Christmas in the City: NYC

I just got back from a wonderful, whirl wind of a trip to visit the very festive, NYC!  This was a bucket list trip for me and it did not disappoint!

Some of our trip was expected but many stops were a surprise and blew all of my expectations out of the water (looking at you window displays and Theatre of Dreams!).  Keep reading to find out my top five festive spots!

5. St. Cloud Roof Top Barimg_3298

Located on the 17th floor of the Knickerbocker, this roof top location is an astounding bird’s eye view of Times Square!  The roof is draped in lights and trees but thats all a shadow of the bright lights of Times Square. As an added perk, the New Year’s ball is up on display which is a fun sight to see.  Definitely a great spot to grab a drink!




4. Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center

I am guessing this is probably the biggest tourist destination during December in NYC.  Well, it did not disappoint! That thing is HUGE. Plus, it stays lit all day, so no matter when you go, you can see it in its glory.  Be sure to walk around the entire block though because there are other beautiful sights to see!



3. Bergdorf Goodman’s Window Displays

For those of you that don’t know, window displays in NYC are a big deal.  They originally were used to showcase new clothing to potential shoppers but now have been transformed into pieces of art and a major source of free, holiday entertainment.  Each store has a different theme and experience so if you’ve seen one, you definitely have not seen them all!

Bergdorf’s was my favorite!  The giant window displays were packed with decor.  These were some of my favorites:


Here is a great guide to all of the NYC window displays this year:



2. Bryant Park Christmas Market

I was blown away by the offerings in this festive location.  Ice skate, grab a beer, shop, or enjoy lots of sweets in this Christmas market.  I can personally recommend the chocolate croissants and old fashioned donuts but the champagne, duck fat fries, s’mores waffles, and cookie dough all looked fantastic!


1. Saks Fifth Avenue:  “Theatre of Dreams”IMG_3398

I did not know that this existed so I had zero expectations but it was SO fantastic!  The front (several stories) of the store are decorated with lights that are in sync with Christmas music.  It gave me goosebumps to see something so festive, in a major city, and to realize that it has been going on for almost 100 years!

(the show starts at 7 minutes 🙂

What are you favorite Christmas spots in NYC?

love, brooke

Women Who Inspire: Amy

MERRILL-Amy-2015.11.16-683x1024Amy Merrill | Wife, Mom, Community Leader & Advisor at TrueWealth

Learning the Art of Business at a Young Age

As the owner of a production facility, Amy’s father mandated that all of his children know how his entire plant functioned.  Because of this, Amy spent her summers working at the plant and got to know many of the employees by sharing their lunch break together. Each day, the break whistle would blow and everyone would have 25 minutes to eat lunch before it was back to work again.  During her rotations at the plant and these lunch convos, she developed a deep understanding of how all workers and jobs were valuable for making the entirety of the company successful. She realized that each person’s job was important no matter if they were paid by the piece, made minimum wage, or were a manager.  Everyone’s skills were needed to build and ship their products, thus making the business a success.

When the bookkeeper unexpectedly quit, it was no big deal because Amy knew what to do in her absence and handled the company payroll that week.  Did I mention that she was nine years old at the time?  Yes, NINE. This overall plant experience, especially at such a young age, would be valuable throughout her life in numerous leadership roles.

An Early Intro to the Stock Market

Another pertinent part of her 1970’s childhood that would later affect her career was her parent’s investment club.  Several couples would get together monthly to invest in stocks together. They’d meet in her family’s living room with each couple throwing in $25 cash.  They’d smoke cigarettes and drink bourbon while discussing which stocks to buy and which to sell. Amy would absorb as much information from these meetings as she could and was fascinated by the whole club and experience (as am I).  Little did she know that the knowledge she gained from her parent’s investment club meetings would be so integral in her career life one day.

Amy’s Philosophy

Even though her resume says she is a Certified Financial Planner, Amy is really in the relationship business.  Her clients have become her friends and she values this trusted privilege. They call her with prayer requests, invite her to events, support her faith, and share so much more than just financial conversations.  She seems to have the perfect balance of love of people and knowledge of investments.

Amy is a big believer in being real and not living a facade.  As a result, she is open with others about her successes and shortcomings which in turn allows them to do the same.  Being understanding is so important as its the support of her team that helps make her successful. She believes in hard work and working as hard as you can, when you can, so that you don’t always have to be working.  This allows her to not hesitate about leaving work for a few hours one afternoon to go to a school performance, meet friends for lunch, or take her son to the orthodontist.

Enthusiasm and her zest for life draw people to Amy.  She is always smiling, nodding and laughing with everyone she encounters.  She has learned that excitement can be contagious. If she is excited about something, she wants to share it with others because they will often become excited too.

Last fall, she put this realization to work to build a team for the Atlanta 2 Day Breast Cancer Walk.  She had recently lost one of her best friends to the nasty beast that is breast cancer and was ready to do something about it.  Her first year was a huge success but she took that momentum to a new level this fall with a team of over 60 women raising $140,000 of which she personally raised $42,000!  Her passion, energy and sense of camaraderie brought so many women together to walk, raise money, and put so much positivity into something that started in a dark, sad place.

Leadership Characteristics

Amy is a natural leader in her workplace, community and church.  In these roles she has witnessed other leaders: both strong and weak.  In her opinion, good leaders are “credit givers, not credit takers.” They take the time to pour into others and are more focused about the end game than about themselves.  Solid leaders see life about doing for others versus being focused on what others can do for them. A prideful leader sticks out like a sore thumb. Instead, good leaders are self effacing and handle a compliment by saying thank you, but this wasn’t possible without  _______ (insert others). Amy credits her success to leaders like Mose Bond, Jim Heard, and Zoe Hicks.

Foundation Built on Faith

I’d be remiss to not mention Amy’s solid faith.  When she began growing in her faith after college, she went from “knowing about God” to “knowing Him”.  Overall, her faith has become “less about Sunday and more about how I live my life.” This tweak in perspective caused her to not keep track of wrong doings and made her less ruffled.  She is quick to point out that she still has her faults but that her relationship with God has a strong impact on her priorities.

Cheers to you, Amy!

Thank you for being a well respected leader who lifts up others and is a constant source of encouragement to everyone you encounter.  Congratulations on your many successes in life and for praising those who help make them happen. Thank you for inspiring me to bring people together, keep a positive attitude, and remembering to spread excitement.  I am grateful to know you!

For more info: Amy’s Business Profile


Skin Cancer: No Trick Nor Treat!


Over the summer, I noticed this odd “bump” pop up where my hairline and forehead meet.  I didn’t think much of it, though, because I randomly get acne. Fast forward to early September, and that spot started bleeding after I accidentally scraped it while combing my hair.  A red flag went off in my mind as I’ve heard stories of people with unusual marks that would bleed and turned out to be skin cancer.

The next day, I called my dermatologist’s office to schedule my annual skin check (only 9 months late- whoops).  The fastest I could get in for a full body scan was at the end of September.

At the appointment, the Physician’s Assistant was also concerned with the spot and took a biopsy of it.  She told me about two types of skin cancer- basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Both types are a slow forming cancer that untreated could metastasize (aka spread) throughout my body.  Melanoma is another skin cancer but she did not think that was what was on my head (thank goodness).  Thankfully, the rest of me checked out just fine.

A week later, I got the call that I was expecting:  I had a basal cell carcinoma that needed to be removed.  The only way to remove it is surgically… with a scapal.  Due to the location, MY FACE, the surgeon would use the Mohn’s procedure.  This process is done by cutting slivers out of the cell/area then looking at them under a microscope. This process allows you to get clean margins before you are sewn up and get to leave the doctor’s office.  Almost 100% of the time, the cancer never returns to that spot. But the trick is, the doctor doesn’t know how big, deep, or wide the cell is until the surgery begins.


Four days later, I was at the dermatologist’s office for my Mohn’s surgery.  I brought my husband along for emotional support and I am glad I did. The procedure was much more intense than I was expecting.  

The nurse shot my forehead up with local anesthesia (ouch), trimmed the hair along my forehead and covered my hair/face with gauze.  Then the doctor came in to begin the procedure. He was teaching another doctor about the experience and through their conversation, I learned that I was very young to have this skin cancer 😦 and that they had to do special cuts due to my skin’s young age.  Thankfully, they were able to get clean margins after only one round of cutting which meant that it wasn’t too big. Thank goodness I caught this early.

Then came the hard part, stitches.  For some reason, stitches were not on my radar for this procedure.  I was expecting some bleeding but assumed a bandaid would do the trick.  The Physician’s Assistant said it would be a little more intense of a procedure than the biopsy.  Man, I should have googled that to truly prepare myself. The dermatologist had to cauterize my blood cells to get the bleeding to stop then did several internal stitches followed by external whip stitches (about 12) to close up the whole incision.  There was a lot of pulling and pushing involved too.  Yes, it doesn’t sound like much to you but it was a lot more than the bandaid I was expecting.


The procedure caused lots of soreness that afternoon and in the days to come.  Even icing it was painful due to the pressure of the ice on my head. It was also really annoying to have a bandaid on my hairline for a week not to mention aquaphor in my hair.  Washing my hair was really painful too as the weight of the wet hair pulling on the incision hurt. Combing it also hurt.

But, they got all the cancer out and didn’t have to go back a second or third time for more.  The location wasn’t really ideal for the procedure, but it’s now a perfect place for the scar!  So, it’s hard to complain too much.

What You Should Know

Get your skin checked annually AND wear sunscreen!  I am hopeful that this is the end of skin cancer concerns for me but realistically, due to my age and that I have already had it once, I am concerned that it may strike again.  I am much more diligent about sunscreen now and even though it’s close to my hair, being sure that the area is covered well.

Interesting info from my Dermatologist:

  • I have family members who have also had basil cell carcinoma’s removed.  Because of this, I thought it might be genetic. It’s not but the factors around our lives are very similar- sun exposure, skin type, geographic location, and sunscreen usage.  
  • Sunscreen:  Every two hours that sunscreen is exposed to the sun, it’s effectiveness (SPF) is cut in half.  So if you put on 30 SPF at 8AM and immediately are in the sun until 10AM, then your sunscreen is at a 15 SPF.  BUT, if you put on sunscreen at 8AM and do not enter the sun until 2PM, it’s still at 30 SPF.

It was a painful process, experience, and procedure, but I am grateful that we caught it early, that more deeper cuts were not needed, and for great health care.  

I hope my story will help you be more diligent with your own skin. We only get one set of skin- so let’s work to take care of it the best we can!

live, brooke

How to Buy a Used Car in 20 Easy Steps

We just got to experience the joy and happiness of car shopping, so I thought I’d share what we learned in 20 easy steps:

  1. Figure out a general idea of what kind of vehicle you want (suv, minivan, sedan, truck, etc).
  2. Go to Carmax and look at every single one of those types of vehicles.  It’s the only place you can see so many year models and options in one place.  Note: salespeople just love this.
  3. While you are there, get a quote from them to buy your current car.  Try not to cry in the dealership when you find out your car’s value.
  4. Narrow down the make/models that you are interested in between 3-5 cars.  For me it was a Toyota Highlander, Lexus GX 460, Toyota 4Runner, and Toyota Land Cruiser.  
  5. Research the different options, trim levels, body styles and price points.  
  6. Go look at your short list of vehicles at the respective dealerships to see what they look like/drive like/cost if you were to buy brand new.  Try not to throw up when you see the price tags.
  7. Determine if you like the newest models or an older version.  For me, I did not like the new Highlanders and instead preferred the older body styles.
  8. Narrow down what you can buy in your price range- mainly the year, mileage and trim level.  
  9. Start searching for cars that check those boxes daily- and heck, twice a day if you want.  Search Carmax, carvana, auto trader, Craigslist*, and individual dealerships.
  10. If you see a car you like, check the Carfax (provided for free by most dealerships on their website).  This is when the fun starts. See if the car has been wrecked, where it’s been registered, and if the title is clean.  This is the most time consuming part of your searching. “Oh, that’s a good price… let me check the Carfax. Oh, it’s been wrecked three time and lived in New Jersey for 4 years.  Pass.” This step will help you weed out 85% of the cars in your search results.
  11. Send your partner/family/friends links to any car that passes step #10.  
  12. Call/text to see if the car is still available.  If so, haul your kid and husband to see it ASAP. If car shopping in June in Georgia, bring copious amounts of cold water and a well charged iPad.
  13. Climb through the car to see how many people you can fit in it, set up every possible seating arrangement you could possibly use, check all the buttons/gears, screens, windows, trunks, jacks, floor mats, DVD players, and look under the hood. If this passes, take it for a test drive.  If not, don’t waste your time.
  14. Ask the dealer what they did to the car after they bought it off trade, they should give you a list.  Double check the carfax report to be sure the VIN matches the VIN on the car.
  15. Try to negotiate on the price. Know that dealerships don’t have as much negotiation room as they used to.  Also, know that Carmax and Carvana do not negotiate so dealerships have gotten their advertised prices as low as possible to bring in buyers.  Keep in mind that many used cars only come with one key, if you need/want two, negotiate that in with the purchase.
  16. If you come up with an agreed price, take the car to your mechanic for review- along with a copy of carfax to be sure things are accurate- before buying.  
  17. If the car checks out, know that you can put up to $3,000 on a credit card at most dealerships.  If paying “cash”, they want the rest in a personal or certified check. They offer financing options but you can usually get a better rate at a credit union or bank.
  18. The dealership will do the paperwork to get the car registered before you leave but be sure to call your insurance company to have coverage on the new car before you drive it off the lot.
  19. If you car comes with any warranties, be sure to fully understand them before you leave the lot.  
  20. Drive off in your new-to-you car and try to keep your son from dumping pretzels all in it within the first hour of ownership!

*We had a scammy experience with potentially buying a car off Craigslist.  Don’t buy a car from anyone who has a POA to sign the title to you.  There is no way to be sure it’s legal.  Also, if the mileage seems to be too low- it probably is.

learn & laugh, brooke

Nashville Newbie on Broadway

Somehow, I made it 33 years without a visit to Nashville. (*I did attend a high school conference at the Opryland Hotel but this does not count.)

I knew there was a lot of live music in Nashville but I didn’t know there was a LOT of live music. At 10:45am, I was walking down Broadway and heard an extremely loud band playing in Nudie’s. No other bars had live music playing and it was especially exciting to hear as the weekend was quickly approaching. I was dressed in running shorts/shoes and I hesitated to enter, but I’m so glad I did. A five piece band was blaring tunes while folks cracked cold ones at the bar, kids danced and I swayed to the rock n roll.

Wait, it’s not even 11am, and I paid zero dollars to enter a bar with great live music. This is some kind of heaven. My first thought is, “we need to move here.” Followed by, “we need to retire here.” Then, “where can I go in Atlanta for live music before lunch time with my son?!” I was hooked and couldn’t wait to come back later that day after a lunch commitment.

Here is how it works (from what I can tell):

1. Bands play for tips at most of the bars on Broadway. They split the tips evenly among themselves.

2. They play their asses off to entertain and make as much in tips as possible. They don’t take breaks and often loop songs together to prevent lulls (aka giving people an opportunity to leave).

3. Twenty bucks buys you a song of your choice. Most bands have a huge playlist and many have phones/iPads strapped to their mics for lyrics when needed.

4. If you don’t like a song or band, then move along. We managed to hit ten bars in a 3 hour period.

5. If you like a band, tip them. I was in amazement of performers musical talent AND ability to also entertain.

6. Most bars play today’s country, but a few- especially Layla’s and Robert’s- play “authentic country”- think Merle Haggard. These are the best places to see a steel guitar at work.

7. Go early. The talent was great at 11am and got better throughout the day. The bars started getting crazy crowded around 10pm- think drunks and lots of body heat.

8. Wear whatever the heck you want. Everyone else does. Cut offs, flip flops, cowboy boots, jeans and dresses are everywhere. Don’t dress to impress. Dress for dancing your butt off and being sweaty.

9. It seemed that most bands played 4 hour sets. When they are done, they try to get the next band set up as quickly as possible so the bar doesn’t empty in search of other good music.

10. We only paid cover ($5) at one place- a dueling piano bar. There, your song choice and cash tip get lined up in order of amount paid. Want to hear something quickly? Ante up $20 or more and your request usually jumps to the top of the queue.

11. Bachelorette parties are everywhere. And they all have matching t-shirts or tank tops. Keep your distance.

12. The people watching is amazing. I’ll leave it at that.

That’s what I learned as a Nashville Newbie on Broadway. Can’t wait to go back!

The Idol in My Pocket

When I think of idols, a few things come to mind.  I’m reminded of the golden calf that was worshiped in the Old Testament.  Celebrities come to mind, especially Kim Kardashian, as she is the most commonly mentioned celebrity during plastic surgery consultations.  People want to manipulate their bodies to look like her.  I think of the tv show, American Idol, as many devote their weeknights to watching it, voting and buying music produced from it.  I also think of college football (as I wrote about here) and the amount of money and attention spent on football.  

Webster’s dictionary has 5 definitions of idol.  The one that resonates with me the most is “an object of extreme devotion”.

Sadly, I’m here to announce that I carry an idol in my pocket every day.  My iPhone.  

I am extremely devoted to it.  If it gets left at home, it is a source of frustration and feeling of nakedness.

It causes great distraction for me.  If someone is talking to me and I can’t hear them because I’m on the idol, then it’s hurtful to them.  I’m saying/showing through my actions that the distant person, thing, pictures, or whatever on the idol are more important than who is in my presence.

My devotion to my idol causes me to waste precious time that could be spent on solitude, time with friends, or time with God.  I get so caught up on it that I miss opportunities to help others.

My idol keeps me up later at night than it should.  It prevents me from getting more sleep and distracts my mind when I should be winding down.

It’s the first thing I think of many mornings.  I’ve made it a habit to reach for the idol, check email, texts and social media- all before even telling my husband good morning.  

It distracts me when I’m driving which is unsafe for me, my passengers, and everyone else around me.  

My idol weighs too much on my self worth.  Someone hasn’t texted me back- that must mean that they do not like me or I’m not important to them.  This photo only got 28 likes, it must not be cute enough.

My idol steals joy through comparison.  I’m at home in sweats with a sick kid while my friend is in Bermuda snorkeling with dolphins.  

My idol is a liar.  It tells me I’ll be more connected but it causes me to be more disconnected.  Even though it’s fast, it causes me to be more impatient when real life speed isn’t.  It wants to make me happy but it causes those around me to be less happy.

Do you have this idol in your pocket too?


DIY Shiplap Over Mantle

If I were a betting woman (I am not, I prefer to play roulette), then I’d predict that this will be my most popular post in 2017… especially once Pinterest gets it’s little DIY hands on it.

First, a word on shiplap.  This is a term that Joanna Gaines, from Fixer Upper on HGTV,  has made popular.   I believe that Joanna had a specific type of wood in mind.  One that was already covered up by sheetrock in the Texas homes they remodel.  America has expanded the definition to be any type of wood that you attach to a wall to make it decorative.  Since then, Joanna’s trend has led to thousands of trees being cut down and installed in people’s homes.  I digress…

But, if you want to get all technical, here is what Wikipedia has to say.

Somehow, I managed to talk my husband into putting his tools (of the construction variety, to be clear) to use updating some walls in our 1957 ranch home.  I had complained about hauling these tools during three moves in three years and I finally figured out why we have them.  Because he knows how to use them.  Total shocker over here.  He has been holding this information from me for almost 10 years of marriage.  I’m betting he wished he had made it 25 years before I figured it out.

As you know, we had a very tight budget for our home.  Anything that we were able to do, we wanted to do and save the money to pay the pros to do what we could not.  I priced out buying the wood for the first project and it was under $60.  Ok, sold.  Let’s do it.

Here is our before pic:

Click here to see the post on whitewashing a fire place!

DIY Shiplap Recommended Tools:

  • Chop saw
  • Nail gun
  • Air Compressor
  • Small level
  • Large level
  • Finished nails to fit nail gun
  • Pencil
  • Stud finder
  • Caulk
  • Paint


1. Measure the area where you are going to install the wood/ship lap.  You will need the height and the width.

img_3841-12. Determine which type of wood you’d like to use.  I chose a tongue and groove “knotty pine pattern” board.  The top of the board has a groove and the bottom has a lip.  When installed, the bottom lip slides into the groove of the previous board to make a solid joint and appears as a continuous board.

3. Do math.  Many of you know this isn’t my strong suit.  It’s also important to know that even though the board is advertised as 8 inches wide, it’s actually 7′.  There is probably a “that’s what she said” joke in this but it was lost on me because it messed up my math.  So, I guess the second part of this step is measure the width of the board you are using so your math will be accurate.

img_3859-14.  Purchase the wood.  Make sure you check for imperfections before checking out.  One of my selected boards had a long crack in the tongue portion that was causing it to break off.  The nice gentlemen at Home Depot helped me track down more inventory.  The wood for my two projects cost about $60.  Safely load the wood in your SUV/truck.

5. Decide what the “center” is of your project.  For ours, the center of the ceiling, mantle and fireplace were all a bit different.  We marked the center of each then went with a median line for our project.

6. Locate the studs behind the Sheetrock so you know where to install the nails.  An electric stud finder makes this very easy.  You can draw a line over each stud or mark with painters tape.  This will save you time later.  The blue tape on the front of the mantle is where our studs lined up on the wall above the mantle.

IMG_02607. Measure twice and cut once.  We started at the bottom of the wall and worked up.  Since I originally thought I needed 4 boards, I had Home Depot cut two of the 12ft boards in half for me, so we installed those first.  We needed one final board to finish.  The width had to be cut down to fit.  Also, our ceiling is a bit uneven- so we had to specialize the cut to be accurate.  ***Home Depot will cut wood for you.  The first two cuts were free and after that they are 25 cents each.  This seems really reasonable if you are sure of your math and don’t have a chop saw.

IMG_39168. Be sure to use a level for each board.  Being off just a little at the start can cause you to be way off by the end of installation.

9. Finish the edges.  It’s important to know that getting boards the exact same length is hard.  That’s why we did a trim piece on the sides to hide the imperfections.  The wider the trim piece is the more it will cover.

10. Finish the top.  The top is tricky and it’s up to you on your preference of how it should look.  You can tie it in to your current molding, trim it like the sides, or frame it out with it’s own crown molding over your current molding.  We opted to “tie it in” to our current crown molding buy bringing the shiplap right to the bottom of it.  I’m not 100% thrilled with this look- and we may do it’s own crown molding one day.

img_3926-111. Paint the wood.    I’d recommend priming first (kilz is your best friend) then doing a coat of paint.  Next, do some caulking to fill in the gaps.  This will make the look more cohesive.  Don’t forget to caulk between the mantle and wood, along the trim piece and ceiling.  Once the caulk dries, do one more coat of paint.  I recommend a satin or semi-gloss to give the finished product a bit of a sheen.  

We are very happy with the final product!


learn, brooke