October 19, 2016

Fun & Simple Last Minute Halloween Ideas!

Halloween is such a fun holiday, no matter how old you are. We've already made our annual visit to the local pumpkin patch, and our pumpkins have been sitting on the front porch waiting for some spooky designs. 

October means fall, and all the things we love most about the season, from cooler temperatures to leaves crunching under your feet, football watching on Saturday afternoons and pumpkin spice everything! Want to add some spooky style to your home for Halloween? 

Here are a few easy ideas that the whole family is sure to enjoy! 

1) Ping Pong Ball Halloween Lights

When I first saw this idea of creating a string of ghosts using cheesecloth, ping pong balls and a strand of white lights (via Unoriginal Mom), I knew I wanted to try it. 

Then I stumbled upon a bag of ping pong balls already painted to look like eyeballs and thought this variation might be even easier, and still lots of fun! 

All you have to do to make this is slit an X into the back of each ping pong ball. Push the end of a pencil through the opening to loosen it and insert each light from the strand into each eye ball. 

Light it up for some spooky fun! 

2) Easy Pumpkin Decorations without Carving

Carving pumpkins is fun, but so messy. And I don't know about you, but I want my fall decorations to last as long as possible. I usually transition them into Thanksgiving, and sometimes even revamp them with a Christmas theme. So carving is not my first choice for decorating Halloween pumpkins. 

Thankfully, there are so many fun things you can do to pumpkins without carving them! 

I found a package of cute Halloween cut-outs made of felt with adhesive on the back. These could be easily applied to a bigger pumpkin for a fun spooky scene. You could also make your own designs by cutting shapes from sheets of felt and holding it in place with glue-dots. Then there's also the option of using sheets of sticky-backed foam...which come in different colors of glitter for a sparkly effect. 

Not only are these options easy to apply, but they are also easy to remove, so this project is a great way to decorate your pumpkins for the Halloween season and then make them easy to re-use as part of a Thanksgiving display. 

Or, sticking with my eyeball theme, grab a package of googly eyes from a craft store. Create a one-eyed monster pumpkin, or a seven-eyed monster pumpkin. Let your creativity run wild. 

[image & inspiration via Find it. Make it. Love it.

3) Halloween Treat Cookie Monsters 

Who can resist a loveable, colorful monster? From Cookie Monster of Sesame Street to those adorable characters in the film Monsters, Inc., there's just something about that fur, those googly eyes that tugs at my heartstrings. 

I tried to capture a little bit of that monster madness with these simple Halloween monster cookies. All you need to create these is a dozen chocolate chip cookies (store-bought or homemade, you decide!). Next, top them with vanilla frosting, tinted in various monsterriffic colors. Here's a tried-and-true recipe from my blogger pal Heather at Sprinkle Bakes. Finally, add candy eyes, the more the merrier. 

Easy. Silly. Delicious! 

I hope you are inspired by some of these ideas to add a little Halloween haunted fun to your home this month. Happy Halloween y'all! 

October 7, 2016

Funerals in My South

This week I attended a funeral. Like the wanna-be cultural anthropologist that I have always been, I couldn’t help but wonder what future generations would think of us if they were able to witness our most intimate and personal moments of grief. You can learn so much about a people by their traditions, especially the ones they practice at the end of a life.

The south is a wide and varied place. My experiences of it may be completely different from yours, yet we are both correct when we consider the region our own. Funerals are a big deal in the south. Not just by the way you celebrate the life of the person who has passed, but also in how you circle up to surround the living who are left behind.

In my south, funerals are visitations at the funeral home, complete with bowls of mints and boxes of Kroger brand facial tissues on every surface. Hunter green wall-to-wall carpet, and brass fixtures. It’s people who stop by the funeral home after they get off work, for visitation. Some go home and change clothes, but others still come just as they are, in their work shirts, with their name on the chest. They arrive and sign the guest book, while waiting to pay their respects to the grieving sons and daughters, spouses (if any), grandchildren and whoever else is left.
It’s little old ladies, nosy and wanting a peek at the body “to see if he looked ‘real good’” or not, disappointed when it’s a closed casket. It’s neighbors who are not at all neighborly, who come out of the woodwork to see if they can get first dibs on the old home place, when it inevitably goes up for sale.
It’s photo slideshows, looking back to happier times, images of childhood, glory days in the service, milestones, celebrations, and snapshots taken for no reason at all. It’s people who knew you when you were just a little thing, who haven’t seen you in a coon’s age, who wouldn’t have known you from Adam, except wasn’t your grandpa that Whittaker man who used to preach over at Scott Street? And you’re Glen’s girl? Oh right, his granddaughter.
It’s I sure am glad I ran into you, but I hate that it was under these circumstances. It’s people you never see except at weddings and funerals.
And funerals themselves are held at little country churches, that don’t come up on Google when you’re trying to get directions. Churches with double glass front doors that open right into the sanctuary, where there’s light brown paneling half-way up the walls, and pinkish-purple carpet. And an old fashioned water fountain, a rectangle of smudged chrome, with a shiny faucet and a hard metal button that hurts your finger to press. The stream of water barely comes up an inch, and you have to smoosh your mouth down onto it because you’re thirsty and you don’t want to have a dry throat when it comes time to read your poem to the congregation.
Funerals in my south are Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine. And song leaders who tell you to turn to number 181 in the little red Heavenly Highway book, and all stand while we sing It is Well with My Soul.
And while you sit up in the sanctuary, crying not just for the one whose life is being memorialized, but also for the others you loved who are no longer with you, you take comfort knowing that the ladies of the church are downstairs in the basement, setting out assorted Corningware and Pyrex dishes, including three different kinds of macaroni and cheese, and four kinds of potatoes. Lunch, which will be waiting for you when the burial service at the adjacent graveyard has concluded. Complete with Taps and a 21 gun salute.
It’s hugging people’s necks that you don’t know, just because they are there and it seems like the right thing to do. It’s listening to stories you’ve heard before, and feeling comforted by the familiar.
For some, it’s just too much to stay and be comforted. And the very best they can do is get through the funeral service, and slip out quietly.
And sometimes it’s let’s all go back to Granny’s house, for old time sakes. And you go, and visit with cousins you never see, and reminisce about better times. Not knowing that in just a few short weeks they will move mountains to change the will, gripped in the grasp of greed and “it’s what Pa would have wanted.”
Funerals aren’t really for the dead. They’re for the living. The ones left behind. The ones left asking all the questions, often with none of the answers they want or need.
If a cultural anthropologist from the future came back and witnessed our funeral traditions, I wonder what they’d think. I wonder how much these traditions will change and evolve over time.
I hope they always have the macaroni and cheese.

September 24, 2016

When Your Momma Hustles

I haven't been blogging much lately. It makes me sad when I log into the back-end of Southern Belle Simple and see that I've only posted a couple of times in any given month. Apparently some of you are still out there, but I can see why others might have moved along to more exciting online spaces, with fresh new content that is updated daily.

I think back to the good ol' days when I was posting to the blog religiously, at least five times a week. It's not that I don't feel I have anything to say anymore or that I'm thinking of shutting down the blog. Heavens no. Actually, there's so much more I want to say. So just what is my problem?

I blame the fact that my momma hustles. Stay with me now.

One time, years ago, I was having a conversation with my grandpa about work and life, and other things. My mom's name came up and my grandpa said these words: "Now, your momma, she hustles."

What he meant was that my mom is a hard worker who is always looking for opportunities to work a little bit more and bring home a little bit more bacon.

The dictionary defines hustle as to obtain by forceful action or persuasion. Anyone who knows my mom would agree that her special brand of persuasion is unique, but quite effective. Basically, she gets s#!t done. I mean that in the best possible way.

As long as I can remember my mom has worked. She's worked more than one job sometimes to ensure that our family had what we needed and then some. And of course my dad worked too, but with my mom it was different. She was always looking for ways to bring in a little bit more money for our family.

She learned it from her dad (the grandpa who so aptly described her in this way). He's hustles too. His first job at 16 turned into a career that he kept at for nearly 50 years. But all along the way he was always looking for ways to work a little bit more and bring home a little bit more bacon. And he got it from his parents who were the same way.

It's definitely not a greed thing. I believe my family has a hardworking mentality and I think they get a sense of accomplishment from doing a job well-done. Plus, it never hurts to have a few extra dollars in your pocket.

Now that my grandpa is retired, he gets to do more of what he enjoys but he still works at certain things and is always wheeling and dealing. And my mom will probably be one of those people who never actually retires, but just sort of transitions from one kind of work to the next.

That brings us to me. Being self-employed means hustling is the name of the game. In some ways this is really great because the sky's the limit. In other ways, it's not so great because it means there's always something else to do, some other person to call, some other email or bit of marketing content to write. But I love what I do. And I feel grateful for the chance to do it.

I've just been hustling so much to build my work-life, my creative-life has been a little on hold. This blog is the result of that creative life. I started it in 2009 when I was working at a job where I felt little to no creativity and was dried up inside. I needed to express something, anything and this blog is how it came out.

Over the past seven years, so many incredible things have resulted from it. It's the thing that's really and truly me. And when I don't do anything with it for weeks at a time, I start feeling sort of funny and sad.

I'm so glad I come from and was raised by people who are hardworking. I'm so glad I had the example of a mom who was always willing to take on a little bit more to make sure her family had a good life.

But there has to be a balance.

The creative stuff matters.

As my mom has told me more than once, "You gotta do the stuff that feeds your soul." I'm not sure what that looks like for you, but for me a big part of it lies in this blog. I hope that whatever it is that you enjoy, that thing that taps into your creative and beautiful soul, that thing that causes you to come alive....I hope you can carve out some time for that thing.

We all gotta hustle to some extent, but who says we can't obtain by forceful persuasion the things that make us feel like our real true selves.

September 21, 2016

Happy First Day of Fall Y'all - Simple Treats & Easy Decorations to Welcome the Season

Even though you wouldn't believe it by the temperatures in Tennessee right now, fall is finally here! Fall is definitely the favorite time of year of so many people (including me!). 

In honor of the first day of fall, I'm sharing a few simple treats and easy decorations to welcome the season.

First, a fall simmer pot to add some of the scents of the season to your home! 

1) Easy Fall Simmer Pot Recipe 

When I was growing up, my mom used to always have a simmer pot on the stove with leftover orange peels, cinnamon and cloves. It always smelled so wonderful! 

There's no shortage of scented products available to buy in stores. And some of them even smell good. But with all the chemicals and artificial ingredients, they may not be good for our health. 

That's why a DIY simmer pot can be a great natural alternative. 

Here's what you need: 

  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Apple slices
  • Orange slices
  • Cloves
  • Water

Fill a saucepan with water over high heat until it boils. Add the ingredients above and stir. Boil for a few minutes and then turn the heat down so the pot will simmer. There's no need for a lid because this will let all the great smells escape. 

Keep an eye on your simmer pot and add water as needed. Inhale deeply and enjoy!

2) DIY Apple Candle Holders

I've seen this idea all over the Internet, and it just looked so easy and cute, I had to try it. Apples are available in abundance right now. I got mine at Trader Joe's, only $3.99 for a big bag. 

To do this project, you'll need apples & tealight candles. I opted for the battery operated ones because they are safer with pets (and people!). 

Trace around the shape of your tealight on the top of the apple. Then, carefully cut out the circle shape with a paring knife (or X-acto knife).

Finally, using a melon baller, scoop out the apple flesh inside the circle, making a hole that is large enough for the candle to fit inside. 

Pop it in, and voila! What a cute and EASY project for fall.

3) Apple Nachos - A Simple & Delicious Recipe for Fall

via Haute & Healthy Living

There are tons of ideas for this simple and tasty fall party snack around the web. I found a healthier option at the great blog Haute & Healthy Living that uses almond butter, maple syrup and vanilla extract to make a caramel-like topping.

But the beauty of this type of recipe is that you can get creative and make it however you prefer!

All you need are some apples (sliced thin and soaked in lemon juice to keep them from turning brown) and whatever toppings you want to enjoy with them.

Possible toppings might include:

  • Caramel sauce
  • Chocolate sauce (or chocolate chips)
  • Peanut butter chips
  • Coconut
  • Raisins
  • Candy pieces
  • Marshmallows
  • Pretzels
Delicious and oh so simple to make! I hope you'll take some time this fall to really enjoy the season. Fall always seems to arrive with so much gusto, but then before we know it Thanksgiving and Christmas are upon us. 

Want to really make the most of fall? Here are a few things on my fall bucket list. I hope you are inspired to make some special memories with your family this season! 

Visit my Fall Pinterest board to see more great fall recipes, projects and ideas!

September 19, 2016

My Lottery Ticket Life

Sometimes the Internet is a terrible place. A place that leaves me feeling like my life is not nearly as glamorous or exciting as I'd like it to be. A place that only serves to illuminate for the rest of the world everything I already believed was wrong with me, and how I'm not doing as well as so-and-so or having as much fun/success/whatever as someone else.

But using the Internet is a necessary evil for work and daily life so I press on, all the while attempting to maintain a healthy perspective and constantly trying to remember that we all struggle, and nobody's life is perfect. 

We're just bombarded with so many messages that have potential to leave us feeling less than. It's like a perfect storm sometimes.

But other times the Internet is wonderful. Serving as a way to connect us, acting as a vehicle to bring us stories and information we would have never otherwise encountered. 

Yesterday, I came across an interview on NPR with John Krasinski, the actor who played one of my all time favorite TV characters, Jim Halpert. In the interview he used the phrase "lottery ticket life" when referring to the level of success he has achieved. I guess he feels like he doesn't deserve it....that it was some sort of fluke, like winning the lottery. 

That phrase "lottery ticket life" really stuck with me and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. 

Something else I read yesterday was an article by Maria Shriver, in which she talked about how she's giving up complaining about the so-called mistakes her parents made during her childhood. She even referenced Alison Piepmeier and her poignant piece about being grateful for the beautiful life she was able to live.

Alison passed away recently, and while I didn't really know her, we were from the same place and that counts for something. 

So what's the point of all this rambling?

Not too long ago my husband and I had a fight. Everyone argues of course, but this one was a doozy. Let's just say it ended with one of us slamming the door in the other one's face and the other giving the door slammer a gesture involving a certain finger. Please know this is not how we typically behave. And would you believe it was just a little can of LaCroix fizzy water that started it all? Pamplemousse if you were wondering. But these things happen. And I think we're doing the world a disservice by pretending they don't.

Marriage is hard. Relationships are hard. Communicating is hard. It doesn't mean we give up, but sometimes in the midst of the struggle, it doesn't look so pretty. 

Later that day after our fight, when the situation had blown over, we met back up to find that each of us had decided to surprise the other with a treat of a cool drink - the gift of the Chik-fil-a iced tea magi if you will. 

All is now forgiven, and we've moved on from it, but it's important to me to remember it. Even in the middle of these silly blow-ups, or whatever other petty things might present themselves, I still believe I, too, have a lottery ticket life.

It has nothing to do with being happy all the time, but everything to do with being grateful. Heck, even actual lottery winners aren't any happier (according to this article).

I might not be the star of a TV show, or a Kennedy. But I have so much to be thankful for. The anniversary of September 11th always manages to put that into perspective too. I feel almost guilty for this because it comes up every year and leaves me feeling such a great deal of clarity...for awhile. But chances are, once that tender rawness has passed, we all just go right back to our weird little ways of coping, often losing our cool over dumb stuff, making mountains out of molehills, and just having an unhealthy lack of perspective.

All the decisions we make add up the person we are. Every little tiny thing we do over the course of a day adds up to who we are becoming. Every little choice we make. Every reaction we have to every situation in which we find ourselves.

This occurred to me this morning when I walked out the front door of my house and promptly sloshed a big cup of coffee down the front of my shirt. I have to be honest, my first reaction was to get mad. I looked down at my beautiful peach shirt and saw the ugly brown stain. But my very next thought was this: Don't be the kind of person who gets mad over something as silly as a spilled cup of coffee.

Because if I allow myself to be that kind of person, it's like giving that mouse a cookie. It will open a floodgate of other ways I will allow myself to waste precious energy being upset for no reason. Where will it end?

I don't want to be the kind of person who gets mad over things that don't matter. A student at a local university recently felt so hopeless that he jumped off a pedestrian bridge on campus, taking his own life. THIS is something to get upset about it. That a soul would feel so lost, so hopeless. There's no shortage of stories that break my heart all to pieces.

All you have to do is turn on the news for one minute to see some horrific story about people struggling, suffering, and really hurting. But I don't want to have to always be comparing my life to others to see the good in it. I want it to be able to stand alone as something to be thankful for. No comparisons.

I may as well have won the lottery.

September 7, 2016

Fun & Healthy Ideas for Better Breakfast Month - September 2016

September is Better Breakfast Month and it's a great time to create new, healthier breakfast eating habits. 

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it helps get your metabolism going and provides the energy and nutrients you need to stay focused and do your best thinking. 

For me, breakfast has to be a seamless part of my morning routine. Otherwise, I get in a rush and end up skipping it...which is not good. 

Thank goodness breakfast has come a long way since the days of grapefruit halves and black coffee (a' la Mad Men) as well as the sugary cereals and nutritionally lacking pastries of my childhood in the 1980s. 

Here are three creative options for Better Breakfast Month. Apparently these were predicted to be the big trends in breakfast for 2016, but I don't think they've quite made the rounds yet in my neck of the woods. 

1) Get Creative with Healthy Smoothie Bowls

I know smoothie bowls aren't exactly brand new, but they still hold a certain level of mystery for many folks. I'm here to de-mystify this delicious and healthy breakfast option. 

I'm going to let you in on a little secret...smoothie bowls are just smoothies, in bowls. They are a little thicker than your regular smoothie drink, but this can be achieved by using less liquid. Plus, they have the addition of toppings which not only makes it possible for you to create an unlimited number of combinations, but also helps you feel fuller because you're chewing it. 

I was inspired by Naturally Sassy to make this green smoothie bowl (recipe here). It combines lots of healthy foods such as spinach, kale, bananas, and blueberries in a delicious breakfast treat. 

Another tip is to use frozen bananas, which adds to the smoothie bowl's creamy consistency. 

2) Savory French Toast - French Toast Pizza 

I grew up eating French Toast, slathered in syrup and butter. It never occurred to me that French Toast could also be savory. 

Check out this awesome looking French Toast breakfast pizza, via EatWell 101

The best thing about this recipe is you can really just start with the same base and then add whatever toppings you prefer, depending on what mood you happen to be in. 

Not keen on onions for breakfast? Maybe try tomatoes and mozzarella with some fresh basil. The French Toast base means you're getting some extra protein from the eggs too. 

Need more inspiration? Here's a round-up of other French Toast recipes that are definitely outside the box. 

3) Salad for Breakfast - Eggs Benedict Salad 

Finally, a breakfast option that really packs a healthy punch - salad! I know what you're thinking. "Who wants to eat a soggy cold salad in the morning?" Well, this tasty salad is anything but! 

It's basically eggs Benedict on leafy greens, with other healthy veggies tossed in for good measure. My recipe came from here, but you can alter your version to your taste.  

These are just three ways to enjoy better breakfasts during September. I hope you will be inspired to start each day with a better breakfast. I know I am! 

Drink it Up - Southern Mint Tea with Sugarlands Shine

Need a great drink recipe for your next social gathering? Try this tasty recipe from Sugarlands Distilling Company! 

Southern Mint Tea

1.5 oz of Mint Condition Peppermint 
1 oz of Southern Sweet Tea Moonshine
4 oz of Unsweet Iced Black Tea 
.25 tsp of sugar
3 mint leaves 
2 lemon wedges 

Muddle the sugar, 2 mint leaves and one lemon in the bottom of a glass with Sweet Tea moonshine. Add ice, Peppermint moonshine and tea. Garnish with remaining lemon wedge and mint leaf.

August 31, 2016

Fun & Simple Football Tailgating Ideas

There are five words that bring a certain excitement to the air in Knoxville...it's Football time in Tennessee! When the Vols take the field tonight for their home opener against Appalachian State, it will be an historic event. 

1898 University of Tennessee Football Team
Not only is this the first time the Tennessee Volunteers take on the Mountaineers, it's been nearly 80 years since they hosted a game on a Thursday. That was a Thanksgiving Day game against Kentucky (according to UTSports.com). What's more, the last time the Vols played a home season opener on a Thursday was in 1896. I wonder what tailgating was like back then? 

1956 University of Tennessee Football Team 
Don't you love these vintage images? They are from the UT Volunteer Yearbook digital archives. It's so fun to think about what things used to be like! 

If you love tailgating, no matter what team you're rooting for, you might want to try this tasty appetizer this football season - pimento cheese stuffed peppers. I was inspired by the blog Magnolia Days and it's such an easy snack to make. Here's the full recipe.

If you're using jalapeno peppers, don't forget to wear gloves for the prep. Or at the very least don't touch your eyes! Since the seeds and the oil the contain are what bring the heat, you may want to remove them before adding your pimento cheese. A small ice cream scoop or melon baller is a great tool for this. You can also use peppers of a sweeter variety, such as the red, yellow and orange ones. I have found these pre-packaged in the produce section of my local Aldi and other grocery stores. Once assembled, eat 'em up! 

Depending on your tailgate, you can serve these cold from the cooler or pop them on the grill to get the cheese all melted. So delicious! If you want a great homemade pimento cheese recipe, try mine. If you are pressed for time, choose a great store-bought version like Palmetto Cheese. 

If you're a UT fan and need a great drink recipe for your tailgate, I highly recommend this simple concoction, the Orange Creamsicle Cocktail. I've made my version kid friendly, but you could follow the original recipe (via Homemade Hooplah) and use vodka. 

What to Bring to Neyland Stadium - 

If you haven't heard, there are new rules on what you can and cannot bring into the stadium for a UT game. 

From UTSports.com: Beginning in August 2016, fans will be allowed to bring only one clear plastic bag no larger than 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches or a one-gallon, clear, resealable plastic storage bag per person inside Neyland Stadium.

Fans will also be allowed a small clutch purse not to exceed 4.5 inches by 6.5 inches.

No other bags will be allowed inside Neyland Stadium. 

I found some great options that meet the clear bag requirement at Linda's Hallmark in Knoxville. There are two locations (one in Farragut & one in The Gallery shopping center near West Town). 

Make sure you are ready for the 2016 season! 

Dolly Parton Announces New Parade to Debut during Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas Fest

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (August 31, 2016) — Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas presented by Humana has long been known as one of the world’s best holiday theme park events. Dolly Parton today unveiled plans for an awe-inspiring new parade—dreamed up as only she can—which will add even more excitement to this family-favorite festival.

Named The Parade of Many Colors, the new $2.5 million addition helps make this year’s event the best and brightest in the park’s history. The parade perfectly complements Dollywood’s spectacular Christmas offerings which include four million festive lights, the remastered Christmas in the Smokies, the all-new It’s a Wonderful Life, and the joyous holiday atmosphere guests have come to enjoy during this lively festival.

Like her new NBC holiday movie, Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love, Parton’s new parade celebrates the fun, faith, family and harmony of the holidays. Vibrant floats, interactive characters and a few other surprises help spread cheer throughout Dollywood this holiday season.

“The joy I feel during the Christmas season makes my heart sing because of the love and sweet Christmas memories I have of family and friends from when I was a child,” Parton said with a smile. “Christmas is the time of year when traditions, faith and family come together to create experiences we all remember forever. That is why my new movie and this parade are so important for me. I truly believe The Parade of Many Colors will inspire some of those same lifelong memories for the families who see it.”

The Parade of Many Colors represents another significant investment made by The Dollywood Company as part of the $300 million investment strategy announced in 2013. The company also recently announced the addition of TailSpin Racer to Dollywood’s Splash Country for 2017.

Dollywood has added two days to its calendar, December 6 and 13, to provide guests more time to experience the eight-time winner for Best Christmas Event. One of Dollywood’s greatest entertainment offerings is remastered in 2016, as Christmas in the Smokies,returns to its traditional home at D.P.’s Celebrity Theater. Guests can celebrate the joy of the season while a cast of singers and dancers performs hometown holiday favorites while accompanied by a band of live musicians!

Dollywood’s entertainment team brings a Christmas classic to life with the debut of It’s a Wonderful Life. Based on the timeless holiday story of love and generosity, small town businessman George Bailey discovers the true value of life, family and friends with a little help from his guardian angel, Clarence. 

For more information about Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas or The Parade of Many Colors, please visit www.dollywood.comor call 1-800-DOLLYWOOD.

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 myflowerland.com. 

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!