Friday, December 21, 2018

Creating New Christmas Traditions

Any newlyweds out there? Austin and I have been married for over a year now, but for the purpose of this post, I'm going to consider us newlyweds. Last year was our first married Christmas (which you can read about here), and it was so special. We embraced double the family time, double the traditions, and double the cheese platters (no complaints here)!

But at the same time, I'd be lying if I didn't say it lacked something of our own. You grow up a child with glittering expectations of Christmas morning — cinnamon rolls, stockings, snuggly blankets, and the house pet following your every move, hoping to get a crumb of said cinnamon roll. And then an adult, you realize each Christmas was so special because your family gave you that gift. The gift of holiday magic! The gift of traditions.

I think traditions can be really special, whether or not they hold a ton of deep meaning. Of course, there are religious traditions surrounding Christmas that I cherish and that become even more special over time. But I truly love the silly "just for fun" traditions too, like ugly sweater contests or cookie decorating parties.

I wrote on Thanksgiving about how my family has a longstanding custom of going to our friends' house to celebrate the holiday; we do it every year, and they have since they were in their 20's. I want to create that type of ritual that Austin and I can look forward to now, while we're in our 20's. Something we can grow with, look forward to, change with us — or maybe it'll simply be there as an anchor for the seasons in which we change. I don't want to wait until we have kids to make Christmas memorable.

So this one's for you if you're a millennial trying to wrangle holiday expectations with a new season of life. I'm with you; I see you. Of course, Christmas never changed. We might have.

This year, I'm going to talk with Austin about what tradition, silly or serious, we'd like to create for our family. Just us! Traditions aren't the glue that holds this season together, but I think they're icing on the sugar cookie.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Hosting a Stress-Free Cookie Decorating Party

Ever want to host a holiday party but then you remember: You'll have to clean the house, buy food, prepare the food, serve the food, hope your guests like the food, clean up any potential messes made and in doing so, pretend like you're not even a little sad your favorite *insert item here* got broken or stained? Don't get me wrong, I love to host people in my home and am happily prepared for all of the above scenarios. But sometimes stress-free is nice! Enter the cookie decorating party.

I really believe a lot of whether hosting is stressful or not is up to you and even who you choose to bring into your home. Recently, I had a cookie decorating party with a few of my friends, and it was so fun. The best part is, making a mess is half the point here! So prepare to snack on some sprinkles and sneak a little frosting; you're certainly invited.

Here are my stress-free cookie decorating party (phew, that's a mouthful!) suggestions:

Like I mentioned, embrace the mess! But I've got a few tips to avoid getting royal icing all over everything. You can put piping bags on a dish when they're not in-use, in case they leak out the top (they likely will). I also had some luck with putting a few colors of icing in plastic condiment bottles, which are surprisingly easy to work with. The only con to some of the plastic bottles is you won't be able to get as fine of detail work from it, depending on the size of the cap. Go simple with decor, and don't over think it! The cookies will add enough visual interest to your table.

Ask all of your guests to bring a certain amount of cookies (for this event with just a few friends, I asked them to bring 12). That way, you're not having to bake a billion cookies, and you'll get more variety in flavors, style and cute cookie cutters! A good way to determine how many cookies to have each pal to bring is to decide what number of decorated cookies you'd like everyone to leave with. Then, ask everyone to bring that number. You can trade around cookies so each person has enough of a fun variety to decorate! It's always a good idea to have another batch on-hand, but this will save you a lot of baking and kitchen time.

In my opinion, wax paper is the best for fielding potential icing explosions. It's easy to use, nonstick and when you're finished, you can just toss it for easy cleanup. I put some paper placemats under the wax paper for this event, but I also think it could be cute to layer wax paper on brown craft paper.

Have some salty snacks and beverages available to help cope with the sugar rush. Cheese is always a good idea, in my opinion. ☺️And... that's about it! 

I hadn't really decorated cookies since I was a kid, and it's SO much more fun when you're an adult with better fine motor skills, ha! It's also super inspiring if your friends are as artistic as mine.

Most of the cookies in these photos were decorated by Kelsey Baldwin, who you can read more about here. (She's amazing!)

P.S. I wouldn't say I'm an expert on royal icing cookies, but I used this recipe for my sugar cookies and this one for my icing. I had to add quite a bit of water to the icing recipe to get it to be the right texture. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Ring in 2019 with Pantone's Color of the Year

Since the year 2000, Pantone has been in the business of studying our global society and choosing a "color of the year" that they feel reflects the cultural climate. As some of you may have heard, last week Pantone released their pick for the coming year, 2019. Drumroll, please...

The color of 2019 is PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral, which the agency says is "an animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge." It's likely that over the coming year, you'll begin to notice this color cropping up more in homes, product design and fashion as the prediction influences the retail area. If you ask me, I would bet this year's coral hue seeps into stores and society even more than 2018's color did. Here's why:

The color of 2018 was PANTONE 18-3838 Ultra Violet, described by Pantone as "inventive and imaginative". It's a rich color with cool undertones, but it is a very true purple, and I didn't notice it influencing all that much, especially when compared to the likes of millennial pink. (p.s. The Cut wrote a fantastic essay in 2017 titled "Why Millennial Pink Refuses to Go Away", which I would recommend reading.) Since 2019's Living Coral is in the same rosy family as millennial pink, I think it will be more widely accepted and garner a stronger response, especially among those who may have more recently accepted pink as not just a "girly color". Millennial Pink might not go away just yet, but perhaps it will be added upon with this more vibrant hue. Also, KitchenAid's color of 2018 was Birds of Paradise, which is very close to Living Coral, so I think we're right to expect it may live a little longer than Ultra Violet did. It's already making its way into homes! Another funny thing: I decorated our Christmas tree this year with large, coral bulbs before Pantone's prediction came out. So, I'll give them an A for this year — the color may have been influencing me even more than I realized, and its their job to determine that.

But before you go painting your whole house or buying a new stand mixer, consider that accessories are often the quickest (and most affordable!) way to try out a trend. Here are some of my Living Coral picks for 2019... or now! 😉

3. Balloon sleeve pullover (on sale!)
4. Corduroy booties (my 1000% favorite 😍)

So, what do you think of Pantone's newest color of the year? Does it have staying power? Will you go bold in Living Color for New Year's? Lemme know!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Strong Girl, Brave Girl: A Q&A with Author Kelsey Baldwin

If you caught last week's gift guide, you may remember I recommended a new book: Strong Girl, Brave Girl. As I mentioned previously, the memoir chronicles Kelsey Baldwin's journey through divorce and single motherhood, but it's about much more than that. Since Kelsey's my friend "IRL", I had the privilege of hearing her say "I think I want to write my story" and seeing her follow through — all in the process of about a year. There are so many things I admire about Kelsey including her ability to react with grace to unforeseen circumstances (which you'll read about in the book), but also her determination to set a goal, work toward it and achieve it. Strong Girl, Brave Girl is a book for any woman navigating a life that looks different than the one she'd expected, and this Q&A with the author is for any individual needing some encouragement to do the thing. 

Ana: "Thanks for grabbing coffee with me and agreeing to share a little about your year of book writing! First up, will you explain what the book is about for someone who hasn't yet read it?"
Kelsey: "Sure, it's kind of a story of my life over the last several years... being married, going through a divorce and a pregnancy at the same time, and then the aftermath of that. It's about all the changes I went through and transition, learning to live in a life that doesn’t look like what you had expected, and feeling like you’re in the middle of your story when it’s not all wrapped up in a bow in the timeline you hoped for... or at all. It deals with reconciling your expectations and reality; and it’s also not just for moms, it’s written for any woman going through any big transition."

A: "What prompted you to write it? Was it part of an overall business/career strategy or more of a personal goal?"
K: "I always wanted to write a book, but I didn’t know what I would write about. As [my pregnancy and divorce happened], I was just surviving for a lot of years. I started an Etsy and an online business, Paper + Oats, to support myself and my daughter, Poppy, while I was pregnant with her. Once I felt like I had a little breathing room and my business was steady, that seemed like the obvious thing I would write about. I worked through a lot of it while blogging in 2015, and it resonated with a lot of people and I got messages from people in similar situations, or even people who were in different situations but just appreciated the perspective. Feedback from smaller things like a blog post or an Instagram caption let me know my story was helpful to people and they wanted to hear about it. And when I was going through it all, it was helpful to hear other women’s stories or something similar. Family and friends could say things that were trying to be encouraging but they didn’t always "get it". Some people get it from experience, and if I could be that voice for another woman, it would almost be like paying it back to women who were that to me.

"So it was more of a personal goal for sure; I didn’t expect to make any money off of it, and I still don’t really count that toward income goals. It doesn’t fit into anything I do in my business — I teach design, and I wrote this book that has nothing to do with design. I think part of me could see I want to write more books, so maybe I would take my business in that direction eventually. I don’t plan very far in advance anymore," she laughs.

A: Fair! So, if it wasn't part of an income goal or related to your business, did you have a hard time prioritizing time spent on it? What did you sacrifice to make it happen in a year?
K: "I definitely had to work it into my schedule to plan writing time and think about how long it might take; I had no clue how long anything would take, so I gave myself lots of time. I had to physically add it into my calendar to make sure I was getting it in, but since it was something I've always wanted to do, I don't really feel like I 'sacrificed' too much for it. I wrote mostly at night after Poppy went to bed, so I didn’t feel like it was taking away from her. I would say it certainly took time away from my business, but since I planned my whole year [around writing it], I was OK with that.

"I’m sure that's different for me having a daughter at home since when she’s in bed, I’m stuck at the house, so it was sometimes what I looked forward to as the day ended. I’m one to watch a lot of shows in the evening, so other times I had to force myself to work on the book instead. I tried to give myself enough time where if I had it scheduled, and I was forcing it or wasn’t feeling creative then I wouldn’t make myself sit there and write. But at the same time, I’ve heard a lot of authors say the way to write a book is to sit in the chair and write the book. There has to come a point where you have to stop planning around it and know that maybe it’ll be a busy year, but it’s something I wanted to accomplish, and when I look back it’s just a year out of my whole life. It’s several months of intense work, and now it’s done. That was worth it to me."

A: "What's one thing you would recommend to someone else who wants to write a book?"
K: "First, know why you want to write it. But a more practical piece of advice might be to write down every single task you would need to do to finish it, or to get through one big part of it. There's at minimum a writing phase, editing phase, design and marketing. For me, it was overwhelming to think about all of it at the same time, but if I was just going to focus on writing I could see how quickly it would go and think I could be done with 70,000 words in 3 months or whatever. I would just focus in on one phase, break down what I needed to do and dump it on my calendar. When I got to the next phase I would reassess and dump those steps on the calendar. It’s taking it in one chunk at a time."

A: "Did you ever deal with imposter syndrome, or feeling like you couldn't do it? If so, was there anything within your control that changed how you felt about your ability to write the book?"
K: "I think my feelings changed about every other day. One day I'd feel like 'this is stupid; nobody cares', and then I would get an encouraging email or message from someone who had read one of my blog posts and that made me feel like I can write, and people care.

"I don't know that I could change the narrative within my head, but one thing that was really motivating for me was knowing that I had committed to it. So even when those feelings crept up of 'I can't' or 'I shouldn't', I had already made the decision to do it. I can think of other big projects I've done where I've posted on Instagram that I'm working on it, and the people pleaser in me wants me to keep going so I don't let anybody down. It’s motivating to have people ask how it’s going, and I think it’s helpful in terms of marketing too for others to see the origin story because they feel like they’ve been following it from the beginning."

A: "What's the biggest thing you've learned through all of this?"
K: "Through my story, I would say the biggest thing I've learned is about being content with where I am right now and not dwelling on the past or wishing for the future. That, and being OK with the fact that it might not all end up the way I think it will, because nothing ever has.

"Through writing, I've found our stories are more powerful than we give them credit for being. Even if you think you don't have anything significant that’s happened in your story, it’s powerful to share them. It’s how we connect to other humans."

Kelsey's book, Strong Girl, Brave Girl, is available on Amazon. You can keep up with by reading her blog or following her Instagram.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Queen City Gems: Your SGF-Based Holiday Gift Guide

Happy Holidays! Whether you consider this season the most wonderful time of the year or simply the most expensive, I hope you're finding joy in these chilly December weeks. Personally, I love this season and I gain so much excitement from hunting for the perfect treasure to show a loved one I care. The only thing I enjoy more? Using my dollars to support small businesses and people I love! So if you're like me and want to show Springfield a little appreciation this holiday, here are 7 gifts I recommend, all with a Queen City tie-in.

Himalayan Pink Salt from Sneaky Greens

I had the opportunity to meet Laura Greene-Johnson, co-owner of Sneaky Greens, when I interviewed her for this month's issue of Biz 417. The article was focused around how to get your products on Amazon, but when I met with Laura, I found myself even more excited to discover the spices blended with organic kale than to get the 411 on America's largest retailer. Personally, I'm always looking for a way to sneak some greens in, and I think this would be the perfect stocking stuffer for any foodie on your list. Check out the Himalayan pink salt, and bonus! It's all available on Amazon Prime.

The SGF CO Frisco Cap

If you're a resident or fan of Springfield, MO, and you like cool stuff, SGFCO is an obvious choice. I've talked about this company in a former post, so you may remember this project launched back in May. Since then, they've collaborated with Brooklyn-based artist Daniel Zender and added a few new items to their site. They have a whole slew of products you can choose from; my personal favorites are the "This Place" tee and the Frisco Cap.

Strong Girl, Brave Girl

Kelsey Baldwin's world was turned upside-down when her husband asked for a divorce, and just a few hours later, she found herself alone, facing the surprise of a positive pregnancy test. Kelsey writes "Strong Girl, Brave Girl" from the "messy middle", having overcome some big obstacles while acknowledging there are still aspects of her story that don't yet have their storybook ending. She's an inspiring person and a talented storyteller; I'd recommend this book to any gal in the middle of a transition (even if that transition is simply your 20's). Get it on Amazon.

Oui Fresh's Beauty Boxes

Oui Fresh is the retail branch of A Beautiful Mess (one of my favorite blogs!), and for those who may not know, this powerhouse of a brand started in Springfield. Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman co-own and operate both of these companies, plus my favorite photo editing app, A Color Story. Anything from Oui Fresh is sure to impress, and for clean beauty fanatics, a beauty box subscription is the gift that keeps on giving.

Emerson Park's Maple and Bourbon Diffuser

Emerson Park carries beard oils, solid cologne and aftershave for the men in your life, but for anybody in your life, I want to recommend their diffusers. I've had one of these for close to a year, and I'm still impressed every time I walk by and notice its sweet scent! You can order any of their products (I like the candles too!) from their website.

Askinosie Sipping Chocolate

You can't go wrong with anything from Askinosie, but a holiday favorite is their Sipping Chocolate. It makes for an extra-cozy treat, and The Wall Street Journal calls it "pure, satiny ganache", so that's worth noting! Another product from Askinosie I have my eyes on is their newly-released Dark Chocolate + Avocado & Rosemary bar, which would make a great stocking stuffer (husband: hint!).

The Market

Of course, if I'm going to recommend Springfield-based gifts, I have to suggest you take some time to walk around The Market this season! For those who don't know, I'm one of the gals who buys for this sweet shop, and if you're looking for Rifle Paper Co. or any other gift suggestions, it's the place to go.

I hope this was a helpful gift guide for anybody looking to give a little local love this season! Let me know in the comments if I missed any of your favorite SGF-based businesses. xo!