May 1, 2016

Floss more: A letter from my 80 year old self

*For the past several weeks, I've been reading "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. It's more than a book, it's a guide to creativity. And it's not just for artists, but writers, actors....anyone really. Each week, you read a chapter and complete a series of exercises as you work through the process of more fully revealing your creative self. One of the exercises for last week was to imagine what you might be like at age 80, and then write yourself a letter from your 80 year old perspective. Below is mine. Apparently, my 80 year old self says bad words. I hope it doesn't offend you. 



My dear, darling, glorious, beautiful child,

I say child because you are a child. The child version of me.

Oh but you're thinking "I'm no child. I'm 34 years old. That's old enough to have applied for a passport, graduated from college, traveled to Europe, bought a condo and a house, gotten married, gotten jobs, gotten fired from jobs, contributed to a 401k, filed taxes, started a Blog. Made friends, lost friends. Watched people that you used to babysit for have kids of their own." 

That may be so, but none the less, still a child you are. When you get to be my age everyone is a child. Except for the 90 year olds. And you're still a child to them.

This is what I want for you as you go through the rest of your life: Do not give a f***. Seriously.

One day, you'll wonder why you wasted so much time caring about so many things that did not matter at all. Stop that. Care only about things that matter most.

Stand by your principles, but kick them to the curb if they cause you to hurt or alienate another person.

Take the stairs every chance you get. When you get to be my age, taking the stairs is a privilege but you have to earn it by taking the stairs a lot throughout your life.

Only wear clothes that you love. You might die in what you're wearing so you should want it to be fabulous.

Only eat food that you love. That sad sad limpy lettuce and mealy tomato with a little ball of tuna salad covered in plastic wrap? Throw that shit at the wall. Eat macaroons. And pie crust. Drink beautiful green juice and sometimes wine.

Be only with people you love. Love everyone you're with, always.

Make every person you're with feel like they're the only person in the world that matters in that moment.

Smile at people who frown at you.

Don't get mad when your husband spills an entire drink in the console of your car. You won't remember that one day.

Don't get mad when he doesn't load the dishwasher right or doesn't unload it in a prompt manner.

Don't get mad when the meal you thought was going to be wonderful turns out to be gross. Life is all about practicing and cooking is one of those things you get to practice over and over.

Try to spend time with people who aren't going to live as long as you. One day you will miss having people around who have known you since before you were born.

Make friends of all ages so there will be lots of young people around you when you're old. Don't limit your friendships to people you have everything in common with or who are the same age as you. Diversify your portfolio.

Travel as much as you can. See as many things and places as you can. And then come home and love every minute of that too.

Nobody gives a shit how big your house is. Nobody cares what kind of car you drive. Correction, there are people who care about these things. Don't waste your precious limited time on them. Bless their hearts.

Love what you love and surround yourselves with things that bring you real Joy. Figure out what those things are. Figure out what real Joy is.

Don't limit yourself to just one dog. It will die and break your heart and you'll need another one to come into your life. And when that one dies (because it will), get another one. And then another one. And then another one. And know that all your furry friends will be waiting for you one day and they'll have had time to get to know each other so that when you finally arrive it'll be like one big party.

Value your time, your abilities and what you bring to the table. Don't be afraid to say this doesn't work for me. Don't be afraid to say I want more of this.

Know your limitations and push yourself Beyond them.

Learn what helps you when you're feeling sad and make sure to keep some of that on hand.

When you're feeling happy (I mean really happy), stop in the moment and say to yourself "Let's remember this feeling. This feeling of being completely and utterly happy. Just like on your wedding day."

Don't look at people you don't understand with a look of disdain or judgement. Don't have disdain or judgment for people you don't understand.

Believe that in the end, everything will work out. It will.

Gaze at your unwrinkly face in the mirror, and know that it is neither something you earned nor something you get to keep.

Don't roll your eyes when there's a slow walking older person in front of you somewhere. One day that will be you and it sucks when some young person is behind you huffing and rolling his eyes.

Promise me that for the rest of your life, not another bite of that fake butter/margarine crap will ever touch your lips. Same for the fake sugar substitutes. Never again.

Floss a lot more than you do now.

Do more yoga.

Drink more water.

Don't get upset when you scratch your glasses, or mess up your perfect manicure. These little things, while annoying, will never make it into our memoir.

Know that the most difficult people are usually the ones who feel the most misunderstood. This is not an excuse for their bad behavior, but it's a good reminder that the way they act isn't who they are. On the flip side, don't feel pressure to spend time with difficult people. You don't owe them anything.

In the beginning, you think life is going to be so long. And with each passing year, the weeks seem to fly faster and faster. In the end, even if you live to be 100 or older, it's all just a few mere seconds my dear.

You'll have moments when you feel like you've finally figured it all out. Don't get too comfortable in these moments, as they are usually followed by days, or even weeks (and sometimes years) of feeling like everything is topsy turvy.

Take each day as it comes, with the new challenges and joys that it presents. Keep on loving. Yourself. Your people. Your community. That's why you were put here. The rest is just extra.

April 26, 2016

I don't want what you're selling.


I don't want what you're selling. Why does this sound so harsh?

For me, it brings to mind the image of a 1950s housewife standing at her door while a pushy salesman waits on the porch with a briefcase or some type of case filled with samples.

I'll never forget the time the Kirby vacuum salesman came to our house and my mom said she was definitely not going to buy the vacuum cleaner. She was only going to let him do the free carpet cleaning, and then she would say no to his sales pitch.

$1,200 and 10 easy payments later we had a brand new, fully automated, self-propelled Kirby vacuum cleaner. It was actually pretty awesome and lasted many years, but that's another story.

The thing that got me thinking was the idea that we don't feel comfortable to say "I don't want what you're selling."

Surely I'm not the only one who feels equal amounts of annoyance and guilt when I make a special effort to avoid eye contact with the salespeople in the mall kiosks? I know it's probably not their life's dream to demonstrate straightening irons, rub cream on the back of wrinkly strangers' hands or fit my cell phone with a new indestructible case.

I'm not interested, but somehow I feel bad about it. Why does it feel like not wanting what they are selling somehow makes me wrong?

Have you ever encountered people who you just don't mesh with? It's not that you don't like them, or that they aren't perfectly nice. But something about the way they approach the world is completely and utterly different from your own approach. It's like they are selling something that you don't want to buy. Something you have no interest in, no need for, no desire to partake.

Maybe for these people, life seems so perfect....because they happened to capture it just right in a photo shared on social media. Or sometimes these are the ones who make themselves feel a foot taller, because they can cut somebody else down with just the right quip or comment. Or (to put in Tennessee terms) maybe they've simply gotten too big for their britches. 

I'm sure we all know people like this. I like to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, so I don't think they are evil or bad. These people are probably just as lost as the rest of us, trying to figure life out, and messing up all along the way. But somewhere on the journey, they adopted a mentality of 'the rules don't apply to me.' And maybe that's where it turns me off.

But the beauty of it all is this....we don't have to buy anything we don't want. If someone's selling something that doesn't work for you, don't buy it. Do you ever struggle with feeling like you aren't allowed to say no? There are a million reasons that cause this.

I can't say no because I need the money. I can't say no because it makes me look like a jerk. I can't say no because they'll hate me. I'll seem rude. I'll seem selfish. Nobody will like me. I'll be embarrassed. I'll look foolish. If I say no, and I'm the only one who says no, I'll be an outsider. I'll seem like a nerd. Like a snob. Like a fussy pants. Like a needy person. If I say no, I won't get asked to go along ever again. If I say no, I might have to sit at home and be sad. 

You don't have to go along. You're allowed to say "I don't want what you're selling," whether it's a product or service, or a belief system or a way of life.

We don't have to buy into beliefs we don't embrace. And we don't have to buy into the idea that we have to become a different person to make others like us, or think we're worthy of their time.

If chaos and drama and ridicule is someone's way of life, and that's what they're selling, it doesn't appeal to me. What's wrong with that?

I know life presents certain circumstances that we have to 'put up with.' Sometimes they last for a short time, or a longer season. But forcing ourselves to buy into things we don't believe for the long-haul is slowing killing us.

When we do this, we tell ourselves that what our heart wants most doesn't matter at all. And this is a form of self-abuse. What your heart wants most does matter. It matters to me and it matters to God.

But we're only given a limited amount of resources in the way of time, energy and attention. Don't spend your precious pennies on things you don't want. No matter what you try to convince yourself you're getting in the bargain. It just isn't worth it. And it never will be.

April 20, 2016

3 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Earth Day is April 22nd and it's a great time to stop and enjoy the beauty and magic of nature. I'm not really much of an outdoorsy type, but I love the wonder of living things, the intricacies of insects and flowers, the way we all fit together in this big ecosystem we call home.

In honor of Earth Day, here are some fun and simple ideas that you can enjoy with your family to celebrate our planet!

Upcycled Soda Bottle Bird Feeders 


Not only is this project easy to do, it also creates a new use for something you might already have lying around the house. To make a simple bird feeder, you first need a soda bottle (honestly, y'all it's all Coke here in the south - no matter what kind of 'soda' you're actually drinking). It could be a 2-liter or a smaller one, depending on what you have on hand. 

Cut a small hole on one side near the bottom and cut a larger hole across from the small one. You'll also need a wooden spoon. Again, if you have an old one lying around, that's one less thing you have to buy for this craft. Stick the spoon through the bottle so the bigger side comes out through the bigger hole. 

Next, using a funnel, fill the bottle with birdseed. Be careful because some may spill out of the hole around the spoon. It doesn't really matter if it falls out while in use because you'll be feeding birds outside. 

I saw this craft on the blog, Handimania and thought it was worth re-creating! Click here for more info.

Install an Insect Hotel 

The insect hotel shown above is available here

Ever since I first saw these insect hotels, I've wanted one. Imagine my delight to run across an affordable version at my local Aldi grocery store! There are lots of types available online and you can also make your own. 

An insect habitat hotel is a great way to invite beneficial insects to your garden and yard. This includes pollinators like butterflies and bees, plus ladybugs and lacewings. 

Different insect hotels have different sections, but many are designed to mimic what each insect's natural habitat would look like. You can also add your own special touches like nesting materials, dried grasses and bits of bark. 

Make a Batch of Grown-Up Trail Mix & Take a Hike!


Did you know that 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service? I'm lucky to have the most visited National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, practically in my backyard. GSMNP is doing a great hike challenge in honor of the centennial -- hike 100 miles over the course of the year on the park's trails. 


And what's better for a hike (or just to enjoy while hanging out around the house) but some good old fashioned trail mix? Although I'm not talking about your childhood raisins and peanuts. This is trail mix for grown ups. 

image via

The best part about it? You are a grown up so you can make it however you want! 

For my latest trail mix combination, I used the following ingredients (all from Aldi -- love that place!). But you can shop wherever you like ;) 

  • Raw almonds (no salt)
  • Cashew pieces (What can I say, I'm frugal and pieces are cheaper than whole cashews)
  • Dark chocolate covered pomegranate seeds
  • Freeze dried peaches
  • Banana chips
  • Sesame sticks 
Mix up your favorite nibbles and enjoy! 

Happy Earth Day y'all! 

April 19, 2016

I was late and nobody died.


I hate being late. Hate it. Hate. It. I have a weekly business meeting every Tuesday, and at least 50 percent of the time, I'm the first person to arrive. Sometimes, when I drive up and there are no other cars in the lot, I think to myself "Is the meeting cancelled?" And then I remember that I'm always awkwardly early and everyone else just arrives at the correct time.

Twice a month, I appear on a local television station to talk about entertaining, cooking, and other blog-related projects. My live segment is always around 8:45 a.m. Most of the time, I am in the TV station parking lot by 7:55. Nearly one hour early. And I only live 10 minutes away.

I guess you could say I have a phobia about being late. To me, time is one of the most valuable things I have. So I want other people to honor my limited and precious time. And I want to offer them the same courtesy.

I blame my schema. Wait, say what?

In the realm of psychology, there's a whole school of thought that centers around mental schemas. I'm no expert, but from what little I've read, they are also known as lifetraps. Basically, the idea is that because of different things that happen to us in our childhoods and early lives, we develop certain negative mindsets or ways of viewing the world.

Apparently one of mine is Unrelenting Standards. This came as no surprise to my husband, who for years has teased me that on my tombstone will be written these words: She liked things to be a certain way.

This is expressed differently for different people. For me, it has to do with efficiency and productivity. Like wanting to do things as efficiently as possible. Needing to use all time productively. And being anxious if things don't go just as they are 'supposed to' without flaws and mistakes.

It boils down to this....how good is 'good enough?' For someone like me who has the Unrelenting Standards schema, anything less than a sort of degree of perfect can feel like a disaster.

I'm sure this plays a role in my wanting to be on time, all the time.

And it rears its ugly head in other areas too. But of course hardly anything I ever do is perfect. And therein lies the struggle....being forced to live in that spot between what you expect from yourself, and what you actually get.

If you know me in real life (or even if you don't), it's easy to see that I am far from perfect. I say and do the wrong thing. I put my foot in my mouth. I hurt people's feelings (not usually on purpose, but still).

But there are certain things that I can control, and punctuality is usually one of them. Until the other day.

I was invited to attend a gathering of bloggers at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort®. I'll definitely share more about that cool experience in future posts, but the part I want to share now is that I was late. To our first day of events.

The event organizers had put together an incredible itinerary, but it was jam-packed with things to do and places to go. For our first day, we were supposed to meet in the resort lobby at 7:30 a.m.

The night before, I set the alarm on my phone for 6:15 a.m. AND got a 6 a.m. wake-up call from the concierge. I faintly remember hearing my room phone ring and thought to myself, "Okay, fifteen more minutes to snooze before my phone alarm goes off." Except it didn't go off. I don't know what happened, but the next sound I heard was the phone ringing at 7:47 a.m. I had overslept and the entire group was waiting for me in the lobby.

For those of you who think schedules are just a suggestion and time doesn't really apply to you, this probably doesn't seem like anything at all. For someone like me, with the Unrelenting Standards schema who freaks out over the tiniest hiccup, it felt like a monumental fail. Every negative thought was running through my head....I was rushing around trying to hurry, feeling totally mortified and just plain ol' starting the day on the wrong foot.

But then a thought occurred to me. I was late. Nobody died. The thing I had tried so hard to avoid had happened and the world didn't stop.

If you don't struggle with this issue, you're probably rolling your eyes at me right about now. "Good grief," you're probably thinking. "There are starving children in the world. There's war and plague and other terrible things. Being late isn't that big of a deal. Get over yourself." 

Trust me, I'm working on it. But I wanted to share this because I know there's someone else out there, maybe you, who feels like you have to keep this false facade of perfection going. Even if its only in one area of your life. I promise you that you can lay that crap down. You don't have to carry it anymore. And neither do I.

Here's what I know to be true:

1. You are not defined by your biggest failure.
2. You are not defined by your most celebrated achievement.
3. You are not defined by how early you arrive or how late you stay.
4. You are not defined by how often you say just the right thing to just the right person in the perfect moment, to achieve the desired results.
5. You are not defined by how neatly ironed your clothes are when you arrive or whether you have a stain on your shirt.
6. You are not defined by the person who hates your guts or the one who wants to throw you a parade.
7. You are not defined by the meanest thing anyone's ever said to you.
8. You are not defined by the most glowing compliment you've received.
9. You are not defined by the person who quit loving you even though they were supposed to continue forever.
10. You are not defined by how awesome your boss thinks you are or if you just got fired.

Your value is inherent because you are a child of God. Whether you believe in Him or not. Whether you love Him or not, He loves you. Who you are is defined by that. Nothing else.

Now I'm certainly not saying to eschew kindness and consideration. I'll continue to arrive at meetings awkwardly early and sit in my car killing time. But maybe I'll remember that time I was late, and nobody died.

April 18, 2016

The Creative Life of: Lucille Pack


**This is a new series on the blog, in which I interview creative people and share a bit more about their creative lives. A big thanks to Lucille Pack for being the inaugural creative featured!**

You just never know what you're going to stumble across during random image searches on the Internet. When looking for inspiration for a recent blog post about wearing glasses, I came across the art of Lucille Pack. What search did I perform? The phrase "boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses." Lo and behold, this search brought me to one of Lucille's pieces, and it grabbed my attention right away.

Boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses.

Growing up, my mom was a rabid collector of vintage photographs, specifically of people she didn't know. I guess I get much of my love of stories from her, because she has always been one to wonder about the stories of other people, making them up as she goes along if she doesn't know the real ones.

Lucille Pack's work combines words and images to tell some really unique stories. Her vintage photographs-turned-collages are the representation of various phrases, brought to life with images that force you to think about the words in a new way.

Lucille is a collage artist, book maker and painter who graciously agreed to answer a few questions. I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about the Creative Life of Lucille Pack!

Where are you from? Where do you consider to be your home? I’m really glad you phrased this question this way. The question of home consistently perplexes me because where I live, where I am from and now where I go home to are all different places. Originally, I am from Dallas, but I have never felt at home there. I moved to New York for college, have been there ever since and today consider Brooklyn my home. When I visit my family (when I “go home”), I travel to Carmel, California. Carmel feels the most like going home.

Can you share a little bit about your background and what made you want to be an artist? I wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember and am lucky enough to have a family who was (and continues to be) very supportive of my creative endeavors. I started painting and drawing at young age, and have since added collage, bookmaking and writing to my practice.

Who was the biggest influence in your life/Who encouraged you to hone your creative spirit? I don’t have a single biggest influence, but strongly believe my creativity was encouraged by a series of circumstances. Not necessarily that being an artist was meant to be, but that I encountered a series of circumstances which continually reinforced my desire to practice art. For example, my high school English teacher suggested I visit Sarah Lawrence while I happened to be doing a summer program in New York. I visited, fell in love with the college and eventually graduated from there. I am forever grateful I had someone in my life who not only recognized a difference in me, but introduced me to an environment where I would be better suited. My current practice really began at SLC as this is where I learned how to involve my other intellectual interests such as sociology in my art work.

"You sure have a way with people." "Well, they are my species."


What is the biggest challenge you face as a creative entrepreneur? The biggest challenge for me is definitely the business side of being a creative entrepreneur. Being an artist is about so much more than making work, and I am slowly but surely learning how much more goes into a successful practice. I love writing and specifically writing creatively about my work. However, when promoting your work you have to go so far beyond your favorite parts of the practice. For me, it has been very important to make a weekly schedule as a sort of reminder to focus on marketing, accounting, etc. in addition to actually making the work.

What is the best advice you have for other women who would like to pursue a full-time career as a creative solopreneur? If you want your creative endeavor to function as a business, it is extremely important to be knowledgable about what makes up a successful business. This probably involves learning things you aren’t that interested in (such as accounting in my case), but it’s worth it. It is so easy now to take an online course where you can learn everything from marketing to website design to how to start a solo business. Knowledge is an irreplaceable component of any enterprise, and it will make you more confident.

Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Not Touch Ours, Large


What do you do when you are feeling stagnant or in a creativity desert? My work is based off of found photographs, so when in a funk, photographic research is super helpful. I also find a lot of inspiration in old movies, historical artifacts and general explorations of the past. Even when I’m not feeling stagnant, I’ve recently noticed new ideas come to me at unexpected moments, frequently during yoga class.

Do you have a favorite southern city? I have a lot of southern cities I want to visit, but unfortunately haven’t had a chance to yet. Two I am hoping to visit soon are Charleston & Nashville. My brother-in-law recently moved to New Orleans and I just went there for the first time. New Orleans is an amazing city and I am already itching to go back. My favorite food is fried chicken, so I imagine I would be pretty happy in most southern cities.

The general was essentially a man of peace, except in his domestic life.


What's your favorite way to spend a Saturday? My husband and I love to travel. Now that the weather is getting nicer, we’re trying to use Saturday as a day trip day. I love to hike and spring Saturdays are great for outdoor activities. It’s also my favorite day to splurge on a nice dinner or spend the day cooking for friends.

What was the last great book you read? I am about to finish Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend and cannot wait to start the second book in her series.

Don't Talk to a Girl That Way Unless You Mean It!


Do you have a favorite quote or mantra that you always keep in mind? I don’t really. Since I am named after Lucille Ball, I thought it would be cleaver to find a quote of hers. Not that she hasn’t said amazing things, but during my quick search, I came across a quote from Sarah Silverman that I love and think is sort of perfect when discussing creative female entrepreneurs, “Mother Teresa didn’t walk around complaining about her thighs- she had shit to do.”

Connect with Lucy Pack - Follow her on Instagram | Check out her Pinterest | She tweets too!

April 10, 2016

For the little girl with the eye patch.

Dear little girl at Chik-fil-a with the pink, leopard eye patch,

First of all, you totally rocked it. I watched you playing with your grandma and that patch didn't seem to faze you at all. I wish I could have said the same for myself at your age when I had to wear one of those things. My patch was black and in the 80s, being a pirate wasn't quite as cool as it is now.

Actually, my grandma would let me sneak and not wear my patch when I was at her house, especially when we were playing Barbies.

I'm not sure why you have to wear a patch over your eye. The reason I had to wear one was my eye was lazy, which also caused one lens of my glasses to be much thicker than the other. The problem with telling a kindergartner that she has a lazy eye is she doesn't have the wisdom or wherewithal to understand that it isn't some kind of pronouncement about you as a person. Having a lazy eye doesn't make the rest of a person lazy.

I have spent the past 30 years trying to prove that. Why they couldn't have called it a butterfly eye or a mermaid eye or something without such a negative connotation is beyond me.


Maybe soon you won't have to wear the patch anymore. Perhaps you'll have identical twin pairs of plastic glasses, one pink and the other purple, just like mine were. I hope a boy in the 2nd grade doesn't call you "big eyes" because the magnification is so strong.

If your glasses slide down, go ahead and push them right back up, whether with your finger or by wiggling your nose. This is how I've coped for years, causing my family to coin a term for my nose-wiggle-glasses-pushing maneuver..."the snurl."


Sadly, you'll probably never get to know Molly, a bespectacled, but now discontinued member of the American Girl doll family. She might not have had frizzy hair like me, but her fate of having to wear glasses all the while planting a victory garden and staying positive in the face of World War 2 made me feel like I, too, could overcome hard things.

Contacts can be a good option, maybe in the 5th grade when your parents think you are mature enough to care for them properly.

But maybe you'll move to another town for college, a place where the air quality is terrible and your allergies act up and you can't wear contacts anymore.


You just might find that glasses aren't such a bad option after all, what with all the new styles available.

I hope you find someone to love, who loves you and doesn't care that your eyes are sometimes hidden behind thick lenses. And maybe one evening, you'll absentmindedly leave your glasses at home, and your sweetheart will keep looking at your over and over saying, "what is different?" And finally he or she will realize that you look different because for once, you aren't wearing your glasses.

"I kind of like that you aren't wearing your glasses because it lets me see your pretty eyes," he will say. "But I like it when you wear your glasses too." 

It won't be an issue. But clearly, it already isn't because you seem to be doing just fine. And so am I.

April 6, 2016

Finding Simple Ways to Decrease Stress in Your Life


Stress. Just saying it kinda makes my throat close up a little bit. But stress isn't all bad. It serves an important purpose...to help us respond quickly to danger or disaster. Stress is also good when it comes to things that challenge us, like giving a speech to a huge crowd of people or playing sports.

But too much stress is not a good thing. I used to think being stressed was just a way of life for some folks. That there were some of us who rode the waves of crisis in a state of frenzy, and then there were others who took everything in stride, not letting it bother them.

I'm not sure what I think now, but I know that a constant state of being stressed is terrible. When the normal kind of situational stress becomes chronic, your body never gets a chance to recover from the tense feelings it is experiencing, and it begins to wear you down. This leads to something called toxic stress, which poisons our bodies, minds and spirits.

This kind of stress can really affect your health.

April is National Stress Awareness Month and because I'm trying to decrease the stress in my life, I thought I'd share some simple methods that have helped me. I hope they help you too!

Create Something - 


For me, being creative is a huge way to relieve stress. I don't put any pressures on myself when I'm creating art or being crafty. If the project turns out to be a Pinterest fail, no big deal. It's the process that I most enjoy, not the final outcome. 

"But I'm just not creative" you might be thinking to yourself. Nonsense! I believe each of us is creative and has the capacity to create. If you need some direction, I recommend you get a Wreck This Journal. 

via

It will give you a place to start and some guidance, but lots of space to cut your creative teeth. I find this a little less intimidating than a blank sketch book.

There are no rules, and you're free to make mistakes. See, doesn't that help decrease your stress already?

Let Your Mind Wander - 


Do you ever feel like your day is planned out to the very last minute? Sometimes having to keep a tight schedule can be a source of stress. It's like building a house of cards and knowing that one tiny change in movement can send the whole thing tumbling. 

Just the other day, I was stuck in traffic and started thinking about all the things I could have been doing at home, for work, etc. Instead of getting frustrated, I decided just to take advantage of the time and daydream. It was so nice! 


Something else I did recently was give one of those adult coloring books a try. There was a moment when I felt this pressure to create something pretty, but instead I decided to just let my mind wander while filling in the lines. I ended up having a pretty good time doing it, and I felt more relaxed afterward. 

Be Grateful - 


Gratitude has been known to help people dealing with all sorts of different things. But it definitely helps me find a healthy perspective when I'm feeling stressed. 

It's so easy to get pulled into the frenzy, and focus on everything negative when you're in a stressful situation. Taking a moment to focus on what I have to be thankful for has come to my rescue in the midst of many a stressful situation.



I was recently given a great 5 year memory book (pictured above), and I think I might turn it into a gratitude journal. It has five blank spaces for each day, so you can write something each day for five years. I bet this would be a great exercise in gratitude. And how cool to be able to look back at five years worth of stuff you had to be thankful for!


Grow Something - 


There's something about nature that has the power to enhance our calm. Maybe it's because there's a certain balance to be found in the natural world. 

I do not have the greenest thumb, but I have found some plants that are fairly easy to grow and I stick with them. Succulents work pretty well for me, as do Mother-in-law's Tongue.

Available to buy online here

Kalanchoe is another plant that I've had great results with. It all started with one small plant (bought at my local grocery store), and because they are so easy to take cuttings from, I've now got pots of this plant all over my house. Mine have a lovely red flower like the one pictured above, but they come in all different colors.


Get Some Professional Help - 


I'm no doctor, so none of these things is based in any sort of scientific knowledge. But each of my de-stressing tips has helped me along the way. 

Sometimes stress can become too much for you to handle alone. Maybe you're in a situation at work, or with your family and it's eating away at you. I've been there and it's the pits. Please don't let toxic stress rob you of your joy for life. 

If you need some help, consider talking to a professional. Don't have insurance or don't have a plan that covers mental health care options? In Knoxville, because of the University of Tennessee's Psychology Doctorate program, we have a counseling center where folks can see an advanced doctoral student and pay on a sliding scale. Maybe your city or nearby university has something like this. 

There are even apps and websites that allow you to connect online with therapists. Please don't keep suffering if you are living a stressed-out life. Talk to a friend or family member. Think about getting some professional guidance. Whatever you do, know that your quality of life is important. I have wasted too much time feeling stressed out in the past. Let's relax a bit, shall we?

**Post contains affiliate links**

April 3, 2016

Church - Who Needs It


For my husband and I, Sundays are usually pretty laid back. We wake up leisurely and have coffee, then breakfast. Sometimes we watch CBS Sunday Morning like I did with my grandparents on weekends spent with them during my childhood (of course, it's not the same without Charles Kuralt). Occasionally, I use Sundays to get caught up on work or other projects.

When we moved into our house, we were blessed with some free furniture that exceeded our living room's capacity, so we've turned our small one-car garage into a sitting room of sorts. I sit out there from time to time with the garage door open, working on the computer or reading a good book.

I was doing just that Sunday morning. My husband had poured me a fresh cup of coffee and I had settled in for some leisurely Pinterest browsing while he ran an errand. Imagine my surprise when a member of the church across the street came up the driveway with an invitation to their monthly potluck lunch. He said his church holds a potluck one Sunday each month and today was it. Would we like to come and eat with them?

We've been invited to eat with them before, when we first moved into our house. We were still unpacking and had plans later that day so we politely declined. Today though, I couldn't think of any excuse not to go. I was wearing sweats and my hair was in a ponytail, so I quickly ran into the house to change and freshen up.

The church is one I consider to be a more traditional denomination and I figured the ladies probably wore skirts. I didn't want to make a bad first impression, especially when I was only showing up to eat. So I threw on a maxi dress and pulled my hair into a bun.


Walking across the street toward the church, I thought to myself "What am I doing?" It's a little nerve-wracking to visit a new church for the first time, especially a small congregation where you can't really get lost in the crowd. Will they think I'm weird? Will they think I'm only here for the free food? Will they wonder why we haven't visited before now? All these questions were running through my head.

Both my husband and I grew up attending church regularly. My family was Baptist and his, Methodist. The Sundays of my childhood were mostly the same...early mornings, getting dressed up in our finest and heading to the big Baptist church downtown. First, there would be Sunday school, taught by older folks who had memorized the scriptures frontwards and backwards. We'd read from our lessons and put our offering nickels and pennies into the small envelope for Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong.

Then we'd head to big church, with the adults. I'd sit quietly, drawing pictures on the back of the bulletin as long as my dad couldn't see. After my younger brother had aged out of the church nursery, he came to big church too. My mom placated him with plastic baggies filled with snacks. I always felt so jealous of the snacks but I was older and could be expected to sit quietly through the service, even if I didn't understand most of what it was about.

After church, my parents, brother and I would head to my great-grandparents' house out in the country for a big meal with the rest of our family. The kids would change into our play clothes and spend the afternoon running around the yard, while the adults napped or gossiped, catching up on what was going in each other's lives.

Since my husband and I have been married, we've never attended church together other than when we visit my parents and go with them. We've talked about visiting various churches in town, and yet somehow Sunday rolls around and we never do. I guess I figured when the time was right, it would happen. We believe in God and talk freely about our faith. But I've never really thought that being in a church building was completely necessary.

Sunday, visiting the small church across the road, I got a taste of what we've been missing. It wasn't a fancy lunch served on fine china. But I filled up my Styrofoam plate more than once. The congregation was small, with probably not more than 25 or 30 people in attendance. When I arrived, the women were in the church's galley kitchen preparing the food, and they genuinely welcomed me, asking questions and making introductions to make me feel like I was part of the group.

When the last covered dish atop the long plastic folding table had been uncovered, the members gathered to form a line. One began to sing and everyone joined in, a song of blessing over the food and the fellowship.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.



Growing up, I always loved singing the Doxology at our big Baptist church. All those voices joined together, reverberating off the walls in the massive, soaring sanctuary...it was like I knew God could really hear us.

But Sunday, in that small room with those kind, unassuming faces smiling at me, I felt community. My eyes teared up, and I thought to myself "This is what belonging feels like."

The conversation over lunch wasn't about doctrine or church politics, but instead turned to things like how one church member had taken up bike riding as a way to get rid of his knee pain. We covered the gamut from troubled kids (a couple members were teachers and shared some war stories of their experiences) as well as how many of the ladies of the church are apparently smitten with Korean dramas, including a show called Coffee Prince (which I was told might be too much for me to start my K drama education).


Church is not about committees or whether you have a rock and roll band or just an out-of-tune piano. It's not about whether you have the Ten Commandments painted on the wall, or if you worship in a grand sanctuary where the light streams in through brilliant stained glass windows.

It's about people. And coming together. Finding a connection that trumps all our differences and disagreements. Sometimes the ones who feel like they don't need church can benefit from it most. That was me Sunday.

Back at home, my once hot cup of coffee was right where I left it, although it was cold. But I didn't care. My heart was full.

April 2, 2016

Fun in the Sun - A Beach Getaway to Sandestin


A couple weeks ago, my husband and I enjoyed an impromptu beach getaway to sunny Florida. The trip came about because I was invited to speak about blogging to a group of folks from the The Northwest Florida Coast Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA).

With some of the lovely ladies who attended the luncheon

We drove from Knoxville to Destin in a little under eight hours. We could have flown, but we wanted to make an adventure of it and explore some of Alabama along the way.


The kind folks at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort hosted us for two incredible nights, and we stayed at the resort's Luau property. Only about ten years old, Luau is the newest of Sandestin's luxury Destin beach rental properties, which are beachside condos with breathtaking views.

The location was perfect because my speaking engagement took place within walking distance, at The Beach House restaurant. The beach itself was only a short stroll away as well and we loved checking out the area, somewhere we'd never been together before.


Check-in at the Sandestin Resort was smooth and simple, and we were given everything we needed to find our room, plus lots of great information about what to do, where to eat, and what events were taking place during our stay. Our trip coincided with Spring Break and there were tons of Spring Break activities planned for couples, families and individuals. From sunrise yoga on the beach to an evening fireworks display, there was no shortage of fun to be had.


We got into town on a Monday and promptly enjoyed a great meal of fish tacos at The Beach House. There's just something about sitting on a patio, drinking a Margarita while enjoying an ocean view that makes the stress of daily life seem like not such a big deal.

The resort had tons of amenities, like complimentary bicycle and kayak rentals, access to tennis courts and fitness center, golf, beach chair and umbrella set-up and transportation around the grounds.


The pool near our room was amazing...with plenty of comfy chairs and lush landscaping to make me green with envy. We also enjoyed visiting the rooftop deck on the Luau for some incredible views!


Here are some more fun facts about Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort:

  • The resort spans a whopping 2,400-acres!
  • From single-family homes, villas, condos and more, there are more than 30 different accommodations options for every traveler's budget 
  • Guests can dine at any of the more than 20 restaurants on the resort grounds
  • For the third year in a row, the resort has been named the top-ranked hotel in Destin, by U.S. News and World Report
We had a blast at Sandestin. My family has always traveled to Florida beaches along the Atlantic, but now I feel like my heart belongs to the Emerald Coast. The quaint charm of the area, plus the hospitality of everyone we encountered made us fall in love with the entire place. And the wonderful southern hospitality we received at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort was first class.

Planning a trip to Sandestin? Check out the resort's event page for the latest happenings so you can plan your itinerary.


Plus, there's still time to get your tickets for the 30th Annual Sandestin Wine Festival! Jam packed with dinners, wine tastings & classes, entertainment and other fun, this is sure to be an incredible time. If you're traveling to Fort Walton Beach or Destin during April 14 thru 17, you don't want to miss it. And if you haven't been planning a trip, why not start now?

**Disclosure - I received a complimentary 2-night stay at Sandestin as part of my speaking engagement. However, I was not compensated for this post. I always like to blog about my travels and would have shared my opinions about the resort and our experiences regardless. Y'all know I wouldn't tell you something was great if I didn't truly think it was.**

March 25, 2016

Just a Closer Walk with Jesus


I have lived in Knoxville for going on 16 years. For the first five of them I lived on campus while attending the University of Tennessee. Then I moved to a condo just one mile away from campus and stayed there ten more years. Where I used to live, there were lots of trees all around and I hardly ever got a great view of the sky.

Since moving to our house last summer I feel like we have gotten a new taste of our city. This is kind of funny because we only moved about five miles away.

There's a spot where we top a hill as we're driving towards downtown and you can see a wide expanse of the beautiful mountains and the sky. The other morning, my husband and I were headed somewhere pretty early. We came to that spot and were presented with the most beautiful view. The sun was still coming up and the sky was all shades of pink and red and yellow and gold.

And I said to my husband, "This must have been what it looked like on Easter morning because all was right with the world again."

Easter has significance for me for many different reasons. First, because of my faith....believing that we were once without hope, without a future, and knowing that because of Easter our hope is restored. Our peace with God. Our eternal life. Just knowing that everything is going to be okay.

Easter holds other significance for me because it is the day my sweet dog Leon crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. It's really hard to believe that an entire year has passed since he died.

I guess I should give you some back story. My husband is very playful and loves to do all sorts of funny voices. Each dog that we have had has been given its own unique voice that was created by my husband based on what he felt its personality was. My Leon had the sweetest personality, and his "voice" matched him perfectly. I am forever grateful to my husband for bringing that to life.

If this sounds crazy to you, you are not alone. We have started seeing a marriage counselor and when we shared this with him, I immediately sensed that he might have been writing down "whole new level of crazy." 

But the thing about it is, crazy or not, we loved our dog.

And even though a year has passed, sometimes it doesn't feel any easier that he isn't with us. So on those days, when I'm missing him really bad, it helps that my husband can still bring his voice to life.

Okay, so here's where we take things to the next generation level of crazy...in our minds, Leon is in heaven. With Jesus. And we imagine them having all sorts of adventures. Like playing Scrabble, visiting Saturn, and eating pizza together. And in our little wacky world, my husband even does a voice for Jesus that sounds very much like Hank from King of the Hill.

But here's the thing...I thought doing this would help me feel more peace about Leon. But instead, it has helped me feel more peace about Jesus. Not that I ever didn't feel peace about Him, but growing up, seeing him as that long-haired, bearded guy in a robe on the Sunday school lesson, Jesus always seemed like this stranger that I didn't really know.

Picturing him traipsing around heaven with our dog in tow has made him real to me in a new way.

Recently, I thanked my husband for making up this little fantasy because of how it had helped me deal with my grief. He said that it wasn't just a fantasy to him...that he really did believe Leon was with Jesus. And all our other friends and loved ones who have gone on before us.

Heaven is a real place. It's not just something we've created to make ourselves feel better. I know it's real and I know my loved ones are there. And because of Easter, I can one day see them again.

Even though faith is something many of us share, it's also very personal. When I was young, I had a book called "Little Talks Between God & You." It made it seem so easy to talk to God, and now, three decades later, I still see him as someone I can have little talks with.

I don't want God and Jesus to be something I only "experience" in a church building. And I hope you don't think you have to go to a church building to experience them. Sunday, we will celebrate Easter with family at church. And I'm sure I'll be sad because it will mark the anniversary of my boy's passing. But if my husband really believes we'll see him again, playing his trumpet in heaven, I can believe it too.


March 23, 2016

How to Set a Beautiful Easter Table -


Easter is nearly here and spring is bursting forth in East Tennessee. There's a tree next to my driveway that has looked dead or dying since we moved in last summer. And I'm happy to report that its boughs are now covered with pink blossoms. That's the thing about springtime...sometimes new life pops up in places you least expect it.

Are you hosting your family or friends for Easter this year? Whether you are setting the table for a large group or just yourself, this special season is certainly worth celebrating.

Start with your backdrop - the table cloth

 


Just like a gorgeous painted canvas creates the setting for a play, so does a table cloth create a place for the story of your table to unfold. It's spring and I love color, so I'm opting for a bright blue cotton table cloth to set a dramatic scene for my Easter table. My table cloth, a wedding gift, was woven on a floor loom by a family of weavers in a textile shop in Mexico. You can find a similar one from the same region available to purchase here.

I was also inspired by this gorgeous striped linen option (pictured), which is available to buy on Etsy.

Add some layers for depth - placemats

 

available via
When I was growing up, my mom had a set of place mats that we always used for family dinners. They weren't anything fancy, but the act of setting the table with them was a ritual that I came to be very familiar with. We hardly ever used a table cloth for daily meals, but we always used the place mats. There was something about the way they made our plain wooden table seem more dressed up. 

Place mats are a great addition to your Easter table, but don't worry if you don't have a huge collection. If you have several sets of four, mix and match them to create visual interest. I try to collect place mats in similar tones and shades so they all work together. Maybe you have some round and some rectangular. Setting a table with mats of different shapes can look really great whether they are monochromatic or complimentary shades.

Choose dishes that are simple & elegant - McQueen Pottery

 

I love dishes of all kinds. For several years I collected vintage Johnson Brothers ironstone in a floral pattern (Staffordshire bouquet), but eventually I decided that I'd rather have simple, white dishes. That's why I opted for Wedgwood Intaglio as my wedding china, which we use everyday. 

credit: Heather Anne Thomas (beall + thomas photography)

When I connected with Leanne McQueen of Maryville, Tennessee-based McQueen Pottery, I fell in love with her simple, yet elegant creations. Her hand formed pieces have a rustic elegance that lends itself to everything from a formal seated dinner to a casual family brunch.

McQueen Pottery comes in a wide variety of styles, including bowls, cups, plates and platters as well as pitchers and vases. It is available in two colors, milk white and speckled, a shade that is reminiscent of dove gray. 

There's something about a handmade object that makes you appreciate it even more and these pieces would make a lovely addition to any Easter table. There's also a bridal registry option for those brides-to-be. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Leanne McQueen for more of her story!

Accessorize - with napkins, flatware & flowers!

 

via


Napkins are a great way to accessorize your table. I have started collecting vintage napkin rings as I run across them because they can really go a long way toward making a statement with your place settings. This blog has a great round-up of different ideas for napkin rings if you want to DIY. Plus, it has some good examples of how to fold your napkins. 

Flatware is another great way to accessorize your table. When I spotted a 10-piece place setting of gold flatware at a second hand shop, I knew I wanted to add it to my collection. Whether your flatware is old or new, gold or silver, it can give your table a more complete look. 

Need tips for setting your table? Emily Post knows best! Remember "FOKS" (pronounced like fox) for the order things go in (from Left to Right - Fork, O the shape of the plate, Knife w/ blade turned toward plate, Spoon). 

For flowers, I decided to go with some freshly cut forsythia branches. The pop of yellow is nice against the blue of my table cloth and this is a lovely way to bring nature into the house. I've always loved the look of a wild, sprawling arrangement of flowers as opposed to a perfect bouquet. 

These are just a few things you might want to incorporate into your Easter table! Whatever you do, keep in mind that the folks around the table are what matter most. Even if you are just cooking a delicious meal for yourself! 

Happy Easter my friend! 

March 21, 2016

Muscle Memory


Muscle memory is a very real thing. It happens when you do something over and over again until it becomes committed to your recollection and eventually you don't have to think about it anymore. Like typing or riding a bike. 

But what if muscle memory is not limited just to our ligaments and sinews? And what if it's not limited just to ourselves?

Sometimes when I'm at yoga class, and my body is folded into one pose or another, I feel this strange sense of deja vu. Like I'm part of something that's much bigger than me, and I've been part of it for longer than I realize. Going through the movements and motions, I wonder about all the people who have moved their bodies into those same poses before. Maybe it seems strange, but I feel connected to them. This feeling of connection is what made me start to wonder about muscle memory in the first place. 

I've often thought about my ancestors, not just my grandparents, and great-grandparents and people I've actually known, but the ones who came before...way, way back. Each generation brought forth the next, and as they were, so came the rest of us. Strong men and women whose bodies brought forth new lives, and so on. And what if maybe somewhere in all of that, the memories and movements of each generation were passed to the next?

Now I highly doubt that my Freewill Baptist preacher's wife of a grandma ever even heard the word yoga, let alone did downward facing dog. She who never cut her hair or donned a pair of slacks in her life (only dresses) would have considered it some sort of devil's magic. But I feel certain she stretched and moved, and worked as she plowed her garden. And tended to her family.

And everything she did was a part of her, all the way down to her muscle memories. And so, because of her, those things are a part of me. Even if I haven't experienced them, or haven't witnessed them in many years. 

Like holding a wide metal bowl between your knees while sitting in a cane-bottom chair that is especially low to the floor. And the continuous motion of snapping off the ends of white half-runner beans, pulling the strings away and pushing them into a clump to one side, while tossing the beans themselves into the main pile. 

Or ringing the necks of chickens, two at a time, one in each hand. 

It's like the memory that washes over you when you encounter the words of a poem you've never read before, but somehow feel that you've known it all along. That the emotions and sentiments they embody could just as easily be your own, evidenced by the way in which they move you. Like a mother must feel to look out into a crowd and pick out her own one child from hundreds of others. There's a comfort in knowing that something or someone is of you, is from you, is for you, is about you. 

It must have a little bit to do with time, or the absence of it, in heaven. At least the absence of it in a linear sense, like what we earth dwellers are able to understand. I suppose in God's eyes, everything that ever will happen has already happened. He already knows how it all ends. So there are no surprises.

And maybe that's why the words of poet Mary Oliver ring true to me, as if they could have been my own words. If I'd had the courage to write them. Or the inspiration. It's not just that I love her words, I feel deeply connected with them. Do you have a writer you makes you feel like that? Whose words evoke a strange longing in you, a muscle memory that doesn't quite make sense?

I'm no scientist so I don't really understand where nurture stops and nature begins. Some things about us are so because we saw our parents or grandparents do those things, and we learned to do them too. And other things are so because those things were inside our parents and grandparents, whose own parents and grandparents passed them along.

There's a particular way my mom uses her hands when telling a story. And sometimes, I catch myself doing it too. These are motions we didn't even realize were within us, and yet there they are.

That's the beauty of being human....there's a lot more beneath the surface left to be discovered. And there's so much inside us that we rarely tap into. We're never alone in this world, no matter if it sometimes feels that way. Whether you knew them or not, there were people who came before you. People who struggled and overcame things we'll never understand. We may not know their stories in the same way we know our own, and we may not be able to fully understand the challenges they faced or why they made one decision or another, but all that they were is in us. Part of our muscle memory. And knowing that makes it a little bit easier to face what life serves up.

[image via State Archives of Florida]

March 9, 2016

DIY or BUY - Spring Art Projects for Your Home


This is a new series I'm starting on the blog, called DIY or BUY. We've all been there, scrolling on Facebook or Pinterest and we see some fabulous DIY project tutorial that seems too good to be true. The latest DIY tutorial craze is videos, as you've surely seen all over the web. The anonymous crafter (shown only by their hands, am I right?) makes each project look so easy, each resulting creation is perfection. But we know this isn't always the case.

So, I've decided to try out a few of these projects myself and report back to you whether you should DIY or save time and buy a ready made version instead.

This edition of DIY or BUY features some fun spring art projects for your home. Two of them I saw as Skillshare videos and the third was a project featured on a popular DIY blog.

1) Wall Art w/ Wooden Hanging Slats 




I was inspired to make this project after seeing some gorgeous versions of a similar type in a great Washington, D.C. boutique called Salt & Sundry. I can't remember how much theirs were being sold for, but the comparable version I found online is $50. My version is about $12.

Here's the skinny:

To make your own wall art with wooden hanging slats, you'll need 4 wooden slats. I found several varieties pre-cut and pre-packaged at Hobby Lobby. You could also use vintage rulers (I'm doing that next as soon as I find some). If your wood is raw, stain or paint it to your liking.

Additional supplies are magnets and twine. Then of course you'll need your artwork. Attach the magnets to the wooden slats and add your twine for hanging it up.




The video pretty much shows you how this is done. And it was basically as easy as it looks. If you want to skip the magnets, you could affix your art to the slats with staples and in that case, you might only need two slats.

My verdict for this project? DIY

2) Make Your Own Watercolor Paint 


via
This project grabbed my attention from the start, because I love watercolors. My first set was given to me by my aunt and uncle, who as artists themselves encouraged me in all artistic pursuits.

I so wanted this project to work. Using just household ingredients and a plastic ice cube tray, you are supposed to be able to create your own paints. Maybe I didn't measure the liquid quite right or it's possible that I didn't stir enough, but my paint never solidified. This was a disappointment for me.

If you had plenty of time to wait and see if the paint would solidify, this might not be so bad. But since I wanted to use the paints to create something, it didn't work out for me after several days of drying. And the instructions only said to let paint dry overnight.



Verdict? More likely to BUY (but I might try to DIY this again)

3) Marbled Stationery 


This was the easiest of my three DIY or BUY spring art projects. I've always loved stationery and saw a tutorial for a DIY marbled version. To make it, you'll need a can of shaving cream, food coloring in desired color, and blank cards and/or envelopes. 

Squirt some shaving cream into a shallow baking dish. Add a few drops of various shades of food coloring and swirl it around with a toothpick. Apply paper to the surface of the shaving cream so that the entire side of the paper is touching. Pull it up and use something with a straight-edge to swipe the shaving cream away. For photos of each step, click here.


I love the way it turned out. I already had the paper and food coloring, so this project cost me a whopping $1 for a can of shaving cream from Dollar General. 

For a ready-made version, check out the cards below. They are 3 for $12 and can be purchased here. 


Every DIY isn't going to be a success. Sometimes failures happen. But it's fun to try and it always gives me a new feeling of creative energy when I try a project for the first time.  

I've had plenty of fails over the years. From small things like burning dinner or having a fender bender to larger things like finding myself estranged from a dear friend or losing a job. No matter what happens to us, life brings its valuable lessons. I hope I end up wiser for it!