Holiday Gift Guide for What Your Friends and Family Really Want

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As the holidays approach, our thoughts turn to gift-giving, even during a pandemic when most of our shopping will probably be online. This is the year to break out of the rut and get your friends something they really want. With so many of our small, independent shops in trouble, it is extra important this year to gift something thoughtful and unique, hopefully sourced locally. Scroll through and find your person 🙂

Your Writer Friend Doesn’t Want Another Journal; Buy These Gifts They Long For Instead:

  • An air plant I cannot kill to green up my writing nook. I buy mine from The Salt Shed, but your local nursery will have them as well.
  • The chocolate tea sampler from Adagio Teas for those stressful moments
  • Because today is what it is, a nice literary-themed face mask would be much appreciated so I can represent when out interviewing.
  • A chunky blanket from The Savvy Stitchess, one of my former students 🙂
  • A new book or gift card from my favorite independent bookshop, Sundog Books. You could of course purchase from your local bookstore or from where they financially support indie bookstores.

As a writer I get a journal for every holiday and sometimes just because. I have a closet full of unmarked journals, but what I would love to get as a gift is one of these lovelies!

All cooks long to open a holiday gift and find that one item they have secretly been desiring. Buy one of these for them to ensure some holiday baking coming your way:

  • Saran wrap that actually sticks from Chic Tools. Never struggle with tearing, stretching, generally frustrating wraps again 🙂
  • An old-fashioned citrus reamer. We don’t need those fancy juicers that take the arm strength of a sumo wrestler.
  • A microplane for the love of god!
  • A gift certificate to a local bookshop that sells the latest Ina Garten cookbook.
  • An apron from Hedley & Bennett…because they are the best…end of conversation.

Many of your home areas have independent kitchen supply stores you can support with these purchases. Epicurious did a nice round-up of independent cookware shops across the country if you are looking for inspiration.

For the family members that either have everything or never give you any ideas:

  • Don’t get your dad another coffee mug. He really wants a countertop composter so he doesn’t have to take out the trash so often.
  • Don’t buy your mom another piece of jewelry she won’t wear. Get her one of these face sheet masks so she can relax for fifteen minutes of complete bliss.
  • Don’t buy your kids the latest gadget. Get your adult kids a grocery or wine subscription. They will thank you.
  • Embrace the nerdy stereotype and buy your younger kids, nieces and nephews gift cards to your local bookstore. Are you sensing a theme here ;)?

When in doubt, I LOVE The Art of Simple is Seaside. It is a store for “Curiosities and Necessities” and is chocked full of fun stuff!

I mean c’mon! This mug is from The Art of Simple and who does not need it every day on Zoom?

Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses by Isabele Allende


Hot. That is the only word I can think of to describe this novel. It definitely has the Allende flavor of magical realism and picturesque description. I picked it up thinking it was a food memoir, but it is more of an exploration of the connection between food, sex and love. The recipes are her grandmothers’and you can feel the familial connection in the pages. The chapter describing the advice to her stepson on dating was downright funny, and quite erotic. I liked the book, but it is not my favorite Allende novel. It moves a little slow in parts. It is provocative and entertaining for a fun read, it just takes a little while to get through

Furniture Facelift

I am a sucker for a project. I love to get my hands dirty and make something beautiful out of raw materials. I have dabbled in furniture refinishing over the years, but just as an amateur- nothing too difficult. I have been sitting on a larger project for over a decade, and #shelteringinplace just seemed like the opportunity.

Back when I owned my first restaurant, I attended a few auctions- mostly for equipment, but sometimes furniture. It was at an auction in Thomasville, GA that I fell in love. I spotted a chest and dresser that looked like they were from the 1930s. They were neglected, a little beat up, but still had the gorgeous filigree details, and the gentle sloping lines iconic of the era. I wanted them.

An auction is one of those events where you can lose yourself. There are all these people and you don’t know who will bid on what and what price you should start with. I did not really know the value of true antiques so I was a little lost, and a little high on the crazy bidding atmosphere. I had a set price in my mind I was willing to pay, and when my lot came up, I was giddy. The auctioneer started, and I waited to see a hand. Nobody bid. I was nervous, but excited. They were going to be mine…I just felt it. I shot my hand up as the bid was closing. They were coming home with me.

Sixteen years, five moves, and two states later, I still have them. They are slightly more beat up from use, but still lovely. Covid-19 gave me the time to give them some attention. I cleaned them thoroughly and vacuumed out all the errant sawdust when the drawers were removed. I noticed the wood was thin in some places, and the tongue and groove joints were falling apart as well.

Let me preface this by saying, this takes some attention to detail and patience. I got some Gorilla Wood Glue, clamps, and some very tiny nails, and went to work. I glued the tongue and groove back together, and clamped the pieces overnight to dry. This is essential for the seal to develop. I also shored up the drawers and back with some small wood blocks I put in with small nails. I only want to do this once, so I made sure everything was secure and sturdy for future use.

I mentioned the wood was thin in a couple places, and I didn’t want to harm the pieces further with sanding unless I had to. I ordered a product called Restore A Finish to see if I could bring it back to its original beauty without the rough process of stripping and sanding. They say on the site you can just use a cloth, but I highly rec fine grade steel wool. Gloves are also really helpful.


It took a solid three hours of vigorous rubbing with the steel wool and Restore A Finish, but I am really happy with the results. I probably could have paid a professional furniture restorer to make them pristine back when I bought them, but I never cared about a flawless antique.

A couple of caveats about using this product:

  • The color you choose is super important. My pieces are Cherry, but parts are stained very darkly, almost walnut. I went with the lighter cherry finish and glad that I did. The lighter finish allowed the lighter areas of the furniture to still shine, while helping heal the darker pieces.
  • It will not get rid of gouges or scratches. I scrubbed…hard on some spots and as soon as I wiped the product off, they re-emerged. I did use a very fine grit sand paper in a couple spots that had enough wood to survive sanding.
  • It will not impart a sheen. It will restore luster and color, but if you want it to shine, you need the Feed-n-Wax wood polisher and refinisher.

***Tip***I rubbed the drawer runners with beeswax before putting them back in and wow, what a difference! No more squeaks or tough-to-open drawers.

The Results: Now I can finally unpack my suitcases from the move six months ago 🙂



Writing Prompts for When You Can’t Write Due to a Global Crisis — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog

Every writer out there…this list is gold 🙂 I’m thinking of a braided essay on toilet paper and bras…

By Julie Vick Can’t seem to get much writing done during the pandemic? Here are some writing prompts that probably won’t help: Write a letter to your younger self. Find a way to casually suggest that you start learning how to cut your own hair. Plan a trip to a different room in your house. […]

via Writing Prompts for When You Can’t Write Due to a Global Crisis — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog

Keeping Sane in Quarantine

Listen to the dog. Trust me.

Not your dog at home, but the Twitter dog who dishes humor and wisdom almost daily. This thread seriously keeps me sane some days. It was started on a lark by college student, Matt Nelson.

His first foray into the world of dogs via social media was “We Rate Dogs,” which became wildly popular. “Thoughts” takes it one step further by showcasing the inner thoughts of a canine in a stream-of-consciousness format complete with lack of punctuation and capitalization that gives voice to the very real emotions many humans are feeling. The account is called “Thoughts of Dog” and here is a taste:

Check out some amazing livestream concerts…in your pajamas.

Lots of artists are putting on living room concerts to help people get through this time of isolation. So many in fact, that it is hard to keep up.

That is where BandsinTown comes in. I originally downloaded the app so I could get notifications when artists I love are playing somewhere near. I noticed about a week ago I was getting notifications of livestreams. On their landing page is a list of coming events, but even better is if you download the app and sync to your music. Then you get customized lists based on your musical taste.

Recently, I watched a John Legend concert from his #togetherathome series. BandsinTown notified me it was coming. Here is the Youtube link in case you are a Legend fan. He is divine!

Support a great cause and listen to some new voices (sometimes mixed with old).

The video of “The Weight” with Robbie Robertson and Ringo Starr has been everywhere lately. Rightly so- it is amazing! I checked into the group behind it, Playing for Change, and found a treasure trove of cool stuff for music fans. The crew travels the world recording musicians and showing our common humanity through music. A percentage of proceeds from sales benefits Music and Art Education. Great music, worthy cause, no brainer!

Check out some Broadway.

I am usually in NYC in March for business and always pack in as many shows as I can. I miss that. Enter Andrew Lloyd Webber and his “The Shows Must Go On!” series. Each Friday at 7pm GMT., he is hosting a show on his Youtube channel. I can’t wait for next Friday’s Jesus Christ Superstar with Tim Minchin, Mel C., and Chris Moyles!

Or if seeing a show is not your thing, but you love a good competition, check out Andrew Lloyd Webber in his playoff challenge. Webber played a number and challenged Lin Manuel Miranda to a piano playoff on Twitter.

Can’t forget my book lovers out there!

Audible has opened all their children and YA books up to the public while schools are closed. What a great way to keep young minds engaged and enriched.

Most, if not all, public libraries are currently shuttered, but that has not stopped them from upping the ante with e-books. All you need is a card number and access to your local library website.

As an extra treat many high profile celebs have been taking to the small screen to read to you. The Instagram account #SAVEWITHSTORIES is just gold, especially if you have a little one to tuck in.

This is the brainchild of Amy Adams and Jennifer Garner. Their initiative, Save with Stories, offers an opportunity to not only hear stories, but also give to No Kid Hungry to help nourish the minds and bodies of those in need during this pandemic.

Look to the poets.

Always in times of crisis, I read poetry. Poets seem to be able to verbalize the emotions and needs of the many within a few stanzas. Their language soothes, calls to action, and heals. One of my favorite poets on Twitter is Maggie Smith. Her poem “Good Bones” is just plain good, pun intended.  


She has a series on Twitter, “Keep Moving” that reminds us to find the light and keep going even in dark times. Here is a taste:

“Keep in mind that transformation is uncomfortable. If you want to thrive in a new life, you’re going to have to change, too. It may feel like you’re breathing different air, but trust that you can adapt. Press on. Keep moving.”

I would also recommend Ilya Kaminsky because, my goodness. He is a daily inspiration, but his collection, Deaf Republic, just stays with you…for a long time.

Then there is Cory Booker- senator, former presidential candidate, Rhodes Scholar, boyfriend of Rosario Dawson :)…and wait for it, poet.

Booker poem

Stay safe! #alonetogether

Other posts in Quarantine series:


Remote Work Hangouts


Remote work can be the most satisfying and freeing choices for your career, but it can also be lonely. I have a lovely home office/library space. The furniture is comfy, there are plants and lots of sunlight- very inspiring. Sometimes though, I need some human interaction.

Enter coffee shops.

They have been the offices of many remote workers as our jobs move more online. There is enough noise, some people you can talk to or not, fresh coffee and usually some baked goods. The catch though is the space needs to be remote work friendly- solid tables, light, wifi and most importantly, lots of outlets! Remoters published an article that gives a great overview of all the pluses and minuses or remote work, as well as a glimpse into what the future of remote work could be. If you are currently freelancing or even working remote for a company, Remoters has some exceptional resources.

Local Options

Over the past two weeks I visited all the possibilities between Panama City proper and Grayton Beach, Fl. (my new home turf). Below is my roundup best to last, but let me say I did not go anywhere that did not offer food in some way- got to have a snack when you are working for hours staring at the screen. There may be more out there…drop me a message if you think I missed one of your faves.

#1 Black Bear Bread Co.

This one is the furthest from my home, but so worth it. There are many comfy seating options from the cushioned banquettes in the bakery are to the bar and couches in the bar room. It is busy. Always. Find your table first and then get in line to order. They give you a number and bring everything to you. The people who work there seem very happy- always smiling, chatting and refilling your coffee. The baked goods are really, really tasty. Did I say really tasty? They are! Everything is baked fresh and when they run out, they are out.

I usually order a large cup of Stumptown Coffee– the richest brew I have sampled from any of the shops. I am kind of hooked on their french toast, but I have tried croissants, pop tarts and grain bowls as well. There are outlets everywhere! Literally, every seat has an outlet right near it including the bar seats- it is a remote worker’s mecca! I stay usually 2-3 hours and nobody interrupts me except to fill coffee or pass a kind word of greeting. I never feel pressure to get out and the buzzy, hip vibe is perfect for writing. I frequent here 1-2 times a week even though it is 35 minutes from my house.

#2 The Pour

I passed this place many times before I ventured in because I was afraid it would be too faith-based. I was wrong. It is a Christian-based coffee shop, but it is so much more. They believe in their community and supporting it with transitional housing and other initiatives- they are a certified non-profit. There are some religious pieces of art on the wall, but there is also a plethora of comfy seating from couches to chairs to more traditional work tables. The decor is a mix of upcycled lighting, rugs and furniture.

I stayed for an hour my first time and it was so relaxing. It is a large space with tons of outlets. I counted eight remote workers when I first entered (always a good sign). The music is indie/folk. The staff is friendly and efficient. I had a coffee, which was nothing special just Community coffee and a pancake muffin which was really special. Baked products are house-made and pretty yummy. They also have a couple of breakfast options, but not a huge selection. This spot exudes good vibes and is a nice change from the home office.

#3 Amivida Coffee

I visited both locations, Rosemary Beach & St. Andrews, and much prefer the St. Andrews location. Rosemary Beach is a fun area, but the cafe itself is rather small and not conducive to remote work- no space to really spread out and plug in.

The location in St. Andrews is large, tons of different types of seating and outlets everywhere. The couple of times I visited, there were numerous remote workers on their laptops and conducting meetings. It is extremely remote worker friendly. There is also this independent spirit in the cafe that appeals to my own independent spirit. I love everything about this place except the food and coffee.

I worked uninterrupted for hours catching snippets of conversation about the community rebuilding after Hurricane Michael and all the new upstart businesses setting up shop. There is a fiercely proud quality to St. Andrews evident in their tagline #keepstandrewssalty and their deep support of locally-owned businesses. All of this makes me want to go here often, but the coffee was bitter both times and the two food items I tried- Spelt breakfast sandwich and muffin were dry and not very tasty. I plan to go and try ordering tea to see if that is more to my liking because I want to love this place and support it. So, in the end this places rocks for getting writing done, but the food and coffee were not as rocking.

#4 Cafe Aroma

This one is by far the closest to my house. I had really high hopes, but it was just okay. To be fair, I went thinking good coffee and a breakfast, but it was more good coffee and a donut.

They serve Lucky Goat coffee which is pretty good, a little bitter. They are really more of a lunch/deli location than breakfast. The sandwich I got was okay, but not great. The blueberry cake donut was fantastic! The space is quite large, but not many tables. This is a miss I think, at least for my purposes. There are outlets by the 7ish tables they have, but it is just not very comfortable. The space itself is a little stark and could use some cozying up. I went here twice, but did not stay for more than an hour. I think there is potential for remote work here, but it is not there yet and maybe they are catering more to the just walk in, get your coffee and donut, and leave crowd.


#5 & #6 Sunrise Cafe & Bakery & Loaf Cafe & Bakery

I lumped these together because I would not consider remote working from either one.

Sunrise Cafe is super cute inside with a very beachy vibe. Loaf has that European minimalist thing going on. Both are comfortable spots with plenty of seating. But, my major requirement of outlets are basically non-existent.

I also did not feel their breakfast and coffee options were anything to write home about. Sunrise has a limited breakfast menu, but the ingredients were just kind of mediocre (American cheese etc.) and the coffee was the run of the mill Community Coffee. I did order a latte to see how their espresso drinks were and it was weak.

Loaf has an extremely limited menu, but their baklava is outstanding. I also love their community bookshelf where you can drop a book off or pick one up. Both have their good points (European menu options for lunch etc.), but they just were not sufficient for telework.

DIY Wine Crafts: The Frame

So, I recently posted about my success with wine cork wreaths and I thought I would continue my wine art theme by sharing how I upcycled my labels from all those bottles where the corks once resided. I still have a cache awaiting future projects, but I love how my frame art came out!


The Idea

My husband and I traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee a couple of years ago for a softball camp for our daughter and we strolled around an area that had lots of cute boutiques and some great restaurants. In one of these home decor boutiques he fell in love with this enormous framed quote about love and weirdness. The piece was $500 and it was just stretched canvas over a reclaimed wood frame. I thought at the time I could do something maybe a little more unique and personal for him as a gift so I tucked the idea away and went about my business.

I must make a confession at this point about my cork and label collection- I am sucker for a cool label. I know we should not buy a wine for a label, but I have and continue to. My issue was we consume a fair amount of wine between ourselves and gatherings we host. You can imagine the bottles start to pile up (just look at my previous post with the multiple banana boxes of corks). I knew I wanted to do something with all these great labels so I started researching how to get labels off the bottles without ruining them.

Let me just say I tried everything and big kudos to those who can do it with water etc.- those methods were a big fail for me. This led me to try out the “baking” method. I was a little nervous about putting a glass bottle in a 350 degree oven, but I rogered up and did it. It was wildly successful! I have to thank Thirsty Bastards blog for breaking all the different methods down for me and ultimately, pointing me in the right direction.

My labels came off very easily after 5 minutes in the oven, but don’t start this without a razor blade handy to ensure clean removal. I also laid out wax paper to put the labels on while cooling. I found this method allowed me to then put another piece on top and leave it pressing under a heavy object overnight. This makes for perfectly straight labels to then craft with.

The basic tools you need for a wine label frame are:

  • Enough fun labels to cover whatever size frame you choose
  • An unfinished wood frame, your choice of size
  • A razor blade
  • Mod Podge (a big bottle)
  • a foam brush to spread Mod Podge
  • Patience, a lot of patience

Step 1: Obviously, choose your bottle and remove the labels (whatever method works for you)

Step 2: Cover a large work surface with newspaper, gather your labels, Mod Podge, frame and blade IMG_2434

Step 3: Lay your labels out around the frame to be sure you like the orientation and everything fits snuggly

Step 4: One label at a time, apply some Mod Podge to back of label and stick to frame. You may have to trim labels at this stage and be sure to hold them down for a few seconds to ensure adherence.

Step 5: Once all labels are down and cover frame, you need to cover the front of labels with Mod Podge and let it sit- I left it overnight to be sure everything was going to stay before I tried to frame something in it. The next day, I did find a couple of non-conforming edges so I just re-glued and let it sit some more.

Once it is dry and you are happy with the appearance, you can either frame something yourself in it- family picture, piece of art or whatever makes you happy. I actually created a calligraphy canvas with the quote my husband loved and took it our local frame store to have it matted and framed in my own custom frame. All the labels I chose were from special occasions we shared over the years and I gave it to him for our anniversary.

I still have a book of parchment paper encased labels waiting for my next craft- I just have not decided what it will be yet. Stay tuned for more adventures in wine crafting!

DIY Wine Crafts: The Wreath

The piles of saved wine corks finally reached critical capacity. 4 banana boxes later and it was time to delve into the world of wine cork wreaths. With the new house and a barren door, the time was ripe.


My first step was to survey online to see if anybody had already done what I envisioned. There are a number of sites that give instructions for various wreaths and an ever greater number where you can buy them, but none quite hit on the design I wanted. I did get a rough idea of materials and set about acquiring. Basically for the wreath I made you need:

  • a glue gun & about 20 glue sticks
  • a straw wreath form (bought mine at Michael’s for $6.99)
  • a ridiculous amount of corks (mine was around 200)
  • some material to make a bow, if you want one
  • boatloads of patience


Step 1: Clear a large work area and cover in newspaper or some other ilk of protective covering to catch glue droplets. Uncover your wreath form. I used straw because I thought it would be most durable for outdoor hanging. I saw some who used floral foam and wire as well, but the straw made more sense to me.

Gather your corks. Here was some of the greatest time suck on my project. I wanted only to use corks from special occasions and only unique corks- no repeats. This entailed sorting through probably 1000 corks, making piles of repeats and pulling all of the special ones. It did give me the opportunity to relive all those great memories, but it took a longggg time. I finally decided to use our three most popular wines as the inner circles to make that more stable and uniform and then use only unique corks from there on out. The winners were Cline Old Vine Zin, Coppola Rosso and DaVinci Chianti.

Step 2: Now that you have your base corks picked, plug your glue gun in and get to work. Once the glue is heated, put a generous line of glue on the cork and starting on the inside circle at the bottom, begin to affix your corks.

Be sure to press them into the straw for a few seconds to ensure adherence. Try to snuggle your corks tightly together so your line does not get out of whack. As you near the end of each circle measure out how many corks you need to complete the circle- sometimes you will need to choose a larger or smaller cork depending on how much space is left. Pro Tip* Keep an X-Acto knife handy so you can cut a cork to make the perfect size to close your circle.

Step 3: Once you have all your inner circles done, let them sit about 20 minutes to make sure the glue is good and dry before you start on the outer circles. You will basically be continuing what you have been doing with the cork, glue, press, but you want to make sure nothing is going to fall off because you may want to tilt the wreath up for easier gluing.

I continued my circles all the way around to the back so there would be no visible straw when it was hung. I did not do the very last few circles on the back though because it would have made the wreath a little too bulky to hang from a regular wreath hanger.

Step 4: Figure out the orientation of your “special” corks if you are following my idea. I tried a number of different directions from random to step staggered to what I ended up with- opposite direction with just a little space.

I did see on one of the sites that this top layer could be used to hide mistakes, like if you had too much space or corks did not end up fitting tightly or they became wonky or glue got out of hand. I tried that for a couple of spots, but I did not like the look. Once you have figured out a placement (make sure to lay it out before gluing to see that it was what you want), glue the corks down and let the whole wreath sit over night to set.


Step 5: Make or buy a bow that fits your theme. I like to make my own because it brings me back to my days as a softball mom, but there are lots of beautiful pre-fab bows out there.

Step 6: Hang it and be the envy of your neighborhood!

About Getting Good: The Many Paths to Literary Mastery

Wise words about the publishing industry…

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

A guest post from Melissa Frederick:

It has never been easier to get published (many authors do so themselves), while it has never been harder to have your work read, and even more, to make a living off of what you write. ~ E. Stephens, “The Vanishing Apprenticeship”

Jorge Luis Borges Jorge Luis Borges

I’ve been thinking a lot about Allison K. Williams’s blog post from Monday. I know the frustration she describes, the Torment of the Unknown Writer, floundering in a sea of publication options, rejections, and fellow writers armed with little or no guidance on how to navigate toward a successful career. In my darker hours, I do a lot of bewailing: about my outsider status, my long hours of effort for little return, my willingness to do whatever it takes for someone to notice me, and my bewilderment when the Powers that Be continue to ignore me while they usher dozens…

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