May 21, 2015

Simple Summer Drink Recipes - Southern Style

Summer is almost here and it's a popular time for parties and other get-togethers. Don't just serve your guests boring beverages...think outside the box with some creative concoctions!

Here are three fun and simple drink recipes you might want to try this summer! They are perfect for everything from a backyard barbecue to a fancy bridal shower and everything in between.

Blackberry Lemonade 

There are a couple different ways you can make this delicious summer drink, one is a bit more labor intensive and the other is easy as can be!

For the recipe that's a bit more work, you need to make a simple syrup of blackberries and sugar. You'll need about a pound of blackberries, 1 cup of sugar and a half cup of water.

Bring the berries, sugar, and water to a boil in a saucepan over moderately high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until fruit is soft, for five minutes. Then remove it from heat and let it sit to cool. You can pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing gently it in and tossing the solids. Or you can use it with the berries and all, it's your preference.

Now pour this blackberry syrup mixture into a pitcher and add lemonade. I like the low-calorie version from Trader Joe's but you can use your favorite store-brand or make it from scratch.

The simpler method for blackberry lemonade requires, of all things, blackberry jam! Since this is my favorite type of jam, I always have a jar of the homemade variety on hand. Don't go thinking that I make it, but I have positioned myself well among talented jam-smiths (is that a thing?) who keep my larders fully stocked.

Add a teaspoon of blackberry jam to the bottom of a glass and top it with lemonade. I actually prefer a fizzy lemon soda which makes this drink seem even more special.

Best Homemade Peach Iced Tea Recipe 

Okay, now I know you're probably thinking...what's so special about peach iced tea? Seriously, what isn't special about it? The refreshing perfection of brisk iced tea mixed with the sweetness of peaches ripened on the tree in the summer sun! Need I say more?

I have a great secret for making peach tea and it's so easy. Two words....peach nectar. You can buy great quality peach nectar at most fancier grocery stores. I got mine at the Fresh Market on the same aisle with the cocktail mixers.

Of course you can make your own peach syrup (similar to the blackberry syrup above) but if you don't have time, go the easy route. Basically you just mix the peach nectar into your tea according to your tastes.

Another trick I like to use is to freeze some of the peach nectar in an ice cube tray. Then, you can just drop the peach cubes into the tea and enjoy more of a hint of flavor as they melt.

Easy & Delicious Non-Alcoholic Bloody Mary 

I've never made a Bloody Mary but the southern beau and I had one the other day at a great local eatery and ever since, I've been thinking about trying it out at home.

I grabbed a bottle of Fat & Juicy Bloody Mary mix at the Fresh Market and while perusing the drink aisle, I saw a four-pack of Dry cucumber soda.

For a simple and tasty non-alcoholic Bloody Mary, mix equal parts of the tomato juice mixture with the cucumber soda and voila, that's all there is to it. You can add vodka if you want a more spirited concoction but I think it's pretty tasty without it. This recipe is great for a summer brunch or a picnic!

And there you have it...three simple summer drink recipes! Don't forget to liven up your summer parties with some tasty treats. And always drink responsibly!

May 13, 2015

Why I'd Make a Terrible Baptist Missionary

I ran across these vintage postcards on a website I like to visit and they took me back to my childhood growing up in a big baptist church in Tennessee. Each Sunday, my family would deck out in our finest and go to our respective classes for Sunday School before the main church service. 

I loved Sunday School because it was a lot of like regular school and I was kind of a nerd who loved that sort of thing. Since our church was pretty big, there were enough kids to divide us up into all-girls, all-boys and co-ed classes for each age group. 

I usually preferred the all girls class and was often the teacher's pet. One of my favorite Sunday School teachers was an elderly man named Mr. Dunn who let me read the lesson and each accompanying scripture verse every week. He said I had a nice, clear reading voice and I'm sure the rest of the kids in the class gave a collective groan even though I ate it up. 

Down the hall from my Sunday School class was a big supply closet where all the teachers' books and curriculum materials were kept. In that closet were stacks and stacks of postcards with little messages and cute images on them. These cards were meant to be sent to other kids that we might know to invite them to come to church. 

I guess you could say that a regular part of my Sunday School experience was outreach. Baptists are all about going out into the world and preaching the gospel to all people, and I guess that included the people in our community who might want to receive weekly post cards inviting them to church.

My Sunday School teacher had a big list that contained names and addresses of kids who had visited our church up to that point and each week, we'd spend some time dividing up the list and sending each person a card. Which I guess is a nice thing to do. Our teacher would give us each a stamp for our assigned card and when they were ready to mail, I'd take them down the stairs and outside to the big blue mailbox in the parking lot of the post office next door (I told you I was the teacher's pet).

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Except I knew most of the kids on the list from school. And many of them had only visited one time because they spent the night with another kid from my church or some other situation like that. I knew in my heart that they probably weren't going to visit again with any intentions of joining our church. So in many ways, I felt like sending these cards was a big waste of a stamp.

Then I got the bright idea that I could make this whole situation work for me. 

You see, my grandparents lived in Knoxville which was about a hundred miles away. 

And back then (before cell phones and computers), calling long distance was a big deal. And even though I liked writing them letters, we never seemed to have stamps at our house. So often, I'd write more letters than I could ever send. 

What can I say....I saw my opportunity and I seized it. I began sending my Sunday School outreach postcards to them. Every week, I'd write as small as humanly possible to fit as much about the latest and greatest happenings in my life on that little card. Then I'd stick my free stamp on it and send it off to my grandparents. 

My teacher never knew (or at least I don't think he did). And honestly, I didn't even feel bad about it. I figured it was better to send card to someone who actually wanted to get it than to someone who was just going to throw it away. I wonder if my grandparents ever thought it was odd that I invited them to Sunday School about 20 some odd times.

And that is why I'd be a terrible Baptist missionary. 

May 7, 2015

Last Minute Mother's Day Gifts

Mother's Day is almost here and while some people might think this is a holiday created by the greeting card companies to increase sales, I'm not buying it. According to my sources, Mother's Day got its start around the turn of the 20th century when a young lady from West Virginia wanted to honor her mother and it took her three years to get the holiday made official...leave it to a southern girl to do right by mama and set a good example for the rest of us! 

Do we really need a reason to celebrate mom? I think not. We should celebrate the women in our lives daily, but often things get busy and we fail to make note of just what they mean to us. So Mother's Day rolls around and gives us a chance to make up for it! 

I'm sharing some incredible Mother's Day gift ideas and I hope they inspire you to put some heart and soul into making Mom feel special whether its Mother's Day or all through the year. And Mother's Day isn't just for moms....special grandmas, aunts, sisters, step-moms, godmothers and mentors all need to be told they are loved and appreciated too! 

Gifts for New Moms (and Moms who Love Pink) 

These great tote bags from Dash & Albert would make a perfect gift for a new mom who might be celebrating (or getting ready to celebrate) her first Mother's Day. They are stylish and chic, but functional too. Who says diaper bags can't be fashion forward? 

Plus, there's the fun zipper pouch from Sugarboo Designs with the great quote from Audrey Hepburn. Help mom corral those miscellaneous items in her purse or tote with one of these cute organizational tools. 

Gifts for the Mom Who Loves to Feather Her Nest 

Most moms are always on the go and much-needed quiet time at home can be a real treat. The popular Ibiza throw by Pine Cone Hill is a great gift for mom to enjoy during a cozy night at home or a Sunday afternoon nap. 

Some great-smelling candles, such as these from Simpatico would be a great complement to this too. They are clean burning and after all the wax is gone, they double as a beautiful hobnail's like two gifts in one! 

You could even take it a step further and create a whole day of relaxation for mom, maybe to include a special breakfast and lots of quiet time for her to do what she enjoys most. It might be just what she needs! 

Gifts for the Glamour Gal Mom 

If your mom likes all things that glitter, jewelry is a safe bet. Lenny & Eva holds a special place in my heart because it was started by a lovely lady in my hometown of Cookeville, TN. My southern beau has gifted me with a few different pieces from the Lenny & Eva Trousseau collection and I love mixing and matching them. 

Some of the pieces have sentiments and quotes, while others are made up of beads and charms, but all have a whimsy that is unique. 

Another great line of southern-made jewelry is Louisiana-based Grandmother's Buttons. This line is made up of pieces that are hand crafted with vintage buttons, 100 years old or more! 

Gifts for the DIY Crafty Mom

If your mom is a DIY type, you might want to give her an experience she'll always remember. One idea for a great gift is to treat her to a class or workshop. 

You might remember that I took a class a few years ago where I learned all about the wonders of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. 

I highly recommend this experience and if you're in Knoxville, the Back Porch Mercantile is the place! Plus, there's even a special deal going on now for a discounted class session. This is even something you and your mom could do together! Who doesn't love some quality time with their momma? I know I do! 

All these great Mother's Day gift options are available at the Back Porch Mercantile in Knoxville. This is a fabulous local gift shop with lots of charm and personality. Every time I visit, it's impossible to leave it's the place I send my southern beau when he needs inspiration for birthday gifts, Valentine's Day, etc. 

Stop by and tell them I sent you! Or you can call today and reserve a spot for you and your mom to take a workshop in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint! 

The Back Porch Mercantile 

May 1, 2015

Lunch at Husk Charleston

The southern beau and I just got back from an incredible week in Charleston for our honeymoon. We basically ate our way through the city. A first time visit for both of us, we explored some really great local spots, based on the recommendations from foodie friends. Everybody said we had to try Husk so we hit it up for lunch on our last day. It absolutely did not disappoint. 

We started with the Dragoon Punch, a light refreshing beverage made of brandy, rum, iced tea and lemon juice. It was amazing...and I could have enjoyed several more. 


Next, an appetizer of pimento cheese. I'm such a pimento cheese snob and always compare any that I eat to my own homemade version. Chef Sean Brock's tangy cheddar spread lived up to the hype. It was dry with a paste-like consistency (which is how I prefer it), with a great tangy flavor. Pickled ramp relish and bits of country ham sprinkled on top were the perfect garnish. 

Shrimp and grits, a Charleston staple, were almost too pretty to eat! 

Then, some 'Husk' puppies with white barbecue sauce as a perfect complement to my bibb lettuce salad. Yes, it was covered in ham. 

The restaurant, located in a gorgeous old house, was just around the corner from our hotel. We enjoyed the entire experience and felt it was a must-do for the trip. Sometimes restaurants receive lots of hype for no reason, but I highly recommend Husk. It exceeded my expectations and then some! 

April 10, 2015

One Perfect Day

Do you ever have one of those days that just feels like one for the record books, in a good way? It's not like anything particularly monumental happened, but then again, maybe it did. 

Good Friday was just such a day for me. 

It started with a breakfast date with one of my dearest friends. What is it about feeling heard AND understood by someone that just makes life better? If you have someone who listens to you and gets you, you're pretty lucky. I definitely am. 

Then it was on to my hometown, where the beau and I had lunch with an old friend who is performing part of our marriage ceremony. Some of the time was spent catching up, and some was spent just chatting about marriage in general and what it all means. It's nice to be able to connect with someone who knew you at age 14 and still loves you in spite of it! 

Later, I got a wonderful visit from the mother of my preschool bestie. My friend lives in California now, but I've remained close with his family through the years and it was such a treat to visit with his mom and catch up. We have a lot of common interests and having an uninterrupted hour to discuss them was heavenly. 

Then it was off to the hairdresser for a trial run of my wedding day hair-do. I have to admit, this was the first time I've ever had my hair professionally styled....I wasn't sure what to expect. But the stylist came highly recommended and the entire experience was great. We settled on a style that I really liked and I got more comfortable with the whole veil scenario (which is kind of awkward the first time). 

Then my mom (who I rarely get to spend quality time with) and I hung out for a bit and ended up attending a dance recital for my other bff's 8 year old daughter. 

As she took the stage for the first time, I thought about the day she was born. My friend had invited me to be in the delivery room and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. New life coming into the world. Somebody who just moments before hadn't been part of your reality, and then poof, there they are. As I watched her little personality shine on stage, my eyes filled up with tears. I squeezed my friend's hand to let her know just what a special moment this was.  

I thought about how it hadn't been that long ago we were just silly teenagers in high school. So much of the past 15 years has been a blur, from graduating high school to college and my twenties. Maybe it's because I'm getting married or maybe it's because I'm approaching my mid-thirties but I feel like I've hit a big wall in some ways. Like I finally realize life is just about the people who matter to us. And I don't want to miss anything important in the lives of those folks who are important to me. 

Is this normal? Do other people figure this out much earlier and I'm just a late bloomer? You don't have to answer...these are just hypothetical questions. However, if you have any wisdom to impart, please feel free to share! 

Have you ever had a day like this? When all things point you towards a feeling of wholeness and you are convinced you could die happy right there on the spot? 

April 9, 2015

Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day - Easy Projects for the Family to Enjoy Together

Earth Day takes place each year on April 22. Whether you consider yourself to be environmentally conscious or not, Earth Day matters. We all share this beautiful planet. Why not take some time to really appreciate and celebrate it?

If you'd like to celebrate Earth Day this year, here are three simple ideas that you might enjoy making with your family.

Citrus Bird Feeders 

I ran across this idea here and thought my backyard birds would probably love it....was I right! Such an easy project that the entire family can help with. 

All you need to create cute citrus birdfeeders is some type of fruit (I used large pink grapefruit), birdseed, oats, peanut butter and a little oil. Scoop out the fruit from each half. Then mix together the birdseed, oats, pb & oil. Spoon it into the citrus halves and use twine to hang them from your nearest tree. 

You can refill the fruit halves over and over again and eventually, everything goes back to nature. So cute! 

Pretzel Trees 

Earth Day is a great opportunity to start conversations about conservation. While making trees out of pretzels doesn't necessarily help the earth, it can give you a way to start talking to your family and friends about how to think more earth-minded. 

Plus, these treats are just so adorable! For the full how-to, check out this fun blog. 

All you need are pretzel sticks and candy melts. And it's just that simple. Seriously. Take this opportunity to spread some earth love today! 

Eggshell Seed Starters 

Spring is here and the time for planting is upon us. I love gardens but don't really have room for lots of plants in my small condo. Still, I enjoy starting and tending to seedlings for transplanting later on. 

Eggshells are a great way to start seeds. All you need are clean, eggshell halves, potting soil and seeds and voila! Seedlings! Once they begin to grow, you can transplant them to a garden or larger container. The eggshells provide some nutrients to your young plants as they decompose and until then, they look so stinking cute! 

These are just three simple ways you can focus on the earth around us. There are plenty of others that have a greater impact...but it requires creativity and willingness to try! What other ways does your family celebrate Earth Day?

April 8, 2015

Heaviness & Light

What is it about love that both weighs you down and helps you fly at the same time? This week has been tough. After the passing of our boy Leon Spears (the greatest dog who ever lived) on Easter, I've felt sort of in a fog. There's plenty of good stuff to enjoy and look forward to as our wedding quickly approaches, but I still feel such a heavy sadness.

In my Tuesday yoga class, I shared how I was feeling with my teacher and she was very sensitive about the whole situation, taking me through poses and postures that are supposed to increase joy.

During our final relaxation (my favorite part of the class), she asked me if I'd like to have some heavy sandbags to rest on my abdomen. At first it seemed weird, but once I settled in and let myself get lost in the moment, it was nice.

I thought about how loss is like that sometimes....a heaviness that sits squarely across your gut, holding you down, making each breath more difficult than it should be.

To some people, the loss of an animal might not warrant such grief. Clearly those people never had a pet like Leon.

But loss is loss is loss. Whenever someone is dear to you and they go away, there's a sense of missing. When you love someone, it's like you're connected by an unbreakable invisible thread. No matter how far they might be or how long it's been since you saw them, the connection remains intact.

The spirit is such an incredible thing. We think the body matters so much, but really it's just the temporary house for something way more important.

I think the heaviness of loss can be good because it reminds us of just how connected we are to the ones we love. And there's a certain lightness that comes with that too...because when someone we love leaves this world, it takes one end of that invisible string into another realm. So there's a constant battle between sinking into the heaviness and allowing ourselves to float up to a place where we might begin to fly.

April 5, 2015

Obituary for Leon Spears

Leon Otis Spears, ten years old, of Knoxville, Tennessee passed over the rainbow bridge and into the arms of Jesus on a glorious Easter Sunday, April, 5, 2015.

A mixed breed dog, Leon had a beautiful black coat that shined and spots of white that gleamed in the sun. He had magnificent touches of the purest pink around his cheeks and nose and on his underside. Leon self-identified as a boxer, but unlike traditional boxers, he had a long majestic black tail with a tiny bit of purest white on the tip that whipped anything in its wake. According to one kindly man Leon met at yard sale, he was definitely 7/8 boxer. Maybe.

Leon's birthplace is unknown, but at or around the end of his first year of life, his home was Young Williams Animal Shelter on Division Street in Knoxville. At that time he was going by the name Frost and had been at the shelter for nearly 28 days, meaning he was near the end of the road if not adopted. But God had other plans.

On January 2, 2006, a naive girl visited the shelter seeking a dog to adopt. She didn't then fully understand the magnitude of this decision or how her choice would alter the course of her life, her heart and her family forevermore.

In the small room where that first meeting took place, she was struck by the pup's big dark eyes, turned up "pig" nose and cheerful demeanor. As he pressed his full body weight against her, tail thumping like mad, it was clear this dog was the one.

Leon was forced to spend at least two additional days at the shelter for a procedure that was not pleasant, but mandatory as required by the adoption facility as a way to control the pet population.

On the day he was to be officially adopted (aka his 'gotcha day'), his new mom had to attend a new adoptee orientation class and fill out necessary paperwork before standing in a long line with other folks who were adopting pets. When Leon Otis Spears stepped through the doors into the front lobby of the shelter, there was a collective gasp as each person murmured "that's the cutest dog I've ever seen."

Leon was brought home for the first time in a 1997 Ford Explorer that proved to be the source of much joy in his life, both for trips around town, to the park and across the state to see his family.

Like a prisoner set free, Leon nee Frost blossomed in his new life like a flower turning its face toward the sun.

Several health-related set-backs had the potential to derail his happiness as he was stricken with the mange early on, but in the face of all obstacles, as he would for the next decade, Leon met each situation with joy, gratitude and dignity.

In his early years, he had several important role models to help shape his character, including his uncle Commodore, a wise black lab; a sister Zelda who constantly encouraged him in every sort of mischief; a cat Scarlett who treated him with general disdain; and his brother from another mother, Jordan, a boxer/lab mix who lived next door.

Important human companions in Leon's life include his former co-worker and best buddy Reid; dear friend and futon companion Mr. Henry and Aunt Terry who always moved aside in the good-natured way so Leon could get to Mr. Henry faster.

Leon's life was full of adventure, including one memorable boating excursion with his buddy Jordan's family. He traveled to exotic locales such as Cookeville, Tennessee, Murfreesboro, and Cleveland. Highlights of each trip included seeing cows alongside the road, stopping at drive-thru windows for special treats, and having the entire backseat of the car to himself for stretching out.

He was employed for a time in the University of Tennessee's Art Department but was let go for undisclosed reasons (there was talk of discrimination of the species variety).

Leon then flourished in his new role as HR Director of Screen Door Media where he supervised one employee, Mister Phillip.

One might say Leon and Mister Phillip had an adversarial relationship, but deep down each loved the other in a unique way. Some of Leon's fondest memories of Mister Phillip would probably be when he had to pick up his poop and keeping him company during horror movie marathons. Prior to his passing, Leon was very much anticipating his momma's upcoming wedding to Mister Phillip and had finally come to terms with the fact that he would have to share his king-sized bed with his new dad from hence forth.

Other special friends to enter Leon's life would include Bentley, a 12-year old rescued Yorkie, and Donatella, a box turtle with an approximate age of 40 years old.

In early 2014, Leon was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a condition that causes nerve damage. Even after losing the use of both back legs, Leon's spirit was always strong and his positive attitude never wavered over the next year.

He left the world surrounded by his family and was laid to rest in the middle of a green pasture at his great-great grandparents' farm in Baxter, Tennessee.

Leon is survived by his Gramma Cindy and Grandpa Burton, an uncle Will and aunt Camille, Mister Phillip and his beloved Momma.

Said his momma, Kate Spears of Leon: "I never knew my heart could hold this much love. I thought I was just getting a dog. I ended up getting a precious companion who looked at me with more kindness, more adoration than I've ever experienced. He increased my capacity to give and receive love and for this, I will always be grateful."

Spears went on to say, "If I had a dollar for every time Leon and I were out in public and someone commented on how cute/sweet/adorable/great-looking he was, I'd be rich many times over. He spread joy everywhere he went. He lived a life of joy and it made the world a better place...or at least my world." 

"Loss of a dear friend is devastating, but I'm so glad I never have to face the reality of a life without ever knowing Leon. I'll always carry him in my heart." 

My Sweetest Friend

I'll be kind, if you'll be faithful
You be sweet and I'll be grateful
Cover me with kisses dear
Lighten up the atmosphere
Keep me warm inside our bed
I got dreams of you all through my head
Fortune teller said I'd be free
And that's the day you came to me

Come to me my sweetest friend
Can you feel my heart again
I'll take you back where you belong
And this will be our favorite song
Come to me with secrets bare
I'll love you more so don't be scared
When we're old and near the end

We'll go home and start again

March 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

DIY Cleaners for the Bathroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIY Cleaners for the Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

March 19, 2015

Thursday Three: Yoga & Jesus, Strange Wedding Traditions and De-Cluttering Your Home

I frequently see bloggers who regularly post a round-up of interesting links they stumble upon from across the Internet. Sometimes I click these links and sometimes I don't...depending on what they are.

Usually I'd rather hear from the bloggers themselves, as opposed to being directed to some other article or post. Sometimes, it's a great way to find out about different things that are going on or to find information I might not have found on my own.

I certainly don't think that everything I find interesting is of interest to you...but some of it could be.

I'm not sure if this is something I'm going to do regularly, but today I have three links for you that might be of interest.

The first one, I stumbled upon while doing a Google search of this phrase: "Should Christians Practice Yoga?" As a Christian who has been doing yoga, I know what I believe about this. But I was pretty surprised to find lots of folks in Internet land who are against it. Besides that, I know several folks in real life who are anti-yoga.

This article doesn't dig too far into it, but I love the imagery it evokes and since Easter is coming, I thought it was apropos.

The next one was sent to me by my best friend in California. It contains some silly origin stories about wedding traditions. I'm not much of a stickler for tradition and I'm not at all superstitious, but these are fun to read. My bridesmaids all have different dresses so we'd be out of luck in Ancient Rome, and my beau has a bad back and won't be carrying me across any thresholds (unless I get a running start and leap really high). You might get a kick out of them.

And finally, the last link is to an article in NY Magazine about how when you're raised not to be wasteful and save things for a rainy day, it's hard to de-clutter. I struggle with this concept all the time...why get rid of something when it's "perfectly good?" Just something to consider.

March 16, 2015

A Job Well Done

Do you ever feel like what you're doing doesn't matter? Do you think about the way you spend your days, your hours, your minutes, and what it all means?

Sometimes I think we try too hard to see the big picture and other times we can't see it big enough. One of the things I love most about the south is how we put so much meaning into everything we do, but maybe this also serves as a stumbling block.

Nothing is ever as simple as what it seems.

I have a friend who is always pushing me to do more with this blog. It's just her nature to be a pusher...and thank goodness for it because don't we all need someone like that in our lives? She has grand ideas and big dreams for me and Southern Belle Simple....whether that looks like writing a book down the road, or something else.

And I have grand ideas and big dreams for Southern Belle Simple too. Sometimes.

And sometimes I just want to go about my business writing a little blog in this teensy tiny corner of the Internet. And who cares if anyone reads it or not?

When I spent some time with my friend recently, she was doing her usual pushing (seriously, it's all coming from a place of love) and I pushed back a little, saying to her that I don't care about taking things to the next level...what if I'm perfectly happy just doing my thing?

My grandpa went to work at age 16 for the Kroger grocery store in my small hometown, where he was started out sweeping floors. Over the never nearly 40 years, he worked his way up to being the head butcher. He went to work every day and cut meat. There were folks in the town who came to him specifically because of the way he met their butchering needs. In fact, the grandfather of one of my dearest friends never let a chance pass to tell me how my grandpa always took care of him at Kroger. And of course my grandpa remembered his order exactly, an eye of round roast.

There was nothing flashy or glamorous about my grandpa's daily routine. I'm sure he never got paid what he was worth and I'm sure he didn't get any real perks. But I know he took pride in doing a job well done. And that was enough for him.

From him, I learned the importance of hustling, that is, working hard to seize every opportunity that comes along. While his career certainly had its challenges, I am pretty sure he had a feeling of accomplishment in serving others and making sure they had what they needed.

My grandpa's job wasn't who he was, it was just something he did. And even though he did it well, it didn't define him as a person.

But nowadays, so often it feels like we are defined by what we do. Or more often, what other people think about what we do. I've been caught on that hamster wheel for sure.

Sometimes I think about just how insignificant I am....and then other days I feel so burdened to try and make a difference with this great opportunity I've been given.

There's honor to be had in doing a job well done. Even if it sometimes seems small and insignificant.

I like to think that when we're born, there's a small space for us in the world. And as we grow and become who we are meant to be, we will stretch out into that space, filling it and hopefully pushing past its boundaries to really challenge ourselves.

Life goes by so fast. The longer I'm alive, the less I realize I understand. And that's okay.

Whatever happens, if it means something to you, it matters.

Drink it Up: A Honey of a Cocktail

I had the most delightful cocktail recently while traveling and I just had to share! If you aren't familiar with the Fairmont family of hotels, they are pretty special. For example, did you know that Fairmont Hotels have rooftop honeybee hives?

Each property is different, but the Fairmont I've stayed in is located in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. The hotel welcomed 105,000 Italian honeybees to its roof in 2009 and the area is now buzzing with three honey beehives. Not only do the bees enhance the hotel’s culinary program, it also provides a way to foster educational opportunities with local school students.

This spring, about 10 public schools in DC will have their own beehives and students will have a chance to learn about beekeeping and harvesting honey as they experience it firsthand.

We need bees because they are responsible for pollinating more than 80 percent of flowering plants, fruits and vegetables. So it's neat to see organizations doing their part to help. And I did my part to help as well by purchasing the Fairmont Georgetown's signature cocktail "The BeeTini." A portion of the proceeds from the drink support the DC Junior Beekeepers initiative.

You should definitely make this lovely drink...or better yet, if you have the chance to visit DC, try one at the Fairmont!

Fairmont Georgetown BeeTini

- 2oz Finlandia vodka
- 3/4 oz Sauza Tequila
- 1/2 oz lemon juice
- 1/2 oz honey syrup spoonful of honeycomb
- Optional lemon or lime wedge

Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice Shake for six seconds Strain while pouring into a martini glass Garnish with a spoonful of honeycomb A lemon or lime wedge may be added for more citrus.

Enjoy! (repeat as necessary!)

March 14, 2015

Returning to Possibility

Recently, I did some traveling for work. Even though some parts of the experience were a little hectic (cancelled flights, weather woes, an unexpected night spent in a city that was neither my destination nor my point of departure), the trip went pretty well.

Getting ready for a trip can be such an exciting thing. Especially if it's a trip you're looking forward to taking. Visiting a new place, seeing different people, and enjoying unique cuisine all add to the sense of adventure it brings...even if the trip for business instead of pleasure.

I love the city I call home, but I also love to travel and experience life from a new perspective. I'm a chronic people-watcher so I always enjoy getting the chance to observe different folks doing what they do. Sometimes I get so focused on my own little daily routine, I can forget that there's a whole big world out there with all sorts of folks who are also focused on their daily routines. When I travel, I'm always reminded of this.

Heading to the airport, bags packed and money in pocket, it felt like something different was on the horizon. A change of scenery, a change of pace, a change of routine can be so good for the soul.

Breakfast in a fancy hotel restaurant, with your own pot of coffee and a thick Sunday New York Times. Crisp linens that I didn't have to launder. My toiletries, neatly lined up along a marble bathroom vanity. A penthouse view of a bustling city. Tiny bottles of shampoo and lotion that magically reappear new & filled each day. A fully stocked bar and gift shop, only an elevator ride away. Someone else who pays the water bill on a giant sparkling tub perfect for bubble baths.

These are just a few of my favorite things about traveling.

My trip was quick, but it gave me the chance to see some things, meet some folks and experience a different setting. And that stirred up something in my creative spirit.

After finishing my last business meeting, I hailed a cab near Washington D.C.'s Union Station and headed to Reagan airport for my flight back to Tennessee.

During the cab ride, I started thinking about traveling and returning home. There's something about travel that gives me a renewed sense of possibility. But it's really more about coming home than it is being somewhere else. After coming home from a trip, I almost feel like I have been given a fresh start. Like it's New Year's Day or something.

Our lives are totally what we make of them. Each minute of each day. Granted, there are plenty of things that are out of our control, but the important stuff (like what we believe and how we treat each other) is ours alone.

You don't have to fly to far away lands to gain a new perspective on things, but sometimes it does help. Albert Einstein said that there are only two ways live life....either everything is a miracle or nothing is.

I like to say that every day is an adventure. In fact, I've had this motto for many years. We can wake up each day and see the opportunities as a great adventure we get to have.

Or we can see it as a never-ending list of tasks we must slog our way through, just barely surviving, always holding our breaths, waiting for the next escape.

Which do you choose?

March 12, 2015

Fun Staycation Ideas that are Simple & Affordable

Spring means spring break, but not everyone gets to fly away to some tropical paradise. If like me, you are spending your spring break as you would any other week, why not look at it as an opportunity for a fun Staycation?

So what if many of your friends are traveling to someplace fabulous. You can still have a blast staying home...all you need to do is think outside the box.

One great idea for a staycation is to have an impromptu party. I'm sure you have other pals who are not traveling and if you get together with them, it will definitely take the sting out of your being stuck at home.

But not just any old party will do...get creative and throw a Swap Party for your pals. Not only is it a great excuse to clean out your closet and home, but it's a free chance to get some new (to-you) stuff!

How to Throw a Swap Party 

First, you'll want to decide who to invite. Choose enough people that there's plenty of opportunity for variety in the items up for swap, but not too many that it becomes chaos.

Specify what types of items you want the swap to include. Clothing might get tricky unless everyone is around the same size, so I think accessories might make a good swap. This could include fashion accessories like jewelry, scarves, and handbags as well as accessories for the home like photo frames, book-ends, and vases.

Once you've settled on your guest list, extended invites and decided on specifics for the party, it's time to get down to the details of how the swap will work.

The best way to keep a swap party fair is to make sure everyone brings roughly the same number of items and that they are also in good condition. Make it clear in your invitation that this isn't the time to pawn off ratty old things. It's more a chance to pass along gently used items that you don't have much use for anymore.

One way to manage the swap is by using a point system. Larger, more expensive items could be worth more points and everyone can get points to shop with based on what they bring. You could also have the swap be for like items. For example, if you bring a purse, you get to take a different purse home. But this might take more planning to ensure that there are enough of the same types of items to go around.

Ultimately, it's just a fun way to spend some time with friends and hopefully gain a few new things at the end of the evening.

Serve some snacks and maybe a signature cocktail to make it more memorable!

Tropical Cocktails - Not Just for Vacation Anymore! 

Even if you aren't beaching it for Spring Break, there's nothing that says you can't bring a bit of the tropics to you! Another way to enjoy a staycation is to make up a batch of fruity share or keep to yourself.

Come home from work and unwind while channeling your inner beach goddess.

It could be something simple using whatever you have on hand. I recently mixed up some Simply Raspberry Lemonade with Vodka for a great little martini I'm going to start calling the Tropi-Tini Raz-Bikini. Seriously...try to say that without giggling.

Rim your glass with a little colorful sugar, add a paper umbrella and you'll swear you were somewhere warm and sandy! Okay, maybe not. But a staycation is still just as good a reason as any to sip a fruity cocktail! 

Challenge Yourself 

Finally, look at your staycation as a chance to get some things in order. Maybe there's a big project you've been putting off, but would like to complete. 

Or what if you just need to set some new goals and create new routines to help yourself achieve them? 

Another fun staycation challenge is to finally tackle some of the projects and recipes you've pinned to Pinterest. Do you ever feel like you pin and pin, but never actually make or do any of the stuff? I challenged myself to make a couple recipes for fun St. Patrick's Day treats I had pinned last year but never got around to making. 

There's just something so satisfying about challenging yourself and rising to the task, only to be able to check that thing off your list as complete. Maybe it's just me, but I like this sense of accomplishment. While it might not be as glamorous as a Caribbean cruise, everything is relative....and as my grandpa loves to say: "All you get out of life is what you enjoy." If you enjoy crafting or baking, or hiking or anything else, I hope you'll take some time to do that stuff! 

And when your friends come back from Cozymel with all sorts of stories to tell, you'll have plenty of your own to share of your staycation adventures!

March 5, 2015

Resident Birds

Each year, when winter winds begin to blow, I like to feed the birds. I always intend to put out birdseed for wild birds every month of the year, but you know what they say about the road to Hell being paved with the best of intentions. However, when it's really cold out, I know that food is scarce and I try to keep my feeder filled.

It's a way I honor the memory of my great grandmother, who also enjoyed feeding birds off her back porch. Her name was Aline (pronounced al-een), but I called her 'Great.'

She was a short, stocky woman with spindly legs and she always wore those little housecoats that zipped up the front, knee-highs that drooped around her ankles, and vinyl house shoes that were meant to look like leather. A native Texan, she was dealt a tough hand in life, but always persevered. Early on, she worked as a cook on the railroad before moving her family to Oak Ridge, Tennessee where my great-grandpa could find work. At that time, Oak Ridge had really just been established and for folks like my great grandparents (both sets on my dad's side), it was the land of Milk and Honey.

As long as I knew my Great, she scrimped and pinched pennies to make ends meet. She was a coupon clipper and a fan of cheap foods like Vienna (Vy-eenie) Sausages. But she always put aside a little extra money to buy me bubble bath from the Avon lady and she always made sure to have money set aside for birdseed. I think of her every time I see a Chickadee because those were her favorites, even though she said they sassed her when she talked to them.

My beau and I enjoy watching our birds gather around our patio to chow down on the food we provide all through the winter. I'm definitely no ornithologist, but I can identify most basic birds (which seems to impress him). We talk about the different species and what they are doing, imagining where they might live and who their bird families are.

A few weeks ago, he asked me about why some birds stick around during the winter while others migrate to warmer climates. I had never really thought about it before, but a few days later, I ran across a magazine article that explained this phenomenon.

Again, I'm no scientist, but I managed to glean this...Some birds are migratory and move to a different location during months of the year when the weather turns cold and food is scarce. Other birds are called resident birds and stick around the same area all year long.

It got me to thinking about how different challenges we face cause us to react. Sometimes things happen that cause circumstances where we just need to walk away for a moment. You've probably experienced that. I certainly have. With wedding planning in high gear, plus life's daily stresses, my beau and I have had to take a couple of time-outs lately to cool down and work out some issues. Eventually, we come back together and talk it out...trying to see where the other is coming from and ultimately remaining committed to one another and the life we are trying to create.

And sometimes, there are challenges in life that cause us to pick up and move. Just like my Great did all those years ago when she wanted a better life for her family. I don't know what their lives might have been like had they stayed in Texas, but I know her son (my grandpa) had a most wonderful experience as a kid and then teenager growing up in Oak Ridge. He was a star football player, had the opportunity to go to college on a scholarship and most importantly of all, it's where he met the love of his life, my grandma.

But what about those times when we need to stay and stick it out. This winter, as I watch those resident birds gather around the feeder on my porch hoping to get a little bit of food, I think about how they are determined to make it another day.

I read where the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been tracking changes in bird migration behaviors and that more and more birds are opting not to migrate at all. Experts aren't sure if this is because of climate issues or the increase of folks who supply birdseed in feeders. I like to think that the birds are getting tougher.

Seasons come and go, we are faced with difficult situations at every turn. Friends and loved ones get sick and pass away, jobs are won and lost, it's so easy to lose sight of our purpose. It's not a matter of if hard times are going to come, but when. And they will. But I want to be one of those resident birds who stick it out through thick and thin. That's the kind of friend I want to be, the kind of wife, the kind of sister and daughter...I don't want to be someone who flies the coop when the going gets tough.

I come from people who faced adversity and lived to tell the tales. My people didn't pack it up and pack it in unless it was really necessary, and then they made the best of all things. If it means doing the hard stuff day after day, hoping for something better, so be it. Eventually the reward will come. When the days are long and the weather warms, all those resident birds will sing a triumphant song...we made it! Another winter and we lived to tell of it. And we'll be there too. Singing along.

March 3, 2015

Engagement Photos by Zach and Sarah Photography - Tennessee

A few weeks ago my beau and I traveled to my hometown for our engagement photo session. With the wedding just around the corner, I felt like we waited too long to do the engagement pictures, plus we'd ended up rescheduling them about five times because of uncooperative weather. 

But the engagement shoot was part of our wedding photo package so we went with it. Other than various snapshots over the years, we don't really have any fancy photos together. Ultimately, I'm glad we ended up doing it because I liked the pictures and I feel like they captured our personalities. 

Sometimes engagement pictures I've seen are so cheesy...we're not really into all that posed stuff. But we had a great photographer (Zach and Sarah Photography) who did a fantastic job making us feel comfortable.

The day of the shoot, we drove all over my small hometown in search of cool spots for photos. It definitely gave me a new perspective on some places I've driven past my entire life. Each time our photographer Zach would see something he liked, we'd pull over and snap a few pics. It was a chilly, sort of overcast day and I wasn't sure how it would all turn out. But I'm pretty happy with them. 

Before too long, we'll have wedding pictures to share...but for now I'm enjoying looking through these. For more pictures by Zach and Sarah, check out their blog!

February 17, 2015

An Open Love Letter to Talbots

It might seem like a crazy thing to write a love letter to a retail clothing store, but maybe I'm just feeling crazy enough to do it.

It all started with my quest for the perfect pair of pants. It was winter in Tennessee, but a sort of on-again, off-again winter with warmer than usual days and temperatures that felt like spring. And I needed some middle of the road professional looking pants I could wear to work for meetings as well as just around town. Not jeans and certainly not anything that might be construed as gym attire.

I had hit up all my usual shopping spots without any luck when I remembered my mom telling me how she had found a great pair of Talbots pants at our local Goodwill. I figured that since I didn't really have time to wait for the perfect pair of pants to appear at my favorite thrift shop, I'd head straight to the source.

This was my inaugural visit to a Talbots store. My first impression was how bright and clean it was, with neat rows of preppy clothing displayed around the walls. The next thing that struck me was how genuinely friendly the staff seemed to be, and how helpful they were.

As someone who mainly shops at thrift stores (and occasionally Target), I tend to forget (or never knew in the first place) what it's like to have salespeople actually pay attention to me and offer to help. Even though that first visit didn't yield the pants I was looking for (I'm so tall!), it made an impact on me.

The next time I stopped by, I took my parents along. My mom was looking for a dress to wear to my wedding and as someone who also mainly shops at thrift stores, she was impressed by how attentive the staff was and just how much they seemed to want to help. She mentioned to the saleslady that one of her favorite pairs of pants were from Talbots and the lady asked "which Talbots store do you usually shop at?" My mom and I looked at each other and smiled, knowing that the answer was none of them.

Anything we've ever had from Talbots (or any other "namebrand" stores) was thrifted. Growing up, we scoured the racks of our local Goodwill (aka GW Boutique) to find J.Crew, gap, and other seemingly fancy labels.

How else would an awkward 7th grader such as myself have gotten  a DKNY fashion week t-shirt? (this was before the internet after all). In all my life the only J.Crew clothes I've ever owned were second hand. My favorite pair of (thrifted) pajamas is from a store called J.Jill and I've never set foot in that establishment. Basically my experience has been that if I couldn't find it at a thrift store, I didn't buy it. And that has its definite benefits, including saving money plus the thrill of the hunt.

But thrift store shopping has its downsides too. If something you love doesn't fit just right, there's never the option of trying it another size. You just have to hope for the best. Finding something great at a thrift store in your size without a huge hole or stain is like having all the stars align.

And the experience of thrift store shopping isn't glamorous at all. If you're lucky, the thrift store has shopping carts. Otherwise, you have to browse while carrying your haul. There may or may not be a dressing room, which may or may not have a door that locks. And nobody waits patiently outside your door (on which they've written your name) to see if you need a different size.

Not so at Talbots. They whisk you into the lovely (well-lit) dressing room where you are checked on again and again to see if you need anything. Sometimes they even bring you clothing they think you might like just for the heck of it! That's how I ended up with a perfect chambray shirt (the last one in my size) which was also on sale (Praise the Lord!).

Then there was my most recent experience at Talbots....the one that cemented the store's place in my heart for all eternity. I needed a denim jacket for a western-themed event I was attending for work. But I didn't want it to look costumey. I figured if I was going to buy something, it might as well be nice enough to wear again and again. I was actually headed to the mall when I thought about Talbots.

Since my time was limited, I decided to call and see if they had anything before stopping by. A friendly salesperson named Katherine answered the phone and told me, "yes they had just gotten some denim jackets in stock and she would hold one in my size." When I arrived at the store, the doors were locked. Apparently they closed well before I called, but since they knew I was on the way, they waited for me. Not only that, but Katherine also gave me great advice about my purchase and offered me a special promotional price that was set to begin the next day.

Such a positive experience! I left there thinking about how I wanted to write a blog post about it, but got busy and moved on to something else. Then this week I received the loveliest handwritten note in the mail from Katherine saying she'd enjoyed helping me and she hoped my event went well. I was floored!

This is what great customer service is all about. It isn't kissing up to someone in the hopes they will buy something. It's about providing them with a service that adds value to their life. It's clear how much that matters at the Talbots in my neighborhood.

I'll probably always enjoy buying some things thrifted. And I might not be able to afford an entire wardrobe of clothing from Talbots. But when I want a certain kind of pleasant shopping experience, I know where I can find it.