As we entered the Longhorn Steakhouse Sunday night my thoughts were nowhere near customer service or the Thank You Project. Mainly I wanted to get us and the kids fed and finished quickly before Matchbox cars started flying across the restaurant. It had been a long day and could have been a long, very unrelaxing meal with two tired, silly kids. It turned out to be a better meal because of one very nice server: Layla.


Dear Decker Boulevard Longhorn Steakhouse Manager,

My name is Julie Turner and I am a writer on a yearlong quest called The Thank You Project. Once a week for the next year, I am thanking someone who quietly makes my life or community better. I had a plan for this week’s letter but it changed when my family dined at your restaurant this past weekend.

We were lucky to have one of the best servers I have ever had in my life: Layla.

Usually when you go to a restaurant, the servers are nice. Of course they are. It’s how they earn their living. Your employee Layla took nice to an entirely different level. One you don’t see very often in a bustling restaurant during the dinner rush.

Layla was sensitive we waited even though it was just a few moments after we were seated. She talked and joked with our two young children as we went through the chaos of ordering. She spent time talking to us and provided many options. As our meal went on, she checked on us just as much as we needed.

While it may not seem like much, it was how Layla took care of my family that was striking. She was kind and patient, which anyone who dines with kids can appreciate. But beyond simple kindness, Layla was sincere. She was truly interested in us and wanted us to have only the best experience in your restaurant.

Those are special qualities in any employee whatever your business or profession.

I wanted you to know our experience at your restaurant was just fine. But our experience with Layla left an even greater impression. She is an incredible asset to your staff.

Julie Turner

The Thank You Project is a yearlong Wordsmith blog project recognizing people who need to be thanked more often for their many contributions to our lives and communities. 

George Family

The Thank You Project


This week’s Thank You Project letter is true to the holiday season. The Turners love holiday lights. We seek and enjoy the bright joyful displays you only get to see one month of the year. There are many houses in Forest Acres with a strand here, a balloon there. Then there are our favorite houses which never disappoint us year after year.


Dear George Family,

My name is Julie Turner and I am a writer here in Columbia. I have embarked on a yearlong quest called The Thank You Project. Once a week for the next year, I am sending a much deserved thank you note to someone who has touched my life.

I know you don’t know who I am so bear with me.

I live in your neighborhood and have for the past eight years. I’m not sure exactly when we discovered your home’s Christmas lights but every year we wait for the day when your decorations are up and aglow. It’s a pretty amazing sight for anyone to behold but I have two young boys who love to drive by your house and see all of the holiday lights and balloons. They “oooh” and “ahh” the entire way around the corner and hate when someone drives up behind us pushing us along way before we are ready.

I’m sure it takes a good deal of work for you to put all of the decorations up every year. I want you to know what joy your effort brings to my family and me each holiday season. For us, seeing your house decorated, finally means the real Christmas season is underway.

Thank you for the joy you bring to our community. It’s part of what makes Forest Acres such a special place.

Happy holidays to you and your family!

Julie Turner


The Thank You Project is a yearlong Wordsmith blog project recognizing people who need to be thanked more often for their many contributions to our lives and communities. 



In the kitchen the other day, I told Cathy this was one of my favorite Thank You Project letters so far. To take the opportunity to thank someone who had a hand in shaping you as a human being is pretty incredible. Hopefully, this letter will make it to Aris Demetrios, the oldest son of Virginia Lee Burton. She wrote and illustrated several of my absolute favorite children’s books (Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House). Sadly, she died in 1968 but her wonderful, award-winning stories live on.


Dear Aris,

My name is Julie Turner. I am a writer in Columbia, SC. I have started a yearlong project of writing thank you letters to an important group of people. Some are local, some far away. Some people I know well, and others — like you — will have absolutely no idea who I am.

I come to you by way of your mother, Virginia Lee Burton. During her life, your mother created several of my all-time favorite children’s books: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House. I read these two books time and again throughout my childhood and today read them to my own two sons, ages seven and three. Now that I am 41, I have rediscovered the important messages of the stories, especially The Little House.

What I really wanted to share with you is that I truly believe reading The Little House shaped my guiding principles.

Today, I live in a great 1950s split-level ranch house in a mature city suburb. We revel in our home’s history, and wouldn’t trade its charm and frightful rooftop R-values for anything. Our home has beautiful old wood windows and plaster walls. It’s small by today’s standards, but just the perfect size for a family of four. It has character and detailing no new home can ever match. It is our Little House.

I hope this letter in some way honors your mother for the gifts she’s given to generations of children and adults. She taught me friendship, gratitude and appreciation through her wonderful stories. I have proudly passed her books on to my own children and will again to their children someday.

The world is a better place thanks to people like Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne, and to your mother who brought them into our lives.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart,

Julie Turner


The Thank You Project is a yearlong Wordsmith blog project recognizing people who need to be thanked more often for their many contributions to our lives and communities. 




The first letter of the Thank You Project went to Philips Motor Company, a Columbia auto dealer and repair shop. Their service manager inspired this yearlong project, which recognizes people who need to be thanked more often for their many contributions to our lives and communities. Thanks, Jason!


Dear Philips,

I have been a customer for many years and a few different cars. One reason we prefer you for automotive work is your great employees. Recently, I was so impressed with Jason, the service manager, I started a yearlong blog project thanking the people who brighten my days and life.

Jason is so knowledgeable and friendly. When I see him, he never seems rushed or dismissive of me, which can easily happen to a woman at a garage. Jason is genuinely nice and takes care of his customers in every way. He calls if he says he’s going to call. He lets you know immediately if there is a part supply issue or some reason your car may need to stay an extra day. He smiles and speaks with meaning. He explains things clearly and wants to be sure you have all the answers you want.

He treats your customers like family no matter how busy he or the garage is that day.

Congratulations! You have a great ambassador for your company and I wanted to be sure you know that.

Many thanks,

Julie Turner


PS: I would be very remiss to not thank you for Sherman, too. He knows our cars so well and has helped us as well. There aren’t very many garages where you know a brand specialist is working on your car!

The cane squeezing.

It’s pretty rare to have an opportunity to do something you’ve never done and a Saturday with no plans. That’s just what happened to us on Saturday. There was no soccer, no to-do list, no house project. Just an invitation to join friends at a cane squeezing at Hatiola Hunt Club somewhere deep in Barnwell County.

What’s a cane squeezing you ask? No need to be embarrassed. I didn’t know what it was either. So I googled it and found this.

Armed with some background and the invitation from friend and hunt club member, Andy Riley, we were off. It was just about an hour or so from home, but you’d think we were hours away. The kids marveled at horses and cows. And noticed there were very few houses. But one of the most interesting sights on the drive was the cotton.

We passed field after field. Pure white soft puffs looking oddly out of place on dead-looking twigs. We were even thrilled to catch a glimpse of cotton being harvested. I could have watched that for hours, I think. Ready-to-harvest fields, old machinery, endless rows of cotton. So un-digital. So un-modern. So wonderful.

When we arrived at Hatiola, an old homestead/hunt club/setting for grown men to tell their tall tales and cook to their hearts’ content, we saw the draft horses turning the ancient press. Inside the horse’s path, one person pushed stalks of sugar cane between two giant wheels. As the horse slowly ambled around the circle, all the sugar was pressed from the stalk leaving behind a stringy snake-skin looking husk.

I asked Andy what they did with the liquid since it all seemed so purposeful and important. He laughed and said they’d tried to make syrup, then rum. Now they just try to give it away.

It was a perfect southern Saturday. The sun was warm even though the wind had a bite. The whole day yawned before us. The Gamecocks hadn’t yet lost to Arkansas. A live bluegrass band, The Blue Iguanas, provided the perfect soundtrack.

After a few announcements, lunch was served. We wound our way up the rickety front steps and were asked to sign the official register. Based on the number of pages already signed, generations of friends and family have enjoyed the cane squeezing before us. Then we saw lunch. In the hallway on table after table, lay every variation of every Sunday casserole you could ever imagine. Andy had already assured us the main course was the best “effa’” chicken bog. I assure you, he is right.

We loaded up our plates and headed back out to enjoy lunch al fresco while shooing off a flock of very well behaved hunting dogs and the yellow jackets who by now had figured out there was good stuff to be had.

Later, we enjoyed a ride through the property in the back of Andy’s pick up truck. We stopped twice. Once so the kids could climb all over Andy’s deer stand or “treehouse” as they dubbed it. Then again a bit later so the kids could take a close look at the cotton and pick a puff or two to bring home as a souvenir. It was a fun, adventurous day.

Andy said we were welcome to come back next year since we didn’t do anything to get barred from the property (which has apparently happened a few times). I am so grateful. There was a whole historical discussion on the back porch I missed. There must be so much to show and tell in a house that storied. And to hear it told in person is a treasure in itself.

I started the day thinking the cane squeezing was all for show. Just something they’d always done. But later on I realized that it’s the most important part of the day.

It’s the reason for the celebration. The squeeze draws long-time friends together. It draws children, families and new friends from miles and hours away. It’s a slow kind of easy that’s absent in most of what we do today.

And to think it all came to be because we had nothing to do on a Saturday. I think we need to free more Saturdays. Days like the one we had at Hatiola Hunt Club fill in the holes left by the grind of everyday life.

Something everyone could use more of.


Go bananas!

I have always been a fan of bananas. They are loaded with good vitamins and minerals. Plus, they come in a pretty, bright yellow skin that composts. What’s not to love?

But there’s more.

I’m most in love with them when they start turning brown and spotty. Over-ripened bananas mean banana bread in our house. Unless they are a pulpy mess — which happens sometimes — bananas take on new life for a few more breakfasts and snacks. It’s like giving to Goodwill. Things we have and hold (often for too long) can take on new life and meaning for others, if we just let them.

If you have some brown bananas on your counter today, remake them into tonight’s dessert: banana bread. Here’s a simple recipe, borrowed (of course) years ago from someone else.


Banana Bread
3 to 4 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 and 1/2 cups of flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix butter into mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix. Add the flour last and mix again. Pour into a buttered 4×8″ loaf pan or. Bake for one hour. Cool on a rack.

(Sometimes I use four small loaf pans so I can share. If you do that, cut the baking time in half.)

Elizabeth’s Swing

Photo by Cathy Monetti

Last week was an incredible week. I worked on location in charming Beaufort, SC. Blissful sun. Riverside dining. Stunning lowcountry locations. A fantastic Emulsion Arts crew. As much fun as I had, it was nice to come home on Friday.

My friend Cathy was kind enough to drive us down so when we got back to Lexington Friday afternoon, I was itching to hop in my car and head home to Forest Acres. And then Cathy asked me if I wanted to go see Elizabeth.

You probably don’t know this but Elizabeth is a tree. I read about Elizabeth on Cathy’s blog months ago. I was aching to meet Elizabeth. Mostly for her swing that inspired one of my favorite sentences ever.

Photo by Cathy MonettiSo off we went. Home would have to wait just a little while longer.

We moseyed across the neighbors’ yard, home of Elizabeth’s human friends, said hello to the dogs and there she was. She was just as beautiful as Cathy said. So singularly tall and graceful with thick strong roots. And there was that swing. Flat and wide with thick brown braided ropes that reached far up into the leaves.

You can’t look at a swing like that without trying it out. Well, you could just look at it but why on Earth would you? I hopped on and Cathy started to push.

Once I got going it was pure joy. No playground swing can ever compete with the long, graceful glide of that swing. It’s an entirely different level of lightness.

Contented and quiet, I swung under Elizabeth for a few more minutes, then dragged my heels to slow down. When I finally came to a stop, I sat there for a few minutes and savored the swing of that incredible swing. When I finally made my way to the car, the swing of that swing stayed with me. I was especially thankful for the inner peace Elizabeth gave because I was now tired, ready to be home and stuck in Friday afternoon downtown Lexington traffic.

Of Elizabeth, Cathy said, “The swing of that swing, it goes on forever.” She was so right. The most precious thing to me is that while the ride itself was delightful, what really sticks with you is the freedom of the slow, steady glide. It’s pure, smooth and so long you can feel it hours, days and, I bet, years after you come to a stop.

What a tremendous gift for anyone who has the privilege of meeting the tree named Elizabeth.

It’s Fair Haiku Season

A few years ago — okay, it’s been way longer than that — some coworkers and I started composing fair haikus to pay homage to the delights of the South Carolina State Fair. Now you can, too. Writing a haiku is a snap. Three lines. First line five syllables. Second line seven syllables. Third line five syllables.


Blogging for others.

You can’t really tell by looking at my own blog, but there’s been a lot of guest blogging on The Internets these past few weeks.

Much of the action centered around my involvement with CreateAthon, the marathon pro-bono effort launched by Riggs Partners. Our friends at Emulsion Arts created an incredible video that captured the day and night which you can enjoy and share here. CreateAthon is an amazing, fulfilling annual experience I am so proud to be a part of. It’s one day of my life that richly rewards the other 364 days. If you’d like to start a CreateAthon in your area, you can get started here.

Another guest blog post for Talk About Giving started a littler closer to home. My husband and I were struggling with our sons’ upcoming birthdays. How could we channel the much appreciated, generous gifts into a truly useful gift for a child-focused organization? It turned out to be easier than we thought and was a great learning experience for all of us. You can learn about our experience here.Collected on behalf of Palmetto Health's Children's Hospital

Thanks for reading and staying in touch!