#SheWhoDaresProject: Sunny Leigh

“I wasn’t more talented or driven than anyone else, but I was probably the only one who had the courage to go apply for the job even though I didn’t know WHAT I was doing! My takeaway is that…you HAVE to be flexible and you never have to settle. Yes, you can pursue a lifelong dream and never give up on it and achieve it and die happy and that’s wonderful, but if you don’t like the hand you’ve been dealt, you have the option of shuffling the deck! And I’ve shuffled it many times. Sometimes I’ve had a couple of crappy hands, but many times I’ve gotten a royal flush.”   sunnygmosays Sunny Leigh, a voice we’ve long recognized as a local Tulsa radio personality, but now, as one of the  smiling faces greeting us each morning on KTUL’s, Good Morning Oklahoma. 

“Shuffling the deck” has landed Leigh jobs in a variety of positions, including helping injured dolphins, whales, and sea turtles at a marine aquarium and teaching 7th grade science, before finally settling in her niche’ with media.   Her dedication to radio was apparent among many of Sunny’s listeners and peers, and led to a 2013 ACM “Best Personalities” Award with her morning show partners at the time, a moment she recognizes as one of her proudest.  sunnyacmIt’s a bit like winning an Oscar or a Grammy for those of us in radio. It’s voted upon by peers, by artists, by record label folks, so you’re being told by others in your field that you are outstanding at your job.”  

Her bubbly, relatable personality put Sunny on the red carpet more than just that one time.  She recalls KTUL sending her to report from the Academy Awards for the first time with a laugh, “The first year was legendary because I got KICKED OFF THE RED CARPET when a security guard thought I was taking pictures of celebrities when I was in fact, using my cellphone to check my lipstick! For some strange reason, KTUL thought it was hysterical and sent me back 2 more years in a row. I talked my way into parties at the Roosevelt Hotel, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and a slew of afterparties. It was a blast!”

After being unexpectedly let go by KVOO, Leigh felt fortunate to have already formed that bond with KTUL.  “I had done some freelance work for KTUL and the news director called me just a couple of days after my firing hit social media to ask if I would come aboard  full-time as an anchor and reporter and I jumped at the opportunity! I haven’t regretted a single second of that decision.”

Not to give up radio altogether, Sunny has recently found herself as a weekend personality with 106.1 The Twister.  (Yes, I did ask her if she ever sleeps, she admits there is a lack of Zzz’s.)

 “After nearly 15 years at KVOO, I was good friends with MANY artists and many of the record label folks who represent those artists. In radio, you always have an “in” because the artists want their songs played on the radio and will often agree to interviews, fun bits, and sit-down stories in exchange for air play. When I left radio, I lost that connection immediately. So when the good folks at The Twister approached me to ask if I wanted to work just 1 shift per week in exchange of having those connections once again, I jumped at the chance! My Saturday night show is all about new, up-and-coming artists and new songs, so the access to record labels and opportunities with singers is back in full play now. Plus, it’s so fun!! Country music is a passion for me, so my passion is also my job, and that’s a wonderful thing.”


When asked about women who have inspired her throughout her journey, she  says that outside of her mother and grandmothers, one radio and television personality stands out.  “  “Her name is Nancy Alexander. She worked in both radio and television in Tampa Bay, and she was hysterical! She had a top-rated morning radio show, was never afraid to make fun of herself, and was later asked to do funny, fluff-pieces for television. She had a quick wit, a wicked sense of humor, and didn’t really care who she made fun of even if it was herself. She was also great at being “vulnerable” on-air, which is an artform in itself. You always want to be “real” with your audience because they can tell when you’re fake.”

Sunny Leigh has done her best to stick true to that realness, and when asked what advice she has for the rest of us, she keeps it simple, stating, “always be kind.” andrewandme She borrows the lyrics, ‘peeing in my yard ain’t gonna make yours any greener’ from country singer Kacey Musgraves to further develop the thought;  It’s a bit vulgar, yes, but it’s also true. You never make a gain in life by being mean to another person.” 

Though there is always a chance for another deck shuffle, Leigh cannot imagine what else the future might hold, simply stating, “I’m living a dream right now getting to work for KTUL and then do radio on the side. I get paid to do stories about things I am interested in, things I love, and stories about life and the “good” in people. And I get to play good country music one night a week as a bonus perk. I can’t imagine doing something that I would love any more than I love this.”

To keep up with Sunny Leigh, follow the links below.

Sunny Leigh Facebook

Sunny Leigh Instagram 

Sunny Leigh Twitter 

Keep on shining, and bringing a smile to all of our faces, sister!  I’m cheering for you!

**All photos courtesy of Sunny Leigh/Sunny’s Social Media**

#SheWhoDaresProject: Sarah Archer

 “While most of us are not robotics engineers with the ability to build our own perfect partners , Kelly’s story is basically an outsized version of what a lot of people deal with in the modern dating world.”   says Sarah Archer, author of The Plus One a romantic comedy with a robotic twist. The_Plus_One_final_cover-1-679x1024 Archer continues by saying that often times in today’s society, technology can take away the spontaneity and fun of getting to know future partners, rather giving us the option to shop for exactly what we want. 

“It can take the human element out of the equation, reducing people to the characteristics in their bios, and encouraging us to target what we think we want rather than being open to what life has to offer. So while Kelly’s story has a sci-fi element to it, at its heart, it’s a romantic comedy that hopefully is relatable to a lot of people.”

Though Sarah admits that the robot boyfriend idea is pretty far from her own experience, she notes that much like her  protagonist is able to create the perfect mate, those in the online dating world essentially have the option to do the same. “Dating sites and apps have given people the ability to essentially “shop” for a mate, choosing what they want from an array of options that would have been unthinkable ten to twenty years ago.” 

Beyond  The Plus One, Archer has found an array of success in various writing and media outlets, including publications in a variety of literary magazines, and writing projects in film and television.PowerHouse reading_2

I’ve dabbled in different sorts of creative writing for almost as long as I can remember, but when I moved to LA at the end of college to work in television, I turned my attention primarily to screenwriting. After moving out of LA for my husband’s schooling, I finally had the time to try something I’d wanted to do for ages: writing a novel. That’s how The Plus One came about, and now I’m hooked on the novel form! It allows you to dig into the characters and story in a way that nothing else quite does. However, I hope I’ll always be able to move between different media as a writer. Some ideas live best as a short story, some as a poem, some as a film, so it’s wonderful to be able to follow where the story leads.”

When asked of strong females in her life, Archer says she  is thankful to have always had the support of her mother and grandmother, who are successful and inspiring in their own right.  She also notes that much of her inspiration is derived from some ladies we may be familiar with…

“ I find inspiration and encouragement in women making waves in our society. J.K. Rowling is an idol of mine, both for her writing talent and the foresight and generosity with which she’s used her position to help others. And currently, a woman from history is a major source of inspiration to me: Harriet Jacobs, about whom I’m writing a screenplay. She escaped slavery in 19th century North Carolina, after spending seven years hiding alone in a tiny garret, then went on to become a prominent author and abolitionist. As I’ve gotten to know her through my research, I’ve been amazed at her strength and compassion, even in the face of dire circumstances. It definitely puts my own struggles in perspective!”

When asked what advice she has for young women looking to succeed in their future careers, Sarah noted the importance of never being afraid to ask for help.  “Reach out to people you admire and ask if you can do an informational interview to learn about how they achieved success. Ask for introductions to people you want to meet. The worst that can happen is someone says no.  Looking back at my career thus far, many of my regrets involve opportunities that I didn’t take because I didn’t want to bother someone or ask for a favor.”

Archer leans on a favorite scripture from Matthew as a reminder to look at the bigger picture, and consider the impact you will leave on the world once you are gone; “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6: 20-21)

Adding, “The things you should spend most of your life focusing on are those that will outlast your life. What work can you do that will change the world for the better even after you’re gone? How are you impacting the lives of those around you? With all the noise and hubbub of modern existence, it’s important to center yourself on what really counts.”

In addition to screenwriting projects, William6Sarah is currently working on novel number two, another romantic comedy, this time to do with pets, her own little guy, William the pug has acted as a muse.  

For those in North Carolina, Sarah will be speaking at Uwharrie Vineyards in Albemarle on March 7th at 2 PM in an event sponsored by the Friends of the Stanly County Public Library. 

Continue to follow Sarah Archer and her future endeavors by following the links below.

Sarah Archer Writes Website

Sarah Archer Instagram

Sarah Archer Facebook

Keep writing, sister, I’m reading and cheering you on!

Jo Dee Messina Brings Jesus Center Stage

I’m here to say, I love Jesus, and I love country music.   Brad Paisley painted a pretty decent picture of me with the lyrics, “She’s a Saturday on the town, and a church girl on Sunday…”   But, it’s always been such a fine line to walk when it comes to being a “good Christian” and having a good time. It’s the idea that we have to hide the beer in our hand so the people we go to church with don’t find out.  But, is it that we are hiding it because we feel it’s wrong, or are we hiding it for fear of judgement? When really, both could be considered equal sin. It’s hard to say, and I could sit at either side of the table, but, at the end of the day, I’m not going to quote scripture to prove either wrong.  

Last night, my attention was again sparked to these thoughts while seeing Jo Dee Messina perform as part of Track 5’s one year celebration at the Hard Rock Casino. IMG_0531 Most of us know JDM for her popular hits like, “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” “Bye, Bye,” and “I’m Alright,” amongst a variety of other sassy, “strong female lead” type tunes.  But, last night, she brought a special guest to the table, one that maybe many weren’t expecting…Jesus. Towards the end of her set, Messina began to speak of her own struggles, addictions, and a bout with cancer, mentioning that her mother was now battling the disease.  That she was lost, and the only thing keeping her afloat was her relationship with God. Following a short speech she broke into a version of Plumb’s “Need You Now (How Many Times)” the crowd fell silent briefly, but began to embrace the message. However, it was in the next moment as Jo Dee sat at the keyboard and began playing Cory Asbury’s “Reckless Love” that something truly magical, truly spiritual happened.  Roars from the crowd, hands and voices lifted up, praising God…in the middle of a bar in Catoosa, Oklahoma. I can’t speak for the other hundreds there, but I can testify that I felt the Holy Spirit in that room. I felt a group of music lovers unite, and embrace, and glorify God. It was a country music concert on a Thursday night that brought us together, but, in that room, we knew that something more, something greater, connected us.  

There was no backlash, or boos present…and that is where acceptance should be found. Maybe that bar isn’t where you’d expect to find the love of God, but isn’t it time we remember that it can be found anywhere?   IMG_0524I just stewed on the thought all night, the thought that many of those people probably don’t have a home church because they don’t feel accepted. Because they are criticized for having a beer on Saturday night and going to church on Sunday morning.  I so often hear, “we welcome everyone, invite all your friends…” but then there is this judgement that they aren’t “the right kind of Christian.” And that turns people away. I’m not saying we have to agree, or encourage, or say we are all for it. But, what I am saying, is maybe we shouldn’t turn our heads at the ones that aren’t the same kind of Christians as us.  

A testimony can be given anywhere, and God bless Jo Dee Messina for standing up in front of a crowd and saying, “this probably isn’t what you expected to hear tonight, but, in this profession so many times we are glorified, and if I can only leave you with one thing, it is this, that the person to be glorified is God…”    I’m so proud of her!  

Let’s all do better. 

Why my Anxiety DOES define me.

Anxiety.  It’s one of those odd topics that seems to be a hit or miss scenario in our society.  It’s either “hush, hush” or “scream it from the rooftops.” My social media news feed is flooded with little quotes, scripture, lyrics, one-liners, and news stories about the disorder.  Often times these things piggy back the idea that your anxiety does not define you. The idea that the black and gray pieces of discomfort, stress, apprehension, fear, or over analyzing somehow do not mesh with the colorful pieces of happiness, joy, and  contentment, to ultimately complete the puzzle that is your whole self. I don’t know about you, but when I’m putting together a puzzle, I live for that moment of completion, that moment I can connect the final pieces and dance a jig at my accomplishment.  We dread those times that we get to those last few pieces, only to notice they are missing from the box, and we stare at the picture, and despite the 997 pieces we put together, all we notice are the pieces that are missing. That’s how I feel when I start trying to hide my anxiety, or pretend that in some fashion it does not define me, or that it is not a piece of my puzzle.  I look at myself and all I see are the missing pieces, the pieces I don’t want anyone else to find. And I feel incomplete.  

Despite the fact that when sorting this all out, I can almost convince myself that I would, in fact, be just fine if I holed myself up and lived a life of seclusion, I know deep down that the hermit life is not for me.   I’m actually pretty fun once you get to the colorful pieces, but the black and gray are part of me too. This makes connecting with new people as an adult such a chore. Let me introduce you to one of my anxieties characteristics to further this…

“The feeling that even my closest friends don’t like me.” 

That’s right.  A great majority of the time, this over analyzing feature inside me can come up with 100 reasons in a matter of minutes of why my friends are probably tired of me. I talk too much.  I forget my filter. My friendliness comes off as flirtiness. I don’t have the right job. I post too many selfies. I make every situation awkward. I talk too much about myself. I don’t check in on them enough.  Yada, yada. You get the idea. So, there are times I go weeks or months without talking to my friends, because I don’t want to bother them. I send a text and don’t get a response, (or let’s be real, I get a response with the wrong punctuation, because that’s how far I take it,) and I think, “that’s it, they hate me.”  I just stop the interaction. I find myself saying things like, “Okay, well, I just wanted to check in….” or “I’ll let you be….” because I just feel like a total bother. Guys, I’m like this with my twin sister sometimes…and we shared a womb, we’ve literally been best friends since before birth, but my anxiety convinces me that even she is tired of me.  

My anxiety defines my friendships.  It does. Did you read the previous paragraph?  IT DOES. I have to find the crowd that not only “gets it,” but can handle it.   The ones that reply to those passive aggressive messages with encouraging, “you’re not a bother” responses.  But, until I introduce my anxieties to people, I go back and forth in this pattern of people not liking me, and the idea that it’d be easier to just be alone.

And, should I even try to talk about romantic relationships?  The husband search? I just finished this book about a girl who literally built herself a robotic boyfriend because the pressures from everyone around her were too much.   As crazy as that seems, part of me was like, “that could work.” (I kid, I kid.) I’ve been swimming in the trashy, muggy waters that is the dating pond for a solid 10 years now.   It’s got to be too much for anyone with normal wiring, but me…good grief, Charlie Brown. It’s awful. The communication, the expectations. It’s too much. The bad thing is, though the muggy waters comment may steer you astray, I’m actually pretty optimistic at the initial first line thrown in to start a new connection.  To start “talking” to the next fish, or whatever we’re supposed to call it these days. But then, WHAM! The fishing line gets stuck in the tree and suddenly, “it’s not you, it’s me.” And anxiety is like, “knock, knock, me again…” Let me introduce you to another characteristic…

“The feeling that it actually is always ME.” 

When that just a step above the “ghosting” one-liner comes out, “it’s not you, it’s me,” every inch of me hears, “YOU MESSED UP AGAIN.”     Questions arise, I all but get out a notebook and start recalling every conversation, every move, every date, every text. And, what about the things we aren’t supposed to talk about?   Like kids, marriage, finances. I’m 32 years old people, if you ask me what I see in my future, I’m going to say, “marriage, babies, stability.” But, that is the wrong answer? I’ve actually had people say, “you scared me with talk about marriage and babies.”   So, what am I supposed to say? My anxiety says, just lie. Maybe say something like, “yeah, that’s not really that important, I can wait another 10 years…” Then I’m in a predicament, and in the past, a relationship with men who think I don’t care anything about marriage or kids or comfort. So, I live in a relationship of lies and darkness, because it was easier just to be who they are looking for than who I am.

My anxiety defines my romantic relationships.  It does. Again, if I choose to remove the black and gray pieces from the box before I start a new relationship, showing only the color, the puzzle will never be complete.   There will be a constant push and pull of just trying to squeeze the bright pieces together to cover up the hole. And it will be misery.  

There are at least another dozen characteristics of my anxiety that I could share with you today that aid in defining me , but the rise in my blood pressure tells me that I’ve said enough for one post, and if I keep going, you’ll probably stop reading. (See?)

But, I’ve rambled on simply to say that yes, I do believe that my anxiety defines me.  As a whole? Of course not. But just as a puzzle cannot be complete without all the pieces, nor am I complete without full disclosure of my anxiety.  I can choose to hide it, or I can choose to be open, and that choice can ultimately determine the outcome of future friendships, and relationships. Often times we are so scared to show our whole self, to present the whole puzzle.  We think it’s better to hide the pieces, and feel incomplete, than to just say, “hey, I’m Happy Holly, but, sometimes, a big, gray rain cloud hovers above me, are you willing to hold my umbrella?”

The right people won’t hesitate with their answer.

#SheWhoDares Project: Jessica Wilbourn {The Wilbourn Group-Coldwell Banker Select}

“It’s  hard to stand out in such a heavily saturated industry… everyone seems to know at least five Realtors. So I have to “Be Bold!” to prove my worth daily.”   expresses Jessica Wilbourn, who, if you are native to the Claremore/Tulsa area you may recognize as the smiling face of The Wilbourn Group of Coldwell Banker Select. 

Though being bold and comfortable in her own skin doesn’t always come easily for Jessica, it’s ultimately that nurturing, “do anything for those you care for”  attitude that makes her a top notch Realtor.   

Every step of the way Wilbourn treats clients as if they were her own family,jessicafamily considering their comfort along the way.  “I try to bring some humor to each day for my clients, and carry as much stress for them on my shoulders as I possibly can. I walk them through each step of the process as we go through our journey so they feel empowered and educated to make the best decisions that they can.”

Jessica is a third generation Realtor, and credits her mom as her biggest cheerleader.   “She’s knows exactly what I’m going through on a daily basis so she’s always a great ear to bend when I need it. jessicacard This is by far the most stressful job I’ve ever had, to be honest. People are stressed to the max and there are so many variables that are simply out of my control, so having so much support around me is such a blessing.  I’m also blessed with amazing girlfriends that are always there for me with a glass of wine and a brownie when I need it!”

Behind the scenes support from loved ones is often the encouragement we need, but Wilbourn also wants us to remember the value in ourselves. Three words came to mind when asked what advice she might give to women aspiring to chase their goals…

“Know your worth!” 

She continues with, “Know what you have to offer to others then dig deep and go for it! There are always times when we question ourselves. Am I working too much? Am I making enough money? Do people appreciate me at all? How am I going to do it all and do it well? Is this shirt clean?  But as long as we are healthy, happy and feeling fulfilled, I think that’s the most important thing.”

jessicateachersWhen she’s not showing, finding, or selling houses for clients, Wilbourn lives out those words of a fulfilled life by spending time with her family, and  utilizing many outlets to give back to her community. “Music, kids and animals are the basic heartbeat of my life with my hubby. So I serve on the board for Musicians Haven of Claremore and I love singing in our church choir. I’m also a Partner in Ed for Justus Tiawah Schools and my family has always rescued animals and we donate to local animal rescues as much as we can (since we can’t take all of the animals home!) I also serve on the Claremore Collective Executive Committee. jessicamhWe help with several different projects and themes in our community, but it’s basically a young professionals organization that works to promote growth and success in our community.” 


To get in touch with Jessica Wilbourn and the The Wilbourn group, follow the links below.

The Wilbourn Group

The Wilbourn Group Facebook

Keep selling, smiling, and shining!  I’m rooting for you!

#SheWhoDaresProject: Callie Schmidt {The Flower Shop}


“I want people to think back on the florals I have created for them and smile, knowing that I created it with them specifically in mind.”  says Callie Schmidt, owner of The Flower Shop in Pryor, OK.  IMG_5058

Schmidt, who has owned her own shop for the last 8 years, and been in the floral industry for 17, can’t imagine herself in another profession. “ I worked in shops all throughout high school just soaking up all I could learn.  I love working with flowers, flowers make people happy. I have met so many amazing people through my shop!” 

Though it may not always be evident to outsiders,  the floral industry lends a hand to so many aspects of people and community.    “I see the highs and the lows for people. I can create beautiful statement pieces for them when they are so consumed with grief, I use my talents to bring a little light into such sad moments. We use flowers to represent their loved ones.  We also get to create for people on the greatest day of their lives.20190918-BellaRose-95 Their wedding day! Which is one of my favorites. I am a people pleaser which means I always go the extra mile.”

Callie credits her mom, who works alongside her at The Flower Shop, for instilling that “extra mile” mentality, noting that she is her biggest fan.  “Being a business owner is hard, you need someone who’s always your cheerleader, always in your corner, and she is that for me. She never lets me give up.” 

“Hard work” is the biggest piece of advice Schmidt can give to other young ladies striving for success as future business owners.  “Just go for it, it takes hard work, and it won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth it. IMG_5844Don’t let anyone’s negativity steer you away from your dreams!” 

The year 2020 has more goals in store  for Callie as she embarks further into making her dream of her own Oklahoma Grown Flower Farm a reality. IMG_5841 “I have started working on my land, and have all my seeds ready to plant, we are planning on doing farmers markets on the weekends!”   She will also be shifting a majority of her focus to weddings in the new year. “Weddings are my jam! They are truly my passion! We designed 42 weddings last year, and cannot wait to see what this year holds for us!” 


When she’s not busy decorating our lives and special moments, Schmidt enjoys time with her family and girlfriends, IMG_5854running with The Oklahoma Sports and Fitness Team, and enjoying the great outdoors! IMG_5842


Follow along with Callie Schmidt and The Flower Shop by clicking the links below!

The Flower Shop Instagram

The Flower Shop Facebook

Keep flourishing, sister, I’m cheering for you!

#SheWhoDaresProject: Candice Gilbreath {Candice Budgick Photography}

For Candice Gilbreath of Candice Budgick Photography, photography is much more than just a job.  She hopes to use her images to not only capture memories, but to tell stories, inspire, and introduce new perspectives to future generations.

“My job allows me to be present for some of the womens most precious moments and milestones, this is something I don’t take lightly.  I’m happy that in my time the beauty and struggles of women’s journeys through life are much more commonly shown and accepted. In the future, I hope the children and grandchildren of my clients are able to see their relatives with a different perspective when they see my images.”


Gilbreaths interest in photography  was sparked at 10 years old when her dad handed her a Pentax k1000. “I remember watching for beautiful sunsets each evening and would run outside to capture them. That’s when my interest in photography first began. I then went on to OSU-IT for my degree in photography right after high school. There I was technically trained by professionals who would tear our assignments apart, there were often many tears during those years but it was the best thing I could have done for my career and where I learned the in’s and out’s of the trade.”

During those college years, Candice was also fortunate to work with two women photographers out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, who had respectively paved their own roads as women photographers and business owners.  She credits these ladies for giving a young girl a chance, and becoming mentors and friends throughout the journey. “At 20 years old it allowed me to see first hand that you could really build and customize how you wished to work and create.3156sm This experience began when I was admiring their photography on their website while sitting in my tiny college dorm room and simply made a phone call to ask if I could intern with them. It ended up working out and being a huge part of my career foundation. I now consider them a part of my family and are still close with them today. Sometimes one phone call or email can lead to big things!”

Following college Gilbreath began her career as a photojournalist in Enid, OK.   “I remember walking into the press room to shoot my first collegiate football game and was the only female photographer in the room and youngest person by about 20 years. One gentleman promptly asked if I was lost and needed help, I proudly replied, no sir I’m right where I belong!’   Candice followed photojournalism with commercial advertising work, but slowly began shooting portraits and weddings in her off time before deciding to go out on her own full time. Today her focus is primarily on couples and weddings. 


“My hope is to be able to show the beauty in any phase of life I am documenting, whether that means 3460sma bride preparing to see her Groom for the first time or a woman bringing a new life into the world.” 

Gilbreath encourages us all to remember that “Nothing beats hard work.  Be relentless in accomplishing your goals and you will get where you want to go; just because everyone is doing something one way doesn’t mean there’s not another good path to make things happen.”   A saying she often turns to is, “Fake it til you make it,”  noting that, “you won’t always know exactly what you’re doing, sometimes you just have to take a chance, take a shot, and learn as you go.”

When she’s not capturing moments beautifully for others, Gilbreath 0928smenjoys creating her own memories as she and her husband Bryce travel and explore with their dog Tigger.  

To keep in touch, browse Gilbreaths work, or schedule a shoot, visit the sites below.

Candice Budgick Photography

Budgick Photos Instagram

Budgick Photos Facebook

Keep living the dream, sister!  I’m cheering you on!

Fun Fact: Candice took this photo featured on EveryDay a Hollyday.  🙂 




The Holiday Season (And The Gifts We Should Be Giving This Year)

It’s the holiday season, the holiday season. 

We all know how the rest of the song goes; Santa Claus, Christmas snow, and merry bells. Though those things are a’plenty for most of us, the holiday season can sadly bring about grief, loneliness, and depression for many.  We use this time of year to extend our gratitude, and share time and gifts with loved ones. As Black Friday and bargains can easily distract us from the important things, I wanted to take this time to talk to you about the gifts we should be making sure not to forget. 


The Gift of Time

This one may seem pretty cliche, yet so easily forgotten.  In a world that is over consumed with staying ahead, and staying in the race, we can so often forget that the greatest gift is that of our time.  Set aside everything else going on if you are able, and extend your time to your loved ones.


The Gift of Conversation

Don’t you get all the warm and fuzzies after a night out, catching up with friends or family?  A couple of hours pass, and you realize you haven’t even picked up your cell phone *gasp.* So, remember this year when you’re all sitting around the dinner table, playing board games, or just catching up…leave the cell put away as much as you can.   Of course, we all want to snap those photos, and share our bliss with the world…but maybe we just share it a little more with those around us this year. 


The Gift of Invitation

The holidays yield way to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression for many of those around us, often times without us even realizing. This holiday season, make sure your loved ones know they are welcome and loved by inviting them to events, gatherings, and church services.  In the hustle and bustle we are so busy getting ourselves from place to place that we might forget to include others. Even if someone seems to always say no, keep asking, sometimes people feeling unwanted just need constant reassurance and even a little pushiness. 


The Gift of Acknowledgment

This one might be the toughest of all.  For those who have lost loved ones, are battling illness, or suffering from depression, feeling like you are a burden can be a thief of joy.  It is our job as  friends, family, or even colleagues to acknowledge those things, and let these people know that we love them through it all.  Often times we try to hide or mask those things, because it’s uncomfortable, but these people really need reassurance. Open up, and encourage them to tell joyous stories of lost loved ones, let them know they are included in your prayers, make sure they know that you see them, and that they should in no way feel guilty for the way they feel. 

Maybe these are all things we all already know, but, I felt called to spread this reminder.  The greatest gifts we can give require no money, or fancy bows, merely a little deeper reach into our hearts.  

Much love, and happy Holly-Days…see what I did there? 😉

#SheWhoDaresProject – Allyssa Floyd aka Chef and the Blogger

“Step into the unknown! Sometimes, your world of possibility is just one more step!”  shares Allyssa Floyd, who followed her own advice and took that extra step as she began cooking her way through Deep Run Roots  a cookbook of over 200 recipes by Chef Vivian Howard. 

To her 1600 Instagram followers, Allyssa is better known as “Chef and the Blogger,” a play on Howard’s renowned restaurant, Chef and The Farmer. IMG_0692  Prior to her adventures with Deep Run Roots, Floyd didn’t necessarily consider herself an avid cook, but she couldn’t let go of the spark she felt upon the discovery of  these recipes.    

“It is true that I’ve always enjoyed cooking to an extent, though I would never have called myself an avid home cook until now. I have many cookbooks and dive into them from time to time. The idea of cooking an entire cookbook has been on my radar since the “Julie and Julia” craze. However, I’ve never been inspired enough by one to devote so much of my life to it. That changed when I came across Deep Run Roots from Vivian Howard. I fell in love with it as soon as I began flipping through the pages. The recipes were different, but somehow familiar too and the storytelling throughout the pages was enthralling.”

Though the recipes are a change of pace, that familiarity she speaks of derives from Sunday suppers with her family, lead by Marie, better known to all of her loved ones as Nan, and someone Allyssa counts as one of her biggest inspirations.

IMG_2490  “She’s my biggest fan in every endeavor. She’s not an adventurous eater by any means but she has tried everything I’ve made out of this cookbook and brags on it to anyone she can.”

And those “bragging rights” are something Floyd has leaned on during some of the roughest times of her life, times that she says the cookbook has acted as comfort. 


“On an even more personal level, it’s helped me through a struggle with infertility. Early this summer, my husband and I were told that it just wasn’t going to happen after trying for 7 years. I was devastated and down in the dumps. This project helped me to focus on something else and brought me the joy that I needed so badly at the time.IMG_2489 We actually found out that we were expecting about a month after I started the project. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a successful pregnancy. The day I found out that I had miscarried, I made my 100th recipe.  It may seem crazy to hear that that’s what I did, but it’s the only thing that I could control in that moment. Cooking is helping me through the grieving process. I’m so grateful for that.”

When asked who she looks to for inspiration, Allyssa could think of several ladies in her life.

“My Mom for all the obvious reasons. She let me chase dreams even when she knew they weren’t the right ones. When I realized that and came back home, she was there for that too!”  

Jenee Fleenor—At 16 years old, I became a fan of this girl. She was playing in the band for an artist I saw often. I was so excited to see a girl up there. I’ve watched her break barrier after barrier for females over the past 17 years.  Even more impressive, she hasn’t changed a bit. Her humbleness and kindness are something that you just don’t find in very many people these days! She’s proof that hard work pays off and that all dreams are attainable if you want them bad enough.” 

And of course, the chef herself, Vivian Howard.  

“She’s just great. I’ve always been inspired by her drive to revitalize her community by using local farmers for all of her food supply at her restaurants, as well as tell their stories on her show. The way she took something that she loved and used it as a stepping stone to make a difference in the lives of those around her is admirable. I hope that one day I’ll be able to do the same for my community.’

Floyd never imagined that the chef would follow  her blog, let alone be one of her biggest fans and supporters, lending tips, and special notes when she has the opportunity.  IMG_2487When I started my instablog for this project, I never dreamed she would follow along. Now, she  not only does, but also comments with words of encouragement, and tips for improving some of the things I’ve had a hard time with. In my most recent trip to NC last month, she invited me to join her for lunch, and visit about the project.’ 

This journey has allowed Allyssa to live out some of her favorite words from icon, Dolly Parton, “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.”   Through this process Floyd has truly discovered some new things about herself, and found the courage to embrace them.  

“I’ve never been a person with high self-esteem or confidence. I’ve always made excuses for why I couldn’t do something or do it well enough. This project has really helped me come out of that mentality. There is no room for “I can’t do that” when you have 200 recipes to get through. You just buck up and do it!”

What might we expect to see next from Chef and the Blogger? 

“Well, I have a little over 100 more recipes to finish Deep Run Roots, so those will take priority. I’m really excited about working my way through them. I’d really love to do that! After I finish it, I plan to travel back to ENC and celebrate with a dinner at Chef and the Farmer. I’ve heard that Vivian is working on her next book, so, my mind is already whirling at the possibility of doing it too.   Beyond that, who knows…we’ll see where the heart leads.”

You can follow along with Allyssa Floyd throughout her cooking journey by jumping over to her Instagram page @chefandtheblogger.  

Follow Chef Vivian Howard @chefandthef, where you will currently find her conversation with Allyssa featured as part of her “Dear Vivian” stories.  Part two of the interview will be featured in the section next Thursday, November 22.

Allyssa’s interview with the PBS A Chef’s Life Team.

Keep cooking, sister, I’m rooting for you…and ready for more taste testing! 😉