Blog Like Crazy 2020 – Lessons Learned

Well…. I did it!  I blogged every single day of November 2020 and I lived to write about it! 

This yearly writing challenge was created by Javacia Harris Bowser of See Jane Write, a networking group for women bloggers, writers and entrepreneurs.  I’ve been a member of this group since I got started blogging six years ago and I’ve loved the information and camaraderie it provides. 

This is my fourth year to #bloglikecrazy.  I skipped last year but wanted to do the challenge this year to get my head back into writing.  It’s a definitely a head game for me.  Each time, after a few days of the challenge, I start to look at everything as a possible story. 

This year, I also did a lot of pre-planning.  I started writing my story ideas in my trusty notebook and the list grew rather long during the month of October.  I also went through my photos to pre-select the ones to accompany each post.  For me, my posts are about the photography as much as the writing.  I always want to be able to include the perfect photos to help me tell the stories I’m sharing.  I love being able to combine my photography with my writing.

For the first week and a half of #bloglikecrazy, I had posts pre-written and my pre-selected photographs all set to go along with them.  I scheduled the posts and was so proud of myself for planning ahead.  But before I knew it, I was out of prescheduled posts and I was struggling a bit to think of meaningful things to write about.  The ideas I had come up with in October either didn’t resonate with me for the challenge or I just wasn’t ready to write about them just yet.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll write about these topics eventually but several require a little more research and time so they are on the back burner for now. 

Then I realized something…sometimes ideas can come to you in the craziest places.  It was a Friday night and I was heading home from work when my husband texted me to ask if I would stop and get him a burger.  He had just had a chainsaw accident and couldn’t drive so of course, I said I would.  While in the drive thru, I was thinking about Eddie and his accident and looking through our text messages when the incident occurred.  Reading through the messages, they struck me as rather amusing.  Yes, the accident was serious, but both of our responses were typical “us.”  As I read through them, I thought – this is what I’m going to write about tonight!  When I got home, I poured myself a tall glass of wine, opened up my laptop and in a matter of twenty minutes I had the story written.  Then I added few photos added from my iPhone (nothing graphic!) and the post was done! 

That Friday night I felt like I turned a corner and writing became easier for me for the rest of the month.  It was a great feeling and over that weekend, I once again was able to write and finish posts for the upcoming week and get them scheduled.  I think the biggest lesson for me this time was to actually schedule time to write and stick to it.  In previous years, I was easily distracted and let other things get in my way and then I would be scrambling at the last minute.  I didn’t let that happen this year. I realized that nothing in my life was as urgent as I was making it out to be and I could take time for myself to write. 

I’m always grateful for the #bloglikecrazy challenge when I complete it and this year is no exception.  It has given me the push I’ve needed to do more, try more and accomplish more.  Thank you for issuing this challenge, Javacia!  I’m so grateful!

Postponing My Annual Cookie Swap Party

Cookies from my 19th Annual Cookie Swap Party in 2019.

This is not something I thought I would have to do this year.  But I had to cancel my annual cookie swap party on December 7th.  This would have been my 20th year and is something I really look forward to each year.  I always spend the weekend after Thanksgiving getting my home decorated and adding just the right touches for my friends to descend upon my house with their 12 dozen cookies fabulous to swap.  I also have a theme each year – I always work best with a theme, which is always so much fun and engaging for my guests. 

To be honest, when I knew the pandemic showed no signs of leaving any time soon, I decided it would be in everyone’s best interest to cancel.  I mean, I wanted to spread Christmas spirit with my party, not Covid!  Because of this, I didn’t really come up with a 20th anniversary theme.  Sometimes one will come to me while I’m out window shopping or looking through Pinterest.  Sometimes, a friend or my kids will say something that triggers a theme.  Maybe as I go through this holiday season, something will ring true to me and that will become my theme for next year.  (Maybe one of my readers has a suggestion??!!  Throw it my way, pretty please!!!)

My theme last year was Naughty or Nice and it was inspired by a few things.  One day I went to Swoozies at The Summit to look around and I saw cocktail napkins that said “Naughty” and “Nice.”  When I saw these, I remembered a Naughty or Nice Designs by Lolita wine glass I had my eye on and it all just clicked!  Other things fell into place too.  I found Naughty and Nice stir sticks on Amazon for the margaritas I always serve and even Naughty/Nice toilet paper at Target in their dollar section! 

The “piece de resistance” was the Naughty/Nice necklace I saw on the Instagram page of my friend and artist, Kerry Leasure of Here a Chick There a Chick.  She posted a photo an incredible vintage looking necklace she had created.  It was perfect for my party!  First of all, if you don’t know about Kerry, you need to.  She creates the most incredible and quirky jewelry that is one of a kind in addition to being serious conversation pieces!  I was so excited to see the necklace and I snapped it up immediately!  It went great with my Santa “Someone’s Been Naughty” t-shirt!

Then one night, I was sitting at my laptop and thinking I needed just one more thing for the party – besides the cookies, of course.  Granted I was focusing on the “naughty” more than the “nice” side of the party and started searching Amazon for a mugshot backdrop banner.  You know, the ones you stand in front of for the mugshot before they book you at the police station?  I ended up finding one that had large cards to fill out that said “Santa Saw You…”  This was the perfect touch for the party!  And I found a few Naughty/Nice Santa hats too.  They were reversible so guests could choose.  Not surprisingly, all my guests chose Naughty…what can I say? 

Of course, the cookie swap part was as wonderful as ever.  Everyone left with Christmas boxes filled with assorted cookies.  The smell of sugar was prevalent all over my house!  Several friends stayed and cleaned up my kitchen and helped me put my house back together.  This party kicks off the Christmas holidays for me and I will miss not being able to have that this year.  Planning this party is part of the fun of it every year.  But it gives me time to dream up the perfect theme for next year’s 20th anniversary.  I already have the date set on my calendar – December 6, 2021.

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Conversations with Lucy

Lucy’s first photo as an Odom

Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen. – Orphan Pamuk

Have you ever just looked at your dog and knew she understood what you were saying to her?  Does she sit and listen to you talk to her as long as it takes for you to get whatever it is out of your system?  Does she jump up on you and paw at you when she sees you crying and try to comfort you?  Is she at your ankles the minute your feet hit the floor in the mornings?  My Lucy does all this and more…

About 12 years ago, I went to get my hair cut and my hair stylist Jan was trying to find homes for the puppies her dog had just had.  She said to me, “Teresa, you have to take one of these puppies!”  I wasn’t so sure if this was such a great idea.  I knew the kids wanted a dog and they were old enough to help with one, but I wasn’t so sure about my husband Eddie.  Jan had a polaroid photo of the puppies and gave it to me.  I took it reluctantly and placed it on the console of my car.  Then I left the salon and headed over to the high school to pick up my youngest, Emily.  She got in the car and immediately saw the photo and exclaimed, “Are we getting a dog??!!!”  I said I wasn’t sure and she started getting excited and began begging, “please, please, please!!!!” 

When we got home, we showed the photo to Eddie and he just looked at me and said “no,” but the idea of a puppy was growing on me.  Charlie and Anna Marie saw the photo and began getting excited about a puppy.  I slept on it and then the next day I contacted Jan and I said I would take the black and white female.  I didn’t run it by Eddie…I just went to the salon and got her!  We named her Lucy after the Sandra Bullock character in “While You Were Sleeping.”  My kids love that movie and for the longest time thought Sandra Bullock was my sister, their Aunt Kanista!

The kids were great…at first.  Homework and sports and choir and band activities eventually got in the way and before you knew it, I was the one taking care of Lucy.  Eddie refused because the kids were supposed to walk her and feed her but when they wouldn’t, it fell to me.  Before we knew it, she became MY dog.  When they would try to take her for a walk, she would run to me so “we” could go.  She would sleep on top of the couch cushion to be near me.  And she began her habit of staying at my ankles. 

Of course, as the kids left home, she only gotten closer to me.  She knows which garage door is mine and when she hears it open, she waits for me by the kitchen door.  She positions herself in the house so she can see where I am at all times.  No way can I get away from her unless she is sound asleep.  She loves making Starbucks runs with me and getting her puppuchino.  In turn, she knows when we are headed to the vet and shivers with anxiety when she realizes we aren’t going to Starbucks! 

And now with Eddie retired, we have our new routines…the three of us.  Lucy gets upset when Eddie is in the family room and I’m in the kitchen.  She wants me in there and she wants Eddie gone!  She pesters him until he gets up and heads to the basement which is hysterical to me.  We realized that one night and just laughed so hard about it.  But when I went back to work briefly this fall, Eddie took over walking her every morning and she loved that.  He kept the door to the basement open so she could join him if she got scared, especially during a thunderstorm.  She gets scrambled eggs and cheese in the mornings when Eddie cooks breakfast and she sulks when we eat cereal or something else.  She still gets cheese on those days.

Several years ago, I started posting photos of Lucy on social media with captions and using the hashtag “conversations with Lucy.”  I received so many comments from friends and family saying it sounded just like something Lucy would be saying to me.  These days, she knows when she sees me coming at her with my phone that this means a bit of photography torture for her.  She goes all Greta Garbo on me and wants to be left alone.  But I persist until she poses and lets me get the shot.  Believe me, she is amply rewarded for this minor inconvenience! 

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These days, she is slowing down a bit.  We know she was born sometime around Thanksgiving and she will be 12 years old this year.  Somedays she is like the little puppy we brought home, especially when we are chasing each other around the house.  I don’t know who gets worn out quicker, Lucy or me!  And last year she had a few health problems that worried me and made me think about what life would be like without her.  Her eyesight is getting a little iffy and Eddie says she can’t hear that well anymore.  But then I open a bag of chips and she’s right there ready to share!  

Lucy may have started out as our family pet but she became mine and has been mine for a long time.  I think back to that day I went to get my haircut and I really believe me saying yes to this puppy was because God knew I needed this comfort in my life for the things to come ahead.  Some may say that I rescued her but in reality, she rescued me that day. 

God gave us dogs because he knew we’d need guardian angels we could hug.

Dang it, Hallmark!

Some of my Hallmark 2020 Christmas ornament collection.

As I get ready to decorate my Christmas tree this coming weekend, I’m getting my decorations lined up including all my new Hallmark ornaments.  Back in 2016, I posted about my love of these Christmas ornaments and that I’ve been a collector since they were first introduced in the early 1970s.  My collection continues to grow even though this year I thought I could trim it back a bit.  That is, until the 2020 Hallmark Wish Book came out and… dang it, Hallmark!!!

I remember I spent an entire afternoon looking over the wish book online and making my list.  At first, I thought I would just add to the collections I already had, like Puppy Love or Mary’s Angels but yeah, that didn’t happen.  I ended up adding a total of 16 ornaments to my wish list that day plus adding a few to a reserve list.  What I’ve always discovered is that you have to see these ornaments in person sometimes because photos don’t do them justice.  So, when I picked my ornaments up at the Hallmark Premiere in July, I fell in love with several more.  (Uh-oh)

A couple of my additions this year, had to so with some events that happened (or didn’t) in 2020.  The birth of our first granddaughter means I got to buy several Baby’s First Christmas ornaments.  Sometimes its hard to pick just one so I went for two.  Then again, there’s a third one I have my eye on so hold me back!  I also found a beautiful Eiffel Tower ornament and a Compass that’s inscribed “Life’s Next Journey is the Scenic Route.”  This was to commemorate our cancelled Paris/France trip and also the fact that Eddie and I are now retired and ready to hit the road and travel. 

Hallmark is great at keeping up with movies and tv shows that we all love and creating ornaments.  I added another National Lampoon Christmas Vacation ornament – Clark with the chainsaw.  Little did I know how appropriate this one would be with my husband having a run in with a chainsaw last month!  There’s also another Elf ornament and new this year is the couch from the Friends tv show.  I can’t wait for more of those!  They also premiered a Golden Girls Rose Nylund ornament.  I’ve been getting back into that show lately on Hallmark channel so this was timely. 

But wait!  There’s more!  (Dang it again, Hallmark!) Like I said, I went back by my local Hallmark store for another holiday event and ended up buying a few of those ornaments on my reserve list.  I’ve done a lot of birdwatching and photographing this year so the Bluebird ornament along with the Bird Ornaments in the Box were a must have.  And the Star Wars Wookie with Princess Leia ornament, well, that one just made me smile and cry at the same time. 

My collection has grown so large that it may be time to divide everything up and share with my children.  I mean, that has always been my intent with these ornaments.  I want my children to create their own special memories with these Hallmark ornaments from their childhood and especially with the ones that bring them the most joy. 

Thankful…

The traditional Odom Family Thanksgiving Big Cookie

This Thanksgiving will be different.  No doubt about it.  We won’t have our usual Zuniga-Odom family gathering with too much food and the coveted big cookie.  People won’t be scattered from the kitchen to the dining room and our deck.  It will be different and I’m while I’ll miss the tradition of it all, with all our people gathered in one place, I know we are doing the right thing.  We want everyone to stay safe and covid free.  So, for me and Eddie, it will just be us, my mom and two of our grown children. 

With just the five of us, the temptation would be to just make it simple and not even make a turkey.  But I wasn’t about to let that happen!  I do love a good turkey with stuffing.  I know enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving meal and having enough for leftovers will make us all happy.  My dining room table has been set since early November and the Thankful Tree that I made with my girls several years ago is sitting prominently on the bench in the hallway.  I will miss seeing what everyone writes on their cut out leaves this year but I will encourage the five of us to fill them out.

In a year like this, it could be said that its hard to find things to be thankful for but I don’t feel that way.  Sure, this pandemic has dealt its share of blows to our family but thankfully nothing drastic and for that I am extremely grateful.

Our family’s Thankful Tree that we use every year. Family members will write what they are thankful for on a cut out leaf and pin it to the tree. I have collected these leaves for several years…

So, what am I thankful for in 2020?

  • Baby Girl Dunne – Our first grandbaby was born on Thursday, July 2, 2020.  Amelia Faith Dunne arrived at 4:44 p.m. on that day as her Pappy and Tisa (and Uncle Cody and Auntie Lem) were on the road traveling to Colorado to meet her.  How can a year be bad when the sweetest soul entered our lives?!  She has brought so much joy to our family in these past five months and just looking at a photo of my sweet baby Mela melts away any troubles I have.
  • Working with United Way of Central Alabama – This was my third year to serve as a Loaned Executive Manager and it was just what I needed.  I was feeling so helpless earlier this year and needed something where I felt I could at least help in some way.  I got to manage two teams this year too and we participated in a fundraising campaign like no other where 90% of the meetings were held virtually and our community said yes to making hope happen.
  • Retirement – Not mine, I retired in 2017 although some of my friends would question that…my husband’s retirement!  Although Eddie decided to stay on a little longer than he had planned with this job, it was only an extra two months.  Now he is tackling that long list of things around the house that he’s been anxious to get to.  Aside from the random chainsaw mishap, he has really gotten quite a lot done over the past 3 months.
  • Health – In this case, I mean that we have been covid free and I’m so, so thankful!  Eddie and I have our routine of hand sanitizing and Clorox wiping whenever we go out.  And we steer clear of crowded places, opting for dining al fresco vs. indoor whenever possible.  We just aren’t taking any changes…and we aren’t hoarding toilet paper either!
  • Family Health – I’m also grateful that my family has remained healthy this year.  Everyone has remained covid free and they’ve been able to continue in their respective jobs especially since all three of my children are in service professions.  My 82 year-old mother has been cautious and we have been extremely cautious with her too.  I’ve heard so many stories of family members being hospitalized with no visitors allowed, so I’ve stressed this to my mother so she will stay safe.  Eddie had to have overnight surgery last week and while the hospital permitted one person to be there, Eddie didn’t want me there and potentially exposed to covid.  So I stayed at home and waited for word and that was not easy.  My heart goes out to people who have been unable to be with their loved ones for extensive stays.  I cannot imagine…
  • Innovation – This may sound like a random word to throw out there but I’ve been so impressed with the innovation of businesses and nonprofits this year.  For my favorite event, Fiesta, we turned a one-day event into a 30-day online celebration and we were able to award $10K in scholarships to Hispanic students!  And my Women’s Network group (TWN), created a virtual event to fundraise for our annual Party with a Purpose.  We paid for a party pack (proceeds went to the YWCA) and picked them up a few days before the event and then joined by zoom for fun and trivia with a local radio host. 
  • Time to Reflect – This year has given me time to take long walks with my dog or just myself, sit on my deck drinking coffee or wine and somedays doing absolutely nothing.  For someone who generally has a packed calendar this has been a wonderful thing.  It has taught me to slow down.  It has let me reflect about all the things I was doing and decide what things were important and what I could let go of. 
  • Time to Plan – Now that Eddie is retired, I love that we are talking more about what comes next for us.  Where we will travel, what we will do to our house, even what television shows to binge watch together.  This is chapter three for us and we are embracing it with everything we have and I look so forward to enjoying the rest of our lives together.

I saw a quote this week on social media and I screenshot it because it resonated… “I thought 2020 would be the year I got everything I wanted.  Now I know 2020 is the year I appreciate everything I have.”  There is always something to be thankful for, no matter what the circumstances…

Remembering Thanksgiving 2019

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy.  They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

Today I was looking through photos from last year’s Thanksgiving celebration at my house.  We sure had a houseful of family over and I couldn’t have been more pleased.  I remember having the head count finalized (or so I thought) several days before Thanksgiving and every day Eddie would tell me two more people were coming.  I think he thought I was getting irritated but I was secretly delighted.  I love a full house during the holidays, especially Thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving has always been that holiday for me that was most special.  I mean, what could be better than tons of food, pie, wine and family and friends hanging out all afternoon?  It’s a carryover from my mother and how she would prepare for Thanksgiving each year when I was growing up.  Back when we lived in Chicago, it would be our immediate family, my grandparents (mom’s parents) and then mom would invite several of her friends over so they would have family to be with.  The joke was that if mom heard of someone on the street corner that didn’t have a place to eat turkey, she would invite them over!  Once my parents moved to Alabama, this became the gathering place and then when Eddie and I built our house in Hoover, our home became the place we would celebrate.  It was the one time every year when my parents and my sisters with their husbands and kids were all together.  As our families grew and the kids grew up, it was more difficult to get everyone together here in Alabama and my sisters began having their own family celebrations in their home states.  Times change and we have to change with them…

Brother-in-law Terry (TO) with daughters Kate and TJ and grandson Cooper

When I think about our Zuniga-Odom Thanksgiving last year, I can see changes coming once again.  My brother-in-law, Terry has permanently moved to Orange Beach this year.  Just recently, his daughter Kate, along with hubby David and their son, Cooper have moved near Terry.  And even more recently, daughter TJ and hubby Matt are planning a move to Pensacola.  Taking the annual “cousin” picture is getting a little more difficult.  I know we will all get together for holidays in the future but it will take a little more planning!  

Having my sister, Kanista home for Thanksgiving last year felt like old times.

Thinking back to last year…it was just so perfect.  The weather was beautiful and we all enjoyed being outside. We spread out around four rooms in the house and the adult kids ended up around the table on the deck and had a great time.  I even tried out two new recipes on the family, which is something that I don’t typically tackle!  My cranberry sauce and corn souffle were well received, much to my pleasure! In addition to the Odom/Harkins/O’Reilly families being present, I was so happy to have my baby sister, Kanista and her husband Ken with us too.  That was the icing on the cake for me personally.  My favorite memory though is of my super sweet helper, great-nephew Samuel, who made it his mission to make sure every family member filled out a leaf for the Thankful Tree.  

Change is inevitable and I see it happening more and more in our family.  Holidays are changing too and I’m trying to be flexible!  Traditions will change too but the thing that gives me hope is when I hear my children talk about wanting to maintain certain traditions that they’ve been a part of or shift them slightly to make sure they continue.  This makes my heart happy. 

But for a few moments today, I want to remember Thanksgiving 2019 and all the family that gathered together and what a special day that was.  So thankful to have these wonderful memories…especially this year.

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Crafting with Wine Corks

My wine cork collection surely tells the tale of my wine tastes over the years!

It’s no secret that I love wine.  And when you have wine, you usually get wine corks.  Granted, many winemakers are going to the screw tops, but there’s something about opening a bottle with a cork that just feels right. 

I can’t even guess how long I’ve been saving wine corks.  I had a small container in my dining room where I would toss them but eventually, I found a rather large basket at the thrift store that I designated as my wine cork basket.  This year, during the pandemic, it began to overflow.  Hummm…I know what that says about me but at the moment, I don’t care!  I mean, we all have our ways of coping, right?  But before judging, remember that my home is where all the family and friends’ gatherings generally take place, so there’s that. 

Seriously…I have a LOT of wine corks!

A few weeks ago, I decided to empty that rather large basket and placed all the wine corks in a large garbage bag.  I then asked followers on Instagram what they thought I should do with them.  Well, the overwhelming response was to make a craft and some followers even sent me photos of what to try.  The one that got my attention, because it seemed easy to make, was a pumpkin.  With a little hot glue and paint, I set out to see if this would be easy…or not.

First, I chose wine corks that all matched in size.  Well, I tried to!  Some ended up being a little fatter than others, but I did my best.  I lined them up in six rows – two rows of 6, two rows of 7 and two rows of 8.  After hot gluing each row together longways, I began hot gluing the rows together.  First the 6-cork row, then the 7-cork row and finally the 8-cork row.  Then I did the same in reverse. 

The painting step should probably be done before gluing everything together, but I wanted to see how it looked pieced together and decide which corks to paint.  Some already had the red wine stain which gave it a fall look.  I used rose gold and antique copper acrylic paint on several of the corks which complemented the red wine stain color.  Finally, I found a short cork and added it on top as a stem and added three large fall artificial leaves to finish it off. 

Making the pumpkin was relatively easy, but I will say that while the bottom three rows seemed to fit together perfectly, the top three were a little off.  And when I was gluing the middle two rows together, I forgot that they set right on top of each other so I ended up gluing the round part of the corks.  For the other rows I was gluing in between.  Live and learn!  Honestly, I’m happy with the way it turned out!  And with the number of corks I have left, I could probably make about 50 more of these! 

Finished product! Pumpkin made from wine corks!

I’m thinking I should start looking for some Christmas cork crafts to make now.  What do you think?  Any fun ideas out there?  If so, send them my way! 

Just Add a Touch of Tajín

Mini Tajín bottles ready to drop in my purse at a moments notice!

Have you ever wondered what the orange colored flakes are on your Mexican fruit cup?  It’s called Tajín and it’s a seasoning that combines two of Mexico’s most popular flavors – chili and lime.  I’ve loved this seasoning for many years now but didn’t know much about it until I recently did a little research to discover its origin. 

Empresas Tajín is a Mexican company founded by Horacio Fernandez in 1985 and located in Jalisco, Mexico.  Fernandez’s grandmother originally created this seasoning as a sauce but Fernandez wanted to mass produce it worldwide so he set out to recreate it in powder form.  This involved a process to dehydrate chilis and limes which he perfected.   After Fernandez visited the pre-Colombian archeological site, El Tajín, in Veracruz, Mexico, he learned the word “aji” means chile in the Uto-Aztecan language of Nahuatl.  This is when he decided to name his chile and lime powder, Tajín. 

The Michelada I had in Torreon Mexico in March 2020 – yum!!!

Tajín seasoning entered the US market in 1993 and it is now the number one chili lime seasoning in the US.  It is often added to fruits like watermelon, mango, oranges, papaya and cucumbers.  But it can also be added to foods like popcorn for a little kick, meats for a little marinade, and fruit juice for some zip.  I love the way popcorn tastes when using tajín – instead of adding salt, add a dash of tajín when the popcorn is hot and it’s fabulous!  Adding it to cocktails is also fun.  In fact, you may have had it on the rim of a glass and didn’t realize it, much like you add salt to a margarita.  It is also used as an ingredient in micheladas, a Mexican beer cocktail.  I had one in Mexico in March and WOW…it was delish!

Some people might look at this orangish-red seasoning and think it’s quite spicy, but it’s more of a flavoring with a little kick so no need to be afraid to try it for fear of setting your mouth on fire. Personally, I love using it on grilled corn (elote) and adding a dash to guacamole when I make it at home.  There is also a low sodium version available and I bought it to try and quite frankly, I didn’t see a difference between the classic and this one. 

Tajín is showing up everywhere these days.  I recently found these mango fruit pops at the grocery store and I literally stopped in my tracks!  I brought a box home and, boy oh boy…I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the refreshing flavor of mango with this seasoning.  Cool with a touch of heat…

Can you tell I’m a fan?  Tajín is so popular these days that it can be found at almost all grocery stores.  I’ve even found it at Walgreens!  Give it a try, and if you use this seasoning with something that I haven’t mentioned here and love the flavor, let me know!  I would love to hear what you think of this delish seasoning!

Dreaming of Christmas

I should be planning our Thanksgiving dinner right now but all I can do is think about Christmas.  It doesn’t help that several houses in my neighborhood already have their Christmas lights and trees up.  One even left their pumpkins outside mixed into the Christmas decor!  I mean, do we call that Christgiving?  Or Thanksmas? 

My Christmas dreaming started earlier than normal this year.  Some of that has to do with the fact that this will be my baby grands first Christmas and I’m picturing all the photos I want to take of her already.  But these days, I also think we are all looking for something to bring a glimmer of hope into our lives with the current pandemic.  When the local radio station started their Christmas music rotation at the beginning of November, I tuned in.  Usually I hold off until after Thanksgiving but there were a few days in early November where I just needed to hear those songs while driving in my car and I also needed to sing along.

A few of the Hallmark items I’ve already bought for Christmas 2020!

Then there’s my love of Hallmark.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…I blame my mother for this!  When we lived in Westmont, Illinois, she started to work at a little Hallmark shop called Sentiments and Sweets.  That was my introduction to Hallmark.  I remember getting off the school bus from high school near her shop to walk to my afternoon part-time job at the nearby White Hen Pantry convenience store.  I would always stop by so she knew I had gotten off the bus.  Then I would reach around the front counter display of Fannie May candies, and grab a chocolate mint meltaway before heading to my job. That little shop was always so cute and I loved going there to visit my mother and see the displays she had created, especially at Christmas.

It also doesn’t help that I’m constantly drawn to the Hallmark channel and their non-stop Christmas movies.  We all know the storyline of those movies, right?  Woman goes from the big city back to her little home town for some family emergency, bumps into the guy she used to love, they reconnect in an unusual way – like they have to save Christmas or something, they drink tons of hot cocoa, have a snowball fight and THEN…there’s THE misunderstanding.  And 6 minutes before the end of the movie, it all gets resolved and they live happily ever after.  We know all the formula and yet we still watch. 

 

The perfect book for someone hooked on Hallmark!

Hallmark’s Home and Family show is also high on my list of guilty pleasures making me think about Christmas.  I find myself taking photos of the tv screen to remember décor or crafts I want to try, or a recipe I want to make.  Then yesterday I found their Countdown to Christmas book at Target and naturally, I had to buy it!  My Sunday afternoon plans are to start reading that book on my deck.  I should probably make some hot cocoa in keeping with the Hallmark theme, shouldn’t I?

Meanwhile, our Thanksgiving this year will be small and social distanced…just me, my hubby, my son and daughter (who live here) and my mother.  We will have the traditional foods as always, just not as much.  Although my mother has already informed me that I should make enough for left-overs!  Of course, I will comply with her request because Thanksgiving leftovers are my favorite too!  Then on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I will begin my Christmas decorating while I will watch Hallmark Christmas movies, listen to Christmas music and sing along. 

Transformation

The butterfly said to the sun, “They can’t stop talking about my transformation.  I can only do it once in my lifetime.  If only they knew, they could do it at any time and in countless ways.”  Dodinsky

Butterflies…a symbol of transformation…

The word “transformation” has been on my mind since last year’s United Way of Central Alabama’s annual campaign.  It was my second year to serve as a Loaned Executive Manager (or SLEM).  This position required me to work with a team of Loaned Executives (LE’s), meet with each team member on a weekly basis, answer questions about United Way and the campaign, check in with them personally and professionally, review their accounts and help them troubleshoot any problems they were experiencing.  When you work that closely with people over the course of 13 weeks, you really get to know them.  You witness a lot about their work habits, the way they think and how they process adversity and success.  You build trust.  You build friendships.  You watch them transform. 

When a local company loans one of their employees to the UWCA campaign for 13 weeks, they are made a promise,” send us your best and we will send them back better.”  This because the training offered before the campaign begins is very high quality and professionally done.  I always say that I’ve been through this training four times now and every single time, I learn something new.  LEs are given training in public speaking, organizational skills, sales training, Meyers Briggs assessment, and marketing skills.  This is all valuable training no matter where you are in your career.  Some LEs are just getting started in their careers and are fresh out of college.  Others are more established and come to the program with a little more experience.  But when it comes to being a Loaned Executive, they are all on the same page once the campaign begins.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching four teams (I managed two teams this year) transform over these past three years.  Once the LEs get their account books – this is the book of all the companies they will be contacting to encourage participation in the campaign – the process begins.  I can usually tell with our first one-on-one meeting to review accounts where each team member’s head is in the process as they prepare to make their calls.  Some are a little scared and some are extremely organized but all are anxious to start.  They will ask me and other UWCA staff many questions – sometimes they ask the same questions over and over and will apologize for it – but to me, that shows they want to get it right and they want to learn. 

During the UWCA campaign each year, there’s the process of getting a campaign ready for a company and then there’s the actual knowledge of United Way that you share.  Each LE is coached on how to develop their United Way story to share.  This can sometimes be difficult because some LEs think that since they haven’t experienced a disaster or traumatic event in their lives that United Way really doesn’t apply to them…that it’s for other people.  I remember telling my first-year team that even though they may not realize it, they all have a United Way story somewhere inside of them.  I said, “If you aren’t aware of it now, it will come to you and sometimes in unexpected ways.”

24K Magic teammates – Chip Hoover and Rachel Simpson – 2018 team

For instance, in 2018 one of my teammates was standing in front of her desk one day early in the campaign and I noticed she seemed a little upset.  I asked if she was all right and she began to cry saying she had just lost her childcare and didn’t know what she was going to do.  That’s when I told her about Childcare Resources (CCR), a partner agency of UWCA.  She was still learning about all the partner agencies and direct services so didn’t really know much about CCR.  I suggested she call them to see if they could recommend daycares for her daughter.  Later I learned that this became part of the story she shared when she made presentations. 

As each LE discovers their story and practices their presentation, they learn to tie in the messaging of the campaign.  A new theme each year helps build on the story.  The past few have been great to build upon too – Be the Change, Be an Everyday Hero and this year, Hope Happens.  As each LE goes out into the community to make their presentations, they begin hearing other people’s stories and how United Way helped them.  They get questions from people and help them understand the collective impact of United Way in our community.  They get excited when company campaigns go well and they are disappointed when they are told “no.”  In the case of a “no,” they have the courage to go back and ask again and sometimes that no turns into a yes.  This year, during the Covid-19 pandemic, further questioning by LEs sometimes told a story of its own.  Several heard about people losing their jobs due to the pandemic.  LEs were able to provide information that would be helpful to the business owners to share with these employees.  In many cases, these business owners didn’t know about the services offered and they were genuinely grateful to have this information to pass it along. 

Teammate Shelley explaining the benefits of United Way at a Pelham event in 2019.

During the last few weeks of a campaign, there is a confidence visible in the Loaned Executives that just shines.  As part of a team of people working towards the same goal of raising money to help our community, there is a sense that everyone should understand the importance of what they are doing!  This is the part that I love seeing because there is a realization that the work they are doing is about advocacy too.   They have become ambassadors for United Way and they begin to see opportunity to do more, do good and keep this momentum going long after they leave this Loaned Executive position.

As I said to my teammates this year on our last day together, “Your experience with UWCA has been one of those ways that the butterfly is referring to in the quote.  After 13 weeks your transformation is now complete!  You have made Hope Happen in many wonderful ways this year and it’s safe to say that you will forever be changed by this experience.” 

These Loaned Executives mean the world to me…and they mean hope to me. They are now my forever friends and I look forward to seeing them go on to do great things with love and compassion. 

I’ve taken so many photos of my United Teams over the years…here are a few in a slideshow.

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