August 10, 2016

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.

My mom really 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) 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. 

2) 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 

3) Make Lunch Fun 

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. Draw silly pictures or leave little encouraging notes in your child's lunchbox. It will make lunch something to look forward to for sure!

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.

Or you could also download and print an image that would make a fun background for animal crackers to romp and play in. There are lots of free options online, or for a small fee you could get something from a stock photo site (above).

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

August 8, 2016

Don't Hate Your body

Nobody's born hating her body. No baby finds her toes for the first time and, before popping them into her mouth, thinks "Ugh, my thighs are so squishy in the middle." Just like everything else we learn in life, we are taught to hate our bodies. Lesson by lesson. Inch by inch, follicle by follicle, and cell by cell. We are taught by well-meaning people who were taught to hate their bodies by other well-meaning people.

Meaning well and doing well are two very different things.

I guess what makes me the saddest about this is it doesn't have to be this way. 

I can vividly remember a time in my childhood when I didn't hate my body. When I didn't feel the need to judge or critique it or cover it up under layers of bulky clothing. When I didn't feel judged or critiqued by others. When all was right (or at least as far as I knew it). I rocked my baby bikini with a vintage fur stole and never once considered the need to suck in my stomach. I pranced around in my white fringed cowgirl boots and never thought for one second about whether they made my ankles look fat.

I remember when the number assigned to the size of clothing I wore meant absolutely nothing to me. Searching the racks at our local department store for a Rainbow Brite t-shirt in my size, 6x, had no bearing on how I felt as a person. I was in the first grade.

I remember when getting weighed at the pediatrician was nothing more than a routine part of my check-up and didn't stress me out in the least.

I remember when my favorite food dish consisted of gravy and bread, which my little country granny would fix for me by taking a slice of loaf bread and covering it with brown gravy. I enjoyed every bite and never knew about the existence of carbs and saturated fat.

There was a time when my grandmother would take my face into her hands and trace around the edge of it, saying it was perfectly round like a Moon-pie. "How wonderful," I would think. What a wonderful thing to have someone say about you! I loved Moon-pies.

I remember when my grandpa would let me help him do projects around the house and he called me his "Big little helper," which was a great source of pride for me.

I can't really pinpoint when all that changed. It might be easier to identify if it happened overnight in one fell swoop. But the changes were sneakier than that.

One day, I decided I didn't want to be called a "big little helper" anymore. I couldn't explain why, but it didn't seem like something I wanted to be. Big.

Little by little, I took inventory of my body. And found hardly anything to love about its appearance. Having two strong, working legs was lost to the idea that they might soon be covered in spider veins, my genetic birthright. Two fully functioning arms, complete with a pair of hands that each had five working fingers (of all things!), were deemed too flabby for anything but shirts with sleeves.

And all of a sudden, going swimming with a group of people my own age seemed like torture. I spent way too much time and energy worrying about whether or not my 6th grade gym teacher was going to pinch my flab with the big metal calipers, in front of God and everybody else to see.

Then, there was the incident in junior high when a classmate declared I was fat.

My stomach hasn't seen the light of day since 1990, and I can't imagine it ever will again.

The thing about hating your body is you can't really do it without also hating yourself. You might think you can. You might think, my flabby stomach isn't me. My thighs are not my personality. My jiggly arms are not my sense of humor. 

You might think you can separate your hate for your body, put it in a box and keep some semblance of love for your inner self in a different compartment. But ultimately, it's all going to bleed together.

Because your brain and your heart are still the ones receiving the messages. Your stomach doesn't care if you hate it. Your jiggly arms aren't going to know if you despise them. It's your heart and your soul that will bear the brunt of these feelings. And throw in a good measure of guilt for feeling that way in the first place, especially when you consider all the people who'd love to have working legs, or a strong back, or fingers that can type 90 words per minute.

So what's the solution? Some people think the way to fix this is to change the things you hate about yourself. I'm not so sure. That's not to say having a desire to lose weight or get in better shape is wrong or strange. Anyone (which is everyone) who is on a journey of health and finding out what lifestyle choices work for them should feel loved and supported for by their community.

But what if your hatred for your body fuels you to change it drastically and then you still feel sad? What if this causes you to promptly seek out something else about yourself to hate? Sometimes the things we want to lose are also the things we want to keep. So we snuggle up to the devil we know, and keep right on hating our bodies.

What if, instead of trying to change our bodies, we just stopped hating them? What if we put our foot down and said, "That's it. I'm done. I'm through hating my body. And I'm not going to do it anymore."

Isn't it worth a try?

When I was in high school, I got this wild idea that people who ate blue cheese dressing on their salads were more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than people who ate boring old ranch. Only problem was, I didn't like blue cheese dressing. Hated it, in fact. I thought it was gross. But I so wanted to be more cosmopolitan and sophisticated. One day I came across a bit of research that said you could do something a certain number of times to make it a habit. I think it was like 13 or 17. So I decided right then and there that's what I'd do. I'd eat blue cheese dressing on the next 13 or 17 salads until it felt perfectly natural to me. And that's exactly what I did.

What if I could do the same thing, except with not hating my body? Is it possible to retrain myself and cease the feelings of hate, by just repeating non-hateful behaviors over and over again?

What if you could do it too? What if some of us stopped hating our bodies, and it created a little ripple that caused others around us to stop hating theirs. And what if one day some girl (or boy for that matter) did some amazing thing that impacted all of us for the better, all because s/he had never been taught to hate the things that made her/him strong, capable and able?

I am willing to try. Are you?

July 27, 2016

Simple No-Bake Summer Cheesecake Treats

We've been having a scorcher of a summer here in East Tennessee. With temperatures in the 90s, my poor air conditioner desperately needs a break. So the thought of turning on the oven to bake up some summer sweets is not appealing. The good thing is, there are plenty of great no-bake summer treats to make for your family this season.

I don't know about you, but I like to have a little something sweet after dinner. I know desserts should be a sometimes food, but I just can't help it. I always seem to want some sort of sweet treat.

These great no-bake summer desserts are perfect because they are individually sized and you can make them in whatever size containers you like. The other thing I love about this treat is that you can completely customize it, depending on what flavors you're in the mood for.

Basically, it's a crust + a filling + a topping (and each one can be your choice!). Totally, DIY, totally delicious.

To start, you'll want to make a basic no-bake cheesecake. I based mine on a great recipe found here. Combine two 8oz packages of softened cream cheese with one and a half cups of powdered sugar. I used my electric hand mixer, but if you don't have one you can probably still do this with a little (or a lot) of elbow grease.

1) Start with Your Crust

First, you want to choose your crust. Graham crackers are the most popular option for traditional cheesecake, but there's really no cookie that won't work here. I made a couple different versions of this, some with graham crackers and some with chocolate sandwich cookies.

If you're using a dry cookie like a graham cracker you will need some melted butter or coconut oil to hold the crumbs together. For sandwich cookies or anything creme filled, there's no real need.

I used my food processor to pulse the cookies into crumbs.

2) Choose Your Filling

Next comes the filling. The base filling is the cream cheese + powdered sugar mixture, but here's where your creativity can go wild. Any and all sorts of delicious combinations are possible with this recipe.

One version I suggest you try is to add in some Cookie Butter cream cheese (a Trader Joe's product). It has a hint of ginger, plus a little cinnamon that almost makes me long for cooler temperatures of fall. This flavor would go great with a gingersnap crust by the way. 

Then, I also experimented with a chocolate no-bake cheesecake by adding in a few scoops of Belgian Chocolate Pudding (another great product from Trader Joe's). I'm sorry I don't have exact measurements, because I don't like to follow actual recipes...for this I went by taste. 

For my third option, I left the filling plain but you could incorporate anything you like....peanut butter, lemon curd, butterscotch syrup, salted caramel topping, chocolate fudge....the list could go on and on. 

3) Finally, Add Your Toppings

This is probably my favorite part of any dessert: the toppings. Again, there's no limit to what you can create here. 

From fresh fruit like strawberries, peaches or blueberries to something simple like cherry pie filling, your no-bake cheesecakes are just waiting for you to dress them up. 

Here are some combinations I recommend...

Chocolate cookie crumb crust + Chocolate pudding cheesecake filling + Marshmallows

Graham cracker crumb crust + Lemon curd cheesecake filling + fresh strawberries 

Mint cookie crumb crust + Pistachio pudding cheesecake filling + chocolate shavings

Peanut butter sandwich cookie crumb crust + Peanut butter cheesecake filling + blueberry compote

I hope this simple no-bake cheesecake treat helps you (and your kitchen!) stay cool this summer.

Happy sweet eating y'all! 

July 13, 2016

Simple & Affordable Fairy Gardens to DIY

Fairy gardens have been a popular creative project for some time, but I haven't tried making one until now. There's something about the whimsy of it all, and the fact that I love tiny, miniature things that compelled me to create a fairy garden of my own. 

The best thing about making a fairy garden is that there are no rules. You can truly let your imagination run wild, and create a whimsical world that will make a great addition to your home or garden space. 

1) Choose A Fairy Garden Container 

The first step in creating your own fairy garden is to choose a planter to contain everything. This can be a traditional terra cotta pot or planter, or you might want to opt for something colorful in a glazed ceramic. I ultimately decided to use a plastic planter because I liked the color, a kind of neutral olive green.

Choose a planter based on your unique style, plus be sure to consider how large you'd like your garden to be. 

2) Select Plants for Your Fairy Garden 

Think about where your fairy garden is going to live (in the shade?, in a sunny spot?) and choose plants that will like those conditions. A good rule of thumb is three to four plants, depending on the size of your container.

Ferns are great, especially smaller varieties. Herbs such as thyme or different types of basil might also make a good plant for a fairy garden. Finally, succulents, coleus and ivy are all great selections. Your fairy garden is yours alone, so choose plants that make you smile! Check out these options, from 

3) Select Your Fairy Dwellings

Fairy houses are probably the cutest thing about fairy gardens. Most craft stores and even some garden stores have fairy houses or garden accessories that could work. I decided to use plain, raw wood birdhouses since they gave me the freedom to paint them myself. 

More project inspiration via Today Show!


4) Add Fairy Accessories to you Fairy Garden

I've always been a collector of little odds and ends. If you have a junk drawer, now is the time to raid it! You just never know what small bits and pieces you might be able to turn into a fairy garden accessory. Perhaps a broken holiday ornament can get new life in a fairy garden.

Or maybe you have small pieces from kids' toys that fit right in with your fairy garden. And don't forget to search for treasures in nature! Small stones, bits of wood or shells, leaves and pine cones, and dried flowers can all bring a certain magical quality to your fairy garden. 

You may also want to visit your local craft store and see what sorts of whimsical objects they have. Click here to see all sorts of fairy garden accessories available at Jo Ann Craft store. I hope you've been inspired to create your very own fairy garden! 

July 5, 2016

When Your Default is Fear

In the world of computers, "default" refers to a setting that is automatically reverted to when the user does nothing. It's the option that is picked for you if you don't make a choice of your own.

Humans are not computers, but we still have our various defaults. Things we revert back to, things we embrace when it feels impossible to make a different choice.

For me, the default is fear. If anything happens that doesn't go exactly as I'd hoped, fear takes over, kicking my brain into overdrive. Sending me in a dozen different directions, with no shortage of What if scenarios to imagine the absolute worst. Does this ever happen to you?

At work....Our business hasn't been doing so well and we need to tighten the budget. Your position has been eliminated. It's not personal. 

At the doctor....Something isn't quite right with your test results. We don't know what's wrong, but we need you to come back in for a second look. 

In a relationship....This isn't working. It's just too hard. We can't be together. 

When you like things to be a certain way (as I do) and you come to a situation that is outside your control, any choice other than fear feels next to impossible.

But there is another choice. Actually there is an infinite number of choices. Fear just feels like the easiest one because it's our default setting.

Like a path you've walked down over and over again for many years, it feels familiar, comfortable. Even if you don't particularly like it, it's the devil you know.

One of the scariest things that ever happened to me was losing my job. Not only did I think my job was supposed to define me as a person, it was my livelihood. So in one fell swoop, I lost what felt like my identity as well as how I paid my bills and made ends meet.

Fear wanted to be a constant companion of mine during those first dark days. But instead of hiding or trying to nurse my wounds in private, I went on vacation with my family. I shared my story here, with all of you. I surrounded myself with creative people who believe that there's always something else, something better....if we reach for it. I was really honest with myself about some things that I'd been avoiding. And I ended up feeling so free.

That was four years ago. A lot has happened since then. There have been other setbacks. Other times that things didn't go as planned, and fear reared its ugly head. Just today, I found myself in a situation where things felt out of control. And I immediately let fear be my default.

But the default choice doesn't trump all the others unless we let it. It takes work to choose something else. It takes believing there's something better to choose. It takes believing we deserve something better. And it takes knowing that things will work out, somehow, even if we can't predict the outcome.

Maybe you needed to hear this today. I definitely did.

June 29, 2016

Simple Ideas for a 4th of July Celebration

There are so many things to celebrate about July 4th. Our nation's independence is the main thing of course, but it also means summer is here, life feels a bit less hectic and there's just time to relax and take it slow.

Planning a July 4th celebration for your family and friends? Don't stress! Here's a rundown of some of my favorite simple 4th of July party ideas and treats from around the web. There are so many incredible blogs and bloggers out there. Who says we can't all get inspiration from each other? 

Sweet July 4th Decorations

via Crafthubs
Decorations for a July 4th party don't have to be fancy or expensive. A classic red and white checkered table cloth makes a cheery backdrop for your Independence Day festivities. Give your table some sweetness with mismatched containers filled with red, white and blue candy. Add some mini American flags for even more patriotic flair. 

That's a Wrap - Picnic Cutlery

Liven up your plastic forks and spoons by wrapping them with some quirky ribbon or craft paper. Don't go out and spend a ton of money....just raid your scrap bag or junk drawer. Old bits of red and silver Christmas ribbon? Perfect. Blue strings that you snipped from a set of curtains? Great. Use what you have and get creative. 

Don't have anything on hand that will work? I found some great raffia and other trimmings in the Target Dollar Zone. Spend a little for maximum impact at your July 4th celebration. 

Toast with the Most - A July 4th Breakfast Treat

via Taste and Tell

I loved this idea the moment I saw it. Such a cute way to enjoy the fruits of summer! I opted a loaf of the mini rye and made my version more of appetizer, but you can make yours however you like.

Spread cream cheese on a slice of toasted bread. Top with blueberries and other fruit. Drizzle with honey and enjoy!

Retro Drinks in Red & Blue

via HGTV
No matter how old I get, summer always brings back memories of childhood. Homemade ice cream, spending the night with my grandparents and being allowed to stay up late, and getting to drink all sorts of sugary drinks that I wasn't supposed to have.

In honor of those memories, I decided to incorporate some fun red and blue retro sodas into my July 4th festivities. No, they aren't really that good for me but sometimes it's fun to splurge on something that reminds me of being a kid.

Check your local grocery store for some retro drink options. I was surprised to find several different flavors and brands at my local neighborhood market. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and World Market are also good sources.

We All Scream for Ice Cream on July 4th

via Noble Pig
Ice cream is the currency of summer. There's just nothing like it, whether homemade or store-bought. Jazz up your frozen treats with these sprinkled cones. What a great idea, and so easy to make! 

I used white candy melts and an assortment of sprinkles. Dip each cone first into the melted candy coating, and then add your favorite nonpareils and sprinkles. 

Happy July 4th to you and the ones you hold dear! I hope whatever ways you choose to celebrate, you have a memorable holiday. 

June 21, 2016

Things I miss.

I was recently writing in my journal with a pencil and, after filling up one complete page, noticed that the heel of my hand was covered with pencil smudge. The sight took me back to elementary school and all the times my hands would end up smudged from using a pencil to write an essay or story. Funny how I spent so much time in the lower grades of elementary school excitedly anticipating the day when I could trade in my pencil for a pen to do my schoolwork.

And now I'm grown and often choose a pencil on purpose because of the nostalgic feeling is gives me. 

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Defined as "a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past" it applies specifically to times and places that we have happy personal connections with. I've written about this feeling before, a certain homesickness we have for places and people we hold dear.

There are other things I miss besides using a pencil to write all my secrets. 

I miss being little and staying with my grandma during the day, watching educational programs on public television, including a show where a lady taught me how to write in cursive. I miss waiting for my grandpa to come home from work. I miss the smell of his uniform, his Kroger butcher's apron covered with bits of meat, the remnants of his day. I miss how he'd sit in the corner of the kitchen, where the yellow Formica snack bar counter met the wall, a pair of half frame reading glasses perched near the end of his nose. I miss being small enough to fit on the kitchen counter lying down, my head dangling into the sink while my grandma washed my hair.

I miss how safe and sound my world felt. How nothing bad even crossed my mind because I didn't think there was anything bad to get me.

I miss the days of not knowing how good I had it. Of not having a clue how much hurt and sadness there was in the world.

I miss standing in the checkout line at the grocery store with a grown-up, and my only concern was whether I'd get a candy bar or a pack of gum, depending on who I was with and how generous they were feeling.

Now I stand there unloading my shopping cart, looking at the magazines on the racks placed perfectly at eye level. The stories of the Orlando shooting, the faces of the victims. My husband points to one face and says "that was the mom who was out dancing with her son. She died trying to protect him."

And now I'm weeping and can't pay for my groceries. And missing the days of candy bar or gum.

I don't want to be one of those people who romanticizes the past. I know there were plenty of hurts and problems back then too. But I didn't know about them yet.

There's a freedom that comes from not knowing. And on the flip side, a responsibility that is paired with awareness. Sometimes the responsibility feels so heavy, because it seems like no matter how hard we try, it makes such a small difference in the world.

But then I think about the people who made such a significant impact on my life, through just the tiniest kindnesses: My grandparents who loved me like there was no tomorrow; my 4th grade teacher who hung my artwork on the board for all to see; my mom's PBS colleague who touched my face and said I had the loveliest peaches and cream complexion.

There are many more of these kindnesses, too many to count, and I've been on the receiving end of them throughout my life. And they have made me a better person. So it was more than a small difference. I try to remember that each time I have the chance to make a small difference in someone else's life. I don't always rise to the occasion. But it feels good when I do. 

June 15, 2016

Last Minute Father's Day Gifts for Different Types of Dads

Father's Day is Sunday June 19th and if you've waited until the last minute (again!), don't despair. There are plenty of great last minute Father's Day gifts for all the different types of dads in your life. No two dads are alike and there's no one size fits all gift. But when you put some thought into it, and choose a gift that comes from the heart, it's sure to be perfect for the recipient.

I'm sharing some Father's Day gift ideas that might be great for the special dads you're shopping for. Hopefully this will inspire you on those last minute mad dash shopping trips!

Father's Day Gift Ideas for the Cool Dad

Is your dad a city mouse? Maybe he appreciates the finer things in life. Or perhaps your dad is more of an Everyman and you feel like he needs a bit of sophistication. Either way, these gifts for the cool dad bring lots of style and just the right amount of swagger. 

[Clockwise from top L: Rocks Glasses; Spherical Ice Mold; Straw Fedora; Matching Socks] 

Father's Day Gift Ideas for the Traditional Dad 

Maybe your dad is more traditional. He's fun loving and appreciates things that stand the test of time. This dad probably skips the gelatto and goes straight for vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup. But don't be fooled, there's nothing boring about him. He just knows what he likes. 

Here are some classic Father's Day gifts that may be right up his alley. 

[Clockwise from top L: Lawn Dice; Retro Plaid Thermos; Vintage Style Alarm Clock; Pour Over Coffee Pot] 

Father's Day Gift Ideas for the Health Conscious Dad

Finally, there's the dad who's trying to get healthier. Maybe he hasn't always made his health a priority so now he's looking for easy ways to incorporate healthier habits. 

Make him feel like you're rooting for him with these gifts that inspire health. 

[L to R: NutriBullet Smoothie Maker; Gaiam Deep Tissue Massage Roller] 

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there! Whether you give a homemade or storebought gift, just put lots of heart into it, and your dad will be sure to feel really special. 

June 1, 2016

Celebrate National Donut Day with Simple Treats to Make at Home

Friday is National Donut Day, and around here it's a time for celebration. Actually, I don't need a special occasion to eat donuts, but it's nice to have one anyway. 

In honor of National Donut Day, I've got three simple treats you can make at home for your family. And don't worry....they don't involve baking. Now, if you are a baker, each of these could be made from scratch. 

It's just that I'm not much of a baker, so I take the easy route. But I love taking something store-bought and giving it a little extra oomph. Case in point, turning chocolate cake donuts into whoopie pies with the addition of some basic whipped vanilla frosting. 

Chocolate Donut Whoopie Pies

via Gluten Free Canteen

These great looking donut whoopie pies were featured on the blog, Gluten Free Canteen. Don't they look tasty? If you want to make that recipe, check it out!

My version is much simpler. First, I picked up a half dozen chocolate cake donuts from a local donut shop. Then, I sliced them down the center. Next, I filled them with a fluffy vanilla frosting (also store-bought, but you could make your own). Put them back together as sandwiches and, voila! Donut whoopie pies.

Banana Pudding Filled Donuts

via Lauren's Latest - plus check out the other great donut ideas!

Next I set out to jazz up a simple bakery pudding filled donut. What's a more quintessential summertime southern dessert than banana pudding? I can't think of one. To turn boring old pudding filleds into banana pudding masterpieces, you need cream cheese frosting, bananas and Nilla wafers.

Start by frosting the tops of the donuts with the cream cheese frosting. Then apply a layer of banana slices. Finally, add your nilla wafers. Feel free to top it off with a squirt of whipped cream. Simple and delish, am I right?

Easy Chocolate Sauce for Mexican Cinnamon Shortbread Donuts

Finally, while exploring my neighborhood, I stumbled upon a Mexican bakery with some amazing wares. While they are different from what you might think of as a donut, these crunchy, flaky treats are perfect to enjoy for National Donut Day!

Based on my research, they are called Rosquitas de canela, which I believe translates to cinnamon shortbread. Similar in taste and texture to cinnamon Churros, I have seen these served with a chocolate dipping sauce, so I whipped up an easy version to drizzle on my bakery treats. Melt some chocolate chips on low in a saucepan, without letting it burn. Drizzle as much or as little as you like, and eat up!

Don't forget to celebrate this Friday, June 3rd. Hope your National Donut Day is good and sweet!

May 10, 2016


You stand on the bow of the ship, looking out into the clear blue water. As far as your eye can see, there is blue.

You squint off into the distance, trying to make out the place where the sea swallows up the sky. The water around the boat move in gentle waves. Not from a storm or anything ominous, but just from the natural movement of the tides and the fact that water rarely stands still.

There are others down there, swimming and splashing, soaking it all in. They call up to you, saying that the water is fine. They are having the time of their lives. They say you'll love it. They beg you to join them.

You want to jump. You want to feel the water for yourself. You want to float and splash like the others.

You squeeze the muscles in your legs, and even though you are like a statue, you can feel the potential energy of motion that is created, preparing to push you up into the air.

You hesitate. You wonder what will happen when you simply let go. What if you hit the water and sink to the bottom? What if you can't get back in the boat. What if you just don't like it down there.

Everyone who is already doing the thing you want to be doing seems equal parts companion and competitor. What if there isn't enough room in the water for you?

What if the others on the boat think you're ridiculous? They all seem happy enough to sit on the observation deck, staying warm and dry. Maybe that could be enough for you. But something about that doesn't feel quite right. The water looks so inviting, with all its adventure and opportunity.

You can't have it both ways. You have to choose. You get to choose.

The only way you'll know is if you jump.

May 5, 2016

Simple Ideas for Mother's Day Brunch

Mother's Day is a perfect occasion to celebrate with brunch. Make mom feel special with some simple, thoughtful additions to your table!  

Biscuits & Strawberry Butter

Who can pass up a hot biscuit, fresh from the oven? Take your brunch biscuits to the next level with homemade strawberry butter! 

This simple to make treat really makes your guests (and your guest of honor) feel like you went the extra mile to make brunch more memorable. 

To make strawberry butter, finely chop 2 cups of strawberries until they are almost the consistency of pulp. Stir the strawberry pulp into a half a stick of softened butter. Add honey for sweetness or cinnamon for a bit of spice. 

Chill the butter and serve with biscuits. Delish! 

Simple Strawberry Sangria (with or without alcohol)

image via the kitchn

Brunch is a great time to experiment with fruity drink concoctions. Even if some of guests (or mom) aren't alcohol drinkers, you can mix up a batch of delicious strawberry sangria for a toast to mom, grandma, and the other special ladies you are celebrating. 

Pour 2 bottles of Trader Joe's Clementine Orange Soda into a pitcher. Add 2 cups of strawberries. Let the berries soak until the flavors mingle (at least a few hours, but overnight if possible). If you like a sweeter sangria, add simple syrup. If you want to add some white wine or champagne, go for it! This easy brunch beverage will have everyone saying "Cheers!"

For more strawberry sangria recipes, click here

Spring Floral Arrangement with Purples and Greens

Instead of paying big bucks for a pre-made arrangement from a fancy florist, hit up your local grocery store for a variety of floral stems and make mom a one-of-a-kind arrangement. 

I was inspired by this spring centerpiece project from epicurious and decided to go with springy shades of lavender and green. Trader Joe's is my go-to for flowers, but you might have a favorite in your neighborhood. 

I even incorporated fresh asparagus into the arrangement by using a clear glass cylinder vase with another smaller one inside. The flowers and water go in the small, inner vase and the asparagus (or you could use lime slices) fill the space between. 

Don't be afraid to cut your flowers to the height you want, and don't be afraid to mix lots of different types of flowers. Stick to one color for a chic, professional look. Or go with your mom's favorite palette to create something she'll love. 

May 1, 2016

Floss more: A letter from my 80 year old self

*For the past several weeks, I've been reading "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. It's more than a book, it's a guide to creativity. And it's not just for artists, but writers, actors....anyone really. Each week, you read a chapter and complete a series of exercises as you work through the process of more fully revealing your creative self. One of the exercises for last week was to imagine what you might be like at age 80, and then write yourself a letter from your 80 year old perspective. Below is mine. Apparently, my 80 year old self says bad words. I hope it doesn't offend you. 

My dear, darling, glorious, beautiful child,

I say child because you are a child. The child version of me.

Oh but you're thinking "I'm no child. I'm 34 years old. That's old enough to have applied for a passport, graduated from college, traveled to Europe, bought a condo and a house, gotten married, gotten jobs, gotten fired from jobs, contributed to a 401k, filed taxes, started a Blog. Made friends, lost friends. Watched people that you used to babysit for have kids of their own." 

That may be so, but none the less, still a child you are. When you get to be my age everyone is a child. Except for the 90 year olds. And you're still a child to them.

This is what I want for you as you go through the rest of your life: Do not give a f***. Seriously.

One day, you'll wonder why you wasted so much time caring about so many things that did not matter at all. Stop that. Care only about things that matter most.

Stand by your principles, but kick them to the curb if they cause you to hurt or alienate another person.

Take the stairs every chance you get. When you get to be my age, taking the stairs is a privilege but you have to earn it by taking the stairs a lot throughout your life.

Only wear clothes that you love. You might die in what you're wearing so you should want it to be fabulous.

Only eat food that you love. That sad sad limpy lettuce and mealy tomato with a little ball of tuna salad covered in plastic wrap? Throw that shit at the wall. Eat macaroons. And pie crust. Drink beautiful green juice and sometimes wine.

Be only with people you love. Love everyone you're with, always.

Make every person you're with feel like they're the only person in the world that matters in that moment.

Smile at people who frown at you.

Don't get mad when your husband spills an entire drink in the console of your car. You won't remember that one day.

Don't get mad when he doesn't load the dishwasher right or doesn't unload it in a prompt manner.

Don't get mad when the meal you thought was going to be wonderful turns out to be gross. Life is all about practicing and cooking is one of those things you get to practice over and over.

Try to spend time with people who aren't going to live as long as you. One day you will miss having people around who have known you since before you were born.

Make friends of all ages so there will be lots of young people around you when you're old. Don't limit your friendships to people you have everything in common with or who are the same age as you. Diversify your portfolio.

Travel as much as you can. See as many things and places as you can. And then come home and love every minute of that too.

Nobody gives a shit how big your house is. Nobody cares what kind of car you drive. Correction, there are people who care about these things. Don't waste your precious limited time on them. Bless their hearts.

Love what you love and surround yourselves with things that bring you real Joy. Figure out what those things are. Figure out what real Joy is.

Don't limit yourself to just one dog. It will die and break your heart and you'll need another one to come into your life. And when that one dies (because it will), get another one. And then another one. And then another one. And know that all your furry friends will be waiting for you one day and they'll have had time to get to know each other so that when you finally arrive it'll be like one big party.

Value your time, your abilities and what you bring to the table. Don't be afraid to say this doesn't work for me. Don't be afraid to say I want more of this.

Know your limitations and push yourself Beyond them.

Learn what helps you when you're feeling sad and make sure to keep some of that on hand.

When you're feeling happy (I mean really happy), stop in the moment and say to yourself "Let's remember this feeling. This feeling of being completely and utterly happy. Just like on your wedding day."

Don't look at people you don't understand with a look of disdain or judgement. Don't have disdain or judgment for people you don't understand.

Believe that in the end, everything will work out. It will.

Gaze at your unwrinkly face in the mirror, and know that it is neither something you earned nor something you get to keep.

Don't roll your eyes when there's a slow walking older person in front of you somewhere. One day that will be you and it sucks when some young person is behind you huffing and rolling his eyes.

Promise me that for the rest of your life, not another bite of that fake butter/margarine crap will ever touch your lips. Same for the fake sugar substitutes. Never again.

Floss a lot more than you do now.

Do more yoga.

Drink more water.

Don't get upset when you scratch your glasses, or mess up your perfect manicure. These little things, while annoying, will never make it into our memoir.

Know that the most difficult people are usually the ones who feel the most misunderstood. This is not an excuse for their bad behavior, but it's a good reminder that the way they act isn't who they are. On the flip side, don't feel pressure to spend time with difficult people. You don't owe them anything.

In the beginning, you think life is going to be so long. And with each passing year, the weeks seem to fly faster and faster. In the end, even if you live to be 100 or older, it's all just a few mere seconds my dear.

You'll have moments when you feel like you've finally figured it all out. Don't get too comfortable in these moments, as they are usually followed by days, or even weeks (and sometimes years) of feeling like everything is topsy turvy.

Take each day as it comes, with the new challenges and joys that it presents. Keep on loving. Yourself. Your people. Your community. That's why you were put here. The rest is just extra.

April 26, 2016

I don't want what you're selling.

I don't want what you're selling. Why does this sound so harsh?

For me, it brings to mind the image of a 1950s housewife standing at her door while a pushy salesman waits on the porch with a briefcase or some type of case filled with samples.

I'll never forget the time the Kirby vacuum salesman came to our house and my mom said she was definitely not going to buy the vacuum cleaner. She was only going to let him do the free carpet cleaning, and then she would say no to his sales pitch.

$1,200 and 10 easy payments later we had a brand new, fully automated, self-propelled Kirby vacuum cleaner. It was actually pretty awesome and lasted many years, but that's another story.

The thing that got me thinking was the idea that we don't feel comfortable to say "I don't want what you're selling."

Surely I'm not the only one who feels equal amounts of annoyance and guilt when I make a special effort to avoid eye contact with the salespeople in the mall kiosks? I know it's probably not their life's dream to demonstrate straightening irons, rub cream on the back of wrinkly strangers' hands or fit my cell phone with a new indestructible case.

I'm not interested, but somehow I feel bad about it. Why does it feel like not wanting what they are selling somehow makes me wrong?

Have you ever encountered people who you just don't mesh with? It's not that you don't like them, or that they aren't perfectly nice. But something about the way they approach the world is completely and utterly different from your own approach. It's like they are selling something that you don't want to buy. Something you have no interest in, no need for, no desire to partake.

Maybe for these people, life seems so perfect....because they happened to capture it just right in a photo shared on social media. Or sometimes these are the ones who make themselves feel a foot taller, because they can cut somebody else down with just the right quip or comment. Or (to put in Tennessee terms) maybe they've simply gotten too big for their britches. 

I'm sure we all know people like this. I like to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, so I don't think they are evil or bad. These people are probably just as lost as the rest of us, trying to figure life out, and messing up all along the way. But somewhere on the journey, they adopted a mentality of 'the rules don't apply to me.' And maybe that's where it turns me off.

But the beauty of it all is this....we don't have to buy anything we don't want. If someone's selling something that doesn't work for you, don't buy it. Do you ever struggle with feeling like you aren't allowed to say no? There are a million reasons that cause this.

I can't say no because I need the money. I can't say no because it makes me look like a jerk. I can't say no because they'll hate me. I'll seem rude. I'll seem selfish. Nobody will like me. I'll be embarrassed. I'll look foolish. If I say no, and I'm the only one who says no, I'll be an outsider. I'll seem like a nerd. Like a snob. Like a fussy pants. Like a needy person. If I say no, I won't get asked to go along ever again. If I say no, I might have to sit at home and be sad. 

You don't have to go along. You're allowed to say "I don't want what you're selling," whether it's a product or service, or a belief system or a way of life.

We don't have to buy into beliefs we don't embrace. And we don't have to buy into the idea that we have to become a different person to make others like us, or think we're worthy of their time.

If chaos and drama and ridicule is someone's way of life, and that's what they're selling, it doesn't appeal to me. What's wrong with that?

I know life presents certain circumstances that we have to 'put up with.' Sometimes they last for a short time, or a longer season. But forcing ourselves to buy into things we don't believe for the long-haul is slowing killing us.

When we do this, we tell ourselves that what our heart wants most doesn't matter at all. And this is a form of self-abuse. What your heart wants most does matter. It matters to me and it matters to God.

But we're only given a limited amount of resources in the way of time, energy and attention. Don't spend your precious pennies on things you don't want. No matter what you try to convince yourself you're getting in the bargain. It just isn't worth it. And it never will be.

April 20, 2016

3 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Earth Day is April 22nd and it's a great time to stop and enjoy the beauty and magic of nature. I'm not really much of an outdoorsy type, but I love the wonder of living things, the intricacies of insects and flowers, the way we all fit together in this big ecosystem we call home.

In honor of Earth Day, here are some fun and simple ideas that you can enjoy with your family to celebrate our planet!

Upcycled Soda Bottle Bird Feeders 

Not only is this project easy to do, it also creates a new use for something you might already have lying around the house. To make a simple bird feeder, you first need a soda bottle (honestly, y'all it's all Coke here in the south - no matter what kind of 'soda' you're actually drinking). It could be a 2-liter or a smaller one, depending on what you have on hand. 

Cut a small hole on one side near the bottom and cut a larger hole across from the small one. You'll also need a wooden spoon. Again, if you have an old one lying around, that's one less thing you have to buy for this craft. Stick the spoon through the bottle so the bigger side comes out through the bigger hole. 

Next, using a funnel, fill the bottle with birdseed. Be careful because some may spill out of the hole around the spoon. It doesn't really matter if it falls out while in use because you'll be feeding birds outside. 

I saw this craft on the blog, Handimania and thought it was worth re-creating! Click here for more info.

Install an Insect Hotel 

The insect hotel shown above is available here

Ever since I first saw these insect hotels, I've wanted one. Imagine my delight to run across an affordable version at my local Aldi grocery store! There are lots of types available online and you can also make your own. 

An insect habitat hotel is a great way to invite beneficial insects to your garden and yard. This includes pollinators like butterflies and bees, plus ladybugs and lacewings. 

Different insect hotels have different sections, but many are designed to mimic what each insect's natural habitat would look like. You can also add your own special touches like nesting materials, dried grasses and bits of bark. 

Make a Batch of Grown-Up Trail Mix & Take a Hike!

Did you know that 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service? I'm lucky to have the most visited National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, practically in my backyard. GSMNP is doing a great hike challenge in honor of the centennial -- hike 100 miles over the course of the year on the park's trails. 

And what's better for a hike (or just to enjoy while hanging out around the house) but some good old fashioned trail mix? Although I'm not talking about your childhood raisins and peanuts. This is trail mix for grown ups. 

image via

The best part about it? You are a grown up so you can make it however you want! 

For my latest trail mix combination, I used the following ingredients (all from Aldi -- love that place!). But you can shop wherever you like ;) 

  • Raw almonds (no salt)
  • Cashew pieces (What can I say, I'm frugal and pieces are cheaper than whole cashews)
  • Dark chocolate covered pomegranate seeds
  • Freeze dried peaches
  • Banana chips
  • Sesame sticks 
Mix up your favorite nibbles and enjoy! 

Happy Earth Day y'all! 

April 19, 2016

I was late and nobody died.

I hate being late. Hate it. Hate. It. I have a weekly business meeting every Tuesday, and at least 50 percent of the time, I'm the first person to arrive. Sometimes, when I drive up and there are no other cars in the lot, I think to myself "Is the meeting cancelled?" And then I remember that I'm always awkwardly early and everyone else just arrives at the correct time.

Twice a month, I appear on a local television station to talk about entertaining, cooking, and other blog-related projects. My live segment is always around 8:45 a.m. Most of the time, I am in the TV station parking lot by 7:55. Nearly one hour early. And I only live 10 minutes away.

I guess you could say I have a phobia about being late. To me, time is one of the most valuable things I have. So I want other people to honor my limited and precious time. And I want to offer them the same courtesy.

I blame my schema. Wait, say what?

In the realm of psychology, there's a whole school of thought that centers around mental schemas. I'm no expert, but from what little I've read, they are also known as lifetraps. Basically, the idea is that because of different things that happen to us in our childhoods and early lives, we develop certain negative mindsets or ways of viewing the world.

Apparently one of mine is Unrelenting Standards. This came as no surprise to my husband, who for years has teased me that on my tombstone will be written these words: She liked things to be a certain way.

This is expressed differently for different people. For me, it has to do with efficiency and productivity. Like wanting to do things as efficiently as possible. Needing to use all time productively. And being anxious if things don't go just as they are 'supposed to' without flaws and mistakes.

It boils down to good is 'good enough?' For someone like me who has the Unrelenting Standards schema, anything less than a sort of degree of perfect can feel like a disaster.

I'm sure this plays a role in my wanting to be on time, all the time.

And it rears its ugly head in other areas too. But of course hardly anything I ever do is perfect. And therein lies the struggle....being forced to live in that spot between what you expect from yourself, and what you actually get.

If you know me in real life (or even if you don't), it's easy to see that I am far from perfect. I say and do the wrong thing. I put my foot in my mouth. I hurt people's feelings (not usually on purpose, but still).

But there are certain things that I can control, and punctuality is usually one of them. Until the other day.

I was invited to attend a gathering of bloggers at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort®. I'll definitely share more about that cool experience in future posts, but the part I want to share now is that I was late. To our first day of events.

The event organizers had put together an incredible itinerary, but it was jam-packed with things to do and places to go. For our first day, we were supposed to meet in the resort lobby at 7:30 a.m.

The night before, I set the alarm on my phone for 6:15 a.m. AND got a 6 a.m. wake-up call from the concierge. I faintly remember hearing my room phone ring and thought to myself, "Okay, fifteen more minutes to snooze before my phone alarm goes off." Except it didn't go off. I don't know what happened, but the next sound I heard was the phone ringing at 7:47 a.m. I had overslept and the entire group was waiting for me in the lobby.

For those of you who think schedules are just a suggestion and time doesn't really apply to you, this probably doesn't seem like anything at all. For someone like me, with the Unrelenting Standards schema who freaks out over the tiniest hiccup, it felt like a monumental fail. Every negative thought was running through my head....I was rushing around trying to hurry, feeling totally mortified and just plain ol' starting the day on the wrong foot.

But then a thought occurred to me. I was late. Nobody died. The thing I had tried so hard to avoid had happened and the world didn't stop.

If you don't struggle with this issue, you're probably rolling your eyes at me right about now. "Good grief," you're probably thinking. "There are starving children in the world. There's war and plague and other terrible things. Being late isn't that big of a deal. Get over yourself." 

Trust me, I'm working on it. But I wanted to share this because I know there's someone else out there, maybe you, who feels like you have to keep this false facade of perfection going. Even if its only in one area of your life. I promise you that you can lay that crap down. You don't have to carry it anymore. And neither do I.

Here's what I know to be true:

1. You are not defined by your biggest failure.
2. You are not defined by your most celebrated achievement.
3. You are not defined by how early you arrive or how late you stay.
4. You are not defined by how often you say just the right thing to just the right person in the perfect moment, to achieve the desired results.
5. You are not defined by how neatly ironed your clothes are when you arrive or whether you have a stain on your shirt.
6. You are not defined by the person who hates your guts or the one who wants to throw you a parade.
7. You are not defined by the meanest thing anyone's ever said to you.
8. You are not defined by the most glowing compliment you've received.
9. You are not defined by the person who quit loving you even though they were supposed to continue forever.
10. You are not defined by how awesome your boss thinks you are or if you just got fired.

Your value is inherent because you are a child of God. Whether you believe in Him or not. Whether you love Him or not, He loves you. Who you are is defined by that. Nothing else.

Now I'm certainly not saying to eschew kindness and consideration. I'll continue to arrive at meetings awkwardly early and sit in my car killing time. But maybe I'll remember that time I was late, and nobody died.

April 18, 2016

The Creative Life of: Lucille Pack

**This is a new series on the blog, in which I interview creative people and share a bit more about their creative lives. A big thanks to Lucille Pack for being the inaugural creative featured!**

You just never know what you're going to stumble across during random image searches on the Internet. When looking for inspiration for a recent blog post about wearing glasses, I came across the art of Lucille Pack. What search did I perform? The phrase "boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses." Lo and behold, this search brought me to one of Lucille's pieces, and it grabbed my attention right away.

Boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses.

Growing up, my mom was a rabid collector of vintage photographs, specifically of people she didn't know. I guess I get much of my love of stories from her, because she has always been one to wonder about the stories of other people, making them up as she goes along if she doesn't know the real ones.

Lucille Pack's work combines words and images to tell some really unique stories. Her vintage photographs-turned-collages are the representation of various phrases, brought to life with images that force you to think about the words in a new way.

Lucille is a collage artist, book maker and painter who graciously agreed to answer a few questions. I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about the Creative Life of Lucille Pack!

Where are you from? Where do you consider to be your home? I’m really glad you phrased this question this way. The question of home consistently perplexes me because where I live, where I am from and now where I go home to are all different places. Originally, I am from Dallas, but I have never felt at home there. I moved to New York for college, have been there ever since and today consider Brooklyn my home. When I visit my family (when I “go home”), I travel to Carmel, California. Carmel feels the most like going home.

Can you share a little bit about your background and what made you want to be an artist? I wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember and am lucky enough to have a family who was (and continues to be) very supportive of my creative endeavors. I started painting and drawing at young age, and have since added collage, bookmaking and writing to my practice.

Who was the biggest influence in your life/Who encouraged you to hone your creative spirit? I don’t have a single biggest influence, but strongly believe my creativity was encouraged by a series of circumstances. Not necessarily that being an artist was meant to be, but that I encountered a series of circumstances which continually reinforced my desire to practice art. For example, my high school English teacher suggested I visit Sarah Lawrence while I happened to be doing a summer program in New York. I visited, fell in love with the college and eventually graduated from there. I am forever grateful I had someone in my life who not only recognized a difference in me, but introduced me to an environment where I would be better suited. My current practice really began at SLC as this is where I learned how to involve my other intellectual interests such as sociology in my art work.

"You sure have a way with people." "Well, they are my species."

What is the biggest challenge you face as a creative entrepreneur? The biggest challenge for me is definitely the business side of being a creative entrepreneur. Being an artist is about so much more than making work, and I am slowly but surely learning how much more goes into a successful practice. I love writing and specifically writing creatively about my work. However, when promoting your work you have to go so far beyond your favorite parts of the practice. For me, it has been very important to make a weekly schedule as a sort of reminder to focus on marketing, accounting, etc. in addition to actually making the work.

What is the best advice you have for other women who would like to pursue a full-time career as a creative solopreneur? If you want your creative endeavor to function as a business, it is extremely important to be knowledgable about what makes up a successful business. This probably involves learning things you aren’t that interested in (such as accounting in my case), but it’s worth it. It is so easy now to take an online course where you can learn everything from marketing to website design to how to start a solo business. Knowledge is an irreplaceable component of any enterprise, and it will make you more confident.

Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Not Touch Ours, Large

What do you do when you are feeling stagnant or in a creativity desert? My work is based off of found photographs, so when in a funk, photographic research is super helpful. I also find a lot of inspiration in old movies, historical artifacts and general explorations of the past. Even when I’m not feeling stagnant, I’ve recently noticed new ideas come to me at unexpected moments, frequently during yoga class.

Do you have a favorite southern city? I have a lot of southern cities I want to visit, but unfortunately haven’t had a chance to yet. Two I am hoping to visit soon are Charleston & Nashville. My brother-in-law recently moved to New Orleans and I just went there for the first time. New Orleans is an amazing city and I am already itching to go back. My favorite food is fried chicken, so I imagine I would be pretty happy in most southern cities.

The general was essentially a man of peace, except in his domestic life.

What's your favorite way to spend a Saturday? My husband and I love to travel. Now that the weather is getting nicer, we’re trying to use Saturday as a day trip day. I love to hike and spring Saturdays are great for outdoor activities. It’s also my favorite day to splurge on a nice dinner or spend the day cooking for friends.

What was the last great book you read? I am about to finish Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend and cannot wait to start the second book in her series.

Don't Talk to a Girl That Way Unless You Mean It!

Do you have a favorite quote or mantra that you always keep in mind? I don’t really. Since I am named after Lucille Ball, I thought it would be cleaver to find a quote of hers. Not that she hasn’t said amazing things, but during my quick search, I came across a quote from Sarah Silverman that I love and think is sort of perfect when discussing creative female entrepreneurs, “Mother Teresa didn’t walk around complaining about her thighs- she had shit to do.”

Connect with Lucy Pack - Follow her on Instagram | Check out her Pinterest | She tweets too!