February 10, 2016

Last Minute Valentine's Day Crafts

Valentine's Day is on a Sunday this year and for some reason, that has made me feel like I have plenty of time to prep for it. Of course, now it's just a few days away and I haven't done much of anything.

But when procrastination meets simple projects, sometimes magic results! Here are a few of my simple ideas for making the most of a last minute Valentine's Day celebration. From decorations to crafts and a few treats, there's something for everyone!

1) Heart Doily Garland 

The first doilies were created from wool by the Doily family in England, but paper doilies as we know them today weren't produced until the mid-19th century. Martha Stewart has an entire video on doily history if you have an extra four and a half minutes and care to watch! ;) 

I whipped up a simple garland using pink and white paper doilies from the Dollar General store. Some gold-threaded twine made it even more festive. The trick to using doilies for things like this is don't separate them individually. They are so fragile and thin, a stack of 5-7 made for a sturdier garland (in my opinion). 

2) Valentine Craft Jar 

Sometimes it's fun to get crafty just for the sake of it. Without any sort of end result in mind. Do you ever do this? It's kind of like doodling or sitting down to write without a story in your head. Just doing it to see where it takes you. 

That's why I've created a Valentine Craft Jar. This could really work for anytime of year, but I thought it would be fun for Valentine's Day. I gathered a bunch of different craft materials and supplies and packed them into a cute jar (including pom poms, stickers, glue, pipe cleaners, etc.) 

Then, whenever the urge for creativity strikes, I'll have everything I need in one spot. And none of it was fancy or expensive so if I don't actually make anything worth keeping, it won't feel like a waste. 

Actually, getting your creative juices flowing is never a waste, because you never know where it will lead. 

3) Fun with Puns & Jelly Beans

I'm not usually a fan of misspelled words to be cute or catchy. But if there's ever a time that cheesy puns and cute sayings are appropriate, it's Valentine's Day. The more sugary sweetness, the better (in my humble opinion).

Winter is hard. The holidays are long gone and the days are dreary and cold. If pink hearts and red cupid arrows help cheer these dark days before spring, I'm all for it. 

My local grocery store recently added a huge section of Jelly Belly jelly beans in its candy aisle. I'm totally digging the retro vibe and the new flavors so I decided to use a few of these to create fun Valentine's Day treats. 

You can probably think of others, but here's what I came up with. 

A bag of Tabasco flavored beans with a note that says "Things are heating up!" For the camo beans, "I Can't Hide My Love." And finally, "Valentine, we make quite a pear." Get it, juicy pear? 

I know it's silly, but sometimes the silly little things are really fun too. 

Another pun-inspired treat I whipped up were these fun Valentine's Day pencils with a note that says "Valentine, you're just write." I was inspired by a great blog and you can download the free printable here.

I hope you have a Happy Valentine's Day! Love is in the air! 

January 28, 2016

Barbie is not for everybody.

As soon as I heard the news, I knew I wanted to write this post. I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to say, but I figured it would come to me if I gave it some thought.

Mattel recently launched some new Barbie dolls with all new body types. There's a short one (for which I guess petite is the politically correct term), a tall one (tall is still okay, even though I prefer statuesque), and a curvy one. She's plump (definition: having a full, rounded shape). As a plump woman myself, I feel entitled to use that word to describe her. Be offended if you will.

[Sidenote - It's hard to tell what size this new curvy Barbie would be if she were a real woman, but considering that 12 or 14 is the average clothing size for women in the U.S., average might be a better descriptor for her. Just a thought.]

So far, I've seen a ton of news stories about the development of the newly sized Barbies. Some headlines include:

"Barbie's New Diverse Looks are Absolutely Necessary" - LA Times
"Barbie is Finally Available in Three New Body Types" - Gizmodo
"Barbie's Hips Don't Lie" - The Atlantic
"Barbie Finally Becomes a Real Woman" - The Guardian

It's impossible to go back in time and know how my seven-year-old self would have felt about these new Barbies. I'm sure I would have wanted them, but that's because I never met a Barbie (nor Barbie accessory) I didn't want in the 80s.

As a child, there was no toy or toy experience I loved more than Barbie. I am not, have never been, nor ever will be a "Barbie Hater." These are the ones who say that Barbie is a terrible role model for young girls, the ones who picked on her body (prior to the new shapes) saying her proportions were unrealistic, the ones who threw a fit because she said "Math was hard."

As an intelligent girl who spent many a school night stressed to the max and crying at my parents kitchen table while battling my math homework, I was relieved to hear that Barbie understood my pain. Math is hard sometimes. So are split infinitives and participle phrases. And learning a language you've never spoken before. And writing a critical analysis of a Rembrandt etching. And getting up in front of hundreds of people and giving a speech you've written. And working full-time while getting your master's degree. And being a grown up.

The issue is not whether things are hard, but whether we are equipped to do hard things. Life is filled with hard things. It's okay to say it. Saying something is hard doesn't mean you're weak.

Being different is hard. No matter if your particular flavor of different is visible on the outside or just something you keep secret in your heart. I've written about clubs I'll never belong to and how sometimes we all just want to fit in somewhere.

I think the new Barbie body shapes are less for the girls who are supposed to get the most joy from them and more for the rest of us, who want to feel better about the way things are now.

I only know what it was like to be a little girl with chubby cheeks and frizzy hair in 1989, when the world was a different place. When mailing a letter or making a long distance call meant something. And if you sat down to a delicious meal, you simply said a prayer and ate it, without taking a single photo of the plate. When walking down the street to the gas station for a box of candy cigarettes, or maybe going to the Dairy Queen for a Dilly bar was enough to make you feel like you'd had a really great day.

When my grandma would sit for hours and play Barbies with me. Like she didn't have anywhere else to be, or anyone else to talk to or text with (there was no texting, but you know what I mean). Like I was the only person in the world who mattered. And the world we created with my Barbie dolls was our own little world, where anything was possible.

I read that the impetus for Mattel's new Barbie dolls came from their poor sales over the past few years. And how this move was supposed to win back the love of millennial moms who want their daughters to have, as Time Magazine calls it, "more empowering toys."

Again, I can only speak from my experience, but Barbie empowered me more than any other toy I ever had. And that includes two microscopes, a myriad of art supplies, and lots of other 'educational' playthings.

Not only was my Barbie mayor of her town, but she also owned and operated a successful business. She was independently wealthy, but used her money only for good. She had a wonderful loving husband, Ken, who supported her emotionally and was always levelheaded even when she was the victim of a kidnapping plot (many of our Barbie storylines were inspired by the Guiding Light, which was my grandma's soap). And she had numerous meaningful friendships with other dolls who supported and celebrated her accomplishments, as she did for them.

Of course I thought my Barbie was beautiful, with her golden hair and bright blue eyes. But I never, ever thought for one second that I was supposed to look like her. Nor did I ever look at her pointed toes, straight plastic arms and jointed behind and think that my own body didn't measure up. She was just a doll, after all.

Have things gotten so mixed up that little girls look at everything around them for affirmation of what they should look like, be and do? And are we really so lacking of real live role models that a plastic doll would have earned such a key place in our culture?

As I read back over those last couple of sentences, I realized that this isn't limited just to little girls, but I suppose big girls do it too. How much worse will things get as we continue to strive for impossible standards that were never real in the first place.

I'm not even sure how little girls play with Barbies these days. Do they make up stories and act them out like I did 25 years ago? Or do they even care about any of that?

The one thing that does make me happy about the changes to Barbie are the new skin tones and hair styles. The first ever red-haired Barbie I saw was a special edition "Irish" lass, but for the most part my Barbies were all blonde. I'm glad that girls now can play with Barbies that have all different styles and looks.

Growing up, I enjoyed playing with all my toys. I had a doctor kit, which I liked to lug around as I bandaged up stuffed animals. But I didn't want to be a doctor. And as I mentioned earlier, I had microscopes which I enjoyed using to look at slides of water samples collected in the backyard. But having a job as a scientist didn't interest me that much either.

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a storyteller. A writer. Someone who creates other worlds, and for the characters in them, believes anything is possible. Maybe Barbie isn't for everyone. Maybe every little girl should be allowed to find the toys that bring them the most joy.

For me, Barbie provided a way to express my creativity and let my imagination run wild as I created characters and story lines for them to live out. And for that, I'll always be grateful. I don't care if Barbie is tall or short, skinny or fat, black or white, blonde or red-headed. Those aren't the things that determine how much you love people. I love Barbie because of all that she made possible. Good memories, and a childhood where I felt treasured and loved. Of course it's really my family who are to thank, but Barbie was the vehicle for some of it.

As I look at these faces, all these different Barbies with their new shapes and sizes, their new hair and skin tones, it makes me miss those simple childhood days of play and creating. These gals would have fit right in with my 1980s Barbie collection. I know my grandma and I would have enjoyed bringing them to life.

[All images via http://www.barbiemedia.com/]

January 13, 2016

National Hot Tea Month - New Uses for an Old Favorite

Sweet tea is known as the table wine of the south. And there's nothing like a tall glass of cold iced tea on a hot summer day. Of course, for true southerners (and tea aficionados) there's never a bad time to drink the stuff.

But winter weather calls for something to warm you and for that, hot tea is great. Did you know January is National Hot Tea Month?

In honor of this occasion, I'm sharing some new uses for tea besides just for drinking, plus a favorite recipe for Tennessee Sunshine Punch, a delicious hot tea. Check them out!

New Uses for Tea - Around the house...

Use tea to minimize scratches on wood furniture - 

Black tea (the type most commonly used for brewed iced & sweet tea) can be used to cover up scratches on wood furniture. Herbals and green tea won't work for this because they don't have the dark, rich color.

Put a tea bag into a mug and pour 2 tablespoons of hot water over it. Let it steep for at least a couple of minutes, the longer the darker it will be.

Dip a cotton ball or swab into the tea and dab it onto the scratches. Make sure the color seeps down into the raw wood. Quickly wipe away any excess moisture because this can damage the surrounding areas.

You may have to repeat this process to get the desired effect.

Use tea to clean windows and glass - 

Not only does black tea work to decrease the appearance of scratches on your wooden furniture, it can also help make your windows and glass sparkle! 
Tannic acid in black tea serves as a cleaning agent which dissolves grime and smudges. To make your own tea window cleaner, you'll need 2-3 tea bags and 8 ounces of boiling water. 
Brew your tea and let it steep. Let it sit and cool completely before putting it in a spray bottle. Spray onto your windows and mirrors and wipe off with a soft cloth (just as you would with any other cleaner). 
If you're accustomed to using harsh chemicals around the house, using something like tea to clean windows may not have the desired effect. But this non-toxic method is still very effective and is definitely safer for your family than something with a lot of ingredients you can't pronounce. 
New Uses for Tea - In the Bathroom...
Use tea as a refreshing mouthwash - 
Most popular mouthwash brands contain chemicals and ingredients that aren't completely natural. But did you know you can create your own healthy mouthwash with plain old tea? 
Peppermint has menthol, which is a strong cleansing agent known to kill bacteria. Instead of opting for a chemical-filled artificial peppermint flavor, why not go with some natural tea? 
To make your own peppermint mouthwash, brew up a pot of peppermint tea. Then let it cool and store it in a bottle in your fridge. Swish it around your mouth as needed. And if you want to drink some, enjoy! 
Use tea to refresh puffy, tired eyes - 
Nobody wants bags under her eyes, but in this case, tea bags might be just what you need! To give yourself a relaxing treatment, make up a batch of this ginger tea and let the relaxation begin. 
You'll need: 
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
  • 4 tea bags (green tea)
  • Hot water 
Place your tea bags into a mug and pour hot water over them. Add grated ginger and let this mixture steep for about five minutes. 

Let the tea cool and squeeze out the tea bags. Place them in a container in the fridge or freezer depending on how cold you'd like them to be. Then, when ready take them out and place them over your eyes (both on the lids and underneath). 

Finally, a favorite hot tea recipe - 

To make my favorite hot tea punch, you'll need: 
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 6 orange herbal tea bags
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 cups cranberry juice
  • 1-1/2 cups white grape juice
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • Orange slices and additional whole cloves, optional
In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Turn off heat; add tea bags, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags. Stir in the juices and brown sugar; heat through. Remove spices. Garnish with clove-studded orange slices if desired. Enjoy!

December 30, 2015

Last Minute New Year's Eve Party Ideas!

Another year is nearly over and it's time to celebrate! New Year's Eve parties are fun, but whether you're living it up with a hundred of your closest friends or snuggling with your sweetie on the couch, you definitely don't want it to be stressful.

That's why I'm sharing some fun & simple New Year's Eve party ideas! So you waited til the last minute...no big deal! You can still make New Year's special and memorable. Check out my suggestions and incorporate them into your celebration.

1) Pucker UP! - A Delicious Cocktail for New Year's Eve

You'll need: 

1 lemon, cut into slices
Limoncello (lemon-flavored liqueur)
Fresh lemon juice
1 (750-milliliter) bottle brut Champagne, chilled

To make this tasty drink, add a spoonful of the lemon liqueur to a glass. Stir in a spoonful of lemon juice. Top with champagne and garnish with a lemon slice.

It's a little tart, hence the name, but the strike of midnight on New Year's Eve is also a time for kissing, so get prepared to pucker up! Enjoy!

2) Black-eyed Pea Hummus - 

Black-eyed peas have long been thought to bring good luck when eaten on New Year's Day. Get a head start with this tasty adaptation of Blackberry Farm's Black-eyed Pea Hummus.

You'll need: 

1 can of Black-eyed peas (rinsed)
1 T minced garlic
5 T olive oil
Coarse salt & Fresh ground pepper
1 T fresh lemon juice

In a food processor, pulse peas, lemon juice and garlic. When it forms a paste-like consistency, add in olive oil while processing a bit more. Add salt (and pepper) to taste.

Enjoy with crusty bread, crackers, carrot sticks, and other nibbles.

3) Ring in the New Year, with Ring-Shaped Desserts!

Did you know that ring-shaped desserts are thought to symbolize wealth and prosperity? Incorporate some of your own favorite ring-shaped foods, like doughnuts, or mini-bundt cakes.

Knoxville has a new business called Nothing Bundt Cakes that has some incredible options! I picked up their December Flavor of the Month, Peppermint Chocolate and can't wait to enjoy it.

Some other New Year's traditions you might want to try:

  • Eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, one for each month of the past year. 
  • Incorporate lentils or other beans into your New Year's meal...these are supposed to symbolize coins, a.k.a. moolah or prosperity to come.
  • Greens like collards or chard may also bring good luck if eaten on New Year's Day
  • Pork, with its high fat content, may bring you luck. We grew up eating Hog's Jowl, but other cuts will also do. 
  • Toss a bucket of water out the front door of your house after the stroke of midnight, signifying "Out with the old, In with the new." 

December 17, 2015

Last Minute Holiday Gift Guide!

Christmas is a week away and I haven't done any shopping yet! Actually, that isn't exactly true. I've done a little. But no matter how early I begin each year, it pretty much always happens this way. I end up panicking and doing a mad dash to snatch up last minute gifts. 

If you do the same thing, I've got some ideas for you! I'm visiting with my friends on Fox43 to share some last minute gift options for all the various folks on your list! 

1) Last Minute Gifts for Teachers & Neighbors 

Growing up, my mom was a teacher. So holiday time meant her bringing home the mother lode of gifts and goodies. When shopping for someone like a teacher or neighbor, remember these magic words: Something edible. 

It's tough to buy gifts for folks you don't know very well. Sometimes teachers, neighbors, letter carriers, etc. fall into this category. It's always a pretty safe bet to go with something edible. It makes the gesture that you thought of them and it probably won't go to waste. My mom has never been much for baking. It's not her thing. So when the holidays rolled around, her students provided our family with awesome homemade sweets and treats that we wouldn't have had otherwise. 

If you can't make anything, just buy something small. My mantra for gift-giving applies here too...presentation is key. Don't just give someone a bag of M&Ms. Package them in a cute jar, maybe like these vintage-inspired green canning jars shown above. It's a great double duty gift because it gives them something to enjoy and a cool jar to use when the treat is gone. Trust me here. 

2) Last Minute Gifts for Co-Workers 

Once again, food never fails. So you spend lots of time with the people you work with. And you want to give them some sort of small token of your friendship. Start with a cute basket (the one shown is from Target, but I found identical options at Dollar General for half the price). Then fill it with a couple of great items your pals are sure to love. 
Check out this olive oil made in Georgia. It's a bit pricey, but it's small-batch, artisan, all that good stuff. And made right here in the south. Pair it with a loaf of bread (homemade or otherwise) and this makes a nice little gift. 

This also works for a hostess gift if you are attending a party. You can switch this up and include some fancy schmancy coffee beans instead, and a mini french press. The coffee I chose is from Knoxville-based Three Bears Coffee Company, but another new fave of mine is Broast, made right in my hometown of Cookeville. You can order it through the Broast Facebook page. 

3) Last Minute Gifts for Your Friends who Like to Entertain 

If you have friends who like to entertain, consider yourself lucky. These folks are the life of the party and never mind an impromptu get-together. 

Since they are gracious enough to host, treat them with ready-made gifts that will help save time and effort for their next party. Something like a cocktail gift basket might be an option. You can fill it with things like grenadine, simple syrup and other mixers. Maybe some olives or other garnishes. Even a few bottles of tonic water or club soda. Your friends will love it, feel appreciated, and keep inviting you to their rocking parties...win/win! 

These are just a few ideas for last minute holiday gifts! Hopefully you are ahead of the game. But if you waited, there are still a few days to shop. 

December 2, 2015

Simple & Creative Holiday Gift Wrapping Tricks

When it comes to entertaining, I always like to say that presentation matters. A simple, humble gesture or gift can mean a lot more when presented in a special way. This way of thinking definitely applies to wrapping gifts during the holidays.

Don't believe me? Then you've probably never been handed a gift wrapped in a wadded up plastic grocery bag. A gift is a gift, and anything given should always be received with gratitude. But the same small item can be received very differently depending on how it's presented.

It's really not about putting on a big show...but more about just making someone feel like you went that little extra mile to make them feel important.

Holiday gift wrapping doesn't have to be stressful and it doesn't have to break the bank. Plan ahead with these simple tips and make your Christmas gift wrapping a success!

1) Stick with a color scheme - 

When all your gifts are under the tree together, they will look much neater if they are all wrapped in similar paper. Even if the patterns are different, choosing a color scheme will give everything a polished look.

And that color scheme doesn't necessarily have to be red and green. In fact, I often stock up on various colors of wrapping paper when I find it on sale throughout the year. Any solid color and most basic prints can be jazzed up to work for the holidays. A basic white paper with silver polka dots (from the Birthday party section) looks very festive with royal blue or silver ribbon.

Going with a more modern vibe this year? Why not try hot pink paper with silver or gold trimmings. Some of my favorite color combinations right now are turquoise and emerald green, gold and cream, and red and bright pink. Or use any color combo you like.

2) Get creative with trimmings - 

Instead of ribbon, use old fashioned tinsel garland to tie a shiny bow. Or maybe some twine or rick-rack. Raffia is another great material and you can tie it around a gift or even make raffia pom poms.

The days of plopping on those peel 'n stick bagged bows are behind you.

Another way to trim your packages is with small trinkets or ornaments. I picked up a whole bunch of super cute ornaments at Dollar General to double as package trim. For a buck each, these can really take your presents from so-so to wow.

3) Recycle - 

Do you save old Christmas cards from year to year? After so long, these can pile up and collect dust. I decided to put mine to good use by recycling the prettiest ones as decorative elements to add to packages.

Something else to recycle and re-purpose for gift wrapping is the comics page from the newspaper. With a bright cheery ribbon, this colorful paper can make great wrapping.

A Few More Tips - 

When using sturdier boxes with lids, I always wrap the box and lid separately. This way, it's easier to open and the paper doesn't get torn. Photo boxes are my favorite and you can pick them up right now for cheap at most discount stores. I like these because you can re-use them over and over again.

Save containers all through the year if you have a place to store them. You never know when a mailer tube or a bubble wrap envelope will come in handy for that oddly shaped Christmas gift.

Use natural elements if you can. Cinnamon sticks, a bit of holly or magnolia leaves can make a nice addition to a gift, especially when wrapped in simple brown paper. Simple can look oh so chic.

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't...it 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 slate....no 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.