OCD or Awesome Life Hack?

There are some of “my people” that one might say have…um…OCD-like tendencies. (There, I just RIPPED the bandaid right off.) I believe there is a spectrum of OCD behaviors, and I fall within. If you were to come to my home without prior knowledge on my part, you would enter my home and might very well believe that we had fallen victim to a heinous burglary. You would find Nerf guns and stuffed animals everywhere, at least one empty Amazon box lying about, random pieces of clothing thrown around like confetti, and shoes… Dear God, the shoes…obviously the thieves weren’t after shoes ‘cause they are EVERYWHERE! I apologize in advance to any and all unexpected visitors. We have not been robbed; we actually live here…in this house…daily.

Chaos couch

Despite the apparent disarray, within the chaos, you will find pockets of deliberate, and some might find, disturbing order. These are my pockets of sanity. Many would classify these “arrangements” as OCD. Perhaps they are. I am not here to diagnose, but to SHARE! (Insert the happy twittering of woodland animals here.)  I want to share a few of my OCD-like habits (Or what I like to call life hacks!  As if.) and a few ideas from some of my super organized friends. You may say, OCD, but we say AWESOME!


rafiki meditating

Let’s talk about eggs. (Weren’t expecting that one, were you?) There is nothing I hate more that retrieving a carton of eggs from the fridge only to find it so unexpectedly unbalanced that the carton falls from my hand and lands in a huge mess on the floor. To combat this horrendous potential experience, I strategically choose my eggs based on their placement in the carton, leaving all remaining eggs towards the center of the carton. This enables you to pick up the carton, from any side, and have it equally weighted toward the center to avoid disaster. (Did you just roll your eyes?  Imagine a flight attendant demonstrating with the waving, pointed fingers….the voice…  it all becomes so much more fun!)

no yes eggs

Another habit that I have is to fold and store plastic grocery bags. I get A LOT of grief for this one, even from my OCD friends! They seriously don’t know what they’re missing. I fold my grocery bags and store them for easy retrieval from my pantry. This also aids in a more tidy appearance of said pantry. Why is this important? Because I do not have a family member who is capable of closing that door after they access it. Thus the pantry then becomes an extension of my kitchen and our sins are visible to the world! (Oh NO!)

folded grocery bags

Let’s just stay in the kitchen while we’re here. (Where I spend 99% of my time.) I have a very specific way that I stow dirty dishes in my kitchen sink. I’m sure you’re already thinking, “GASP! An OCD person would NEVER have dirty dishes in the sink.” In truth, this happens about half of the time. Some mornings I just don’t have time to empty the dishwasher, but that doesn’t mean that chaos has to rein. I neatly stack the dirties by category. (Stop your eye rolling and open your mind.) All plates together, all bowls together, all utensils together (WITH handles all in the same direction, duh) and all glassware together. This makes it incredibly fast and easy for me to load them into the dishwasher once I get time. (Ironically, my precious family members have not picked up on the “pattern” in the sink. I just can’t believe it sometimes. Love you! Mean it!)

dirty dishes

I’m not going to take all of the glory here. Let’s talk about Meredith’s contribution.  (I don’t even need to introduce her anymore!  Isn’t that awesome?) Hold on to your hats, ‘cause I’m completely jel over THIS one. Meredith’s pantry…… Well, see for yourselves.

Meredith's pantry

Not only are there matching containers, but THEY ARE LABELED! Seriously? Some might see this as a sickness, but come on! She can see what she has, and what she’s running out of at a glance! It’s brilliant. I have not fully embraced this yet, but I am working toward it. I pick up a new container whenever I hit the local Home Goods (Especially if I can remember what size I need. Not one of my strengths.) This can be quite an investment in containers, but if you are only purchasing groceries when you need them, instead of over buying because you didn’t see that box of brown sugar in the back, or WORSE, throwing ingredients away because they’ve expired, in the long run, I think you’re saving on this one. And Mere swears that food lasts longer in the containers than in their original packaging. Mind blown.


mind blown

If you love to cook or bake, no doubt you have a multitude of spices. My spice cabinet looks like my son has been rummaging through it to find his soccer socks. My sister inlaw, Dara’s spice cabinet tells a different, glorious story. A happy tale of organization, thoughtfulness and the ability to see exactly what you own at a glance. I just don’t know where to start here with my envy. Let’s start from the top then! Cookie cutters and paper cupcake cups are stored in sweet jars. (Functional and decorative!) The basket next, houses food coloring and cookie decorations. Cookbooks are within reach and supported by mason jars filled with baking goodness. Spices are lined up like little soldiers on their teeny stair steps. The rest of the collection is neatly positioned so the taller items are viewable from the back and those items that are of similar sizes are kept on a tiny “hard working” Susan (This Susan ain’t no slacker and certainly is NOT lazy.).

dara's spice cabinet

I’m going to call Dara’s next space her utility drawer. Here she stores her batteries, matches, lighters, flashlight, candles and Scentsy wax bars. Once again, everything is accessible at a glance. Nothing stacked, so each item is ready to use and easy to find! Dara can easily see when supplies need to be replenished and/or get to them quickly should an emergency arise.

Dara's utility drawer

One thing you should know about Dara; she only buys exactly what she needs. She does not stock items. This allows for her storage spaces to be VERY clean and easy to use. (I swear. You should see HER pantry (conveniently pictured below). It looks like the house is staged for sale. So jel.) There are obvious advantages to this strategy.  I, on the other hand, am a stocker. I HATE to run out of anything, therefore I always have a back up. This presents storage challenges, but saves me emergency trips to the store.

Dara's pantry

Why am I sharing this? Number 1, ‘cause it’s fun(ny).  (And I sincerely hope that you could feel the humor that was intended throughout.) Number 2, I want to shed the reasoning behind what seems to be odd OCD behavior. We are all busy people and are coping in our homes to make our lives as easy as possible. Less stress trickles outward and helps the advancement of peace and happiness. Isn’t that the direction that we all want to go? If having an organized spice rack reduces stress, then don’t hate; appreciate!


Fallon as bieber

1 Rafiki from Disney‘s The Lion King.  Pic from Pinterest.

2 Pic from www.knowyourmeme.com

3 Jimmy Fallon as Justin Bieber.  So funny!  Pic from www.google.com

Typical is Not for Me

For as long as I can remember, I never wanted what everyone else had. Let me clarify. I may want what they have, but not exactly the same. I wanted it to be different, unique, and special. These choice opportunities could be as simple as holiday nail color (this past Christmas chose navy!), or closing up a portion of our open concept home to create a more usable layout for our family.   (Oh, I heard that gasp from here.)


lucy shocked

Not much excites me more than the exercise of wracking my brain for a creative solution and finally landing on something spectacular. To some, this may sound completely exhausting, and sometimes it is. But the payoff, to me is worth every agonizing moment and sleepless night. (I’m still catching up on the sleep that I lost trying to name our daughter and she’s nine!)



Two years ago, my husband and I were at a cross-roads of what to do with our home. Sell it and move on, or start changing it to actually work better for our family. Our house was plenty big, but the layout just wasn’t working for us (particularly me). Looking back, perhaps the best option was to move, but we decided to get creative and get to work making this house the right house for us. We did the unthinkable. In this day and age of open concept living, we were going to close up a room. You heard me.


50 shades of crazy

The entrance of our home opened up to an open concept living room / dining room. Beyond that area, was a second open concept space that included our family room and kitchen area, with a powder room and my hubby’s office down a hallway. We had no mudroom and the kids’ growing list of activities and sizes of their coats and backpacks became overwhelming to me. Their gear would get piled up on a chair in the family room in plain sight of the front door. Yes, the very first impression you would get of our home, even before you entered, was a pile of stuff on our pretty leather club chair in the family room at the back of the house. I COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!  (And this was even before we got our two medium-to-large sized dogs and dog crates.)  We needed a mudroom. And if we weren’t going to move, I was going to have to get creative to solve this problem. That’s exactly what I did.


catch all chair

It didn’t take much convincing for my husband to agree, because he was going to gain a beautiful, much larger, office space.  (Oh, and I painted a pretty picture too.  Including built-ins and a new desk….dreamy.  How could he resist my siren song?) He was sold on that idea from the get-go. (Shocking.)



We realized that we really never used our living room except to put up a Christmas tree and open presents once a year.  Problem solved. We would put a wall up between the existing living room and dining room, leaving the dining room as is and creating a brand new office right off the foyer, complete with a beautiful bay window at the front.


Christmas 2013

I started to imagine what this was actually going to feel like. My husband has a zillion amazing qualities, but tidiness is not one of them. The office was going to most certainly need doors to close it off so that we could have guests without revealing his free-spirited organizational skills. (You see what I did there?  You like that?) He wanted glass doors, of course, to allow in the most light, but they would have to be made with opaque glass to allow for privacy and mess concealment. Imagining a set of closed doors right when you entered our home; I quickly realized that our foyer was going to feel REALLY tight. Not at all the feeling I want in any part of our home. AND, giving up that front room would also mean, no more beautiful Christmas tree in our front window during the holidays. These two things became deal breakers for me. My hubby was heartbroken. He had already mentally moved in to the new awesome space.



If we were still going to go through with the renovation to get the much needed mudroom, the only other option was to make our living room the new dining room and make the old dining room the new office. THAT WAS IT! The new dining room was a perfect extension of our foyer. It was pretty and sparkly and came complete with an undisturbed front bay window that still hosts our beautiful formal Christmas tree. The new manly office is nicely tucked away from guests behind cool reeded glass paneled French doors (And a transom! Don’t forget about the awesome transom!).


New office door

Before we took such a bold, off-trend step, and to ensure that we would not be terribly devaluing our home, we consulted a real estate professional.  (My bestie!  You know, Meredith!  Who happens to have been named one of Washingtonian Magazine‘s Top Relators for 2017 in the Washington metro area.  MY GIRL!) Getting her blessing and assurance, we proceeded. Thinking outside of the conventional box has yet again paid off for me. I’ve learned over the last few years to let go of “the popular choice” and trust my instincts. Sometimes I hurt myself patting myself on the back for yet another creative solution.



1 Lucille Ball from www.google.com.

2 Pic from www.speckyboy.com

3 Meme from www.someecards.com

4 Clutter beacon in our home.  In Harry Potter lingo, The Chair of Requirement.

5 This is exactly how it did NOT turn out. LOL!  Pic from www.gentlemansgazette.com.

6 Christmas 2013 in our old living room.

7 Pic from www.phobia.wikia.com.  Oh, and NOT my husband.  LOL!

8 Our office doors and transom.  I love them so much.  I’m thinking of getting a match to use on our pantry…… (thinking emoji).  LOL.

9 Pic from https://autodo.info/pages/s/self-pat-on-the-back/

Guest – Sweet Pea Studios

Krystal Culpepper

Sweet Pea Studios photographer, Krystal Culpepper and I met five years ago when our sons were placed in the same second grade class. We volunteered in the classroom together a lot that year. Our families began spending more time together at the local Tae Kwon Do school, which just solidified the friendship between Krystal and me. I have been fortunate enough to watch her business and talent blossom.

In college, Krystal earned her degree in exercise sport and education leading her to a career in the commercial fitness industry as a gym manager. Being a newlywed at that time, she found that the two did not mix, so she moved to teaching physical education until her first child was born. Shifting again, she began working for McLean Bible Church (MBC) in McLean, VA, where she spent eight years as an admin for their children’s ministry. By the time she left MBC, she had worked her way up to the Assistant Director of Operations for the children’s ministry, managing a staff of ten. She hated it and decided to scale down to part time, moving into coordinating their Preparing for Marriage class for their marriage ministry. (Which she loved!) But, she explains, “With everything, specifically with [working for the] church, you get to a point when it was just time to walk away. On Sundays, I couldn’t go to church without someone needing something. And it got hard. AND, I was commuting.” She walked away to be a stay-at-home mom. Three years prior, she had begun her photography career on the side and says, “I haven’t regretted it or looked back since. I don’t like being in an office unless it’s my own office. I don’t like having meetings about meetings.”

Sweet Pea baby in basket

During the beginnings of her photography career, Krystal was the “second shot” for another photographer for a few weddings. She found herself gravitating toward the kids, hence Krystal is a newborn, child, and family photographer (with some maternity thrown in). She says, “I am a hard no for events and a hard no for weddings. I love the babies.” Sweet Pea is the name that Krystal’s dad calls her daughter. She laughs, “Krystal Culpepper Photography was just too long.” So Sweet Pea Studios was born in 2009.

Krystal grew up in the photography industry. Her mother, grandmother, father and sister all worked for Lifetouch Portrait Studios. Her mother worked for Lifetouch for 30 years retouching senior portraits…BY HAND! (There was no Photoshop back then.) Krystal reminisces, “I remember the smell of the factory. I remember going to mom’s work and running around with camera equipment and the big machines.” Because she had been exposed to the industry so early and for so long, she never imagined being a professional within it. She shares, “But then you have children, good cameras come out and you’re thinking, well, maybe I can do that.”

Sweet Pea maternity

And that’s what she did.  She got a camera and learned about photography on her own, but then decided to go back to school to take college photography courses and workshops. She explains, “I wanted to be able to say [to clients] this is why I’m doing this with my camera, this is why I’m positioning you here, here’s what this means. When I put my camera on this setting, it means this.” Before pursuing her formal education in photography, she could pick a setting and the camera would do everything for her, but it wasn’t necessarily what she wanted. She would then have to do a lot of post-production work. She explains, “At that point I didn’t know Photoshop all that well. It was a lot of slapping on actions and filters. For my friends, starting out, it was fine. They weren’t paying me.” But once she learned how to really use her camera, take it off auto and do everything manually, it decreased the amount of time needed for the post-production editing.

Krystal shares, “I’m very much a minimalist. I don’t want to spend a lot of time [in post production]. You want your photos. I want to give you your photos. The longer I have to spend editing, the longer it takes me to complete a job. So the more I know; the less I have to do; the faster the finished product is available to my clients.”

Sweet Pea baby in stripes

When Krystal first started Sweet Pea Studios, she had no expectations. Social media wasn’t what it is today. The hardest part for her was that people would buy cameras, they would put it on auto, they would take a decent photo, and decide, “I can do that”. She shares, “Having to reinvent myself, to set myself apart from other photographers was the biggest punch in the face because I felt like I’m good at what I do. I’ve worked hard to be good at what I do. And it took me a long time to say that I was good at what I do; a really long time.” She’s confident in that now, but says that it still sounds weird when she hears herself saying that she’s a good photographer. She struggles with the fact that potential clients can go on Facebook asking for a photographer and there’s a list of 50 within two miles. She says, “For me, I have to turn that off. As a creative, it’s very easy to go [sigh], well she’s better than me, or he’s better than me, or they aren’t going to choose me. And that’s fine.” She reminds herself that there actually is enough business to go around and has learned that people will keep coming back. She says, “They see something in my work and keep coming back. They see something, so I must be doing something right.”

Admittedly Krystal feels that the hardest thing about her job is lack of opportunities to be creative.   She finds that sometimes she gets hired based on what clients have seen in her portfolio or on Pinterest. She says, “Hire me for me. Don’t hire me for someone else’s work that you’ve seen on Pinterest.” She doesn’t enjoy the feeling that she’s doing the same things over and over again. (Trust me, creative people hate that.) Currently her studio is getting revamped with a new additional feature wall and new baskets. She says, “I’m inspired by photographers that I love and follow. We all do the same “stuff”, we just have different editing styles.”

Sweet Pea baby swaddled

Krystal gets inspiration from her clients. She sends them a questionnaire to complete before they come for their photo session that includes information about what colors and style they like. It’s appreciated when a client sends inspiration photos as well. For example, she had a client who sent a picture of a crocheted mermaid outfit for her newborn to wear during the photo session. (OMG! Adorbz.) That information became a great jumping off point for Krystal to shop for props to be used to make her own set up for the photo “vignette”. The downfall is investing in items that she might never use again. There is a danger in using the same props over and over. She doesn’t want every client to get the same shot, understanding the clients’ desire for freshness and uniqueness. And although clients often view portraits in her studio and say, “I want that canvas, that one and that one,” Krystal cannot and will not force a brand new baby into a position the baby does not want to go into. She states, “If I try once or twice and the baby is not comfortable, I will not force it.” She goes on, “The cool thing is, you can put them all in a white onsie; put them on a blanket and they’re all so different. To just watch them squirm around…. No two are alike. So I do that at the end, which I love.   I do all of the posed pictures and then I put the baby, in a onsie on a blanket and snap away. Those end up being my favorite; every time.”

Her hottest professional goal right now involves hiring an admin to help her keep up with all of the email correspondence. Moving forward she says she just wants to continue to build enough newborn and family work to be able to do more “fun things”. For example, to be able to say to her friends, “Hey bring your daughter, bring your wedding dress; let’s take some fun pictures.” She says, “That type of work is no sweat off my back, because it’s going to fuel me, but it’s not taking away the time that I could be doing another shoot.”

Sweet Pea family pic 2

But she’s content with where she is.  She loves that her job allows her to afford the extras for her family, where her husband’s job pays for the necessities. She would like to grow a little bit so that she can do more of the projects that will inspire her creatively. She says, “They may not make the money because there’s not much of a market for it, but if not, I’m going to stale out. I need to have something else that will fuel me.”

I asked Krystal what she was most proud of professionally. Said almost reluctantly, “This is going to sound so superficial, because it is monetary, but I am most proud of the fact that I made almost as much as my husband for the first time ever, last year. I don’t know if I’ll do it again. I’m not on the same track to do it again this year, but I did it last year. I bought myself a cute little Louie Vuitton to celebrate. That’s what I always told myself; if I ever “make it”, that’s what I’m going to get.” She says apologetically, “It’s so silly. It killed me at tax time, but I am very proud of that.”

Sweet Pea angel baby

Personally, and more than everything, she is most proud that she gets to stay home and be with her kids. Whether their dad is traveling or not, her kids get to come home to a parent. Growing up, Krystal didn’t have that. Her grandmother lived with them until she passed away when Krystal was 12, so she was who she saw every day. She shares, “We were very close, but my parents worked a lot. My dad worked nights. (She adds, “My dad STILL works nights!”) I would come home from school and whatever activities we had, and he would leave for work at 9 at night. So I saw him for a couple of hours and that would be it.” She can’t ever have a job where she cannot be home. And now that she has that dynamic in place, she says that she’s trying to not rush her kids to grow up. Another advantage to having a job like hers, when her kids ARE grown, she’ll be able to travel with her husband. She says, “I can edit on the road. I can answer emails on the road. It’s perfect.”

If you are interested in a session with Sweet Pea Studios and are not outgoing, well be warned, Krystal is. She says, “I might talk your ear off. I love what I do, even when I don’t love it at the time. I feel like a go above and beyond to make things right. I want it to be a fun experience with me. I don’t want it to be stressful. I’m patient. They’re babies. They’re kids!”


Culpepper family

Find more information about Sweet Pea Studios: https://www.facebook.com/SweetPeaStudios/ https://www.instagram.com/sweetpeastudios/

*Photo by Green and Grey Photography.

The Blue Minivan Society

I was talking about cars with a friend the other day. This should sound odd to you, if you know me at all. Unless it is a colorized, vintage lovely styled with flowers, I really don’t care much about cars. But even I understand the correlation between one’s identity and the car that they drive.


spouts flower truck

If you’re lucky, you get to have a car of your choosing, which would then speak a little bit about who you are. If you are a high society type, dripping in diamonds, a Juicy velour sweatsuit, and heels, you probably don’t drive a Jeep. Likewise, if you are an organic eating, Athleta wearing, yoga guru, you probably aren’t driving a cherry red Lamborghini.  Of course I could be wrong (it’s happened once before).  My point is, our cars reflect our lifestyle and our style.


jeep lamb

I remember as a twenty something, purchasing my first car, wanting it to reflect who I was and how far I had come in my professional life. (Which at the time FELT really far, but hindsight….not so much.) Although cars didn’t really matter to me, the image that MY car portrayed was important to me.



My friend recently bought the car of her dreams. It was a big deal. She saved for just what she wanted and you could see how proud she was of the purchase and how excited she was. This car embodied her personal and professional success and now the whole world would see. She was thrilled and I am excited for her. (Women get a similar feeling from new shoes. Well, I do.)


shoes meme

In contrast, I shared a story with her about me getting followed by a man driving down the highway. You know that creepy feeling when you’re driving along and you can feel that the car next to you has been keeping pace with you for too long? Yeah, that. I explained that when I told my husband about this (and this happened years ago) he said to me, “Well, did you flash the guy your wedding ring?”

Eye roll. Puh-leeze.



My reply? “I drive a blue minivan. You seriously think I need to flash a wedding ring? I think it’s just assumed. Nobody drives a blue minivan on purpose.” And there you have it. I was a member of The Blue Minivan Society.


mom minivan meme

The assumptions that come with membership in the Blue Minivan Society are (and these are in no particular order):

  • Married.
  • Married with 2.5 children.
  • Stay-at-home-mom.
  • Wears nothing but yoga pants and stained tshirts.
  • Still trying to lose the “baby weight”.
  • Wears a tankini and a skirt to the pool.
  • House is a mess.
  • Lives part time at the elementary school.
  • Starbucks is breakfast AND lunch.
  • May or may not have showered.
  • Thinks laundry should be considered an Olympic sport.
  • Often has “car-nics” (picnic in the car, which sounds fancier than just eating in the car….again).
  • Sleeps in an old tshirt and her hubby’s boxer briefs.

You get where I’m going?


funny mom meme

The persona one gives off by being a member of The Blue Minivan Society is not glamorous; not even close. The members are often embarrassed, exhausted, sad, depressed, and missing the person that they used to be.  (Although I must remind myself that my flashy blue minivan didn’t stop that perv next to me on the highway.)



But as the seasoned member of the “Society” that I am, I have found the beauty in my membership.  Those that have made the above assumptions of US, are selling us very short. ‘Cause here’s what I know about the members in my “chapter”.


zoo chaperones

Yes, all of the above assumptions may be true, just not every day. These ladies are the absolute pillar of the community. These women keep the ‘hoods going while the rest of you keep business, service and the government going (We hope.  It’s quite symbiotic.). We are the volunteers that make sure that your kid is getting nut free, gluten free, air free treats at the class “Winter” party (because we are not allowed to call it a Christmas party, but that’s another post for another time). We are the moms who make sure the school teachers have what they need to keep their classroom humming smoothly. We’re the ones who grab stray kids from the bus stop in the afternoon when you’re stuck in traffic and can’t get back in time. We’re the ones who gave up who we were and what we were to raise children who hopefully will not enter society as criminals.  (I know.  It’s not a guarantee.  Fingers crossed.  Scared/wishful face.)


Arcola vols 3rd grade

Yes, we are SUPER fortunate that we get to stay home with our children. And YES, our A-Type personalities that made us successful in the workforce can be off-putting outside of that environment. But we should not be ashamed of who we are in this season of our lives and the lives of our families. We should be grateful that we get this opportunity to be engaged with our kids and their friends, because one day, (and it will come quicker than you think) you won’t need that blue minivan anymore. You will long for the crazy days of soccer practice, and ballet lessons, and dinners on the go.  You’ll downright miss them.


The Blue Minivan Society

Judge not my sisters of The Blue Minivan Society. Cut them some slack.  Maybe don’t acted so shocked when it’s obvious that they have showered.  Just let them be. And give them a wide berth, ‘cause they are probably in a hurry to get the dog to the vet before the bus comes.

1 www.sproutsflowers.com

2 Jeep / Lamborghini

3 2016 Ford Mustang.  Photo from www.motortrend.com

4 Meme from Pinterest

5 You know I LOVE my Robert Downey Jr. eye roll.  LOL!  From https://imgflip.com/memegenerator/Face-You-Make-Robert-Downey-Jr

6 Meme from catholicmom.com

7 Meme from Pinterest

8 Photo from Bad Moms via hellogiggles.com

9 Chaperoning the 3rd grade trip to the National Zoo.  Yeah, AND we rode the bus.

10 End of the year 3rd grade celebration.  Don’t be fooled, those palm trees are on a plastic sheet hanging on the Smart board.  (For you “old” people, that’s what chalkboards are called now, ’cause chalk and blackboards are only now used in cute, well decorated farm houses.)

11 The Blue Minivan Society Logo.  Artwork done by yours truly.  The computer rendering done by my amazing 13 year old!!!  I’m so proud!!!

Fall Smellabration

Greetings and welcome back Beholder fans! As promised back on June 4, 2017, in the “Spring Smellabration” article, we are back with our Fall review of my favorite Bath and Body Works 3-Wick Candles. To refresh your memory, my bestie, (you all know and love her) Meredith and I make a day trip of visiting Bath and Body Works at least 3 times a year purposely to smell the new candles for the season: Spring, Fall, and Holiday.


bath and body fall 2015

To get a full scope of nose palates (that’s a thing…whatevs), I enlisted my fellow candle lovers. You’ll remember Jen, my neighbor, and Jackie, my niece. (Incidentally, Jackie is pregnant with her first child. As you moms know, mommy-nose is a powerful tool. Yay! We love babies!)  Categories for Autumn are a bit different than for spring/summer, so we did a tiny adjustment for this review. Jen, who covered Fruit scents in the spring, stayed close to her category and covered food-centric candles, or what Bath and Body Works calls “Gourmand”. (So fancy.) I personally cannot have “Gourmand” (said with a heavy French accent) candles burning in my home because I apparently lack any sort of self-control. Those scents have me eating cookies and treats alllllllllll day long. Can’t do it! (They have a candle called “Hot Cocoa & Cream”. Y’all, it smells exactly like a Tootsie Roll. How’s a girl supposed to fight that?)


if there is chocolate in the house meme

A month or two ago, Bath and Body Works launched a variety of their 3-Wick Candles made with essential oils. I gave that whole category to my niece, as she tends to drift to the really authentic fragrances. If you recall, she covered the florals in spring and really preferred the ones that smelled the most like the real thing.  As for Meredith and me, we drive parallel in the Fall fragrances for a bit, but then we each drift to our respective lanes. Meredith can handle the sweeter smelling candles, where I will merge toward scents that are WAY more woodsy and, as she would call them, masculine. Guilty! Love them. So let’s jump on in, shall we?

honeyed pear candle


NEW – HONEYED PEAR – First of all, this comes in the CUTEST glass jar that says “Hey Honey”. Love. The scent profile consists of Warm Poached Pear, Buttery Caramel, and Honey Nectar. Wow! Sounds like a dessert at a really good restaurant. This particular fragrance is only available in the 3-Wick Candle.

ALSO NEW – HOT COCOA & CREAM – I mentioned this one earlier. Kids, this one is no joke. It smells like a Tootsie Roll! And speaking of kids, Jen’s kids were loving the smell even before it was lit. (Hope no one tries to eat it!). And talk about a dessert order, this fragrance is a mixture of Decadent Milk Chocolate, Fresh Steamed Milk, and Mini Marshmallows (Seriously? ‘Cause regular sized marshmallows would be too much? I’m just reading what they are telling me here. And can I get that with two spoons?) This scent is available in the 3-Wick Candle, as well as a Fragrance Melt.

TRIED AND TRUE – WARM APPLE PIE (You’re killin’ me Smalls!). Jen does gravitate toward apple, so this one should be no surprise. Only available in the 3-Wick Candle, this is a concoction of Baked Granny Smith Apple, Melted Brown Sugar, and Flaky Homemade Crust. You will find all of these on the menu at Chez Wirks de Bain et de Corps. (In actuality, a scary name for a restaurant.) Thank you Jen, for taking this category for me and my current jeans size.



Not always a single noted candle, this category was very well received by Jackie. She loves the idea that they are made with essential oils and found the smells to be really clean and pure. Although she felt that some of the fragrances were on the weaker side, these will be her new go-to between seasons.

NEW – EUCALYPTUS – This candle contains a combination of Eucalyptus and Peppermint. It is also available in a Wallflower Fragrance Refill. But, do not confuse this with EUCALYPTUS MINT, which is a combo of Eucalyptus, Spearmint, Lemon and Sage. Each would deliver totally different experiences.

NEW – POMEGRANATE – Now this one might surprise you, since there is no Pomegranate noted in the fragrance profile. This candle contains oils of Eucalyptus (which we’ve already established that Jackie likes) and Orange! Who da thunk it? In addition to the 3-Wick Candle, you can also find this scent in Fragrance Melts.

NEW – ROSE – And another shocker. The “Rose” Essential oil fragrance does not contain any rose! This is a combination of Lemon and Orange essential oils. Unlike the others that Jackie favored, this one is only available as a 3-Wick.

essential oil candles


NEW – HARVEST GATHERING – Meredith’s new favorite, “not too sweet”, seasonal fragrance. Sadly, Bath and Body Works only sells Harvest Gathering in the form of Wallflowers Refills, but I wanted to include this in the review. This is a combination of Fresh Picked Apples, Autumn Berries, and Clove Buds. (I didn’t know cloves had such close friends? No? Not funny? Moving on….). Sorry to say that if you’re looking for the warm glow of a candle, you’ll have to rely on one of their ADORABLE Wallflower Plugs for that glow. So much cuteness…. Sigh.


LEAVES – Now for Leaves, you get the full compliment of products. LEAVES is available in the 3-Wick Candle, Wallflowers Fragrance Refill, Room Spray, Fragrance Melt and the Scentportable Fragrance Refill (which is meant for your car). The scent profile on this is: Crisp Red Apple, Golden Nectar, and Warm Clove Spice. A very slightly different combo than the above mentioned Harvest Gathering! Girl knows what she likes!

SWEET CINNAMON PUMPKIN – This is where you lose me. This one is too sweet for me, but it is one of the most popular Fall scents that Bath and Body Works offers, and it comes back year after year (so what do I know?). Talk about the gamut of product offerings! This fragrance is available in a variety of Hand Soaps, Wallflower Refills, 3-Wick Candles, Scentportable Fragrance Refill, Room Spray, and Hand Cream. This is the combination of Harvest Pumpkin, Spiced Clove, Vanilla Cream, and Brown Sugar. You’re extremely lucky if you happen to like this one. Meredith finds this scent to be a sweet (but not sickeningly sweet), fun, more potent seasonal scent that helps to rid one’s home of “funky boy smells”. (LOL! You see why we’re friends.) Like me, she doesn’t tend toward the food smells, but this one works for her.

harvest gathering wallflower


For the first time in a VERY long time, I found a new fragrance that will trump my “tried and true” scents. (no political affiliation intended) This year, my favorite fall scent is, NEW – CHESTNUT CLOVE – Sadly this fragrance only comes in a 3-Wick Candle, but that works just fine for me. This combo of Warm Roasted Chestnut, Fresh Ground Clove, Forest Pine Needles, Cedarwood and Velvety Moss are sublime. The addition of pine gets me every time.

Another, NEW (at least for me) – AUTUMN WOODS – Available in 3-Wick Candles and Wallflowers Refill, this was my second favorite. This is a combination of Dark Walnut, English Lavender, and White Amber. AUTUMN (proper) has been a favorite of mine in the past, but this is a little bit of a different spin on that. (See TRIED AND TRUE below).


I too like LEAVES. I will burn these candles throughout the month of September. (I’m a little OCD on my methodology for burning the different scents throughout the Fall and Winter; each having a dedicated month.  Don’t judge.)

AUTUMN – Having a more complex scent profile than AUTUMN WOODS, AUTUMN is a mixture of Bright Red Gala Apple, Juicy Fig, Eucalyptus Leaf, and Fir Balsam. Again with the pine! I’m a total sucker. AUTUMN comes in Wallflowers Refills and 3-Wick Candles. This would normally be my October/November go to.


I have to give an honorable mention to CRANBERRY WOODS. I discovered this scent last year in the form of a Room Spray and fell hard in love with it. This year it has been introduced in a 3-Wick Candle, as well as Wallflowers Refills and Fragrance Melts. The scent profile is a combination of Tart Cranberry, Cinnamon Bark, Forest Cedar, and Golden Amber. I still love this one, however, I think I will gravitate to this scent more around holiday/winter time. I tend to like the more woodsy/harvesty smells during this time of year.

I also need to mention SWEATER WEATHER. Another TRIED AND TRUE for me but not until Winter. Give it a smell, but look for my review in our next installment of the Smellabration. Holiday!!!!

chestnut & clove candle

Thank you to my fellow smellers for their time, opinions and noses. Couldn’t do it without you. And thank you readers for indulging me in one of my obsessions. It is my pleasure to have these candles in my home. I hope you can land on a favorite, or three!


1 Bath and Body Works fall store display 2016.

2 Pic from imgflip.com

Guest – Pure Love Macaron


pure love macaron logo

Prior to this interview, Kim Moehnke of Pure Love Macaron, and I did not really know each other. I am a customer of hers and I follow Pure Love Macaron on Facebook and Instagram, but that was the extent of our “relationship”. What interested me in her and her business was her tasty flavors, her gorgeous photos, her impeccable taste and watching Pure Love Macaron absolutely blossom as a brand.  I asked Kim how she would describe her business. Almost caught off guard she said, “The business, well, it’s more than just a macaron…it’s sort of a lifestyle.” There was a nutritional need in her home. The Moehnkes needed to find another way to treat their son’s asthma that did not involve the use of steroids/inhalers.  They discovered that eliminating gluten from his diet could help reduce the inflammation in his lungs.  With this new knowledge, Kim proceeded to put her son on a gluten-free diet and confirmed that he, indeed had a gluten-sensitivity.  But they also found that treats that were free of gluten (and actually tasted good) were very hard to come by.   “How do you tell a 5 year old that you can’t have a cookie or treat?” she added. At the time of this uncovering, gluten-free products weren’t mainstream. Kim played around with gluten-free cookies and brownies and began researching gluten-free treats on the web, and found the macaron.  (Did you hear the angel choir? ‘Cause I just did.)


Pure Love Kim black top

Macarons have been made in Italian monasteries since the 8th century A.D., created by combining egg whites (meringue) and almond flour. The “French” part came later, in 1533 during the Renaissance, when Catherine de’ Medicis brought the almond based cookies, made by her pastry chefs, with her to France for her marriage to Henry II. It was not until the 1830’s that French patisserie Laduree introduced a filling, hence creating the sandwich style cookie that we all know (and LOVE) today.


pure love macaron close up

Kim made her first macaron in 2013, just before the holidays. Her good friend, Elaine Espinola Keltz (aka Mrs. DC 2015) sampled her cookies and told her, “I love French macarons and they aren’t easy to make. I think you have something here.” Kim began baking them for parties, and more parties, and more parties, which then lead to orders! In 2014 she got a license, a kitchen inspection, and insurance, and the rest is history, or rather her present. She said, “I listened to the universe and it lead me here.”


pure love macaron stacked cookies

For Kim, life before Pure Love Macaron begins in South Vietnam during the war. Her father served in the military and, to make a fascinating story way too short, saved the life of someone pretty high up in the ranks. He was brought in to the “inner circle” because of his heroics and began to learn secrets and understood that the war was coming to an end and he was not fighting for the winning side. He began preparing his family to escape. In 1975, when South Vietnam fell, Kim’s father, 5 brothers and sisters, and her mother, who was 9 months pregnant, departed for America. Kim was born while their ship was still in transit. They landed in Guam, coming with basically nothing. Eventually, the family was sponsored by a church in Atwater, CA., where Kim lived until 17 years ago. It’s important to tell you the beginnings here, so you can fully appreciate the life that Kim and her family have lived. She was brought up in a traditional home where her father impressed upon his children that the only way to improve your life was to get an education and work for what you want. Kim, and every one of her brothers and sisters, went to college and earned their degree.


pure love macaron kim smiling

After receiving her diploma in sociology, Kim began her career as a recruiter for Selectron Technologies, Inc. When the .com industry busted, she was laid off, and decided to move to Northern Virginia with her sister and brother inlaw. She took a recruiting position for Loudoun County where she ultimately met her husband. (She recruited her husband for a job! If that isn’t serendipity?)


pure love macaron family

When their first child was born with breathing problems, against all that she was brought up to know (aka You work for what you want in life) Kim quit her job to take care of her struggling baby. Her life was a constant treadmill of doctor appointments after doctor appointments, and her son receiving steroid injection after steroid injection, as well as repeat surgeries. Enough was enough. Through the help of Hilgartner Health & Wellness in Leesburg, VA, and identifying the gluten-sensitivity, her son began to show improvement. Within 3 weeks of the intervention, they saw real change. Her son said, “Mommy I think you’re right, I think I’m “wrong”.” This journey is the motivation that she draws on to keep going. She calls her success of Pure Love Macaron, “My homage to my son. My calling. When I’m in the kitchen, it’s therapy. “


pure love macaron son

Pure Love Macaron offers a beautiful array of custom baked cookies of endless creative flavor combinations and colors. When asked what inspires her, it goes back to nutrition; the need to eliminate gluten, food coloring; basically anything that is artificial. With this comes the need to be creative. She uses dried, ground vegetables or spices to achieve the beautiful colors that she has mastered. All the while, is artfully conscious of the flavor pairings of the color “agent”, the cookie, and the filling flavors. The basis and foundation of her company has always been the use of as many organic and natural ingredients as humanly possible. (Understand people, there is no true “blue” that comes from nature in edible form.   Well, according to spoonuniversity.com there are actually 5, but if you ask a designer, they are purple. Interestingly, because blue is not found in nature, we lack an automatic appetite response to the color blue. Love my color facts!)


pure love macaron cake stand

Kim’s original goal never included owning a bakery. She just wanted to sustain her family and maybe, have a little extra money and a little fun; have something for herself. But now, her #1 professional goal is to serve the wineries. (We have 46 wineries right here in Loudoun County!) Kim is already working with Greenhill Winery & Vineyards, as well as 8 Chains North. These relationships have exposed her product to other wineries in our area, including Stone Tower Winery (for weddings!). She says, “I want to grow my business and myself in a way that is beneficial for family and me.” She summarized a meaningful sentiment that she heard from another local entrepreneur, that success is not always a scenario of the small company that explodes and grows really fast, as they often die really fast. Sometimes slow and steady wins the race.

pure love macaron with wine

When asked about her long-term goals for Pure Love, surprisingly she said, “Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t live my life thinking of the next 5 years anymore. I just really want to live in the moment and relish what’s going on now.” When gently nudged, she was able to illustrate a clear idea. “Sometimes I dream of a beautiful space where I can have a bakery, but not just a bakery; a creative space to host classes for kids and adults where they would come to participate in the process.   A place where people looking for a creative outlet can come and I can say, “Let’s paint a macaron.”” She envisions a casual space for all creative minds to come to relax.  (I’m relaxed just thinking about it. Sigh.)


pure love macaron true love

Professionally, Kim is most proud of the fact that she has created a product that people have said, “Kim, I’ve been to Paris and have had “the real thing”. They tasted just like yours.” But hers, she adds, are all organic and all natural. A proud moment is when a client says, “Why would I go to DC, when I can get just as good right here.” Her work rivals that of well-known pastry chefs. She is proud, that not being a classically trained pastry chef, and having gotten her degree in sociology, she has still been able to run her business without an MBA.


pure love macaron flower heart

Personally she is most proud of her family. (Even though I really just met her at this interview, it was clear what her answer would be.) She finds her kids are always inspiring her and her business inspires her. She says, “I created something that I never thought I would do. That has been a journey in itself, but my greatest achievement is my children. I know that they will be something greater than me.” She plans on taking her children back to Vietnam and humbly shares, “The one thing that I can give to them is the knowledge that there is more than just this bubble that we live in; a view of a side of life that perhaps no other children here will get.”


pure love macaron kim serious

So how is her reality different from her dream? She answered, “Funny question. I believe people have dreams, but I just take each day and month as it comes.”  With this philosophy she finds that her reality and her dream are not so different, so in turn there is no disappointment. She goes on to explain that her reality is not more or less than her dream. Kim takes her passion as it comes. She feels every day is a blessing. Every day is different. Each day when she opens her computer or turns on the oven, she gets inspired by what that day is offering. She never had expectations; never thought she would get this far. Kim runs on intuition and does not get distracted by the “chatter”. She says, “I do what I want and what I think the market will like. If it doesn’t work then I revise.” She was told by a family member that she, “gets to have it all; a little for herself and a lot for her family”. “And that,” she says, “that’s enough to keep me happy for now.”

From her story, Kim hopes that you can see that the one thing that drives her is that the universe sends you so many paths. Sure, there are roadblocks, but if you open your mind and heart and try, you can do anything. She says, “I think life is a gift and I try to go each day cherishing something.”

To follow Pure Love Macaron go to www.facebook.com/purelovemacs, or on Instagram @purelovemacaron

*Photos by Stefanie Kamerman Photography .  To learn more about Stefanie, see my blog post Guest – Stefanie Kamerman Photography – Shopswatchbox.com

**Photos by Second Avenue Photography

***Photo by Meredith Ryncarz Photography

****Photo by Jessica Funk Photography


In my opinion, one of the greatest contributions to our world, from the newest millennium (besides the gorgeous “millennial pink”), is the concept of “paying it forward”, or “random acts of kindness”. Although there have always been “random acts of kindness”, we’ve seen the surge of them as a real byproduct of the attacks on 9/11. Those horrifying moments; that horrifying day froze the world in its tracks. The thought that people could do THAT to other people, and on such a grand scale, was overwhelming. But nature abhors a vacuum. The outpouring of generosity and love for and from our neighbors was equally overwhelming. The true beauty of human nature bloomed in the wake of the ugliest situation.


911 never forget

I’m thrilled to my core each time I hear about a random act of kindness. I love hearing stories of folks taking time out of their day to consider someone else; especially a stranger. These are the people we need more of in this world. We need to heal our own wounds with thought for others. We need to fill ourselves with outward action. Whenever I’m feeling down or having a craptastic day, this is what I turn to; a random act of kindness; paying my blessings forward. Even the tiniest of gestures takes my mind off of myself and turns it toward goodness for someone else’s benefit.


Random-Acts-of-Kindness sign

My biggest fear in the execution is getting caught. I do not want to be put in an awkward situation of the recipient gushing with thanks, or worse, trying to pay me back! My reward is imagining how the person felt when they realized that someone acknowledged them, even for a moment. My reward is imagining that maybe, just maybe, my small anonymous gesture raised the spirits of someone who might be having a worse day than I.


sharing kindness

On these days leading up to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America, consider how you can serve another. I know several organizations and companies coordinate a day of service to commemorate the day. If you are not involved, do something on your own. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t even have to cost anything. Consider what would move you and do that unto another. My favorite is to pay ahead for someone’s coffee (of course it is), but it could be as simple as letting someone go ahead of you at the grocery check out. Or running ahead to hold a door for a mom with a stroller.


911 national day of service

How great would it be if these acts became habit? How amazing would your community be if the members really did take care of each other? I know that we have a culture that is “live and let live”, but what if it became “love and let live”?


Share the love starbucks cup

1 Picture from:  www.gop.gov/911-we-will-never-forget/

2 Picture from:  www.gajizmo.com/random-acts-of-kindness-ideas/

3 Picture from:  www.jinxiboo.com/blog/2011/4/6/sharing-kindness.html 

4 Picture from:  www.virginiaservice.virginia.gov

5 Picture from:  Starbucks February 2017

The Naked Truth

I often wonder what my life would be like, for just one week, if I had to go about my usual business, but minus hair products or make-up. It was quite ironic, that just as I was having these very wonderings, within 24 hours, Facebook was being hit with several photos of women who had been asked to go without make-up and post a pic to social media for charity.  It is a terrifying prospect to a lot of us.

nose and glasses

Oh sure, we can go a few hours without our beauty products, but we disguise it with gym clothes or a bathing suit. But imagine going to the office, or Bad Mom-style, to a PTA meeting! (GASP!)  I admit, it gives me anxiety to think of it. Nobody wants to be judged, especially for the way God made us. And we teach our children that they should not “judge a book by it’s cover”, or discriminate on appearance (or any reason for that matter), and that it doesn’t matter what brand your clothes are as long as you’re a good person.  I believe all of this. I want the world to be this way, but the truth, the very sad naked truth is that it does matter.


nope not today tee

I had just been laying this harsh reality out for my kids. Telling them that, yes, it is wrong to judge people by their clothes or hair, but you ARE judged for those things. Those that dress “nicer” are assumed to be smarter, more trustworthy, and more successful (whatever that means). Think about how you have to look if you’re going for a job interview. All things being equal, the candidate that “looks the part” will get the job.


Interviewing attire do don't

The very next day after this conversation with my kids, I went to a higher end tile store to pre-shop new backsplash options for our kitchen. (There’s that reno again.)  I had recently had knee surgery and decided to hit the tile store on my way home from physical therapy. I roll into the store with no make-up, hair in a tiny pony (I have short hair – it’s really a little nub and 7 bobby pins), sweatpants, and running shoes. I walked that store for 15 minutes and not one person asked me if I needed help. I finally went to the desk to see if I could get some assistance. They assigned a designer to me, and right from the start, this girl was not interested. It wasn’t until I had to yell after her that I was sorry I couldn’t keep up as I had just had knee surgery that she even looked me in the face. I explained to her that I had just come from PT and was still moving really slowly. Well, we were fast friends after that. I heard aaaallllll about her knee problems from a ski accident and what a great skier her son is….blah blah blah. It was disappointing, to say the least, but a great lesson for me to bring home to my kids. (The timing was so perfect after our conversation.)


Thanks for nothing - etsy

For those that have known me from my younger years, you know that I have very curly hair (which my beautiful little girl has inherited).   My curls reined supreme in the 80’s. I could not have been born during a better time, as girls back then paid mega bucks to have their hair chemically treated to look like mine.


senior pic

But times have changed and fashion changed with it. My natural 80s hair is no longer coveted, but feared. I’ve tried many times to embrace it and say “screw you fashion!”, but the comments hurt. I remember once, deciding not to torture my hair before going to work. I walked into the office, curls in all of their glory, and one of my male coworkers said, “Oh Jenn, what did you do?” It was crushing and embarrassing. And although he saw the error of his ways and later came to me and apologized, the damage was done. We are still friends and I have forgiven him, but the sting is still there, as fresh as it was that day.


hurt feelings

I joke that my hair demands so much attention from me, that it’s practically a member of the family; that we might have to start hanging a stocking for it at Christmas time. I also made sure, very early on in our dating, that my husband (then boyfriend) got a gander of the real, curly me. Thankfully he was not deterred. Turns out, he’s a curly head too, just keeps it so short, that you cannot tell. (But boy, those soccer pics from the 70’s tell a different tale).


mom's hair stocking

So I still ponder what it would be like to actually be able to “wash and go”. I’m even currently growing my hair out just a bit to try again at a wavy do. But in the mean time, I will continue doing what I do. It’s a tightrope we mom’s walk when we go to lengths to alter our appearance either through flatirons, tattooed eyebrows, hair dye or those weight loss shakes. Are we telling our daughters that we are not good enough? Are we saying that God made a mistake that must be corrected? Are we foreshadowing that they, one day, won’t be good enough either? It scares me, but apparently not enough.

Me & Caroline xmas 16

1  T-shirt from  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01BPXLZM2/ref=cm_gf_ss_d_d_p_aMD_i5_b0_p0_qd1104_SHIRT

2 Pic from Pinterest.  This is real.

3  Pic from https://www.etsy.com/listing/183844038/thanks-for-nothing-funny-thank-you-card

4  Senior pic circa 1987

5 Pic from Pinterest

6 Stocking from www.aliexpress.com .  Text was photoshopped in.