Stop Holiday Stress Before It Starts


“What are your plans for the Holidays?” Aunt Karen asks. 


Suddenly, you’re sweating and feeling like the word Holidays, as the kids say, is a trigger word. You’re filled with panic. Vignettes of previous holiday chaos flashes before your eyes. Should the mashed potatoes have milk or heavy cream? What is pumpkin pie spice anyway, and Mom didn’t make it this way? Are the dogs fighting again or is that your cousin and his new girlfriend? The office lights flicker illuminating the leftover Halloween decoration and Santa is suddenly Krampus, his sack filled with stress and fighting family members. Deep breaths, deep breaths. This season, be ready. Here are ten ideas to stop the stress before it even starts.  


Plan a vacation.  

There’s nothing like a weekend getaway to focus on to help get you through a difficult and stressful time. Think of it like a focal point, schedule something relaxing in January and fix it between the navigational beacons. You’ll slip right past the stress towards your vacation.  


Don’t think about the negatives.  

Easier said than done, amiright? But in this case, it’s important not to dwell on the things that went wrong last year or how you felt and instead approach this season with a sense of a clean slate. Use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to control those negative thoughts. Things like, revising your negative thoughts into positive ones, looking for positive things to intentionally think about, and visualizing the best parts of your day.  


Don’t commit 

We all do it—we say yes to one thing and as we open our calendar to put this one thing in, we blink and suddenly it’s forty things and maybe we should have thought about some kind of color-coding strategy. This season, start out right. Don’t commit. Not when someone asks. Say something like “That sounds really great, but I need to check my calendar at home before I can commit to anything.” This buys you time to really consider whether this is something you want to do or whether this is something you were feeling pressured to do.  


Schedule self-care.  

Take some time and set it aside for you. That could mean a massage. It could mean a long hike. But in the name of self-care, make sure it’s quiet, no one can find you, and you don’t have access to your phone. If you’re feeling super stressed, setting a date for yourself to do this once a week throughout the holiday’s will go a long way to reset your stress levels.  


Eat before coffee 

There is nothing worse than that day where you wake up anxious, drink a pot of coffee on an empty stomach and suddenly realize your heart has transformed into a small, winged creature stuck in your chest. The cure has suddenly become the sickness. During this stressful season, pre-empt these days with a small breakfast. Nut butter toast is a favorite way to settle an anxious stomach and give the coffee something to stick to without a lot of heavy calories. Plus, the good fats will also go a long way to help your mood.  


Indulge in something spicy 

Normally the holidays are filled with an endless buffet of American Holiday Food, where everything is prepared to sedate you into a stupor. On those nights where you would rather stab someone with beaters than eat leftover mashed potatoes or, god forbid, cook something, order something spicy. Spicy food is shown to increase our endorphins, which contain a lot of our feel-good hormones.  


Ask for help 

No one gets an award for doing everything the hard way. Asking for help is easier said than done, but once you start it gets easier. Some tips for asking and getting actual results: ask in person. People can ignore emails and texts, or assume someone else has answered. Ask in person. Ask for something specific. “I would appreciate it so much if you could handle (specific detailed thing). Thank you so much for being someone I can depend on.” People love to feel needed and trusted.   


Critically evaluate your customs 

The holidays are a perfect time to look around and think, “What do I actually want my life to look like?” And if what you have in front of you isn’t it, do something different. No one says you have to set up Aunt Karen’s 45-piece nativity just because that’s what Karen did for thirty years before giving it to you. Let go of the pressure of other people’s expectations and think about what you want your life to look like. Now is a good a time as any to make changes that reflect an intentional, thoughtful life.  


Cling to your routine 

On the other hand, your daily routine can be an anchor point through this season. Think of these things as small rituals. You preform them to remember you are still yourself and the rest of the this is temporary. Focusing on the rituals of daily tasks can carry you mentally through the stress and the noise.  


Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

The Future of Farm-To-Fork in North Carolina


Quick. Quiz time.  


Do you know where your last meal came from?  


Not the store or the restaurant, but the place. The origin.  


In a world of overwhelming food choices, simply becoming more aware of where your food comes from can be a small and positive change. We are increasingly connected, but more and more disconnected from our food sources. On a simply physical standpoint this disconnect contributes to the spread of disease, pesticides, global warming, and lowered nutrition in our food. From a metaphysical standpoint, this disconnect where we are most vulnerable (what we put into our body) can leave an emptiness we don’t even realize.  


The farmer down the road matters to our community, whether we are aware of it or not. Beyond just supporting our local economy and promoting sustainability in agriculture (all things your purchase of local produce contributes to), buying and eating local connect you to your community and your food in a way that transcends science. It tastes better, but you’ll swear it feels better too. The good news is, it’s easier than ever to get to know your local farmers and become more connected to the food you are eating.  And two North Carolina organizations are working together to provide a better future for our farms and our plates.  


Piedmont Culinary Guild:  

Piedmont Culinary Guild (PCG) is a “grassroots effort to create a working dialogue with the food industry by providing a platform that is easily accessible for all to utilize and benefit.” In order to connect the food chain in North and South Carolina, PCG was founded to bridge the gap between farmers, chefs, restaurants, and consumers by offering resources to chefs, farmers, culinary educators and food artisans in the area.  


Piedmont Culinary Guild hosts events throughout the year, including the Sensoria Food and Wine where this past event, attendees voted for their favorite dish. (Chef Greg Collier of The Yolk in Rock Hill won for his dish of Cornbread Toast, smoked trout and apple salad, meyer lemon hollandaise, charred strawberry espelette spice. And if that doesn’t inspire you to think local, what will?) 


Center for Environmental Farming Systems: 

The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) is a partnership of NC State University, NC Agricultural and Technical State University, and the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. CEFS “develops and promotes just and equitable food and farming systems that conserve natural resources, strengthen communities, improve health outcomes, and provide economic opportunities in North Carolina and beyond.” They focus on organic and sustainable farming in North Carolina.  


CEFS’ annual September event, Farm to Fork Picnic, has become one of the largest culinary events in North Carolina, with Bon Appetit magazine recognizing it as “the country’s best all-you-can-eat feast” in 2009. CEFS also works with North Carolina’s Cooperative Extension program, pasture-based livestock education programs, and promotes sustainable agriculture and women working in livestock.  


Farmers Markets & Cooperatives  

In addition to supporting these local organizations, don’t forget about the simple act of choosing where your food comes from. You can shop and volunteer at your local farmers markets, and participate in your local farmer co-op (which these days can include fresh meat and cheeses, as well as produce). Other ways you can spread awareness is by asking your preferred grocery store to carry locally-grown produce and setting up a way to get your child’s school involved through field trips or cafeteria food sources.  


If you’ve ever had a memory of sitting with your grandmother, shelling peas or husking corn or eating watermelon from her garden on the back porch, I’m sure you can remember the feeling of that moment even now. It’s not just the heat, the drip of watermelon down your chin, or even the memory of your grandmother that make those memories so special—it’s also the food. The way you can taste those North Carolina summers and the way the peas and corn and watermelon knew you, even if you didn’t quite know them.


Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Renting or Buying?

The value of home ownership has been on a roller coaster ride the last few years, and in many ways it’s like looking at the seven stories Tower of Doom TM and wondering whether it will leave you smiling or woozy for the rest of the day. Should you get on the roller coast? Or stay on the teacups? Here are three questions to ask yourself when deciding between buying a home or renting one.

Q: How long do you plan to stay?

Most questions of renting and buying come down to the question of timing. If you plan to stay in an area or a home for a long period of time, you can buy a home knowing you have plenty of time to absorb any market drops. But bringing this to concrete numbers helps most of all—compare the average home price in your area to the average rental price, calculate in a down payment for your home purchase and a 5% increase in rental prices and the numbers should tell you how long you’d need to own a home before making it the more affordable option.

Q. What are your costs?

Both renting and owning carry hidden costs that we tend to overlook when comparing. For renters you need to think of the loss of home equity and home owner tax breaks. The offset is not being responsible for home repairs. For homeowners, you’ll deal with things like homeowner’s insurances, private mortgage insurance, property taxes and maintenance.

Q. Are you “throwing money away”?

We’ve all heard it when discussing the pros and cons of renting—renting is throwing money away. But building home equity isn’t the only way to make money. If you have any doubt about your ability to keep up with the cost of home ownership, or keep up with savings, it’s better to consider renting for the near future.

When having these discussions, remember you can always talk with your agent and walk through the decision together.


Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Weathering Winter Indoors

The long days of winter hibernation can drag on anyone. We spend so much time indoors, from illnesses to snow days, the house you love during the summer is suddenly the thing you stalk around like an insomniac bear. Here are eight ways to make your home feel better and brighter, so you can make it to summer without going full on angry grizzly.

Add plants- even for all you black thumbs, there is a plant for you. Try succulents or cactuses. Buy grocery store flowers, even. In the cool, dry air they can last up to two weeks.

Rearrange your furniture- Try changing up the configuration of your furniture. Look at how far apart each item is. Pleasing proportions is a twenty-four inch separation for people to walk easily through and the room not to feel overcrowded.

Deep clean- get a head start on spring cleaning now. Deep cleaning can improve your mood and satisfaction with a space. Take the chance to rethink the things you own and see if you can get rid of things that might be bothering you.

Ask what you want- it can be helpful to sit about what you want from the space and what you can do to bring it into alignment with your desires.

Light- change out dark curtains, add mirrors to bounce light or rearrange to dark furniture to open up rooms.

Change colors change the hue of your home to something that gives you pleasure, or if you don’t want to repaint, try changing the accent colors with something as subtle as pillows and throws.

Eliminate noise—address all the little irritants it’s easy to ignore—the rug that creeps, the door that doesn’t open all the way, etc.—all the little things add up!

With a few tweaks any grumpy bear can make it through a long winter.


Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

The Must-Need Tool Kit

You. Yes you. You need a home tool kit. Even if you’ve never touched a hammer. Especially if you’ve ever used a shoe as a hammer. Here are eleven items (and their uses) to get you started.

16-ounce hammer: A solid hammer choice that anyone can use. Shoes, in fact, are terrible substitutes.
Multi-bit screwdriver: A multi-bit ratcheting screwdriver that stores all the tips in the handle is the only screwdriver you’ll need.
Level: A two-foot level will do all the jobs you’ll ever need—from hanging pictures to shelves, this size will be the most versatile.
Utility knife: Used for breaking down boxes, cutting drywall or stripping wires. A utility knife is irreplaceable.
Tape measure: Handier than using a shoe (again) as a ruler.
LED Flashlight: If the lights go out, if you need to see under the bed, really this is a no-brainer.
Rubber Mallet: A cheap tool for banging stuff back into place without hurting it.
Wrenches: Used to tighten or loosen a bolt or nut. A compact Channellock can be the perfect solution to most home problems.
Cordless Drill: The most basic of power tools for most DIY needs.
Needle-Nose Pliers: Handy for everything from electrical work to crafts, as well as everything in between, including fishing toys out of the drain.
Safety equipment: Ear protection, eye protection and a good set of deer hide gloves never hurt anyone.

Psstt…this also makes a good birthday or Christmas gift.


Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Three Things We’re Doing More in Our Cars

The Model T came out in 1905, and just like that, the car has been a staple in American’s lives for over 100 years. These days, the way we use cars and technology is rapidly changing.

Ride-Sharing apps have completely changed the way we use our vehicles. From using our personal vehicles as a way to make a little extra money to using ride sharing apps to take care of those pesky trips to and from the airport and around cities, ride sharing apps have drastically changed the way we use our personal vehicles.

GPS based technology continues to expand. From directions to monitoring traffic in real time, GPS continues to change our driving habits. One example of the way these programs are influencing more than the daily commute is after the earthquake in Mexico City, users of the traffic app Waze were able to search “help” in order to find open shelters.

Driving further. A lot of things influence these shifts in driving patterns, but American’s are still driving more than they ever have. According to the Department of Transportation 2017, American’s drove 1.3% more—32 billion—more miles than in 2016. 1 Where are we going? In search of food. Trips to restaurant and grocery stores are still the number one transportation motion. Some things never change.


Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Organize Your Kitchen in One Afternoon


Remember spending Saturday afternoons cleaning your bedroom as a teenager? It began as a chore and ended with a great sense of satisfaction and a new intimacy with your forgotten playlists. And going into the following week with that clean and organized room? The best. Bring that vintage feel into your kitchen in one afternoon. Get your 00’s playlist ready and let’s organize.

1. Organize by zones. Move the coffee supplies—filters, grinders, French press, coffee, tablespoon, etc—to the drawer or cabinet near where you actually make coffee. Move the spatulas and spoons and spices next to the stove. Think about how you actually use your kitchen, not how the internet thinks it’s being used, and rearrange to fit your needs. The goal is to have everything for one chore on hand, without moving.

2. Clear counters. Nothing makes a kitchen look more organized and peaceful than a cleared countertop. Anything that stays on your counters needs to be used daily—think coffee machines if you make coffee or toasters if you make toast. The only exception is that fancy stand mixer you got for your birthday, because it’s a kitchen statement piece.

3. Purge All the Things. Getting rid of possessions you don’t use but must maintain (even if to shove them aside to fit the stuff you do use inside the cupboard) can be so freeing. Now is the time to go through those wedding or housewarming gifts and decide if you’re really going to use that pasta maker or dehydrator. Don’t forget to look at the smaller things. How many measuring cups do you really need? How many mugs do you actually use? Be brutal.

4. Get creative. To organize pantry’s and inside cupboards, don’t be afraid to think beyond the kitchen. Office supplies and drawer organizers can do double duty in the kitchen. Just remember to measure your drawers before going shopping—nothing is worse than getting more stuff you don’t use.

5. Don’t forget the fridge. Even if it’s just cleaning out old condiments and wiping down the shelves and drawers, the fridge shouldn’t be forgotten—it’s a big part of a clean and organized kitchen.

The best part of a clean and organized kitchen? The results are bound to last longer than your teenage bedroom.


Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Bad Neighbor

You can pick your neighborhood, but you can’t pick your neighbors. We’ve all heard horror stories of conflicts that have started small but gotten wildly out of hand. Conflicts are sure to happen, but here’s how to make sure it doesn’t become a horror story.

Step 1: Speak to them—take this step before actions can spiral in order to come to an early compromise.

Step 2: If that doesn’t work, have another conversation. But it’s also time to start documenting and researching. Write down what happened, the dates and what conversations and actions took place. Research the kind of conflict you’re having and whether or not you have any legal standing. Calling the cops should be a last resort or for truly dangerous conflicts, as it is likely to escalate the situation.

Step 3: Retaliation is common and has likely taken place, but remember, the goal should be to come to a mutual solution, even if it means you offer to pay to resolve the problem.

Step 4: Professional mediation is cheaper and less likely to cause greater conflict than going to court. Some states offer free mediation for these types of conflicts, but also your homeowner’s association can be a service.

Neighbor conflicts are common, but they don’t have to get out of hand. Follow these steps to stay in control of a difficult situation.


Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Water, Water Everywhere

One minute your lawn is that deep lush green and the next minute it’s starting to look…parched. Reality check? You needed to water days before you notice. The signs of a drying lawn aren’t immediately obvious. When grass wilts, doesn’t spring back, and loses its green color (often turns purplish or grey), it’s time to water. When it’s brown, you’re going to need to pull off a resurrection. And before you drag out the sprinkler, double check to make sure there are no watering restrictions.

So, how much water does your lawn actually need? First, you need to pay attention to the type of grass you have. Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescues are drought tolerant. Bermuda grass typically does well in heat, but will go dormant in drought. Zoysia grass grows very deep roots and is hardy in drought and heat.

Another thing you need to take into consideration is the type of soil you have. Clay soil can hold large amounts of water and needs less watering overall. Sandy soil drains faster and needs more frequent watering.

Regardless of the grass type, daily watering is not recommended—think couple soaking thundershowers, not daily sprinkles. Allowing the lawn to dry out encourages a stronger root system.

Watering in reality can be a time consuming unless you have a (costly) automatic sprinkler system. If you have municipal water, factor $5-10 for every 1,000 square feet of yard. If you’re on well water, break up watering into blocks to ensure you don’t run your well dry or burn out your well pump.

Finally, to really dial in how much water your individual lawn needs, you can check the soil yourself. Cut a small section—if it’s dry to four inches or deeper, it’s time to water. After watering an area, cut another section and check again. Water until it’s wet four to six inches then move the sprinkler.

With a little attention, you can keep that lush green lawn.


Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21

Fall To-Do’s for a Year-Round Tidy Home

As the nights and mornings get cool and the wind turns crisp, it’s time to take advantage of the mild days and get your house ready for a long, cozy winter of Netflix binges.


  1. Update your garden with perennials like peonies or hydrangea
  2. Plant bulbs, trees and shrubs you’d like for next spring
  3. Leaf clearing doesn’t have to be a huge task—some leaves are helpful on your garden beds, and mowing leaves into yard mulch is preferred over raking and blowing. Just remember to make sure you get the leaves small enough with the mower to not hurt your lawn
  4. Clean and inspect your gutters and downspouts
  5. Inspect your roof
  6. Roll hoses and store them for winter
  7. Drain and shut off outside faucets and sprinkler systems
  8. Stock up on seasonal firewood or any other alternative heat fuel you might need
  9. Clean, close, and cover your pool


  1. Have your HVAC system serviced along with your furnace and ductwork—a well maintained system can prevent future problems. Check your filters, test your thermostat, and make sure your vents are cleaned and working properly
  2. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, it’s an inexpensive upgrade that will allow you to control the heat throughout the day and lower your energy bills
  3. If you have a boiler system, get it checked and drained and refille
  4. Check your chimney and have it cleaned before you begin burning fuel
  5. Check windows for drafts. Install your storm doors and windows for extra protection
  6. The dryer is a huge fire hazard, so clean the dryer vent and have it checked by a HVAC specialist
  7. Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Replace batteries as needed
  8. Begin and complete any inside improvement projects such as painting

Photo by Cody Hughes @clhughes21