November 19, 2015

Simple Thanksgiving Shortcuts to Save your Sanity!

Thanksgiving is next week and while it's a special holiday, there's also a lot of pressure to create a meal that looks like something from a magazine. 

It's hard to enjoy the time spent with family when you put so much pressure on yourself to make it perfect. I feel like sort of a hypocrite writing about Thanksgiving shortcuts because I'm not responsible for my family's Thanksgiving meal. We're really lucky to have multiple generations and us younger folks haven't quite been passed the torch of cooking the main meal. Everyone brings at least something though, so our host (my great-aunt) doesn't have to do everything.

Even though I'm not the Queen of Thanksgiving, I know how to spot a shortcut. And I know that when you are having a huge bunch of hungry people at your house, shortcuts can be a godsend!

Here are some of my favorite shortcuts you might want to cash in on this year...

1) Pie in a Jar - So I'm not sure who to thank for this glorious invention, but I gotta give a little shout of praise to whomever came up with pie in a jar! All you need to do is add butter & eggs, pour into your crust and bake. So simple and it's Trader Joe's so you know it's delicious.

2) Cheese & Crackers Platter - You've been there. In the kitchen trying to make some magic happen and your husband (who keeps saying he's starving) keeps coming up behind you, reaching into the pot of whatever you're cooking to grab a bite. This is one of my biggest cooking pet peeves. My southern beau knows to stay out of the kitchen until everything's done...but that doesn't mean he isn't always trying to push the limits.

Now, what if you're cooking for ten or twenty people and they are all getting hungry. If everything isn't happening on schedule, they might try to sneak a bite.

There's a simple solution that will save the day....give them some nibbles to stave off the hunger pangs until the meal is ready.

Create an amazing cheese & crackers platter that guests can enjoy while they wait. I like to feature a variety of cheeses (some soft, some hard, some tangy) and crackers, but also nuts, olives and fruit.

It doesn't have to be perfect, just delicious.

3) Treats for Fido - 

After my beloved pup Leon passed away this year, I haven't been able to get another dog. But hopefully that will happen when the time is right. When Leon was with us, he loved holidays because that meant more people with potential treats and food scraps to slip him under the table.

Problem was, he had a sensitive stomach. I recommend having some designated dog treats on hand so your guests can offer Fido a treat (if they want to) without you having to worry about cleaning up dog barf during dessert.

When I found Thanksgiving-themed Turkey Cranberry dog treats at Trader Joe's, I couldn't resist snatching them up. My boy would have loved these. [Sidenote - If your pooch does eat a little too much, canned pumpkin is where it's at. I used to feed it to Leon when he had tummy troubles.]

4) Leftover Love - I'm not a big fan of leftovers, but Thanksgiving and leftovers go hand in hand. Make your leftover turkey really count by enjoying it on a sandwich paired with these chips.

If you thought Turkey flavored chips were a thing of the future, welcome to the future my friends.

Want more Thanksgiving fun? Check out this cool infographic with some stats about how turkey day is celebrated around the country!

**I was not compensated for this post. I just really LOVE Trader Joe's** 

November 7, 2015

No regrets

"The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time."

— Mary Oliver

November 6, 2015

A November space

"But there is always a November space after the leaves have fallen when she felt it was almost indecent to intrude on the woods…for their glory terrestrial had departed and their glory celestial of spirit and purity and whiteness had not yet come upon them."

--L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars (Anne of Green Gables, #4)

November 5, 2015

Ways to Celebrate Thankfulness during November

November is one of my absolute favorite months of the year. Fall is here (even when the south is experiencing what seems like a heatwave) and in a few short weeks it will be Thanksgiving. Somehow Thanksgiving always seems to sneak up on me, but this year I'm prepared.

Instead of waiting for it to feel like Thanksgiving, I'm jumping in at the beginning of the month to milk this holiday for all it's worth. I'm talking about being thankful, people.

The minute the Halloween decorations were put away, the Christmas music started playing in retail stores. And I love Christmas (seriously, love it!), but why should Thanksgiving have to get lost in the shuffle?

Being thankful isn't something for one day. Gratitude shouldn't get packed away with our wool sweaters and only come out when the days are shorter, or leaves crunch under our feet.

I believe there's a lot of power in being grateful. What we believe shapes our reality and when we truly see our lives chocked full of the gifts they have, our reality follows suit.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving (that's totally a thing, right?), I'm visiting with my friends at Knoxville's WTNX Fox43 to share some fun and simple projects that just might inspire you to tap into feeling thankful and make November really count.

1) Thankfulness Paper Chain

I'm just such a sucker for paper chains and garland. They are kitschy and retro in all my favorite ways. And because they are so simple to make, I wanted to craft one as part of my month of thankfulness.

There are lots of options for making paper chains, from cutting construction paper to using store-bought paper chain kits like the one I shared on television (got it at Michael's). I even found this great free thankfulness chain printable you can customize.

Each day, get your family members together and have everyone write something he or she is thankful for on a strip of paper. Then connect the strips together to form a chain. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you'll have an entire chain of thankfulness. Sweet, huh? 

2) Fall Leaves Gratitude Garland 

Like I said before, I love a good garland. It's an easy way to decorate one area of your home (like a doorway or mantle) without going over the top. 

You can cut your own leaves out of paper, use silk or artificial ones, or even real ones. For this project, I used foam leaves because I wanted to write on them and that seemed like the best option. 

Again, take some time with your family each day to reflect on something you're thankful for and write it on one of the leaves. As you string together your garland, be reminded of all the things you have to be thankful for. It never fails to put things in good perspective when I really stop and consider all the blessings in my life. It sounds a bit like Pollyanna, but it's so true. 

3) Thanksgiving Clothespin Wreath

Apparently clothespin wreaths are not a new thing, but I only stumbled across the idea recently. There are lots of variations out there, but I decided to make a simple natural clothespin wreath accented with burlap ribbon. 

All you need are wooden clothespin (I got mine at the Dollar General Store) and a wire wreath form (which was $2.99 at Michaels). For a total of $5, this wreath isn't half bad. And you could always jazz it up with paint, washi tape, wood stain, or whatever. 

The idea is to write what you're thankful for on each pin. Or hang it on your front door and let your guests fill in what they are thankful for. When it comes to crafting (in my world anyway), there are no rules. Just simple projects that don't cost a lot and let you give life to your own inner artiste. 

I hope you enjoy November. As my grandpa loves to say: all you get out of life is what you enjoy. Make the most of it pals!

November 4, 2015

Perfecting the art of fine.

This is for the superwomen.

The ones who take on too much.

The ones who need to feel like they're in control.

The ones who get mad because others around them aren't pulling their weight but are also secretly glad because it just reaffirms their belief that they could do it better on their own anyway.

The ones who feel angry because yet another thing they've agreed to do that they didn't want to do has made them tired, stressed out, devoid of energy, ready to give up.

This is for the women who scream at their partners, and leave the house and cry in the car on the way to the appointment they have to keep.

This is for the women who hate the way things are and believe deep down that there must be another way but can't see how to get from point A. to any point that's better than A.

This is for the ones who've accepted that life is one big trade-off. And that every time you say yes to something, it means saying no to a million other things.

It's for the women who wanted to please their parents, who wanted their teachers to like them, who wanted everybody to like them. Who cringe at the thought of criticism. Who try to be invisible in the face of confrontation.

This is for the women who know they were put here for more. Not more things, as in a longer list of things. Not more as in quantity or "how many more tasks can I cram into the 86,400 seconds in any given day?"

But the women who know they were put here for more quality. A better quality of life.

The ones who believe they can achieve it yet make choices that keep them from achieving it.

It's for the ones who hate where they're at, but don't know what to do.

It's for the women who have perfected the art of being fine, no matter who's asking, no matter the time of day.

It's for the women who turn a good situation into something bad, because they are so stuck inside their own heads, conversations they only imagined become real and looks that probably meant nothing turn into loaded glances.

It's for the ones who feel alone, even thought the irony is that there are so many of us. It's like we're all alone together.

Let's be alone together, shall we?

November 3, 2015

Competency is not calling.

Have you ever been really good at something? Maybe you've always known you were good. Like it was part of your awareness of who you were from a young age. Or maybe you spent your whole life totally oblivious, until an opportunity came for you to demonstrate a certain task or participate in a hobby and you were like, dang, "I'm really good at that." 

When I was a kid, my dad made me take piano lessons for several years. The problem was I never learned to read music. I didn't practice enough and my teacher totally called me out on it, but when it was time for our quarterly recitals, I memorized my pieces and played them like a champ. To my family who saw me play that big grand piano on the stage of the Bryan Fine Arts Building, I was totally competent. Except I wasn' was sort of a sham.

Playing piano was not my calling.

Once this was apparent, my folks let me take voice lessons instead. But things got dangerous when they realized I had a decent singing voice. This would usher in a period of my childhood that I remember as "The family is gathered, and my mom is forcing me to put on a performance for them."

She was a stage mom, minus the stage...unless you count the raised platform of our living room fireplace and my humble boombox, with its six D batteries.

I enjoyed singing to a degree, but I didn't live for it. I wasn't one of those kids who would grow up to be a Lee Ann Rimes or a Taylor Swift (as if you didn't know this). Just like piano, singing would become yet another thing that wasn't my calling.

Except the difference between singing and piano was my singing was pretty good. It's possible people were just being polite, but strangers always paid me nice compliments after each performance and I was invited back to sing for various events (mostly church, but also weddings). And, like I said before, I enjoyed it for awhile.

Then when I didn't really want to do it anymore, it was confusing. I missed the compliments, but not really that much. Singing became something I quit doing for an audience and mainly did only in the car with my best friend, when our favorite Backstreet Boys song came on the radio.

This was probably the first time in my life that I was faced with this fact:
Competency is not the same thing as calling.
On up through high school and even college, I would go on to display competency in all sorts of other things (just not soccer...I was terrible at soccer).

But none of the things I was competent at ever felt like my calling.

What is a calling? The dictionary defines it as "a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation." 

I'm much more keen on the first part of the definition than the second. I like thinking of a calling as a strong urge toward a way of life, but when you throw the word 'career' in there, it messes with my head.

See, what if your career isn't exactly your calling? This is particularly hard to make sense of if you are good at your career.

I think some people end up in careers that align with their calling. Maybe you're one of them. But there are also people who just happen to be good at something and end up getting paid to do it. We can't confuse this with calling, because it isn't the same thing.

It's kind of like saying I was good at playing piano because I memorized two songs and could play them with my eyes closed. I was competent, but it wasn't what I was put on earth to do.

That's my personal definition of calling, by the way.

To me, a calling is something you were put here to do. What's more, if you couldn't do it anymore, you would feel like you were dead. It's that life-giving thing that the more you do it, the more you want to do it. And alternatively, if you can't do it or just don't do it, you feel like the life is sucked out of you.

Let's play a game. Fill in the blank below to reveal something you may or may not want to know:

If I couldn't _____________________, I'd feel like the light (and life) inside me was snuffed out. 

Maybe your blank contains your current career or vocation. You're one of the lucky ones.

Or, maybe it's something a bit less specific. No matter what, I totally believe there is a calling for each of us.

But whether or not that calling is directly related to our paycheck, those waters are a bit murkier.

Just don't believe the lie that competency or even quality is the same thing as calling. I mean, it's awesome to have gifts and talents. Be so glad that you do.

But know that being really good at something does not make it your calling. Even if you have found yourself in a position or role that you're getting a lot of praise for or getting paid a nice salary to do it.

Remember It's a Wonderful Life, when George Bailey's little brother Harry went on to become the war hero? You know where I'm going with this. If not for George who saved him from the icy water, Harry would not have gone on to do those brave things. It sounds so cheesy, but there's a hole in the world in the shape of you. We all need what each other has to give. And I think most of the people who are living really joyful, productive lives have figured this out.

God, seeing a need, uniquely, exquisitely created and crafted you, as a way to fill what was missing in the world. And each of the world's needs is different. Some fall under a more practical category. It's not my passion to work in the medical profession, but thank goodness we have doctors and nurses who do have this calling. The ones whose calling it is to get up every day and provide those kinds of services and care to people.

I've never felt called to be a teacher. But I'm so grateful to all the wonderful teachers who have touched my life through the years.

I've never felt called to be in politics, but I'm so glad we have people (although not all of them) who are passionate about changing our world for the better and who will work tirelessly to create policies and laws.

And then the world has other needs, for beautiful things like art and music and incredible delicious foods. Things that can revive our crushed spirits and souls, sometimes at just the moment we think it isn't worth going on anymore.

I think it's so important we find out what our calling is and find ways to pursue it. It doesn't mean that our calling gives us the paycheck we want. But it also doesn't mean that just because it doesn't, we should quit trying to pursue our calling in other ways. Other doesn't have to be lesser. Just different.

This blog gives me a place to work out my calling. If I couldn't write and tell my stories and tell your stories, I'd feel like the light inside me was snuffed out. And when I can do those things, I feel like there's a new life force within. It's like a renewing sense of life that only grows, pushing me to do it more and more and more.

My hope is that one day your calling is what you can spend most of your time doing. And until then, I hope you can feel encouraged that you aren't the only one struggling. You're not the only one wondering what the right answer is. You're not the only one afraid you are missing out on something more.

November 2, 2015

I lost a knob.

One of the knobs fell off my dresser. The irony of it is that the dresser itself cost $15 (purchased from a college student moving out of his apartment). It's mahogany, but I wasted no time slapping a coat of chalk paint on it in English yellow.

The knobs, made of delicate pink glass and bought from Anthropologie, brought the dresser's total cost to over $100. How is it possible that the knobs cost more than the whole darn piece of furniture?

Anyway, one of the knobs fell off about a year ago. The part that is bolted through the drawer is still there, but the glass pull popped out of its housing. All it would take is some strong glue and that thing'd be good as new.

Except it isn't. I've learned to live with the missing knob, working around it in a myriad of different ways. Usually, I leave the drawer ajar slightly so I can reach in and open it without disturbing the knob (which will come off at the slightest touch). Other times, I forget and yank on it only to have it come off in my hand.

The other day, nearly a full year after the knob first came loose, I had an epiphany....why not switch the drawer with the loose knob (the second from the top which happens to house my socks and other unmentionables) with the bottom drawer that I hardly ever open? (It's filled with odd papers, out of season pajamas, and miscellaneous bric-a-brac).

I sat back for a moment overwhelmed by my own level of genius at this brilliant idea.

Then I realized it wouldn't really fix anything. It was yet another work-around for a problem I can't or won't solve.

How often is this a pattern I follow in other areas of life. Do you adhere to this particular flavor of coping? It goes a little something like this: Things don't go quite right, but in the midst of being caught up in it all, you never seem to do the simplest thing that would make life a lot easier.

And then each time you're reminded of the original problem, you beat yourself up for not fixing it. And then the fact that you've let it go this long makes you feel like a huge failure and even less capable of fixing it. Thus the wheel keeps spinning and you ride til you puke.

Avoidance seems easy for awhile. It feeds you a lie that is oh so easy to believe. The problem will go away. Just don't think about it. Do something else for awhile. Take your mind off things, with more things. 

But then, the next thing you know, it's just you in the quiet of the night, alone, except for your thoughts and those 8 or so hours between this moment and the moment the alarm clock will ring. Not a pretty sight.

The other day my husband and I were talking about the apocalypse. One of my favorite quotes of his, which never fails to make me smile is this: "Not all apocalypse scenarios are zombie driven."

It seems like such a crazy thing to happen, some sort of Mad Max, Walking Dead situation. I asked my husband why he thought people were so caught up in the world of zombies and apocalyptic scenarios in the first place. He said it might have something to do with starting over. Like, even if things were awful, it was sort of a clean more bank records, no more debt, no more paper trail following you around.

How sad it made me feel that the prospect of that seemed appealing but for just one second. Like a huge do-over, with no more anything that tied you to what was before.

But then I quickly realized how awful that would be. I want to be tied to what was before. Even mistakes I've made and things I wish were different. If it takes me ten years to fix that knob, on the very first day of the eleventh year, I can still hope for possibility of fixing it. I can still hope that things will turn around and be better.

If you're still here, there's still hope for you.

November 1, 2015

#BlogLikeCrazy - November 2015

The first time I met Javacia Harris Bowser was several years ago, at a blogging conference for the now defunct Skirt! Magazine. We were both blogging for the publication at the time and had made the short trek to Atlanta for the event.

We ended up being seated at the same table and I'll always believe it was meant to be because this lady is a force to be reckoned with and in incredibly positive influence in my life. The founder of the popular website "See Jane Write," Javacia is an incredible writer and encourager of women in her community (and around the world). She is a mover and shaker who I'm proud to call a friend.

We've stayed in touch over the years and she even featured me on her blog a few years ago. I recently joined the social media platform Periscope, not really knowing what to do with it but wanting to experience this cool, new thing I've been hearing about. It prompted me to follow some of the folks I'm connected with on Twitter and Javacia happened to be one of them.

Tonight, I was vegging out with a pile of magazines, trying to get ready for the coming week and heard this funny little chime on my phone alerting me that someone I followed on Periscope was online. Lo and behold, it was Javacia, sharing the #BlogLikeCrazy project. (*Sidenote: If you haven't checked out Periscope, you might want to. I haven't scoped yet, but you can find me thru my twitter @sthrnbellesimpl)
Image via See Jane Write
The #BlogLikeCrazy challenge involves thirty days of blogging for the month of November (similar to the National Novel Writing Month #NaNoWriMo). It feels like just what I need to get myself back into the swing of things around here.

At the Skirt! conference (where I met Javacia), I'll never forget hearing from one of the speakers about how as a writer, you have to be able to picture your audience as if they are anxiously waiting just on the other side of a door to hear what you have to say. At that point, I had only been blogging for a year or so and it was hard to imagine any sort of audience reading at all, let alone some mob of people who cared to hear from me. 

But then the speaker asked if any of us believed this could be true. Some force that seemed to be outside me caused my hand to shoot up and I yelled "I do!" It was very surreal, but at that moment I did see it. Not like I saw myself rich and famous or anything. But I could picture people who might enjoy hearing what I had to say.

From there, a lot has happened. I quit one job and got fired from another one. I started my own business and went to work for lots of different companies. I got married and bought a house. But all along the way, Southern Belle Simple has remained. Many popular bloggers I've followed (some for years!) have closed up shop. At times, I have nearly considered it myself. My writing frequency has waned and sputtered. I have cried to my husband about it, attended other conferences to get re-invigorated and joined writing groups for support. Somehow this #BlogLikeCrazy thing feels different. Knowing Javacia is at the helm gives me courage to do it.

So stay tuned for what November will bring.

October 22, 2015

Ways to Celebrate Make a Difference Day

For more than 20 years, Make A Difference Day has been an annual event encouraging people to get involved in their communities and make a difference.
It is a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors. On Make a Difference Day (October 24th), millions of volunteers from across the nation will unite in a common mission to improve the lives of others. The stories told around Make A Difference Day show that anyone – regardless of age, location or resources – can accomplish amazing things when they look for solutions to challenges faced by the members of their community.
I wanted to get involved with Make a Difference Day in my community so I found three great organizations in East Tennessee that make a difference in the lives of folks in our area. I'm stopping by for a visit with my friends at WBIR/Foxville43 to share some of the ways you can help out too!

Of course, everyone has different organizations that are near and dear to his/her heart. I just picked three that are close to mine.

1) YWCA - 

The YWCA is a nonprofit organization that has been helping women and their families in Knoxville for 108 years. Women come to the YWCA in times of crisis, as survivors of rape or domestic violence, and for housing as they transition to a permanent living situation. The great folks at the YWCA work to help them become independent by providing career counseling and support.

The YWCA isn't just committed to helping women meet their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, but it also helps revive their spirits.

If you'd like to support the YWCA, take a look at their wishlist. It includes things like reading glasses, journals, women's toiletry items (hair care products for women with all different types of hair), and alarm clocks.

Reading glasses or a journal may seem like such a small contribution, but I think we've got to shake off this idea that the little things don't matter. They do. In fact, I think the little things are the big things.

It's not about having a lot of money and being able to write a big check. Making a difference starts with just the smallest idea and can only grow from there.

For a complete wish list of items needed at the YWCA Knoxville, click here.

2) Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley

I've been collaborating with the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley this year as part of the work of one of my clients and it's been so great to take part in those efforts.

The Humane Society has a wishlist too and they are always in need of various things like newspaper, pet toys and food bowls, leashes, collars and treats.

I could write many words about how much a sweet rescue dog named Leon changed my heart and life. Supporting other animals and animal organizations feels like a way to honor him and the joy he brought to the world.

3) Office on Aging

The organization that I was least familiar with, but wanted to support as part of Make a Difference Day is the Knox-County/Knoxville Office on Aging.

The organization's director, Susan Long, was kind enough to speak to me about some of the programs and projects they are currently doing, 21 in total!

Some programs help seniors get the hot meals they need, as well as offer them the companionship of people and pets. Then there are other services that assist seniors with learning how to use computers, how to make sense of social security paperwork and just having a trusted advisor for dealing with various issues.

The Connecting Hearts Program (a partnership between WBIR-TV, CAC Office on Aging Mobile Meals, and Second Harvest) provides extra help and companionship to Mobile Meals and Office on Aging clients who have been identified by program staff as extremely socially isolated and having limited access to food.

This program  allows volunteers to provide a weekly delivery of supplemental food to at-risk seniors in our community while also performing a check on their well-being over the weekend.

Long told me that this program grew out of a desire of younger folks (20s and 30-somethings) who wanted to get involved but couldn't take off work during the week to deliver hot meals. It makes me feel so great to know there are folks in my age demographic who want to help.

How you can make a difference - 

If you would like to make a difference in your community for Make a Difference Day or anytime, I'm sure there are plenty of opportunities! Visit the websites or social media pages of some organizations you'd like to support and see if they have wishlists or other needs.

If you can't find this information, give them a call! I called the Office on Aging and was connected with several people who gave me great information. It's always better to find out exactly what the organization's needs are before jumping in to help.

Sometimes it's something really specific that they need or maybe they want some help getting the word out about a particular project or initiative. Look for ways to help and lend a hand!

Are you doing anything special for Make a Difference Day? I truly believe the smallest things can have the greatest impact. We just can't limit ourselves or our thinking. Sometimes our time is our most valuable resource anyway. No matter what organizations you feel passionate about, I hope you'll take some time to support them in some way for Make a Difference Day. You won't regret it!

October 19, 2015

Why Justin Timberlake Belongs to Us.

I first saw Justin Timberlake perform with *NSYNC in Memphis in 2000. Come to think of it, I guess that's the only time I've ever seen him perform. It was the No Strings Attached tour (at the Pyramid) and I was with my three of my closest high school friends.

The experience was amazing, but a big part of that probably had to do with the fact that I was in Memphis with no adult supervision. I was a fairly big NSYNC fan, and thought Justin was great.

However, my real main squeeze was Howie D. from the Backstreet Boys, so I didn't geek out or go all crazy fan girl like some other concert attendees. A girl sitting behind us kept screaming in a high pitch voice "I LOVE YOU JUSTIN TIMBERLAAAAAAKE" while she dabbed her perspiration with a washcloth.

If you had told me that fifteen years later I'd be crying over Justin Timberlake myself, I wouldn't have believed it. But it's true.

At the concert, there was one point where they brought up one of Justin's former teachers who presented him with an official high school diploma, seeing as how he was a Memphis native and had missed out on the traditional high school experience because of touring and just being so famous.

It was a particularly poignant moment for my best friend and me, since we were just a few weeks shy of our own high school graduation. We've talked about it over the years, how Justin Timberlake is such a huge part of the zeitgeist during our coming of age years. At one point, I remember saying that being there for his "graduation" meant so much to me because it felt like Justin belonged to us: people our age, but also me and my friend.

I think my friend probably said something like, "yes, but that's what stalkers say too."

Today I watched a video of Justin Timberlake's acceptance speech into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. And cried like a baby. As a Tennessean and a southerner I can say that he truly does belong to us. And we should all be proud.

The video is nearly 40 minutes long (including Jimmy Fallon's hilarious introduction and general antics throughout). But I encourage you to watch it.

Here are the high points that left an impact on me.

1) Remember who you are and where you come from. My dad has been saying this to me all my life. Without a clear sense of your identity and the people who helped get you there, it's impossible to know where you're going.

2) And don't apologize for where you come from, either. You can't help it if you were born in a hospital or in a house out in the country. You didn't get to choose your neighborhood nor the people in your family. There's no sense being sorry about it because it helped shape who you are.

3) Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Part of why I cried while watching the video is that Justin cried, too. To me, people who aren't afraid to show emotions are the ones with the real strength. And being a stoic just isn't any fun.

4) Pick the right friends and keep 'em. Justin thanked his longtime best friend in his speech and it was such a touching moment. No matter where life takes you, it's so nice to have people who can say they knew you when.

5) Choose a spouse or partner who will support your dreams. Justin's sentiments for wife Jessica Biel were short and sweet, but also heartfelt. He called her his rock and noted that while not a native, she had earned her status as an honorary Memphian by being such a strong person.

6) Know how to laugh at yourself and roll with the punches. Even though Justin's speech was supposedly playing out on a teleprompter, there were many great impromptu moments. And instead of freaking out or acting miffed, he rolled with it. This can be challenging for those of us who are inclined to embrace control (do you like how I said control freaks in a nicer way?). But I think you miss out on a lot of things you couldn't have imagined if you just let go and see what happens.

7) Believe anything is possible. How does a kid from a Memphis suburb end up as one of the biggest stars in the world? By believing it can be done. Justin told a story about how when he was ten, he figured out that Al Green was also living in Memphis, not too far away from his family. He decided that if someone else in Memphis could make an incredible career out of music, he could do it too.

8) Work hard. In his introduction, Jimm Fallon mentioned Justin Timberlake's extremely dedicated work ethic. I find it interesting that most of the people who equate their success to good luck were actually just really hard workers who looked for opportunities and weren't afraid to go for it.

9) Recognize your community. Nobody ever get anywhere alone. No matter how much hard work you put in, there are always people who helped you get there. I love how Justin thanks his grandparents, calling them his "original entourage." Then of course he also recognized many of the other artists whose work paved the way and inspired him through the years.

10) Be yourself. I've never met Justin Timberlake. I don't know what he's 'really like' any more than you do. But he just seems so genuine and real. That's hard to fake. Have you ever found yourself acting like something you're not? Being someone you're not? It takes way too much energy to keep this up. You are you for a reason. Just be you.

I was really inspired today by Justin Timberlake. It's not that I want to be a pop star or a music mogul. But I have a dream that I'd like to see become a reality. I bet you do too. Justin Timberlake reminded me that anything is possible. He reminded me that you don't have to sell-out or change who you are or conform to who you think the world wants you to be. He reminded me to keep chasing my dream and never give up. I hope you do the same.

October 13, 2015

To every thing, there is a season.

The third chapter of Ecclesiastes contains what have long been some of my mom's favorite Bible verses. She has quoted these words to me all my life, in different situations, under various circumstances.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance..." (and so it goes...)

I thought of another set of things, and while it failed to be included in the Bible, each of these also has its own place in time (or at least in my life anyway).

A time to create, and a time to consume. 

I go through phases where all I want to do is create. It feels like a well is springing up inside me, with idea after idea that wants to be brought to life. Words flow onto the page during this time much more easily. Difficult things seem more possible.

In a season of creation, I find myself making time for the creative process, and making it a priority too. 

And then there is another season I often find myself in. When I just want to consume. When what I have to give creatively feels dry as a bone. And it's all I can do to simply enjoy somebody else's creation for awhile.

I used to heap lots of guilt onto myself for this. Especially as a creative type. These seasons of mass consumption can leave me feeling bad about myself, like I'm not contributing, not being productive, not tapping into my own unique whatever.

But some days are just this way. Some weeks too. Maybe even months.

A true creator understands there is a time to sit back and enjoy what you have created. And sometimes you sit back and enjoy what others have created also.

If you are in a season of creation, enjoy it. Savor every moment. Every frustrating, soul-searching, thought-provoking, mind-blowing, liberating moment. 

If you have found yourself in a season of consumption, well, enjoy that too. My only advice (and don't you love to hate people who give advice) is this: Be careful what you consume. 

Just like a healthy well-balanced diet needs a little junk food to keep life interesting, so does a time of consumption need things like binge-watching your favorite episodes of a cheesy reality show. But even though there's a place for it (in moderation), don't be fooled. It will never truly feed your soul.

You can't expect to have the energy and power you need to live this life if you wake up each morning and feed your body Twizzlers. And you can't expect to fuel anything deep in your soul by only feeding it things like Buzzfeed quizzes.

Read a chapter in a book that was written 100 years ago. Watch a movie in a language you don't speak. Listen to a podcast about something that challenges you. Talk to a person whose ideas are staunchly different from yours. Be open to what they have to say. Try a type of food you've previously wrinkled your nose at. Play music that you can't sing along to.

In whatever season you happen to find yourself, remember that it won't last forever. Often by the time we even realize what season we're in, it's already over. But please create. Something. Anything. The world needs all of us to be the beautiful, magical, amazing place it wants to be.

Finally, this passage which must have inspired me even though I didn't remember it til just before hitting the publish button:

"The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” 
― Kurt VonnegutA Man Without a Country

October 8, 2015

Unique Ways to Decorate Pumpkins: Chalk Paint & Foil

This past weekend my southern beau and I made our annual visit to the local pumpkin patch. This is one of our favorite fall activities and we've been going to the same farm for a few years now. Do you have any fall traditions you are getting excited about? 

The only problem with real live pumpkins is they don't last very long. We don't even carve ours, and they still end up dying a watery, rotten death sometime around December. 

But I still love going out to the patch and picking out a few favorites. Did I mention they have homemade donuts at our pumpkin patch? This year, they had a moonshine glaze. I love the south. 

In addition to our living pumpkins, we also like to decorate the house with the sights of fall. Some of that is Halloween specific (we love our little retro Charlie Brown characters dressed in costume and waiting for the Great Pumpkin). 

But I really like my decor to have as much bang for my buck as possible. 

This is why I usually look for fall decorations that can take us all the way through October and November. That's where my friend Jenny comes in. She recently shared two amazing projects with me and I was so blown away by the beautiful results, I decided to share them with the viewers of Knoxville's Fox43. 

These are really unique ways to decorate store-bought faux pumpkins and the best part is, the results are beautiful without breaking the bank. Oh and they are perfect for Halloween all the way through Thanksgiving.

For both projects, you need to begin with some type of store bought artificial pumpkin. You can find these at most craft stores. The larger ones are often made of foam and can be carved, but I don't recommend it for this particular do-it-yourself. You can sometimes find smaller, artificial pumpkins, gourds, etc. at Dollar stores, thrift stores, or wherever else you scour for treasures.

1) Decorating Pumpkins with Chalk Paint

Decorating faux pumpkins with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint® is a genius idea because there are so many great colors of paint to choose from. Who says your pumpkins have to be orange? With all the beautiful hues, you could really go wild and create some masterpieces.

And while it would just be gorgeous in its own right, that teal shade (Florence) would be perfect for folks with allergy issues participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project!

For our pumpkins, we started with a good base of Old White. What I love about Chalk Paint is how well it covers so many different surfaces. Sometimes these faux pumpkins are sort of shiny or plasticky (that's a word, right?), but Chalk Paint covers like a champ. 

Once your pumpkins are painted, you can go over them with clear or dark wax. When I painted a yard sale dresser Annie Sloan's English Yellow, I used the clear wax because I really wanted the color to pop. But with the pumpkins, the darker wax is also nice because it picks up all the great the texture and surface.

So once you have your pumpkins painted, you could stop right there and be happy as a clam with your results. Or you could take things a step further and make a real conversation piece. 

Allow me to introduce you to foil and size. 

2) Decorating Pumpkins with Foil and Size

Size is an adhesive made specifically for projects with gold and silver leaf, as well as foil. This is my first foray into the world of foiling, but it seems so much easier than leafing (also it's much more affordable). 

To begin, you apply an even coat of size (which is kind of like a runnier white glue) over your pumpkin. Wait 15 minutes for it to become tacky. Then, you apply the foil. Make sure to apply it with the pretty side up. The adhesive will pull the foil off the paper and cause it to stick to your pumpkin. 

You can burnish it to create a more even appearance or you can just embrace the splotchy look (which I happen to love). 

Check out the finished products below. I think they are gorgeous! 

To learn more about Annie Sloan Chalk Paint or to take a workshop, visit my friend Jenny's shop, The Backporch Mercantile.

September 24, 2015

How to Host a Casual Fall Party on a Budget

Fall is finally here! And all the frizzy haired girls like myself heaved a collective sigh of relief. Less humidity means my coiffure might actually behave for some of the time. Of course might is the operative word.

But we love fall in the south. It's a respite from summer's sweltering heat and it also means football, pumpkin patches and everything apple and pumpkin flavored. I'm not wasting any time. Fall may have just begun, but I'm kicking it off with a casual fall party here on the blog.

I'm also visiting with my pals over at Mornings with Foxville 43 to share some ideas! There's no shortage of great pumpkin and apple products in stores right now. All you have to do is get creative!

And we're going to start with something delicious to drink!

1) Caramel Apple Sangria

I can't take credit for this incredible idea (or that gorgeous photo), but the Internet is a friendly place where we share and share alike, right? I stumbled across this recipe on a great blog and couldn't wait to recreate it!

All you need is:
  • Apple Cider
  • Sparkling wine (or sparkling water/ginger ale if you want to go the non-alcoholic route)
  • Caramel sauce
  • Sliced Apples
I guess it's really not Sangria if you don't use the wine, but I like to have options for folks who don't imbibe. Plus, I don't always feel like drinking wine (say what?). 

2) DIY Sweet Potato Bar

My southern beau and I have been enjoying sweet potatoes long before fall started, but they are perfect for the season and we don't plan on stopping anytime soon. 

I found a recipe for baked sweet potatoes in some magazine I read and they were topped with sauteed spinach, black beans and feta. We've made some variations of this a couple different times. But I always save half of my baked sweet potato and eat it with butter and cinnamon. What can I say, I like variety. 

To solve this problem, I'm setting up a DIY sweet potato station for my next gathering. I'll put out all sorts of various toppings and let my guests go wild creating their own unique combinations. 

Here are just a few that you might want to try:

Black beans + Salsa + Greek yogurt 
Steamed broccoli + almonds + Parmesan cheese
Salted butter + cinnamon + honey + pecans
Rice + soy sauce + snow peas 
Sun dried tomatoes + sauteed spinach + mozzarella 

I would probably also serve the usual baked potato toppings (sour cream, chives, black olives, and bacon bits). Setting up a baked sweet potato bar is such an easy way to feed your guests something hearty and delicious for fall. 

3) Pumpkin Parfaits 

This recipe for Pumpkin Mousse Parfaits comes from that doyenne of deliciousness herself, none other than Ina Garten. You just can't go wrong with Ina. 

Fall means bring on pumpkins. Pumpkin everything as far as I'm concerned. And there's nothing so great as pumpkin dessert. 

This one's easy to make, light and fluffy and served in small individual cups, which always makes for an extra special presentation.


These are just a few simple ideas you can try for a casual fall gathering at your house. If your friends are worth their salt, they won't care if it's perfect or not. Usually, folks just want to be together. And what better excuse to gather than the new season.

Happy Fall Y'all! 

September 23, 2015

99 problems, but too much time ain't one.

There are 99 days left in 2015. Let that sink in a little. Doesn't it feel like this year just started? No wait, doesn't it feel like 1998 just started? Somewhere my sixteen-year old self is slurping a can of Diet Coke through a carefully chosen color-coordinated straw, wearing knock-off Doc Martens, and so much Wet 'n Wild shimmery eye shadow that it's caked. And my hair is dyed a semi-permanent shade of medium auburn brown that can only be described as Cinnaberry (thanks, Clairol Natural Instincts).

But that can't be right. I've been out of high school for a decade and a half. Y2K, something we anticipated for what felt like ever, has already come and uneventfully gone. We are 15 years into the 2000s. How is that even possible?

Do you ever feel like time is going by faster than you can even mark its passing? 

Where my girls at whose kitchen wall calendar was still on the August page for the first two weeks of September? Am I the only one?

I had a big idea of writing a post to challenge you (but mostly myself) about what you're gonna do with the next 99 days. A sort of friendly call on the carpet to say, now what?

But the truth is, I have no idea what the answer is. It's hard for me to picture the next three days, let alone the next 99. And I struggle with the fact that it's completely assumptive to think we are guaranteed the next 99 days anyway. It's totally cliche, but true, that we aren't guaranteed with the next minute. Anything can happen at anytime. But the moments keep ticking by.

Are you spending too much time planning for things and not enough time living right in this moment?

Maybe you're one of those people who has your whole life planned out. You probably have a goal board. And that's awesome. I'm not there yet. I might never be there. But you know what? That's awesome too.

I don't have all the answers. But here's what I know: The success of my next 99 days will not come from things I did which were motivated by shame. On New Year's Eve I probably won't even remember this post, and I'm certain I won't sit down and check things off a list to see if I accomplished it or not. That's just not how I roll.

I want my next 99 (or however many I've got left) to include the following:
  • Saying yes to things I want to do, saying no to things I don't
  • Giving people more grace (i.e. permission to fail) 
  • Giving myself permission to fail 
  • Really listening when people I love are talking
  • Making new memories with people I love instead of just reminiscing about old ones
  • Looking for adventure and not being afraid to jump when I find it
  • Rescuing bugs that are trapped in my house
  • Watching more tear-jearker animal rescue videos with my husband
It's a good place to start. And yes, a huge part of me wanted to post 99 things. But I think I'll stop right there. Ain't nobody got time for that. 

September 19, 2015

Good things come.

I've always heard the old saying that "good things come to those who wait." And I mostly, sort of believed it.

Today I was at the thrift store, scouring the racks for some fabulous clothing finds. I looked through item and after item, not having much luck.

[As a side note, if you are a size S or XS fashionista who donates your old J.Crew clothes to my neighborhood Goodwill, thanks...but don't you have anything bigger? I just can't fit you.]

After circling the store twice and flipping through what felt like ten racks of clothing, I finally stumbled on a gently-worn cashmere sweater from Banana Republic, in my size.

Aha! Finally! And then this phrase came to my mind: Good things come to those who wait. Maybe this is true sometimes, or at least maybe it seems to be true. But what had actually happened is that I wasn't waiting when the good thing came to me.

I was looking.

What if instead the old saying were that "good things come to those who look?"

Or take it a step further...what if "good things come to those who don't stop looking until they find it?" 

Maybe finding an old used sweater at a thrift store doesn't do it for you, but whatever "it" is, there's something you're hoping for. And sometimes it might plop right down in your lap. I mean, I guess anything is possible. Scratch that, I know ANYTHING is possible.

But what if the thing you want hasn't come to you yet. Are you looking or just waiting? Sometimes the good things are hidden, even if just right under your nose. Who knows what you might find if you look?

Sometimes we wait. And wait. And wait and wait. But during all that waiting, what's the harm in looking for the good things too? If you look for something good, I promise you will find it.

September 12, 2015

What to do when your truth is ugly.

Whenever I seem like I'm holding some bit of information back, my husband has a saying.

"Tell the truth and shame the devil."

I really have no idea what this means, but it never fails to make me smile a little bit.

There are all sorts of reasons why I sometimes have a hard time telling my truth.

Sometimes it's because I don't feel like the person I'm talking to is going to receive it very well.

Sometimes it's because I'm just exhausted and don't feel like working up the nerve.

And sometimes, it's because I don't like the truth.

Sometimes, it's ugly.

Lately, I've been sitting on a big pile of ugly truth. And I don't care what the devil feels about it one way or another. I just don't want to let it out.

But isn't it funny how the truth is the truth, no matter if we say it or not? And if it is, in fact, the truth, it has a way of eating away at us.

So maybe you're wondering what my so-called ugly truth is. It's nothing unique to me. And parts of it may look just like yours.

It's a collection of things really. When you take a page from my book, it's not one neatly colored-inside-the-lines page, but a whole handful of them, ripped haphazardly without the luxury of perforations. Just jagged edges.

Selfishness. Jealousy. Hurt feelings. Anxiety. Worry. And that was just in the last 45 seconds of scrolling through my Facebook news feed.

We all struggle. It's just part of life. And some days are more of an uphill climb than others. But it is what it is. And if everybody threw all their troubles in a big pile, I'd still pick the ones I have. Because they really aren't even troubles to speak of. They just don't look so shiny and pretty through an Instagram filter.

We've been watching episodes of Seinfeld on Hulu this I love that show. I have a favorite episode when George's fiance Susan wants to start hanging out with the gang, but of course he isn't keen on the idea. Somehow they all end up at the coffee shop without George and Jerry knows immediately that this is not going to end well when George shows up.

My favorite part is when Jerry says quietly to himself "This is gonna be ugly." Susan overhears him and asks "What's that Jerry?" and Jerry replies: "Boy, am I ugly."

I don't know why but this makes me feel better about my ugly truth. Maybe if we can just see things clearly, it helps provide some perspective.

What if just admitting it could take some its power away? 

Sometimes the truth is ugly. That doesn't make it any less true. It might be difficult, messy, unattractive, uncomfortable, awkward and gross. And that's okay.

But then there's something that comes to mind. The final line from Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn --

'beauty is truth, truth beauty,' -- that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know"

If beauty is truth and truth is beauty, how can our truth every truly be ugly? What if it's not up to us to decide what is ugly or not, but instead we were meant to use our energy spreading truth? Even in the midst of what feels ugly, we can be our beautiful, powerful selves if we just hang on to what we know. The truth.

My great-grandma used to say that "the truth will stand when the world is on fire." 

I'd so much rather live in a few ugly truths than try to keep up a pretty lie. How about you?

September 11, 2015

Tailgating on a Budget

My favorite thing about football is tailgating. Snacks & socializing, what's not to love? With the Tennessee Vols prepping for their home opener, my pals over at Fox43 asked me to share some simple and easy tailgating ideas on a budget!

1) Scour the Dollar Store

If you've read this blog before, you know I am a huge fan of Dollar General, Dollar Tree and such. You can find all sorts of great containers that can be perfectly re-purposed for tailgating.

With Halloween just around the corner, the added bonus is that there's lots of orange and white stuff to be found.

I picked up these great white plastic storage bins from the Target $1 zone and with a little orange Washi tape, dressed them up for chips, popcorn, and lots of other tailgating snacks.

These little white metal buckets are another great option, also with the Washi tape.

2) Think Outside the Container Box

Another great tailgating tip to help you stay under budget is to make your containers do double-duty. I picked up a white plastic shower caddy which will be great to corral condiments, utensils, and more.
I also found a great black plastic Halloween treat bucket in the Target $1 zone that will make a cute cooler for canned drinks. It's all about the presentation, and it doesn't take much to make things look a little special.

3) Food that's Easy to Eat

Tailgates are informal and everybody doesn't always sit in one spot for long. So I like to serve foods that are easy to eat. A favorite is Chili Frito Pies, straight out of the bag. Just slit the top of a small-sized bag of Fritos, spoon in some chili and add your favorite toppings.

Another favorite snack of mine is S'mores. To make it easier for tailgating, I adapted the recipe to become little individual chocolate pudding pies, complete with graham cracker crusts and toasted marshmallows. 

You can toast the marshmallows at home under the broiler the night before and then add them to the pudding pies. Or if you have an open fire at your tailgate, toast 'em on site. 

These are just a few simple, affordable ideas to use for your next tailgate! 

September 8, 2015

Clubs I'll Never Belong To

Bookstores are a magical place where I always manage to spend more time and money than I originally intended. I have a similar love for libraries, especially because the books are free, although my husband considers them inferior because "you have to give the books back."

As a writer, going to bookstores can also be a challenge, especially when you haven't published a book yet, but wish you had. Looking at all those beautifully designed covers and reading all the clever titles can be a reminder of what you haven't achieved. 

During a recent bookstore trip, I found myself in the Home & Design section where what feels like a myriad of books by bloggers-turned-authors abound. 

As a blogger who wants to be an author, this is a double-edged sword of possibility and despair. 

The possibility comes from thinking "hey, if he/she can do it, surely I can too!" while the despair tries to silence that hopeful thought with a big ole fat turd of "never gonna happen." 

Are you ever guilty of disqualifying yourself like this? Why is it that we are so quick to take ourselves out of the running for something we truly want? 

Is it because we think the big picture end result we seek is impossible? Or is it that we just can't see to the end of today because of all the little things that have distracted us?

Do you ever feel like an outsider? Like you just don't fit? 

This weekend while shopping at the Dollar General, I had a brief conversation with the sales clerk who shared that his day wasn't going very well. When I asked him what the trouble was, he replied,"the world's a tuxedo and I'm a pair of brown shoes." 

How succinctly that says it all. 

As much as being different and celebrating our own version of unique-ness can be fun, sometimes it's really nice to just fit in. 

My mom likes to say that "people join clubs for the same reasons they once carried them." Think on that for a second. 

There's a certain kind of safety in numbers. Also the feeling of comfort that comes from not being the only person struggling with a particular issue. 

Don't you just want to feel seen, heard and most of all understood? 

I know I do. 

Back at the bookstore, I had a thought. There are clubs I'll never belong to. Not for lack of wanting, but just because of not fitting. 

I'll never belong to the club of people whose hair blows gently in the wind without frizzing. And I'll never belong to the club where they have the perfectly manicured nails and the clothes that fit just so and thin ankles. Or the one where people wear white linen and eat spaghetti while never spilling a drop. 

And then there are clubs I don't belong to yet. Like the one for book authors. I might not be a member today, but I won't say never. I'll just say not yet. 

That brings us to the club of which I'm a card carrying member. 

It's anything but exclusive. There's plenty of room for you and anyone else who might happen to tag along or wander in or just show up.  

Our dress code is not fancy. Many of us wear our hearts on our sleeves. 

Nobody calls the roll and you won't get a X by your name if you happen to miss a meeting. 

There's no collecting of dues. Although we do ask that you be yourself. [It's okay if you don't know who that is. Most of us are still figuring it out.

Instead of Robert's Rules of Order, we adhere to the natural order of life, which hardly ever actually follows any order that makes sense and keeps us on our toes, always wondering what is going to happen next. 

We are the dreamers. The thinkers. The over-thinkers. The kids who heaved a sigh of relief when the teacher said it was Library day, as opposed to P.E. The ones who feel deeply for the ones who hurt deeply. 

The ones who are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, even though we secretly (and wrongly) thought perfection might be possible. We are the ones who believe anything is possible. 

We are the ones with single moms who worked overtime to send us to the 'good' preschool. Whose dads wanted to create for us a more stable and peace-filled home than they'd had themselves. We are the ones whose grandparents told us we were their pride and joy. 

We were the ones who showed up, day in and day out. We were not star athletes. We were not the valedictorian. We don't always finish what we start. We don't always start what we want to finish. We still show up. Sometimes we feel like nobody notices us. Sometimes we hope nobody will notice us. 

We ask too many questions and we have none of the answers. But the answers to the most important questions are etched onto our hearts. We love the people we love without any rhyme or reason. Sometimes this is to our detriment. We keep loving them anyway. 

While the details of our stories may be different, we recognize that we all begin and end the same way.

We make room for each other.

There's room for you. 

Pull up a chair. Set your burdens down. Kick off your shoes. Today the world is a tuxedo and you are a pair of black patent wingtips. You fit perfectly here.

September 1, 2015

To be a writer, you must listen.

“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” ― Eudora WeltyOne Writer's Beginnings

To be a writer, you must first be a listener. More than that, you must be a watcher too. There's only so much inside you. The rest must come from around you. And before you can truly tell a story, you have to understand it all the way to your core. 

Remembering is like listening backwards, which can be hard to do. This is why I like to hear the same stories told over and over. Like the one about my grandpa hitchhiking to Laramie, Wyoming. 

Born in Texas, my grandpa moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee when he was a boy. There he discovered one of his first loves: football. In his senior year of high school, he was invited to several colleges for recruiting visits, including Auburn, Texas Tech and the University of Wyoming. He and a couple buddies set out during Easter break to visit the schools. 

Recruits were given money for bus tickets, lodging and so-forth but my grandpa and his buddies decided they would keep the money and hitchhike instead. It's hard for me to imagine a group of three high school students hitchhiking 1400 miles one way, but in 1953 I guess it wasn't that big of a deal. 

I've heard this story told so many times, I know it well and can anticipate what parts are coming next. But each time, something new comes to light. That's why I never tire of hearing it. 

And this is only one of the stories he lived. One tiny sliver of the pie of his life. 

There are so many things I want to write about, as a self-proclaimed champion for stories that deserve to be told. But unless I have the person's exact words, I'm going to be guilty of telling them from my own perspective. 

We are told to honor our father and mother so that our days may be long on the Earth. The best way we can honor the ones who came before us is to tell their stories. And the only way we can do justice to someone else's story is to know it inside and out. Thus, we have to listen.