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) 
Caramel 
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. 

November 15, 2017

Thanksgiving Tips & Tricks for a Less Stressful Holiday


I have always loved Thanksgiving, but for some reason I'm really getting into the spirit this year. It might sound really cliche, but I'm feeling so thankful. Every day I'm reminded of all the things I have to be grateful for. And with that sort of a perspective, it's hard to feel stressed. 

That doesn't mean there won't be less than perfect moments. I'm certain there will. But I'm not putting any pressure on myself to make sure everything is a certain way. Of course, it helps that I'm not hosting but as a good guest, I won't show up empty handed.  

If you are hosting Thanksgiving this year, I've got some great news for you. It doesn't have to be perfect. Seriously, it won't be. 

But you can still create a wonderful experience for those you hold dear. And with these tips, you can avoid some of the potential pitfalls the day can bring. 

Appetizers are your best friend 




If I had only one tip to pass along for a less stressful Thanksgiving, it's this....appetizers and nibbles are your very best friend. You might be thinking "but that doesn't go with my perfect menu!" Or maybe, "Everyone will spoil their appetite for the amazing meal." Or whatever you're thinking. 

I promise you that appetizers are the way to go. People will be hungry. They might not eat breakfast because they are saving room for all that turkey and dressing. Something won't be ready at exactly the time you thought it would. Uncle so and so will say something offensive. Aunt you-know-who will be in rare form. Having a tray of snacks and nibbles for your guests to nosh on before the main meal is served will help cover a multitude of sins. 

Preferably something with salt and fat. 

What about a popcorn bar with all different flavors and assorted toppings? This is a great light snack for guests to enjoy pre-meal. 

Don't forget the relish trays




Maybe it's just me, but I think relish trays are a must for holidays. Things like pickles and olives not only make great pre-meal nibbles, but they also help to cut the richness of some of the other traditional holiday food. 

Go for a mix of dill and sweet pickles, as well as a variety of olives. Don't forget the party picks and maybe a small bowl for your pits (if you have any). 

There's also the southern staple of taking a brick of cream cheese and topping it with some type of hot pepper jelly. Add crackers and you're good to go. 


Don't try to make everything from scratch

 

Finally, there's no reason to try and make every single thing on the table from scratch. There are lots of great store-bought options available that take lots of stress out of the equation. 

Things like cranberry sauce (Trader Joe's has a great option) and rolls (I swear by Sister Schubert and a local option for Knoxville, Flour Head bakery). They aren't the star of the show so don't stress too much. 

You can also go the easy route with desserts. Not a baker extraordinaire? Just pick up something sweet from the store. It's not such a big deal. We make things way too hard on ourselves. 

Create a Thanksgiving drink station 


Instead of trying to do everything yourself for your holiday meal, how about letting your guests do it for you? Create a DIY drink station stocked with all sorts of juices and mix-ins and let your guests go to town! 

Some options they might enjoy: 

Cranberry juice + seltzer water + lime + vodka (optional) 

Apple juice + ginger ale + caramel syrup + white rum (optional) 

Lemonade + tonic water + grenadine + gin (optional) 

Sometimes it's really the simplest things that end up being the most popular. Don't make things too hard on yourself and you're sure to have a much better Thanksgiving. Plus, this frees up your time and energy for the important stuff....being grateful and celebrating your blessings! 

November 3, 2017

For the Ones Who Try to Do Good


They say it ain't broke, don't fix it. But the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

So what if you're not a squeaky wheel? What if you're the wheel that rolls along, trying way too hard to make it seem like you've got everything together all the time. The one that shows up early and stays late. And agrees to help when you don't feel like it. And gives everyone a pass instead of calling them on their crap. The one the others depend on not to squeak.

This is a sticky spot to find yourself in.

I'm reminded of the Bible story of the prodigal son, and how I've always related to the brother who stayed home and worked hard for his father. I like to think that he wasn't doing it to get a big pat on the back. He was just doing what he felt in his heart to be right. And then when his brother returned after squandering the dad's hard earned money, he was welcomed with a big party (of all things!). I can see how the first son would have felt so bitter and angry.

It's like the bar is set so high for us so-called good doers. Sometimes by the world, but often by ourselves. We hold ourselves to unrelenting standards. We don't necessarily want to or enjoy it, but we don't know how to be any other way.

And then you have another person who comes along, screws up everything and still gets a free pass. And not just a free pass, but a freaking party.

I'll be the first to admit there have been times in the past I've done the 'right thing' because someone was watching or I thought I'd get some kudos for my behavior.

But sometimes we do the right thing because it's the right thing. Full stop. Even if we were secretly hoping we might also get some bit of recognition for it, it's not what motivates us.

But on the other hand, it sure would be nice. We don't regret doing what's right, but we wish deep down in our heart that someone might notice.

And sometimes we do the right thing because it's a badge of honor we wear. Because we believe it's our duty or calling.

And not to let us completely off the hook, but lots of times, this is not something we've chosen for ourselves. It's instead something that feels pushed upon us. Like the straw we happened to draw from the pile.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I walked the pencil thin line between wanting to be liked by my classmates and wanting to be liked by my teachers. The two were at odds with each other because in order to be liked by your classmates, you had to be cool. To be liked by your teacher, you had to be good.

Being good felt safe. Being liked felt safe. It took a lot of energy. It still does. I oughta know.

There's no easy answer here. Maybe it's because I grew up as part of a generation of people who got a trophy for simply participating. Maybe it's because deep down, we crave the feeling that comes from being known and being seen.

Maybe it's because we just wish someone would stop for a second, place their hands squarely on our shoulders, look us oh so directly in the eye and say "I know you're working really hard. And I know it hasn't always been easy. And I know it still isn't easy. But I'm so proud of you."

If nobody has ever said those words to you, consider this message from me, right now:

I know you're working really hard. And I know it hasn't always been easy. And I know it still isn't easy. But I'm so proud of you.

It might not count for much. You might be thinking, you don't even know me. Maybe not. But I might know how you feel. I'm proud of all of us. The ones who are trying. Trying to do good in the face of those who can't or won't see it.

Some people simply do not give us what we need. Relationally, emotionally, or whatever. Sometimes it's because they truly aren't able to, and sometimes it's because they just stinking refuse. Either way, it's tough.

At the end of the day we get to decide...we get to decide what kind of person we're going to be. In this life there are work horses and show ponies. People who leave you high and dry and others who gut it out alongside you when the shit hits the fan. One way might be easy. But the other way is good.

November 1, 2017

DIY Fall Home Decor from the Dollar Store

Fall is here and I definitely like to enjoy November as its own separate time, with all the special things this season brings. Leaves crunching under your feet, apple cinnamon everything and Thanksgiving to name a few.

Retail stores are already in the jingle bell spirit, but I like to wait until after Thanksgiving to put out any Christmas decorations. That's just me....no judgement if you already have your tree up.

I like to decorate my home for all the different seasons, especially during fall. However, I don't like to spend a lot of money on decorative items. That's why my go-to for fall decor is my local dollar store. I usually hit up both the Dollar Tree (where everything is exactly $1) and the Dollar General, where things are still fairly cheap but all different prices.

Here are some fun home decor projects you can DIY this fall, and all of it came from the dollar store.

1) Chalk Painted Pumpkins - 


It's hard to believe these cute pumpkins started out as bright, Halloween orange but they did. I was inspired by Kim who has tons of great projects on her blog.

I scored my foam pumpkins at the Dollar Tree for a buck apiece. 

With a little chalk paint (or acrylic paint), you can give them a whole new life. Depending on your style (modern, shabby chic, country, etc), you can dress up your painted pumpkins in all sorts of ways. Plus if you take care of them, they will last from year to year. 

2) Metallic Pumpkins - 

There's something so glam about metallics and I wanted to makeover some Dollar Tree pumpkins with this style as well. I snagged some small, molded resin pumpkins and spray painted them a few different neutral colors, including bronze, camel, and gold. 

These will make a great centerpiece for my fall table!

3) Mini Acorn Chalkboard -

When I saw a cute acorn shaped front door decor at Dollar Tree, I snatched it up right away. Sometimes you have to be willing to see the hidden potential of your dollar store treasures. I wasn't so fond of the cheesy looking artwork on the acorn, but the shape of it was cute and I knew with a coat of black chalkboard paint, it would be a great little memo or message board.

I even found a nearly identical version on Etsy, priced at nearly $30 (shown below)!



4) Dried Bean Votive Candles  -


When I'm creating centerpieces for a table, I always try to incorporate as many textures as possible for visual interest. So for this dollar store DIY I headed straight to the grocery section and snagged three bags of dried beans. Then I found some stemless wine glasses which are perfect for votive candle holders.

You could also use a hurricane glass or another clear container. This has a nice harvest feel to it, perfect for the fall season.

It's fun to get creative and without a lot of financial investment, there's no pressure to make everything perfect. For a few dollars, you can get crafting this fall and add some autumn awesomeness to your home!

October 28, 2017

Monsters Made with Love


I'm trying to do more things. Well, I'm actually try to do less things but I'm trying to up the quality of the things I am doing. Less obligations and more things that have potential to bring me joy. It's easier said than done, but at least I'm trying. 

One of the things I've been doing is looking for local events to participate in. Things like classes and workshops to get me out of my comfort zone. When I saw a "Make Your Own Monster" workshop with Knox Makers, I immediately signed myself (and my unsuspecting husband) up for it. 


Knox Makers is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Knoxville, Tennessee. They rent and share a physical space where members are free to come together to work on gidgets, gadgets, and "otherwise Earth shattering breakthrough novel science." 

This great local org is focused on offering a place where makers can support each other, collaborate and share ideas. 


I saw the "Make Your Own Monster" workshop on Knox Makers' Facebook page and it just sounded too fun to pass up. The workshop was held on a Saturday morning at the Knox Makers headquarters off Chapman Highway. It was one of the first cool Saturdays of the season, perfect for getting into the fall spirit. Taught by Laurie, founder of Monsters Made with Love, the class was really fun. 


First, we chose our monster kits, depending on the size and color monster we wanted to make. Laurie gave us everything we needed to make our monsters, from colorful fleece and sewing notions to stuffing and monster eyes.  


I hadn't done in sewing by hand since my childhood days of making Barbie clothes with my grandma but tapping into that little area of creativity felt great. My husband hadn't done much sewing but he found his way, making a right nice monster of his own (below, right). 

Part of Laurie's spiel is making sure you give your monster a little bit of love and that the first monster you make is for yourself. Then, once you have loved yourself, she reckons that you spread the love to others with each subsequent monster you make. She even made us all give our monsters a little hug. It was pretty sweet. 


I gave my monster flaming orange out of control hair and big pink lips. Her closed eye is winking and her open eye is batting its thick lashes. I even managed to sew on some bright pink toenails. 

If you get the chance to take Laurie's workshop or find a class like this in your area, I highly recommend it. Adulting (I know, I hate that word) can sure suck the joy out of life. It's good to inject a little whimsy back in when you get the chance.