Treasures, Tools and Talents…

img_5014Pastels, pens and pencils. Watercolors, canvas, easel and brushes. Chisels, angles or whisks. Mirrors, lens, makeup or muffin tins. Wood, stone, seeds or soil. Old roses, lace, a box of photographs. Violins, a garden stroll, vintage love letters.

img_5021What tools do you possess? Your wisdom, your talents, your joy. Still. Tools and talents only represent potential. Unless you use your tools and talents, nothing to treasure ever happens. Blend your skills, tools and talents, even your limitations – combined with joy, the results are nothing short of miraculous.

img_5025Let me prove it with a storyOne of the greatest storytellers of all time, as a child actually wanted, to build cardboard castles. He had scissors, paper and glue- the problem ? He was limited by his thumbs which had one joint. His physical defect enabled him to draw illustrations and to write… just not build cardboard castles. He said-

‘It was this that forced me to write. I longed to make things, ships, houses, engines. Many sheets of cardboard… I spoiled, only to turn from my hopeless failures in tears. I was driven to write stories instead… You can do more with a castle in a story, than the best cardboard castle that ever stood…’

As a result of using the tools he had, the ability to write and draw, Lewis blended those with a stellar imagination. the great C.S. Lewis wrote the ever classic children’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Certainly far more than cardboard castles!

img_5015Don’t fret over your limitations, do not neglect the gifts within you… it’s ultimately your treasure. What’s in your treasure chest is the sum of your personality, talents, tools and imagination.

img_5018Approach your talents with love, awe and appreciation- for talents are your unique means of expression to the world. Something no one else can do quite like you!

img_5031Be careful and wise as to how and when to offer your treasures. When you do, give the full measure of reverent abandon, humility and lavish joy, within your power to employ. Do not fear being fabulous. For as much as we may enjoy the shy muted approach of a sunrise, who wants a halfhearted sunset? Give us the blazing glory; the majestic marvelous magical you.

Love y’all, Camellia

*Quote by C.S. Lewis- from his amazing book- Surprised by Joy

A message from Brenda

* Several months ago, I was asked to help with some updates for an online class I was taking. The question was posed- ‘Do you ever reuse content or photographs?’ My answer was, ‘Yes. My photographs are my treasure chest. Something I dig into over and over again.’ Photographs can be edited to use an ingredient, color or focal point, then reverted to the original. I also have used a photo on a solid white background adding a quote.

And while I rarely reuse content, I have re-blogged a favored or timely post. I have used the feature offered by WordPress, called ‘Sticky’ which enables me to use a seasonal post, a recipe, an inspirational piece to stick to the front of my blog, as the opening post. I also wrote a book published in 2013, from which I occasionally use quotes. And, often I’ll use almost all of the content of a blog post in a corresponding Instagram post. I think of reusing content and photography as an expansion of the ‘tools I’ve been given’ which are unique to me. Artists, photographers, food stylists and content creators often send a sample of their work to prospective buyers, editors of food or travel publications, as a way of generating passive income. And, it’s not uncommon at all, to take a series of stories, poems, even recipes, then compile that series into book form. Reuse of your own material is the best and most efficient use of your time.


5 Principles of Good Design…

Why is a gate standing ajar or roses along a fence so inviting? How does a change of pillows or adding a house plant lift the mood? A clean open room or a swath of colorful flowers pleases the eye. Why are we drawn in with a touch of wonder, a bit of mystery or whimsy, just from reading words upon a page? And, what is it about the morning sunlight, a cheerful window box, open shutters, finding an unexpected sculpture, even overlooking a greening field? Emotions are stirred, inspiring the click of a camera, the swath of a paintbrush, the writing of poetry.

img_4608Whether you’re writing a novel or a blog post, making a garden plan or creating a room… producing artwork, planning an event or marketing a product or service- Good design is essential. Here are my 5 Principles of Good Design:

img_49181. Structure– This sets the boundaries, writes the outline, establishes the parameters. Structure in creative design includes entryways, walls, fences and paths.  Windows, enclosures, doors even garden gates all offer a view from beyond. Structure is  the size of a canvas or even the frame of great artwork. Good placement of structure, allows for taking advantage of natural or planned views. Outbuildings, barns, sheds, greenhouses, even porches are good examples, too. Structure is very much like the plot of a story, the layout of a room, setting the stage, doing a first draft or an initial sketch- even a basic recipe. Everything depends on the planned or existing structure.

img_48652. Light and Color. Whether muted or harsh, light is an amazing tool, that’s why we have phrases like ‘… shed light on a subject.’  Words, fabrics even paints are really absorption of light. Twilight in a garden, dark passages, shady fern glades opening onto a patio’s splashing fountain, glistening droplets cool down a sunlit space. Light highlights form. Color can be compared to a main theme, prompting a response. Color draws the eye and keeps it focused. Shades of color massed together are more pleasing than bits here and there. All good storylines have a main theme, color is way to establish theme. Keeping color consistent is important, with the occasional exception of an accent color, always best when used sparingly.  Do you enjoy reading about colorful places, delightful folks or being enlightened? Remember that phrase and you’ll do alright.img_4924

3. Focal Point– a focal point draws you in. Into the garden, into a story, into a work of art. A focal point has the effect of pausing, just as a curved path slows the pace. Focal points can be compared to deciding which type of frame best suits a painting. And, a focal point is very much like punctuation, exclamation mark or even a main character. img_4855

4. Emotion. This might be the most important principle of all. How does the design make you, your reader, your audience feel? Is it the scent, is it the shape, the shadows? Is it the sense of comfort or being home? It might even make you smile or be inspired. Never underestimate the value of mystery, curiosity, serenity, anticipation or a bit of whimsy. And always leave room for serendipity. The unexpected twist. Emotion is movement, memory and motivation. Change structure, focal point even light and color and you experience new emotions. Adding whimsy to a serious garden, home or story always brings a smile.

5.  Abundance and Restraint. There is a place for both in great design. The abundance of roses, a single flower, each has a message all its own. Generally in a garden or a home- abundance is highly desirable, a huge bowl of fruit, a flower arrangement, an overflowing bread basket, a mass of single color. Often in a painting, a marketing plan,architecture even in writing – restraint is often best. Remember, if the restrained design of a room, a work of art or a garden looks easy, it’s not.  Nature teaches us the best lessons-  dew drop says something far different than a generous spray from a watering can.

Tell me your story, don’t leave anything out. Take a photograph, set the scene, put color and emotion – use restraint or abundance to its best advantage and if it’s a recipe… well, you know I want you to do everything except scratch and sniff the spices, vanilla or lemon! Spark my imagination, let me feel the emotions.  Let the colors in your art or garden lift my spirits, thrill me with color combinations, set boundaries with a fence, gate or beautiful frame.img_4471

If you design a beautiful room, add a focal point or a pleasing outdoor view, maybe a charming window box. Literally, frame the view of your amazing work of art and it actually visually expands the experience. Give me abundance or show restraint, it’s like editing– often what you take away is more important than what you leave in.  And, hey! In the South, we like a bit of whimsy, humor and often we tilt to the morbid side of things. We put our crazy eccentric sides out there and relish being different, maybe we could use a bit of restraint. Oh me, how I do run on…

Love y’all, Camellia

*This is a larger subject than one blog post can contain. Still. I think to have these principles in place builds a framework on which your creativity can thrive.

  • Build the framework with structure. 
  • Light and color are much like adjectives or spices.
  • Add a focal point as your main character.
  • Use emotion to its best advantage, this is the active part of your design.
  • Stir in restraint and abundance and you have a winning combination.

Take the Stairs…

img_4343In 2016, we were taking a tour of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the site of new beginnings, expansive ideas, critical decisions and unbounded courage.  What sprang forth was- yes, a new nation. Still. These new ideas could bear a high cost. They were Taking the Stairs to form something new. The first steps to form a nation, were taken in this building. The Declaration of Independence was crafted on this site. A period of turbulent challenge and change followed those decisions.

img_4346Life changed, forever. Families were separated. Lives were lost. Travel became difficult. Reputations were ruined. Businesses failed. Fortunes were lost.

It wasn’t easy to take -The Steps to Form a New Way of Life. What would happen to-

  • The Cooks, the Candle and Candlestick Makers?
  • The Churches, the Bakers and Undertakers?
  • The Taverns, General Stores and Lodging Houses?
  • The Farmers, the Livestock, Dairies and Glassblowers?
  • The Carpenters, Brick Masons and Ironworking Forges?
  • Curtain, Furniture Crafters, Clock Makers, Shutter and Cabinet Makers?
  • The Millineries, Munitions, Wig, Wagon and Map Makers?

Okay. Wait a minute. You get the picture, no need to go overboard here…Folks were worried about keeping house, home and business together, right? And while I’m at it- what about that Staircase? The detail, the craftsmanship and my two favorites in the scene… Light streaming in the window and Paint Color! Amazing.

At any point of dramatic change- conflict, war or plague… the toll is incredible. We are at a pivotal moment in time. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this- Whenever, I’ve read sensible instructions to get in physical shape- there’s always been the simple advice- ‘Take the Stairs’ Instead of riding an escalator, it’s far better to take the stairs. One Step at a Time has always been sage advice.

img_4349May I tell you something, you may not believe this- yet it’s true. It’s far easier to climb the steps than to walk down a flight of stairs. Anyone, including me! who’s had knee surgery will tell you- it’s far more difficult to descend rather than ascend. The problem in times like this is our mental state, taking a downward spiral…img_4350

It’s normal to be concerned, even anxious… still.Once you’ve accepted the situation, done all you can for your safety- you do have a choice- Accept the new normal. Accept that things may never be the same. Next choice? You can either- Spend too much time wishing things were the same as before and being frustrated. Or. You can… Embrace it as a New Start and an Opportunity. img_4347

State of Mind might be the most important and best First Step. Then…Ask yourself these things-

  • What are my unique gifts and talents to offer the world, right now?
  • What would I be doing for my business, this time of year? If someone had given you a week or so to close your business, I’ll bet you would have done some spring cleaning, perhaps re-painted, had carpets and floors cleaned. Reworked the layout of your business. Do all you would normally, just do it better and smarter.
  • And, you would have made sure your base of support had the pertinent information concerning your business, while making sure that base knew you would be there for them.
  • You may never know, your call or contact could mean the world to someone, especially in your core base of support. And! they may have ideas you’ve never considered.

There are no easy solutions, to get back- your health, your life, your finances and your business. A free standing small business or side income, including a blog. After securing yourself, your family, finances and staff if you have one- What do you do? Take the stairs. It might be slower to take it one step at a time, yet this is has always been the best way to start getting in shape and to shape up your life and business.

If you have a business and are in danger of losing sales, readers, advertising? What do you do, now? First understand that technology is going to play a larger part in your life and business. It’s your way of keeping touch with your base of support– especially during times of social distancing. If you need to upgrade anything- let technology be the first step and learn the skills to use it. There are a whole lot of free and low cost courses out there! Use these resources as your own personal Library to get your mind focused.img_4348

You will need to adjust your plans from last year’s business model, yet this doesn’t have to mean major changes. Some cost little to nothing. Do those first best steps. The best advice from a retail training I took was this-

‘If you want business, find a need and fill it. If you don’t have customers, make a list of everyone you know. Support and encourage them in their current endeavors. Let them know where you are and what you have to offer. If you don’t have sales, add a free service. If you still don’t have sales or to increase the sales you have- add a low cost service. If you still don’t have sales, maybe you didn’t really find a need that needed to be filled.”

What are you doing right now to reach out to your base of support? If they are following you on any platform of social media- follow them back! Leave a nice comment every now and then. Believe me, they will pay attention to your messages, if they feel they have a personal connection to you!img_4356

  • If possible, reach out to your core supporters with a phone call or a post card. Start now, if you haven’t already, building an email list. Social Media advertising is still one of the best values out there. Be authentic and unforgettable!
  • If you currently have a website, add a blog. Write authentically, short updates of what your family is doing during this time of isolation. What you had for breakfast, a funny story about your children or pets- even show what you actually wear to work at home. Add any updates you’re making to your place of business- safety measures you plan to put in place. Behind the scenes is always a winner, just do it in good taste.
  • For awhile now, folks have been leaning into support businesses that give them a personalized shopping experience.  The businesses that are actively seeking ways to provide a service with their physical products are the ones most likely to weather this crisis. And service based businesses are finding now, that adding a product or a free service are too!
  • You may have to accept a smaller profit margin for a while, though some profit is better than no profit at all, right?
  • And while it may seem counterproductive, give. Many in times past, in serious financial difficulties found a way to ‘make sure no one who came to them hungry, left that way.’ Giving does have a way of multiplying and coming back to the giver. And, at the very least builds good will. Support local businesses, if they stay in business it helps yours!
  • New and future businesses must have a social media presence and ways to interact with their customers. I repeat– If you are a product based business, it is essential that you add as many services as possible. If you are a service based business, now might be the time to add a few products, even add how to instructions or videos.
  • Start now brainstorming ideas to make sure you have streams of income, rather than depending on just one.

This is a long post, which began with a beautiful staircase, the scene of brave folks who risked everything and still managed to forge ahead, build on what they had started and accomplish great things in less time than anyone would have imagined. They did it by taking those beautiful stairs one step at a time– each bringing the best of who they were as they began the long climb. This country was never a perfect union, they just had a hope to build a ‘more perfect’ place decade by decade, generation by generation of  determined folks – who despite the odds, the setbacks just kept coming back one step at a time.

Love y’all, Camellia

*A message from Brenda: We are keenly aware of the high unemployment numbers and are heartbroken about the economic hardships on so many. This post is essentially for small business owners and individuals who currently need ideas and encouragement to do what they can to keep their businesses going. If you are unemployed- often cottage industries have been started during times of great need and financial hardship. If you fall in this category, start small with great ideas- one step at a time. And! please don’t do anything that would interfere with the aid you are receiving in any form – governmental, grant or supplemental. Apply for it if you haven’t and take it one step at a time. Do whatever you can to take care of the basic needs of yourself and family, including staying as hopeful as you can.  Camellia and I will still be putting out lighthearted content yet- we feel the need to shift our focus to sending you serious content to help others. We welcome your suggestions too! We all hope for a safe sensible way to see the ‘Open’ sign on our favorite businesses again. Great love and prayers for you all, as we move through this unprecedented time in the history of the world. I’ll see you on the Stairs!img_4353


Taking Care of Your Beautiful Mind…

img_4155This image captured my imagination a while ago. At first I thought I would write about the joys of a glass room or starting seed in a greenhouse, even on a window sill. For some reason known only to the angels, those were never written yet the image remains. When all but the most essential businesses closed, this image took on a whole new meaning of – Stay at Home or even ‘A Room of My Own’ Those also would have been good subjects. (I’m winding up here to tell you something important!) I’ve realized that as this situation continues-

  • The number of emails,
  • The number of individual posts on social media increases,
  • The recorded calls increase
  • And my stress level goes up by the same measure.

I realized that taking care of, limiting what comes into my mind is essential. Now, my background is in retail and marketing, even owning my own business years ago… I know that there’s a tipping point when good information becomes an irritant – regardless of how pertinent, important or even good news is offered. Sending out too much information leads to less business rather than more. Believe me on this one thing if nothing else.

*A word to any size business, when it comes to sending emails- less is more. This applies to how much you send out. An urgent message is an exception. Let me tell you this-

  • This morning I spent about an hour unsubscribing from businesses who aren’t relative to my current situation and who are flooding my inbox too often.
  • I set filters on how often I receive emails from local businesses and my personal favorite sites. Also, business owners, your need to filter emails just went way up.
  • You need to filter and minimize emails from coming into your business email account.
  • Don’t overthink this, just do it. In fact stop thinking so much, being sidetracked and unclutter your business accounts and, therefore your clear your mind.
  • These are a few ways I’ve chosen to take care of my beautiful mind concerning email messages.

For other social media, individuals and businesses would do well to take a look at filtering the number of posts received from accounts that are putting too many posts out daily. Believe me when I tell you this- During this isolation we are all on information overload. acs_0140

  • Posting too often makes you look desperate.
  • It makes you look as if you don’t have enough to do.
  • It might even make you an irritant. And!
  • It will lead to a drop in followers. Posting less will help you retain them.

Why do we do this?  When you are in a panic to get more fans or business – you put more out there, thinking it’s the best thing to do! Right? No, don’t do it– help your friends, followers and associates by posting meaningful content less often and take care of their beautiful minds. There is no way, even a few hundred followers can absorb more than one post per day. (*Posting on stories in IG is a way to post more often- your most loyal fan base is there. And, Facebook might be a place to post more often, since it’s based on friends, family and opinion- still, I think it’s best to post less often) Of course, if you aren’t in business, don’t really care about whether you lose influence- go ahead and post to your heart’s content! Bless your heart.

*Bloggers- when you’re first starting out- you may need to post a few times a week. As you grow- it’s best to post once a week, maybe less often depending on your readers. I received a very important tip from an enthusiastic reader when I first started out- she told me – as much as she loved reading everything I wrote, that she simply couldn’t keep up with every post.  And guess what? I had a bit of a personal polling done- the majority said to post less often. This doesn’t mean your folks don’t love you, they just don’t have the time or attention span, not to mention eye strain.

In this time when we are all either working remotely from home for our regular jobs, in an essential worker category or even keeping up with family needs, you will do yourself and your readers a favor and at least think about upgrading your content with your most beautiful photos and your very best words-  then send it out less often.

img_4195And! While I’m at it- less is more when it comes to word count. Whether you post for business or pleasure, great content in fewer words is well received any time, most especially when folks are on information overload. So, if you have a business and are in danger of losing sales, readers or advertising ? What do you do?

  • Limit information.
  • Limit how often you post.
  • Set limits on how much you, the business owner, allows into your own beautiful mind.
  • Think about what your customers need.
  • Find a way to give it to them in small bites.
  • And always remember your business isn’t about you, darlin’ , it’s about them. Find out what they need and find a way to get it to them.
  • Also, don’t forget to leave a comment on sites you follow, it creates connection and community.
  • And perhaps most important for taking care of your beautiful mind…If you think of this time as an opportunity instead of a calamity- it will show up in everything you do.

And find a way, a time, a space to clear your mind often…even if it’s in a virtual dream room of your own. like mine… it’s pretty isn’t it? Find a space, a way, a time. Everyone, including your own beautiful mind will thank you for it.

Love y’all, Camellia


Camellia’s Chicken Casserole…

It’s a time for comfort food, for making good use of what’s in the pantry, even freezers and fridges, for limiting trips to the grocery store. You’re probably like me and keep a few things stored, just in case. One dish meals are always a boost, especially for the cook! Personally, I’ve always loved a good casserole and I think we all would do well to have a few in our repertoire.

Chicken casserole, and there are many, is good all year round, though it seems I tend make this rendition in early Spring, when there’s still a nip in the air on up through Easter and when the weather warms up. I’ll admit this casserole lends itself to substitutions, is a good one to double up- cook one right away, then freeze one just in case you need to send a meal or would love to have a ready to bake meal on hand. And, this chicken casserole is old fashioned, uses pantry staples and can be assembled quickly too!

Camellia’s Chicken Casserole

  • 2 sleeves of party crackers such as Ritz or Town House- roughly crushed
  • 1 stick of melted butter (cooled) plus more for preparing the baking dish.
  • 2 cups of fully cooked, roughly chopped or shredded chicken breasts
  • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup (may substitute cream of chicken) low sodium if possible
  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped fresh, frozen or canned asparagus- drained. Remove any woody stems.
  • 1/2 cup of water or chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup of sour cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • *May add 1/2 cup of chopped or sliced mushrooms, often shredded cheddar is added as a variation in the topping
  • Melt butter and cool. Add butter to crushed party crackers, press half of mixture in the bottom of a lightly butter 9×9 Pyrex dish. Reserve cracker mixture for topping. In a mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients- chicken, canned soup, sour cream, asparagus, liquid and if desired mushrooms or grated cheddar. Salt and pepper mixture to taste. Mixture should be thick. Carefully pour chicken mixture on top of crushed and buttered crackers in prepared dish. Add remaining topping to finish assembling the casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until browned and bubbling. Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving. This recipe may be doubled. *Feel free to substitute fresh or frozen early peas, broccoli is good also, though you may need to steam a bit first and please don’t use big chunks. For a bit of extra crunch, I have substituted sliced celery, which adds a subtle flavor. And if you don’t have cream of mushroom soup- cream of chicken or even cream of celery works too! Baked Turkey Breast is also a good substitute for the chicken.One ingredient I wouldn’t feel comfortable exchanging is the party crackers, since they have a unique and satisfying flavor that cannot be duplicated. This casserole, since it essentially uses fully cooked ingredients freezes well. Enjoy!
  • Casseroles have been the mainstay of southern Cooking for…a whole lot of years! They are a great way to stretch food to feed the masses or can be made up in batches or single servings. Give a Southern cook a ‘situation’ we can come through with a casserole. New baby, surgery, new home, sickness, dinner on the ground, holiday gatherings and sadly, even death- there’s a casserole for any and all occasions. There’s something about a casserole that fills a basic need for comfort in trying times. This one? Let’s just say- I could start at one corner and go in for a dip…come back later and even it up. Still later, heat it up… dish it up and then run a spoon around the edges. You get the picture. Waste not, want not, right? I’ll bet you have most of the ingredients without even having to go to the grocery store! Stay home. Stay well fed. Stay healthy.

    Love y’all, Camellia

    * A few tips during this pandemic: I have had good results buying larger cuts of meat – chuck roasts, turkey breasts and bulk ground beef which currently are more available. I plan meals around using leftovers or dividing these meats, preparing them ahead for meat loaves, hamburger patties; dividing a roast into two smaller roasts, stewing or roasting some of the chicken and making a stew, soup, casserole or chicken salad so that food preparations is minimized. Remember meat is protein and generally has zinc- which aids the immune system. (Be careful of serving sizes, though) And the bonus of dividing larger quantities of meat into several meals is- I don’t feel like I’m slaving in the kitchen, instead of reading, writing or doing Spring gardening or clean up! And while I’m at it- the pollen this year is unbelievable! Though, I’m so thankful to have a yard! Until next time… glad you stopped by!

    Photographs are obviously mine.