September 20, 2017

Things to do on the First Day of Fall

Friday, September 22nd is the first official day of fall. Just yesterday, I was sweating in the muggy East Tennessee heat, but I'm willing temperatures to cool down now that the new season has finally arrived. I'll let you know how it goes.

I love the feeling that each new season brings. And maybe it makes me basic, but I love fall. It ushers in some of my favorite traditions. So with the first day of the season, let's celebrate with a big time.

Here are some of my suggestions for things to do on the first day of fall, or at least at some point during the next three months. Happy Fall, Y'all!

:: Make this variation of a fall Chex Mix 

:: Visit a local pumpkin patch and pick out a few pumpkins for your front porch 

:: Watch Dead Poets' Society, one of my favorite films that feels perfect for fall 

:: Read the poem To Autumn by Keats

:: Drink caramel apple cider floats

:: Rake the leaves for a neighbor who needs a bit of help

:: Get a little crafty with a can of orange glittery spray paint and whatever you can get your hands on. 

:: Listen to Eva Cassidy sing Autumn Leaves

:: Wear corduroy and flannel

:: Make my Hillbilly Apple Dumplings

You'll need: 
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple
  • 1 can of refrigerated crescent rolls (8 oz)
  • 1 stick of butter (or less)
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 can of Mountain Dew 
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
Wash, core and slice apple into 8 pieces. Wrap one triangle of crescent roll dough around each slice. Arrange these in a 9x13 baking dish. Melt butter in a saucepan and add sugar and vanilla. Stir until lumpy (sugar does not need to dissolve). Pour the mixture over the crescent-wrapped apples in the pan. Pour Mountain Dew over the crescent-wrapped apples. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes.

:: Plan a weekend adventure to small town festival where they celebrate things like apples, giant pumpkins, or scary stories

:: Turn plain brownies and candy pumpkins into mini pumpkin patch treats! 

:: Enjoy a Friday night high school football game in a small southern town 

:: Try pumpkin spice everything 

:: Make the most of this season that ushers in a time to reflect on gratitude, togetherness with ones we hold dear, and the chance to make new memories with your favorite people. 


September 18, 2017

Vintage Beauty Shops

“I think that the most important thing a woman can have- next to talent, of course- is her hairdresser.” ― Joan Crawford

“People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don’t know, I’m never there.” ― Dolly Parton

“Beware of her fair hair, for she excels
All women in the magic of her locks; 
And when she winds them round a young man's neck, 
She will not ever set him free again.” 
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“She could hear her hair growing.” 
― Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

“Maybe the hairs on my head were numbered" she went on with a sudden serious sweetness "but nobody could ever count my love for you".” 
― O. Henry

“There will be those who love you for your hair and those who love the beauty of your mind and those who adore the warmth of your heart. but there will be those who will leave you for not conforming to their type of hair, mind and heart. And there will be those who will live/die to see your bad hair days, derailed mind, and broken heart. but what matters most is Who You Are” 
― Goitsemang Mvula

“Her hair was full of lights” 
― Anaïs Nin

“she's got
tucked away
in her hair
poems swim
under her skin.”
― Sanober Khan, A Thousand Flamingos

“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”
― Coco Chanel

September 15, 2017

The Best We Can Hope For | Life Lessons from Kenny Rogers

When I was in college, my roommate graciously agreed to let me use my Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits CD as our alarm clock music. Every morning we woke up to "Lucille," "Ruby," "Coward of the County," and arguably Rogers' most iconic tune, "The Gambler." While Rogers isn't responsible for writing "The Gambler," he brought it to life in a way that makes me feel like he believes every word of the song is true. 

Today, while driving home from work, "The Gambler" was playing on the radio and I felt overcome with emotions. Roll your eyes all you want, but that song kills me every time. 

This got me thinking. There are really only two kinds of people in the world. One is those who recognize "The Gambler" for the brilliant pearls of wisdom it imparts on so many levels, that are relevant across all cultures, across all demographics, and all eras of time. Then there are those people who think it's just a song. 

Lately, I've been doing some meditating. Don't laugh. After years of hearing about its positive effects on people who have difficulties juggling stress and anxiety, I finally decided I would give it a try. 

To be perfectly honest, I have always thought meditation was all a hoax. I mean, the idea of sitting quietly in the midst of a hectic day sounds heavenly, but what does it really do for you? 

Not knowing where to start on my own, I downloaded a meditation app on my smartphone called Headspace. The free version of the app gives you a short series of daily meditations and even though I'm only a few days in, I feel like some of it is working. 

One of the things that has stuck out to me so far is how the guided meditation tells you to let go of your thoughts. It actually gave the illustration of sitting on the side of a road and watching the traffic go by. Seeing each passing car as a thought, coming into frame and then moving along on its way. 

This feels like a new approach because I guess we're prone to want to jump in there and take control. I know I am. But apparently what's really better for us is if we can sit back and let the flow happen. 

In some ways this flies in the face of what I was taught to believe as a child. I remember reading the Bible verse that said you should take every thought captive. That paints quite a picture doesn't it? This idea that your thoughts are all running around on the loose and it's your job to hunt them down and capture them and somehow keep them all in your possession. 

But this illustration from the meditation app sort of makes it seem like your thoughts are flowing and it's not your job to capture's your job to let them pass by. 

The irony is Kenny Rogers in all his wrinkle-free glory is probably somewhere at a meditation retreat right now. He gets it. Why can't we? 

You've got to know when to hold 'em. 

What does that mean to you? First, I think you have to consider what you're holding. I've held onto some things which have served me well over the years. Certain beliefs I can draw strength from in times of trouble. Feeling like I'm part of something much bigger than myself. People who will stand by me, who love me no matter what. 

Know when to fold 'em. 

Folding in a card game means you've looked at your cards and you've assessed the situation and decided it's not worth going forward with the hand. You haven't yet left the table but you're out for now. 

Some folks might say we don't fold nearly enough...taking on too many things that aren't really suited for us. Others might believe we need to take more risks with our little cushy lives. You get to decide for yourself what's right for you. 

Know when to walk away. 

Then there's walking away. Walking away is a peaceful way of ending something. Things didn't get so bad but it's not working for you. Thus, it was time for you to go in a different direction. 

If you have found yourself in a situation like this at present, I give you permission to walk away. Seriously. 

Know when to run. 

And what about when to run? What things in your life have you run from? I know for me there have been plenty. What's more, there were plenty of other things I should have run from and I didn't. We always pay for those dearly. 

When Kenny says you never count your money while you're sitting at the table, I take this to mean the table is where the work is happening and counting the money is sort of like celebrating prematurely. The work's not done so it isn't time to count the money just yet.You'll get to count up your spoils and celebrate but maybe now isn't the best time.

He goes on to say that the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep. This could apply to so many things in our lives. In my case lately, it applies to my thoughts. In reference to that idea of meditation as allowing your thoughts to flow by, I've been trying to figure out what to throw away and what to keep.

Negative, harmful thoughts about myself that keep me stuck in a mindset that doesn't serve me...I'm pitching those straight into the garbage.

Hopeful thoughts, ones that feel light as air, with the soft fragrance of possibility surrounding them...those are the ones I'm working to keep.

The only part of the song I don't actually agree with is the part about dying in your sleep. That's not the best we can hope for. I believe we can hope for so much more than that. 

September 7, 2017

Super Simple Tailgating Tips for Fall

It's football time in Tennessee and we're getting ready for the first home game of the season at Neyland Stadium. I've got a few fun and simple tailgating ideas you might want to try this fall as you celebrate the joys of college football with a hundred thousand of your closest friends.

We know tailgating is all about the grub! These ideas are not only easy, but they taste great! Hope this inspires you to think outside your typical tailgating box, so to speak.

Big Orange Popcorn! 

Who doesn't love popcorn, in all different forms? Serve up your favorite brand of cheesy popcorn in cute white cups for individual servings. Your party guests will keep coming back for more!

Chilly Weather Chili in Stuffed Peppers 

Chilly weather calls for chili, the perfect tailgate food! Make up a batch of your favorite recipe or opt for store-bought. Trader Joe's as an awesome vegetarian option in a can. Spoon your chili into bell peppers (mine are UT orange of course, but any variety will do). You can cook the chili ahead of time and then reheat your stuffed peppers in the oven or a crock pot. Let your guests dress it up with various toppings. Yum! 

Orange & White Caprese Salad Stacks

Caprese salads are one of my favorites and making them as a stack means they are easy to transport for game day. I snagged some great orange tomatoes and layered slices of tomatoes with sliced mozzarella cheese. Drizzle with some olive oil and maybe a splash of balsamic vinegar. 

Some other things you might want to grab for your next tailgate: 

Orange & White pumpkins (perfect decor for Big Orange Football!); a galvanized tub to hold your drinks; Assorted orange sodas (or whatever flavor fits your team); brown Solo cups (they even have laces!) 

August 29, 2017

HGTV's Urban Oasis 2017 in Knoxville, TN

Since I first moved to Knoxville nearly two decades ago to attend the University of Tennessee, our 'scruffy little city' has grown and changed in many exciting ways. Still rich with southern hospitality and that special energy that only comes from being an SEC college town, Knoxville has been ranked a hot city for business, most dog-friendly and also one of the friendliest places in America.

We're also lucky to be home to the headquarters of HGTV. Knoxville has a thriving downtown, amazing restaurants, a pretty cool music scene, plus a growing number of local craft beer purveyors. It's also home to some really vibrant neighborhoods, including Fourth and Gill which is where HGTV chose its Urban Oasis® 2017.

The home is a charming Craftsman style bungalow which started out as a duplex. Under the direction of HGTV Urban Oasis 2017 Project Manager Scott Branscom, it has been transformed into a beautiful single-family home, with 1,850 square feet and three bedrooms and two baths. Branscom is COO of Grace Construction in Knoxville.

HGTV tapped local firms Open Door Architecture and Tillman Companies to handle the concepting and build-out of the structure. The home, which is centered around an open and airy living concept, features art direction and decor from Atlanta-based interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn.

There's no shortage of curb appeal, beginning with the cheerful 'millennial' pink front door. Each spacious room seems to open up into the next, with careful attention to detail that celebrates the iconic style of the home's era while still feeling completely fresh and modern.

  And the outdoor living spaces are to die for. I would never tire of having my morning coffee on the front porch, lounging on the back screened-in deck for cocktails and maybe stealing away for a romantic evening by the fire pit in the backyard.

What is the HGTV Urban Oasis? The HGTV Urban Oasis Giveaway complements the network’s annual HGTV Dream Home Giveaway and HGTV Smart Home Giveaway. During the first five years of the HGTV Urban Oasis, the project featured a contemporary residence in a luxury, high-rise property in a major U.S. city. Beginning in 2015, following the hot trend in home renovation, HGTV decided to purchase and completely remodel older bungalows near trendy urban communities.

Enter to Win the HGTV Urban Oasis 2017 The best part about this house is that it could be yours! The HGTV Urban Oasis Giveaway 2017 sweepstakes runs from October 2 through November 22. Online users may enter twice per day via Full rules are available at As the winner, you would receive a grand prize package valued at more than $600,000. It includes the home plus $50,000 provided by national mortgage lender Quicken Loans®. Find more photos and layouts, plus info on how you can enter for a chance to win the HGTV Urban Oasis 2017 at

Photos © 2017 Scripps Networks, LLC.  Used with permission; all rights reserved. 

August 26, 2017

It's Never a Good Day to Be Estranged.

Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go according to any rules. They're not like aches or wounds, they're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

They say there's a time and place for everything. Even the bible has that whole section about a time and purpose for every thing under heaven. But there's never a good time to be estranged.

Not when you're 22 and getting ready to graduate from college. Not when you're 28 and feeling generally lost and disconnected. And especially not when you're 33, getting married to the love of your life.

As a kid, I remember hearing stories on the news about someone being shot by his strange wife and I used to wonder what exactly they were basing that on. I wondered if I knew any strange folks, and were they capable of killing someone they used to love. I later learned that what I heard said as 'strange' was actually the word 'estranged.' But at the time, I had no idea what that meant or that I'd one day live it.

Defined as being no longer close or affectionate to someone; alienated, estrangement is one of those things nobody wants to talk about.

Even researching this piece was tough because the stats about estrangement are relatively few. One article suggested that the current stats are probably wrong anyway because so many people are estranged but don't talk about it.

Even if this doesn't affect you personally, I'll bet you can think of at least one friend who has a family member they don't see or speak to, or who doesn't speak to them. That is, if your friend is willing to share this.

I've never shared anything quite this personal on the blog, but over omelets and mimosas awhile back, my husband told me I needed to quit playing it so safe. So here goes.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, "wow, this is a great day to be estranged from my family."

Sometimes it happens all at once, because of a big fight or problem. Other times it's more like the end result of a recipe...the ingredients were there and the conditions were right.

As an aside, please don't get your hopes up and think I have any answers about how to fix these family heartbreaks. I have none. But it's not always about having the answers. Sometimes it's just about not feeling quite so alone.

Here's what I know...

If you have family that you don't associate with or speak to, you're not alone. This issue affects all different kinds of families: rich, poor, from all sorts of cultural backgrounds and education levels from all walks of life. What these families do have in common is that they once declared their affection for each other. And now there's a great divide.

Sometimes these fissures happen over division of stuff and property when one generation passes away. Other times it's about lifestyle choices, including marriages or divorces, too much drinking or drugs. Or maybe it has to do with hurt feelings, hard feelings that built over time, like layers in a pastry...smooshing together until they can't be peeled apart anymore.

These kinds of things have a way of taking on a new life of their own and eventually planting themselves firmly in your path.

You learn to work around the issue, to live with that giant elephant in the room. Sometimes its presence affects you more than others. Sometimes you feel almost normal.

Other times it hits you smack dab in the middle of the face (or really in the heart) and leaves you feeling like the wind has been knocked out of you.

Certain days are harder than others. Holidays. Anniversaries of particular events or occasions. Sometimes you just want to skip these altogether.

And then there are those people in your life who don't understand, who won't ever understand exactly how you feel. Maybe they blame you or think you're ridiculous because you can't just get over it or work it out. Maybe they lost someone dear to them and think you're squandering a precious gift they wish they still had. Sometimes these people are even harder to deal with than the ones you're estranged from.

In a perfect world, all families would gather. Every person would feel seen and known. There'd be no awkwardness or stuffing down your feelings. It would be a free, safe place to speak from your heart, knowing you would be heard by people who'd love you no matter what.

But of course we know this is not a perfect world.

As easy or tempting as it might be to point blame, these types of situations are just too complicated for that. Everybody plays a part and we all contribute something in some way. It'd be much easier if all the heroes wore capes and the bad guys donned eye patches, but it ain't the case.

Something to remember: If you're estranged from your family, or they are estranged from you, you don't have to feel ashamed about it. And you never, ever have to feel guilty because someone else tries to give their opinion about your situation without understanding all the facts. Heck, even if they do understand the doesn't mean they truly know how you feel.

And it definitely doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. I'm not putting the blame squarely on the other party, just saying that it's complicated and we don't know always know why certain situations unfold the way they do.

Maybe you are doing the best you can. Sometimes that has to be enough. But on the flip side, maybe they are doing the best they can. Sometimes that has to be enough. That doesn't always make things easy.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about and can't think of one friend in this situation, then you're probably living a pretty good life.

But if this post resonates with you in any way, I hope it makes you feel like maybe there's someone else out there, living their life and being grateful for all the good stuff, while still hurting over the hard stuff too. I hope you know you aren't alone.

August 23, 2017

Ways to Celebrate Hummingbird Season

It's hummingbird season in East Tennessee and lots of the tiny winged wonders are currently passing through our region to find warmer temperatures further south. Did you know some hummingbirds travel about 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico without stopping? What an incredible trek for such a small bird to take all alone!

There are all sorts of ways to celebrate hummingbird season, including helping our fluttering friends as they move along their journey.

One way to celebrate the wonder of hummingbirds is by making your yard or garden a space where they feel welcome.

Offer a Food Source for Hummingbirds 

Want to attract hummingbirds to your yard? Here are some tips to make your space welcoming to them. 

One way to attract hummingbirds is to incorporate flowering plants that they like, including varieties with all sorts of bright colors.

Opt for tubular choices because they hold the most nectar. This might include flowers such as columbines, daylilies, foxgloves, hollyhocks, impatiens and petunias.

Make sure to leave open spaces so the birds can move around from each nectar source. A hummingbird can snack on nectar from hundreds of flowers in any given day.

Don't have a green thumb? Never fear! There are other ways to attract hummingbirds to your yard.

Install Hummingbird Feeders around Your Home

When I don't know something, I like to go straight to the source for the best information. This is why I stopped by Knoxville's Wild Birds Unlimited to get more info about what types of hummingbird feeders to use and how to mix the nectar.

Here are a few things I learned:

  • Hummingbird nectar is always a ratio of 4:1 (four parts water to one part sugar)
  • If you make your own nectar from granulated sugar, you'll need to boil your water so it dissolves
  • Or you can make things simple for yourself and pick up a pouch of fine sugar and a mixing bottle (available at Wild Birds Unlimited
  • Hummingbird nectar isn't actually red -- just the container is. DO NOT add red food coloring to your hummingbird nectar. The dye is bad for the birds' kidneys. Just make sure to use a feeder that has a red tint. 
  • In fact, the more red you can incorporate around your feeder, the better. Hummingbirds have no sense of smell but very good eyesight so it's the red that attracts them. 
  • Put your hummingbird feeder(s) where you can see it. That's the fun of attracting hummingbirds...getting to enjoy watching them!

Wild Birds Unlimited has all sorts of hummingbird feeder options, plus stands and perches, nectar, and pretty much everything you need to attract various wild birds to your yard.

A Twist on Traditional Southern Dessert: Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird Cake is a popular southern dessert that combines pineapple and banana in a luscious cake, topped with rich cream cheese frosting. What's not to love? Southern Living first ran a recipe for this sweet treat in a 1978 edition of the magazine, and since then it is supposedly their most requested recipe. **Not made of real seems like that would be a given, but somebody might be wondering.** 

If you want to make a traditional southern hummingbird cake, check out these ideas.

I decided to create something a bit lighter that takes traditional hummingbird cake and gives it a simple twist: Hummingbird Parfaits. 

You'll need: 

Pound cake, chopped into small pieces
Sliced bananas
crushed pineapple
pecans or walnuts
whipped topping 

In a small parfait glass or jar, add a spoonful of crushed pineapple. Layer a few pieces of cake, sliced bananas, more pineapple, cake and whipped topping. Sprinkle with pecans or walnuts. 

If possible, make these ahead of time and refrigerate them while the juices mingle together. I know, it's not your grandma's hummingbird cake...but it's a new take on a southern staple. If we can't adjust and put our own stamp on things, what's the point? 

You could also make this in a trifle bowl and serve it in pretty vintage tea cups or other small dishes. 

All this talk of hummingbird cake got you in the mood to host a party? No party is complete without a signature drink! 

Mix up Signature Drinks - Hummingbird Cocktail 

As we covered earlier, hummingbird nectar IS NOT ACTUALLY RED...just the feeders are. But in the spirit of serving up what appears to be red-tinted nectar to hummingbirds, I'm mixing up a cocktail that's perfect for your next birding session. 

As I like to keep things simple, it only has a few ingredients: 

Sallie's Greatest Strawberry + Basil Simple Syrup 
Prosecco (or champagne)

For a non-alcoholic option, use plain seltzer water. 

Pour some of Sallie's syrup in a glass, top with bubbly and garnish with a few basil leaves or strawberries. Sip! Enjoy! 

Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival at Ijams Nature Center

Another great way to celebrate hummingbird season in East Tennessee is with other hummingbird enthusiasts at Ijams' seventh annual Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival! The festival will be held Saturday, August 26 from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The event will include children's activities, guest experts speaking on various topics, wildlife demonstrations, arts & craft vendors, and more! 

A big highlight of this event for attendees is the banding demonstrations. Banding is a way to harmlessly capture, weigh and measure hummingbirds and then band them before letting them go about their way. Ijams notes that banding offers a way to document hummingbird movement through migration. 

[All hummingbird photos courtesy of Wild Birds Unlimited - Knoxville, TN]

August 9, 2017

Simple Tips for Making Back-to-School Lunches More Fun

As a kid, lunch was one of my favorite things about school. What can I say...I have always been a foodie. Usually I ate cafeteria food, but sometimes (depending on which friends I happened to be influenced by at the time) I wanted to bring my lunch to school.

Most kids around where I live have gone back to school, even though it might seem a bit early to folks in other parts of the country. Remember what an exciting time it was? Freshly sharpened pencils, new friends and teachers, and maybe even getting a new backpack or lunchbag?

When I was a kid, my mom tried to make good lunches, but they were always a little out of the ordinary. This was before anyone in my small southern town had ever heard of bento and it would be many years before Pinterest was available for inspiration. Plus, our family tupperware collection was mostly made up of containers missing their lids.

On more than one occasion, by the time lunch rolled around my brown paper lunch sack would be soaked through with whatever my lunch happened to contain...including pickle juice.

Lunch is important for students. It helps them have the energy they need to stay focused and learn. I'm channeling my inner elementary school student and sharing some tips for making lunches more fun!

1) Make Lunch Fun 

We gotta eat lunch, but we also want to enjoy ourselves! There are so many simple ways to make back-to-school lunches more fun. 

I turned to Pinterest to get some inspiration, and it did not disappoint! 

From adorable sandwiches with cute faces to strawberry mice, there is no shortage of fun to find on Pinterest. Check out how one blogger turned ordinary sandwiches into cuddly creatures below! 

Another idea I had was to jazz up some boring Ziploc bags! With just some craft paper, tape and a few colored markers, I turned plain clear plastic bags into cute snack bags. 
  • Draw horizontal black lines down a zipper bag and fill with animal crackers for a tasty zoo!
  • Affix an image of an underwater scene to the back of a bag (so you can see it through the plastic) and fill bag with goldfish crackers. 
  • Draw some green grass or affix a nature scene to the back of a bag and fill with carrot flowers. 

There are plenty of other fun lunch ideas, depending on your child's age!

  • Take sheets from an activity book and turn them into napkin rings. Include a couple of crayons and your child has a fun activity to look forward to each day. 
  • I found some great alphabet cookies that would make a fun lunchtime game. A blogger named Allison created some neat free printables that use alphabet cookies to encourage learning. Check them out here.
  • Draw silly pictures or leave little encouraging notes in your child's lunchbox. I found some adorable inspirational stickers at Dollar Tree and stuck them on plain old bananas. An encouraging word does a body good and it will make lunch something to look forward to for sure!

2) Think Outside the Lunchbox

Get creative with containers to maximize options for lunch. You don't have to limit lunch to traditional lunchboxes. Small tote bags can also make a fun way to bring a lunch. When I was in high school, I saved small shopping bags from fancy department stores so I could use them to carry my lunch to school. I thought I was so sophisticated with my little brown bag from bloomingdales. 

Who says you have to carry the same bag every day? Dollar Tree and the Target Dollar Zone often have different cute bags for cheap. Keep it interesting by changing up your lunch bag to match your mood. 

Also, get creative with food containers too. I found some adorable plastic food storage options in the baby section of Dollar Tree, complete with cute animal faces. I also picked up some great plastic bins from the office supplies section. Just be sure to check for BPA and wash everything thoroughly before using it. 

3) Go Beyond the Sandwich

Sandwiches are great, but sometimes it's fun to switch things up. And who says lunch has to include a sandwich anyway? Wraps are a good option, especially because they hold up pretty well for several hours. Hard boiled eggs make another great lunch, paired with other healthy options like nuts, fruit and veggies. 

Here are some other possible lunch options:

  • Pimento cheese or pesto on a spinach wrap
  • Ham or turkey and cheese wrapped around pretzel rods
  • Hummus and sprouts in a mini pita
  • Tuna or chicken salad on Triscuits 

Lunch doesn't have to be a chore...make it fun with these simple tips! 

July 30, 2017

Why I Love Funeral Homes

I went outside to walk my dogs the other morning and the fog was so thick, I could barely see to the end of my driveway. And it's a short driveway. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the roses on the bush in front of my house were still covered with dew.

As a southern girl who grew up going to a lot of funerals, it took all of .03 seconds before I found myself humming the classic hymn "In the Garden." Depending on where and how you were raised, you may or may not know it.

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, says the first line. Illustrated perfectly by the dew clinging to the blossoms on my knockout bush.

And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the son of God a kid this line always made me picture the voice as a string of letters and symbols literally falling from the sky.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me...this line was fodder for many a corny preacher joke heard during my childhood. The dramatic way the words are sung, and the fact that southerners are notorious for stringing our words together makes it sound like you are in fact singing "Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me." And all the corny preachers in the south said: Can anyone guess God's first name? [the punchline is supposed to be Andy...get it?]

This song, said to have been written in 1913 by Charles A. Miles, was a staple at southern funerals of my childhood. Along with "Beulah Land," it was one of those songs you just knew would be played.

In the funerals of my childhood, held less frequently at churches and more often at local funeral homes, there was a special group of funeral singers. Likely a small quartet of willing church choir members, “In the Garden” was always part of their repertoire.

I always found it interesting that the singers didn't stand up front in the funeral home chapel, but were instead in the back or in an adjoining room, out of sight entirely.

You could hear their voices, but never actually saw them. I guess this is because it was supposed to have been less of a performance and more of a soundtrack for the occasion.

Funerals never freaked me out as a kid. They still don't. I kind of liked them.

In seventh grade, I was best friends with a girl whose family ran a local funeral home. I guess because funerals are all hours, and all different times of year, it was more convenient for them to live on-site. My friend lived with her parents in an apartment that was above the funeral home, up a set of wrought iron stairs around the side of the building.

This never seemed weird to me at all. Her aunt and uncle had the adjoining apartment and she could go back and forth as she pleased. It created a real sense of community and I actually thought it was wonderful. They always made me feel so welcome when I visited.

Sometimes we went down the back staircase into the funeral home to say hi to her uncle. This wasn't creepy or anything to me. I found it very peaceful.

There was a big room where all the sample caskets were displayed. I had been there before, with my great-grandparents when they did their pre-arrangement. Pre-arranging funerals was a big deal in my family. My great-grandparents knew exactly what they wanted and made sure their wishes were carried out, right down to what preachers were to speak and what songs were to be sung.

In fact it got to be kind of a problem because after they chose the ministers they wanted to hold their funerals, many began to die off and they had to move down their list of alternates.

My great-grandma’s faith, Freewill Baptist, dictated that a woman’s hair was her crowning glory, so naturally she even had special instructions about who was to fix her hair and how nobody was supposed to cut it. She wanted a baby blue casket, "to match her eyes." We didn't try to remind her that her eyes would likely be closed at that point, but oh well.

One of the first times I encountered death as a child and old enough to understand it, was when my great-great uncle Willie passed away. It was 1988 and I was six years old. We hadn't been close but he was one of those people who was just there for as long as I could remember. Not part of my daily life, but always a fixture at family reunions or other special gatherings.

I remember hearing my parents talking about the fact that he had died. "Wait, what?" Uncle Willie died, my mom said. This news hit me like a Mack Truck. I burst into tears, feeling sad all the way down into my toes. We had been sitting in our car, in the driveway of my grandparents house on Walnut Street. I couldn't believe something so awful could happen. And what’s more, I couldn’t believe how sad I felt about it. Even at age six, I realized I was growing up.

There'd be other deaths. Extended family members and family friends. My parents didn't always take me to the funeral home, but many times they did. And I liked it. Funeral homes could be such peaceful places. And I had such a big extended family, it was always like a reunion of sorts.

"You're growing like a weed," they'd say. "Such a grow’d up girl. I wish't we all got to see one another more than just at funerals."

And the food. There was nothing like funeral home food at the small town southern funeral homes of my childhood. Big ol' trays of cut up veggies and fruit, sandwich platters and buckets of fried chicken, giant bags of Ruffles potato chips and tubs of sour cream and onion dip. And desserts, both homemade and store-bought. Every different kind of Coke you could drink, even Pepsi and Dr. Pepper which we never had at home. You could eat whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted to.

And there were kind people who wanted to do nice things for you to make you feel better because you were sad. Honey, can I get ‘chew a cold drank? Well, I do believe you can.

And the Kleenex! At funerals home of my youth, there were boxes of Kleenex everywhere! On virtually every surface, near a little always full bowl of mints you could help yourself to. And not just the bright yellow Kroger brand box with the thin, scratchy facial tissues inside. These were thick, plush pillowy sheets of softness, housed in boxes with beautiful designs or perhaps even under a brass tissue box cover. As a kid, Kleenex was much too much of a luxury at my house and something my parents never bought. If you had a sinus infection or a bout of allergies, you'd carry around a roll of toilet paper from room to room.

Of course as I got older and more close relatives and friends started to die, funerals were not something to look forward to. When I was born, all my grandparents and great-grandparents were still alive. Once I hit high school, my great grands started to pass away. One by one, each year or so. Those funerals were much tougher...not only because I loved them dearly and they had been such integral parts of my life, but also because on one particular side of the family there were some strained relationships. By the time my granny passed away, one faction of the family wasn't exactly friendly to the other and it created some awkwardness at the funeral. But we muddled through.

I guess in a way a funeral is like the last thing you can really do for a person. This is why I stood, along with other members of my family, for hours on end in a receiving line as hundreds of people attended a visitation and paid their respect for my great grandpa. An old time country preacher who had lived in the area all of his 96 years, he knew everybody. And he was from a time when people still went to funerals, or at least to visitation. When just showing up really meant something.

We stood there at the front of the chapel, near his open casket, letting people file through, shake our hands, and hug our necks for hours. And tell us how good he looked.

No matter how tired I felt, or how much my feet hurt in my pointy toed shoes, it was so comforting to have all those people tell me what my grandfather had meant to them. To hear them recount stories of how he’d baptized their father, or married their parents, or held their own grandpa’s funeral. And how he had always been there for them. And how they just wanted us to know that it made a difference in their lives.

And the entire time, I thought "This is exactly what he would have wanted me to do. What he would have expected us to do." And it was something I could do for him. So that’s what I did.

Death doesn't have to be scary or weird. Even though it's sad. And funeral homes don't have to be creepy places. Sometimes they can bring real comfort. Especially when it feels like the one you loved is being honored and celebrated. When there’s a loss of somebody who meant the world to you, it’s okay to want to mark the event in some way. To come together with others who knew and loved the dearly departed. To cry together, tell stories together and just remember. And I guess for me that’s what funeral homes are for. A place where the life of somebody who mattered is recognized.

[image via Library of Congress Digital Repository

July 26, 2017

Dog Days of Summer - Cool Stuff for Your Pampered Pooch

We're right in the thick of the Dog Days of Summer and this is a great time to celebrate our furry friends with some dog-friendly products.

Whether your dog is young or old, active or not, there's sure to be something here he or she might enjoy! I'm sharing some great products for dog lovers who want to show their canine companions some love while the temps are hot.

Thanks to my friends at CitiFid-O for these great recommendations. You can find these and many more items for your pets at CitiFid-O, located in the heart of downtown Knoxville.

An awesome local shop, CitiFid-O takes great pride in offering as many local products as possible for the urban pet owner. From the moment you step in the store, you’ll feel their passion for cats and dogs. From the moment your pet steps in the store, they’ll feel like they’re home.

Fun Stuff for Dogs that Love the Water: 

A collar that doesn't get stinky and nasty when wet! This is perfect for dogs who have lots of style and want to express it. 

Stylish, 100% waterproof and forever odor-free, Muck Dog Collars are the perfect solution for dogs who love to explore. The special flexible coating allows your dog to swim, roll and romp through the great outdoors, but doesn't allow any of that outdoor dirt to get inside the collar and stink it up. When you're done for the day, just run water over the collar and it comes clean in seconds. 

Strap on a Muck Collar to deny dirt, beat bacteria, and play dirty!
  • 100% waterproof
  • Soft but strong webbing
  • Forever odor-free
  • Will never absorb moisture, dirt, or bacteria
  • Cleans in seconds
  • PVC free

Fun floating toys perfect for a day at the lake or the quarry! 

Clockwise from top - 
  • West Paw Frisbee - it floats and flies! 
  • Ruffwear HydroPlane - not only does it float, but it's made of abrasion resistant materials
  • Kurgo Doggie Dart & Backyard Birdie - fun colors and also floats
  • West Paw Boz - colorful squishy balls that float and bounce
  • Ruffwear Lunker - a fun toy that floats -- plus it's made of recycled materials 

And since safety is also important, how about a life vest for your dog? The K-9 Float Coat has a cool handle right on top that allows you to easily lift your pup out of the water. 

Keep Your Canine Companions Cool with these Products: 

Some say cool is a state of mind, but when temps reach the 90s and above in Tennessee, it's something we're all trying to achieve...especially our furry friends. Dogs can overheat easily and these products are highly recommended to help them stay cool when weather is hot. 

Chill Seeker Cooling Vest | Canada Pooch 

Turn summer's heat from grueling into cooling with this cool product! It uses evaporative technology to keep your pup cool on hot days. 

Simply soak the vest in water and wring it out. As the water evaporates, it absorbs heat and cools your pooch for ultimate summer comfort. 

PetSafe Drinkwell® Everflow Indoor/Outdoor Fountain

No more refilling the water bowl! Now pets always have access to fresh, filtered water with the Everflow Pet Fountain. When used outdoors, the fountain connects to a standard garden hose and automatically refills to the desired water level you've chosen. When used indoors, the Everflow can hold 1.5 gallons of water. The fountain continuously circulates and filters the water, keeping it cleaner and fresher than a normal water bowl.

Dexas Snack-DuO™ Bottle and Collapsible Companion Cup

This great product is a dual water bottle and snack container that offers both cool water and a crunchy snack for your dog when you are both on the go. Watertight cap top on liquid side, widemouth snap lid on snack side. Flip open the lid to dispense treats or kibble, then pop open the cap top to pour a cool drink of water in the attached collapsible companion cup. BPA free and dishwasher safe.

Coolin' Pet Cot 

Help your dog stay cool in the heat with the K&H Coolin' Pet Cot™. This product combines the innovative design of the Original Pet Cot™ with the addition of a cooling center for added comfort. 

It's truly a unique cooling dog bed!

Musher's Secret 

Musher's Secret is a dense, barrier wax that forms a breathable bond with your dog's paws. Developed in Canada for use with sledding dogs, it provides tenacious protection even in the most extreme conditions. 

 Mushers Wax available in three sizes. Safe and Natural, it's made from a blend of several food-grade
waxes, then refined according to special formulations. Musher's Secret is the safe, non-toxic
way to protect your dog's paws. The semi-permeable shield is absorbed into the paws, allowing perspiration to escape through the toes.

Check out these products to keep your furry friends fluffy and free of fleas & ticks: 

FURminator® Long Hair deShedding Dog Tool

By reducing shedding up to 90%, the FURminator Deshedding Tool enables you to share your home with your dog, without surrendering it to his hair. Used and recommended by veterinarians, groomers and pet professionals, this tool is guaranteed to reduce shedding better than any brush, rake or comb!

Natural Chemistry Flea and Tick Shampoo

Natural Flea & Tick Shampoo for Dogs kills fleas and ticks by contact. It is fully effective for up to 7 days. The shampoo is also effective on blackflies and mosquitoes. It contains oatmeal proteins that moisture, nourish and revitalize dry coat, also leaving the coat soft and smooth.

Dog Gone Smart Dirty Dog Shammy Towel

Dog Gone Smart Dirty Dog Shammy Towel can help you get your wet dog dry after a bath. It’s an absorbent microfiber towel that soaks up 20 times the amount of water and mud than the average shammy towel can. And it dries eight times faster than cotton towels or a blow dryer. This quick-dry towel also features dual hand pockets with elastic to allow for a better grip when drying off your pooch. Added bonus: your dog will enjoy the feel of the ultra-soft fabric as it massages him while it dries.

Help your dog feel calm during fireworks and summer thunderstorms with ThunderShirt! 

The patented ThunderShirt design applies gentle, constant pressure to calm anxiety, fear, and over excitement. Calms during fireworks, thunder, separation, travel, vet visits, and much more with no training and no medication so your dog stays drug-free. Great for rescue dogs.

This is just a sampling of the great products available at CitiFid-O in Downtown Knoxville. There are so many cool gadgets and gizmos available for dogs and since our furry friends are such an important part of our lives, why not pamper them this summer and beyond?