Fools on Parade {Downtown Fayetteville}

Yesterday was a bright and beautiful day. The weather was chilly unless you were standing in the sun, and then it was just right. The perfect day for a parade.

The annual Fayetteville Fat Saturday Parade of Fools was a taste of mardi gras with an Arkansas twist. It was our first time to go and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was very family friendly. They talked the laissez bon temps rouler talk (with an accent), but didn’t really walk the walk. At least not during the parade.


Since Young Master Gray fell asleep in the car on the way, we ended up making it right on time instead of early like I had planned. Even though we didn’t get a great spot to watch the parade from, I think it turned out to be for the better. As it was, we waited a really long time for the parade to even start. Luckily, we were right by a police car and got to see a firetruck drive by before the parade began. Plus, we were right by the Walton Arts Center where they were in the middle of a construction project (as you can see in the above photo). In other words, we had plenty of trucks to look at while we waited.

Afterwards, we got to go see the “choo-choo” Young Master Gray had been eyeing since the start of the parade.

Such a fun afternoon hanging out in Downtown Fayetteville! It made me wistful for the Crescent City. I can’t believe it’s been four years since I wrote this post about my visit to New Orleans. I definitely want to make it back one day!

Winter Getaway in Eureka Springs

This post is sponsored by Eureka Springs Main Street | ESDN and All words and opinions are my own. 

Winter may not be the first season you think of when you imagine a trip to the mountain town of Eureka Springs, especially not after the magic of the holidays has faded. However, that is exactly when we decided to go. We discovered winter in Eureka Springs has its own magic.

Winter is when you can walk down the all but deserted downtown streets and although it’s just for the season, you imagine the place exists only for you. Quite romantic when you are there to celebrate an anniversary like we were.

When the people who are still around are mostly locals–the ones you run into in the coffee shops, hole-in-the-wall lunch spots and watering holes. The ones that have lived there all of their lives or at least a good portion of it. The ones that can tell you the stories that still live on, whether they be truth or tall tales–it doesn’t matter–those stories make up the rich history of this vibrant Ozark gem.

If that is not reason enough to pack your bag and head there right now, perhaps this list will help sway you.

This time of year in Eureka Springs…

1.  Learn local folklore and history while strolling through downtown

Think speakeasies, mafia bosses, prohibition, bank robberies and an underground downtown. We were glad we braved the cold to go on the Hell Raisers, Hoodlums and a Heated History tour with guide Christie Braswell. “Guide” does not really capture the nature of what Christie brings to the tour, I think “story-weaver” is a more apt descriptor. From Basin Spring Park we embarked on a journey through the history of Eureka Springs, from the early stories of Native Americans traveling from afar to be healed in the waters from the spring, to the first (and last) attempted bank robbery in town. Christie knew the stories well as many involve folks from her family’s past and places where she has grown up. I could tell you all of the wonderful stories, but you really should hear them from Christie!

2.  Book a room in a cozy Bed & Breakfast and retreat from the cold 

There is no shortage of places to stay in Eureka Springs, and certainly many Bed & Breakfasts to choose from but only one that I can wholeheartedly recommend. True, it is the only one that I have ever stayed in, but I truly loved our room in the Daffodil Cottage. It is one of the five All Seasons Luxury Properties. The owner, Pat, was such a gracious and accommodating hostess. She made sure we were comfortable and even called around to find a place that was still open for dinner when we arrived Monday evening. Our room was called the Blue Willow Suite and was beautifully decorated with blue and white antiques, a four-poster king-size bed, a sitting area and an antique wardrobe. We also enjoyed modern comforts such as a flat screen TV, an electric fireplace that added warmth as well as ambiance, and a kitchen that included a microwave and a fridge. My favorite thing in the whole suite though was the Jacuzzi tub–large enough for two, but I enjoyed having it all to myself each evening after Jeremy went to bed. With the cook away, we did not get to partake in the breakfast part of the bed and breakfast, but that forced us to go explore the local eateries, much to our delight. Pat did extend to us an invitation to come back sometime for breakfast even if we were not staying at the inn!

3. Pamper yourself with a spa treatment (or two!)

If you must leave the cozy comfort of your room, you might as well get pampered. Located on the 2nd floor of the Basin Park Hotel, Spa1905 is an Aveda salon and spa featuring massage, facials, hair care and more. The staff was tremendously accommodating, especially Ashley, she made sure to ask about our other plans so she could help me schedule treatments around them. After our walking history tour, I warmed up with a Swedish massage. Then, after a behind-the-scenes tour of the Passion Play, I returned for a luxurious Elements Facial. Both treatments were relaxing and implemented Aveda products which I already use and love! Both the massage therapist, Lacey, and aesthetician, Jenni, were caring and asked questions to help tailor the services to my needs.

4.  Go on a private tour

 At least it will feel private because it’s very likely you’ll be the only ones there besides the guide. That was the case on our behind-the-scenes tour of The Great Passion Play. We met Passion Play Assistant Executive Director Kent Butler at the gift shop and began our tour in the Bible Museum. He admitted he is not the one who normally gives the Bible Museum tour, but we still enjoyed seeing many rare and precious bibles from all different eras and in an array of different languages. I definitely want to return when we have more time and peruse the collection again. From the Bible Museum we moved on outside to the amphitheater where the Passion Play is performed. While Kent was very engaged in the Bible Museum, you could tell that the play was truly a passion for him (no pun intended). His enthusiasm for everything from the effects to the soundboard is likely due in part to the fact that over the years he has always had some sort of a role in the play. He started by playing a Roman soldier and now is one of the actors that portray Jesus.

5. Walk on the wild side

When you take a tour of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, you quite literally walk on the wild side of Eureka Springs. Our tour guide was Megan, an intern from Minnesota who plans to go on to be a zoo keeper in her home state. She was so kind to guide us through the refuge even though it was extremely cold and many of the lions, tigers and bears were keeping warm up out of sight in their dens. We did get to see a few of the cats though, as well as one monkey. She told us the stories behind how many of the big cats were rescued and subsequently brought to live at Turpentine Creek. The stories we heard stirred up feelings of both heartbreak–in hearing of abuse and neglect, and hope–in knowing that the people who are now caring for these animals have their best interests at heart.

I am so glad that Eureka Springs is only a hop, skip and a jump from home because I already made another list…a list of all of the things we didn’t fit into this trip that we need to go back to see and do!

Eureka Springs, here we come

Jeremy and I are headed to Eureka Springs for a little anniversary getaway. This is significant not only because we are leaving Young Master Gray for more than one night for the first time, but also because we had originally hoped to be married in Eureka Springs nine years ago. More than hoped. We had the Thorncrown Chapel booked and a reception site all picked out. Our date changed and then the chapel was no longer available so we ended up getting married in the place it all began (Mountain Home) instead. I don’t regret the change, but sometimes wonder, “what if?”

After that we never made it back to Eureka Springs. Not even for a day trip. I am so excited to remedy that over the next few days! I can’t wait to come back and tell you all about it!

Here’s the song that I walked down the aisle to, it still gets to me:

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be sexist

I have never really considered myself a leader. Yes, I have gone out for and won leadership roles at various times in my life, but I never felt a strong call to lead. The moment I became a mom, that changed. Now my days are full of leadership. A heavy burden, and one that I do not take lightly. My son is only two and at this point in his life he believes that the world is all about him (it’s also sometimes about mama, daddy or papaw). It is up to me to lead by example, to show him that the world is also about others, about giving to others, about sharing with others, and taking the time to listen to and care for others.

Recently, I filled out a form for his school and one of the questions asked, “What are your hopes and dreams for your child?” I had left the task of filling out the form to the last minute and had to turn it back in that morning so I jotted down some generic things about wanting him to be healthy, successful, educated, a good citizen and a good father. I do want all of those things for him, I do. I want so much more for him than that though. I want him to be compassionate towards others, those that are downtrodden, left out in the cold, homeless, orphaned and in poverty. I want him to be passionate about his beliefs and to follow his heart without listening to the naysayers or those who would tear him down or doubt him. I want him to be generous, giving of his time, funds, and heart to those that he loves and even to those he may not even know. I want him to treat all people with the same regard, no matter their gender, skin color, sexual preference, religious affiliation, or anything else that society continuously tells us divides us. I want him to be exposed to, learn about and embrace other cultures. I hope that he will speak out against injustice.

This month, #NWARKCares is spotlighting women in politics and leadership. It occurred to me while reading about all the ways that we as women can work to improve the appalling statistics, no one mentions training up boys and men to advocate for women in these roles. There is plenty of talk about empowering girls to engage in leadership roles, but not one thing about making sure we are teaching boys that women belong in those leadership roles right alongside them, or even teaching them to think being subordinate to a women in leadership is normal. Now it is very possible that I missed those articles or was not looking in the right places, but I read many and out of those I would think there should have been at least one mention.

About those appalling statistics I mentioned before. Let’s just talk about right here in my state. Did you know that even though women are half the population in the state of Arkansas, only 17 percent of the General Assembly in Arkansas is made up of women? Arkansas is one of 24 states that have never had a female governor. According to a 2012 Legislative Report, the poverty rate in Arkansas for female-headed families with children was 47 percent. Not surprisingly then, women continue to make less money than men in Arkansas. All of these statistics were gathered from, a non-partisan non-profit with a mission to empower women and girls to engage in politics, policy and leadership. I should note that they welcome men to join, as long as they share their belief that women should be better represented in politics, leadership and policy.

In a recent speech at Glamour’s Woman of the Year awards, Reese Witherspoon spoke about women being underrepresented not only on screen but in every industry. She drew attention to the fact that ambitious women are stigmatized. “I want everybody to close their eyes and think of a really dirty word.
Now open your eyes. Was any of your words ambition? I didn’t think so.
Why do people have prejudiced opinions about women who accomplish
things? Why is that perceived as a negative? In a study by Georgetown University in 2005, a group of professors asked
candidates to evaluate male efficient versus female efficient in
politicians. Respondents were less likely to vote for power-seeking
women than power-seeking men. They even reported ambitious women as
provoking feelings of disgust,” she said. The rest of the speech is full of eyeopening and empowering antidotes like this. If you have the time to watch it, I highly recommend doing so.

So, how do we raise our boys to see ambitious women as women who need support, not derision? Where do we start?

-Start early. 
At the age my son is now he plays with trucks and dolls, his play kitchen and his train set. He loves helping with “chores” like washing dishes, sweeping and vacuuming. According to Lise Eliot, author of “Pink Brain, Blue Brain,” parents are more likely to encourage girls to freely choose to play with whatever toys they like and to advocate for them to be whatever they want to be. They are not so likely to facilitate the same environment for boys, and are more likely to discourage them from playing with traditionally girl toys. Our own preconceived notions about gender shape what our children will come to believe. Instead of being encouraged to play with toys that teach nurturing, boys are left only with toys that teach strength, physical ability and aggression. It doesn’t take long then for them to see what values are held in higher esteem.
-Teach them to value and understand the perspectives of others.
If boys are taught early to value the perspectives of others, including girls and women, they are more likely to continue to value their ideas, perspectives and plights into adulthood.

-Take every opportunity to teach about diversity and equality. 
See an ad on TV that objectifies women? Stop at the moment and talk to your son about that issue. It will resonate much more than if you just brought it up out of context.

-Talk to your sons about how women and men are portrayed in movies, TV shows and advertisements.
Reese Witherspoon, Geena Davis and others are working hard to change Hollywood, but the fact is that women are still mostly represented in stereotypical and supporting roles.

-Most importantly, lead by example in the home.
It is so vital that the values you want to instill are modeled at home. Division of household duties, how you and your partner speak to one another, and your actions showing that you value yourself and your partner will inform the your son’s own personal beliefs.

Maybe all of this is a lot to put on my son’s slight shoulders. Maybe it is a lot to put on the shoulders of parents. Maybe. But isn’t it also a lot to put on our sons the burden of always being strong, never being able to express emotions, especially fear, sadness and hurt? Isn’t it a lot to ask them to be the sole breadwinner in their families, and to take on the guilt that inevitably follows when they feel they are unsuccessful? Isn’t it a lot to put on them the burden of being the ones who are supposed to fight? The thing is, these two years have flown by and I know that in a moment I will turn around and he will be 18. I absolutely must start thinking about this now and begin to teach him that women can and should lead.

Natural Birth in the Natural State

“I remember the day you appeared on this earth 

With eyes like the ocean, got blood on my shirt
From my camera angle it looked like it hurt
But your mama had a big ol’ smile.”
-Conor Oberst

My iTunes playlist shuffles to “You are Your Mother’s Child” by Conor Oberst and I’m instantly transported to July 4, 2013, a divine turning point in my life–the day I became a mother. I know many say that your maternal instincts kick in as soon as you see the two lines appear on the pee stick, but that wasn’t the case for me. I had to get used to the idea. After all, 10 years before this day in history I had been told that I may never be able to have a child of my own. I felt more at peace when I was told, “It’s cancer” than I did when my surgeon sat me down to say that my option to have children may be taken away before I even had the chance to try. However, after 6 years of marriage, I had finally gotten used to the idea of not having children of my own. I had made peace with it and even planned for the future based on this assumption. So, while a part of me felt triumphant to find that my one, lonely ovary could rally the troops, the other part took a long (loooong) while to reconcile with the fact that this was real life.

Since I had not been planning for this moment or even trying for a baby, I was at a complete loss as to what to do next. I set out for the bookstore and selected a book touted as “the most comprehensive and authoritative guide for expectant parents.” That should do it. Standing in the bookstore while trying to conceal that I was carrying a baby “about the size of a small blueberry,” I had no idea that Sheila Kitzinger’s, “The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth” would inspire me to proceed down a path that would lead to a natural birth, unaided by medical interventions or medication.

As I was searching out options that would help me realize my desire to have a natural birth, I discovered the Birth Center of Northwest Arkansas. In my excitement to find a place centered on relaxed, non-medicated birth in a home-like setting, I contacted the Birth Center to see if that was an option for me. The staff was extremely helpful and encouraging, I really wanted to make it work. There was one major flaw to this plan–I lived in Central Arkansas at the time and planned to continue working throughout my pregnancy. Could you really blame me for wanting to have a baby in a cozy and luxurious birth room like this?

I had the opportunity to tour the Birth Center this past Monday, and let me tell you, I was really impressed. From the moment you walk in the door, you feel welcomed and at home in this bright, clean care center.

The retail alcove is appointed with the hard-to-find items for mom and baby like Baltic amber teething necklaces, breastfeeding supplies, and herbal supplements, some of which are made right here in Northwest Arkansas.

The waiting area includes a cheerful sitting room where families can relax while they wait for baby to arrive. It extends outdoors to the picnic area overlooking a serene lake setting.

According to Kitzinger, “Going to bed in the first stage of labor and becoming more or less immobile is not a good idea. It can slow labor or interfere with its starting effectively…When you are upright and moving around, gravity helps you.” You can do this at home or in the halls of the hospital, but I don’t think a woman could ask for a better place to stay active and moving during early labor than this lovely trail around the lake, just steps away from the birthing rooms.

While all of these accoutrements make the Birth Center resemble a grand spa vacation, make no mistake, the certified nurse midwives provide excellent clinical care, and the facility is fully equipped not only for your comfort, but for your safety and that of your baby. Kitzinger addresses why a birth center is well worth your consideration, “A study of the experiences of 12,000 women who gave birth in 84 birth centers in the U.S. revealed that they had far fewer obstetric interventions of all kinds than women in a hospital, while birth was equally safe.”

Whereas many women cannot say the same, I was extremely lucky to have the birth that I envisioned in the hospital setting. Would I have preferred to have a birth center experience instead? Absolutely. The Birth Center is the answer for the woman who is seeking a low-intervention birth in a relaxed atmosphere with care provided by midwives that you get to know and who get to know you and your family. In the rare occurrence that a transfer to the hospital is necessary, it’s comforting to know that their partner, Mercy Hospital of Rogers, is a mere 1.5 miles from the center.

It may surprise you to know that in addition to providing top-notch prenatal, labor and delivery and postnatal care that includes home visits, the midwives also offer annual exams. Knowing that their comprehensive well woman exams include cancer screenings, pap smears and contraceptive management, I’m ready to trade in the hospital gown for one of their plush robes.

As I was touring the Birth Center of Northwest Arkansas and hearing the stories of the 200+ babies born there (even one whose parents came from Little Rock!), I couldn’t help but feel the tiniest twinge of regret that I did not have that birth experience. If you are looking for prenatal care or it’s time for your yearly exam, you should check them out!

Jenn’s Woodland Baby Shower

Have you noticed the increasingly clever and cute ways parents-to-be are announcing that a little bundle is on the way? Search “pregnancy announcement” on Pinterest and you’ll find photos of tiny shoes tucked in between two larger pairs of shoes with text reading, “Our family is growing by two feet,” among other examples ranging from cute to stomach-turning (the latter usually feature a toilet in some way). There are a myriad of ways to announce, and it seems like parents are in some unspoken competition to come up with something more unique than anyone else before them. My husband and I announced ours here on the blog. So, imagine my surprise when I received a text message last fall from my little brother, Marcus, asking me to throw a baby shower for his wife Jenn. Without missing a beat I replied, “Of course, I’d love to.” Then I thought for a minute and followed up with, “Wait, is this your way of telling me she’s pregnant?!”

I’m so happy for Marcus and Jenn, and couldn’t wait to start planning the shower. After tossing around some other theme ideas, I decided that there was no better way to welcome “Baby Woods” than with a forest theme. I had so much fun planning this shower; it brought out my inner party planner and inspired me to get crafty. My grandmother agreed to let us have the party at her house in Mountain Home, a location that would be convenient for family and friends of the parents-to-be.

The owl cheeseball was a hit with all of the guests. It was almost too cute to eat!

I made the bunting from paper bags (thanks, Ozark Natural Foods!), scrapbook paper and twine.

Everyone who came went home with a bag of “birch sticks,” aka, chocolate-covered pretzel rods.

The adorable deer and fox graphics I used on my signs are from the talented Hannah at We Lived Happily Ever After. They are free to download, just click here.

The guest of honor with a couple of baby Grayson’s cousins!
It was an honor to put this party together for Jenn and I can’t wait to meet baby Grayson soon!

A Visit with Santa at Northwest Arkansas Mall

I have been compensated for this
post by Northwest Arkansas Mall. All thoughts and opinions are my own
or, in this case, Young Master Gray’s (with his explicit permission, of

My little elf wants to tell you about his trip to see Santa Claus at Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville. I hope you enjoy his tale.

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas, when one and all
Stood in a line, at Northwest Arkansas Mall;
Mom dressed me up with the greatest of care,
I knew someone special just had to be there;
Right to Center Court, mom knew just where to go,
We followed the voice sounding, “HO, HO, HO;”
The set was filled with Christmas delights,
Festive trees, presents, snow globes and lights;
It was enough to make anyone happy and jolly,
From mom, to the little girl asking for a dolly;
Old Saint Nick was as sweet as can be,
But still, I did not want to sit on his knee;
Knowing Santa’s digs are the newest in 10 years,
Quite frankly, did nothing to calm my fears;
A tentative smile quickly dissolved into worry,
And that’s when mom said, “We’d better scurry.”
Come now, it’s your turn to sit at Santa’s side,
Even on the night before Christmas, you won’t be denied.
You can see Santa at Northwest Arkansas Mall between now and Christmas Eve.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
(Break from 3-4)
Sunday 12 p.m.-6 p.m.
(Break from 3-3:30)

Choose one of the photo packages and you’ll have your prints in your hands before you can say, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” If you want to share your photo, add a download to your package, or even have the photo texted directly to your phone.

Can you believe how close we are to Christmas already? What preparations do you still have to complete before the big day? Our tree is up, but still needs some final touches. Maybe the rest of the decorations will make it out of the box before the 25th! Merry Christmas!

What the Pioneer Woman taught me about green beans

I have a bit of a confession to make. Depending on who you are and what circles you run in, this may not be very earth shattering, but I think it will at least be a surprise to my blogger friends. Here goes–I had never read The Pioneer Woman blog before today. Nor have I seen her show or ever flipped through one of her cookbooks. Whew! It feels good to get that off of my chest. I should say, I have nothing against Ree Drummond. In fact, now that I’ve been initiated, I’m sure I will inevitably get hooked on her brand of tell-it-like-it-is-y’all blogging and down-home, made-from-scratch cooking. Who am I kidding? The woman uses cast iron and taught me that you don’t have to snap both ends off of your green beans, I am already hooked.

Speaking of those green beans, I riffed on her Fresh Green Beans recipe for dinner tonight and it was super delicious. I had already removed both ends (oh snap!), but I bought some of my time back by blanching them before throwing them in the skillet. I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone that I decided to forgo her suggestion to use bacon grease instead of oil and butter. I also left out the red bell pepper since I didn’t have it, and while I had onion, I decided to go ahead and use the leeks I had already chopped for another recipe.

Full disclosure, I did *almost* get to meet Ree Drummond last November. My first outing away from the young master Gray was to a blogger event that was centered around The Pioneer Woman’s visit to Rogers, AR. We got together the night before her book signing to hang out and eat yummy food prepared from the recipes in her cookbooks. I had planned to go stand in line for her to sign a cookbook along with hundreds of her die-hard fans, but I wasn’t able to make it after all.

Are you a Pioneer Woman fan? Either way, you should try the green beans. Am I the only one who didn’t know that you only have to snap one end off? On second thought, I may just keep doing it my way. Besides sorting dry beans, it’s one of the few kitchen tasks I can do sitting down.