Monday, November 10, 2014

Day 18 and beyond....

Day 18.  I made it to Day 18 and then I fell off the grid.  It's funny how one bump in the road, one day of just not feeling like you measure up and play into so many areas of your life.  This is kinda a pattern in my life, the whole not able to follow through with things.  And if I were honest with myself, it is probably one of that parts of me I hate more than anything.  It makes me feel weak, messy, unworthy.  But it is also what brings me to my favorite thing that is big enough for days 19-31 of writing, and that is GRACE.



I will never fully comprehend it.  I will never be able to understand the vast measure of grace that I have been shown.  But I just know I am thankful.  Grace can look like lots of different things in my life.  First and foremost it looks like a God who looks past my screw ups, my messiness and welcomes me with loving and open arms, and ultimately that is enough.  

My life is full of glimpses of grace everyday.  From a co-worker who sends a little card of encouragement when they see through the fake smile.  Somedays it looks like my sweet momma taking the brunt of a meltdown that has nothing to do with her.  Grace takes on the personality of a friend who can look past the fact that I am a terrible phone friend and loves me despite the fact that it might have been 10 years a week since I returned a call.  

I could go on and on with stories of how I am given doses of grace daily, sometimes even hourly.  It is such an undeserved act, nothing I can do can earn that grace I am shown.  What a thought?  Some might even call it amazing!  

So today and everyday really, I am thankful for grace, for people who look past my faults, my messy, my masks and jump in the craziness with me and extend grace. 

And sometimes we even have to extend that grace to ourselves, you know when we promise to blog for 31 days and only make it 18.  But here is the next 18 or maybe just 1...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

31 days of My Favorite Things: Day 18 All Sons and Daughters

Still trying to play catch up over here on Everyday Blessings, and I so appreciate your patience as I work through these 31 days!  I love this challenge, and I love that it gets me back into the habit of writing, except you know when I get behind and feel like I am drowning to catch up! But I do love the accountability, so for those 2 of you who read (my mom and one other), thanks for sticking with me!  :)

Surely I have shared before about my love of music on the blog.  When I think about my favorite things, music certainly ranks up there.  It gives me live, it gives me hope, it encourages me.  It gives me words for things I sometimes can't find the words for.  

Right now, I am obsessed loving everything the band All Sons & Daughters is doing.  During my lunch break at school, I am listening to their albums on repeat.  The words are finding deep places in my soul and resonating loud.  I love music that points me to Jesus, to grace and love.  And these songs do just that.  If you haven't heard them, head over here and take a little listen.  I don't think you will be disappointed.  

Here are a few of my favorite songs, and really I could list every song on each of their albums...but here are some that are speaking to me today!

Brokenness Aside


Reason to Sing

When I'm overcome by fear
And I hate everything I know
If this waiting lasts forever
I'm afraid I might let go


We are soaked in all the grace that we’ve been given
Unchained from all that we have done
Your mercy’s rising like the sun on the horizon
We’re coming home

Monday, October 20, 2014

31 days of My Favorite things: Day 16 On Broadway

There are many times throughout the day that I feel like my life could be a musical, I can totally picture my colleagues breaking out in song while walking down the hall at school and I can picture the students dancing in the background of their classrooms.

One of my friends even wrote a musical for me when I was leaving for Africa for the 2nd time.  It was called Africa Day and I am confident it could have been in the running for a Tony.  It had the one hit song, the powerful characters and the happy ending!  Yep, my life could easily be a musical.

I also love watching musicals.  I have always been fascinated with New York City and more specifically Broadway.  Anytime I visit the Big Apple, I must see a show and I will see just about any show if a touring company comes through town.  Maybe it is because I took dance for so many years growing up or because I have this weird obsession with music, but I love the combination of the two on the stage.

Here are my top three favorite musicals, there are so many more that could be included in this list, but I will stick to my top 3.

1.  Wicked

10 is approximately the number of time I have seen this show, and I always tell myself, the first time it doesn't bring me to tears I will stop going.  And friends, I cry every time.  It's funny to think about the first time I went to see this musical.  I had no idea what it was about really, my friends had just been talking about it a lot.  So, when I saw it was traveling through a nearby city, I thought it would make the perfect Christmas gift for myself and 3 of my besties.  And I fell in love from the moment it began.  The soundtrack is amazing, the story is captivating and the performances have never disappointed.  If you go see one musical in your life this is the one I would choose for you.  My one wish is to see the original cast on Broadway one day...fingers crossed!

2.  The Lion King

Within in the first 5 minutes of this show starting I was a mess.  It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  The performers are graceful, the sets are breathtaking and the costumes are amazing.  The music is powerful and the two times I have seen this show have left me wanting more!  If you love the movie, the musical will knock your socks off.  Run to see this show, trust me on this one!

3.  Legally Blonde

Probably not a conventional choice for a top three musical, as I am pretty confident this musical was only on Broadway for one season.  But friends,  it is awesome!  Some friends surprised me with tickets to see this show on my birthday while in NYC and I was so excited.  The show did not disappoint.   The songs are catchy, the characters true to those in the movie and the cast did an awesome job!  Oh my god you guys, go see it if you get the chance!

What are your favorite musicals?  

31 days of My Favorite Things: Day 15 Free Fall To Fly (a repost)

Well, I should have known it would happen.  I knew I would get behind on my posts for the 31 day writing challenge.  My weekends have been so busy that I find myself not being able to carve out some time for writing everyday.  I committed to this challenge, so I will find a way to catch up.   I hope you all will stick with me as I overwhelm you with blog posts tonight!

Remember that app I told you about in my post about my favorite apps, TimeHop?  It is such a great way to be reminded of what you were up to a year ago, 2 years ago even 5 years ago!  I simply love it. A few days ago Time Hop reminded me of a blog post that I had posted last year during this very challenge.  It was one of my very favorite posts, so I thought I would repost it here.

This post was vulnerable, it was raw and it centered around one of my favorite books, Freefall to Fly by Rebekah Lyons.  Have you read this treasure?  If not, I can't recommend it enough.  Sometimes you read a book that just meets you right where you are and challenges your mind and encourages your spirit.  Sometimes you read a book that says all the things you have been wanting to shout from the rooftops but didn't have the courage to say.  And this book did that for me.

This post I wrote on October 17th, 2013 was a response to my time reading Freefall to Fly and really has been one of my favorite blog posts.   I would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

31 days of My Favorite Things: Day 15 Polished

One of the things I loved about this topic for my 31 day challenge was that I could write about more serious, heavy things like yesterday's post and in the same week talk about something a little more light hearted and fun like today's post!

Within the past couple of years, I have fallen in love with paining my fingernails.  I have always enjoyed a pedicure, but my fingernails were a different story.  Typically I don't have long nails, so I never splurged on manicures at the salon.  But I do love having color on my nails so I decided to just take that task on myself!  So today, I am sharing some of my favorite fall nail colors! 

1.  Essie Don't Sweater It

Don't you just love the names of nail polish colors? I think I might want that to be my job.  I am pretty witty, I could do it!  Naming nail polish and crayons might be my next profession.

Anyways, I love this color so much!  I like that it some light it looks more purple and in others it seems brown.  It screams fall to me.  Essie polish is probably my favorite and this one is no exception!

2.  Essie  Over the Edge

Honestly, when I first bought this polish several years ago, I thought I might need to buy black lipstick and some Doc Martens.  It seemed a little too edgy for me!  But it has become my go to color for fall and winter.  I love that it has the slightest sparkle and when I am feeling extra sassy, I will paint one finger on each hand with my multi colored glitter!  

3.  OPI Cute Little Vixen

This color might be more on the Christmas list, but I think it is a good transition color from Fall to Winter.  I like that it isn't candy apple red but still is red to be sassy!  (I do like to paint my nails candy apple red every now and then too).  And another reason I love this color is it in the Mariah Carey collection, so I will sometimes sing a little Always be My Baby or Dreamlover when my nails are this color!  

What are your favorite colors for fall?  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

31 day of My Favorite Things : Day 14 Words

Honestly, I was going to take today off.  Nothing came to mind to share, nothing feels like my favorite tonight.  And then I thought back to my day, and realized that my day was full of some of my favorite things!

Let me set the stage for you...

This morning, my alarm didn't go off.  Well, it probably did go off at the dreaded 5:20 hour but someone, turned the thing off.   This meant that when I finally did wake up, it was 6:45, you know the time when I should be leaving for work, not just getting in the shower.  I quickly emailed my principal and took the world's fastest shower, dried my hair, got dressed and still managed to get to school right before car duty started.  And no mom, I wasn't speeding!

But this just started my day off in a scattered and frazzled way.  I felt like I was 10 steps behind all day, just couldn't get in the groove of the day.  I got a phone call at work that was a little shocking and it sent my day into a place of anxiety and stress.  Yeah, it was just one of those days.

Then steps in one of my favorite things:

* a sweet kindergartner in one of my groups sees me in the hall and runs up to me and says, Ms. Simpson you are my favorite!

* after sharing the stresses of the day with one of my besties, she sends me this reminder..

* and after sharing those exact same stresses with another friend, she quickly sends me a text letting me know that her and her girls are praying for me

* a friend sends a text that just simply says she missed seeing me today

The list could go on and on but as I sat here tonight thinking, I don't really have any favorites, I was reminded that I do.  Words of encouragement will always be something that will be my favorite.  They are like breathing to me.  They are necessary for me to feel cared for, needed and wanted.  I gain my energy from people sharing them with me.  I know it might sound corny, and it probably is, but they really are one of my very favorite things.  

As I was thinking back on all the words I heard today that encouraged my heart, I wondered did I do the same for someone else? Many times I am selfish with my words, I expect people to encourage me but I don't share that same gift with others.  So my goal now is this, to be more generous with my words.  To share what people mean to me, to encourage them in times that might feel stressful and to be intentional about bringing a smile to someone's face. 

Have you encouraged someone with your words lately?  It might just be their favorite thing too!

Monday, October 13, 2014

31 Days of my Favorite Things: Day 13 My Favorite Gift

One of my love languages is giving and receiving gifts.  I love to give the perfect gift to a friend or family member but I also love when people know what will make my heart happy.  There is nothing like having people in your life who learn the little things about you that make you smile and bless you with those gifts!  

I have been blessed to receive some pretty special gifts over the years, from special jewelry from my PaPaw, a handmade doll bed from my Pa, a shiny red mustang from my Daddy and countless thoughtful gifts from friends.  But by far my favorite gift I ever received was a scrapbook that my mom gave me for my 30th birthday. 

This was one of those labor of love gifts, the kind that require the giver to put in lots of sweat and maybe some tears in getting it all together.  My momma is not the scrapbook kinda gal, so the fact that she spent her spare time putting this together for me means more to me than she will know.

The part of the book that is the most special to me are the notes and words from my friends, those who are my closest confidants and those who I hadn't seen in years and my family.  She also included pictures from various stages in my life and a special tribute page to my sweet daddy!

Turning 30 wasn't an easy milestone for me.  I pictured my life looking very different at 30.  I thought for sure I would be married and have kids of my own.  I pictured myself being a stay at home mom and driving carpool.  Life sure looked different when 30 rolled around and I had a hard time coming to grips with the big 3-0.  But this gift of love and sacrifice lessened the sting just a bit and helped me to see just how blessed I really was.  I remember the look on my mom's face when she gave it to me, she was so proud and so happy to give me this special gift.  The words on the pages spoke to my heart, reminded me of sweet memories and encouraged my spirit. The pictures brought back a flood of memories and special times with the people I love.

Just goes to show that the most special gifts don't have to cost lots of money or come from exotic places, more times than not the best gifts really do come from the heart.

What is your favorite gift?  I would love to hear all about it!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

31 Days of my Favorite Things: Day 12 Words to Live By

I'm going to let the words speak for themselves on this are a few of my favorite quotes!

What are some of your favorite words?

31 Days of my Favorite Things: Day 11 Easy Pumpkin Dip

Tis the season for all things pumpkin, who agrees?  With the start of fall, pumpkin becomes the flavor of choice.  While I am not a huge fan of the PSL from Starbucks, I know that is shocking, I am a fan of the pumpkin flavor!  I have noticed all kinds of friends posting pictures from recent trips to Trader Joes with lots of pumpkin goodies...poptarts, yogurt, bagels.  I might need to make a trip myself.

Here is a super easy pumpkin dip recipe that is sure to be a hit at any gathering this fall!  It really showcases the season's favorite flavor!

Pumpkin Dip


{1} 15 oz can of pumpkin
{1} 5 oz box of vanilla pudding- just the powder don't make the pudding
{1} 16 oz container of cool whip
{1/2 tblsp} pumpkin pie spice
{1/2 tblsp} cinnamon


1.  Mix pumpkin, pudding mix, cool whip, and pumpkin pie spice together, by hand, in a very large bowl.
2.  Chill for several hours before serving.
3.  Sprinkle with cinnamon, and serve with apple slices, vanilla wafers or ginger snaps

To add a little more fall fun, carve out a small pumpkin and serve your dip in that.

31 Days of my Favorite Things: ; Day 10 I've Got an App for that

This weekend I took the plunge and updated the iPhone, it took forever and I had to pretty much delete all my apps and download them all again once the update was finished.  When I was downloading apps again onto my phone, I got to thinking about some of my favorites.  I really never thought I would be this attached to my iPhone, but I am not ashamed, I really couldn't live without it.  So here are some of my all time favorite apps!

1.  Instagram

Pictures have always been one of my favorite things and Instagram has quickly become my all time favorite app.  I love being able to modify pictures quickly and easily.  But more than that I love being able to follow my friends and others and get little glimpses into their lives.  From cutie pictures of my friends kids, to food they are eating and everything in between, Instagram is the best way I have to be in the everyday moments of my friends lives.  If you aren't following me on Insta, find me at jbsimpson1! 

2.  TimeHop

Coming in at a very close 2nd is TimeHop.  

Everyday I get a little reminder of what I was doing a year ago or maybe even five years ago, through the TimeHop app.  I love that it shows you what pictures you posted, what your facebook status was and what you might have posted to twitter.  Such a fun way to remember some of my favorite memories and to share those with my friends.  Sharing is easy through the app and you can send email or text to share those memories with others!  Love it!

3.  A Beautiful Mess

This is another photo app that allows you to add text, borders, doodles and all kinds of other fun things!  I love how easy it is and that it can spice up any photo!  I also use it to make some text only images to post various places!  I highly recommend it! 

4.  She Reads Truth

I have loved this website for a while and was so excited when the girls at She Reads Truth were able to use kickstarter to fund an app.  I love the study and how it applies to me right where I am.  This app is a great way to be in the word and stay encouraged.

5.  Buzzfeed

No explanation needed, right?  Makes me laugh til I cry and brings a smile to my face!  Love it!

So friends, what are your favorite apps?  Please leave lots in the comments, I am always looking for fun new things to add to my phone!  

31 Days of My Favorite Things: Day 9 73 questions

Sorry for the lack of posts this weekend, I was off for a little getaway with some girlfriends to celebrate a friend's birthday!  We spent the weekend at the beach and I didn't take my laptop.  So I will make up for my 31 day posts tonight and get back on track!

I really love learning about celebrities.  I find it fascinating to hear about their lives, see their homes and get little glimpses into what everyday life might be like for them.  You know what they eat for dinner, how they decorate for the holidays, what their kids do at home for fun.  I am pretty confident that Jennifer Gardner, Kerry Washington and many others really want to be some of my best friends!

So I was so excited to come across this little video series from Vogue called 73 questions.  Basically Vogue visits a celebrity in their home and asks them 73 questions to see what they like and don't like.  It's an amped up version of 20 questions for celebs.  And it has quickly become one of my favorite things.  I watched this Sarah Jessica Parker episode first and fell in love.

Don't you just want to sit in that NYC home and have a cup of coffee with her.  I love how she describes New York and would die for those globes she has displayed!

And then this one with Daniel Radcliffe, I am in love!

Most refreshing drink:  Diet Coke, yep we were made to be friends!  :)

Check out the Vogue page for more videos from some pretty cool celebrities and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

31 Days of My Favorite Things: Day 8 Fall Snacks

Fall is finally here.  Well except for these next few days were the temps will be back up in the 80s...but really Fall is here!  I love pumpkins and mums and decorating with burlap.  As you saw from a previous post, grabbing a caramel apple spice from Starbucks is also one of my favorite fall treats.  Won't be long til I can get my cozy sweaters out and start wearing boots.  Yep friends fall is a good thing!  

One of my other favorite things about fall is the flavors.  Pumpkin spice and caramel apple sugar babies just to name a few.  I thought today though I would share with you my very favorite fall snack.  This simple mixture changed my life a few years ago when some friends of mine hosted a first day of fall party.  Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that this combination would be so tasty.   I give you...Candy Corn and Peanuts.  I wish I could come up with a cute name for this little piece of heaven, however I cannot. 

I have always been a sucker for salty and sweet snacks and this is the perfect combination.  The key to making the best Candy Corn and Peanut mix is to make it yourself.  Brachs tried to get clever and make a pre-made mix, but don't be fooled, it is nowhere as good as mixing it up yourself.  Friends, trust me on this one, your life will forever be changed.

Candy Corn and Peanuts

- one bag of Brachs Candy Corn
- one container of salted peanuts

Pour in equal amounts of Candy Corn and Peanuts into a super cute container.  Shake and enjoy!

Hope this brings a little sweetness to your fall days!  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

31 days of my favorite things: Day 7 Tunes

Whoever said when words fail music speaks, was certainly speaking the truth.  I have always had a love for music.  Growing up there was music playing in my house, beach music was a favorite of my dad's and he and I would dance and sing to The Drifters and The Platters.  Some of my fondest memories involve music.

When certain songs come through the shuffle on iTunes I am immediately taken back to specific places and memories come flooding into my mind.  I love how music can connect people, how it can evoke emotions like nothing else, how sometimes when you don't have the strength to come up with the words to say, a song can do it for you.

I am going to post 3 songs that I am really enjoying right now, I guess we could say they are my favorites at the moment.  My favorite songs are constantly changing so maybe this will have to be a regular feature on the blog.

Favorite Song #1:  The Luckiest by Ben Folds

A couple of weeks ago my mom and I had the privilege of seeing Ben Folds play with the Charlotte Symphony and I was reminded about how much I truly love this song.  I guess this is one of those sappy songs that girls listen to and wish for.  Maybe one day it will be played at a special day for me.

Favorite Song #2:  Shake it Off  by Taylor Swift

Yep, what can I say.  I love this song!  I turn it up loud in the car, play it when I am getting ready in the mornings and maybe even have some dance parties around the house while it is playing!  Love the message and you really can't help but sing along!

Favorite Song #3:  Dance with Me by Ryan Long

This just became one of my favorite songs tonight, I'm serious.  I am blessed to work with a wonderful ministry called Young Life and we had our annual banquet this evening.  Ryan Long was our special guest and he shared this song and I was immediately in love.  Love how it weaves in the gospel and that we have a father who is willing to go to the ends of the earth for us and will always ask us to dance.

What's your favorite song?  I am always looking for new favorites!  Can't wait to check out your suggestions!  Have a great week friends!

Monday, October 6, 2014

31 days of My Favorite Things: Day 6

If you know me at all or you have read this blog for any length of time, you know one of my absolute favorite things is Starbucks.

I get way too excited when the holiday red cups come out.  My heart skipped a little beat when I received my gold card in the mail, which really just means I spend too much money at Starbucks.  I love when my favorite barista's are working and I get to see their smiling faces in the mornings.  I love meeting friends for coffee dates there and leaving smelling like coffee because we have been there so long laughing and sharing.  Yep, Starbucks is really one of my happy places.  When I got off the plane this summer from being in South Africa, it was the first place I found in the airport.  Guess you could say I might be addicted! 

Here are my favorite Starbucks drinks and honestly, they aren't that exciting, nothing on the secret menu or anything.  Just some good ole classics!

1.  Grande NonFat Peppermint Mocha extra hot light whip preferably in a red cup

Nothing makes this girl happier than this drink.  And when I found out they would make it for me any ole time, well it was dangerous!  I try to refrain so I can save it for the holidays now, but it is nice to know I can have a treat every now and again!  some friends like to add the white chocolate syrup, but I am fan of the original.  Nothing better!

2.  Vanilla Frappaccino

Simple and classic.  Tastes like a sugar cookie so what can be wrong with it.  This is one of my favorite summertime drinks!  

3.  Caramel Apple Spice

This drink is like fall in a cup!  I know you wouldn't really think that this would be a Starbucks fave but honestly, I really love it!  Perfect for one of those chilly mornings!  I would highly suggest you give this hidden gem a try!  Especially if you like those fall drinks!

4.  Shaken Green Tea and Lemonade

My go to summertime drink and it is so yummy!  I love how refreshing this drink is!  Such a great treat on a warm summer day!

5.  Nonfat white mocha

Basic and one of the staples of Starbucks I would think and probably the thing I order the most on my early morning stops to the Starbucks.

Another thing I love about Starbucks it having the app on my phone.  Not sure if you are aware but if you register your giftcards you can earn free drinks and other specials!  And who doesn't love free Starbucks!

What is your favorite Starbucks drinks?  I would love some new things to try!  Have a great week friends!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

31 days of My Favorite Things: Days 3, 4, 5 and an explanation

I kinda fell off the 31 day blogging wagon this weekend, but I have a good reason, no really, I promise.  This weekend was the 13th annual Girls Weekend with some of my greatest friends from college!  I am going to recap my weekend here on the blog today and it will include my favorite things 3, 4 and 5!  Thank you readers, for a little grace as I was not able to write and post this weekend!  We will be back on track this week! 

Favorite Thing #3:  Road Trips

I love a good road trip!  I have always been up for a spontaneous trip to the mountains or a nearby big city.  And I love that many of my friends share the same excitement for road trips that I do! This weekend I got to road trip with 3 of my favorites to our annual Girls Weekend!  

Here are some things that I really do love about road trips with my girls...

* Good tunes- our friend Sarai hooked us up on this trip with an 8 hour (yep, you read that right) playlist of our favorite 90s tunes!  Gosh from Boyz II Men, Christina, and Vanilla Ice we were singing to the top of our lungs all the way to Georgia!  

* Good snacks- Before leaving Marcie hooked us up with candy and snacks galore and of course every good road trip requires a trip to the convenience store for the essentials...Combos, fountain Cherry Coke and candy!

* Lots of Laughter- from sharing memories of Girls Weekends past, to catching up on months of not being together and BuzzFeed quizzes for days, there was no shortage of laughter in this car!

I love that this road trip took us to one of my favorite weekends of the year, Girls Weekend!  So Favorite Thing #4 is our annual Girls Weekend!

Some friendships stand the test of time, the distance of moves and different seasons of life, and those friendships are to be treasured!  I am so lucky to have a wonderful group of girlfriends that I have known since college.  After college we decided to make it a point to get together at least once a year for a Girls Weekend.  While we might see each other at points throughout the year, this Girls Weekend is the one time all 7 of us are together. This year marked our 13th anniversary and this is a weekend I truly look forward to every year.  Some years we meet at a cabin in the mountains, other years we bunk at someone's house but no matter where we find ourselves it is such a wonderful time to catch up and be friends! 

These weekends are full of sweet memories, sharing, prayer, food, laughter, tears and friendships like no other.  Even though we are only together once a year, we really do pick up just where we left off.  We have seen each other through marriages, children, loss, sickness, and so many other things and it is truly a blessing to be able to come back together and share in more memories. 

It is such a blessing to have friends who support and encourage you and love you just where you are. One thing that makes our Girls Weekends so special is that we take turns planning.  And every little detail is taken care of...meals are planned, we are spoiled with gifts, schedules are made but the sweetest moments are when we are all still in our pjs at 4:00 in the afternoon and we are just sitting around sharing about our lives.  I treasure those moments and am so thankful to walk through life with friends like these!

From the beginning the verse that has described our friendships has been this one and this Favorite Thing #5...

And this is so true.  Girls Weekend 2014 did just that for me, I came home feeling refreshed by time with these beautiful women.  They challenge, encourage and inspire me.  The way they pour into my life pushes me to be a better friend, sister, and daughter.  I am just so thankful and am already counting down the days til Girls Weekend 2015! 

Friday, October 3, 2014

31 Days of My Favorite Things: Day 2: My Hometown

Excited to share Day 2 of My Favorite Things with you on the blog today!  It's been so fun to go to the Link Up on the 31 days page and see all the different topics that are being shared!  I am starting to think that I should take the month of October off and read all day!  Love that bloggers are sharing their hearts, taking risks and building community through this project!

Today I am going to share about one of my favorite cities, partly because I am taking a little road trip there this afternoon and also because I just love it!  One of my favorite places in the world is my hometown of Asheville, NC!

I could go on and on about the people, the culture, the food, the shopping, just the overall feel of this city!  Growing up, I certainly didn't appreciate the beauty that was surrounding me.  I didn't take advantage of the wonderful things Asheville has to offer.  The good news is as an adult, I frequent this town and am starting to take advantage of this little southern gem!

Here are a few of my favorites in Asheville...

The Screen Door

I love stores that offer eclectic merchandise.  And this is just what The Screen Door does!  It is set up like a typical antique mart with different booths, but many of the items are handmade by local artisans.  It is rare that I leave this place without something.  Several years ago a booth had the most amazing chairs, so I purchased them for my dining room table, and get some many compliments on them.  And one of the best parts to The Screen Door is there is a discount book store attached!  What could be better!

If you are looking to find a unique gift for a friend or love thrifting yourself, I would highly recommend this place!  

The French Broad Chocolate Lounge

Oh my friends...if you have ever visited Asheville and haven't made a stop to the Chocolate Lounge, you are really missing out!  This quaint little piece of chocolate heaven has everything you need for a perfect end to an evening out, celebrating a birthday or a girls night out.  Chocolate is the name of the game and they do it right!  My personal favorite is the Chocolate Creme Brulee but you can't really go wrong with anything!  Depending on when you stop in, you might have to wait in line outside, but trust me when I say the wait is worth it!  Be sure to read how the store got started as well, it is a great story!

Sunny Point Cafe

You really must run to this West Asheville favorite if you love all things brunch.  This is by far my favorite place to meet my friends for a Saturday afternoon brunch.  Be prepared to wait a little while as it is a pretty popular spot!  But friends, it is so worth the wait.  If you are a fan of bacon, and honestly who isn't a fan of bacon, you must try the Breakfast Sandwich.  The french toast is to die for and you can't go wrong with the grilled pimento cheese sandwich.  The atmosphere is causal and just a great spot to meet up with friends for a fun Saturday afternoon.

I am a music junkie.  One of my dream jobs would be to go on tour with a band and homeschool their kids while we tour the country.  While there are lots of venues in Asheville that I could tell you about,  I really do love The Orange Peel.  I haven't had a bad concert experience there and they bring in some of my favorite lesser known artists.  By far my favorite show that I was able to see there was the group Pentatonix from the show the Sing Off. It is a quaint venue and the atmosphere is always exciting.  One downfall to the Orange Peel is there is not seating, that didn't used to bother me until a few years ago, guess I am getting old! :)

I could go on and on about places I love in Asheville you know like The Southern, Corner Kitchen, Biltmore Park, The Carolina Cinema, the drum circle, the Hop Ice Cream shop, The Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, but maybe I will have to save those for another post.  

If you haven't been to my precious hometown, what are you waiting for?  And if you ever need a tour guide...well, I'm your girl! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

31 Days of My Favorite Things...Day 1

Welcome friends!  I am always so thankful for The Nesters 31 Day writing challenge in October.  It refocuses me, it challenges me, and gets me back on the blogging wagon.  So for you new readers, I am so thankful you stopped by this little corner of the world and for those 2 of you (or mom) who read regularly, thanks for sticking around!  You will at least be guaranteed 31 days of blogs.  If you haven't you might want to follow my blog, which you can do on the sidebar either through Bloglovin or by email.  I would love to have you follow along on this journey!

Last night I asked my Facebook friends for some suggestions of what to write about for 31 days because honestly, I was having a hard time narrowing down the topic!  I had everything from 31 days of positive, quotes, decorating ideas, things to do with cream cheese, that I decided to roll all those things into one broader topic....31 Days of My Favorite Things!  (Cue Sound of Music sing-along)

I am convinced that through this topic, I can include all of the things my friends suggested, even cream cheese.  So if you choose to join me on this journey you will see all kinds of posts here on Everyday Blessings throughout the month of October.  Some will be serious, some funny but all some of my favorite things!  And friends, I have some exciting news.  One of my favorite things will be helping with a giveaway toward the end of the month and I promise you don't want to miss it!

So let's get started!

Day 1 of My Favorite Things...My Rainbows

Yep, my first day of writing is going to be all about some flip flops.  I will never forget when I got this pair of flip flops.  My sweet Mamaw bought them for me during a beach trip when I was in the 9th grade.  Yes friends, I have had the same pair of Rainbow flip flops since the 9th grade.  I did lose them for a little while, but they have been my favorite shoes for forever.

These shoes get me.  When I slide my foot in, it's the perfect fit.  They are comfortable not only in how they feel but just because I feel like the know me.  These shoes have been all over the world with me.  They have walked the streets in New York City when I went with two great friends to attend a workshop at Columbia University.  They have listened to countless concerts from Avett Brothers to Mumford and Sons to Maroon 5.  These shoes went with me to the ends of the as I visited Johannesburg South Africa to hold babies at Door of Hope.  They have been with me when I cried over losing my dad, fought with my mom, hugged my brother after a baseball game.  I know it might sound crazy, but there are just so many memories with these shoes.  I love that they have gone with me when I have taken risks, when I have been with some of my very favorite people, when I have been teaching the hundreds of students over the years.  They have seen the sunrise at the beach and walked the streets of my hometown.  They really are my favorite.

Several friends have offered to take up a collection for me to get new rainbow.  They laugh and roll their eyes when they see them on my feet. But I am so thankful for each step these shoes have allowed me to take.  I am going to have to retire these friends soon, as I can feel the ground through the bottom of the sole.  I know their replacements will also go on lots of adventures and I am excited to see where they will take me!  Do you have shoes that have journeyed with you?

Thanks for the memories and the adventures!  Here's to new adventures and journeys!  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

12 years

I miss my dad everyday.  Yes, today marks an anniversary, 12 years since he laughed at my silly jokes, sang You are my Sunshine to me, 12 years since I have seen his smile.  Today doesn't mean I miss him more, just means my heart is a little more sensitive to all the time that has gone by without him here.

There are many times during my everyday comings and goings that I wish I could pick up the phone and ask my dad his advice about something, that I could stop by his house just to get a hug.  It is in those everyday moments that I miss him the most.  Even though my dad and I did not always have the greatest relationship, I always knew he was my biggest fan.  He loved me in a way that no one else could.

I have typed and deleted, typed and deleted this post so many times and all I can figure is that I can't adequately capture what my dad meant to me, what he taught me and how much I miss him.  I wish he could have met the amazing kids I was able to teach.   I wish he could have gone with me to the airport as I traveled half way around the world to share God's love with the people of South Africa.  I wish I could tell him the stories of the young men who welcomed me into their community in Pollsmoor prison.   So many memories and firsts that he has missed.

But I am thankful for the times we did have daddy and I had a special bond.  I am thankful for the way he lived out his struggles and didn't hide them from me as it has made me more sensitive to people who silently suffer.  I am thankful for the way he found beauty in the everyday moments as it has made me more aware of the beautiful in the mundane.  I am thankful for the ways he took risks and it has made me less timid to try new things.  I am thankful for the way he picked himself up after he made mistakes and kept on going as it has made me persevere in times when I didn't really want to.

I know my dad shakes his head at me all the time as he watches me put myself into situations that probably not the best for me, and he might have even rolled his eyes.  But I sure hope he smiles as he watches me try to make a little difference in the lives of the people I come into contact with and to make my little corner of the world a better place.

I love you and everyday!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Change is Possible: Lessons Learned from Prison

Thank you all so much for reading about my adventure and experiences in South Africa.  It is such a joy to be able to share through the blog what has been stirred in my heart.  I appreciate your encouragement and support!  

On Monday we prepared to go back into Pollsmoor to spend time with our friends in the Adopt a Cell program.  After having one day behind us, my feelings of anxiousness and fear were replaced with feelings of hope and excitement to spend time with the boys and learn more about them.  The majority of our first day with the boys seemed like we were talking to them, we shared our desire with Steve that we wanted our time to be a little less structured on Day 2.  We were anxious to be able to just talk to the guys and hear their stories.  

One thing that continued to be on my heart from our first visit was how shocked they boys were that we could come halfway around the world to spend time with them in prison.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that many of their families would not or could not travel several hours to visit them and that this concept of people coming to love and spend time with them was very foreign.  Many of them did not have childhoods like I did.  Many of these boys were forced to grow up way before their time, they saw and experienced things I can't even imagine.  This made the time we spent with them even more sacred.  I am so thankful that we did not try to cram every second with an activity or structured time so that we were really able to get to know the boys and learn more about their stories, their dreams and hopes.  So when we entered the White House for our second visit with the Adopt a Cell boys, I wanted to be sure to really listen, to look for ways to make connections with the boys, to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  

I had the privilege of sharing a little bit about my story with the guys on Day 2. I was a little nervous as I knew that my story might not be one they would connect with or would be relevant to them.  As I prayed and wondered what I would share the Lord gave me the Prodigal son story to be the foundation of what I shared with the boys.  My prodigal son experience is not the typical one, I don't identify as much with the younger son in the story but instead with the older son.  I felt the Lord telling me I needed to share with them how their choices affect the people around them, and that of course we all need the Lord to help us with all the trials we face.  I shared with them about how my experience with a dad and a brother who were addicts affected me and my relationship with the Lord and with others.  I talked to them about choices, and how even though they are hard to make we all have that power.  And I shared with them how much they are loved and cared for even in the midst of being in the pig pen.  I was amazed at how attentive they were, how they asked questions and wanted to know more.  Many times I feel like we feel that our story is not crazy enough or drastic or painful enough to share.  But I was reminded this day that we all have a story to share and we have no idea how the Lord will use that story to connect with someone.  Even a new friend in prison in South Africa. 

My sweet friend Laura Leigh who traveled with me on this trip felt that we should do a journaling activity with the boys, allowing them to create their own journal cover and then teach them about journaling in their quiet time.  We were both a little hesitant as we were not sure how the boys would react to craft time!  I think we were both shocked when we saw how attentive, careful and thoughtful the boys were with this experience.  We had brought scrapbook paper, magazines and other supplies for the guys to use to personalize their journal covers.  This was such a sweet time for our team, being able to really talk with the boys and help them with this particular project.  The choices they made for their covers provided lots of opportunities for discussion and reflection with the boys.  I was overwhelmed with honesty in which they shared their desire to want to change and to do more with their lives.  One young man in particular had a picture of a big open field on the cover of his journal, I asked him about it and he told me that it represented freedom and a new start for him.  He knew that he was not free right now, but he told me that one day he would be free and he looked forward to that freedom.  One prisoner asked me to punch out the letters for the phrase "Change is Possible" for his journal.  I asked him why he decided on that phrase and he told me that he knew that his past was terrible and that he had done awful things but that he also knew that he could change, with the Lord's help. 

Many of the boys wanted their names punched out as well for the covers of their journals.  I had asked them to write their names down, as I was sure I couldn't spell some of them.  To me this seemed very important, for me to remind them they are known by name, by the one who created them.  During my testimony I shared with the boys that as much as God cares about the birds of the air and the flowers in the field how much more he cares about us.  I hope that these journals were a reminder to them that they are loved,valued and cared for.  Laura Leigh found this list in her journal when she returned from our trip...what a wonderful reminder to hold these boys close in prayer.  My prayer is that everyday they remember that change is possible, I know that is a lesson I sure learned.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

my first day in prison

What do you think of when someone mentions the word prison?

If I am being honest, my thoughts before this summer would have been negative, fearful, judgmental of the kind of people that would end up in a place like that.  I am sure I pictured a movie or TV show I had seen that took place in prison, maybe something like Con-Air or Shawshank Redemption.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would start to equate the words hope and faith to the idea of prison.  Funny how your view can change after spending time with the people who live that life day in and day out.

Friday, July 18th, I entered Medium B for the first time at Pollsmoor Prison.  And I honestly had no idea what to expect.  Steve, the missionary we were working alongside, had given us lots of information about the prison.  For instance that Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned there for a stint, that currently there were over 7000 inmates in the prison, and that the facility was grossly understaffed.  He shared stories of violence, gang culture and secret languages.  He shared about the high percentage rates of inmates with HIV/AIDS and TB.  And again, if I am being honest with my self, at that point, I wondered why in the world the Lord had brought me, a sheltered girl from NC to spend time in this place.

On Thursday evening, the night before we were to enter the prison and meet the young men in the Adopt a Cell program for the first time, I was a nervous wreck.  My mind was racing, I was fearful, anxious and contemplated many times how I could claim jet lag and get out of serving.  I spent some time praying that night and asked the Lord to replace my uneasy feelings with feelings of peace, confidence and strength.

When we drove up to the gate for the first time, I read the sign where the mission statement of the prison was clearly displayed. "A Place of New Beginnings".  I prayed as we entered the property that God would use our team to help the boys that He had called us to work with see that in their own lives.  That it wouldn't just be words on a sign, that they would come to believe that they were more than than their decisions, more than their backgrounds and that they would feel loved and valued.

We entered the building and were introduced to wardens and escorted to the "White House" where we would spend the next 4 hours with the boys.  Steve went to gather the boys and bring them to meet us and they immediately shook our hands and greeted us with smiles and good mornings.  I was ashamed that they could sense my anxiousness as one friend quickly asked me if I was afraid to shake his hand.  Deep down, yes I probably was and that makes me sad to say, in that instant, the Lord reminded me that these were His children, and that they deserved to be treated as such.

When we introduced ourselves to the boys and their immediate response when I told them my name was Brooke, was "Oh, like Brooke from Bold and the Beautiful."  This made me smile and giggle!  They told me later on that that was the only TV show they watched, well that and Days of our Lives.

During our first day with the boys one member of our team shared her story of how the Lord has worked in her life in difficult circumstances.  The boys hung on to every word and were anxious to ask her questions and know more about her story.  We shared information with them to educate them more about HIV/AIDS.  We talked to them about the Lord.  One of my favorite moments with them from the first day was playing a silly Minute to Win It Game with them and hearing the laughter and seeing the smiles.  They boys were respectful, full of questions about America and why I was single!  :)

As our time came to a close, my feelings of fear, anxiousness and worry had turned into feelings of friendship, care and love for these new friends.  When were gathering our things to leave for the day and saying our goodbyes, one of the boys quietly came over to me.  I shook his hand and told him that we were excited to see him again on Monday.  He smiled and then asked if he could ask me a question.  Of course I said yes and he asked a question that I will always remember.  He said, "Brooke, why would you come to prison, why would you come to a place like this?"  My answer was simple and but I think he understood, "I came here for you, I had been praying for you and wanted you to know you are loved and cared for."  He shook his head, smiled and moved into line with the rest of the group.

My heart was forever changed by that first day in Pollsmoor prison.  And this was just the beginning.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

An afternoon in Masi...

I am currently sitting on the front porch of the beach cottage my family rented for the week, listening to the waves, and sipping a cup of coffee.  Such a perfect place to process and think about my previous 10 day adventure to South Africa.  What I wish is that I could have all of you over to sip coffee with me and share the days of my trip to South Africa.  And for those of you close to me, I would love to do that, so get in touch with me!  :)  But for now, I will do my best to capture the moments here on the blog, I know that I will miss many things, and might not be able to paint the clearest of pictures, but I am going to do my best to highlight some of the amazing, hard, painful, joyful times of this trip.  I am so glad you are taking this little adventure with me (which basically means mom and a few other friends who actually read this blog :)) .

We arrived in South Africa Tuesday night late, and Wednesday morning was spent catching up on the rest that did not happen in my compact airplane seat the 30 hours prior.  Wednesday afternoon, we visited Pollsmoor Prison for the first time, and I will share more about that later.  Our visit led us to the hospital/clinic on the property and was very eye opening.   Wednesday evening we shared dinner with the Mayotte's, the missionaries we were serving with and I very much enjoyed sharing and getting to know them.   One of the other purposes of our trip was to receive some training through the church that Steve and Daria are a part of.  We had 3 evenings of training and they were amazing!  This training was wonderful and stretched me in lots of ways.  One area of my spiritual life I have always struggled with is really listening and being obedient to the Holy Spirit, and the training we received certainly addressed that.  One of my favorite things our trainer Alison shared is this,  obedience is more important than knowledge.  More on that later!  :)

Thursday came and we were excited about a day to worship and visit Masi a township in Cape Town. And I had no idea how a visit to this place would affect me!

Here is a little background knowledge about the township, just to give you some perspective.  The township is a Xhosa community and was created during Apartheid.  Apparently it was originally known as Site 5, but later the residents renamed the area Masiphumelele, which means "We Will Succeed".  Around 400-500 people settled the here but as Apartheid unraveled the number of residents began to grow.  At this time, the population of the township is around 38,000 people.  The houses in the township are made from various materials, cardboard, metal sheeting, etc.  Most have dirt floors and no bathroom.  There is a water spout where the families must go to fetch water for cooking, cleaning, bathing etc.  There is a school on the premise, but it is overcrowded and even though it is a public school, there is a fee for students to attend.

When we drove into Masi it was overwhelming.  It was easy to feel down and depressed, to feel such a heavy feeling of despair.  And then we met Edward.  Edward is a friend of Steve's who lives in Masi.  We pulled up to a shack and standing there greeting us with the most amazing smile was Edward.  He was kind, joyful and so excited to welcome us to his home.  We walked behind some homes and made our way to his house.  And that is exactly what he called it, his house.  We entered his one room home and he immediately invited us to sit on his bed and pulled up every available item he could for us to sit and be comfortable.  He told us that he wanted us to come with him next door to his friends house that had more room to do bible study with them.  He had gone over to wake his friends up so that we could all open the word and share how the Lord was speaking to our lives and hearts.  Next door we met Robert and Luke and Joseph.  Again with the same joy and hospitality they welcomed us into their home and shared the best of what they had to offer.  We opened the word together and shared from our hearts.  At that moment, any division that might have been there due to race, background, socio-economic status was erased.  We were brothers and sisters in Christ.  As I looked around the room, I didn't see the nicest furniture, the most up to date clothes, food falling off the shelves.  But what I did see was a true picture of the body of Christ, I heard thankfulness for time with new brothers and sisters, I heard gratitude for how God had provided, I heard sounds of hope.

Meet my new brothers in Christ!
My heart was so full after this impromptu bible study with my new friends.  I love to welcome people into my home just like Edward and the other did for us.  But sadly my opening of my home comes with conditions; my house must be clean, the perfect food must be served, the napkins must match the plates.  How many times do I complain because things are not just so?  And these men taught me that being together in fellowship is about so much more than the just right snacks or the cleanest floor.  It is about being in real community with people, about sharing what is going on in your lives.  It isn't about keeping people out because things are a little messy but instead welcoming them into our mess (figuratively and literally).  This is what living life together really looks like. And boy do I have some work to do!

Blogging tips