Don't Let The Grinch Steal Your Christmas...Safely Tips for Safe Holiday Shopping!

Much holiday shopping these days is done online and there nothing worse than completing all of your shopping, giving the gifts and then waking up the day after Christmas to find your credit card has been compromised.  I should know because that very thing happened to me last year to the tune of about $2,000!  Don't worry, I was able to contact my credit card company and get all of it refunded but wow, what a hassle after all of the hectic holiday frenzy.  So, whenever I was asked to post some tips about safe holiday shopping this year I was instantly onboard!

                          Five Tips for Safe Holiday Shopping For Your Family in 2017

We all know how important it is to set good examples for our kids, especially when it comes to internet usage, online information, and shopping habits. This year alone, nearly 72% of holiday shoppers will be making online purchases. With a projected value of $106 billion, online hackers and other cybercriminals have been preparing all year to take advantage of vulnerable individuals and information.

Protecting your family from these unwanted holiday attacks requires a proactive approach. Savvy individuals willing to practice online safety and review their financial information for fraudulent or unauthorized activity are much more prepared to identify and address seasonal internet crime. From reading up on current scams, to actively monitoring internet and account activity, staying safe this season can be easy as long as you follow these helpful tips.

Tip 1:   Check the website's security
With the abundance of fake ecommerce websites, it’s essential to make sure both the product pages and checkout page are secure before authorizing the purchase. Scammers often attract individuals with unbelievable deals, rare merchandise, and other tantalizing offers, however, they’re less likely to have obtained the necessary certifications required to secure the site (but it is possible). Therefore, to be safe, consider checking the URL in question against Google's Transparency Report for the site’s safety rating.

Tip 2: Monitor your account(s) and sensitive information for changes
Individuals should frequently check all active online accounts and billing statements in order to identify and report unauthorized usage or charges as soon as possible. Fraudulent spending or access to sensitive information could seriously damage your current and future financial standing. Therefore, it’s essential to catch issues early and follow the necessary steps required to dispute fraudulent charges or identity theft attempts on your credit report.

Tip 3: Use strong and unique passwords for parental controls and shared accounts
We all know how important it is to keep an eye on the content our children view and the amount of they spend online. Parental controls make it easier to track, limit, or entirely prevent online activity while also filtering websites and protecting your stored information like credit card numbers or other passwords from unauthorized access. Ensuring you have an extremely strong and unique password when activating parental controls is the most effective way to guarantee your kids won’t crack it. Another quick tip is to create entirely new passwords for all new online accounts!

Tip 4: Update your computer’s security software

If you keep clicking “remind me tomorrow” on your computer's update notifications, today’s the day. Installing manufacturer recommended updates ensures that your sensitive information and software is protected against current threats. Although it seems simple, the 30 minutes spent updating could save you hours of headache. Hackers use malware and viruses to penetrate weak or unprotected WiFi networks, programs, or operating systems. To identify and address these vulnerabilities, manufacturers and development teams release and highly recommend installing the most recent security updates to ensure your computer is protected. 

Tip 5: Lead by example and limit online shopping
Although it’s not always possible, limiting your exchange of sensitive information using the internet is the most secure way to stay safe from cyber criminals. Consider leading by example this season in order to teach safe, responsible, and thoughtful purchasing. Instead of shopping online, have a discussion with your kids around the importance of supporting small businesses, security of cash, and value of keeping money in the local system. Try making a new tradition by logging out of the computer, collecting the kids, and exploring your community for unique things and hidden treasures that make the most thoughtful gifts!

 Don't let The Grinch steal your holiday joy by not practicing safe online holiday shopping! 


Reindeer Food Recipe!

Alright, if you're like me and REALLY get into the Christmas spirit then you go all out with the kiddos.  This year I sent them all letters from Santa, complete with maps from the North Pole to their homes.  It was so fun to see their little door hangers that said, "I'm on the Nice List, Santa.  Stop Here!"  Well, if we are in agreement about making this a special time of year for all the little ones in your life then I've got just the DIY project that you need to try!

As we all know, if it weren't for Rudolph and all of his pals, Santa would be in real big trouble getting to all of the houses out there.  And we certainly don't want him losing his way to yours!  So, why not leave a trail of reindeer food for them to follow?  Don't have a recipe, you say?  Well, Personal Creations just happens to have one for you, complete with printable tags that have the cutest little poems!

                                                     CLICK HERE TO GET STARTED!

After making your Reindeer Food, you will want to bag it up and add one of the cute downloadable tags with a poem to it!
                                                   “Sprinkle on the lawn at night,
                                       The moon will make it sparkle bright,
                                         Santa’s Reindeer fly and roam,
                                     This will help them find your home!”

Want a little more hands-on activity for your little ones?  There is even a tag you can download for them to color.

                          And how about one for an elf, Rudolph or even Santa, himself?!

Each of these adorable tags come with their own special poem and they are absolutely FREE for you to download with you kiddos so the countdown fun of waiting for Santa to arrive can officially begin!

DIY Mason Jar Snow Globes Just in Time for Christmas!

Who out there does not love doing arts and crafts projects with their kiddos?  And what kid doesn't love doing arts and crafts projects?  OK, now that we've answered that question I've got one for you that I think everyone will love!  It's a mason jar snow globe with a step-by-step guide from Shutterfly that you and your children can easily construct.  There are so many options to make these snow globes unique that I know you will not want to make just one.  Fill the inside of the globe with any variety of small magical items then sprinkle some glitter for the snowflakes and you've got a charming little keepsake to take out and use year after year or a great gift for friends, neighbors or grandparents!

Here are just a few items you will need to get started on your project:

  • Tree ornament
  • Glitter (2 tablespoons per globe)
  • Clear glue (2 ounces per globe)
  • Warm water (1 cup per globe)
  • Mason jar
  • Spoon
  • Glue gun
                                      SOME IDEAS TO GET YOU STARTED!

Use the guide to get you started then let your imagination run wild creating this cute project!  OH...and don't forget to attach a card to your gift!


Tears in a Bottle

With my mother's death just two days ago, I am reminded of a Bible verse:  "You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in your bottle.  You have recorded each one in your book." Psalm 56:8

This verse paints a lovely picture for me of God's love.  He cares enough about my sorrows to capture each and every tear of mine and put it in a bottle.  Wow.  I wonder how big the bottle is or how many there are.  Because along this journey with my mother I have shed many.

Thursday I made my daily visit with her and each time I left I wondered if it would be the last earthly visit I had with her.  I remember her looking a little worse than the day before but her eyes were opened, although glassed over a bit.  Her chin had turned cooler than usual and I had noticed other signs that her body was beginning to shut down.  As I sat there I talked to her about heaven once again.  She had indicated earlier in the week that she was seeing a light.  I told her how wonderful it would be to see my father who had been deceased for fifty years, how excited he would be to see her again.  And how her blind eyes would finally be able to see again.  She would be able to run and jump and there would be no pain.  I also reminded her that her lovely white hair would most likely be replaced by the striking black mane that she once had.  And her job in heaven would surely be to tend the flower gardens there.  Ones more beautiful that she ever tended here on earth.  I told her, "You have fought the battle, you have finished the race, you have done good."  And then I kissed her on the cheek, told her I loved her and would see her again the next day.

I received a call around 10 pm from the nursing home that evening.  The nurse told me that my mother was not doing well.  I said, "I'm on my way."  I made my husband drive as fast as he could and the entire time I was saying, "Don't let her die before I get there, don't let her die before I get there."  And then my husband turned to me and said, "It will be OK if she does."

Upon arriving, I walked as quickly down the hall as I could, swung the door open and ran to her bedside.  I began saying, "Mama...Mama?"  I touched her hand and then her face. She did not respond and I looked at my husband and told him to get the nurse.  He already knew but turned for the door just as she walked in.  My mother was gone.  Gone from this earth into her heavenly home.  And although I had prayed for months for God to take her, to take her out of her pain and misery, I suddenly felt so sad and overwhelmed and alone.  And that's when fresh tears began to drop.

Those tears have fallen ever since.  Whenever I awake and remember that she is gone, they fall.  Whenever my mind recalls a memory, they fall.  And then I take comfort in knowing that although both of my earthly parents have gone to heaven, I have have a heavenly Father.  One who cares so much for me that he is catching every one of those tears and putting them in a bottle.  And that he knows all of my sorrows.  He knows exactly how I am hurting right now.  And that gives me hope.  Hope that this intense pain will one day get better.  That He will hold my hand not only through the next couple of days that are sure to be unbearable,  but always.  He will walk every step of this next journey I am to take with me.  And He will pick me up and carry me whenever I am too weary to walk.

People have said that on the other side of sadness is joy.  Less than twelve hours after my mother passed into the eternal world, I witnessed the birth of my tenth grandchild.  And as I watched that precious little boy be delivered into our world I thought, what a gift that God has given me.  He has shown me the circle of life; both life and death within just a few hours of each other.  I'm still reeling from all of this and don't understand the mysteries of God.  But I do know He cares for me.  He has shown me that and I am overwhelmed with His love and mercy.  His mercies truly are new every day.


Hospice During the Holidays

Hospice care is never easy.  You know this if you have had a loved one in hospice care.  It means the end is near.  So any time you are dealing with hospice care it is a stressful and emotional time in your life.  During the holiday season I believe even more so because of the stark contrast between the joyful festivities versus the dark reality of an imminent death.

For those of you who are not aware, my mother is currently in hospice care in a nursing home.  This past June she fell out of bed and broke her hip.  People always told me when the elderly broke a hip it was bad.  I'm pretty sure "bad' is not even the word that begins to describe this journey my sister and I have been on with our mother since then.  Following her initial surgery in June she has also had six more surgeries.  That's a lot for anybody but for an 89 years old it is unfathomable how she has even survived.  After the last surgery she was suffering so much from intense pain that we consulted with a palliative care physician and hospice.

I've had time to think these days; probably too much time to do so.  Because as I sit beside my mother's bedside, she unable to eat, drink or speak, I begin thinking of so many things.  How she loved the outdoors and spent almost every waking moment in her beautiful flower gardens.  How during the holidays she spent hours in the kitchen whipping up her traditional foods for the season.  How in her later years whenever she wasn't able to do these things you could find her in her rocking chair in front of the television watching every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made while eating the popcorn she often ate for her evening meal.  Our minds take us back to every nostalgic moment  we have stored in our memory banks.

As the holiday season is officially upon us now, one thing is clear; death has no respect for time.  It doesn't care what time of the year it is or the day or hour.  My sister and I visit our mother every day at least once.  She's usually completely non-responsive.  Sometimes she will open her eyes a bit and attempt to say something but words don't come out.  And I feel helpless, even distraught at times because I can clearly remember her telling us that she never wanted to be in this condition.  Her (and our) hopes were that God would take her quickly.  But He hasn't done that and I don't know why.  We've prayed,  as I'm sure she has,  for Him to show mercy and not allow her to linger in this condition.  But she has.  And I know that God has a plan for everything but I keep asking myself what it is.

As I said before, hospice is hard.  No, it's worse than a simple word like that; it's difficult to explain to anyone who has not experienced it first hand.  It's not just the daily visits where you have to see your loved one in the condition they are in but it is every waking (and often times sleeping) minute of the day.  You may for a moment be doing something and you're suddenly drawn back to what is really going on in your life right now.  You wake up in the morning and go to bed in the evening with the thought of your loved one's impending death on your mind.  You sleep with a phone beside your bed at night and during the day it is always in your hand because you are waiting; waiting for the phone to ring and say they have passed away.  And that makes you so anxious because you are so sad that they will possibly pass away alone.

As I sit in the chair beside my mother's bed I watch her breathe.  Because the nurses have told me about a dying patient's respiration and how it slows down to so many beats per minute.  This is information I want to know but also do not want to know.  It's while watching her breathe that I truly hope she dies while I am there.  While she knows I am there and can feel my hand on her arm and know that she is not alone.  I imagine her taking her last breath and wondering why we aren't there with her.  These things goes through your mind while sitting and watching someone breathe, waiting for their last breath.

I attempt to present myself as "normal" but these are not normal times.  I do not feel normal.  I feel as though I am in limbo with all of this waiting and yet times keeps moving along.  It's the week of Thanksgiving and I have already bought my turkeys and pulled my mother's dressing recipe out.  All of the children are planning to prepare their favorite dishes to bring and the grandchildren are out of school running around playing and excited for Christmas that will soon be here.  It is a combination of happy and sad for me.  I love the holiday season and everything about it.  The sights and smells and sounds. But how can I be happy with my mother dying?  I can't be happy.  But I can be joyful.  Joy is what lives inside you, it is not dependent on circumstances.  Because many times in our lives our circumstances are not happy ones.  And so during this season I will be sad while I wait,  but I will also be joyful because I know that , "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18."


The New Trend: Hot Beverage Bars

I had never really seen a hot beverage bar until I attended a wedding a few years ago and the bride had a lovely one set up with not only coffee but also hot chocolate, peppermint sticks, whipped    cream, those cute little sugar cubes and much more.  I was instantly smitten!  I thought this idea was so great that I couldn't wait to use it, myself, at the next baby shower I was planning.  It was such a great focal piece; not just functional but also unique and aesthetically charming.  I thought, "If I could only have this look every day, it would make me feel as though I were miles away in a French cafe' sipping my afternoon coffee."  That's why whenever my daughter moved to her new home and asked her dad to build her a hot beverage bar,  I was both intrigued and excited.  (And I also wondered why I hadn't thought of that!)

My daughter has a very distinct style in which she has decorated her home; eclectic vintage farmhouse.  So many of her vintage pieces were her grandmother's and she has incorporated quite a few of those into the decor or her hot beverage bar.
Set against the lovely backdrop of a neutral wall on one side and brick on the other this hot beverage bar looks warm and inviting.

The bar was painted a soft, creamy white that would enhance the appearance of the vintage decorative pieces used.

Combining old and new items add to the charm of this piece.

There's nothing as comforting as having your favorite coffee mug filled with your favorite hot beverage on a crisp fall day.

Mason jars, silver spoons and cookies; what a delicious combination!

Wire baskets and wooden and metal crates not only add to the eclectic look, but also serve as functional pieces for storage.

 There are so many options for decorating a hot beverage bar year round.  Think holidays and special occasions.   This bar could easily be transformed by changing the wreath to a holiday themed one and adding some festive cups, napkins and perhaps some unique, subtle decorations.  There are endless possibilities for this bar!  If you, however, are not so great at deciding how to choose a bar for your home or decorating it, the interior designers at Havenly  can help you achieve your own special look so you too can spend time in the solitude of your own home soaking up the aroma of roasting coffee beans and dreaming of far-away places.

PHOTO CREDIT:  Caitlin Jarrell (CaitlinHolli Photography)


Accessorizing to Create the Perfect Fall Wedding Look

Jewelry, I have always believed, is a very personal accessory.  It reflects ones' personality and how it is worn can compliment or take away from an outfit.  There are many things to consider when choosing a piece of jewelry to complement an outfit.  And with fall wedding season upon us I thought it only fitting that we create a fall outfit complete with accessories to create an aesthetically pleasing ensemble.

Fall...what a wonderful time of year to plan a wedding.  The colors are alive and vibrant, welcoming the new season and when invited to a fall wedding event you will want to choose the very best look.  And looking your best doesn't simply mean just choosing a dress and pair of shoes; finish the outfit completely with all accessories looking as though they were simply a part of the ensemble and not a second thought, thrown together at the last minute.

Let's begin with the outfit.  There are several different types of necklines that you may be wearing and different types of jewelry are appropriate for each.  The wrap dress is one of my favorite go-to dresses for almost any occasion and everyone knows that Diane Von Furstenburg is the queen of the wrap dress.  The neckline of the wrap dress is usually a statement in itself, therefore, I tend to keep it simple with jewelry and perhaps only choose a pair of earrings and bracelet.
Whenever I first saw this DVF wrap dress it said, "fall".  The aquamarine and black fine print are rich and beautiful for a fall wedding event.  

I was introduced to Via Spiga shoes years ago and instantly fell in love with them.  Beautifully made and classic; they can literally be worn forever.
This shoe is the perfect choice to wear with the wrap dress.  Almost a bootie but with a dressier, feminine look with the peep toe and skinny heel. 

 Now, let's look at the jewelry to pair with this outfit.  As I mentioned before, jewelry is very personal and I have found that over the years a classic piece of jewelry is always a great investment piece.  And if you haven't started purchasing some investment pieces for yourself then I have just the place to start; AUrate New York.  Crafted in New York by some of the finest artisans, their pieces are not only beautiful and timeless classics but they are also ethically created.  "They source their material in accordance with the highest standards of social, environmental and human rights practices. Their diamonds and pearls are also purchased from conflict-free regions, in compliance with all applicable  United Nations resolutions."  And if that is not enough to impress you, for each piece of jewelry you purchase from AUrate, an economically underprivileged child will receive a book.

These tapered, solid earrings in vermeil are absolutely gorgeous and the perfect accent to the wrap dress.  These earrings are  also customizable and can be upgraded to 14K or 18K. 

Finish the look off with this great leather envelope clutch and cashmere wrap and then you are set for the occasion!
This Italian-made Black Leather Envelope Clutch is the perfect bag for this outfit.  Sleek and simple and just the perfect size to take to a formal event.

For those chilly fall evenings don't forget a wrap.  This Black cashmere wrap , not only cozy, but classic as well, will keep
you warm and looking put together throughout the evening.  

Remember, every occasion is an opportunity to set your style apart from others.  This classic fall ensemble is sure to have heads turning and people asking about your effortless style choices.

                                                             CREATE THE LOOK

                                                                DVF Wrap Dress

                                                          Via Spiga Ida Peep Toe Pump

                                               AUrate New York Tapered Solid Earrings

                                                                 Black Leather Clutch

                                                                Black Cashmere Wrap

Homemade Face Paint Tutorial Just in Time for Halloween

What kid doesn't just LOVE face paint?  I know mine do.  Every time we are at an event that has face painting, we're in line to choose our favorite animal or character to be for the day!  While we were on vacation this summer, we even found some face paint in a toy store, bought some, took it home and voila...we had an afternoon of such FUN flitting around pretending to be all sorts of creatures!

But what if I told you that Personal Creations has written a blog post that tells you how YOU can make your own face paint in the most awesome colors?  Well, I just couldn't resist telling you about their Home Made Face Paint Recipe and not only that but also how to create the prettiest colors!
These are two of the adorable designs you will learn to paint, step-by-step in this article...and just in time for Halloween!

I believe that a child's imagination should be enhanced in any way possible. Whenever I see the smiles on the faces and the laughter in the air from creating something homemade and  simple I know success has been achieved!  Visit the Personal Creation Blog to find out how to make your own face paint, create a palette of beautiful colors and follow the directions on how to paint a ladybug, crown, puppy and flower!


Family Fun Night

I don't know about you and your family, but MY BIG, FAT SOUTHERN FAMILY just LOVES games!
From the oldest to well...almost the youngest (since we do have a few babies) everybody loves playing games.  And I have a cabinet full of them and have also begun to collect children's games as well.

 One of things my crew love to play is card games.  Y'all, these card games could go on forever!  And they have gone on until late at night.  But, oh what fun is had at the table with a handful of people and a deck of cards!
My favorite game is Mexican Train Dominoes.  If you have never played this game then you need to!  It is a domino game with a little different twist and is so much fun.  Often times if we start it too late in the evening we will just leave everything where it is and continue the next day.
One of the newer games that my son brought us to play is called, Ticket To Ride.  This game requires a little more strategy but everybody loves playing it.

      Pick-Up Sticks!  Do you remember that game as a kid?  Well, it's still as fun as ever.
And my little kiddos are really into playing games right now with this classic version of Candy Land being their absolute favorite!

Family game or movie nights are not only fun but also a great way of bonding with your family.  In this day and time, people are so busy with their personal lives and outside commitments that often times family moments and memory making get left by the wayside.  And honestly, that is quite sad.  These are the moments that you will all remember.  And so I challenge YOU to make an effort to spend more time with your family doing fun things!  Perhaps set up a monthly family night where everyone takes turns bringing their favorite game to play.  And while the adults are enjoying a game,  dim the lights and put a movie on for the kids.  Give them popcorn in little bags and recreate the theatre experience in you own home.  And if you need a little help choosing a great movie for them, head on over to PureFlix. There you will find literally thousands of wholesome movies for every age.
They also offer educational videos for homeschool curriculum.  Check it out here!

So... unplug for the evening!  Yep, get off of those cell phones and social media; they can do without you for one evening.  Just spend an evening reconnecting with your family; talk, laugh and get to know what's going on in each other's lives while enjoying a FAMILY FUN NIGHT of game playing!