April 18, 2018

Celebrate Earth Day with Spring Projects, including Easy Indoor Container Gardens

April is Earth Month and Earth Day is April 22nd. In honor of spring and all that it brings, I'm sharing some fun and simple ways to honor the Earth, including easy container gardens, DIY bird feeders and a tasty drink using herbs you can grow yourself!

Upcycled Containers for Spring Gardening

One way to live a more sustainable life is by simply using what you have instead of buying more stuff. And a really fun way to do this is by upcycling some containers you already have for pretty container gardens. There's no limit to what types of containers you might use, depending on your style and aesthetic.  

One option that I really loved when I ran across it a few years ago was this wonderful idea from author & blogger Fern Richardson. In her book, Small Space Container Gardens, she shares lots of inspiration, including re-purposing this vintage flour sifter as a container for plants.

Another great kitchen item that can have a whole new use is a colander or strainer. I used a colander for some pansies, but I also saw this great idea for using a colander to create a salad garden. 

Another item I re-purposed as a garden container was an ironstone gravy boat, similar to the one shown below. I decided it was a great place for a small African violet plant since they need to be watered from below. Another good tip for African violets is to fill your watering can after you've finished watering and let it sit until the next time so the water is completely room temperature. These lovely flowers don't appreciate cold tap water! 

And finally, one of my very favorite plants to grow: Mother In Law's Tongue. This and snake plant are two very closely related specimens (one has yellow edged leaves, one doesn't), but both are easy to grow and hard to kill. Not only are they funky to look at and add some visual interest to your home, they purify the air while you sleep, so it's a win win. 

DIY Bird Feeders to Make with Kids

Another fun idea I stumbled across was this DIY bird feeder from The Resourceful Mama. Spread peanut butter on a toilet paper tube (or cut up paper towel tube) and roll it in birdseed. Then hang it with some twine and wait for the birds to feast!

I love these kinds of easy projects that use items you probably already have laying around.

Fizzy Mint Lemonade = A Tasty Drink for Spring

Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow. In fact, you might not even mean to grow it and once you start, it will pretty much take over. But it smells wonderful and has many practical uses, so I don't really mind.

My favorite drink for spring is a fizzy lemonade with a hint of mint. It's so easy to make, but so delicious.

My favorite lemonade is Hubert's but Simply Lemonade will work too. Then I add some type of sparkling water (plain or flavored). Finish off with a sprig of mint and cheers!

April 11, 2018

Spring Cleaning: Non-Toxic DIY Products to Make at Home

Spring is here and it's time to sweep off the porch, throw open the windows and enjoy the sunshine. But what if like me, your home got a little dank and dusty through the winter months?

There's no better time than now to begin your spring cleaning. I definitely need to do mine! Don't you just feel more at peace when your home is tidy and clean? Clutter and grime breeds chaos and stifles creativity for sure.

I'm trying to be healthier and I know that goes beyond just what I eat. So many of the products we buy have harsh chemicals that aren't good for our skin and lungs. I've been guilty of mixing the wrong things while cleaning the bathroom and my home smelled like a swimming pool.

This spring, I'm trying my hand at making some all natural cleansers to use on my home. And I thought I'd share them on the blog too.

DIY Cleaners for the Bathroom

The bathroom is one of those areas in my home that I want to be clean, clean, clean. So I've been hesitant to use all natural cleaners because I was afraid they might not do the trick.

After reading about tea tree oil and its disinfecting properties, I'm going to give it a try.

To create a toilet scrub that freshens odors while cleaning, mix a half of a cup of baking soda with approximately 15 drops of tea tree oil. Pour that into the toilet bowl. Then, add 1/4 a cup of white vinegar and get to scrubbing. The vinegar and baking soda creates a fizz and the tea tree disinfects.

You can also mix some vinegar and tea tree oil in a spray bottle to use for routine cleaning of the seat and tank of your toilet.

The spray bottle of vinegar also works for your shower and sink. I keep a little jar of baking soda near my bathroom sink that I use to exfoliate my skin after washing my face but I learned that if a little bit fell into the sink, I could rub it around to clean that as well.

Cute salt & pepper shakers from the Dollar General Store make a great container/dispenser for this!

Got a cast iron bathtub with rust and stains? Did you know you can use half a grapefruit and some salt to clean it? Sprinkle the salt liberally and use the grapefruit half as sort of a scrubber. Get lots of juice in there and add more salt if needed.

DIY Cleaners for the Kitchen

Clean kitchen countertops with your spray bottle of vinegar and a little water. If you have granite, stone, or marble counters, substitute the vinegar with rubbing alcohol. You can also use vodka and I prefer the vanilla flavored version because of the great scent.

Cutting boards can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Use half a lemon to clean both plastic and wooden varieties. If it has stubborn stains, put some iodized salt on first and scrub that with the lemon to really get it good and clean.

If you need to clean cast iron, use olive oil and salt to make a paste. Then scrub well either with your fingers or a stiff bristled brush. You can rinse with warm water before re-seasoning your pans in a warm oven. NEVER use soap on your cast iron as it removes all the good baked in seasoning. Cast iron cookware can get to 400 degrees after just 4 minutes in a medium oven and it's sterile at 212 degrees.

Got an older fridge that needs some TLC? Use about a half a cup of baking soda mixed with warm water to clean it. The warm water will soften dried on food and stains while the baking soda is a mild abrasive to rub them away.

These are just a few of the simple recipes for cleaning products you can create for your home this spring. When you get ready to work around your home, consider your health and wellness. Choose products that contribute to your family's health and safety...not harsh chemicals that could do harm! Think outside the box next time and make your home really shine!

March 21, 2018

Simple Easter Decorations & Treats

Spring is here and it's a great time to indulge in some fun and simple Easter treats for the entire family. You don't have to spent a lot of money or go to a lot of trouble. There are plenty of great springtime projects to make and do. 

Check out this fun little round-up and maybe you'll be inspired to get creative this season! 

Pear Bunny Salad

Who better than Betty Crocker for a little inspiration...check out this adorable bunny salad made from pear halves. It's healthy and cute...and super simple to make. You might even have all the ingredients on hand. 

Honey Bun-ny Sweet Treats

Check out this cute tutorial from the delightful blog Eighteen25. Using store-bought pre-packaged honey buns, you can add some colorful twine and a cute tag and voila, such a great little Easter goody. Tuck it into a school lunch or pop it in an Easter basket. 

DIY Glittery Easter Eggs 

I don't care how old I get, I'll never tire of good ol' glitter as a go-to for crafting. And those traditional plastic Easter eggs definitely lend a great surface for it. With some simple glue or mod podge, you can turn neon colored plastic eggs into something that looks sophisticated and fun. 

Chocolate Eggs in Tiny Easter Baskets 

Everything is cuter on a miniature scale. I snagged some tiny straw baskets at a discount store and plan to use them as party favors holding small marzipan eggs at Easter. My local Aldi store had some great varieties of Easter candies and treats. 

Some of my other favorite places to shop for seasonal decorations and supplies include thrift shops like Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc as well as Dollar Tree/Dollar General. You can find some great options without spending much money. 

Happy spring & Happy Easter y'all! 

March 7, 2018

Three Simple Drink Recipes for Spring

Spring is just around the corner and lots of trees and flowers are already blooming. Except Knoxville just got hit with a bit of colder weather. Hopefully it won't last and before too long we'll be enjoying warmer days spent outside on patios and porches. And what's better than a refreshing drink on a warm spring day? Here are three simple drink recipes you might want to make this season!

Not Your Childhood Cherry Cola 

Cherry cola always felt like such a treat in childhood. Granted, it was easy enough....just putting a few maraschino cherries into your Coke, but that combination of flavors hit the spot.

Not only are cherries delicious, they are great for your health. Packed with antioxidants, cherries may help fight cancer. Plus, one cup of cherries has as much potassium as a small banana. This helps keep your blood pressure under control. 

So let's drink to our health....with an updated version of that childhood favorite.

Try swapping your usual cola for Red Rock, a brand of soda founded in 1885 in Atlanta, Georgia. For the first part of the 20th century Red Rock was a soda leader, even getting endorsements from baseball player Babe Ruth. It fell out of favor but has made a comeback in the past twenty years or so. I thought it was delicious and had a less syrupy quality than other colas.

Instead of those bright red maraschino cherries, try using morello cherries, which are more sour and commonly used in pies and cobblers. It makes for a great flavor combo if I do say so myself. Cheers y'all!

Iced Chai Tea with Grenadine & Vanilla

I drink iced tea all year long, but spring is definitely one of the times I enjoy it most. There's pretty much no iced tea I don't like, but sometimes I enjoy adding something a little bit special.

I've been on a chai tea kick lately, enjoying the savory and aromatic variety with all its flavors. To take my chai to the next level this spring, I'm adding grenadine and vanilla extract.

The vanilla only helps to enhance the flavors already in the chai and the grenadine adds just the right amount of sweetness. Delicious!

Dreamsicle Margarita 

Recently I saw a guy on television making margaritas with Mountain Dew and tequila. While this doesn't exactly sound all that appealing to me, it did inspire me to experiment with a few other options. This is how I ended up finding a recipe for the Dreamsicle Margarita....tequila, orange soda, and vanilla ice cream are all on the ingredients list....delish! Head over to Genius Kitchen to find the full recipe.

Yum! I'll definitely be enjoying this one come spring.

Happy sipping y'all!

March 2, 2018

This Will Not Break Us.

I'll never forget when my then fiancĂ© and I were completing our wedding registry at Belk and looking at china patterns, the sales lady took a delicate plate and banged it against the display shelf to show us just how durable bone china really is.

I was horrified at first, but saw that she was right....it didn't crack or break. While I'm not saying this is necessarily a good way to test the strength of your fancy dishes, it was a good reminder that not all is what it seems.

If you had asked me prior to this demonstration, I would have sworn bone china was the most fragile and delicate option available. I would have been incorrect. In fact, bone china, though thinner and lighter than porcelain, has the greatest strength and highest chip-resistance of all ceramics. Stick that one in your save for later trivia file.

Isn't it funny how something that you perceive to be very delicate or fragile can surprise you with an inner strength you didn't know it had?

I found myself in this very situation recently while having a conversation with my paternal grandmother. While our relationship has been somewhat complicated over the past decade, she remains one of the most influential people in my life.

Some of my earliest, most vivid memories are of time spent with her, playing Barbies or cooking or making arts and crafts. And it wasn't just the things we did together that felt special. It was the way she related to me. The way she made me feel valued, without expecting me to do anything to earn her acceptance or approval.

In many ways, she was my first best friend. Actually, I think I always saw her as more of a friend than a grandma. Maybe that's why I have never called her Grandma, opting to instead call her by her first name, Patsye. In my childhood mind, it was more than a name....sort of a term of endearment more special than the generic 'grandma' used by most kids.

I always saw her as one of the most creative people I knew. She could make anything. As long as I could dream it up, she could figure out a way to make it. A talented seamstress and quilter, she brought to life the beautiful dresses and outfits I would sketch. When I asked her to make me a quilt with a ballerina on it, she rose to the challenge, turning scraps of satin and vintage lace into a tutu and toe shoes.

But while I always saw my Patsye as talented, creative and kind, I knew she had another side. A very fragile, sensitive side that could surface in any given situation and leave me feeling very confused.

Once, while looking at old photographs of her as a teenager, I saw one where I thought her hair looked funny. It was the 80s, and I'm sure it was the fact that hair styles of the 1950s were very different from hair styles that I knew to be 'normal.' I said, "Patsye, why does your hair look so funny?" not meaning any disrespect, but truly wanting to know.

This upset her very much, hurting her feelings and somehow she didn't understand that I didn't really mean it as an insult, just an innocent question. She went to her room and as I recall, didn't come out for the rest of the evening.

There would be other situations like this. When things would upset her or cause her to withdraw into herself. I learned early on that I had to tiptoe around her in some ways. But my grandpa was always there as a buffer, swooping in to make a joke, or change the subject, to protect her from one thing or another.

While I love my grandmother dearly, I would never have used the word strong to describe her.

But thinking back to her life, I can imagine that it was challenging. Her parents had an actual shotgun wedding and she always believed they were never in love. She told me on more than one occasion she never saw them be affectionate or say that they loved each other. She also felt very rejected by her mom, which I'm sure impacted her in many ways. These early life experiences shape us so much and while as a kid I only saw her as my grandmother, as an adult I can look back and see that things weren't always so great for her.

There have been plenty of not so great things that have happened since then as well. Family dramas, fractured relationships, addiction and illnesses that threw a major wrench in all the plans. This is not where I thought we'd be.

The other day I was visiting with my grandmother and found myself getting emotional about a situation I have been facing. It sounds cliche and I guess it is, but after I poured out my heart to her, I said, "It's just not fair." 

"No, it's not fair," she said. "Nothing ever is. But we are strong. This will not break us." 

I remember looking up at her through my tears and thinking, who is this person? Where did she come from? 

Perhaps she has had this inner strength all along. No, not perhaps. I'm sure of it. I don't know where it was or why she kept it hidden from me for the most part. But when I needed a reminder, she was right there. Speaking wisdom.

And she's right. This will not break us. I won't let it. And even though I have no idea what you're facing....hear this: it will not break you. Even if you feel like you are already broken. The part of you that matters most is fully intact. Unbreakable.

This is why I eat peanut butter crackers on my Wedgwood wedding china. Or whatever else I happen to be eating on any given day. I want to always be reminded of the importance of putting my valuables to good use. And also I want to remember that whatever I'm dealing with, it will not break me.

February 23, 2018

If Life is a Contest, I'm Changing the Rules

I've been doing Girls Inc mentoring since the fall. Each week for one hour, I spend time with a group of  9- and 10-year old girls at an elementary school in my neighborhood.

Mostly we do art projects or some other type of crafts. We meet in one of the school classrooms and we're limited on space and time, so our activities aren't anything too extensive or messy. A lot of paper crafts and drawing and coloring.

Last week we were drawing and making posters with magic markers and puffy dog & cat stickers, as 9 and 10 year old girls do.

I try to comment about everyone's projects and tell them what a great job they're doing. I think back to how much it meant to me when one of my teachers made a big fuss over something I made or did in class. I try to find some kind of unique element in each of their artworks to draw attention to and make them feel good about.

Last week somebody in the group said that somebody else's drawing was better than hers. I said, "It's not a contest. Plus yours is really great." Another of the girls, who strikes me as something of a cynic (just for the record) said, "Oh, it's ALWAYS a contest." And she was definitely referring to more than just an art project.

Something about the way she said it made me feel like she had known this for a long time. And she pitied me for not being in on the secret.

This got me thinking. First off, it made me sad that a 9- or 10-year old girl would have this philosophy about life. That there are always winners and losers.

As a 35 year old girl, I definitely feel like it's a contest but I don't think I felt that way at their age. Maybe I'm just remembering it wrong. For some reason, I thought it was the world and all its screwed up messages that had somehow led me to believe this at this point in my life.

Maybe I've always adhered to this belief system. I didn't try to argue with her or tell her it's not a contest. I just started thinking about it a little bit.

So what if life is a contest. What are we competing for? And in what categories are we competing against each other?

Prettiest? Skinniest? Most successful? Nicest house? Fanciest car? Biggest bank account? I'm sure there are plenty more, but these come to mind first.

Maybe if we rethink the contest itself we can have a healthier, better perspective on how we relate to each other and how we view ourselves.

What if the categories include things like "How kind was I?" "Did I take advantage of every opportunity that came my way?" "Was I willing to go the extra mile for people who needed a little bit of help?"

What if we're actually not competing with each other at all but really we're competing with ourselves? Those other versions of ourselves that try to creep in and sabotage our progress. The ones who want to lie to us and tell us that we're not good enough...that we'll never be good enough...that we really can't do it and we might as well just give up now.

It would be easy to blame the world for this and all these crappy messages but on some level, we still get to decide what comes in and out of our own minds. We can build a wall like a strong fortress that keeps those lies out. And we don't have to do it alone. With a support system of faith, friends, family, and personal cheerleaders it is possible to build a foundation of Truth and positive hooplah in our hearts.

Have you been watching the Olympics? I have to admit I haven't, but I know that each athlete competing didn't get there overnight. Just like anything else we want to be good at, it takes practice.

Keeping our negative thinking in check takes practice. Celebrating our accomplishments instead of ripping ourselves apart takes practice.

Whether you believe life is a contest or not, at some point we will all end up at the end. I have to believe we won't care so much about winning and losing when we're taking our last breaths. But hopefully if we have won the race in the ways that it matters we will experience a feeling of accomplishment, and much more important than that, a peace unlike any we could have known otherwise.

February 14, 2018

How to Host an Olympics Watching Party

The Olympics are such an exciting event and what's not to love about finding a reason to host a party? I've got a great round-up of some fun Olympic-themed party ideas from the blogosphere...check these out and consider hosting an Olympics party of your own!

Project Nursery's Entertaining with Emily went for the gold with this adorable tabletop display! Create your own with gold and blue paper plates plus mint julep cups stuffed with colorful tissue paper for the Olympic torch.

Speaking of the Olympic torch, make your own edible version using traditional ice cream cones and cheese curls. Too cute! (via Living Well Spending Less)

By far, one of the most fun Olympics parties I came across was this one from Bird's Party...one of the cutest blogs around.

Some other ideas I had play off the color scheme of the Olympic rings, arguably the most recognizable thing about the Olympics.

1) Buy small tin pails in red, blue, green, black and yellow and use them to serve popcorn or other snacks at your event. [I found some at Party City]

2) Buy small plastic bowls in red, blue, green, black and yellow and use them to serve color coordinating candies. [Again, Party City]

3) Hang a garland of American flags [USA! USA! USA!]

4) Serve cupcakes with chocolate coins in gold, silver, and bronze.

5) Small colorful gift bags are great for favors.

6) Serve drinks in cups with sugared rims (color coordinating sugar in Olympics shades).

7) Play games and give out small toy medals to guests.

8) Watch classic Olympics films [Cool Runnings, Miracle, The Cutting Edge, etc]

February 3, 2018

The Things We Lose

I've been thinking lately about loss. Not so much in a emotional, melancholy, can't get out from under the covers way, but more about loss from a straightforward logic perspective.

After changing my college major at the end of my sophomore year, I learned I would now be required to take a sequence of science classes my previous major had not required. I didn't want to fall behind and had to find an option I could complete in the time frame as well as one that would fit into my already set schedule.

Somehow I landed on Botany. Nobody I knew had taken it so there would be no sharing of notes or hitting up friends for old tests and study guides. But, plants, yeah that could be cool,  I thought. Might learn something practical I could use later on.  The class included a twice weekly 1-hour lecture plus a three hour weekly lab.

It was in the lab that some of the info I was learning really seemed to click, and while I have sadly never become a botanist or put my plantly knowledge to any sort of real use, there was something very important I learned.

The apical meristem.

Never heard of it? Yeah, I hadn't either until I randomly took a college botany class. Prepare to be enlightened.

You see, plants have this thing called an apical meristem. Located at the very tip of a plant's shoots, it sends little messages for the plant to keep growing. One definition says it encourages growth. So it's like the plant's tiny cheerleader. Come on, keep going, you've got this! 

But what happens if the apical meristem gets broken or cut off? Oh never fear my friends, because SCIENCE! (and God). If a plant loses its apical meristem, aka its cheerleader, then the lower regions on the remaining branches (which also have meristems of their own that are just waiting to be needed), start to grow to make up for what was lost.

This is why you will see trees or shrubs that have been topped or cut down to just the sticks grow back even fuller and bushier than before.

And it isn't just the parts of the plants we can see above ground that have this. There are root meristems too. If a plant loses parts of its root, the same little workers down below send messages to grow in other areas to make up for what isn't there anymore.

And this brings me back to my starting point about loss. We have all lost something in our lives. Some of us may feel like we have lost everything at one point or another. Maybe you're at that point right now.

My husband likes to joke about makin' gains in relation to his time spent at the gym. Gotta eat right so I can go to Gainsville. Need to lift so I can get those gains. And it does feel awesome when we gain something in this life. Our gains and accomplishments definitely have a way of trying to define us.

But I wonder if it's really our losses that can sometimes have more power over us.

Like you're just chugging along, trying to live your best life, and all of a sudden something swoops in and removes one of those all important apical meristems....someone or something that made you feel good, encouraged, like things were working right for you. What happens then?

For me, it's very much like what happens in plants. I tend to go into freak out mode, and I start scrambling to make up for what was lost. Digging deeper into the reserves to keep those all important growth encouragers activated. Sometimes this is good because it means I'm not giving up. But sometimes it means I'm trying to replace things that can't be replaced.

Have you ever lost something (or someone) and tried desperately to replace it with something (or someone) else? How did this work out for you? For me, it's never good. The replacement always ends up feeling like a cheap imitation.

But even in loss, there is room for growth. And sometimes it's the things we lose that leave us feeling more like ourselves. More free. More beautiful.

I have a wonderful, joyous, abundant life, with so much to be thankful for. But I still have huge gaping holes of loss. Loss of relationships that I thought would last forever. Loss of identities that I clung to because they felt so safe and comforting. Loss of opportunities that may never come around again. When put that way, it doesn't seem like a very pretty picture.

But I think of the apical meristem. And how even after it has been hacked down to very nub at ground level, a beautiful plant may very well grow back from it, fuller and stronger and more vibrant than ever before. To me, that is encouraging.

January 31, 2018

Simple DIY Flower Arrangements to Brighten Up Your Space

As winter lingers on, there's no better way to brighten up your space than with cheery flowers. And who says you have to spend buckets of money on expensive arrangements when you can DIY. I'm a big fan of grocery store flowers. I'm known to grab a few bouquets and take them apart, mixing and matching colors and types of blooms, and scattering them around in various containers.

And who's to say you are just limited to boring old vases? If a container holds water, it can work as a vase....in my humble opinion. This is why you'll see me using anything from a vintage Ironstone pitcher to a delicate teacup or re-purposed bottle or jar to show off my blossoms.

I was inspired by Vintage Romance Style to turn a Dollar General glass votive holder into something Kate Spade might put her name on. Isn't this adorable? The glass container will run you a whopping $2 and a paint pen or tube of acrylic paint might be another dollar or two. Or if you're like me, you may already have this stuff lying around. So go to town shopping your supplies and make something like this to showcase a few pretty stems.

While you are scrounging around for things you already have, keep an eye out for a straw place mat or cork trivet. These can be used to give new life to a plain old can or vase. Hester's Handmade Home inspired me to try something like this, and what a cute blog it is for all sorts of ideas and projects.

I snagged a few mismatched place mats at my local Goodwill that were perfect for wrapping around a tall glass cylinder vase. This is great for flowers with long stems that need more support in an arrangement.

Finally, I turned an old t-shirt into something a bit more stylish. For a few bucks, I found a cute black and white striped tee at Goodwill. Then I cut it into random triangles and used homemade Mod Podge to adhere it to a clear vase from my stash. Full disclosure, this was inspired by an old issue of Better Homes & Gardens I had been saving, but I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

Here's the original inspiration....

I hope these ideas inspire you to give your next grocery store flowers a little something extra with the containers and arranging. It's all about the presentation y'all....happy blooms!

January 10, 2018

Simple Treats to Chase Away the Winter Blues

Winter can be a blustery time. The holidays are over, but it's still quite a while before spring finally arrives. It's dark when we wake up, and dark when we get home from work. Everything looks brown and dead. Cold, dreary days can really start to wear on us all.

That's why it's good to look for ways to chase away these winter blues. I've got a few fun and simple ideas that you might want to try. These would be great for friends and family, or just to enjoy for yourself.

Warm Up with a DIY Hot Cocoa Station

Warm drinks are a great cure for what ails us, especially when those chilly winds are blowing outside. Coffee and hot tea are fine, but there's something about cocoa that hearkens back to childhood and offers a soothing nostalgia good for the soul. 

Gather up all your favorite cocoa accouterments and assemble a DIY hot cocoa station for your next party. Or maybe just have this on hand for yourself after a long day. It feels fun and festive and who doesn't love a little sugar buzz to ward off the chill. 

via Party City

Some of my favorite cocoa add-ins include: 

Crushed peppermint
Assorted marshmallows (of course)
Cinnamon sticks
Peppermint sticks
Mint candies (including peppermint patty) 
Whipped cream 
Chocolate chips

Polar Bear Paws 

We don't have polar bears in Tennessee. In fact, we hardly get any snow around here at all. So since you won't see any actual polar bears in our neck of the woods, why not celebrate these cuddly creatures with a sweet treat? 

Polar bear paws are easy to make. All you need is cookies (or cupcakes), white frosting, shredded coconut and decorative candies. Check out this blog for more detailed directions! 

Snowman After-School Snacks 

As a kid growing up in Tennessee, snow days were like a rare gift. We just don't get a lot of snow around here. But there's always a chance and in the meantime, why not celebrate Frosty with some fun snacks made to look like him? 

With some basic clear plastic cups and a Sharpie, you can turn a simple snack into something really cheery and fun. Same goes for string cheese. 

Sometimes it really is the simple things that can bring us the most joy. I hope you'll take time this winter to inject a little fun into your everyday routine. And I hope if the winter blues find you, they don't stay very long! 

December 27, 2017

A New Twist on New Year's Traditions

New Year's brings certain traditions....things like eating greens and kissing at midnight. There are other traditions associated with celebrating the end of one year and the coming of another. Instead of sticking to the status quo, I decided to try and put a new twist on some longstanding traditions.

Looking for a new way to ring in the coming year? Check out these three simple ways to incorporate tradition into your celebration.

1) Eating Grapes at Midnight

Eating grapes is a Spanish New Year's tradition that is catching on around the world. To really ensure good luck and good fortune in the new year, you must eat 12 grapes at the stroke of Midnight, one for each month in the coming year. 

via Whole Foods - Click for Recipe

But if you just want to incorporate some yummy grapes into your New Year's Eve party, try serving a sweet and spicy grape salsa. It's sure to be a hit at your party and the recipe can be scaled up for a larger group. 

Grape Salsa Recipe

2 cups green grapes (finely chopped)
1 cup green onion (finely chopped)
2 T cilantro (finely chopped)
2 T lime juice (or more to taste)
2 T olive oil 
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 tsp chopped jalapeno (optional)

Stir together ingredients and serve with pita chips or tortilla chips 

2) Black-Eyed Peas for Good Luck 

Black-eyed peas are considered by many southerners to be a lucky food to eat on New Year's Day. The peas swell when they are cooked, which symbolizes prosperity. And we can't ever have enough of that! 

For a new twist on this tradition, try a black-eyed pea hummus, which can be served with veggie sticks or crackers. 

Black-Eyed Pea Hummus

1 can black-eyed peas, drained
2 T tahini (optional)
Olive oil (to taste)

Add the peas and tahini to a food processor and pulse while adding olive oil until it has the consistency of a paste. Enjoy! 

3) Pomegranate Seeds for Love & Life 

In some cultures, pomegranates are enjoyed at New Year's because they symbolize love and life. Packed with vitamins and fiber, pomegranate seeds are not only tasty and delicious, but also healthy for you.

Start your New Year off on the right foot with a healthy breakfast option featuring pomegranate seeds, yogurt and granola. Whip up a parfait in no time, substituting your favorite nuts or flavors of yogurt. You'll feel great eating something tasty that is good for your body and soul.

What are your favorite New Year's traditions to enjoy this time of year?

December 22, 2017

Beautifully Broken Things

This time last year, I was feeling light-headed. It wasn't the joy of the coming Christmas or the cheer I felt in my heart from celebrating our favorite traditions. It was from paint fumes. My husband had sequestered himself in our basement where he was working on a top secret Christmas gift project for me. 

All I knew was that it involved spray paint. And lots of it. The more he painted, the more the fumes wafted up through our home's 1950s vent system and filled the air. As touched as I was that he had thought to make me something, I was also more than a little frustrated. Spray paint was not the smell I wanted to be filling my Christmas home. 

I tried opening the windows but it created sort of a vacuum, sucking even more of the pungent paint smell into our house. I tried to keep my heart in the right place, but my dizziness combined with my frustration didn't make for a good mix. 

Then, when it was time to pack up our car and travel to my folks' house where we planned to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I realized this thing he had made, which had been wrapped carefully in black garbage bags, wasn't totally dried or cured. So we brought the paint fume smell with us and enjoyed it for 100 miles. 

Still without a clue as to what this created masterpiece might be, I thought about possible options. My husband is not very good at keeping secrets, but he didn't give me any hints even though I asked for them. At one point he showed whatever it was to my mom and she burst into tears....so I figured it had to be something meaningful. 

Meaningful doesn't even begin to cover it. 

On Christmas morning, my husband presented me with a heavy, rectangular wooden board. Carefully covered in layers of pale blue spray paint, this was the source of our dizzying fumes. 

In the center of the board was a heart. The heart had been created in a mosaic out of small ceramic tiles, carefully fitted together like a puzzle to fill in the shape. 

If you knew nothing of the backstory, this piece would stand on its own as a beautiful work of wall art or home decor. But that's not the entire story. 

When my great grandmother passed away, the item I wanted most from her home was a vase. This was not just any vase. It was large and bright orange and stood out against the otherwise muted tones of her un-fancy preacher's wife decorating aesthetic. 

Always being drawn to bright colors and bold decor, I loved it and it was the only thing I really wanted of hers (besides some of her cake decorating books and an old recipe box). I was thrilled to have the vase in my home. It reminded me of my great grandmother, a really special lady. 

In many ways the vase was a source of inspiration for me in decorating my first home with my husband. Built in the late 1950s, it has a certain mid-century modern flair. So with the vase as a starting point, I pulled together other elements featuring the same bold orange, plus other complementary hues. 

For the first year or so after moving in, the vase sat on a shelf in our living room. As I am wont to do, I was moving some furniture around and changing up some of the nick knacks on our mantel. I had the bright idea to put the vase on the mantel because it tied in nicely with a bright, colorful painting featuring the same shade of orange. 

As I was holding the vase and admiring the painting in its new location, the painting began to fall forward. It's like everything happened in slow motion. Without processing what I was doing, I let go of the vase to catch the painting. It crashed to the tile hearth below, shattering into many, many pieces. 

I couldn't believe this had happened. I felt so dumb for making such a clumsy mistake. Even though it was just a vase, an inanimate object, what it symbolized for me was so special and seeing it broken into shards was just too much. When my husband rushed into the room, he found me sobbing, more for the loss of my grandmother than the vase, but still so sad by the loss of this symbol. 

He told me to go to the kitchen and get a drink of water while he cleaned up the mess. I heard him picking up pieces of ceramic and putting them in a black garbage bag, but I couldn't watch and I certainly couldn't watch him dispose of it in our trashcan outside. 

What I didn't know was that he didn't dispose of it. He hid the bag of broken vase downstairs where I wouldn't find it. And then those pieces of orange ceramic became the tiles in the mosaic heart he worked so hard to create for me last Christmas. 

As soon as I saw it, I knew what he had done. I couldn't believe that he had come up with such a special idea and brought it to life in this very meaningful way. We were joking today that he'd have a hard time topping that gift this year. And of course I don't really want him to try. But thinking about the heart and how much it means to me, I realized I hadn't shared this story before and so I wanted to. 

Things break. Sometimes valuable things. Sometimes a thing we love so much....and maybe there is only one of it and it can't be replaced. And sometimes there's no fixing it. No putting it back together. 

But broken things can find a new purpose. A new meaning. They can get a new life. 

If given the choice to have the vase back in exchange for the mosaic heart my husband made, I would say no thanks. That he wanted to take something broken and turn it into something beautiful for me is a priceless part of our story. I wouldn't trade that for all the vases in all the world. 

December 20, 2017

Simple Ways to Add Old Fashioned Fun to Christmas

Christmas is a time for nostalgia and remembering fondly all the things that you hold dear from the past. While I definitely love my mid century silver tinsel tree and bold hued shiny brite ornaments, I also love the quaint old fashioned traditions from Christmases long long ago (as the famous song says). 

Want to add some old fashioned fun to your Christmas season this year? Here are three simple ways! 

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

Just try to read the above line without singing it. Impossible, right? 

I did an experiment with my family at Thanksgiving. After spotting a bag of fresh chestnuts at Trader Joe's, I decided to try my hand at roasting them. Not having an open fire, I used the oven but they turned out just fine. The experiment was to offer them to my family and see what they thought. 

Nobody in my test group (including folks of all ages) had ever eaten roasted chestnuts before. Reviews were mixed...some liked them, some not so much. But the experience was memorable. And it's hard to eat a roasted chestnut without getting into the spirit. 

If you can't find raw chestnuts where you live, you might be able to find some already cooked options. Although we tried some of these from Whole Foods and the texture wasn't quite the same. 

To roast raw chestnuts, simply use a sharp knife to CAREFULLY score an X into the flat side and then roast them for 10-12 minutes on 400 degrees. They will pop open and you can peel them. 

Meet Me Under the Mistletoe 

Hanging mistletoe as a symbol of luck supposedly got its start from the Druids, but it was popular in Norse mythology as a sign of love and friendship, and this appears to have helped create its status today.

Just a basic sprig of mistletoe is great for your holiday decor, but why stop there? Add a bit of old fashioned holiday cheer to your home with a traditional kissing ball.

Originally used in England’s Middle Ages, “holy boughs" were made from woven together evergreen branches that held figures of the baby Jesus or the holy family. These were used during the holiday season to let visitors know they were welcome to enter.

The boughs fell out of popularity for a time, but were introduced back by the Victorians. Did you know it was common to use an apple or potato as a starting point for the decorated herbal topiary? Different herbs were selected for their symbolism, like lavender and rosemary for friendship and thyme for courage.

The kissing ball came to be a symbol for romance, instead of just good will. Dancers would waltz under the kissing ball, hoping for a kiss from a sweetheart. And eventually this became the symbol we know today.

Pretty Paper, Pretty Ribbons 

One of my favorite school memories is making holiday ornaments with paper, ribbons and other decorations. My parents cleaned out their Christmas decorations a few years ago and distributed some of the ones my brother and I had made to us to put on our own grown-up trees. I have a little paper fan that I remember carefully folding from a bit of wrapping paper and then of course there are the infamous plastic spoon people we made one year. 

My husband and I went away to a little cabin last weekend to celebrate the holiday season and while we were there, enjoying the time being unplugged, I called on my  childhood experiences to make some new old fashioned paper ornaments. 

Using a simple tablet of holiday themed paper from Hobby Lobby (or any craft store), I made a few different designs, and a simple garland.

Check out a DIY tutorial for this cute paper ornament here.

There's nothing like a little bit of old fashioned cheer to make your holiday season truly special. I hope these ideas will inspire you to embrace something from days of old and make it new again. 

December 11, 2017

How to Accept a Gift

They say 'tis better to give than receive, but in many ways I think the adage is wrong. In my opinion, 'tis often easier to give, instead of better. There's something about receiving gifts that is hard for many people, myself included.

I wrote in the past about how to receive a compliment, but this goes a little deeper than that.

While recently traveling to New Jersey for a work training, I invited my mom to come along so we could extend my trip by a day or so and do some holiday sightseeing in NYC.

My first inclination for lodging was to go with what I knew, so I investigated the option of staying at the Paul, a hotel I had stayed at previously in the year with my dear friend on our trip to the Big Apple. In May when we'd visted, that hotel was available at a decent price and even though our room wasn't huge, it was hip and close to lots of things. And the beds were super comfy. But during November for my trip with my mom, that hotel's rates were more than double what they had been earlier in the year.

After extensive Internet searches, including checking prices, various locations, and tons of online reviews, I found a hotel that seemed like a good option. It was decently priced, not too far from our point of arrival & departure (Penn Station) and had gorgeous photos online. Plus the other folks who had stayed there had positive things to say.

I selected a small, modest room knowing we wouldn't be spending a ton of time there anyway.

When we arrived at the check-in desk, the hotel staffer told us in what seemed to me an apologetic tone, that she'd had to upgrade us to a different room, a loft. Even though the word upgrade would seemingly mean a better room, at the word loft I imagined my college dorm, with wooden bunked beds crammed in above tiny compact desks below. Oh well, I thought. Our trip is short and we don't want to spend a bunch of time in the hotel room anyway.

When we got off the elevator on the eighth floor and walked around the corner to room 808, I thought to myself....don't be disappointed if this isn't anything special. We're just lucky to be here.

Then we entered our loft. In the foyer, the walls were covered with a gorgeous black and gold art deco wallpaper, and there was a cool lithograph as well as a giant round gold mirror. That opened into a spacious living room and kitchen with sleek stainless appliances and a wide island with three stools.

In the living room was a white leather sofa, a big round marble coffee table and on the wall was mounted a television four times the size of mine at home.

Big windows and a set of French doors opened onto a balcony with chairs overlooking the skyline. Down the hall was a roomy bedroom with a king bed and across from it, a bathroom much larger than either of the ones at our own houses. It was covered in beautiful gray and white subway tile and had a big soaking tub on the left and a glass encased shower on the right.

My mom and I figured there must have been some mistake. This couldn't be our room.

"She did say she had to upgrade us," my mom said.

"Yeah, but this is more than just a simple upgrade," I replied.

This is unreal.

"Oh well, you should always look for little gifts and unexpected blessings at every turn," said my mom. She's pretty wise that mother of mine.

On the last morning of our trip, after my training had ended and we were free to have our big day in the city, I sat on the comfy leather sofa in that giant hotel living room, sipping espresso from our self serve machine and trying to prepare to soak up every moment of the day ahead.

I found myself thinking about the gift of the experience, including the incredible hotel room we'd never have otherwise chosen for ourselves had it not been for a happy accident and our fortuitous upgrade.

Here's what it got me thinking about gifts:

1) Gifts can come without warning when we least expect them.

2) Thinking we don't deserve them or they are too good to be true will only rob us of the joy of receiving and enjoying something we weren't expecting.

3) Acting like or believing we did something to earn them or deserve them removes God from the equation. They cease to be a blessing and become a barter system. This can set us on a dangerous path of working harder to receive things that we would have gotten anyway.

4) There is no shortage of gifts to be had. If we miss one, there's infinitely more to come.

5) Gifts never come in exactly the same packages or the same way. One day a gift might be the opportunity to stay in a fancy hotel room that costs more than twice what you paid for it. Another day it might be a WWII veteran at a convenience store who thinks he knows you and greets you with a warm handshake and "It sure is good to see you. It's been too long." This will bless your heart in so many ways.

6) If we focus on what we perceive to be the negative, we will lose our ability to see all the gifts around us that are right in front of our noses. Kind of like the Timothy Busfield's character in Field of Dreams who couldn't see the baseball players while they were practicing on the field only a few feet away.

7) If we thinks gifts come with strings attached, it is often because we are guilty of giving gifts with strings attached. Cut the strings and just enjoy the gift.

8) Life will always be an adventure if you believe another gift is just around the corner. You won't know what to expect but it will be wonderful never-the-less.

9) Giving a gift brings joy to the giver. Accept any and all gifts with grace and gratitude.

You will likely receive at least one gift this holiday season. You'll probably give a gift too. Maybe just keep these things in mind.

December 6, 2017

Christmas Gifts for People Who are Hard to Shop For

It's officially the Christmas season and I haven't bought a single gift. Usually I try to give gifts that are a combination of handcrafted and locally sourced. Sometimes this isn't possible, but I love finding unique Christmas gift options for those people who are notoriously hard to shop for.

As we have more and more things, it seems like we need less and less these days. Again, that's why those unique, personalized or quirky gifts are sure to delight and surprise their recipients.

Here are some options that I'm considering giving as Christmas gifts this year:

The Gift of Something Handcrafted or Handmade

Handmade gifts are awesome. Nothing says I really thought of you like a gift of something truly unique. If totally handmade isn't an option, go with a personalized gift to make your friend or loved one feel special. 

When I need something personalized in Knoxville, I visit Me & Co in The Gallery shopping center (with Chili's near West Town Mall). Me & Co owner Michelle has been blessed with some amazing creativity and awesome handwriting. She can customize and personalize just about any gift you can imagine. 

She created a gorgeous piece of art for me that incorporates my wedding date which is still one of my most treasured possessions. As I was planning my wedding and it looked the forecast was calling for rain, I snagged some basic navy umbrellas and took them to Michelle to personalize for me and my bridesmaids. Even though the day ended up being sunny and bright, that umbrella is a sweet reminder to make lemonade when life serves up lemons. 

Michelle creates original art and she also customizes things like Christmas ornaments, both of which would make a wonderful Christmas gift for those people who are hard to shop for. 

Me & Co. also has some really adorable gift options that need no customization at all. From the wall art and frames to Scout tote bags and other containers, you won't have any trouble finding something you want to take home. They even created their own custom candle for the holidays, aptly named Tennessee Christmas and it smells heavenly! Pop it into a cute bag with a box of matches and it's an instant hostess or teacher gift! Maybe don't send the matches to school with your child though...

The Scout clutch is one of my favorite things at Me & Co right now....one side is silver and the other gold and when you add the gold tassel, it is all kinds of chic for your holiday parties. Would you believe just yesterday I used a zip-loc baggie to hold my lip gloss and other items? I could be using this right now! 

The Gift of Something that Helps our Earth

Got a birder on your Christmas gift list? Maybe your hard to shop for person just loves nature and enjoying the beauty of their own backyard. Birdfeeders and food for the birds make wonderful gifts, especially when they are as cute as these from Wild Birds Unlimited! 

These seed characters are a fun addition to any bird feeding station, especially around the holidays. And they even have cute names, like Dash (the gingerbread man), Buttons (the snowman) and Rascal (a cute raccoon). 

They incorporate a mix of many birds' favorites: seeds, nuts and fruit and can help you attract many of your favorite backyard birds, including chickadees, woodpeckers and goldfinches.

The Gift of Something that Removes the Guesswork 

How many of you have a person on your hard to shop for list who happens to be a guy? I've definitely struggled in the gift department for my beau. He's kinda picky and doesn't use a lot of things so it always seems like he picks out his own gifts, which totally ruins the fun surprise. 

Gift baskets for guys are a great option and they have some pretty cool ones at Wicker & Wire, a new shop in Knoxville. There are all sorts of options to include in your gift baskets, as well as unique containers too. They will wrap up the gift basket for you using items you have chosen or you can go with one of the pre-made gift basket options in the shop. Easy peasy. 

I also saw a bunch of cool stocking stuffers for the guys in your life, including brass beard combs (but of course!) and money clips with clever quotes. 

I hope these Christmas gift ideas inspired you for those hard to shop for people on your list this year. It's important to remember that it's the thought that counts, but a little sweet gift always brings a smile to any face.