to ear thinking of it even now.)

Red #10 mercerized cotton thread

To this day, I carry a small bag of yarn, needle, and (maybe) a pattern, pretty much everywhere I go. When I pack for a vacation or weekend away, a crochet project is usually selected first and set aside before any other bags are filled. My kids have taken to calling me the bag lady and I proudly own it. Rarely do I go anywhere without a project to work on just in case I find myself sitting, idly waiting for soccer to end, drama practice to get out or my hubby to leave the office. But mostly, because, crocheting is one of the things I love to do most.

Recently, I followed a woman around Costco because her sweater was so unique and I just knew it was crocheted. When I finally got up the nerve to ask her about it (well, actually, it became apparent that she noticed me stalking her), she proudly confessed to hand-making it. We had the best convo about the stitches she used and how long it took her while our husbands shyly looked on with the same embarrassed expression on their faces.

Crocheting acts as a mental stimulant. I often crochet as I think through the next chapter of my novel, blog post, or other projects. Somehow when my hands are busy, my brain thinks more clearly. Ideas seem to flow more freely. I am now in the habit of grabbing a pen and notepad before sitting down with my yarn and needle to quickly jot down a thought or add to my Things-To-Do before the thought has a chance to get away from me.

Crocheting is relaxing. Perhaps it’s the rhythmical production of stitches or the action of simply sitting in a world where not “doing” anything is frowned upon. There is something about actively relaxing that soothes the body and the soul. I’m sure someone, somewhere has researched this and agrees.

Crocheting gives the satisfaction of creating something from nothing. I love wearing my hand-made sweaters, shawls, boleros, scarves, ear warmers and fingerless gloves. They are uniquely me, made by me. The colors are chosen to match my wardrobe; even the yarn is a reflection of the textures I enjoy.

I am now toying with my own crochet designs in which I hope to share. If you’ve never learned to crochet, there are many online tutorials. I’ve linked a couple below. Using only one hooked needle, crochet tends to be easier to learn for some. But like anything, it will take practice. Give it a try; you may find you like it.

Learn to crochet with Naztazia.

Learn to crochet with The Spruce

Stay tuned for new patterns and ideas to inspire you!

Fireplace Demo and Remodel Part 2


Fireplace Demo and Remodel Part 1

By the end of Day 1 of our fireplace improvement, I was feeling pretty good. The mantel and tiles came up pretty easily with minimum dust and mess. Fortunately, the tile (tucked under the wood “lip”) came out smoothly with gentle prodding.
By 9pm the debris had been cleared up, the floor swept and vacuumed, and the hole around the firebox was covered in plastic. The trash men are not going to like us this week. We’ve already filled one can full and the mantel pieces were unsalvageable.

Steve muttered more than once, “I can’t believe you trust me to tear up the living room right before Christmas.” The thought had crossed my mind. The sincere truth is that I have every bit of confidence that I’ll love the final product. (Steve did mention that if the stone is not fully installed by the time our kids arrive for Christmas morning, he’ll make sure the concrete wall looks good and the tv is mounted. LOL!)

On the morning of Day 2, I awoke before the sun with visions of critters crawling down through the flue and into my living room. Since I’m not a morning person, especially on Saturday mornings, Steve chuckled over my anxiety. We lay there pondering the day’s work until we officially declared ourselves old and hopped out of bed before 0700.

The living room hadn’t changed. The plastic covering the exposed framing was still there. Better yet, there wasn’t a squirrel, possum, or other creepy crawly anywhere in sight. Steve wasn’t worried about intruders but it seemed he was mulling over the tv wiring and how to create a permanent opening from the tv and into the adjacent cabinet allowing for future wire changes.

After breakfast, he grabbed his tools and went to work. Four hours of cutting, popping, and delicately trimming out the molding proved successful. All the drywall was gone along with the crown molding along the ceiling and to the right and left of the protruding fireplace wall.

To avoid additional patchwork later on, Steve was very precise in scoring the drywall along an existing 2×4 to prepare it to break where he needed. Amazingly, no tears occurred in the paper and by the close of operations that day, the entire front of the fireplace was gone along with small segments of the sides.

Day 3 was more of the same completing the demo of the sides. We took a trip to the store to come up with a plan for the wires. Once the fireplace is covered with stones, it will be a challenge to make any changes to the existing tv mount and wiring. After studying prepackaged wiring kits that contained mostly parts that would go unused, Steve settled on a plastic electrical box and plastic pipe that would be affixed behind the tv mount and run behind the stone into a side cabinet which would house the tivo box along with a DVD player. The plastic pipe will allow wires to be inserted and/or removed easily.

Later, he screwed the new tv mount to the existing studs to determine the correct height. He found that more studs would be needed to support the weight of the television. I laughed, “I see your priority.”

So far we’ve invested about 12 hours into this project. Steve is trying to eliminate additional fixes at the end which is why he’s moving slowly and being intentional about where he cuts the drywall.

The fireplace is out of commission and completely covered to keep out the cold.

It appears I’ll be looking at this plastic covered wall into Christmas as he’s ordered new Cat 6 wire to connect the tivo box downstairs to the main tivo upstairs. He also wants to run speaker wire from the fireplace to the existing speakers in the ceiling. He promises that he’s busy thinking it through despite the lack of forward progress.

In the meantime, I’m cleaning, wrapping, and prepping for Christmas; and trying not to look at the fireplace. It’s safe to say, this year I will be strategically staging our Christmas photos!

Or maybe not. I overheard my kids talking about past years. It’s amazing the things they remember. I guess, Christmas 2017 will be no different. I can hear them now, “Remember that year Dad tore out the fireplace and Mom kept telling us to scoot over so she didn’t get the plastic, cardboard, and wood framing in the photos?”

Stay tuned for the final update after the holidays.

Merry Christmas, everybody!!

Fireplace Demo and Remodel Part 1

It’s Christmas, and true to the history of my marriage, my hubby is prepping for the annual (no, semi-annual; well, actually, it’s more like quarterly) home renovation. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate what he does. But during the holidays? Really?!

A few years back, I ran out for a bit of last minute shopping on Christmas Eve. The Christmas ham was thawing in the refrigerator; desserts were cooling on the table; and the sides were waiting to be whipped up in the morning. When lo’ and behold, I returned to dress for Christmas Eve candlelight service only to find my kitchen ripped to shreds, boxes of supplies unloaded in the foyer, and the tile saw set up in the garage. I was speechless. Steve innocently responded, “I told you I was going to install a backsplash.” Of course you are!

Apparently I had missed the part of the conversation where the repairs would start on the night before company arrived.

I’ve come to expect when he’s off work, some kind of renovation will be going on.

This year is no different. Except I’ve planned for the chaos.

In Steve-the-tool-man fashion, he was itching for a project. We settled on updating our fireplace; it seemed that the mantle was a little high for the new television that he had picked up on Black Friday.

We’ve spent the past few weeks wandering through the local home improvement stores searching for the right stone and marble. Steve has researched and watched tutorials. He has studied our fireplace to determine the best course of action and the demolition starts tonight.

We (actually, I mean, HE) will be pulling down the existing mantel, removing the existing tiles around the fireplace and floor, then ripping down the sheetrock.

Next step, concrete board (needed to support the weight of the stone) will be screwed to the fireplace frame and a new tv mount installed.

The materials to be used are glacier split ledger stone with a coordinating marble. This stone color is available with prefab corners but with the metal reinforcement holding the corner pieces together, we’re slightly concerned that the corners will be thicker. Perhaps with a thin layer of mud in the crevice and a thicker layer towards the outer edges we’ll be able to float and level each one so that they are flush with the straight pieces.

Hardwood floor lip over tile.

Another concern is our newly refinished hand-scraped wood floors. A “lip” was installed over the edge of the existing tile; we’re hoping to be able to pull the old tile out without damaging the wood. If that works then the new marble potentially will slide back under the “lip” neatly.

Extra stone and marble are on hand for mess-ups, breakage, and color matching.

The big debate whether or not to convert the existing gas fireplace to remote start. I don’t like starting the fire with a lighter (granted the long-stem candle lighter works just fine). I’d much rather flip a switch to fire it up. It appears that the switch kit will be about $500 so hubby is trying to decide if it’s worth it. I say, yes.

Bring on the sledgehammer and let’s get this party started!

Have a Crafty, Creative Christmas!

Gift giving is my love language. Not to impress others. Not to “buy” love. But sincerely because I enjoy seeing  the reaction a little act of kindness can bring. So it goes without saying that Christmas is my favorite holiday.

I’m an artsy-fartsy kinda’ person. I love to roam craft fairs for unique gifts and products. I recently had the pleasure of volunteering at the local high school bazaar and thoroughly enjoyed perusing the wares after my shift. Booths of handmade jewelry, soaps, lotions, silk scarves, boutique novelties… the list goes on and on.

I usually leave these events with new ideas swimming around in my head. But I scored several items I couldn’t reproduce myself. I had never seen The Original MakeUp Eraser but a certain son of mine no doubt will jump right up to wash his face when he finds this in his stocking on Christmas morning. He doesn’t wear makeup but I figured if this rag can clear out foundation and pressed powder then surely it can handle the oily buildup on the face of a teen guy. I’ll let you know if he’s as excited as I’m hoping (but also if he thinks it cleans as well as they say!)

I’ll be crocheting washcloths to go with the homemade soaps I picked up. You know, for my hairdresser, our post lady, and my favorite gal at the nail salon. Wrapped in ribbon, they’re an easy and affordable gift for those I want to give an extra Thanks! during the holidays.

Jess & Jules’ booth sucked me right in with their feminine sign. Soft, velvet lace, and flowers sent my fingers flying over the delicate racks of adorable blouses and dresses. They even had a handy, mobile dressing room available for try-ons. Both ladies donned their boutique favorites and were helpful with suggestions and colors. I found an elegant eggplant blouse perfect for a night out; and I’m not ashamed to say I bought myself an early Christmas gift!

But as I browsed all the tempting goodies at the fair, I was reminded of a gift from years past.

THE. Best. Gift. Ever.

In college, my husband’s grandmother made us money trees. Miniature Christmas trees decked with magnolias, ribbon, and a whole-lotta folded Andrew Jacksons dangling from the branches. Who could go wrong with this gift? Our faces were priceless; and it was a well-needed, well-used gift.

Grandma Chris and her impressionable Christmas trees.

So this year, I’m making my own version of the money tree and I know the recipients won’t re-gift it after the holidays! I spent a few dollars on supplies but it makes for a fun and creative way to give cash.

This idea isn’t just for Christmas. Money trees can be given all year for any occasion. They can be adapted for the person and situation. They can be real or fake, wooden, or paper. Let your imagination run wild. You’ll want to record the reaction; but don’t forget to decorate it with something they can (literally) take to the bank.

What about you? Are you better at giving or receiving? What gifts will you be handing out this year? What was YOUR best gift ever? Share your ideas in the comments.

Assembling my Christmas money trees.


Dreams and Determination

From the time I could read and write I wanted to be an author. Four feet tall with a pencil and notepad, I wrote observations, quotes, and even interviewed friends and family with a make-believe microphone in my hand. I meticulously practiced my autograph for all my adoring fans.

I joined the Young Author’s Club in elementary school and jumped at the chance to attend the annual conference at the local university. Enthusiasm oozed through my veins. I was a pint-sized girl with a lot of pizzazz. As a Young Author club member, I toiled over my story complete with laminated cover and title page. My mother had just sewn me a cute spring dress with cotton fabric riddled with bright red strawberries. I proudly used the leftover fabric to complete the decor for my book cover.

When the weekend of the Young Author’s Conference arrived, some of my confidence and resolve had worn away. Timid and afraid, I entered the classroom and slipped into a chair right up front. My floppy book lay atop the cream-colored surface of the table in front of my dangling legs. The guest author introduced himself and, before I knew what was happening, had picked up my book and flipped through it.

“What do the red strawberries on the front cover have to do with the story?” They didn’t have anything to do with it. I had simply used the supplies available. “You’ll never be a writer.” I heard him say. I sat dumbfounded wishing I could disappear into my seat.

For the life of me I can’t figure why he would say those words to a child. But I never forgot them.

I’ve had the opportunity to do and be a part of many cool things over the years; but I never wrote another story. I tried but fear crippled me.

Thirty-some years later, I came across the “shameful” strawberry-clad storybook. In surprise and trepidation, I opened the cover and read its contents. There was the title page with my glorious signature. But when I reached the last page, I had to laugh. The story really was horrible. It didn’t make sense. Much older and wiser, I have to speculate that my version of the encounter in the classroom was skewed somehow. But the truth is: writing takes work. I needed to hone my trade. Flex my proverbial (finger) muscles.

Now here I am all these years later, rolling up my sleeves. Determined. Ready. Pen in hand (well, actually hands on keyboard), ready to do the thing that has terrorized me for years.

What about you? Do you have a dream you’ve let fall by the wayside? Could now be the time to take the bull by the horns?

This is me, following my dream, in this crazy thing called life. I hope you’ll join me.

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