A College Tailgate Thanksgiving

Read this post to see how one family celebrated Thanksgiving and college football.

My friend Cathy and her family supporting the University of Texas Longhorns. Hook ’em!

How was last week for you? Ours was great! Thanksgiving tends to be a restful holiday for us because we don’t travel and we go to my friend Cathy’s house for dinner. My kids were out of school the whole week, and while we weren’t without drama, we did enjoy ourselves.

I think it was probably this time last year that I wrote about Cathy. Thanksgiving is her absolute favorite holiday, and she takes off work so she can start cooking on Monday. Her process is carefully planned, as she know what to cook each day. She is  even careful enough in her planning to schedule time with her grand daughters to teach them how to mix, measure, and bake.

This year, after following the University of Texas Longhorns’ football season rather carefully, Cathy decided that we should all pay homage to our respective college football favorites in food and fashion. For Thanksgiving appetizers we nibbled on tailgating traditions and for the main course we feasted on turkey, dressing, and then some.

If you happened to listen to the Mocha Mob radio show last week or catch me on Periscope talking about holiday photos, you may have heard my friend Kevin issue me a challenge for Thanksgiving photos. Her suggested that we take a series of photos to document the day, solely focusing on hands, and processing the images in black and white.

Even though I complained a bit, I was up for the challenge,  and today I’m sharing my photos with you.











So, there it is. Our Thanksgiving in hands. All photos were taken with my Nikon D3200. For buying information and all of the specs on that camera, click #ad here. If you happen to be a Texas Longhorns fan in need of some paraphernalia, click #ad here. And just because Cathy’s mashed potatoes tasted oh-so-good, I want you to see the appliance she used to make them #ad here.

And guess what? I interviewed Cathy last night to get her tips for creating the magic she creates during the holidays. That interview with all of her special tips are going to be featured tomorrow right here on the blog. I am so excited!

So tell me, what did your hands do last week?

Thanksgiving Photos You Must Take


As a lifestyle photographer, I enjoy taking photos that tell a story. I believe that the best photos can tell the story of the events and evoke feelings in anyone who sees them. I do think staged  and posed photos can be fun and traditional, but true feelings come from the unstaged moments.  Here’s a printable list of the photos you should not miss this Thanksgiving.  (Click on the image for the downloadable PDF file.)

Click here to get a list of photo shots you can't miss on Thanksgiving

Everyone Needs a Weathergirl


Photo Credit: Bitstrips

Can you believe it’s that time of year again? A big portion of the country has seen more snow in the month of November this year than ever before. In Texas, temperatures are dropping, snow and ice are threatening, and school closings are looming.

My daughter was on FaceTime with her friend last weekend and they are already discussing the threat of snow on Sunday. And the possibility of no school on Monday.

Enter my fun alter ego, Weathergirl.

I have loved the weather as long as I can remember. I even love tracking weather conditions. Say the words Doppler Radar and I get excited. Really excited. About three years ago, I started sharing my love for the weather on Facebook. When adverse conditions were a threat, I’d report the weather conditions and school closings for my friends. It was a cute and funny thing to do.

Until my entertainment turned serious for my friends who couldn’t figure out the forecast, traffic and school closings. Because even though I was entertaining, I reported it all. I was just that serious.

Last year we had a rough winter. I was on-call for weather issues the entire month of February. I gave myself the name Weathergirl, and a Facebook icon (for my friends, anyway) was born. Once winter ended, I returned to my old  self of Toni and carried on with my life.

If you had asked me this time last year if my weathergirl updates would have turned into an actual email list with updates and be a part of my blog, I would have laughed.

But now that’s exactly what has happened. When the tornadoes hit parts of North Texas last week, I got phone calls and text messages about the conditions. I was shocked, but I immediately saw the need. As I told my kids, “the people need to know! Weather girl must return!”‘

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Weathergirl is back! Photo credit: Bitstrips.

And return she did as winter storms are now here. Except now that I’m a bit more experienced in my blogging, so she’s gone a little high tech. To make sure you receive updates via email on North Texas weather, click here.

This week is pretty ugly. I think my Thanksgiving weekend may be busy, and I’m not just talking about eating turkey and shopping. Weathergirl is back. And you need to join her.

We’re Still Looking for the Helpers


It seems that more and more frequently I have to have one of those conversations with the kids. The kind of conversations that become more and more difficult the older the kids get. It doesn’t help that the senseless shootings and victims of hate crimes affect kids who are close to my own kids’ ages, and sometimes, committed at the hands of those who are supposed to be protecting them.

These conversations are hard because for several years, we were part of the police family. We back the boys in blue, and enjoyed being connected to the fraternity of men and women who risk their lives daily. A lot of events have opened the door for conversations between the kids and my ex-husband, especially when they don’t understand if they should honor the police or be afraid of them.

Terrorism strikes in France. Terrorism strikes in Africa. And Terrorism strikes in Chicago.

I try to raise my kids with a sense of adventure and desire to explore the world, but it’s difficult when they have friends who live overseas and are living in a state of emergency and shelter in place at their home in Belgium.

Because of terrorist threats.

So now the terrorism is close to our hearts. Really close. And we have to have a conversation about it again. One that will begin with a prayer for our friends, the police, and the friends and family members of anyone in danger. And my hometown, Chicago…

So I ask them to pray without ceasing. But honestly I don’t what else I should say.

And the most recent conversation brought me back to a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago after tragedy occurred in our country. Keep reading.


Look for the helpers.

The popular quote from Mr. Rogers still rings loud and true. But after the news events of this week, I can’t help but wonder why we have to keep saying it. Monday’s events at the Boston Marathon and Wednesday’s events in West, TX have put a downer on news watching. It is sad, but to me, what it sadder is the conversation that I had to have with the Three Amigos.

It was a conversation that I wasn’t quite ready for.

Me: “I know said this two days ago, but I need to tell you again. When tragedy strikes and you are in a situation and I am not there, look for the helpers. The police, the firefighters, anyone who can help you.”

Jada: “What about the EPA? I would think they would be helpful in times like these. Especially since you said the explosion in West, TX was caused by a plant. Was it as big as a tree…or small like grass?”

Me: Pausing and being thankful for childhood naivete. “A synonym for a factory is sometimes called a plant, so it was a factory, not a plant like you were thinking about.”

CJ: “Jada, it’s kind of like a Nuclear Power Plant. You know about those right?”

Jada: Rolls eyes.

Tyra: “That plant had fertilizer in it, not weapons. Fertilizer is a compound of minerals and poop that help the soil.”

Jada: “I’m glad you told me about it. I was confused.”

CJ: “Do you want to learn about the Nuclear Plants too? I can tell you about those.”

Me: “Not now. I just want to talk about the helpers. Can we talk about the helpers?”

We arrive at school #1 and Jada says her goodbyes. I’m now alone with the middle schoolers.

Tyra: “Momma, I didn’t want to say this while the Little One was in the car, but I know what happened.”

Me: Thinking to myself, what little one? You are all one year apart. “What do you think happened?”

Tyra: “Terrorists.”

Me: Silently wishing the moment of naivete would come back. “Really?”

Tyra: “Yes. The terrorists did horrible things in Boston and they snuck into that plant in West, Texas. They thought we wouldn’t make the connection, but I did.”

Me: “Tyra, you are using skills to deduce things. That’s good. I’m interested in seeing what’s on the news tonight about the causes. Let’s talk more about it then.”

CJ: “Tyra, you are not the only person who makes connections. The CIA and FBI are already checking this out. I’m telling you this is about nuclear weapons.”

Me: “We will find out more as the day unfolds. You guys have a good day.”

CJ: “I’ll research the nuclear connection, ok?”

Me: Grateful for the desire to research, but still wanting the naivete to return.


And still today,  even though I’m at a loss for words, in addition to praying,  I find myself saying, “Always look for the helpers.”

Don’t Forget to Rock the Holidays!


We are moving right along with preparing for the holidays. After all, Thanksgiving is next week! If you’re behind, you’ve got a little bit of catching up to do, but stay the course. You can have a great holiday season with less stress, more fun, and great memories!

Your list for this week:

  1. Add school, community events, and parties to your calendar (s)
  2. Finalize your Thanksgiving plans; who’s cooking what, the theme, wardrobing, getting the hair and nails done.
  3. If your kids are out of school next week what are you going to for family fun?
  4. Decide how you are going to explain or address those family members who may invite additional drama to the holiday meal.
  5. Decide on your shopping for the season. After Thanksgiving weekend, I try to keep my shopping to weekday mornings. Devise your plan now.
  6. Decide what charities you will support this year, and how you will support them
  7. If you are taking photos for holiday cards or gifts, now’s the time to start planning. Schedule the photographer, find a location, and think about outfits.

And since this week and next are filled with shopping, I’ve created a helpful item just for you! On the Mocha Mob show earlier this week, I mentioned several  websites with apps that are helpful during the holiday season. You can click the image below or access the full-sized version here.

And in case you missed it, click on one of the images below to grab your copy of the Family Holiday Bucket List printable or the Grocery Shopping List printable.


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You are doing great! Keep positive and stay the course. Remember, we are in this together!

Holiday Organization Printables & More

Hey friends!

Thanksgiving is next week. Now, let’s imagine that I said that without hyperventilating. Except I am hyperventilating. And I’m not hosting anyone for dinner.

I suppose all of my anxiety about Thanksgiving is actually in preparation for the entire holiday season. So just in case you feel the slightest bit uneasy, I have some things to help you. Everything loves a good printable (or two),  right?

Click to access a Family Holiday Bucket List printable.

Click on the image to download the bucket list.

Click through to get a grocery shopping list printable for the holidays.

Click on the image to download your grocery & shopping list.










Remember to sit down with your family to create a Family Holiday Bucket List so that you all can do the things that matter. Remember, no matter busy this season becomes, it’s time to focus on People Over Things. If you’d like a reminder delivered to your inbox every day from November 21 – January 1, sign up here.

Don’t forget to keep your holiday shopping list somewhere accessible like your purse. If you need a reminder on all of the things you need to do now, click on the image below to check out my Rock the Holidays webinar. Remember though, today is November 16 and everything I mentioned in the list needed to have been done by yesterday in order for you to stay ahead of the game. I just wanted to call that to your attention, but no pressure okay?

Click through to see how you can rock the holidays this year.

Click to watch my Rock the Holidays webinar on YouTube.









Today on the Mocha Mob radio show, I’ll talking about what you need to be doing to prepare specifically for Thanksgiving, because after all it is next week. And of course, I’ll update you on what you can do to prepare your hearts and your minds for Christmas.

(Disclosure: This post does contain affiliate links for Amazon.)

I’m really glad you’re reading this today, but I sense you’ve got some preparations to make. And if, just if, your to-do list is feeling a tad to much, let Amazon help. Really, no one will know (or care) if your vegetable chopper was ordered on the internet. And if you’re not cooking, they have an excellent selection of hostess gifts and how-to videos on preparing typical holiday food items.

If you have too much to do before Thanksgiving, let Amazon help you!

Remember, we’re not behind. You still have plenty of time, I just want to make sure you have time to actually enjoy this year’s holiday season. Have you missed any recent posts? Click on the images below to read them.

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Read blog post from one mom about putting people first this year.

Family Togetherness This Fall With Road Trips