Gulf Coast Woman

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    The May Day Project 2024

    Breaking the mental illness silence and bringing hope Behind a brave smile, many of us wage a constant battle against negative thoughts and emotions. Although we may put up a good front and seem “normal” to the outside world, some find it hard to get out of bed and function from day to day. Not […]

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    Coast women living life to the fullest

    The Coast is a magnet and a playground for adventure lovers. From sailing to hog hunting, these local ladies enjoy some extraordinary pastimes:

    Patti Jane Golden

    For nearly a half-century, Patti Jane Golden has sought adventure on the high seas.

    The Biloxi native, who now lives in D’Iberville, started her sailing career as young adult, volunteering to crew on other people’s boats. Fast forward to 2021, and she crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a 46-foot vessel with her husband and four other people.

    “We followed Columbus’ route from Gran Canaria to Cape Verde and ended in Grenada,” Golden says. “Prior to that experience, I logged over 10,000 miles across the Gulf Coast and Gulf of Mexico, in the Caribbean, in the Mediterranean, in the Adriatic Sea and along U.S. coastlines.”

    Her experience earned her membership in the global Ocean Cruising Club, and Golden also is active in the National Women’s Sailing Association, which will be meeting for the first time in New Orleans on June 8. Her insights have been deemed so valuable that Seaworthy Publications, known for its waterway guides, recently published “A Woman’s Guide to the World of Sailing” — in which Golden recounts her unique experiences and adventures.

    In addition to sailing for the pure pleasure of it, the seasoned sailor also has crewed on races, both local and regional. She has owned many sailboats over the years, the most recent being the Gypsy Lady — a classic Hinckley Bermuda 40 vessel that she and her husband often charter for enjoyment.

    Throughout her almost 50 years on the water, Golden has noticed that women tend to love sailing most when the engines are stopped.

    “The quiet, along with the lapping of water as the boat moves through the water under large white sails, recharges them in a way only sailing can do,” she says. “It is an experience that accounts for the large growth in women sailors over the last decade. My goal is to encourage local women to see the Gulf Coast as the optimum sailing experience — a place which makes it safe and accessible to everyone.”


    Nicolette Murphy

    Whether she’s boating, fishing, crabbing or scuba diving, Nicolette Murphy loves being on and in the water. But the Bay St. Louis native is equally adventurous on land – especially when it comes to hunting.

    She started by going after small game like doves and quails, and then about 13 years ago, she took up hog hunting — shooting her first one when she was with her uncle.

    “Once he saw how much I loved it, he sent me to hunt with the Wounded Warrior in Action Foundation …,” Murphy says. “Now I take (the dogs) out every year for the first week of November for Veterans Day.”

    While hog hunting is her “favorite game of cat and mouse,” and she’s also fond of alligator hunting, Murphy is most enthralled with scuba diving these days, which lets her explore the open ocean. Whatever activity she’s undertaking, bonding with family and friends in the great outdoors is what feeds Murphy’s soul.

    “I enjoy the tactics and strategies of hunting and fishing,” she says. “I love the smell of a big boar barbecue, saltwater, firewood and the warmth of the sun on my skin, but also the challenge of staying warm during the winter.”

    Although her track record of daring exploits is extensive, Murphy still has several items on her bucket list: noodling for catfish, skydiving, frogging with her hands, fishing in Alaska, crawfishing and scalloping. She urges other women to follow their own adventurous hearts, reminding them that safety is key and there’s no such thing as being overly prepared. Make sure to check the law, she advises, and always pack a sharp knife and a first aid kit — “you’re going to need both.”

    “Knowledge is power — listen and learn,” Murphy says.  “Don’t be intimidated by the boys; show ‘em how it’s done.”


    Piper Barney

    Coming of age on a self-sufficient farm gave Piper Barney a strong connection to nature, as well as an appetite for adventure.

    “I would lead my brother and cousins on adventures before lunch, walking stick in hand, day pack hanging down my back filled with a notebook, a faded sharpie I wasn’t allowed to have and some broken binoculars,” the Poplarville native recalls. “It was no surprise to anyone in my life when I began traveling after college.”

    Finally able to afford adventures farther afield, Barney saved her vacation days and paychecks to take small trips every 90 days to a mountain, forest or beach. As she said “yes” to every invitation and opportunity that arose, she became more and more encouraged with each new experience.

    Before Barney knew it, she was hiking 14 miles on a mountain trail straddling the Continental Divide in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness and having to emergency land in someone’s backyard while skydiving in Cleveland, Ohio.

    Even more memorable was her 30th birthday, which she rang in with a dozen friends in a treehouse village deep in the jungle-covered mountains of Playa El Valle, Dominican Republic.

    “On my birthday I danced around a fire the locals were hesitant to make so large. The house musician carried a guitar around him and provided background music for the occasion,” she says. “The locals, along with my boyfriend at the time (now husband), created beats and serenaded birthday songs to me late into the night as we all sat next to the rushing waterfall.”

    The unconventional celebrations continued with her wedding, for which Barney flew in on a World War II aircraft before exchanging vows on the runway. She and her husband once built and lived in a tiny house together after Barney sold her possessions and spent seven weeks learning carpentry and plumbing.

    Her words of wisdom: “Do all the things, without needing a reason to; wanting to is a good enough reason.” Someday, she hopes to secure a permit and hike the Havasupai Indian Reservation to Havasu Falls and experience the great monarch butterfly migration in central Mexico.

    “Adventures in nature fill my soul with a nostalgic playfulness …” Barney says. “Like being a child fearless on that back road, exploring shows me that I have the entire world in front of me.”

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    GCW photo contest: Let’s hear it for mom!

    On May 12, we recognize that not all heroes wear capes. Many of them answer to “Mom,” and their amazingness isn’t always honored as it should be. Mother’s Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate motherhood and the special bond between moms and their children. In that spirit, we asked you to share some of your favorite mom-centric photos, and we were deeply touched by all the sweet snapshots. Here are some of our favorites:

     

    “I’m thankful to be a mother because I get to experience a love like no other. Despite how crazy and chaotic motherhood can be, it is the most beautiful and worthwhile journey I’ve ever been on! My biggest accomplishment by far has been bringing my baby boy into this world.” – Lisa Brackeen

     

    “Motherhood is the most rewarding hat to wear. It has its challenges, but it’s the greatest blessing given to me. My daughter has allowed me to see things in a different lens. Her jovial spirit is what keeps me going! To be someone’s hero or the apple to their eye is the best feeling in the world. She is my firstborn. She is who gave me the title mommy. I will forever be grateful for my wildflower.” – Kyla Jacobs

     

    “One of my favorite photos of myself and my three beautiful daughters, who are more precious than jewels! I’m thankful and blessed that God allowed me to be their mother! They are all between seven to eight years apart, and I have enjoyed watching them grow up and succeed in their lives. It makes me so happy, and I’m so proud of each of them!” – Darlene Adams

     

    “My four beautiful daughters. Two of whom are now beautiful moms themselves.” – Eleva Howard

     

    “My mom had me at a very young age, and we weren’t always very close. I’m so thankful for my mom, though, who today has become one of my very best friends. We talk every day. It hasn’t always been an easy walk in the park, but I’m very proud of where we are today.” – Chantelle Lynn Tiblier

     

    “My mom — regardless of my age, I will always be her little girl. Our bond is incredibly special, and she is the first person I turn to, whether for good news or bad. She’s my rock, my support system, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be her daughter.” – Jennifer Sandmann

     

    “My mom is my hero and inspired me to be who I am today. I am so incredibly thankful that God chose her to be my mother. I admire her strength and her immense love for all four of her children. She is a true steel magnolia, and I love her dearly.” – Tess O’Keefe Lawrence

     

    “Me and my boys — these three are truly my lifelines. I never imagined I’d be a boy mom because I’m so girly. Not only do I have one prince, I have three!!! These three make every day an adventure, and I never know which one is going to make me cry tears of joy, laughter or frustration each day. One thing I know is that they will make me shed those tears daily. These are my three P’s: my Preston, Parker and Paxton — the reason my heart beats, and the reason my head hurts. I’m completely, utterly over the moon for my little men.” – AJenay Dedeaux

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    To the parent at the award ceremony

    Jenni Murray

    By Jenni Murray

    Spring is a-springing — bringing with it all the joys of beautiful weather and blooming flowers that beckon you outside (unless you have a pollen allergy, and then maybe don’t). It’s a time of rebirth, a truly magical season. But for moms, spring also brings chaos: spring sports, end-of-the-year parties to plan, awards ceremonies to attend and graduations to accept with bittersweet joy and pride.

    As the school year ends, I always find myself a bit reflective. Where did we get it right this year? Where could we have done better? How did these kids get so much older so suddenly? And there is no place that this reflection tears through my heart more than end-of-the-year awards ceremonies.

    Ah, the awards ceremonies. They’re lovely if your child is showered with accolades, but somewhat harrowing for those of us who might not see our child walk across that stage. So please accept this as my letter to you, the anxious parent in the audience.

    • To the parent of the child who accumulates awards, congratulations! We know those scholars didn’t get there alone. We know you stayed up late practicing spelling words or relearning algebra. We know you sacrificed sleep and sanity for this moment. We see you, and we celebrate you!
    • To the parent of the perfectionist child who got his or her first B and must accept the A-B honor-roll certificate: Take a deep breath. Rough seas make great sailors, and Bs make well-adjusted kids. If you’re like me, and your child couldn’t care less about his first B while your own perfectionist heart is breaking, Bs also can make humbler parents. Humble parents are better parents.
    • To the parent of the child who doesn’t make it on stage, please know that this is not a reflection on who you are. Maybe life handed you so many lemons that you were swimming in lemonade instead of sipping it while studying vocabulary words. Sometimes when we are in survival mode, we must be proud of making it through another year. Congratulations on making it!

    Maybe your little artist was more interested in drawing detailed whales than circling the right answers on her multiple-choice test (or was that just mine?). Maybe no matter how many times you begged, pleaded and bribed your teen to write down his homework in a planner, he instead chose to relinquish all obligations in favor of important things like mastering the “Free Bird” guitar solo (or was that just mine, too?).

    Kids have off years; they are not robots — just little people trying to figure it out. Don’t be so hard on yourself for the “learning-things-the-hard-way” years. Growth is happening even if it’s hard to see.

    • To the parent of the child whose future feels uncertain, you’re not alone. Lots of us are out here trying to determine whether our child has a learning disability and what strategies will work to help him or her. Your child is not broken, and you are not failing.

    The world is not full of cookie-cutter people. It’s full of unique, interesting individuals who have myriad strengths and purposes. As you dream of straight As and citizenship awards (or not), know that you are this child’s parent for a reason. You are his or her cheerleader and see every precious quirk that makes this child special. We see you, and we celebrate your bravery, courage and commitment. If we could pass out parent awards, many would be coming to you.

    As a mom of four, I’ve been all these parents at one time or another. Most likely, so have you. Hold your heads high this year, moms. No one knows your kids quite like you. Kids didn’t get to walk the stage this year? Make your own awards to hand out at dinner: Best at cleaning up the playroom if promised an ice cream sandwich. Best at delivering a joke flawlessly. Best at eating an entire bag of chips without leaving any evidence. Best at creating smiles and joy. Best at reminding us to bless the food.

    Our kids shine in a million ways that have nothing to do with their report cards. Let’s celebrate those, and let’s celebrate you, mom, for everything you do to make it possible. Here’s to another year survived. Now let’s get outside and smell the flowers!


    Jenni Murray is a social worker turned stay-at-home mom who lives in Pascagoula with her husband and their four sons. When she’s not doing laundry or refereeing little boys, she hides away to write for therapy and is a Gulf Coast Mom contributor. Reach her at jennijmurray@gmail.com.

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    CASA of of South Mississippi: Giving a voice to those who need it most

    (left to right) Tyree McDonald, Linda Perkes, Ashley Tribble, Cynthia Chauvin, Naomi Strawhorn, Lauren Saucier and Tanisha Lamb; in front is Remi III, Mississippi’s only courthouse facility dog


    By Naomi Strawhorn

    At CASA of South Mississippi, compassionate community members have volunteered and stepped forward to advocate for the region’s most vulnerable children. CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, plays a critical role in ensuring that abused and neglected children have a voice in the courtroom. Led by Executive Director Cynthia Chauvin, CASA’s mission is to provide unwavering support to these children during their time of need.

    Formerly, this CASA program served Hancock County alone and was able to provide a CASA volunteer advocate for 100% of the children in foster care. Since the end of last year, CASA has grown into a new name, CASA of South Mississippi, and has expanded to also provide advocacy for children in Harrison and Stone Counties. With almost 400 children in foster care in the three counties, there is a greater need than ever to support these children in difficult circumstances.

    WHO ARE CASA VOLUNTEERS?

    CASA volunteers are trusted adults who remain consistent in the life of their assigned children–from case assignment to case closure. These volunteers reduce the negative effects of trauma when children must be removed from their families, and they advocate for the best interests of those children to achieve safe and permanent homes.

    Former foster youth Haley Wing, who now serves on CASA’s board of directors, says, “My relationship with my CASA was the closest thing I had to a mother. My CASA taught me to use my voice.”

    MAKING A DIFFERENCE FOR CHILDREN

    In 2024, CASA has set a goal of recruiting and training 35 new volunteers with a focus on serving Harrison and Stone counties. These volunteers play a vital role in the lives of these children, committing about eight to 10 hours per month to writing reports, attending court hearings and providing invaluable support.

    But the biggest part of being an advocate is knowing the difference you can make in a child’s life. Advocate Julie Cannon, who has served 44 children over the past 14 years, says, “It is the most rewarding job you will ever do in your life–ever. It’s amazing.”

    Advocate Brooke Bourgeois adds, “Our work is never going to be complete as long as there is a wait list.”

    If you’re interested in making a difference in the lives of abused and neglected children, we invite you to join CASA as a volunteer. You must be at least 21 years old, pass a background check and be willing to dedicate your time to this important cause. To learn more about becoming a volunteer or supporting our efforts in other ways, please call (228) 344-0419 or visit casasouthms.org. Together, we can be the voice for those who need it most.


    Naomi Strawhorn is CASA of South Mississippi victim services coordinator. Reach her at naomi@casasouthms.org


    This project was supported by the Mississippi State Department of Health, Office Against Interpersonal Violence, state administering agency for the Mississippi Stguate Victim Service Grant. The opinions, findings, conclusions and recommendations expressed in the publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the state.

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    Feeling burnt out, caregivers? It’s time to get outside

    By Katherine Sutton

    In their noble pursuit of serving others, caregivers often find themselves neglecting their own needs and wellbeing. The demands of their role can be all-consuming, leaving little time or energy for self-care. But to be at their best, caregivers must carve out moments for themselves, particularly spending time in nature. Outdoor activities not only offer relief from the stresses of caregiving, but they also provide physical, mental and emotional benefits that can revitalize the spirit and enhance wellness.

    MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL BENEFITS

    Constantly tending to others’ needs can leave someone feeling drained and depleted, and the tranquility and beauty of the natural world can be a powerful antidote, helping to alleviate stress and promote relaxation. Whether it’s a leisurely walk in the park, a hike through the woods or watching a sunset, connecting with nature provides much-needed solace and rejuvenation.

    Getting outdoors also offers caregivers a welcome respite from the demands of their roles, allowing them to temporarily disconnect and focus on themselves. In nature’s embrace, caregivers can find a sense of freedom and liberation, unencumbered by the responsibilities that often weigh on them. Getting outdoors also can provide opportunities for self-reflection and introspection while allowing caregivers to recharge their batteries and return to their roles with a renewed sense of purpose and energy.

    PHYSICAL BENEFITS

    Besides the emotional boost it gives, regular exposure to nature has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and improve immune function. Outdoor activities like hiking, gardening and swimming let caregivers get physical exercise, helping to improve their cardiovascular health, strengthen muscles and enhance overall fitness. By prioritizing nature activities, caregivers not only can improve their physical health, but also increase their resilience and capacity to cope with caregiving’s demands.

    FOSTERING DEEPER CONNECTIONS

    If the person you care for can join you outdoors, spending time together in nature creates opportunities for meaningful interactions and shared experiences. Strengthen your bond by planting a garden, birdwatching or enjoying a picnic in the park, and see how these memorable moments enhance their quality of life — and yours.

    By connecting with nature, caregivers can give themselves the gifts of calm, peace and renewal, which, in turn, benefits those in their care. If the daily demands of caregiving are feeling especially heavy lately, take it as a sign to get outdoors.

    Where should you go? Here are some local nature trails to expore: www. gulfcoasttrails.org.


    Katherine Sutton is the executive director of Mississippi Heroes. Reach her at (228) 234-4649 or mississippiheroes@gmail.com.

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    Outrunning cancer: Christina Griffith

    MY HEALTH CHALLENGE

    In October of 2021, I found a lump in my left breast via a self-examination. I was 38 and had been diligent about my yearly gynecological exams, but I was two years shy of the recommended age to begin mammograms. By November of 2021, I had my first mammogram, and I was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer.

    WHAT I DID

    My initial approach to the diagnosis was fear and stubbornness, honestly — fear of the impacts to my children and fear of the unknown. A cancer diagnosis, despite the stage, comes with many unknown variables. There was stubbornness in that I don’t like labels and hate predictive indexing even more.

    Once the dust had settled and the results were confirmed, I began researching. I read anything I could find to prepare my mind – and more importantly, my body – for the challenges ahead.

    At the time of the diagnosis, I was an avid runner, so my mind was set on moving forward physically and mentally. I wanted to set the example for my children so they didn’t see their mom stop living because of this.

    From March through July of 2022, I received 14 rounds of chemo, along with 30 rounds of radiation from September to October of 2022. I’ve also gone through six surgeries between 2022 and 2023. My breast cancer was fueled by estrogen, so I will be on medication for the foreseeable future to help decrease the chances of a recurrence. I’m two years from diagnosis and, so far, disease free. I pray not to have a recurrence but want to keep my body in a healthy enough state to ensure if it must fight again, it can do so.

    THE HARDEST AND MOST REWARDING PARTS

    The fear of the unknown has been the hardest part. At the beginning, I was afraid the chemo would prevent me from running or being present for my children. This ended up being an unnecessary fear, I ran 300-plus miles during chemo and 100-plus during radiation. My oncologist supported my every step and encouraged me to continue doing things that made me feel like myself. I would wear a baseball hat (to hide my obviously bald head) and run as far as my body would allow. I was there for my children and worked during treatment.

    The most rewarding part was watching how resilient my children were through this journey; they and my husband were my biggest cheerleaders.

    MY ADVICE TO OTHERS

    Be open and honest with your medical team. If you are struggling with any aspect of your treatment or diagnosis, speak to them. I had an amazing medical team that helped me through each phase of this journey.

    The one thing I regret is not finding a support group. Enduring this alone, even with a supportive tribe of people, is difficult and lonely. Having someone there who knows what the experience is like makes a difference. I inadvertently found this group of women during radiation, but not during chemo, and it made going through radiation a bit less scary.

    WHAT LIFE IS LIKE NOW

    This experience made me realize just how fast life can change with one scan or lab result. I don’t allow the “small stuff” to stress me out as much anymore. I don’t want to spend my time worrying about insignificant things.

    My proudest moments are my post-treatment races. While in chemo, I planned race-cations and I ran two half marathons: one in Guntersville, Alabama, and one in Panama City Beach, Florida. I trained throughout treatment, and I wanted to show my family and myself that I could persevere. The memory of seeing my kids and my husband at the finish lines will forever hold a special place in my heart.

    I won’t lie; you don’t come back from two years of difficult and life-changing decisions the same person. I’ve adapted, to some degree, to the ebb and flow of this journey. The longer my hair grows and the further I get from active treatment, the more I feel the memory loosen its grip. But the fear is ever present and something you learn to live with. When I feel that fear, I remind myself that I can cope, I can pivot and I can fight because my family is worth fighting for.

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    Discover your best shades with color analysis

    By Jaimee Dorris

    Do you have a closet bursting at the seams yet feel like you have nothing to wear? Is coordinating outfits challenging? Do you love a certain item in your wardrobe but find that it never seems to work on you?

    If you answered “yes” to these questions, you, my friend, probably are buying clothes outside of your best color palette.

    Jaimee Dorris offers seasonal color-analysis draping sessions at her studio in Bay St. Louis.

    WHAT IS COLOR ANALYSIS?

    Seasonal color analysis is not new. It grew in popularity back in the 1980s with Carole Jackson’s book “Color Me Beautiful.” I remember my mother having her colors done as part of a professional training class back then. The color craze rebounded again in recent years, with new social media filters and phone apps helping people find their “season.”

    The theory is simple: Each of us has a certain palette that best harmonizes with our natural skin, eye and hair colors. If we wear colors in that palette, we will effortlessly look our best. If we shop only from our palette, then our clothing will effortlessly match.

    THE FABRIC DOESN’T LIE

    The next question naturally becomes, “What’s my palette?” There are plenty of ways you can answer this question. Online tools and free tests abound, as well as books on the subject. I offer a technique called “draping,” where I physically drape my clients with fabrics of various shades in natural light in a white room. Together we witness how each color brightens, dulls or discolors the skin. Some shades enhance wrinkles and blemishes; others minimize them. It’s a fascinating process because the fabric doesn’t lie. You can see the results in the mirror!

    The good news is most of us are naturally attracted to the colors in our seasonal palette. The bad news is most of us also are easily influenced by trends and colors that we love on other people. The goal, then, of a color-analysis session is to help you discern between the two and shop with confidence. When you know your palette, you can ignore everything else that’s not.

    YOUR PALETTE DOESN’T CHANGE

    The best thing about seasonal color analysis is that it doesn’t change. Sure, you can dye your hair or adjust your skin with a spray tan or makeup, but your natural palette will be the same throughout your life. The colors that look great on you as a teenager also will harmonize well when you’re older. It’s an investment of an hour or two that ultimately will save you time, energy and money over the course of your life. Let 2024 be the year you discover your best colors!


    Jaimee Dorris offers seasonal color-analysis draping sessions at her studio in Bay St. Louis. Learn more at JaimeeDorris.com.

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    Spilling her secret: Alexis Higgins

    Meet Alexis Higgins, the content marketing coordinator for Memorial Health System, whose passion for empowerment extends beyond her professional life. She is also the creator of Her Light, a blog focused on women’s empowerment and self-improvement (www.herlight.net).

    Follow along as she shares the must-have products that leave her feeling pampered and refreshed:

     

    1. NOURISHING, HYDRATING BODY WASH

    Achieving soft skin starts with the right body wash, like Native Body Wash, Coconut & Vanilla, which nourishes and hydrates — leaving my skin feeling soft, smooth and rejuvenated. It’s perfect for locking in moisture with coconut and vanilla extracts, especially for dry or sensitive skin types.

    2. ‘WORKS WONDERS FOR MY DRY SKIN’

    I adore body butter that effortlessly melts into my skin, leaving it soft and moisturized. With its warm vanilla scent, TPH Softer Than No Otha Body Butter works wonders for my dry skin by sealing in hydration and providing lasting comfort.

    3. THE SECRET TO A SUMMER GLOW

    TPH Anything Glows Vegan Body Oil is my secret to glowing all summer long. Its rosehip oil brightens and evens my skin tone for a glowing look. Its lightweight formula absorbs quickly, leaving my skin feeling nourished and radiant all day.

    4. THE SCENT THAT BOOSTS MY CONFIDENCE

    When I smell good, I feel good, and Eilish Eau de Parfum, with its blend of vanilla, soft spices and cocoa, enhances that feeling. Wearing perfume adds a touch of sophistication and confidence to my daily routine, making me feel more put together and polished.

    5. AN AROMA THAT’S UNIQUELY ME

    Layering fragrances lets me create a personalized aroma that reflects my style, with a touch of my favorite note: vanilla. For example, combining Sol de Janeiro Brazilian Crush Body Perfume Mist with Eilish Eau de Parfum makes a delightful blend that’s uniquely me.

    6. IRRESISTIBLE FRAGRANCE THAT LASTS ALL NIGHT

    I love wearing Sol de Janeiro Cheirosa 71 Perfume Mist in the evening, with its cozy notes of caramelized vanilla, toasted macadamia nut and tonka bean. Layering it with Eilish Eau de Parfum ensures the scent lasts all night for an irresistible fragrance experience.

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    8 tips for finding your dream wedding dress

    Gown by The Wedding Collection
    Photography by Amber Kait Photography

    With all eyes on the bride on the big day, the gown is a focal point of any wedding. If you’re about to get married, you’ve probably heard that finding the dress is like finding your soulmate; When you know, you know.

    And while some brides have sketched out what they want down to the last detail, others are undecided and have no idea where, when or how to start looking. Whichever category you fall into, take advantage of these practical tips for picking the perfect gown:

    1. START EARLY

    Begin your search for a wedding gown early enough to allow time for fittings and alterations. Ideally, start looking at least six to nine months ahead of your big day. The more time, the better.

    2. SET A BUDGET

    We know, talking about money is deeply unromantic. Nonetheless, you still must decide how much you are comfortable spending on your wedding gown, including alterations and accessories, and stick to it. If your budget isn’t as big as you’d like, don’t fret; beautiful dresses are available at a variety of price points.

    3. RESEARCH STYLES

    No matter where you shop, the first question from the sales associate is likely to be the same: “What are you looking for?” Before you hit the stores, peruse bridal magazines, websites and social media platforms to gather inspiration and get an idea of what styles and silhouettes you like. Consider factors like neckline, fabric and embellishments.

    Ultimately, choose a dress that reflects your personal style and makes you feel confident and beautiful. Don’t feel pressured to conform to trends if they don’t align with your taste.

    4. CONSIDER THE THEME AND VENUE

    What’s your wedding vibe? Your answer can go a long way toward helping you choose the right dress. Is your celebration laidback and beachy, or upscale and elegant? Whatever feel you’re going for, your gown should complement the venue and theme of your big day. For instance, a beach wedding might call for something lightweight and flowy, while a formal affair may warrant a more structured, ornate gown.

    5. WHEN IN DOUBT, TRY IT ON

    Don’t dismiss any option out of hand; you don’t know until you try it. Keep an open mind, and give any style a shot, even ones you haven’t considered or are convinced you won’t like. What do you have to lose? You might be surprised by what flatters you.

    6. COMFORT IS KEY

    Remember that you’ll be wearing your gown for several hours, so choose accordingly — and wisely. Ensure that you can move, sit and dance comfortably.

    7. BRING SUPPORTIVE COMPANIONS

    Trusted friends or family members, whose judgment you value, can be a huge asset in your dress search. However, be mindful not to bring too many people, as excessive opinions can be overwhelming.

    8. GO WITH YOUR GUT

    When you find the dress that feels right, trust your instincts. If you can’t stop thinking about it and can imagine walking down the aisle in it, then it’s probably the one.

    Above all, remember to have fun! Enjoy the process and trust that in the end, you’ll find the dress of your dreams.

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