Cookie Swap Tips and Tricks

To begin, I could find the first mention of a cookie swap in 1954.  I dug through Genealogy Bank for a good while until I came up with that article.  By the papers in the 1960s to present they are mentioned all over the place from sea to twinkling sea.  I am not surprised. Who doesn’t love a good cookie swap?  

At first, I thought it was a simple concept and I have been to plenty.  Again, by beginning my newspaper search, I fell down a reindeer forest of information on baking and cookie swaps.  So like any good, cheerful librarian, here are some tips and tricks to organize your own unique holiday cookie swap.  

Cookie Swap Tips and Tricks
Have some beautiful packaging ready to display your hard work.

The Basics of a Cookie Swap

If you have not experienced a swap yet, here is the low down.  The concept of the cookie swap is to share your favorite and best recipes for holiday cookies with friends.  All while enjoying the sweet treats. The point is for each guest to leave with a selection of each cookie and a way to make it.  

The number one rule is to bring home baked cookies.  One group in South Carolina, has had a cookie swap for over 20 years.  They have developed their own manual for participants. I am not saying get that intense, but I would have a plan like one of these.  

Cookie Swapping 3 Ways

  1. This is the most common type of party I have attended.  Simply come up with a reasonable number and keep strict to a guest list.  Each participant will bring their own fresh baked cookies in bag for each guest.  So if there are 13 guests, they would bring 12 bags for each guest.  
  2. The other concept is similar except bringing the cookies in trays.  Then the guests can use a cute container to collect the cookies out on display as well as sample some. 
  3. Pick a common ingredient or 2 for everyone to make their cookies with. Examples are chocolate chips, peppermints, gingerbread, and holiday themed ingredients.  
Cookie Swap Tips and Tricks
Pick a cookie that is unique.

Make Your Party Unique

Here are some special touches I found in my research.  These little tips can set your swap apart from others.  

  • Have a signature drink or cocktail.  There are countless recipes on Pinterest. I have a particular affinity for hot chocolate with a scoop of ice cream in it.  Of course, don’t forget the milk!
  • Use what you have to create a cute tablescape.  Think of the creative patterns you can make with scrapbook paper and even napkins.
  • Set up a cookie decorating station to entertain guests and/or their little ones.  Include multiple colors of frosting along with some sugar cookies with Christmas cutouts like wreaths.
  • Provide cute recipe cards for guests to write their cookie recipe on before or during the party.  
  • Have some games and door prizes.  They can be simple things collected during after Christmas sales the previous year.  (Like cute wine toppers for example.) I found some cute examples of holiday trivia, reindeer antler making games and others on Cookie Exchange (dot) com.  
  • After it is all said and done, donate extra cookies to a good cause.  Look into local elderly homes, VA groups, or even shelters. You could even share them with the poor UPS or Amazon workers coming to drop off packages during their long work days.
Cookie Swap Tips and Tricks
Cookies are such a holiday joy. Make sure to share them at a cookie swap!

Baking at its Best 

If you haven’t been able to release your inner Sandra Lee or Barefoot Contessa yet.  Here are some tips to get you started. Firstly, baking is an exact science. Use measuring utensils and cups for everything.  It is helpful to get the best ingredients you can afford. (Especially when it comes to chocolate.)  Guessing amounts can lead to disaster.

I prefer to use air pans over the rimmed baking sheets.  They create softer cookies and a more even bake. It is also preferable to use a cooling rack to fully cool your cookies after baking.  Otherwise, they will continue to bake on the hot pan.  

The biggest lesson I have learned in baking is dealing with cookies with chunky ingredients inside.  If you have cookies you are baking with candy inside for example. It is imperative to chill the dough thoroughly before baking.  If you don’t, your cookies will look like the melted wicked witch at the end of the Wizard of Oz.  

How the Cookie Swap Crumbles 

When planning, keep in mind that it is a busy time of year for you and your guests.  Think of ways to create an enjoyable experience without spending too much time or money.  Maybe focus on one cute table and rely on your Christmas tree as the backdrop for photos. Avoid a gift swap in lieu of a quick game with a cute prize.  

But most importantly, have fun and enjoy the sweeter side of the holiday!  

Cookie Swap Tips and Tricks
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What are your best cookie swap tips and tricks? 

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

Great Last Minute Gifts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

There are less than 20 days left until Christmas on the Gulf Coast!  Although I recommend focusing the experiences and memories over holidays, there are a few people I cannot leave out on my Christmas gift list.  I actually love finding the perfect gifts for my friends and loved ones. It is part of the reason I shop so early in order to get the best deals for the right gift.

I took some time over this weekend to enjoy Small Business Saturday and found some great products.  There are so many creative and unique items along the Mississippi Gulf Coast!  Here is my list of my favorites that you can use for anyone on your list.  

Gulf Coast Gift Guide
Hillyer House has a great selection of local gifts!

For Him

Let us be real.  Men are the hardest to shop for each year.  Especially when you draw your brother-in-law for your family’s gift exchange.  Here are some masculine and useful gifts.

Gnaughty Gnat at Marina Soap Cottage – I know Mississippi men like to hunt, fish, camp, and other myriads of outdoor activities.  Some of us even enjoy joining them in these endeavors. Gnaughty Gnat is an all natural vanilla based insect repellent.  It works pretty well, and does not smell like a chemical plant.  

Biloxi Beard Oil is sold across the gulf coast.  Check out their website to see all of the vendors around.  If your man has a beard he can use beard oil to hydrate his skin and soften the hair of his beard.  There is a range of scents and other beard care products to choose from.  

Chandeleur Brewing Company Lure Key chain.  I admit, this is a little kitschy.  However, it is a useful and funky little key chain.  It would make the perfect stocking stuffer or dangle on the bow of a wrapped gift.  Why not buy a growler too while you are there?

Gulf Coast Gift Guide
Get in the spirit with some holiday candles!

For Her

Buying for my female friends and relatives is usually as easy making a trip to T.J. Maxx or Marshalls.  However, even after three years of doing this, a lot of things are beginning to look repetitive. (I can only give so many funny mugs and face masks.)  

Blackberry Sage candle at Ocean Springs Mercantile- I visited the mercantile on Government Street twice last week.  Mostly because they have such cute stuff and the staff was incredibly friendly.  I felt like I was being greeted by long lost friends! My by far favorite item was soy Blackberry Sage Candle.  My second trip was actually to purchase it. It is sweet and spicy at the fantastic price tag of less than 15 dollars.  I can see many of my friends loving the scent or the others available there. 

Restrung Jewelry at Hillyer House or Etsy are so beautiful.  They are made of guitar strings from an artist in New Orleans.  She has a range of styles in rings, necklaces, and bracelets. The materials are sourced carefully or recycled.  

Gulf Coast Gifts
This candle!

Oyster Tote Bag from Coastal City Goods is a very good regional gift. Historically speaking, the City of Biloxi was built on the seafood industry.  Oysters in particular were very popular. This tote bag has a pleasant color scheme and who doesn’t need another tote bag?  

For the Kids

 I usually stick with books for all my nieces and nephews.  However, I think there are some other cute toys around. The crocheted dolls and stuffed animals on Etsy always tempt me to buy for presents.  Here are a few options close by.  

Handmade Fishing Pole at Everything Kayak and Bicycle have adorable wooden fishing poles.  They are made local by veterans and are great little toys for the budding angler.  

Mississippi Aquarium Tickets are a great experience to share.  The new aquarium in Gulfport is set to open April 30th!  Tickets and annual memberships are already on sale. The tickets can go along with some cute sea creature plushies!  

An Alphabet by Walter Anderson is a coloring book of the alphabet created by the famous Ocean Springs artist.  The letters have a unique Mississippi theme to them like ‘o for opossum’ and ‘p for persimmon.’  

For Everyone

Here are my recommended gifts if you want a real crowd pleaser.  My good friend Leah recommends to use local products to make custom gift boxes or baskets.  Most of these vendors set up at local farmers markets and festivals. All of them have websites or Facebook pages for quick contact. 

Coffee Butter by Cafe Rubia is a product I have not come across until I visited the Florence Gardens Farmer’s Market last Sunday.  She has jars of coffee whipped into a butter.  Anyone can add warm or cold milk to make delicious and creamy coffee flavored drinks.  She told me it is from her Brazilian mother’s home recipe. I bought a jar right then and there!  

Miss B. Whipped Honey is another Florence Gardens find.  She has local honey in jars as well as her own whipped honey recipe.  Whipped honey is a smooth consistency, and spreads perfectly on toast. She has plain, cinnamon, lemon, and a limited edition pumpkin spice flavor.  Bonus: She is currently selling tea and mug gifts sets with her honey!

Beautiful Personalized Tumblers from Sweet Southern Craft.  The owner has been a dear friend for a long time!  (Seriously, back to our Girl Scout days.) She has been launching brands of personalized products such as shirts, cups, and ornaments.  She has a variety of styles and colors so check out her page for further order details.  

Scuba Steve Shirts  has been a stable on the Gulf Coast since 2009.  The newest designs are adorable! I love the long sleeve with the Christmas tree on top.  You can easily purchase adult sizes directly off of the website. Contact the company to inquire about child sizes too!  

Local Books

Okay, so some of you may want to know that you can a variety of locally themed books at the Biloxi Visitors Center and Southern Bound Book Shop.  Amazon also carries a selection as well available for Prime 2-day shipping. Here are some favorites I own or seen in my Local History Department.  

The Button Jar by Grady H. Howell is not only a family friend, but an interesting historian.  His memoir captures life growing upon the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It is about the size of a children’s book and full of local nostalgia.  

Adriatic Allure by Jane Golden is a fiction novel set in Croatia written by an author from the coast.  I have had the pleasure to meet Mrs. Golden personally and enjoyed talking to her about how her travels inspired her. Her novels are also available for download on many reading devices. 

Gumbo Love by Lucy Buffett has released a recent cookbook and hospitality book.  She comes from a notable family being our beloved Jimmy Buffet’s sister.  Lucy owns a famous restaurant called Lulu’s in Destin and Gulf Shores. It has some great Gulf Coast food instructions like how to make a roux.  

Mississippi Gulf Coast by Timothy Isbell is a beautiful coffee table book full of impressive local pictures.  

Other Thoughts

Remember, it is alright to pick other ways to celebrate Christmas like experiences, stocking stuffers, and dirty Santa gift exchanges.  It is about enjoying the holidays, and I hope this list can make things a little easier for your holiday to-do list.  

What local gift do you hope Santa brings you this year?

Gulf Coast Gift Guide
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Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

The Southern Obsession with Hallmark Christmas Movies

In July, I called my mom to find that she had been sucked into a Hallmark Christmas movie marathon.  (You know, Christmas in July.) Sometimes they get me too! Binging cheesy Christmas movies made by Hallmark, Lifetime, and now Netflix who is in the game is a favorite holiday pastime.  

There is something about the low budget, predictable movies that get me in the Christmas spirit.  Life is never really like one, but we love to believe it can. These cheesy films have a special place in the hearts of southern women.  My friend Kacey captured our feelings exactly last month when she posted this statement: 

“We’ve officially reached that time of year when I have to choose between watching college football or Hallmark Christmas movies on Saturday.”

Hallmark Christmas Movies
We all enjoy some sweet and savory treats while watching Christmas movies!

Why Do We Love Them?

There is no doubt they are popular.  Hallmark’s first 2019 original film Winter Castle had 3 million views!  This year, Hallmark is releasing 40 new Christmas movies.  That is a whole lot of festive romcom!  

They already have a good thing going for them by setting them during America’s most nostalgic holiday.  It isn’t hard to find a cute Christmas town off any major highway. (More on that later.) It also does not hurt that the leading men are often great eye candy!  I mean their acting skills may be questionable, but they are always nice to look at.  

I like them most because I can check out for an hour and a half.  They do not require much emotion or brain power to enjoy. Cheesy Christmas movies offer me a great escape from the realities I face.  No need to worry about lesson plans or even laundry. Just enjoy the holiday fluff!  

Gulf Coast Hallmark Christmas Movie Towns 

Some towns along the Gulf of Mexico have been used to shoot actual holiday movies!  Others just look ready for their Hallmark Movie Debut. Here are some to check out locally!

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi 

This town is so picturesque with the harbor and old oak trees.  Go have a drink at one of the waterside restaurants and enjoy the lights.  Go during 2nd Saturday for night markets and a more festive atmosphere! 

Ocean Springs, Mississippi 

It has continued to flourish since Katrina.  The few new buildings that have gone up since then match the architecture already existing.  You can find a vintage inspired soda shop, French Kiss Bakery that serves beautiful little cakes, and legendary donuts at Tato-Nut.  I am shocked that Hallmark has not come to film under the massive snowflakes hung at Christmas time.  

Downtown Gulfport, Mississippi

Gulfport’s downtown has experienced a facelift recently with their facade project.  They also have the Harbor Lights Display at Jones Park across Highway 90 every Christmas.  Several locations including Fish Bone Alley were used in the Hallmark film Christmas in Mississippi.  You can enjoy all of these places in the month of December.  

Laurel, Mississippi

I have made a few day trips to the cute little town.  It is the location of the HGTV series Home Town and their shop Laurel Mercantile.  There is a beautiful art museum, a historic downtown, and a neighborhood that looks like it is in Savannah, Georgia.  Check out their city website for local events and festivals.  

Fairhope, Alabama 

Fairhope has already starred in a Lifetime movie called Coffee Shop in 2014.  My high school band used to travel there every Mardi Gras to march in their night parade.  It is a delightful town that is located only about 45 minutes south of Mobile. Check out the little shops and alleyways to find all kinds of antique treasures.  

Hallmark Christmas Movies
Deck the Halls and watch Christmas movies!

Girl’s Christmas Sleepover

Why not embrace the addiction?  Call or text some like minded friends for a merry little sleepover and Hallmark Christmas movies.  Our friends at Country Living even came up with a drinking game!  You can serve poinsettias, champagne with cranberry juice with holiday cookies.  

Look up movie night and see some beautiful set ups on Pinterest of twinkle lights and air mattresses.  Some engineering people have fashioned beautiful blanket tents to go long with the sleepover theme. Add all the movies to your Netflix  playlist or subscribe the Hallmark App for FireTV to have viewing pleasure all night! 

Hallmark Christmas Move Party
Make watching these movies a social gathering with your nearest and dearest.

 ‘Tis the Season for Sentimental Movies 

Unless you subscribe to the Hallmark Channel, now is the time to enjoy the holiday silliness in its full glory.  Use it as time to relax and enjoy all of the holiday movies.

Just keep a list so you don’t repeat them like I have before.   

What is your favorite holiday movie?  

Hallmark Christmas Movies
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Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

December Daily 2019: Love Memories Over Things

Since 2013, I have completed a December Daily Challenge on Instagram.  The point is to share a picture every day from December 1 to Christmas Day. Some years I have completed every day and others I just share the moments that impact me.  

It is a process of looking at the little things that I enjoy during the holiday season.  It is a lot like recording gratitude.  I get excited when a coworker brings me a frosted Christmas cookie or I see cute yard decorations during an evening walk.  

Here are some things to focus on and try during the holidays that create great memories. 

December Daily
Nice view from last year’s MGCCC Festival of Lights.

Put Fun Holiday Events On The Calendar 

For 2 years, my dad and I rode up to the Festival of Lights at MGCCC.  It is a winter carnival sponsored by different student groups on campus and the administration of the junior college.  The campus is transformed into a wonderland of lights and activity.  

Instead of spending that night shopping, or more likely passed out on the couch, we were making memories.  

Look Past the Buzz and at the Details 

Christmas is one big sensory overload.  Go into any T.J. Maxx or mall in order to be barraged with flashing lights, loud music, and every conceivable combination of product placements.  I challenge you to look closer. 

Last year I noticed a climbing Santa that was just like one climbing on my grandmother’s Christmas tree in my childhood.  Last weekend I found cute, mini ceramic Christmas tree ornaments.  So put your phone in your pocket and see what other treasures you can find. 

Savor the Seasonal Treats 

I swear stuff tastes better if you cannot have it all the time.  It causes me to associate sweet holiday memories with these delicious treats.  Here is a list of some of my favorites!

Tis’ the Season of the Hygge

It can be difficult to hygge in the south when we are sometimes wearing shorts at Christmas.  But when the cozy, cool weather happens I take full advantage.  I pull out the fuzzy socks and hot beverages. Christmas is the pinnacle of time to live the hygge life.  

So dim the lights, turn on the Christmas tree, and enjoy the twinkle of the decorations. 

December Daily
Enjoy a sweet treat!

Give Some Cheer

There are countless charities looking to give Christmases in families in need.  Reduce some of the holiday clutter by choosing to donate to charities like the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree and Operation Christmas Child.  

Make it a family event by going together to pick out gifts, packaging, and delivering them.  

Find Some New Holiday Traditions 

For the first few years of our relationship Ed and I would share gifts together randomly.  Sometimes it would be at the end of the day after we visited all the family and other times with everyone.  We have finally settled on our own tradition when we moved into our house ten years ago.

Now we exchange gifts and stockings on the evening of Christmas Eve.  Before the busy day coming up and after we are done with work. Think of what is best for your family in order to find traditions you can enjoy for a lifetime.  

Give December Daily Daily a Try

If you want to share your own December Daily moments I recommend sharing them on Instagram using the hashtags #DecemberDaily2019 or #DecemberDaily 

No moment is too big or too small to share.  Make it memorable!  

How do you enjoy the holidays? 

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

Ways to Add Gratitude into Your Daily Life

Since I am not new to the planner world, I have heard about practicing gratitude for awhile.  I began my own gratitude journey this year in my Plum Paper Planner.  At the end of each month, I take time to write down the things I am most grateful for from start to finish.  It takes less than 30 minutes and one page in my planner.  

Before I discuss more of my journey, I have to say that everyone’s experience with gratitude is different.  I feel that many of you are off to a good start with the November daily gratitude challenges in order to celebrate Thanksgiving.  

However, gratitude should become part of our yearly lives.  Here’s how and why!

Ways to Add Gratitude into Your Daily Life
My letter board for the month of November!

Gratitude a Daily Practice 

I recommend the audiobook by Nataly Kogan titled Gratitude Daily.  She shares her own personal journey while giving guidance and prompts for the reader to try gratitude themselves.  She talks about the good and bad in her life including sharing her time in refugee camps when leaving Russia.  

“Life is made of moments. Choose to create and collect the happy ones. ~ Nataly Kogan

Three Big Benefits of Practicing Gratitude 

  1. Because gratitude refocuses the day to the positive it helps lift depression and ruts. 
  2. In gratitude, you focus on what you have versus what you want.  Leading you on a road for a happier life.
  3. Practicing gratitude helps foster stronger relationships by putting down technology and finding ways to focus on the people in front. 

How to Start Incorporating Gratitude in Your Daily Life 

It is up to you on how to incorporate it into your daily routine.  Make a point to write your gratitude at a time that works best for you.  Not a morning person, that is fine. Try writing it down in a journal before bed.  Have long days? Try doing it as a weekend meditation. The point is to write it on paper in whatever form you choose.  

Instead of writing generalized phrases like, “I am thankful I have a job.”  Think of specific reasons you are grateful. Here is a more specific examples:

I am thankful I have a job that allows me to take paid leave time to see a friend out of town.

Make an effort to turn the downsides and negatives into positives.  Right after I returned to China, I accepted a rehomed hedgehog named Benny.  Benny is not what I expected. He was losing quills, weird, and adorable. I had never expected to love him so much.  Especially since he was albino with the pink eyes I sometime found unnerving.  

I lost Benny suddenly 3 weeks later, and was heartbroken.  His quirky personality and sweet nature really won me over.  However, I had to think about how grateful I was for him coming into my life even though it was a short time.  

Some Prompts to Get Started 

  1. How can you pamper yourself in the next week?
  2. Did something good ever come from a mistake you made?
  3. What quality does your spouse/partner possess that you are most grateful for?
  4. What do you love most about your neighborhood/community?
  5. Name something kind a stranger did for you.

There are plenty more to be found on websites like Developing Good Habits.  You can use these as inspiration to get started.  

How Frequent Gratitude Helps Me

I am sure it is not surprising after reading my post about working 2 jobs that I experience unbearable burn out some days.  Professionally, I have come to let the negative thoughts experienced at work bleed into my personal life. Writing gratitude monthly has kept me in check.  It reminds me why I live the lifestyle I do currently. It also reminds me that my jobs have some big time benefits and I have a set of skills that are perfectly suited for them.  

Now on Thanksgiving Eve 2019, give it a try.  Pull a notebook, clean piece of printer paper, hell even a napkin.  Take a few moments and write down what makes you most grateful and begin your own journey into gratitude.  

Ways to Add Gratitude to Your Daily Life
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How do you express gratitude? 

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

Shopping Guide to the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s Small Business Saturday

Last week, I have ideas on how to spend Black Friday in different ways besides taking up time in the crowds.  And although my days of standing outside in ridiculous lines to buy four dollar DVDs is over, I still enjoy shopping that Saturday after Thanksgiving.  I actually enjoy spending time quietly shopping Small Business Saturday on the Mississippi Gulf Coast!  

Small Business Saturday began in 2010 with an American Express campaign.  It continued to gain exposure and popularity. It even boasted 112 million shoppers in 2016!  

Mississippi Gulf Coast Guide to Small Business Saturday
Shop Local!

Why I Shop Small Business Saturday

For several years in a row, when I still worked as a school librarian, I would enjoy Small Business Saturday on Magazine Street in New Orleans.  I would go and stroll from local business to local business enjoying the cool weather. (One of the few months I could enjoy New Orleans without sweat stains.)  Whoever came with me would enjoy stopping to sample and snack on all the great food along the street as well.  

There is a deep community impact of shopping Small Business Saturday. It is estimated that 48 percent of tax dollars stay within the local community when shopping at small businesses.  That small business is also more likely to support local charities, schools, and sports teams.  There is also an opportunity to find a gift that is truly unique and/or handmade. 

Small Business Saturday on the Mississippi Gulf Coast:

There is a range of places to check out on Small Business Saturday along the Gulf Coast.  My list shares some of my favorites, and some I would like to check out this year. I recommend following them on social media or checking out their websites for a better idea of the hours they are open.  

Like my coffee shop article, I have included their location from Bay St. Louis heading east on Highway 90. 

Bay St. Louis

The downtown area of Bay St. Louis has grown so much post-Katrina.  There is a range of local businesses all in walking distance. You can find antiques, gifts, and clothes all in the shame three to four block area.  

I recommend checking out Social Chair for funny gifts or unique jewelry.  Another great spot, that happens to be next to The Mockingbird Cafe, is Century Hall.  Century Hall is set up with booths ranging from art, antiques, and more.  

Pass Christian 

Pass Christian has a smaller downtown area, but a few businesses have popped up recently.  Enjoy books at Cat Island Coffeehouse. I recommend walking down the block to check out gifts for the men in your life.  

Long Beach

There are a few art and boutique shops on Jeff Davis Avenue in Long Beach.  You can also buy some locally roasted coffee as well.

Gulfport

Downtown Gulfport is a wonderful place to stop for a bite to eat.  I have been dying to check out the new Dolce Cafe. Soon the Gulfport Historical Society will be opening a small museum in the train depot as well.  However, there are not a lot of shops downtown right now. 

Don’t be discouraged.  There are some wonderful local businesses off of Cowan Lorraine and Pass Roads. 

  • Paper Moon-Stationary and gifts galore.  They have relocated to this location. 
  • Pecan House-Homemade edible treats and sweets.  (Don’t forget their McHenry location as well!) 
  • Heritage House-A selection of gifts from local artisans.  
  • The Island Garden Shop-Looking for a plant for grandma?  Here is your place.
  • Vintage Flamingo– Is only opened certain days out of the month.  Local vendors sell their wares like antiques and crafted items.  
  • Everything Kayak and Bicycle-Located by the Prime Outlets. You can find equipment and accessories for biking and kayaking. 
Small Business Saturday Biloxi
Great place to start gift shopping in Biloxi.

Biloxi

I love seeing the events that the Howard Avenue’s West End Merchants have sponsored lately.  Just this past weekend they had a Polar Express Day in order to kick off the holiday season.  Everyone is so cheerful and helpful in these shops. I look forward to stopping in on my way to and from the library.  

  • Howard Avenue’s West End Merchants
    • Southern Bound Books-They do not only carry new and used books, but also gifts.  (I am planning on purchasing some of their book candles!) 
    • The Fashion Carriage-This is where I have found some cute outfits for last winter, including my Sherpa pullover.  
    • Howard Avenue Emporium-Antiques with some great examples of furniture and housewares.  
  • Gallery 782 Co-Art (Also in Downtown Biloxi on Jackson Street.)  Here you can find a group of gifts to buy made from Local Artists.
Shop Local Biloxi

D’Iberville

D’Iberville has made a name for itself by opening up the Promenade in 2009.  There are a few boutiques off of Big Ridge, and I hope to see more in the future.  Auto Mall Parkway also has some large antique shops including the giant Century Antiques

Ocean Springs 

Although another Peter Anderson Festival has come and gone there are still plenty of crafts, art, and gifts to purchase in Downtown Ocean Springs.  This is just a quick list of a few favorites. I focused on shops I have recently purchased from or visited. There are so many more to see and I encourage you to enjoy them by allowing yourself plenty of time to browse.

  • Poppy’s-Gifts and ornaments
  • Hillyer House-Some of the most beautiful housewares you can find on the coast handmade.
  • Realizations-Find prints from local artist Walter Anderson on all merchandise from throw blankets to baby clothes.
  • Ocean Springs Mercantile-I little further down Government, but worth the visit for all the wares in one spot.  
  • Marina Soap Cottage-I love her Naughty Nat bug spray that smells like vanilla instead of DEET.  All items in this shop are made with natural ingredients in order to be use don sensitive skin.  
  • So many more!  Just take a walk this is the starting point.  
Shop Local Mississippi Gulf Coast
Check out Mississippi Mercantile on Highway 53.

Other Places to Check Out Further North:  

I could not forget to mention these two as well.  I sometimes visit Mississippi Mercantile when I have a Saturday off.  (Rare as that is.) It has booths, and a lot of times my favorite local honey by Miss. B is set up there as well.  

During Peter Anderson Festival this year, I spotted some beautiful pottery from Red Creek Pottery.  They are sometimes available at Hillyer House in Ocean Springs. I recommend checking them out on Facebook and Instagram.  The creator, Jacob Craig makes wonderful pieces that I know my grandma would have loved.  

Disclaimer:

I would like to emphasize, there are some other wonderful places to visit on the Gulf Coast for Small Business Saturday.  This list is just meant to be a sampler and not at all comprehensive. If you can think of anyone I missed, please mention them in the comments below! 

 Where would you like to shop on Small Business Saturday?   What is your favorite small business? 

Shop Small Business Saturday Gulf Coast
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Sweet Potato Versus Pumpkin: The Great Southern Debate

I knew it was a thing to have pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.  But growing up, we did not in our household. My family always had sweet potato pie as Thanksgiving dessert.  Due to popular culture in film and television shows I honestly thought that pumpkin pie was just a Yankee thing.  

Then the advent of the pumpkin spice lattes happened.  So now pumpkin is the big thing everywhere it seems. So with Thanksgiving less than a week away, let’s have a chat about these two holiday favorites. 

Sweet Potato vs Pumpkin
Sweet Potato Pie and Pumpkin all share that beautiful orange color.

Sweet Potato It’s a Southern Things

There are few reasons people believe that sweet potato is such a popular Thanksgiving food in the southeast.  It can be found on tables from Louisiana to Georgia. For one thing, it is grown easily and cheaply. Another explanation is that African slaves were able to adapt the recipes for the yams of their home continent with the sweet potato.  

Some families have pie or casserole recipes that have been handed down for generations.  Often these recipes are simple with similar ingredients with pumpkin pie. This quote from chef Gregory Cole in this food article

“If you give someone a sweet potato pie or bring one to someone’s house, that’s love.”

Sweet Potato versus Pumpkin
Sweet Potato is wonderful baked, sweet, and even fried!

Is There REALLY a Difference?

Some argue that there is little or no difference between the taste of pumpkin and sweet potato.  However, there are some big differences if you look at them before they are mushed to be cooked. In the squash family pumpkin certainly looks more attractive to the tuber family of the sweet potato.  

As of now, 42 different types of pumpkins exist, while only 5 sweet potato varieties exist. (This despite over 4,000 varieties of potatoes!)   There is even a white sweet potato I discovered at the Woolmarket Produce Stand a few months ago! Both host a range of health benefits.  

Sweet Potato Versus Pumpkin
This year, I ordered a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

How I Like Them:

I enjoy both in their own way.  I love sweet potato casseroles and pies.  However, I feel like my southerner citizenship may be revoked for ordering a pumpkin pie this year. ( It is from Le Bakery on Oak Street, and I know it will be delicious.)

Like any good former sorority girl and teacher, I enjoy a good pumpkin spice latte.  Now they are super sweet so I usually get them with soy and half the syrup. This year, Starbucks released a pumpkin cold brew with foam.  It is delicious and the D’Iberville Target sold out the first day it was released.

I also enjoy a good pumpkin beer.  There are some good pumpkin beers made because of the craft beer movement that is finally becoming a thing in the southeast.  However, pumpkin beer has been made in America since the 1770s!

Lazy Magnolia also has a Sweet Potato Stout if you are interested in something different.  Don’t forget to give sweet potato fries a try. I find them enjoyable whether they are at Southport Line or JFK Airport.  

Sweet Potato vs Pumpkin
Pumpkin Cheesecake

It’s All Delicious Anyway

Honestly, I like both sweet potato and pumpkin equally.  They both represent fall comfort food at its best! As long as there is a dollop of cool whip on top.  

What will be served at your Thanksgiving this year? Sweet Potato or Pumpkin Pie? 

Sweet Potato vs Pumpkin
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Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

Ways to Spend Black Friday Besides Shopping

Black Friday is a holiday unto itself.  People wait in long lines, refresh their browser in the wee hours of the morning, and even begin as early as Thanksgiving evening!  I have done Black Friday both ways. Shopping late at night and staying home in my pajamas. I certainly prefer the later. (Seriously, think of the traffic alone!)  

The Balance website reported that shoppers in 2018 spent over 717.5 billion dollars last Black Friday.  It averaged to 1007.24 dollars per shopper! Now, remember when I said you should be finished with Christmas shopping before Black Friday?  Well, if you heeded my advice, here are some recommendations on how to spend the day instead!  

Ways to Spend Black Friday
Relax and enjoy the Hallmark Movies!

Have a Holiday Movie Marathon

Love Hallmark movies?  Can’t say no to Lifetime Christmas movies?  Here is your chance to indulge. No more social media guilt about skipping Thanksgiving.  Become hygge and light some candles while sipping a hot beverage.  

I am personally saving Netflix Let It Snow for this Black Friday!  (I highly recommend checking out the book first.)

Hike a Local Nature Trail 

REI began #OptOutside in 2015.  Since then, outdoorsy people have found alternative ways to spend Black Friday outdoors.  I did the same in 2016 during Friendsgiving in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  

Even if you are not into nature, you can find a way to enjoy the day outside.  If you live on the Gulf Coast, the likelihood is the weather will be warm enough to sit outside at a cafe or walk the Ocean Springs-Biloxi Bridge. 

Ways to Spend Black Friday
#OptOutside this Black Friday!

Clean Out Your Closets 

If you are planning on a new holiday wardrobe, you will need room.  You may also find it relaxing to declutter before the Elf on the Shelf comes to mess everything up.  I recommend this as a time to embrace the spirit of giving by donating clothes to a local shelter or charity.  

You can also continue onto your pantry and refrigerator to make sure everything is up to date and fresh.

Put Out Your Christmas Decorations

I have noticed a great number of my friends and family have gotten a jump on the holiday.  As of the day this posts, many have already posted pictures of cute Christmas trees and festive lights in their homes.   My tree goes up Thanksgiving weekend. Since my husband is opposed to pre-Thanksgiving Christmas decorating, I usually only put up my tree early if I’m out of town that weekend.  The stretch between Thanksgiving is only 27 days, so that is not a lot of time to enjoy the decorations.  

Hint:  Remember those holiday movies?  You can play them at the same time you decorate!

Ways to Spend Black Friday
Wrap all the gifts and trim the tree!

Do an Airbnb Experience

Now, this is not the cheapest option on the list.  However, it could be a lot of fun. This year in China, Ed and I tried three different experiences hosted through Airbnb.  We took a walking tour, photographs, and even a Soup Dumpling Cooking class.  Airbnb vets artisans, experts, and creatives to host their own experiences in their local cities. 

So far, the Gulf Coast has a bike tour, cooking classes, and more are being added all the time.  Take this as an opportunity to be a tourist for the day or learn a new skill.

Make Your Own Cards and Gifts 

If you feel confident, create a craft station in your home to make some handmade gifts.  You can make cake mixes in jars, frames, or go with whatever Pinterest finds you. While you are at it, you can also make your own cards easily with scrapbook paper, stamps, and cardstock. 

You can also wrap completed gifts and sign cards.

Find a Volunteer Opportunity 

Remember the quote from our friend Dr. Seuss in his Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas:  

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Some organizations have a process to screen volunteers, but could always use help at fundraising events.  My time volunteering with the Salvation Army entailed assisting at the Angel Tree booth by signing out Angels and then collecting gifts.  Local residents of the Gulf Coast can check out the organization Gulf Coast HUB for Volunteers & Nonprofits to assist in finding opportunities to help.  Help your own heart grow three sizes too big by helping out this holiday season.

Christmas Test Kitchen

Dig through your Pinterest boards and cookbooks!  Use this day to try out all the cookie swap recipes and Christmas goodies you would like to give out this year.  You can enjoy the smell of fresh baked goods instead of standing in line at Starbucks for 30 minutes with all the other shoppers. 

Ways to Spend Black Friday
Christmas test kitchen in progress!

Friend Bonfire and/or Leftovers Night 

Spend time with friends by enjoying your surplus of leftovers together and listening to the crackling fire.  You can choose other activities like board games, corn hole, or a holiday movie night. It may also be a great night to try putting everyone’s phones in a basket in order to enjoy each others company.                                                                                                                          

Alright, If You Really Must…

Some of the deals and interest free financing are too great to pass up.  Remember 3 things:

  1.  Most of the big sales and deals are available online that day!  (Clicking refresh in pajamas seems better than standing in line.)
  2. In order to indulge your need for consumerism you can always create a free wish list on Amazon of things you would like under the tree!
  3. Small Business Saturday is a thing and the next day! 

It is totally fine if you want to shop until you drop.  I have enjoyed this in years past. However, I wanted to recommend and encourage everyone to rethink the day in order to use it best for you.  

Ways to Spend Black Friday
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What are your Black Friday plans?  

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

The Two Job Juggling Act: How I Work 2 Full Time Jobs

“Hustle is my love language.” Rachel Hollis

I have been working two jobs since May of 2018.  When I decided to leave my job as a school librarian and move to Vietnam, my career became a vortex for random opportunities.  Vietnam happened for a very short time, and then I tried a different school district. That is when I decided I would never be content in the public school system in Mississippi.  That is when I became a full time VIPKid teacher.  Within two months, I had built a sustainable full time income teaching English in my pajamas.

However, it did not solve the problem of health insurance or retirement.  After working for VIPKid for 5 months, my pre-teaching job opened up at the Local History library. The pay is atrocious, but it covers health care and I pay into my vested state retirement.  As a result, my average work week now consists of 64 hours.  

Working 2 Full Time Jobs
Lulu and I have had some rough mornings.

Have I lost my mind?

I do feel this way some mornings. Especially after time change, and my first class begins at 4 A.M.  I often wonder what I am doing with my life after teaching 2 hours on a Saturday night after a 12 hour day.  However, I have found a happy working life is a seesaw. If one thing is good, then something else will not be so great.  So although I love working with the patrons and documents, the library pay is too low to cover bills. I love teaching my students as well, but the hours are rough with no paid time off.

The bottom line is no job is perfect.  Also, our time is our most valuable commodity.  So here are a few of my thoughts after working the past year and a half at 2 full-time jobs.  

How I Work 2 Jobs
Me at Job #1. VIPKid Teacher!

Know Your Why

None of this will last if you do not know the reason for doing this.  My why is that I want to be as close to my own boss as possible. I also enjoy the flexibility of online teaching and the leave time of the library.  I love all my co-workers both virtual and in person with both jobs.

Not to mention, how much less stress my life has now.  

How I Work 2 Jobs
Me at Job #2. History and Genealogy Librarian!

Prioritize Basic Needs First

Functioning at maximum capacity only works if you keep yourself healthy.  I can only last about 3 days without a full night of sleep. My body rebels if I do not eat right after a few weeks.  If I do not drink enough water, I have a headache by evening time. So sure a habit tracker if needed or a reminder on your phone.  

Make working out during free time a priority as well.  This helps keep your body agile and improves energy levels.  

Be the Master of Your Schedule

When I was re-hired back as a librarian, I wrote out several schedule scenarios.  I thought of the ending time of my classes before and after daylight savings times and the length of my commute.  Weekly, I try to ruthlessly schedule my additional time after work. I create lists of monthly goals, weekly tasks, and daily ‘to dos.’ 

The other things I must be aware of is the amount of time being drained from Netflix, social media, and mindless web browsing.  This is something I struggle with daily. Some days I win and some days I lose. However, I am making a more intentional approach to consuming content as recommended in this recent podcast I just finished by Rachel Hollis.  

How I Work 2 Jobs
Planner game strong.

Multi-Task What is Possible

I will make a point to listen to audiobooks during my car rides and podcasts during my walks.  This is a way I can still enjoy reading and learning without stopping my day. I also dry my hair while reviewing my future VIPKid classes.  It is easy to hold a hedgehog while running computer updates or scrolling pictures.  

Get creative, what can you do while doing something else? 

There’s an App for That!

Walmart Grocery pick-up saves me over 4-5 hours a month.  I think of tedious tasks and time consuming errands then try to find ways to reduce my time. I do not own a home helper like an Echo because my Fire Stick has voice capabilities. Using the Fire stick, I will switch songs, request shows, and browse YouTube using my voice.  

Constantly, I use phone notes and reminders to keep me on track if something is off from my regular schedule.  

Really Enjoy Your Off Time

Most times, I try to take every other Sunday off of both jobs.  On this day, I have taken road trips with Edward or planned an afternoon out with a friend.  I took two weeks to enjoy China without teaching and just traveling. It has caused me to value time with people and doing relaxing things.  

I recommend unplugging from social media and getting outside.

Love What You Do!

Both of my current jobs are my top 2 favorite jobs ever.  I never regret waking up at the crack of dawn to help a student learn English or driving to the library to help with research.  I am always growing and learning with both jobs daily. Whether it is something that happened locally in the 1940s or a new word in Chinese.  

And besides, it all works out as long as coffee still exists in the world.

How I Work 2 Jobs!
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Have you ever worked two jobs at one time?  How did you manage? 

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission is you click through and make a purchase.

How We Afford to Travel: Real Talk From a Real Couple

We love to travel. So there is one phrase that is like nails on a chalkboard to me.  It is, “Must be nice.”  This phrase is shot to Ed and I often when we discuss recent or upcoming travels.  Since 2007, we have traveled to over 10 countries together and survived 5 international flights together. We like long road trips and last minute trips if it is possible. When someone says, “Must be nice.” They don’t realize that we have made a decision to not eat out for 2 months to save for a plane ticket and to this day still do not have rug in our living room. 

Saving money for travel is as much about priorities as it is income or resources.  It is a mindset we have practiced since the early days of our relationship.  Here are a few secrets we have gathered over the past twelve years of travel that allow us to make travel a priority.

How We Afford to Travel
Castle on the hill in Sentra, Portugal

After Basic Needs, Make Traveling a Priority

Firstly, we ensure bills, mortgage, and food is covered.  (You know, the basic needs.)  Then we decide what can be saved for future trips.  Ed and I then decide what needs to be sacrificed in order for the trip to happen.  It may be eating out or going to the movies.  Also, we take into account money we may save away.  Example: Turning the AC up and having a lower power bill while we are away.

Other things we have put to the side to travel:  decorating the living room, replacing our Hudson’s plates, and having an iPhone three generations behind the current model. 

Create a Realistic Time Frame

Once we have a written budget for a trip, we will create a time frame.  We take the following into consideration when creating a timeline.

  1. How long we want to travel versus how much time we can take off of work. 
  2. When is the best time to visit that country based on cultural events and weather.  (Knowing it will be more expensive during popular times.)
  3. The amount of money we can save for our trip.
How We Afford to Travel
Prayers in the Temple. Suzhou, China

Buy the Most Expensive Tickets First and Pay It Off

Our first purchase is always the international plane ticket.  I usually book the plane tickets 3 to 6 months in advance.  I will pay off the plane tickets right away, and then move on to lodging.  By the time we depart, all major attractions, transportation, and experiences are paid off.  The main goal is to depart with no credit card debt. 

That way, if there is an emergency or something unexpected, we can still afford the rest of our trip with an emergency credit card that is not maxed out.

Research the Entire Trip from Transportation to Attractions

We know what to purchase by researching all aspects of the trips.  One can easily be surprised by the cost of public transportation or travel to the airport.  I was shocked to learn there is no jetty bus service from Hilton Head to the Savannah Airport. This caused me to fork out 50 dollars for an Uber. 

Take time to list all big attractions you would like to visit.  Some of the heavy hitters in Europe can be outrageously expensive.  A morning visit to a castle can easily cost 100 dollars for 2 people 

How We Afford to Travel
The beautiful lanterns of Suzhou, China.

Balance Time Versus Cost

When we first began traveling on a EuroRail pass in 2008, we would take 4-6 hour trains to avoid additional fees.  We have loaded crowded metros, and buses going up mountain sides in order to save money.  Now, we consider how much time we will save taking a pricier option.

A good example of this is our second Europe trip to Spain.  We would pay 10 Euros extra to save seats on fast trains saving us hours of transit time.  In China, we chose the metro to avoid city traffic in Shanghai and Beijing. 

Pack Light

Checked luggage prices are on the rise with the price of jet fuel.  Bringing big bags can easily double the cost of your transit on a budget airline.  Not to mention, how difficult it makes navigating public transportation, cobble stone streets, and lodging with no elevators. 

**This tip may just save your relationship.  Nothing is more awkward then trying to navigate a foreign city with a suitcase that can fit two people inside it while your partner has only a backpack.

Master the Picnic and Have Limited Meals Out

Going to Asia was a pleasant surprise.  Street food and food courts are outrageously cheap when considering the exchange rates.  However, when traveling pricier locations, we often will raid a supermarket or convenience store.  There we will find parks to snack throughout the day.  We make a goal to eat out somewhere nice each location we visit.

However, some of my best meals are unique foods that we have found in supermarkets like smelly cheese and local fruits.

Take Experience Over Things

I feel like authentic local souvenirs are far and few between.  Therefore, we do not stress about doing a lot of souvenir shopping.   Instead, we spend time visiting outside art installations, finding the best Sangria in Madrid, or watching Chinese folk dance in a park.

A memory, great pictures, and unique videos are the best souvenirs you can bring home anyway. 

Take a Jaunt Off of the Expensive Path

We have found the price tag for coffee raises considerably the closer you get to a main tourist attraction.  This goes for food, t-shirts, and even bottled water.  Take some time to explore a local neighborhood with character. 

In Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, I would get my nails done away from the tourist district.  I could get a gel manicure and pedicure for eleven dollars.  However, the salons in District 1 were charging American prices.   

How We Afford to Travel
Enjoying the view in Shanghai.

Finally….

We would like you to take away that from this article is that although traveling is a big commitment on money and time it is not unattainable.  It may not be possible now, but if you are mindful of your budget you can easily work towards the trip of your dream.  Make it fun with your partner.  As you are saving, enjoy documentaries and food shows set where you want to travel.  Turn saving money into a game by having a curse jar or no spend months like I did earlier this year. 

But most importantly, enjoy the journey.  By this, I mean the actual journey and the journey to saving the money to get there as well.

How we afford to travel.
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What is your best tip for saving money for travel?