Personal: An Old-Fashioned Holiday Note to You

You probably have pies in the oven, are up to your eyeballs in Christmas bows, or are running around getting those last minute stocking stuffers. The last place that I hope you will be is on the internet, but nonetheless, I wanted to take a few minutes to wish all of the HinesSightBlog readers and social media friends a very Merry Christmas.

I feel as if this month has flown by, and it makes me very sad. As parents, we are already busy then we must add holiday concerts, shopping, baking, and meal planning into the mix.  I've yet to visit my neighbors to take them holiday goodies. I've got ingredients sitting on my counter to make fudge. The fudge is not made. I've got holiday cards that still need to go in the mail. My house looks as if someone has ransacked it. Everything is unfinished.

I've run out of time. The holidays are here.

 I could not let this day pass without sending you a holiday greeting. I would prefer for it to be the old-fashioned way, a handwritten note in the mail, but this will have to do.

I'll soon be approaching  my 5th year of owning this website, and I've gotten to know many of you who stop by here frequently or talk to me on social media. I appreciate you.

May you hold the magic of the season close to your heart.
Merry Christmas, 


Dazzling Holiday Photos of North Carolina

North Carolina is gorgeous 365 days a year, but there is something about December that makes my home state magical. For today's post, I turn to my #OutaboutNC community on Instagram to share with you some of my favorite photos tagged this month. Here are some great holiday photos from the OutaboutNC community.

The Ocean Isle Flotilla by BadPuppyBlues.
 Cameron Village in Raleigh for the holidays by MegHereThere

Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington, N.C. by Allisonbarrettc

Beautiful poinsettias at Homewood Nursery and Garden Center by tdubhokie

The State Capitol Christmas Tree by Santiago2274

A Richmond County Christmas by AbbyFreeman2

Christmas Trees for sale in downtown Durham by WickedBaking.

The N.C. Governor's Mansion at Christmas by Spcoggins

 The NC Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary, N.C by vkearns.
The Angus Barn in Raleigh, N.C. is a North Carolina tradition for the holidays by @RaleighWhatsUp

A coastal North Carolina Christmas by CoastalbyDesign

And finally...from my family to yours, Merry Christmas. Liza in Cary, N.C. via my account @HinessightBlog

Remember to tag your photos #OutaboutNC and be sure to sign up for special OutaboutNC news on the sidebar.


Santa's Nightcap: A Healthy Vanilla-Almond Cocktail

Forget milk for Santa this year. Instead, make him a nightcap that packs a little protein punch for his sleigh ride home.

Santa's Nightcap: A Healthy  Vanilla-Almond Cocktail. It's delish, and packed with a protein punch, too.

He'll love this drink's sweetness so much that he won't even need to eat any cookies. The secret in this drink is Young Living Pure Protein Complete Powder. Usually, I use the powder in a smoothie with fruit, but I decided to mix it with vanilla almond milk, and a touch of cinnamon instead.

Santa's Nightcap: A Healthy  Vanilla-Almond Cocktail. It's delish, and packed with a protein punch, too.

I used a cocktail shaker to mix this virgin cocktail with ice. It was delicious.

It also got me to thinking. What would it be like with a shot of Kahlúa?

It's dreamy. I'm not saying Santa needs Kahlúa in his mug, but you may.

I imagine if I added some of my favorite  North Carolina made TOPO vodka to the recipe that it would be very much like a White Russian.

Santa's Nightcap: A Healthy  Vanilla-Almond Cocktail. It's delish, and packed with a protein punch, too.

Santa's Night Cap

8 ounces of vanilla almond milk
1 scoop of vanilla Young Living Pure Protein Complete-Vanilla Spice
A dash of powder cinnamon

*A shot of Kahlúa is optional. 

Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour into glass mug or highball glass. A dash of powder cinnamon on top.

Young Living also makes a chocolate flavored protein powder, too. There is also a vanilla rice-based protein powder which is fabulous. It's finally back in stock.

Santa's Nightcap. A healthy cocktail or mocktail packed with Young Living Protein Powder, Vanilla Spice. Delicious and perfect when you want a little sweetness, but not something unhealthy.

Learn more about Young Living products and how you can get on the path of wellness and a holistic lifestyle.


Holiday Gift Guide: Give the Gift of Good Food and Family Connections

Food.  That word is in my vocabulary a lot. In fact, I think about food a lot. I plan what I'm cooking for dinner. I plan where I want to make a dinner reservation. I plan what I want to come in my weekly produce order. I plan with my daughter on what she wants in her lunch box.  I think it's safe to say that everyone likes good food, and everyone needs it in their lives.

Foodie Gift Ideas. Give the Gift of Good Food and Family  Connections.

Truthfully, edible bites are a holiday gift that fits everyone. My wise uncle used to give cash for Christmas because he said that it is  always the "right color, fits everyone, and no one returns it." I see culinary items in the same light. I'll take it one step further and say that we all need to spend more time with each other around a dinner table, whether it is at home or in a restaurant. This is something that the Europeans do so much better than Americans. Here, it is all about fast and quick with drive-thru windows and eating quickly at your work desk. Many may say that today's society "works all time time and has the freedom to work anywhere." If that is truly the case then you should take some time to eat lunch in a restaurant that focuses on locally sourced, sustainable ingredients once in a while with your co-workers and order a cup of coffee after lunch, too. Discuss business and connect with each other.  You may get more accomplished than you think.  Food can create so many connections and memories.

Here are a few gift ideas to help families connect with each other around food or gifts for the foodies on your list.

Holiday Food Gift Baskets

Chapel Hill-founded Southern Season is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Great place for foodie gifts online at Southerseason.com

North  Carolina has lots of great products made locally from chocolates to cookies to coffee. There's not a better place to shop for the largest selection than Southern Season in the Southeast. The original store is located in Chapel Hill, N.C. and you could spend hours going through this store. The store is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, and a top gift is the anniversary sampler. Everything in it is delicious, but I have two absolute favorites: The Moonshine Cordials and Chapel Hill Toffee.

Everyone loves Food. Southern Oak Gift Company has reasonable prices for the foodie wrapped up in adorable packages.

For my local friends, the Southern Oak Gift Company is a new business.It offers a great gift basket for $30 with the Chapel Hill Toffee, Videri Chocolate, and Salem Baking Cheese Straws., This company also produces the famous Moravian cookies that I learned about on my #OutaboutNC trip to Winston-Salem. You could even include your own wine or craft beer in it. I have a few suggestions for wine based on my #OutaboutNC Yadkin Valley Wine Trip. Jones von Drehle,  Shelton Vineyard, and McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks are available in Southern Season in the  Chapel Hill store, and some grocery and wine shops.

NC Made has the perfect gift for foodies. N.C. is known for its BBQ so this gift is perfect for the BBQ explorer.

N.C. is known for it's BBQ. NCMade.net has the North Carolina Barbecue box with hush puppy mix and famous BBQ sauces from the eastern part of the state and the piedmont. They are two distinct styles. You can also travel N.C. in search of forming your own opinion about our BBQ with a map to the best in the state.

The Gift of a Nice Dinner for your Family

wood grilled “crostinis” or "little toasts" in Italian are a new Il Palio specialty.  Guests can order house made ciabatta bread that has been slightly charred and smoked over the wood coals, imbuing the bread with a rich smokey flavor. The crostinis are then topped with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and 10-12 different options, from traditional salt cod mantecato (whipped Venetian salt cod) to luxurious chicken liver mouse, house-made ricotta and local honey or warm Dungeness crab salad. The crostini section also encourages table sharing as well as a great opportunity for appetizers for our guests at the bar.
Wood  grilled “crostinis” or "little toasts" in Italian are a new Il Palio specialty.  Guests can order house made ciabatta bread that has been slightly charred and smoked over the wood coals, imbuing the bread with a rich smokey flavor. The crostinis are then topped with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and 10-12 different options, from traditional salt cod mantecato (whipped Venetian salt cod) to luxurious chicken liver mouse, house-made ricotta and local honey or warm Dungeness crab salad. The crostini section also encourages table sharing as well as a great opportunity for appetizers for guests at the bar. 

I believe food dining should be an experience. I'm not talking about going to your local Chilis or Outback Steakhouse. No. No. Absolutely not! I realize dining out like what I am recommending can be expensive,  but the experience of being together in a nice restaurant where a culinary-trained chef leads the kitchen is an experience you will never forget. This is why I am suggesting giving the gift of dining out in a locally-owned restaurant for your family this holiday.

I have a whole list of restaurants that I would recommend in my hometown. A good place to start would be OpenTable in your area.  You may want to dine before the holiday or anytime in 2016.  If you wanted to get a head start, I'm going to recommend Il Palio in the Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill, N.C. I'll be sharing my family experience at the hotel soon on the blog, but this is an example of the type of culinary experience I'm recommending for you to do at least once a year to start.  Il Palio is one of the top-ranked Italian restaurants in North Carolina, and because it is a hotel restaurant, it is used to serving children as well. For a family of four, your bill will be over $100 but it is an experience that is absolutely worth the splurge.

 Executive Chef Teddy Diggs has even cooked dinner for President Obama. I think it's fun to say, "Hey, my chef cooked for the President and now he's cooking for me."  And he really did it on the night we dined, and it wasn't because I was press, but because he's that's hands on in his kitchen. It's a busy time for him and he was down a chef that night.

Chef Diggs got the ultimate compliment from Liza. And we learned he actually did flip her burger. She told him, "My burger was cooked perfectly." He has  had lots of practice. He has two children around the same age of my kids, and he told us that he has burger night for them at the restaurant at least once a week.

Il Palio now brings something special to North Carolina for the holiday season. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a seven-course seafood tasting menu that is custom to holiday tradition in Italy. The cost is $82 per person. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is often served in Italian households on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve), a night that traditionally calls for a partial fast during which no meat should be served. Over time, the evening’s “fast” transformed into course after course of luxurious seafood dishes, often as many as seven, 10 or 13. While few are entirely sure of the significance of the number of courses, the meal carries great traditional symbolism, and most importantly, provides a celebrated opportunity for families and friends to gather. 

Give the Gift of Farm-To-Table Produce

I adore my weekly local produce box from Papa Spud's. I feel as if I'm eating healthier and saving money, too. I am also able to support one of North Carolina's top industries: farming. My weekly box is about $24 a week so a great gift idea would be one month of produce delivery for your family or friends.  It's the gift of eating fresh.

Give the Gift of Helping Others Put Food on the Table

I'm saving this gift idea for last because I feel it is most important. Many families need our help, and the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina is doing its best to make sure families don't go hungry.

  • A gift of $35 will feed a child for two months
  • A gift of $85 will provide groceries to an elderly couple for over two months
  • A gift of $120 will provide enough food to sustain a family through the winter months
  • A gift of $210 will provide more than 1,000 piping hot holiday meals to local families


Easy White Bean and Kale Soup

The other night my Mom took the kids out to dinner, and that got me off the hook for preparing a family meal, but my husband and I still needed to eat. I looked to my pantry and the internet for some quick dinner inspiration. I had fresh kale, white beans, canned tomatoes, and chicken broth. What could I make with those ingredients?

The internet spat out two recipes. One from Martha Stewart. Too complicated. And the other recipe from Whole Foods. Bingo. I scored, and I had everything I needed to make a Vegetarian Tuscan White Bean and Kale Soup.

Easy white bean and kale soup
Photo Credit: Whole Foods Website

It's amazing that if you always keep beans, tomatoes, and chicken broth in your pantry, it can always help you out in a pinch.  This soup is so easy and is ready very quickly.  In fact, I put it together sharing the recipe on Periscope. It's long so my son edited it to give you the recipe part of the scope.

You need the following ingredients and then you will have dinner on the table. olive oil, yellow onion, garlic, stewed tomatoes, chicken broth, fresh kale and carrots. The entire recipe and method for cooking are on the Whole Foods website. and in my video above.


Holiday Gift Guide for the Person Who Needs No More Stuff

Some of you may be shopping as we are on the countdown for the holidays. Me? Well, my husband has declared it "declutter in the Hines House" day.  That's not my idea of fun at all.  But, I'm part of the reason we have so much clutter. I have a difficult time letting go of things. I don't collect things, but I always feel as if I need that brochure, magazine, or business card for research on my next story.

Before I get to decluttering, I wanted to suggest a great holiday gift idea of great scents and wellness this year because it's the perfect gift for the person who already has a lot of stuff. We all know that they don't need more stuff except for the things they can use in their lives. You know the person I'm talking about. They do not need another book, dish towel, candle, or figurine.  They are your person on your list who needs no more stuff.

Holiday Gift Idea for the Person who Needs no More Stuff. Give the Gift of Scents and Wellness.

I've been using Young Living products for two years and certainly have my favorite products in the inventory. I like the quality and what I buy.  I adore my bamboo diffuser, and instead of candles, I diffuse great scents in my home without the risk of being exposed to toxins, or the risk of a fire. I've thrown away almost every candle in my home except one or two for a power outage. Instead, I have essential oils and essential oil blends.

Other than my years of experience covering spas in luxury hotels, I knew very little about essential oils and have really taken this year as a year to learn more.  I've learned a lot and when I do spa interviews now, I feel as if I know so much more about the wellness and therapeutic benefits of those visits. I've also learned that you don't always have to spend several hundred dollars at a spa to get the same benefits at home.

I adore the scent of Thanksgiving in my home and I can have it anytime I want without cooking a pumpkin pie or Turkey.

Holiday Diffuser Recipe with Essential Oils

Here's my holiday secret Diffusing recipe:
                                                     3 drops of Lemon Essential Oil
                                                     3 drops of Clove Essential Oil
                                                     3 drops of Christmas Spirit Essential Oil        

The catalog for Young Living products is very extensive.  From protein powders to cleaning products, there is something for all. A good place to start is with the EveryDay Oils. I use their supplements as well. If you've never heard of Young Living then now is the time to start learning.

The gift of essential oils and what some of the oils do. It's purpose. It helps with Mind, Home, Internal Support, Skin and Body Care, and Mind.

I am also a big advocate now of the Thieves products to use for household cleaning products. I make all of my own cleaning products and am saving money by doing this. I gave up my own house cleaners and decided to do it myself. I have to say that my house is cleaner and I never knew how much dirt was really around before I gave up the professional cleaners. I feel so much better not having those strong chemicals around, but now I have the safe scents of pine and lemon.

Cleaning with Essential Oils. Thieves.

Disclosure: Affiliate links. Opinions about the products are my own. 


Holiday Gifts for Tea Lovers

As you know I host my Tea with Leigh chat every Friday on Periscope. Last week, it was so much fun to connect with everyone. I had people from California, New York, Arizona, and Pennsylvania in my scope.  You can catch that scope on Katch at this link.

As the holidays quickly approach, I wanted to do a holiday guide for tea lovers. Here's what I have put together for you.

I purchased this Capresso tea kettle locally at Tin Rin Teas in Cameron Village. I adore it. It has been a game changer for making tea in my home. It boils water in about two-minutes. It also shuts off automatically.  Great for busy and forgetful minds like my own. You can also find it on Amazon.

This Capresso tea kettle boils water so quickly. A great gift for the tea lover.

As a travel writer, I love this tea print from my Great.ly collection. A cup of tea can give you a little escape daily.  I curated this print from Dickens, Inc out of London. They have some other great tea sayings that are also in my collection.

The tea lover will adore this print in their home.

I love sharing mugs in my Tea with Leigh chats, and I think a personalized mug is so unique and thoughtful. I love a lot of mugs handmade by this Montreal potter, BeardBangs. She has some adorable cat ones that are also in my curated collections on Great.ly.

Personalized mugs are always a great gift idea. A Tea lover would love to have this one in their collection.

I love this small teapot by AnnaWesteruland of Portugal. 

Lovely small handmade tea pot makes a thoughtful gift for a tea lover.

I think these Modern Tea Coasters by photographer Erin Beutel from Ohio, are so unique and different. I've also curated them in my Great.ly shop and am the first tastemaker to do so.

Modern day coasters are perfect for the tea lover.

I think the colors in this handmade tea towel are so charming. This is made by  MiraJeanDesigns in Arlington, Virginia. I love her designs and her use of fabrics.

A tea lover can never have too many tea towels.

And finally, I think this afternoon tea guide and recipes inspired by the PBS British TV series, Downton Abbey would be a fun read.

Tea recipes for the Downton Abbey fan and tea lover.

I am a firm believer of shopping local. If you are in the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill area, I support our stores like Tin Roof Teas, Southern Season, Quail Ridge Books, Whisk, and more. Learn more about #SmallBusinessSaturday and ShopLocalRaleigh.  And on a personal note, I will make commission on these products I've shared with you today as they were personally curated by me. Thank you for shopping with me. I love supporting the work of artisans and writers.


#OutaboutNC: Travel to Raleigh, N.C. for the Best Hot Mini Donuts at Sola Coffee

You know when you find something good, you have got to share it. I feel this way about a local business here in Raleigh.  Sola Coffee is a locally owned restaurant in my hometown that is worth the trip. And for me, it really is a trip because its' location on Lead Mine Road is not anywhere on my normal driving routes. I probably drive, John Luther, Sola's owner crazy because I keep telling that he needs a second location in Southwestern Wake, near Cary, Apex, Holly Springs, and downtown Raleigh so I can pop in more often.

Sola Coffee in Raleigh is famous for its Hot Mini Donuts.

The North Carolina Blogger Network recently held a fall event education event at Sola. This cafe is a lot more than just coffee and hot mini donuts even though the hot mini donuts have certainly put this place on the map for local residents. Those hot mini donuts are so good that you just want to pop them in your mouth like popcorn.

Follow Leigh Hines on Periscope at https://www.periscope.tv/hinessightblog. Here she talks with Sola Owner, John Luther.

Sola is about to sell its millionth hot mini donut.  In fact, it may already have reached one million in donut sales by now. Our event was in late October. My favorite is the classic cinnamon sugar flavor.

On Periscope, I took viewers in the kitchen while they were being made.

Sola is also a great place for lunch and dinner. The food is fresh, delicious, and local.

Sola Coffee Cafe in Raleigh is great for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. #OutaboutNC. Located on Lead Mine Road in Raleigh, N.C.

If visiting, Sola is closed on Sunday so make your plans accordingly.

Want to Go:
Sola Coffee Cafe
7705 Lead Mine Road
Raleigh, N.C.

Photography at our NC Blogger Network Events/Campaigns are by © Allie Miller Photography. If your business would like to work with the NC  Blogger Network and #OutaboutNC, please drop me an email at Leigh.Hines@ncbloggernetwork.com 


Eight Farm-Fresh Recipes Featuring Healthy Sweet Potatoes, also called Yams

As founder of #OutaboutNC, I know that culinary travel is a huge part of the charm for a visit to North Carolina. That's because North Carolina is a massive agriculture state and our farm-fresh food draws visitors here.  Farming is the root of our rich heritage.  North Carolina has the number one spot for sweet potato production in the U.S.  We ship sweet potatoes everywhere  and I love this educational blog story on the "Life of an N.C. Sweet Potato."  Chances are, you are buying an N.C. sweet potato in your grocery store.

N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient.

Sweet potatoes are now in wide abundance in my weekly Papa Spud's produce box for the home cook. I've been working in my own kitchen to feature the vegetable more on our dinner menu because well, it's always available and the prices are low. You can get two pounds of sweet potatoes for about $3.

I'll be talking more about the vegetable my Tea with Leigh chat on Periscope this Friday, and I'll even tell you a funny story about a Yam Lady I met during my TV days decades ago. We don't really produce yams in North Carolina, and in fact, there is a little bit of confusion between a yam and a sweet potato, but when people refer to yams, they most likely mean sweet potatoes.  The N.C. Sweet Potato Commission sums it up best. A true yam is imported from the Caribbean and is quite different from a sweet potato.  But, a sweet potato has many, many varieties and its flesh can be white, orange, and purple. The orange variety was introduced decades ago, and in order to distinguish it from the white-flesh sweet potato, suppliers and producers chose an  English form from the African-word,"nyami" and labeled "yam."  I cooked a great African chicken stew this week from a recipe from Papa Spud's with sweet potatoes as the main ingredient and I'll share that on Facebook later this week. And if you have recipes you love, join me on this chat. Get started by following me on Periscope. I am the only who can talk or be seen in the scopes unless I'm on-scene, but I can interact with you by reading your comments.

Here are eight recipes to help you get sweet potatoes on your menu. All recipes shared here are with permission in a collaborative effort.  Some are my colleagues in the N.C. Blogger Network. 

1.  Easy Sweet Potato and Chicken Sausage Skillet Meal developed by #OutaboutNC community member Mandi McClure for my blog.

N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Easy Sweet Potato and Chicken Sausage Skillet Meal.

2. Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos from the N.C  blog, TwinStripe.

N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos from  TwinStripe Blog

3. Mad Sweet Potato Pasta from the N.C. Blog, Nourish and Nestle.

N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Mad Sweet Potato Pasta from Nourish and Nestle

4. Pork Roast with Sweet Potatoes and Maple Syrup from my editor, Katja Presnal of Skimbaco Lifestyle.
N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Pork Roast recipe from Skimbaco Lifestyle.

5. Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Toasted Walnuts from the Minnesota-based blog, Baby Loving Mama.

N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. A great side of sweet potatoes and toasted walnutes from Baby Loving Mama.

6.  Traditional Sweet Potato Casserole from the Texas-based blog, House of Faucis.

N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Traditional Sweet Potato Casserole by House of Faucis

7.  Spinach Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust from the N.C. blog, A "Mind 'Full" Mom
N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Spinach Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust by A Mind Full Mom.

Featured Small Victory Link Up Blogger Recipe

8. Quick Apple Sweet Potato Hash from our Small Victories Link Up Blogger, A Pancake Warrior.  This recipe was in our link up last week. 

N.C is the largest producer of sweet potatoes. Enjoy eight farm-fresh and healthy recipes using the root vegetable as a starring ingredient. Quick Apple and Skillet Hash from A Pancake Warrior  Blog.

Small Victories Sunday Linkup

At Small Victories Sunday Linkup, we celebrate all the good ideas our bloggers have to offer. Our co-hosts have been busy commenting, sharing and inviting the best bloggers to participate in our linkup.

This linkup is designed to share your BEST posts to inspire our fast growing community of readers. Share with us anything that will help others live a happier and healthier life. Sunday is the perfect day to reflect and celebrate the week that passed and look forward to the week ahead.

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Now It's Your Turn to Share Your Favorite Posts and Small Victories! 

Mom's Small Victories
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* Grab the Small Victories Sunday button and place it in your sidebar or the post you are linking up. * Share up to 3 of your favorite blog posts you want to share. Enter your link below and let’s celebrate our small victories together! . * Please comment on the 2 posts ahead of you for every link you enter. This linkup only works if we support one another, your visits are crucial to fellow participants. * By linking up, you are giving the hosts permission to share your post and post images on their social media pages and our Featured Blogger collage. * By linking up, you are giving the hosts permission to email you notifications when the linkup is open. Your email addresses are not shared and you can unsubscribe to emails at any time. * Stop by our Small Victories Sunday Linkup Board on Pinterest and like and repin the posts to your boards. * Spread the word! The more you share about the linky, the more visitors you will get to your content too. Please use the #SmallVictoriesSundaylinkup hashtag so we can find your posts and share them too!

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