There’s No Place Like Home(stead) for the Holidays

You’d think the awe and wonder of a vacation destination would diminish a bit after three visits but it’s just the opposite with the Omni Homestead Resort. Nestled into the scenic mountains of Hot Springs, Virginia, is a magnificent 250-year-old structure that boasts a rich history and impressive roster of past visitors, including 23 U.S. presidents.

The drive up the mountainous terrain can be a bit daunting, but any knots in your stomach will disappear as soon as you begin to see the outline of the resort above the hill. I’ve only visited during the month of December and though I have no doubt the place would look beautiful any time of year, there are few locations in the world that get me in the holiday spirit quite like the Homestead. Guests are greeted by the friendly staff and as soon as the doors opened, you’ll be instantly immersed into a winter wonderland. The fire-place filled Great Hall is adorned with a massive live Christmas tree, anchored by boxes of wrapped presents (if only they were real and filled with shoes!).

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With endless activities and top-notch amenities, the Homestead is the perfect destination for any occasion – a family vacation, girls’ getaway or romantic weekend. Guests can take a wagon ride through the mountains, shoot skeet and shotguns, golf, horseback ride and much more. If you’re the type of person who can’t sit still on vacation, look into the Unlimited Activities package but if you want to only do one-or-two things, piece meal is the way to go. Make sure to save time (and room in your belly) for afternoon tea and cake, served each day.

It can be hard to relax in the hustle of the holidays, so my mom and I took a day to do absolutely nothing but be spoiled in the spa. With any 50-minute service you’ll have access to the aqua terminal suite that has four stations including saunas and scented chill showers. I was a little skeptical of the ice shower but it was seriously awesome when followed-up by the hot chair and sauna. Pure relaxation!

It’s definitely not cheap to eat on the resort but if you’re feeling fancy, do one dinner in the Main Dining Room for an elegant setting – and bring your dancing shoes! Plan ahead though during winter months as this room is only open on weekends. There are several awesome local restaurants nearby and accessible via shuttle like Lindsay’s Roost Bar and Grill and Country Café. Or, hop in your car and up the road a short bit to Cucci’s for pizza or the Waterwheel for a more elegant, yet rustic experience. The latter is about 10 minutes away in Warm Springs but well worth the trip – there is a wine cellar where guests can select their bottle of wine for the evening or to take back to the resort (even half-finished bottles from dinner thanks to Virginia’s corking rule!).

My 76-year-old father is not impressed by many things in life, and the fact that by the third day he said the place was “starting to grow on him,” means that you’ve all got to get to the Homestead and experience it for yourself!

What places have you visited that just put you right into the holiday sprint?

Here are the details on my outfits from the trip!

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This Tommy Hilfiger dress is perfect for the holidays and at a price of $19.99 from Ross, it was a no-brainer, despite my attempts to not shop for myself this holiday season. The Aldo boots are also from Ross.

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img_1887Seemed like the ideal place to take the tags off of this $25 winter white Jessica Simpson coat.

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Nighttime was for lounging up by the fireplace, with a after-dinner cocktail, PJs and conversations with my momma. These Vermont Store fannel pajamas are the absolute best.

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img_1932This cold shoulder top is from Target and the jeans, which are some of the most comfortable I’ve ever had, came from Old Navy.

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To say I love this velvet-embellished dress is an understatement. Picked it up on post-winter clearance last season at Dillard’s for just $35!

 

Gift Giving: The Magic of Memories

Though a gift granted to us, life is not a thing we should take for granted.  The older I become, the more I understand how precious a gift this life really is.  Another year passed, another group of people that will only live on in memories, hearts and photos.  Be it friends, family, or family of friends, each time I hear of another life taken away, it’s another reminder that there is no guarantee of tomorrow.  That’s why it’s so important that we soak up all the time we do have with those we care for most.  Chances are when you lose someone, you don’t look back and remember the things they bought you.  You remember the things they taught you, the special moments you shared.  Things don’t matter, but people do.

A few years back, my mom got very sick before Thanksgiving and although one to never miss a Black Friday sunrise, reality set in and my priorities shifted.  That particular season was about catering to her, helping her recover, and not about finding the best deals and boxes to stack around the Christmas tree.  There was nothing my mother needed nor wanted more than to feel better and I realize nothing I put under the tree would make that happen.  I decided that instead of buying more “things” for my parents for Christmas, I would invest in memories.

As they get older, I’m not oblivious to the fact that there will come a day, eventually, when we can’t take trips together, when we can’t embark on adventures.  With that in mind, the only gift they received that year was a piece of paper – one that detailed the trip we would take together that spring to Savannah, GA.  From pictures of our accommodations to an agenda tailored to each of them, though not something they could physically use that Christmas morning, it gave them something to look forward to at a time when my mom would be able to enjoy it.  That April we took our trip (yes, ours, because of course I imposed on them).  We got to experience a play at one of the oldest theaters in America, rest our heads at Savannah Bed & Breakfast, tour the town on a sightseeing bus, shop the streets while sipping Mojitos and indulge in the most amazing meal at the Olde Pink House.  My dad and I even rode in a hearse for a nighttime ghost tour and still to this day laugh hysterically about a woman who chased it down.  Those are memories that will last well beyond the time all of us have together.

Following in tradition, this year’s adventure took us to back down I-95 to Charleston, South Carolina.  Again we caught a play at the local theater, took a private horse-drawn carriage around town, ate until we were stuffed and walked around a plantation (and the Swamp where Shrek is from)!

While I’ll still get a few small items for under the tree, I see far greater value in spending money on memorable moments.  If you’re still trying to find the perfect gift for someone you love, give this approach a try.  Don’t buy things just to buy things.  Clothes become dated, children grow out of toys, but memories will always remain.

Holiday Gift Ideas under $20

Believe it or not, there are only TWO shopping Saturdays left before Christmas.  As much as I love this time of year, I hate how fast it flies by.  Time is starting to run out for all of you on-line shoppers (unless you’re Amazon Prime members, of course).  If you still plan to place an order and/or snail mail gifts, just take into consideration that some modes of shipping still require 7-10 business days.

Chances are your calendar is also filling up with holiday parties and gatherings with your friends, meaning there is less time to shop around or wait in the never-ending lines at the register.  In need of a gift exchange item, small gifts for your girlfriends or just a little something extra for under the tree?  Here’s a few ideas under $20 from Ross & T.J. Maxx that will help you get in and get out of the store fast:

Blanket Scarf

We couldn’t get enough blanket scarf this season and that won’t change as the wind whips harder and temperature drops lower going into the winter months.  Typically, this cold-weather accessory will run you about $22+, unless of course, you check out a discount retailer.  The scarfs on the left are from TJ Maxx and go for $19.99, the one on the right is from Ross and costs $12.99.

Delicate Laying Necklace

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Another big trend this season is layering delicate necklaces, regardless of metal (i.e. a short silver necklace paired w/a rose gold drop).  I’m loving the selection at T.J. Maxx, like this Mia Fiore for $19.99.

Kate Spade Tumblers & Mugs

What girl doesn’t love Kate Spade?  This Tumbler, priced at $9.99 and retailed at $15.00 encourages ladies to make headlines; a gift especially appreciate for PR pros like myself (hint, hint friends).  The mug runs for $12.99, compared to $20.00.  Both were spotted at T.J. Maxx.

Monogram Everything: Candles & Cups

Look around on any fashionista’s IG page, and you’re bound to come across a gold-trimmed monogram cup like this one – found at T.J. Maxx for $3.99 (compared to $6.00).  These sweet-scented monogram candles are also a perfect gift (and price) for just $2.99 (compared to $6.00 at Ross.

Inspirational Notebooks

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Know someone that likes to write, make lists, etc.?  Then consider one of these.  From scriptures to words of encouragement, this notebooks make a great gift and are super cheap ($3.99 at Ross compared to $6.00).

Picture Frames

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Another gift you can never go wrong with – a picture frame!  This particular selection from Ross are also adorned with positive sayings, giving your recipient the option to fill the frame or leave it as is.  Prices range from $4.99 – $7.99.

Clutches

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I’m obsessed with this gold clutch ($12.99) from T.J. Maxx but convinced myself to leave it on the shelf in case you wanted it instead:)  Great gift that can be used throughout the holiday season.

Slippers

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These Jessica Simpson slippers from Ross feel so comfortable, come in a variety of colors and styles, and only cost $12.99 (compared to $20.00).

Happy shopping!

XO,

CC

DIY: Tacky Christmas Dress

A few years back I asked my mom if I could borrow one of her sweaters for RVA’s first SEC tacky sweater party.  Her response? “I don’t own any tacky sweaters.”  The reality?  She was a kindergarten teacher for 35-years so of course she has a closet full of tacky attire!  While the snowman sweater sufficed for the first year, I knew I could come up with something better the next time around.

I went to work making my now go-to tacky holiday party ensemble.  A trip to Ross and the Dollar Store gave me everything I needed.  I found a simple red dress on the clearance rack for about $5 and grabbed a few bags of bows and garland at the Dollar store.

I hot-glued each individual bow onto the skirt of the dress and then did the same with the garland along the base of the dress, sleeves and neckline down through the back.  A few hours and a bunch of burns later, the dress was complete.  Next, I took a plain headband and topped it off with a few bows.  To accessorize, I made a bracelet out of ornaments.  Side note: the first year I made the mistake of using glass ornaments, whoops!  Needless to say, I switched it up after that.  I found cute green, silver and red bow earrings and a ring at Charming Charlies, too.  For under $20 in total, my holiday outfit was complete.

Last year I even added light strings to the skirt for some extra flair.  Three years later, most of the bows have stayed on but I do tend to leave a small trail whenever sitting is involved: )

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Creating a Checklist of Thanks

In the days to come, many of us will be spending time with friends and family and eating far more than our bellies can handle.thankful

By definition, the impending holiday is a time to reflect on the things in life we value the most.  But how many of us actually sit down and think, I mean really think, about what we’re most thankful for during this time of year?  The hustle and bustle of the season can often cause a distraction and lead us astray from focusing on what Thanksgiving is all about.

Even if you do have enough internal discipline to keep your mind focused on the most precious points of gratitude, do you take any action to express your appreciation?  Do you simply think, or do you “do?”

This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to take the extra step.  Instead of just acknowledging what you’re thankful for, turn those feelings into action by giving back in a way related to whatever it is you hold dear.  Begin by jotting down your List of Thanks.  Similar to prepping for exams back in the college days, transferring these pieces of gratitude from your mind to the paper will force you to dig deep and put genuine thought behind your selections, rather than just rattling off generic terms about the dinner table.  Then, think about how you can physically show your appreciation for each item on the list.

Here are some ideas to help get you started:

If you’re thankful for your friends and family:

Hug them.  Tell them.  Make sure they know how much they’re loved.  Capture the moment in a photo.  Any day could be our last, or the last time we ever see the ones we love, so don’t take any moment for granted.

If you’re thankful for your health and the health of your loved ones:

Remember those that aren’t so lucky.  Choose a health-related non-profit, such as Susan G. Komen or ALS Association, and make a donation.  Alternatively, make a commitment to participate in an organized walk or run during the next year.  Volunteer at a children’s hospital (check the website of your local hospital).

If you’re thankful for those who keep our country safe:

The sad reality is that many of the men and women who defend our country won’t get to spend the holidays with their families.  Explore ways to give back to them this holiday season, demonstrating your gratitude for the sacrifices they make.  Though it won’t make up for not being home to open presents or experience the joy of watching their loved ones doing the same, even the slightest bit of joy could help morale.  There are several organizations that send Christmas cards to the troops or stores that allow you to purchase candy bars for them at the register.

If you’re thankful for the feast you’re about to devour:

Be sure to think about those that don’t know where their next meal will come from.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen.   Deliver meals to the poor or elderly.  Participate in a food drive.

If you’re thankful for your pets:

First, give them a little love.  Then, look for ways to help out the animals that aren’t fortunate enough to have a loving home.  Volunteer at a dog shelter or make a donation to your local SPCA.  Think about adoption.  Or, for something more temporary, check our Dogs on Deployment, an organization that places dogs in foster homes while their owners are serving our country.

If you’re thankful for your job:

Pay gratitude to the people that helped to get you there.  Send your first hiring (or favorite) manager or mentor a note thanking them for the early lessons they taught you.  Repay the help you received by offering advice to college students or young professionals.  Become a mentor.  Tutor students from a local high school.

If you’re thankful for being free from financial burden:

Share what you have with those who don’t have as much.  Adopt an angel through Project Angel Tree where you buy gifts for children in poverty or with parents in prison.  Collect items for Toys for Tots.  Reach out to a local retirement home and ask if they’re accepting donations for residents.  Consider giving items or a monetary donation to victims of the South Carolina floods; last week we met with the LISC who said many families are just getting back into their homes finally learning what they lost after the flood devastation.  Donations are still desperately needed.

If you’re thankful for your children:

Remember the children that don’t have loving, safe homes like yours.  Volunteer at your local children’s home.  Give donations to a women’s shelter – often the only safe haven for women and children in dangerous situations.  Seek out organizations that provide support for foster children like Mercy for America’s Children, a North-Carolina based non-profit organization advocating on behalf of children awaiting adoption in the US Foster Care System.