October 9, 2019

Simple and Delicious Drinks for Fall

Happy Fall Y'all! The weather is getting cooler and I think most of us in the formerly sweltering south are happy about that. Just in time for the season, I've got some delicious and simple fall drink recipes you might want to make for your next autumn party or even for no reason at all!

Cranberry Crush 


If you've ever visited my blog before, you know I like to keep things easy! No complicated recipes here. That's why I love this drink....it's just equal parts of everything mixed together. 

To make it, you'll need: 

  • Cranberry Juice (I like the Simply Cranberry)
  • Orange Juice (Again, I like the Simply Orange, and sometimes I use the Orange Pineapple)
  • Sprite (I don't like the added sugar of Sprite or the chemicals of diet drinks, so I subbed this for cranberry flavored Lacroix seltzer water) 
Mix it all up in a pitcher or punch bowl and you're good to go! You could also swap out the orange juice for limeade and garnish with limes! Seriously, it's dealer's choice y'all! 

Caramel Apple Cider Punch


Not a fan of warm apple cider? Then this drink's for you! It's a chilled apple cider punch, with just the right hint of caramel. 

Start by swirling some caramel or dulce de leche sauce in your glasses. Then add some ice and Simply Apple Cider (I promise this is not a sponsored post, I just love these products). Add in a splash of cream soda. Give it a sprinkling of cinnamon (or not) and you're good to go! 

Pumpkin Spice Smoothie


You know it's just not fall without something Pumpkin Spice....and this healthy pumpkin smoothie is a great way to start your morning! It would also make a yummy dessert. 

To create it, you'll need: 

  • 1 cup milk (I used oat milk)
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin 
  • 1/2 cup yogurt (can be plain or flavored)
  • Sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice
  • Dash of vanilla extract 
  • Ice 
Mix it all up in your blender or food processor and enjoy! 


September 18, 2019

Ways to Celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day

September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and in honor of the occasion, I'm sharing some fun and simple ways to celebrate!

According to my Internet research, the holiday was created in the mid-90s. To truly make the most of observing it, you might want to adopt a pirate moniker and greet people with traditional pirate greetings such as "Ahoy, maties!" or "Ahoy, me hearties!"

In addition to that, I've got some really simple ideas that you can re-create to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day with your friends and family!

Drink Like a Pirate: Non-Alcoholic Dark and Stormy


What pirate wouldn't love a drink called a "Dark and Stormy?" I'm creating a non-alcoholic version but you could easily add a bit of alcohol as well for a more spirited version. 



Traditional Dark and Stormy cocktails call for dark rum, ginger beer, a splash of molasses bitter and a splash of lime juice, all served over ice. 

For my non-alcoholic version, you'll need: 

  • 1 cup of ginger beer
  • 1 T fresh lime juice
  • 1/3 cup pineapple juice
Mix it together and serve over ice and you might just find your party guests saying "Blow me down!" 

Eat like a Pirate: Your Own Pizza the Buried Treasure!


Check out this awesome pizza treasure map, via Betty Crocker. This would be such a fun & easy way to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day! Making 'homemade' pizza was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. My grandma always let me grate the mozzarella cheese. 



You could make one big pizza or get smaller crusts or flatbreads and let everyone create his or her own map to the buried treasure! 

All you need is your crust or base, your favorite sauce, cheese and toppings (I got red & green peppers, and black olives). 

Decorate Like a Pirate - 


Instead of spending any money on decorations, I raided my Halloween stash for anything that could be remotely pirate-centric. Things like skulls, bottles of potions, and cauldrons can easily be re-appropriated for a pirate party. 

Add some pirate-friendly treats like any gold wrapped candy (treasure), goldfish crackers or Swedish fish (catch of the day), and chocolate bon bons (cannon balls). 

And don't forget to let everyone figure out his or her Pirate Name! This is Dread Thunder Blackbeard, signing out! 





September 6, 2019

Just some of the things I need forgiveness for


Forgive me for the snails whose fragile shells I've crushed under my feet when taking my dogs out for a pre-dawn bathroom opportunity. Each time I think I'll remember not to let it happen again, but you know how dark those early mornings can be and how hard it is to think ahead when your brain is still asleep.

And there was a slug the other day. Forgive me for him too.

Forgive me for not paying attention to all the things that deserved my attention.

Forgive me for the times I've seen an old person dining alone at a restaurant and not invited them to join my table. Give courage to the part of my heart that wants to extend the invitation in the first place. Help it be stronger than the part holding me back.

Forgive me for the eyerolls when my husband takes out the trash and fails to replace a fresh bag in the can.

Forgive me for forgetting people's birthdays or not trying hard enough to make them feel special.

Forgive me for not being able to go in the veterinary office to hold my dog as she was being put to sleep. And thank you for the person I married, who said he would do it and not to worry because wherever he goes, it's like I am there too.

Forgive me for being un-neighborly to my neighbors. For being unfriendly to my friends. For being unkind to my kin. And unloving to my loves.

Forgive me for the anger I've carried around for too, too long. Anger towards those who can't be what I feel they should be or won't do what I believe they should do.

Forgive me for all the things I've left unsaid. For the minutes or hours or even days (alright, years) I've let go by without trying to mend a broken relationship or at least slap a band-aid on it in some way.

Forgive me for every hateful thing I've ever thought. And for every terrible thing I've said, including but not limited to that thing I said to Kristin S. in the first grade and that other terrible, horrible thing I said to that boy on the playground in fourth grade, whose name I can't even remember. And forgive me for forgetting his name too.

Forgive me for the times I tried to make myself look better or stand out from the rest. Or make the rest look bad by comparison.

Forgive me for thinking what I can do = who I am. And forgive me for believing my value was directly proportional to my achievements, what I could do for people, and not needing to ask for help.

Forgive me for the stars I've neglected to gaze at. For the sunsets I've not bothered to watch. For the moments of wonder I've missed. Please let there be more wonder ahead. I'll be looking for it. Watching for it. I'll be paying attention. Promise.

August 28, 2019

Simple & Affordable Ideas for Adding More Art to Your Home!

I've always been an art lover. I love making art, I love looking at other people's art, and I love incorporating it into my home. If you know me, you might know I studied art history in college. This might make you think I'm something of an art snob, but that is totally not the case.

I truly believe art is in the eye of the beholder, and the experience we have with art is so personal. It's all about finding what you like, finding what speaks to you and finding what moves you. 

I like to think of myself as an art collector, but because I don't have a huge budget, I can't always be buying art. As much as I love to support local (and non-local) artists, I also have some simple and affordable ideas for adding art to your home! 

Prints from the Past 

When it came time to add some art to my black and white bathroom, I decided to enhance my empty walls with some historic photos. Did you know you can download images for free from the Library of Congress digital collection? There's a special section called "Free to Use" that has everything from historical travel photos, to vintage poster designs, baseball and other sports, historic portraits, holidays and so much more! 

I decided to play off the idea of black and white by choosing two contrasting images (one selected by me - the beauty queens above and one selected by my husband - Armistice Day below). Images like these can be downloaded in a high res file from the site and then printed at a local print shop or even ordered through an online printer. I popped mine into two simple frames and get so many compliments on them! 


This would also be great for a kid's room as they may have tastes or interests that evolve over time. Maybe you don't want to invest a lot in posters or prints because they could want to change them up in a few years. This is a great option and you can even swap out whatever you have in the same frames. 


Think Small


Who says art has to be huge? One of my favorite ways to add a bit of cheer to my home is by using framed greeting cards. Think about it. Cards are kind of like small works of art, right? So why not use them in smaller frames around the house?

I already collect lots of cards that people send me. This way, I can enjoy them on display.



It's even better if the card has been given to me by someone I care about. Then I can think about them each time I see it.

And it's super easy to swap out the cards, showcasing different ones in different frames whenever the  mood strikes me. 

Make (or Buy) Something One-of-a-Kind 


Two of my absolute favorite works of art are very personal. One is a small canvas etched with the date of my wedding. My friend Michelle at Knoxville's Me & Co. created it for me and it's truly one of my favorite things. Plus, it keeps my husband and me from ever having the excuse of forgetting our anniversary! 

The other is a new favorite from a new favorite friend who creates and sells gorgeous custom painted collage portraits. I asked her to create one of my three dogs and it captured their unique personalities to a tee.

She also creates portraits for families, kiddos and other pets. So much talent! Visit her Etsy shop here.


As much as I'd like to stroll into a fancy art gallery and purchase whatever masterpiece caught my eye, that's not exactly part of my financial plan for the moment. But I love the art I have. It makes me happy and it adds joy to my home.

I hope you can incorporate art into your home that does the same! 

August 14, 2019

Three Simple Recipes to Enjoy during Peach Season!

August is a great time to enjoy the bounty of fresh peaches available in the south! And I've got some simple and delicious recipes you might want to try using fresh peaches. Don't have access to fresh peaches or want to make these year-round? Substitute canned or frozen peaches for a similar end result. 

Peachy Onion Salad with Basil


I have been making this salad for years, since I first featured it on the blog in 2011!  

You could probably add a tiny bit of Chevre or Mozzarella if you wanted to, but it’s perfectly delicious just as is.

Here's how to create it.....

You'll Need: 
  • 2-3 peaches, peeled and sliced
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • a few leaves of fresh Basil
  • Oil & Vinegar (to taste)
Place peaches and onions in a bowl. Drizzle with oil (I used olive) and vinegar (I used red wine). Sprinkle with Basil leaves and enjoy!

Peaches and Cream Float


To make this delicious drink, all you'll need is some peach juice (I prefer the Simply Peach not from concentrate), ice cream (peach or vanilla will do) and club soda or seltzer. It's basically an old fashioned ice cream float, but with the addition of the peach juice for more flavor. 

Start with a scoop of ice cream in your glass. Add peach juice and a splash of soda water to give it some bubbles. Drink it up! 

Peach Parfaits


My final peach recipe idea is a yummy parfait. This basic recipe can really be made with any fruit, but peaches are a great one to try it with. 

I like to start with some crumbled cookies (maybe shortbread or gingerbread, depending on what you like). Add those to the bottom of your bowl. Then top with sliced peaches. Add a bit of whipped cream or if you want to go all out, some whipped cream mixed with cream cheese. Repeat each layer a few times until you have a parfait fit for a queen! 

July 24, 2019

Celebrate National Blueberry Month with Simple Recipes!

Did you know July is National Blueberry Month? I've been enjoying this sweet fruit by the handfuls, but in honor of the occasion, I'm sharing some other ways to treat yourself to this healthy and delicious berry.


Speaking of healthy, here's the lowdown on how blueberries can be beneficial for your body as well as your tastebuds:

  • Blueberries have more antioxidants than any other fruit
  • They are packed with fiber and vitamin C
  • Also a source for vitamin K & B6
Looking for some creative ways to enjoy blueberries for the rest of the harvest season? Here are three that you might want to try! 


Blueberry Salsa

 



Salsa is one of my favorite summertime foods and when I found a recipe for blueberry salsa, I knew I had to try it. It's so easy and incorporates lots of healthy ingredients to offset all the chips I will definitely be eating with it.

You can add or omit ingredients too, depending on your preference.

Here's what you need:

2 c. fresh blueberries
1 c. fresh corn (frozen or canned is okay if it's all you can get)
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
1/4 c. freshly chopped cilantro
1/4 c. lime juice
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Corn chips, for serving

I chopped up some of the blueberries too, to help the flavors mingle a bit more. Mix it all together and serve. So tasty!

Blueberry Chia Pudding


I don't know about you, but chia pudding is one of those things I sort of forget I like until I see it on Pinterest and think, oh yeah, I should make that. It's so easy to make and can be healthy for you. Apparently, 1/4 cup of chia seeds have about as much protein as an egg. 

Of course, it is important to keep in mind added sugars, etc. 


For this recipe, I simply stirred 1/4 cup chia seeds into a cup of almond milk. I mashed up about a cup of blueberries (or you could use the blender or food processor), and stirred that in as well. Stick it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. This will give the chia time to expand and take on its more gelatinous consistency. Top with some chopped nuts or a bit of granola, and yum! 

Blueberry Orange Detox Water 


Infused water was a trend for a bit, but I have always loved this option as a way to add a bit of oomph to your already needed summer thirst quencher. 


Because of their antioxidants, blueberries are a great option to add to your water. And their flavor pairs nicely with slices of orange. Add in some mint leaves for a truly refreshing treat. 

If you can't spend your summer at a spa, bring flavors of the spa to you with this awesome infused drink! 

July 3, 2019

Fun & Easy July 4th Party Ideas!

Planning a last minute July 4th party for your friends and family? Here are some fun and easy ideas to inspire a truly memorable celebration of our nation's birthday!

Make a Red, White & Blue Decorative Garland


I was inspired by the Hallmark Think.Make.Share blog for the idea to make a garland, and what an adorable way to add some red, white, and blue cheer to your July 4th party!

One option is to use recycled paper tubes to create little rockets. Or for an even simpler idea, just tie bits of ribbon on a twine. 

If you have ribbon or fabric scraps, even better! I picked up a few different bolts of ribbon at my local craft store, for about $3 each. Visit the Hallmark blog for complete instructions to make their ribbon garland! 

Patriotic Pound Cake with Fresh Berries 


I'm not a baker, so I feel like I've hit the jackpot when I can find a great store-bought option that tastes like homemade. Whole Foods has an amazing pound cake that I've served on more than one occasion. And The Fresh Market has really delicious cupcakes that taste just like my great grandmother's yellow cake. What is it about cake and fresh berries that just embodies summer in the south? 

This July 4th, I'm serving a simple pound cake with some of nature's best bounty. There are so many ways to do this, but each is delicious and easy.

You could slice the cake into layers and create a whipped cream and berry filling. Or you could just slice and grill each piece, and serve with berries on the side. 

Cheers to our Independence - A Red, White & Blue Mocktail


When entertaining, serving delicious treats is only part of it. A big part of your success in creating memorable experiences for your guests is with your presentation. 

And a great way to up your presentation game is with layered drinks. The secret to getting the different colored layers of your cocktails or mocktails to stay separated is by paying attention to the sugar content. 

Heaviest goes at the bottom, so make sure to put the beverage with the greatest amount of sugar in first. It also helps if you pack in some ice at this point. Then pour in other layers in decreasing order, with the lowest sugar content last. 

I used a blood orange juice from Whole Foods for my red layer and some blue sports drink for the blue. Top it with some whipped cream and you've got a lovely drink for July 4th! 

June 19, 2019

Fun & Simple Summer Snacks for All Ages

Summer in the south is hot, hot, hot! This is why finding fun and simple summer snacks is key. It means you'll spend less time in the kitchen and the time you do spend will be cooler since you aren't heating the kitchen up with complicated recipes. 

Looking for some new recipes to try with your family this summer? I've got three that are tasty and quick to prepare! I hope this inspires you to think outside the box and treat yourself with delicious snacks during the summer and all year long. 

Italian Antipasto Salad Kabobs


In Italian cooking, antipasto refers to an appetizer made up of olives, anchovies, cheeses, and meats. I did a more kid-friendly take on this idea with some bite sized snacks which can be eaten on a skewer. I was inspired by this adorable blog. 

Not only can kids help with the prep of this snack, it's also fun to eat. This would pack up well into a cooler for a day at the pool or a picnic. 

Start with cherry tomatoes, add tortellini, olives, a pepperoni and a cheese cube and you're all set. This idea can be customized to your taste preferences for a truly delicious summer snack. 

Strawberry Lemonade Dessert Pizza 


There's nothing like the combination of strawberry and lemon to really capture the essence of summer. This sweet fruit pizza recipe lets you serve it up in a way that would please a large crowd or just a friend who happened to pop by. 

And if you want to make it in small batches, that's also possible. 

Basically, it's a sugar cookie base topped with a mixture of lemon curd and whipped cream, then finished off with strawberries and lemon zest. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Click here for the full recipe.

Frozen Yogurt Bites 

This recipe is so simple, I feel like even calling it a "recipe" is cheating. Basically, all you do is squeeze out little dollops of your favorite flavor of yogurt and freeze. It creates these easy to eat bites and once again, takes something simple and makes it more fun for all ages! 


This great blog has the full post. One thing to note....if you use yogurt with real fruit chunks, your bites might not be uniform. You might be better off mashing up fresh fruit and stirring it into plain yogurt. This also makes the quality of your snack better, as opposed to some yogurts which are high in sugar and other junk. 

Summer is here and it's not the time to lose your cool. Make your life easier this summer with these fun and simple summer snacks for all ages! 

June 5, 2019

Celebrate National Donut Day with a DIY Donut Station


Alright folks, that day of days is upon us. The first Friday in June. Also known as National Donut Day. This is an occasion to celebrate one of the purest, most simple forms of deliciousness we know. The humble donut.

Donuts have come a long way over the years. Plain cake and glaze has been elevated with toppings galore, flavors and all sorts of frosting options. But the best thing about donuts is that there's a flavor or topping combo for just about everyone.

What's your favorite? Are you a classic donut fan, maybe just a blueberry cake or chocolate frosted? Or perhaps you like to go out on a limb, enjoying concoctions with strange combinations like bacon and maple glaze.

On my recent trip to NYC, I tried donuts at Donut Plant, an awesome little eatery known for its incredible donut flavor offerings. My favorite was the Brooklyn Blackout, described as a chocolate cake doughnut, filled with chocolate pudding, dipped in chocolate glaze and sprinkled with chocolate cake crumbs. Yes, please!


Have you caught donut fever? There's no shortage of great donuts  to be found in Knoxville, from Makers Donuts to Status Dough, to the most recently opened Pops Donuts.

Want to enjoy donuts at home? Why not set up a fun DIY donut station at your next party or event. All you need are a bunch of plain cake donuts and assorted frostings and toppings. Let your guests go to town creating their own one-of-a-kind donut creations.

I found a great recipe for donut glaze that only calls for three ingredients: milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. Click here for details. 

Here are a few ideas below to inspire you!

Candied pineapple + Shredded Coconut on cream cheese frosting = Pina Colada Donut

Mini marshmallows + Graham crackers on chocolate frosting = S'Mores Donut

Assorted Breakfast Cereal on vanilla frosting = Eye Opener Donut 

Fresh strawberries + whipped topping = Strawberry shortcake Donut

Apple Pie filling + Caramel sauce on cream cheese frosting = Apple Pie Donut 

Donut disappoint your guests! 

May 24, 2019

Kick Up Your Heels | Hong Kong Ballet 40th Anniversary


I've always loved the ballet, ever since my grandma first took me to see the Nutcracker as a kid. But this is marvelous! The combination of color and sass....so much inspiration here!

Thanks to my pal Saray Taylor-Roman for sharing. Check out her site too, y'all. An uh-mazing photographer who makes magic happen with her clients!

May 23, 2019

To Thine Own Needs Be True



I was reading Cleo Wade's book "Heart Talk" when a particular passage jumped off the page and struck me right between the eyes.

"Knowing our needs is a limitless superpower, one that can help us make all the big decisions in life." 

Obviously she's not talking about our basic needs like food, water, or shelter. This is more complex. But needs are a funny thing. Or at least they are for me. 

I grew up thinking other people's needs were more important than mine. I grew up thinking that if I could make sure people and things around me were okay, then I'd be okay too. Typing that brings a bad taste to my mouth and makes it seem like I was trying to be some sort of a martyr for a cause but it wasn't that. I don't know what it was. Sometimes I still don't.

Cleo goes on to say that we should be unapologetic when it comes to our needs. And I think I agree with her. Although there's part of me that thinks that seems selfish. Do you see where the struggle lies folks?

Since we like to blame our dysfunction on things like religion, how bout trying this on for size? When I was growing up, there was a banner in my Sunday School class at church that said the word JOY down the left hand side. And the "J" stood for Jesus, and the "O" stood for Others, and the "Y" stood for Yourself. The idea was this is the order of importance.....so Jesus first (I ain't arguing this one), others next [as in put others needs above your own....see my issue above], and finally yourself.

I get this in theory. And I'm not saying it's bad to avoid being a selfish person. But come on! Was this really the best message to give an insecure, people pleasing, self-worth doubting child such as myself? I don't think so.

I can't say for sure, but I want to believe this (and other messages like this) had a great impact on my beliefs that my needs just didn't matter as much. And that if I somehow was looking out for number one (aka myself), I was being a selfish, horrible, terrible spoiled brat. 

In my head, things are black and white. This has also served to be a GIANT stumbling block for me.

It causes me to believe that

1) Either your needs matter more (which is what I always thought was true)

OR

2) My needs matter more (which is what I never thought).

I never even considered a reality in which BOTH OF OUR NEEDS could matter. BOTH, PEOPLE!!! BOTH!! [for the record, I'm yelling this at myself for emphasis]. 

You can't address your own needs until you know what they are. And you can't get to know them until you acknowledge that you have them, and that they are worth acknowledging.

But you can't push past them every single time and not expect disastrous outcomes. Outcomes like being angry all the time. And sometimes saying snarky things to people. And hating everyone and yourself.

There's a place that exists where we feel tired, and heavy, and resentful, and angry, and out of touch with ourselves, and completely separated from our own hearts. And in that place, we are miserable and eventually, we are liable to break. 

When you've reached your limit, stop. 

When you get tired, take a rest. 

When you just can't even anymore, just don't even anymore. It's OKAY. Seriously.

Nobody has to understand. Nobody has to approve. Nobody has to give you permission.

You know your own self better than anybody else and you know your own needs better too (if you first acknowledge them). 

May 15, 2019

End of the Year Teacher Gift Ideas!

Growing up with a teacher mom, I know a thing or two about how much teachers appreciate any and all gestures of thoughtfulness. With the school year coming to a close, it's a great time to say thanks to the teachers who have loved and encouraged your kiddos since August.

It doesn't take a huge budget or lots of time to create a small thoughtful token to make a teacher feel appreciated. I've got three ideas at different price points to inspire you. Hopefully this will serve as a jumping off point to get you inspired with teacher gifts of your own!

The $5 Teacher Gift Option 


What teacher (or really person for that matter) doesn't like salty snacks? This is a simple gift that you can do even on a small budget. It's called the "Nacho Average Teacher" basket and I was inspired by this fab blogger gal. 


All you need is a bag of chips, a couple jars of dip or salsa and a cute container and you're good to go. I hit up places like Big Lots and the Target Dollar Zone for little extra touches that make it feel special. You might even have a gift basket on hand or a cute vintage container. 

The $15 Teacher Gift Option 


Inspired by Stephanie at Somewhat Simple, this "Orange You Glad It's Summer" gift basket is perfect for Tennessee teachers! 



You can include anything that your child's teacher might enjoy, but things like flip flops, a cute beach cup and sunscreen come to mind. Also, some snacks to enjoy beachside/poolside.

This gift option could also be customized to your budget, depending on whether you want to spend more or less.

The $30 Teacher Gift Option


Finally, if you want to spend a bit more and make that special teacher feel extra special, a spa gift basket or movie night basket are both great options. 

For a spa gift basket, include things like sheet masks, a yummy-smelling scrub, lotion and even a bath bomb. 

For a movie basket like this one from an adorable blog, maybe include snacks and a Netflix or Redbox gift card or a gift card to a local movie theater. It helps if you happen to know your child's teacher's favorite snacks, but if all else fails grab a mix of sugary and chocolate and you're sure to please someone! 


It's really not about the money. I can remember my mom getting the sweetest handwritten cards from parents and students alike that touched her heart and still grace her fridge to this day.

But if you've had a great teacher (or several) who have gone out of their way to support your kiddo and cheer him/her on this year, I hope you'll take the time to say thanks. As a teacher's kid, I saw firsthand that theirs could be a thankless job at times, but those little gestures of appreciation went a long way.

April 22, 2019

Getting Our Hands Dirty


On the rare occasion that my husband and I take a lunch break at the same time, we will sometimes go for a walk. This happened today and we were excited to take a few minutes to get outside and do something good for ourselves. 
The path we usually walk is a one-mile figure eight loop at a nearby park. We were a quarter of the way around when I started seeing large amounts of litter scattered around the path. The more we walked, the more litter we saw.

Litter really bugs me. I don't understand the thinking behind tossing something aside for someone else to clean up. Especially when there are trash cans around. The more I thought about it, the madder I was getting. 

As we rounded the trail loop, something white and billowy caught my eye. It was an empty grocery bag. 

"Oh boy," my hubs said. "I know what happens next." He laughed as I grabbed the bag off the ground...knowing it would be the perfect thing in which to collect all the litter we were seeing! I asked him how he knew I was going to do that, and he said he just knew because he knows me. 

He was chivalrous enough to carry the bag for me as we continued our walk, now having a receptacle to collect the litter. Then I randomly remembered that it's Earth Day, and felt like our small act was for a good cause. 

As we passed a runner who saw what we were doing, he shouted "Y'all are awesome!" which felt pretty good. 

I promise I'm not sharing this to make you think we are some kinda civic heroes because we're not. But there is a point to my story. 

We filled and emptied the grocery bag three times with litter and then for a substantial pile, we dragged a rolling trash can over and picked that up as well. Afterward, I looked around at the (mostly) litter-free area and enjoyed the sight of grass, flowers and sky. 

I'm not gonna lie....it felt good to do something good. Sometimes this is reward enough. 

But just beyond the good feeling was a tinge of something else....let's call it self-righteousness. 

A tinge that prompted me to think thoughts that began with: 

I cannot imagine....throwing my trash down on the ground

What kind of person just....leaves their garbage for someone else to clean up?

I would never be the kind of person who....throws down litter in a beautiful park 

Most of us would probably agree that tossing trash out the window or throwing it down on the ground is wrong. We might also agree that picking it up is right. 

But if doing the right thing leads us to feel self-righteous, we've completely missed the point. I feel certain this can apply in so many areas. 

Let me say it again: 

If we only do what's right because it makes us feel self-righteous, we've completely missed the point. 

If doing the so-called right thing makes us think we can sit in judgment of others who are so-called wrong, then we are so-called mistaken. 

It's impossible to get inside anyone else's head. We don't know why people do the things they do. We don't know what they are struggling with, what kind of gut-wrenching challenges they are up against, and what lies they've been told or led to believe that have shaped their every pattern, behavior and thought process. 

We give ourselves the benefit of every doubt, but how often are we so quick to judge the actions of others because they are doing something that we'd supposedly never do? 

Some might say I have every right to judge them....since I was the one touching all their dirty trash and dragging around a giant garbage can on what was supposed to be a leisurely lunch walk. But it doesn't work this way. Judging others was never our right. 

What we can do is try to help. To show love. To make people feel less alone. To pitch in and get our hands dirty when it will make someone else's struggle a little easier or help them experience a bit more beauty. 

April 17, 2019

Simple Ways to Make Easter Brunch More Special!


Easter is a special time and if you're celebrating with a gathering of family or friends, I have some simple ways to make your occasion more special!

From food to drinks, to setting a lovely table, make your Easter celebration truly memorable with these simple, and easy additions.

Something to Nibble Before the Main Meal 


There's nothing more annoying to a cook than having your guests camp out in the kitchen and try to sneak bites of food before you are ready to serve them. 



I remedy this by always having something for guests to nibble before the main meal. This way, if people arrive at your house absolutely starving, and things happen to be running a bit behind (hey, it happens to all of us), then they are placated with snacks. 

Charcuterie and cheeses, nuts, olives and other salty snacks make a great option for nibbling. Pickles and popcorn are also good to incorporate. Having a mix of different things means there's something for everybody. 

I try to avoid sweet options since this has a tendency to ruin the meal. 

Simple & Delicious Peach Bellini



Nothing says brunch like a Bellini, and you can make this one with spirits or as a nonalcoholic version, which is friendly for all ages! 

For the nonalcoholic version, all you need is peach nectar and ginger ale. To give it more of a spirited twist, sub the ginger ale for Prosecco or champagne. Simple, light and sweet....perfect for spring!

Semi-Homemade Goodness 


Finally, take some of the pressure off your Easter meal prep by opting to serve some items not made from scratch. Store-bought isn't always my go-to, but when what I can buy is better than what I can make, I always go for store-bought. 


Unless you love to bake homemade bread and have a foolproof recipe, I recommend picking up some Callie's Charleston Biscuits to serve at your Easter meal. Callie's proprietor Carrie Morey is a pal of mine and her biscuits are beloved the world over. Knoxville folks can find them at The Fresh Market, or click here for a store locator in your neck of the woods. 

And if you bury the package in the bottom of the trash, I won't even tell that you didn't make them yourself! Carrie won't either, I'm sure ;) 

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Easter is more than a time for pastel candy and dresses, Peeps and deviled eggs. It's about hope, and love. And new life. So no matter what's on your table, or who is seated around it, I hope you hold the most important things in your heart this season. 

April 3, 2019

Easy Ways to Beat Stress

Did you know April is National Stress Awareness Month? Stress is such a loaded topic these days....we all have it and say we wish we didn't. Some of us wear it like a badge of honor. Some of us legitimately have it from external sources and others of us create it in our daily thoughts, behaviors and actions. I'm not pointing any fingers here....except maybe at myself.

Want to decrease the stress in your life? Here are three fun & simple ways!

Eat to Beat Stress 


I found this recipe on The Dinner Shift, a great blog with all sorts of tasty recipes. Sort of a riff on the traditional loaded cheese fries, it incorporates several ingredients that are supposed to help you beat stress and anxiety: sweet potatoes, black beans and avocados. 

I love sweet potatoes and try to eat them as much as possible. What I didn't know was that they are a mood booster because of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which helps reduce free radical damage to brain cells. Sweet potatoes can also prevent oxidative stress which is common in emotional conditions like anxiety and depression. The carbs in sweet potatoes help with serotonin production. 

Black beans are another stress fighting food because they are rich in magnesium, which has a relaxing effect on the body and brain. Some experts say magnesium deficiency can lead to stress. 

Finally, there is research that shows low levels of Vitamin B can contribute to feelings of anxiety, which can also lead to stress. Avocados are a great source of B Vitamins, so slap on some avocado or guac to give this dish more flavor. 

So, combine these stress fighting ingredients and whip up your own loaded sweet potato fries, with black beans and avocado! Add cheese, black olives, jalapenos, or whatever other toppings you like! Yum. 

Drink to Beat Stress 


I'm not talking about that type of drinking. In fact, I have found that alcohol does very little to help with stress....it just takes your mind off things for awhile and then eventually you have to deal with the it again. The drink I recommend to beat stress is a turmeric latte. 


It may be too early to say, but some researchers are suggesting that the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric may help combat anxiety. 

I've been making a drink called a Turmeric Golden Milk Latte and it's delicious! Simply combine the ingredients below in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 8-10 minutes and pour into a mug. Enjoy! 

1/2 cup (120ml) of an unsweetened milk of your choice (I like almond or flax) 
1 tsp of turmeric
1 small piece of grated fresh ginger or 1/2 tsp of ginger powder
1/2 tsp of cinnamon powder
1 pinch of ground black pepper
1 tsp of honey or maple syrup (optional)

I can't say for sure if it's scientific, but drinking a cup of this in the evening, after a stressful day doesn't hurt. 

Make a Stress-Free Self-Care Kit


A final way that I like to deal with stress is with self-care. I know, I know....self-care seems like a buzzword these days. But it comes in many forms and can be a great (cheap & easy) option for dealing with stress. 


Maybe create a self-care kit or basket so that all your stuff is one spot. Fill it with your favorite things so that when you start feeling stress coming on, you can treat yourself to something from the basket.

Mine includes face mask sheets, body scrubs, dark chocolate, a great smelling candle, and essential oils. Also a few magazines or a book that I'm waiting for a chance to read.

Stress isn't always bad. It can alert us to danger, push us to achieve our goals and help us accomplish tasks more efficiently. But chronic stress, the kind that feels like a frenzied wave just pushing us along and sometimes crashing over us, is terrible. The good news is we don't have to live with it. I'm trying to be more aware of stress for National Stress Awareness Month and beyond. Hopefully you can too! 

March 20, 2019

Setting a Beautiful Springtime Table

Happy Spring y'all! I don't know about you, but I'm loving life against the backdrop of blooms and green. In honor of the season, I'm bringing some spring inside with a few ideas for setting a beautiful springtime table.


Don't feel like you have to go out and spend a lot of money. These ideas are simple to execute and affordable for any budget!

First, think about your background. Got a gorgeous table? Maybe leave it uncovered for some natural beauty this spring. Want to add a pop of color? Go bold with a brightly colored tablecloth. I like royal blue because it looks great against the colors of the season.

Then, add texture. Think table runners, placemats and chargers. These can help you add visual interest and create a more interesting look and feel.

Consider the dishes you want to use. I tend to stick with all white since they can be mixed and matched with anything....but if you love color, go all out! And don't feel like you have to be all matchy matchy. Combine patterns and colors to create a more exciting tablescape.

Accessories are when the real fun begins...I have some adorable little bird nests that I like to use. These were thrifted a few years ago and cost just a couple of bucks. I also like to incorporate elements like bunnies, ceramic flowers and small containers.

Don't forget to add natural elements! Pebbles, rocks, twigs or things you've collected can be really cute. And don't hesitate to snip a few branches from blooming shrubs or plants in your yard.

All of this can be combined in a lovely, affordable and simple-to-create spring tablescape!

March 6, 2019

Fun & Simple DIY Flower Arrangements for Spring


Spring is just around the corner and these last few weeks of winter can really start to wear me down. I'm bringing some springtime cheer to my home with a few fun and simple DIY flower arrangements to help welcome in the season.

I can't promise these will help spring come any quicker, but they will at least brighten up your home while you're waiting for those last days of winter to pass.

When I buy flowers, I usually just head to my local grocery store. You might think you have to go to a fancy florist, but with a little creativity you can turn simple grocery store flowers into some really beautiful arrangements, and you don't have to spend a ton of cash.

One way I like to create arrangements is with groupings of flowers or single stems in glass vases. You can use identical flowers (same type and color) or you can use all the same type (roses, daisies, etc) or just a variety of blossoms in the same color.


Get creative with your containers....don't feel like you have to opt for a plain old vase. If you collect something, put that to use. Pitchers, teapots or pottery all make great and lovely containers for a spring floral arrangement. I love using my collection of Ironstone pottery for this very purpose.

Need some container inspiration? Hit up your local thrift store. I scour the shelves for containers with a unique texture of shape. Don't love the color? Give it a new vibe with a fresh coat of spray paint.


And don't forget to think about your color palette when creating DIY floral arrangements. When Pantone released its 2019 color of the year as Living Coral, I was pretty excited. Coral has always been a favorite of mine. In fact, I used this shade for my wedding flowers a few years ago.


When in doubt, just grab flowers in a shade you love and they will be sure to cheer you up no matter the season!

March 2, 2019

Popcorn Ceilings


When I was little, I had a purple bedroom at the top of a big set of wooden stairs, on the second story of our house. I used to lay awake in my twin bed, under my Cabbage Patch Kids comforter, and count the ceiling tiles as I tried to fall asleep.

I'd count the columns across the top and then count the rows from top to bottom. Then I'd count the number of tiles in each and multiply them together to get a total number of tiles. Then I'd count each and every tile to check myself and make sure they were all still there.

It was an old house, with lots of little eccentricities, like a closet that connected two rooms through what I believed to be a secret passage.

However that was not the house I consider to be my childhood home.

My childhood home was a house where I lived for the longest with my family, five-ish years, before graduating and heading off to my so-called grown-up life. There were no ceiling tiles to count because that house has popcorn ceilings.

Every time I hear the term it make me think of something delicious. Apparently these are also sometimes called cottage cheese ceilings, and even though I like cottage cheese, this makes my stomach turn.

I'd lay in my bed and try to find some sort of pattern to make sense of the splats and spatters. When there was none, I counted other things instead. The number of days until my next birthday. How many pounds I thought I needed to lose in order to fit into a certain size of pants. How much time had passed since I'd last seen or heard from my biological dad.

Even now that I live in a home with smooth ceilings, I still count these things (16, 27, and 5429...in case you were wondering).

We've had a lot of rain lately. I was sitting in my living room and happened to glance upward and saw a brown line on the ceiling that hadn't been there before. Water, as it always does, found a way in.

This is both disturbing (anybody got a good roofer?) and comforting at the same time. Comforting because it reminds me that things will find a way.

I've been a mess this week. I've been someone who in the past I would have judged...harshly. I just couldn't seem to hold it all together. And I'm terrible at asking for help. I want to do it all, on my own. And I want to reserve the right to feel self-righteous if I'm able to and mad as hell if I can't.

I can't be the only one like this. Surely there's more of us who struggle with this distinct flavor of malfunction. I know, I know....blame our childhoods, blah blah. And maybe I do feel an urge to blame on occasion.

But that doesn't really accomplish anything.

I don't have any wisdom here. Yet. I just know I woke up alive today and that's more than some can say.

Author Matt Haig says, "Be a mess. It's fine. The universe is a mess. Galaxies are drifting all over the place. To be tidy is to be out of tune with the cosmos."

And along those same lines, my own dear husband who mainly posts screenshots from 80s horror movies, shared this on Facebook:

“Consider again that dot [Earth]. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” -- Carl Sagan

I'm clinging to my mote, praying for a sunbeam. I hope you can do the same. And if you happen to be staring up at the chaos of a popcorn ceiling, maybe you can find some beauty there too.

February 18, 2019

Family Cabin


I just started reading Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir and only a few pages in, I know I'm gonna love it. Karr wrote The Liar's Club which I used to own but never actually got around to reading, and now wish I had. It's definitely going back on the list "to-read."

In The Art of Memoir, she says "a good writer can conjure a landscape and its peoples to live inside you, and the best writers make you feel they've disclosed their soft underbellies. Seeing someone naked thrills us a little."

Last weekend my family gathered for what I jokingly dubbed "family cabin." When I offhandedly mentioned to a pal that I would be out of town for the weekend at "family cabin," he said "family cabin? Sounds like it could be the title of a horror movie."

When I was young, my mom's extended family began an annual tradition of going away for the weekend in January or February. We'd all pile into our cars and travel, convoy style, to a cabin in the woods.

We didn't always go to the same location or to the same cabin, but there were certain recurring themes woven through these trips.

The cabin would be big, but not quite big enough for everybody to have their own room or even a bed. And the cabins rarely had a bathroom with walls you couldn't hear through.

If the cabin had a fireplace, my grandpa would always light a fire. No matter how unseasonably warm it might have been outside. And without meaning to, there would always be a moment where he'd have flue issues, and accidentally smoke us all out. When it happened this weekend, I felt a sense of "all is right with the world."

Another theme of "family cabin" has always been food. Way too much food. Industrial cases of frozen sausage patties for breakfast. Bags and bags of potato chips. Multiple Crock-Pot slow cookers filled with numerous varieties of melted cheese-based dips. We pretty much eat ourselves silly, which is fine with me.

This past weekend, my grandpa (who I promise I'm not trying to pick on) said he wasn't even hungry by the time dinner rolled around, but was still going to force down a plate of steak, baked potato and salad. Afterward, he had to take a teaspoon of yellow mustard for his indigestion (this totally works if you need a good home remedy).

Something else that has been a theme of "family cabin" falls into a category I'll call crafts/games/activities. In various years, we've painted tablecloths, turned wooden spoons into angels, ice skated, made gingerbread houses, decorated cookies (I know, that one finds its home in the food category too), and even pulled all the sheets and blankets off the beds for costumes so we could re-enact the Nativity pageant (which we filmed, naturally).

We've stayed in log cabins, cinder block bunkers, stone houses, and cottages on the lake.

"Family cabin" has seen its share of spouses, partners, boyfriends and girlfriends. From year to year, we've had unexpected guests, random extras and friends who are like family.

And we've seen some of the littlest ones of the group grow up and have little ones of their own.

This year, we even saw a naked man! Well, I didn't see him....but some of us did. Apparently the cabin that backed up to ours had a well-placed (or you could say poorly-placed) window in the bathroom, and no curtains. This is actually what inspired me to write about "family cabin."

I was reading Mary Karr's words about being a good writer and how it means disclosing private things, secret things we don't want to share. When I read her line about how "seeing someone naked thrills us a little," I knew I had to put this out there. It's not really the nudity that thrills, but more the idea of seeing or learning something that is usually kept private. Good writers tell their stories, even the ones that are tough to share or don't look all that great.

I want to be a good writer. Except I am often afraid to write about certain things or tell certain stories. I worry about how things will be received or how it will make other people feel. In fact, this fear holds me back quite a bit. So that's what led me to read Karr's book for a bit of inspiration, and boy did I get some.

I'm going to work on this. Pinky promise.

To some people, the idea of spending an entire weekend crammed into a cabin with your extended family might sound like a horror movie. And I'm sure there were some years that I went with a less-than-great attitude, maybe a bit out of obligation, with all my teen and 20-something angst. It wasn't anything personal against my family....just my own feelings about life and myself that I was trying to work through.

But "Family Cabin 2019" was a true gift. In fact, this was the first year in several years that we carried out this tradition. A few years back, we just couldn't make it work. This was a fluke, but then we didn't go the next year and eventually we just got out of the habit. I hope this is a tradition we will pick back up and continue.

On the last morning, in the midst of trying to eat up the leftovers and get 24ish people packed up to check out on time, my grandma looked at me and said the following:

"I hope you will make sure that this tradition continues even after we're gone"--gesturing to my grandpa--"It would mean a lot to me if you all kept doing this."  

On the drive home, I was already looking at VRBO, trying to find a place for next year that could accommodate us all, including our dogs. Then today, I got a message from my cousin with a link to a cabin she had found. Looks like the tradition will continue, Me-me. But I hope you're going to be here for many more of them.

And to the man who some of my family saw naked, I apologize. They were thrilled at your expense.

February 13, 2019

Last Minute Valentine's Day Ideas for Your Sweetie


So Valentine's Day snuck up on me this year, but no worries....these simple ideas are sure to impress my sweetie, and yours too!

DIY Bruschetta Bar

 

Who says you have to spend a ton of money or be a gourmet chef to whip up a memorable Valentine's Day meal? The secret to creating a special eating experience is to incorporate unique flavors and choose products that feel special or out of the ordinary. I hit up my local Trader Joe's and looked for ingredients and products I don't normally buy....things like goat cheese, pesto, and other nibbles.

Ya know, stuff you'd expect to enjoy at a fancy wine tasting, art gallery opening or symphony reception.

Then I'm going to use it all to create a lovely spread, a charcuterie tray of sorts, but focused on DIY bruschetta. Different toppings, different garnishes, and lots of deliciousness.


There are many pros to this kind of Valentine's Day meal. One, it's easy to whip up without a lot of prep time. Two, it doesn't require your entire evening to be spent in the kitchen and clean-up is a breeze. Three, if your sweetie is treating you to a lovely meal out to a restaurant, this can serve as your appetizer course. Although between you and me, going to a restaurant on Valentine's Day tends to be something of a let down.

And be sure to serve this on a wooden cutting board or some type of fancy tray if you have one. Presentation goes a long way!


Here are some other ideas for things to add to your DIY Charcuterie/Bruschetta tray:

  • Assorted cheeses (some hard, some soft)
  • Assorted meats (prosciutto, capicola, and salamis)
  • Assorted olives & pickles 
  • Crusty bread slices or store-bought bruschetta toasts 
  • Assorted jams, jellies, honeys, and spreads (hummus, pesto, dips, etc) 
  • Assorted fruits like berries, plus slices/sections of apples, pears, and oranges 

Create a Rosé Wine Station

 

Champagne is popular for creating a DIY mimosa bar, but what about creating a rosé station for your Valentine's Day celebration? Rosé mixes well with some of the common mixers, such as lemonade, limeade and orange juice. You can also add some sparkling water like LaCroix in a variety of flavors, depending on your preference. 



And finally, because it's not Valentine's Day without a little something sweet.....

Cupid's Trail Mix 


Again, y'all know I love a simple recipe and this one certainly qualifies. I was inspired by this Chex Mix, but I've adapted it a bit for the holiday. 


The only ingredients the basic recipe calls for are: 

  • 8 cups Rice Chex™ or Corn Chex™ cereal
  • 2 bags (12 oz each) white vanilla baking chips (4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons pink cookie/cupcake sprinkles 

I'm adding some pink marshmallows, a few red, pink and white candies (whatever you like) and pretzels to give it some salty crunch. Oh and popcorn....gotta have popcorn. 

I hope your heart is filled with love, no matter how you are spending the day! XOXO y'all!