October 8, 2015

Unique Ways to Decorate Pumpkins: Chalk Paint & Foil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Decorating Pumpkins with Chalk Paint

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

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

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

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

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

Allow me to introduce you to foil and size. 

2) Decorating Pumpkins with Foil and Size

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

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

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

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

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

September 24, 2015

How to Host a Casual Fall Party on a Budget

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

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

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

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

1) Caramel Apple Sangria

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

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

2) DIY Sweet Potato Bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Pumpkin Parfaits 

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

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

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


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

Happy Fall Y'all! 

September 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 19, 2015

Good things come.

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

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

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

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

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

I was looking.

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

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

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

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

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

September 12, 2015

What to do when your truth is ugly.

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

"Tell the truth and shame the devil."

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, it's ugly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 11, 2015

Tailgating on a Budget

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

1) Scour the Dollar Store

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

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

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

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

2) Think Outside the Container Box

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

3) Food that's Easy to Eat

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

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

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

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

September 8, 2015

Clubs I'll Never Belong To

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How succinctly that says it all. 

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

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

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

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

I know I do. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We make room for each other.

There's room for you. 

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

September 1, 2015

To be a writer, you must listen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 31, 2015

Where I'm from.

This bit of writing (see below) was inspired, like so many others, by the original Where I’m From poem by Ms. George Ella Lyon, a writer and teacher who was lucky enough to be in-real-life friends with Tennessee poet Jo Carson. Carson’s work Stories I ain’t Told Nobody Yet is what inspired Lyon to write about where she was from, which happens to be Kentucky.
I recently attended a writing conference where one of the speakers led the group through an exercise to write our own versions of this poem. The only problem was, she wanted us to visualize one meaningful place that had significance in our childhood. I have trouble picking just one.
There were so many places that helped form me, so many people who shaped me, so many things that made me. While it would be impossible to give proper mention to all of them, I wanted to try and shed some light on some of the important ones.
What Makes Me
by Kate Spears 
I am from the shirt factory, the tobacco field, the homestead and the barn loft.
I am from places that many people want to leave, but still there are others who stay. I am from people who picked up and moved. I am from people who put down roots and remained. I am from people as loyal as the day is long, and others who are fickle and change their mind with the seasons or whatever way the wind is blowing.
I am as loud as a fire-and-brimstone preacher and as quiet as a patient fisherman who understands the success of the day is the day itself, not what’s in the bucket.
I am from drawstring bags made of felt and filled with polished silver, from weathered barns piled high with junk that somebody else has to sort through after you die.
I am from green stamps, clipped coupons, and buy-one-get-one-free. I am from store-brands, and dented cans, Goodwill clothes and yard sale Tupperware. I am from waste nothing, want everything, and all you get out of life is what you enjoy.
I am from porches covered in Kelly green indoor/outdoor carpet. I am from pink formica countertops and kitchens that because there is no proper ventilation, smell of fried potatoes, cabbage and salmon patties long after the last bite has been eaten.
I’m from Levi Garrett, Kent Golden Light Kings, Vantage Ultra Light 100’s, and Marlboro Reds.
I am made of Mountain Dew, vy-eenie sausages, white half-runner beans, and red-eye gravy. Of honeysuckle and wild blackberries, poke sallet, hydrangeas and fried apple pies.
I’m from people who sang Amazing Grace, from people who sat on the back row of the church, and some who never darkened the door.
I’m made from people who washed feet, worshiped under the brush arbor and ate dinner on the ground.
There’s a tall maple tree outside my kitchen window. And soon, the helicopters will flutter away. My tree was once a helicopter growing on a tree that was also once just a helicopter. And back, and back, and back.
And so it goes for the things that make us. Nothing is new. Everything is a part of everything else. You carry it all with you so that one day, it will grow again.

August 27, 2015

Sweet September - Celebrate National Honey Month

September is National Honey Month and I wanted to share some of my favorite recipes that incorporate this wonderful natural product. Who grew up with the little bear-shaped honey bottles as a pantry staple like I did? My granny saved them once the honey was gone and used the empty containers as make-shift sippy cups for us kids. 

Honey is a most versatile food. In fact, it's one of the only things I can think of that really works for any meal. Honey on a buttered biscuit for breakfast, or in your morning tea, followed by a peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch and some kind of delicious salad with homemade honey dressing for dinner. What's not to love? 

I'm visiting those fabulous folks at Knoxville's Fox43 to share more of my favorite honey recipes! I hope you enjoy them. And if you have any favorites of your own, share them on social media with the hashtag #NationalHoneyMonth during September. I'll be pinning some more great ones on my National Honey Month Pinterest Board. Check it out! 

Sweet & Salty Goat Cheese Appetizer

For this simple crowd-pleaser of an appetizer, start with a log of goat cheese. Roll it in 1/2 cup of roasted, salted sunflower seeds (You could also use cracked black pepper). Drizzle with 1/3 cup of honey and garnish with nuts or fresh berries. Serve with your favorite crackers for delicious nibbles pre-meal. 

Quinoa Honey Breakfast Bake 

This recipe has been adapted from one that I ran across on the website of the National Honey Board. There are lots of great honey recipes there to check out! 

It appealed to me because you don't have to cook the quinoa first. Plus, I figured you could use whatever fresh or frozen fruits you had on hand. I happened to have peaches and blueberries, which make for a tasty combo. For the full recipe, click here. Also, I don't see why you couldn't substitute oats for the quinoa. There are lots of great baked oatmeal dishes with honey out there. 

Bee-Tini Cocktail 

This delicious cocktail recipe is one I've shared before, but it's just so good I figured it warranted another post! I tried it first at the Fairmont Hotel in Georgetown. They actually have their own rooftop bees, which made it even more special! 

For more great honey info, check out the Honey Board website. Did you know that you can bring your honey back to life even if it crystallizes? Here are more fun facts and honey tips.

And don't forget to check out my Pinterest board for more honey fun! Happy National Honey Month y'all!

August 17, 2015

How to Find Yourself if You're Lost

Life goes by in a flash. From birth to now (wherever we happen to be along life's merry way), we've changed so much. But sometimes I think that who we start out as in the very beginning is who we truly are.

But who is that exactly? Would you recognize that person if you saw him or her walking down the street? Do you ever feel like you've lost yourself? It's something I struggle with some of the time. I find myself doing or saying something and thinking "who is this person with my body and voice?"

If you're feeling like you've lost yourself because you aren't sure who you are anymore, maybe it's time for some soul searching. But just where to look? Here are a few places I recommend.

1) Old journals. 

Sometimes the way we bare our hearts and souls in years passed when we are going through struggles and experiencing things we might look back and think are silly, it can be a window into who we really are. I started my first journal in the first grade and haven't looked back since. Even though many of the entries over the year are cringe-worthy, they help paint for me a picture of the person I've always been.

2) Letters from friends.

I don't know about you but I'm a saver of letters. Especially now in the digital age. It's so special to me to look back through cards and letters from grandparents and people in my life who are no longer here on earth.

Sometimes the people in life who love us the most are the ones who see us the most clearly. Look for yourself in their words and sentiments. You will find something good.
3) Drawings we did of ourselves as a child (or drawings done of you by a child).

We pile so much crap on ourselves that it can be hard to look at our reflection with loving eyes. If we go back to somebody who is looking at us with the most loving eyes, they may be the one seeing our truest self.

4) In the mirror first thing in the morning. 

I'm talking about when you still have that little fog of sleepiness hanging over you and just glance at yourself in the mirror after waking up. So many times I stumble to the bathroom in the morning and catch a look at myself, all rumpled and frizzy hair.

And I often catch a glimpse at my 8-year old self. I see the same eyes looking back at me. I see that same earnestness and hopefulness about the future as well as possibility. There's no reason we can't still have that same feeling of possibility.

It's the world and the lies we've believed that caused us to think that anything is not possible.

5) Toys and games from childhood. 

Recently, I went down into my basement and ran across a plastic bin of Barbie dolls from when I was a kid.

Think about your childhood.

What was something you did as a kid that brought you the most amount of joy? Maybe your thing was playing with Barbies or maybe it was putting together puzzles. Maybe it was coloring or pretending you owned a store or running a cash register or playing like you had a restaurant.

I'm not saying that if you played restaurant as a child, you should start a restaurant now. But think back to the things that brought you the joy in those experiences and look for ways now that you can recreate those experiences and feelings.

The reason I loved the Barbies is because they let me create worlds and stories and characters and adventures in people's lives when my own life didn't have a whole lot of adventure to speak of.

And I think that it's still a big part of why I feel the calling and passion in my heart to be a writer. Because I want to create those stories and tell them so other people can relate to them and feel encouraged.

6) Look at the mischief you made. 

Picture a time in your childhood when you got in trouble or were a little bit mischievous. There's always a driving force in those things...unless you were just a mean child (which I doubt).

I remember one time as a child, I wanted to move some furniture in my bedroom and my mom said she would help me later, but I didn't want to wait for her so I decided to try and do it by myself.

I ended up breaking a china tea set because I pushed a table and everything just kind of went flying. And my mom was upset with me, but looking back I feel like I was so independent. I wanted so badly to do it by myself. I wanted to take care of things on my own and I still see that in me today.

I still see that independence and that feeling of wanting to do it my way. But there's a way I can harness that for good so that I don't just go around breaking things and upsetting people.

If only finding ourselves was done with the aid of a giant treasure map, "X" marks the spot. But it's a process more delicate and complicated than that.

Author Lucy Maude Montgomery said is best: “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” If you've been feeling lost, I hope you can spend some time remembering soon. 

August 15, 2015

How to be a blogger

This post might seem untimely. But it's pretty relevant to me. I used to spend a huge part of my day reading blogs. I had a list of all my favorites and I would hop around the Internet from one to another taking in the latest posts. This was back when I worked at a regular 8-to-5 job that I left each day and didn't give a second thought to during my downtime.

Since making a shift to my current work in the world of marketing, there's less definition about when the work day begins and ends. Meaning I'm always thinking about one work-related thing or another at all hours of the day and night. And I really love my job. But I don't have much time to read blogs anymore.

The other day, I found myself with some free time and ended up going down a rabbit hole of blog reading, trying to get caught up on what some of my old favorite bloggers were up to. I was surprised to find that many had not posted anything new in several months and some seem to have quit blogging altogether.

Then it hit me. If anyone else found himself doing the same thing and landed on my blog, he might think I had given up on blogging too.

For the first three years after starting Southern Belle Simple, I blogged regularly, religiously, at least 5 times a week (Monday through Friday). Then I made a career shift and my time was more filled with work responsibilities. Since 2012, my blogging frequency has slowed significantly (once or twice a month?).

If you are an avid blog reader, you may have experienced this as some of your favorite bloggers have slowed down or stopped blogging. Or maybe you are a blogger yourself and this is you. One thing that may be to blame is burnout. I've experienced this for sure. Something else that may be a stumbling block for bloggers is frustration from not having many readers or feeling like your voice doesn't matter in a sea of others who are louder and more "popular."

Here's the bottom line...

If you feel in your heart the urge to blog, you should go for it. 

For that matter, blogging is simply a means of communication and not the end-all and be-all by any stretch of the imagination. The deeper calling is to write.

If you feel led to write, it means there's a reason your voice needs to be heard.

Don't be selfish with the incredible gifts and talents God gave you. The world needs your unique perspective, just like it needs mine. And for the record, I'm mainly writing this post to myself. I just thought there might be others who could benefit from it too.

A year or so ago, I was invited to attend an exclusive event for bloggers. Everyone was talking about different funny things they had experienced while blogging and also what kinds of emails and correspondence they received from readers.

One blogger in attendance is pretty popular among certain circles. She was complaining how she got all sorts of requests from readers asking for guidance on how they could make their blogs as popular as hers. She basically said that because of the influx of bloggers out there all vying for attention of companies and readers, the window to become a successful blogger had shut.

To me, it sounded like a message of "don't even try. You won't make it and it's not worth it anyway."

So is that what we would tell young writers? Just because a ton of great books have already been written, it isn't worth trying to write another? Or what about songwriters and composers? Are there no great songs still left to be sung? Or what about filmmakers? There will be no more movies in the future that are worth watching because all the good ones are already out there?

Nonsense. There's plenty of good stuff to go around. There's enough pie for all of us.

So that being said, here are my best tips for how to be a blogger...if you were wondering.

1) Just do it. If you feel it in your heart, you gotta run with that. It doesn't matter that other bloggers are quitting or that social media is always changing. Maybe a long-form blog isn't what you had in mind anyway. Find what works for you and do that.

2) Tell your truth. Blogging isn't really about painting a picture-perfect scene that presents your life in such a way that everyone wants to be you. I mean, there are plenty of blogs like that but do they make you feel better about yourself? They usually serve to make me feel worse. But when you tell your real-life, gritty truth, it gives the world a chance to relate to you. The real you.

3) Don't bury your treasure. When a thought or idea comes to you, and you ruminate on it for awhile and it seems like a good topic for a blog, explore it. Ideas are like Velcro. If they stick, it means something is working. Sometimes a thought comes to me for a blog post, but then I bury it under busy schedules, household chores and mindless social media scrolling. If you do this long enough, the ideas will seem fewer and farther between. I oughta know.

The bottom line is this: It's never too late to start something new. It's never too late to give life to a dream in your heart. All we get is this one life (if we're lucky). Do the stuff that matters. And if for you, that includes writing or creating something, do that.

August 14, 2015

Just be like everybody else. Or maybe not.

This time of year is bittersweet. Even though summer doesn't officially come to a halt for some time, when the kiddos go back to school, it feels like they not only take with them every drop of summer goodness but truly usher in the beginning of fall (minus the fall temperatures that are but a wish our sweating hearts make every waking moment of the day).

I don't have kids, but I so enjoy seeing all the back-to-school photos that my momma friends are posting right now. Earnest little faces with some type of homemade sign (I guess that's a thing) declaring what grade they are set to begin. Backpacks bigger than they are. Snaggle-tooth grins.

I'm 33 (33!) which means I've lived at least 1/3 of my life (I mean, that is if I were lucky enough to live to be 100) and yet this time of year still makes me feel like I'm about 11. I remember the back-to-school clothes shopping...pennies pinched tight hunting for big bargains. And I remember the first day of school, usually a 10 a.m. dismissal where we'd find out who our teacher was, meet him or her and get our school supply list for the year.

I thought my school supply list was like the Bible. Meaning that I did not want to deviate from its requirements in any way. That's just the kind of kid I was. I can remember arguing with my mom in the aisle at Wal-Mart, that "yes it did matter if my notebook paper was wide-rule and no I didn't care if college-rule was cheaper."

I was so afraid of standing out or making waves. I wanted my school supplies to be just like everyone else's. If a teacher stipulated that we needed 100 3x5 notecards, I counted them out exactly. If we were supposed to have a particular kind of colored pencil or marker for science, I wouldn't settle for anything except the exact one.

I think I spent a great deal of my childhood worrying that I was going to be on the outside of something and maybe having the same school supplies as everyone else was a way to ward against this?

There are still ways that I fall into this trap of sameness. Maybe it brings a small bit of safety with it because it doesn't require us to think creatively. Or maybe it's because it allows us to float along on auto-pilot.

My mom posted some meme on Facebook today and tagged me (thanks momma!) in it. It said:

"No one is you, and that is your power." 

I believe this is true for all of us. Each so unique, so carefully woven together. And all of us with our stories, our triumphs and struggles. I hope the older I get, the less I want to be just like everybody else. But we're all connected. And that's pretty good too. 

August 13, 2015

Simple Organization Tricks from the Dollar Tree

If there's one rule I try to follow in my home, it's "a place for everything and everything in its place." This can be hard, especially when it is just so much easier to let things pile up where they lie.

As a kid, my favorite Berenstein Bears book was the one about the messy room. Brother and Sister bear's room degenerated into a huge mess and their parents were oh so frustrated. Ultimately, Papa Bear built them all these really cool compartments and organization systems to corral their junk.

What does it say about me that I loved this book so much? I can be a clutter bug, but I really prefer organization. And while I love the idea of having all sorts of fancy containers, spending lots of money at fancy container stores just isn't really practical for me.

That's where Dollar Tree comes in. In many ways, it's kind of like a thrift store because going there can be a treasure hunt and you aren't sure what you will find.

I'm sharing some organization tips and tricks on Fox 43 this morning. For me, it's all about thinking outside the box while being frugal at the same time. I hope it inspires you to get organized in your home!

Be Creative About Intended Use

Everything has an intended use, but there's no rule that says you can't get creative. Each section of items at Dollar Tree can usually do double duty in other areas of your home. 

For instance, office supplies are often great for helping you create order in the bathroom. I like to use pen and pencil containers to keep my makeup brushes and lip gloss tubes in one place. They are tall and slender and at $1 a pop, quite a bargain.
 Other office supplies that can work in the bathroom include zippered pencil pouches (also great for makeup, cotton swabs, etc.). I even like the clear plastic ones that snap into 3-ring binders. A great way to keep everything organized while traveling.

Kitchen stuff is also great for organizing things in other parts of the house. I like to organize my jewelry in ramekins and small plastic leftovers containers. Bright plastic bowls are also good for this because I keep them in a top drawer so I can see all my bracelets and earrings at a glance when I'm getting ready in the morning. 

I also stumbled upon a cute glass relish dish at my local Dollar Tree. I think it would be perfect for loose change at the end of the day as well as plenty of other uses. 

Other office supplies that are great for adding organization are binder clips. When clipped on the side of a table or desk, you can use them to keep your cords and cables neat and save yourself lots of headaches later on. 

Another great product I picked up at the Dollar Tree is a small 4x6 photo album. I use it to organize recipe cards as I'm doing meal planning. Plus the clear plastic pages protect my cards in case any sauce goes flying! 
These are just a few of the items I picked up at Dollar Tree...you never know what you'll find at that place. 

Don't be afraid to pick and choose. 

It's your house so at the end of the day, you gotta live there. So what if putting your vacuum cleaner bags in the kitchen cabinet seems weird to your friends. If a solution works for you and helps you keep the order at home, don't sweat it.

My southern beau and I recently moved and we've been figuring out all the organizing solutions that will work at our new place. Everything we did at our previous home may not really make all that much sense anymore, but I'm glad we're free to pick and choose.

So do it your way and don't get too stuck trying to follow certain rules of order based on what DIY blogs and magazines say.

Happy organizing!

July 30, 2015

How to Throw a Slumber Party

When I was growing up in the late 80s and 90s, slumber parties were the thing to do on Friday nights. My then group of girlfriends was known to have them regularly, each of us taking turns convincing our parents to host gaggles of silly giggling teens for the evening.

This was all before social media (thank goodness!) and the advent of today's technology, so I like to think that our shenanigans were pretty innocent. The activities varied depending on whose house we happened to be staying at.

My friend Cayce had a big rope swing that provided much outdoor amusement. At Beth's house, we played cut-throat games of Monopoly until the wee hours of the morning. And Lindsey's mom always made beignets for breakfast. But the central focus of most of the slumber parties I attended was something called "The Dance Game." We'd divide up into teams and choreograph dance routines to perform. We went all out with costumes, musical soundtracks, hair & make-up, the works. And all of this was done without iPods, without YouTube, without any way to even record that it happened.

Sometimes I long for those simple days. But there's nothing to say we can't re-capture some of the magic of it. Why not throw a grown-up slumber party for your best friends?

Summer is wrapping up as students where I live head back to school. I'm stopping by Fox43 to share some simple ideas for an "End of Summer Slumber Party." I hope it inspires you!

1) DIY Popcorn Station

What goes better with staying up all night gossiping than popcorn? I went to a lovely girls' night out party recently at the home of blogger Decorella and she set up a popcorn bar, complete with toppings of all kinds. I was so inspired by her idea that I decided to adapt it for a slumber party!

All you need is plain popcorn, oil spray and some different spices. Decorella Danielle used store-bought coconut oil spray to mist the popcorn before sprinkling on various spice toppings. Or if you happen to have an oil mister, that works too.

Some examples of spices to have on hand for your guests to try:
  • Cinnamon Sugar
  • Garlic Salt
  • Cumin
  • Italian Seasoning
  • Ranch Seasoning
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Lemon Pepper  
Yum! Such a perfect slumber party snack!

2) Slumber Party Treats

image & inspiration via 
Instead of spending your time in the kitchen, why not serve up some of your favorite old fashioned candy? Nobody really thinks about slumber parties as dinner parties....it's after dinner and late into the night when all the real fun takes place. 

I had the most fun shopping for all my favorite candy that I enjoyed during my teens. Things I never eat now, but just for a special occasion like a slumber party. 

Some old school candy to try at a slumber party - 
  1. Sweet Tarts
  2. Nerds
  3. Bubble Gum
  4. Twizzlers
  5. Cotton Candy 

3) Girl's Night Spa Masque 

As we get older, it's time we were taking better care of our skin. At the slumber parties of my childhood, I never thought about washing my face before bed. But now, it's a different story. To help ease the transition, why not try a DIY facial masque at your next sleepover! 

Start with bananas for a simple mask, because they are inexpensive and really pack a punch for your skin. Not only do bananas contain Vitamin A to help diminish dark spots, blemishes and rough skin, but they also have Vitamin B and Potassium which may delay aging and moisturize. You can use bananas alone or with other key ingredients to really treat your skin's unique issues. 

Here's the skinny on various combos to try - 

Plain Banana (mashed) - Apply to face for 15 minutes and rinse with cold water to have more glowing, evenly toned skin. 

Banana (mashed) + Honey - This combo (same application as above) rids your skin of bacteria, helps eliminate acne and brightens skin. 

Banana (mashed) + Turmeric - Great antibacterial properties to keep blemishes away. 

Banana (mashed) + Greek Yogurt - Tightens skin and lessens the appearance of larger pores.

What other ideas do you have for a memorable slumber party? I hope you are inspired to throw a slumber party soon! And when someone's bra or panties end up in the freezer, you'll know the party was a success! 

July 16, 2015

Celebrate Blueberries with 3 Simple Recipes

July is National Blueberry Month and what better way to celebrate this adorable fruit than by eating them? Did you know that when it comes to health, blueberries really pack a punch. They are jam packed with antioxidants, which fight free radicals that can run rampant in your body. Plus, they are a great way to get Vitamin C and fiber. They may help lower blood pressure and could improve your short-term memory. What's not to love? 

I'm joining my friends on Knoxville's Fox43 to share some simple recipes that you might want to try as you are eating more blueberries this month and on into August. This is definitely their time of year to shine, so take advantage of the great selection in stores and at your local farmer's markets now! 

1) Artisan Bread w/ Blueberries & Ricotta 

I tried a similar version of this recipe at Marche in East Nashville, except it had peaches in place of the blueberries. It left such a lasting impression on me because it was just so darn beautiful when the server brought it to the table. Plus, it was decadent, but also wholesome...that might seem like a strange combination. But it was! 

To make it, all you need is some good quality artisan bread, blueberries, ricotta cheese and honey. 

Now if you have time, I'd recommend making your own homemade ricotta. Here's a good recipe if you'd like to try your hand. Otherwise, just pick some up at the grocery store. I used Trader Joe's store-brand for this recipe. 

Grill or toast a few thick slices of bread. Spread thickly with ricotta. Apply blueberries and drizzle with honey. It's so simple, and such a great way to eat up all these blueberries this season. 

2) Blueberry Corn Salad

Is this simple summer salad that features blueberries, sweet corn, cucumbers, jalapeƱo, red onion, drizzled with a sweet honey lime dressing.

  • 3 ears fresh sweet corn, husked 
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries 
  • 1 cucumber, sliced 
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion 
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped 
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 tablespoon honey 
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1. Bring water to boil in a medium sized pot. Cook corn for 5-7 minutes. After it is cool enough to handle, remove it from the cob.
2. In a good sized serving bowl, combine corn, blueberries, cucumber, red onion, and jalapeno.

For the dressing, stir together lime juice, oil, honey, cumin, salt, and pepper. Pour dressing over salad and stir until combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

3) Blueberry Fizz 

With all the ripe blueberries available now, I knew there had to be a great way to use them in a delicious summer cocktail! You could make this with or without alcohol, depending on your preference. 

You'll need: 
  • Vodka (I used vanilla flavored)
  • Blueberry Soda (I found a great version at Trader Joe's)
  • Lemonade
  • Fresh blueberries (for garnish)
Mix 1 part vodka with equal parts blueberry soda and lemonade. Garnish with fresh blueberries. You could even freeze some in ice cubes for something a little more special.

What's your favorite way to enjoy blueberries? They are perfect for smoothies, as a topping for a tossed salad, or just by the handful. Treat yourself to some today! 

July 10, 2015

How to Throw a Wimbledon Watching Party

This weekend the 129th annual Wimbledon Championship tennis tournament draws to a close, with the final matches set for Saturday and Sunday. I went to Wimbledon about fifteen years ago, during my first trip abroad as a naive 18-year old having just graduated from high school. I knew nothing about tennis, and wasn't sure what to make of it all, but the entire experience made quite an impact. 

While my travel companions staked out a courtside seat to watch Anna Kournikova, I wandered around and entertained myself people watching and taking it all in. I had strawberries and cream. I drank Pimm's and Lemonade. It was the quintessential Wimbledon experience. 

When my friends at Knoxville's Fox43 asked me to share some ideas for throwing a Wimbledon watching party for their special Wimbledon show, I was happy to oblige! 

1) What to drink at a Wimbledon Party? 

Nothing but Pimm's & Lemonade will do! Pimm's is a liqueur with a spicy, citrus flavor and it mixes perfectly with all sorts of things. My favorite thing to enjoy with Pimm's is plain old lemonade, but you can also use a sparkling lemonade or just add in some club soda. 

Apparently Brits take their Pimm's very seriously, especially when it comes to the addition of mint. Tennis star Andy Murray's mom Judy tweeted a photo of her drink at Wimbledon, complaining about it having too much mint, which caused the Pimm's company to issue an official statement: 

"No more than three British-grown mint leaves should be used to garnish each glass." 

While I must confess that my mint was grown in Tennessee, Pimm's was easy to find at my local package store if you'd like some of your own! 

Recipe for Pimm's & Lemonade (Pimm's Cup) - 

Tradition Pimm's No. 1

Add two parts lemonade (sparkling or plain) to one part Pimm's liqueur. Garnish with a slice of orange, lemon, apple, and cucumber. And don't forget the 3 required leaves of mint! 

Supercharged Pimm's No. 1

Add five parts lemonade and two parts Pimm's to one part gin. Garnish as above. 

2) What to eat at a Wimbledon Party? 

If you ever have the chance to go to Wimbledon, you must have strawberries and cream. There are many possible explanations behind the popularity of this sweet, red fruit and its association with the tennis event. 

Wimbledon's head public relations person said recently it probably had to do with the fact that all the way back through the years, strawberries are always in season while Wimbledon is being played. Plus, eating strawberries was de rigueur in Victorian England. 

For my strawberries & cream, I decided to take it even a step further with the addition of a traditional English biscuit (what we think of as a cookie) crumbled up on top. 

Recipe for Strawberries & Cream 

Rinse your strawberries and remove the green tops. Slice and/or quarter and put them into small bowls (1 bowl per person/serving). Pour heavy whipping cream into a metal bowl that has been chilled in the freezer (a trick that always helps me) and beat it until stiff peaks form. Put a generous spoonful of cream over each cup of berries and top with cookie crumbles (I used McVitie's Chocolate Digestives, a popular UK brand of cookies that is carried by my local grocery store).  

Check out this cool infographic to see just how many servings of strawberries were enjoyed at Wimbledon last year. 

3) Decorations for a Wimbledon Party 

The official colors of Wimbledon are green and purple, so I tried to incorporate that with my party decor. As with any sort of entertaining, I always try to use what I have on hand before buying a bunch of party stuff that I don't really need. 

Wimbledon is also known for white, that is the crisp white attire players are strictly required to wear.

White serving pieces look great with pops of color, especially green and purple. 

I was inspired by this gorgeous arrangement I found on Pinterest, and re-created one of my own with purple hydrangeas in a trifle bowl. I also made some place card holders by cutting a slit in each tennis ball and inserting a place card. Simple and cute! 

Will you be watching the Wimbledon finals? Who are you cheering for?