October 30, 2014

Last Minute Halloween Treats

Halloween is tomorrow, but there's still time to throw together some last minute tricks and treats. I'm joining the crew from Knoxville's Fox43 to share a few simple ideas for Halloween treats and decorations you can re-create without spending a lot of time or money.

 1) Dracula Doughnuts

This simple treat would be a great addition to your Halloween party snack table. All you need to create it is a dozen doughnuts and some silly Dracula teeth. Insert one set of teeth into a doughnut and voila! You can add candy pieces for eyes if you want. Spooky!

2) Witches Broom Goody Bags

If you want to put together some adorable treat bags for your trick-or-treaters, look no further than these fun witches brooms. For each treat bag, you'll need two small brown paper lunch sacks, a thin stick and some twine.

Cut off the top several inches of one of the brown paper sacks and set it aside (this will be the inner container part of the treat bag). Then shred the other bag from top to bottom in thin strips. Insert the trimmed bag into the bottom of the shredded bag and fill with candy or other treats. Next gather the shredded strips and tie at the top with twine. This is the bottom of the broom. Add the stick as your broomstick for a final touch.

3) Monster Mouth Cookie Sandwiches 

Another tasty Halloween treat that would be fun to make with folks of all ages is monster mouth cookie sandwiches. 

A fun and simple Halloween snack! Take two chocolate chip cookies (I used store-bought in a large size, but if you want to make your own that's fine too). Spread one side of each cookie with frosting (tinted red). Line up six or seven mini marshmallows on one cookie and top with the other cookie to create a spooky smile.

4) Healthy (but adorable) Jack O'Lantern Mandarin Orange Cups

This would be super cute to include in a Halloween lunch. Or you could even give these out to trick-or-treaters since they are sealed safely. It's probably best not to give homemade treats to kids you don't know but these would be fun and sort of healthy! 

5) Elegant White Pumpkins

If ghosts and goblins aren't your style, try this simple pumpkin decorating project to add last minute Halloween style to your home. Decorate small white pumpkins with black sharpie by drawing different shapes and designs. You can also use different colored ink or even spray paint. It's so simple, but makes a bold statement!

For more Halloween fun, here are a few posts from last year. 

Fun & Simple Halloween Decorations on a Budget 
Vintage Halloween Decorations to Make 
Simple Last Minute Halloween Treats to Make and Share 
Halloween Candy Corn Bark 

October 19, 2014

How to Pray Correctly

A few weeks ago, I was house-sitting for some friends in a different city and ended up at a bookstore where Max Lucado was giving a talk. There was a time when he was quite an influence in my life. I grew up reading his devotional books and I even had a Max Lucado study bible. Needless to say when I stumbled upon him in the flesh at Barnes and Noble, I stopped to listen.

He spoke about his latest book, Before Amen and how he views himself as a 'recovering prayer wimp.' I enjoyed hearing him share for a few minutes, but I found myself looking around and what struck me is how many other people had stopped to listen too. I watched them hang on his every word, most looking very attentive.

For people who believe in God and seek any kind of connection with Him, I guess we're all somewhere along the journey of finding the answer to the question: how to pray. 

I was taught to pray at a young age. First by the example of my family members, and then by Sunday School teachers at my church. I was told to bow my head and close my eyes. Bedtime prayers were learned. We prayed before meals too.

One well-meaning church teacher made a big poster and hung it in our Sunday School class as a reminder of the order of things when it came to praying.

Down the left side of the poster were the letters P,R,A, and Y. Each letter stood for a word that took us through the prayer process.


As an oldest child with a strong desire to please, I thought this was great! Steps to follow for correct prayer? Yes, please. I would strive to get the order right each time. Start out by praising God. Then, time to ask for His forgiveness. Next, and only after those first two crucial steps could I make my requests known. Finally, yield....one I never really understood in the context, but still attempted each time I prayed.

But then as I got older, I started to question things.

How much praise is enough before I can move on to repenting? 
What if I forget to repent for something before I ask? 
Will my requests be answered if and only if I find the perfect combination of praise and repentance? 
What if I think of something else to repent about while I'm yielding? Do I have to start the entire process over again? 

I worried that I wasn't praying the right way. Then I got stressed out about it. I'd end up not wanting to pray at all for fear of the damage it might cause in not doing it correctly.

Then I went through a whole phase where I thought God was probably mad at me because I hadn't prayed in a long time. So I went even longer without talking to God.

Can you relate?

I don't know what changed exactly or what I learned, but one day I realized it didn't have to be that way anymore. I felt in my heart that the "God stuff" is more about the relationship we have than me getting anything right.

So, in essence, even asking the question "how to pray correctly" is unnecessary.

Think about it like this. Have you ever thought about the correct way to talk to your best friend?

Do you have protocol for when they answer your telephone call? Of course not. You probably don't say "hi, this is so-and-so speaking."

When I call my best friend, sometimes I say "hey, it's me." Or sometimes I start off the conversation by saying "OMG you will not believe this!" Sometimes I don't even call...I just send a quick text. And I don't start it out by saying "Oh my most precious dear friend so-and-so, please allow me to share my feelings about the day."

When you have a closeness with somebody, none of that stuff is required.

Sometimes the only communication between friends is a shared BuzzFeed quiz on Facebook that you know he will think is hilarious. And that's all he needed to know exactly what the message was meant to be.

And this is exactly how it can be with God. A prayer can be a long beautiful love letter written in your best handwriting. Or it can be a single word yelled in anger. We don't have to hold anything back from God. He can take it.

Sometimes a prayer is nothing more or less than a breath.

There's no correct way to pray. As long as what you're saying or feeling is true.

There's a lot I don't understand. But I know God wants to hear from us. Don't get hung up on whether you're doing it right. Just do it. You won't be sorry.

October 16, 2014

Simple DIY Projects for a Fall Wedding

Fall is a popular time for weddings, but all brides don't have unlimited budgets to work with. What's a fall bride to do? DIY of course! I'm joining my friends from WTNZ Fox43 to share some simple and affordable DIY options for a fall wedding.

One wedding must-have is flowers, and fall lends itself to some gorgeous color palettes. Wedding flowers can really eat up a big chunk of a bride's budget, but while a bride might not want to scrimp on her bouquet, there's no reason you can't cut corners for men's boutonnieres. I'm not a fan of silk flower for brides, but there are ways you can work them into your event. First, I'm sharing how to make fun and simple bouts on a budget.

DIY Fall Wedding Boutonnieres 

Depending on your colors and style, brides can get really creative with boutonnieres. First, I visited a local craft supply store to check out its dried and artificial floral selection.

This can be overwhelming because of all the options, but just choose things that strike you. I always err on the side of simple vs. flashy, especially since the men's flowers shouldn't distract from the bride's and her attendants.

To make DIY fall wedding boutonnieres, you'll need:
  • Silk flowers (your choice)
  • Floral tape & wire
  • Wire cutters 
Now, just get creative. Snip a few stems and blossoms and play with it until you get a look that you like. Fasten everything together with the wire and then wrap the stem in the floral tape. Voila! Everything shown cost less than 10 dollars and you could create multiple boutonnieres from one bunch of silk flowers.

Mismatched Vintage Wedding China for a Fall Wedding 

Next, think about your table decorations. A popular trend with weddings is using mismatched vintage china, but unless you are a serious dish collector, it's hard to gather enough.

The great thing is that these days, there are companies that specialize in this service by renting vintage china in a variety of colors and patterns.

The ones I'm showing are borrowed from Colleen Munyan at Unique Settings.

Unique Settings is a company that offers mismatched china rentals to brides in Knoxville as well as around East Tennessee. With tons of gorgeous china patterns to choose from in a variety of sizes, there are styles and colors for every bride's taste and budget. Plus Unique Settings delivers and picks up everything to and from your venue. Colleen at Unique Settings offers table styling services as well.

vintage china for wedding table

What I love most about the idea of using vintage mismatched china for a wedding is the history behind it. Each piece has a story and brings a new level of depth and meaning to a wedding. In the south, we put a whole lot of meaning into what we do and I wouldn't have it any other way. 

The other thing I love about this practice is that it gives new life to old dishes that otherwise might have been relegated to dusty attics and/or thrift store shelves. So often, I'll see one beautiful plate while thrift store shopping, but can't bring myself to buy it because it isn't part of a set. 

Colleen from Unique Settings gets to give vintage china and other dishes a new sense of purpose. Plus, there are so many different patterns and possible combinations, no other bride would ever have your exact same tablescape. 

[**Shameless plug - Colleen at Unique Settings was so sweet to let me borrow some of her wares for the segment and I wanted to share a link to her IndieGoGo site where she's trying to raise funds to attend the upcoming Pink Bride show in Knoxville. Pass it on!]

using mismatched vintage china for wedding table

DIY Wedding Favors for a Fall Wedding 

My final DIY fall wedding project is wedding favors. Call me old fashioned, but I'm still a fan of the simple matchbook, with gold embossed names. But today's brides have taken wedding favors to the next level and beyond!

I don't care for favors that require you to do anything (i.e. seeds to plant, etc.). Besides the basic matchbook, I like favors that are edible in nature.

One simple fall wedding favor is to create spiced tea mix and put it in small individualized jars. Include a tag that says something like "Love is the Spice of Life." You could always make that quintessential spice tea mixture I enjoyed growing up (complete with Tang and red hots candy). Brides could even buy pre-made drink mix in bulk. For the segment, I used a store-bought chai mix that smelled heavenly.

Another great (easy and cheap!) fall wedding favor is small bags of caramel popcorn. You could include a note that says "Love Always Pops Up" and pass these out to your guests as they leave. Popcorn is available in so many varieties and flavors. You can find good quality popcorn in bulk also. If you want to make your guests work for it, give them un-popped corn instead.

I'm in the middle of planning my wedding, but it's not happening until spring. There's a special place in my heart for a fall wedding, but our venue is so popular, it was already booked up for fall. We were happy to get the date we did!

Are you a fan of wedding DIY? No bride wants to be stressed out on her big day, but saving a little moolah always lowers my blood pressure. Here's to the next wedding you help plan...hope it's lovely!

October 13, 2014

Criticizing vs. Creating: We Get to Choose

Have you ever known somebody who was really critical of other people? No matter what good there was to be celebrated or enjoyed, they zero in on the negative and give it all their focus. Maybe you've been that person. I know during certain times in my life (or when I'm around certain people), I've definitely let my critical streak run rampant. 

It's a vicious cycle if you think about it. We start out feeling bad about something in our life...maybe we feel less than or lacking in some area. So we criticize someone else as a way to make ourselves feel better. But doesn't it always leave us feeling worse? I know it does for me. 

Recently, I had dinner with a group of blogger acquaintances and it made me sad to hear some of the stories they shared about scathing criticism they've received from readers, co-workers, etc. about things they had written on their blogs (or the fact they had a blog at all). 

Did you know there are online forums where anonymous haters can make snarky comments and other criticisms about blogs they love to hate? I'm embarrassed to say I've visited them in the past for pure entertainment value. But why is tearing each other down entertaining? 

Even though I never posted anything, my reading those sites is basically the same as me sitting quietly while someone tears down another person with his words. I wouldn't stand idly by while someone bad-mouthed my best friend...yet it feels so much harder to do anything about anonymous internet trolls. 

But again, I think it goes back to the cycle of feeling badly --> saying mean things in an attempt to make someone else feel badly --> and then feeling badly about yourself again. 

When you're stuck on that roller coaster, it's hard to get off. 

So what's the remedy for being less critical? 

Create something. Anything. Just create. 

I know it seems simple and that's because it is. 

Whether it's a delicious meal for your family or a little doodle on your desk calendar. An epic poem or a batch of homemade laundry soap. Just make something of your own. 

Creativity displaces criticism because it opens up a world of possibilities where you feel like you can make things happen. And in that world, you are free to explore your own talents and gifts instead of picking apart the gifts and talents of others. 

Besides, being critical of what someone else created takes about one tenth of the effort of actually creating something yourself. It's easy to stand back (in the shadows of the Internet, no less) and throw barbs at others. 

What's hard is getting up each day and pushing yourself to create something of your own. 

I'm a big fan of author Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) and I'd be willing to bet that criticizing others is a form of the resistance he's so keen to point out. When all your energy is going toward tearing someone else down, there's little time to spend lifting yourself (or somebody else) up.

I would rather fail a hundred times trying to do something my heart was fully committed to than sit back and do nothing, while snarking about the shortcomings of others. Wouldn't you? 

October 5, 2014

Why People are Friendlier in Small Towns

I just read the most interesting op-ed from the LA Times. It posed the idea that the rudeness we have come to expect from people in our everyday interactions has to do with the fact that our societies have gotten too big. Apparently there is science behind the thought that as we live in larger and larger communities where we don't really know each other, our civility decreases.

What interested me most about this is that it pretty much applies scientific thinking to what most of us in the south have always known....folks in smaller communities are friendly.

I'm not saying this only applies to the south, but that's my point of reference (not to mention the focus of this blog). And there are absolutely some terribly rude southerners (just as there are rude people everywhere). But friendliness in small southern towns is just not an anomaly.

According to the LA Times article, people in smaller communities are friendlier because their reputation depends on it. When you feel known and respected in your community, you're more likely to behave better towards people. And alternately, I guess being surrounded by strangers means you don't care as much about protecting your reputation.

Growing up in the small town of Cookeville, Tennessee, being surrounded by strangers was a foreign concept for me. It's not like it was Mayberry or anything, but I just can't remember a time of venturing out and not running into someone who knew me or my family.

Even now when I go back to visit (after living in Knoxville for nearly 14 years!), I always see a familiar face. Maybe it's my preschool teacher or someone my mom used to work with, or somebody I went to church with growing up or maybe a member of my own family. I like to think I would try not to be rude no matter where I am, but the idea of displaying that type of behavior in front of someone who has known me all my life gives me a bad feeling (thus demonstrating that the science mentioned in the article is true for me).

One of my life's mottos (as coined by my dad who said this to us while we were growing up) is "Remember who you are and where you come from." I'm not just one person out there in the world, but in lots of ways I'm the product of the lives lived by the people who came before me. My grandparents, while far from perfect, stood for things that were honest, good and true. And they tried to instill that in my parents who wanted the same for me.

Ultimately, the biggest takeaway I get from articles like this is the importance of community. For awhile my community in Knoxville centered on my college experience. It was sort of a ready-made community with lots of avenues to be involved and connected. After college, I went through a pretty long period of feeling disconnected because most of the friends I had made moved away and I stayed. I had to work really hard to meet people and find new ways to connect and create community. And it's probably just been the last two or three years where I have really felt more plugged in.

It doesn't matter where we go or who we encounter (whether strangers or family), we still have an opportunity to impact the world for good. And it might be something as simple as holding the door for someone.

Maybe you've gone through a transition in life and feel disconnected. I hope that's not the case, but if it is, I want to encourage you. You are not alone. There are other people out there who want to hear your stories, and will laugh at your jokes. Don't spend another day believing the lie of alone.

As we each realize our value (to God, to each other, to our communities), rudeness becomes less of an issue because we are free to love each other instead. And I believe that can happen in communities of every size. But I'm always going to be grateful I grew up in small town. I've been lucky to travel all over the world, but I always love going back home. There's something about being known that gives a kind of comfort anonymity can't hold a candle to.

October 2, 2014

How to Throw a DIY Pizza Party

Did you know October is National Pizza Month? There aren't many people who don't love a good slice. Today I'm sharing some simple tips for hosting your own DIY Pizza Party!

1) Decorations for a DIY Pizza Party

There's a certain feeling you get in a good pizza parlor, so when you host a DIY pizza party at home, you might want to try and incorporate some of those elements. Red and white checkered table cloths are great, plus votive candles in red glass containers.

I'm a sucker for cute penant garland so I created one using cardstock. You could also find a fun printable and go that route. 

You might also want to set the mood with pizza themed music. I found some crazy songs that are all pizza-related, so click here or here if you want to check those out. 

2. DIY Pizza Kits

Next, you'll probably want to think about food. There are lots of ways to host a DIY Pizza Party and none of them are particularly difficult. 

One option that was inspired by a friend of mine is to have a "Clean out the fridge" pizza party. Pull out all your leftovers, including jars with just a little dab of this or that, and let your family go to town creating unique (and potentially wacky) pizza combinations. 

Pickles and peanut butter? Why not! Leftover veggies? Throw 'em in! If you think about the latest crazes in gourmet and artisan pizza pie, there's probably a combination that will work for just about anything. 

You can make your own dough from scratch or grab a quick-baking mix. There's also the option of ready-made crusts. Or why not branch out from the norm and try using pita or naan bread. You can find some great options at your local market. 

When having guests, the simplest ideas can be received with the biggest wow factor when you pay attention to presentation. Instead of just stacking the possible ingredients on the kitchen counter, divide them up into little bowls or containers. This helps create a more visual impact and makes your guests feel like things were personalized just for them.

3) Dessert Pizza 

Finally, you'll want some sweet element at your DIY Pizza Party. At first, I was thinking of making one large dessert pizza...because there are some great possibilities there (giant chocolate chip cookie, various toppings, etc.). But then I decided to go with a sweet treat that was more individual. 

Tiny sweet pizzas! The base is a sugar cookie, then you top with frosting (tinted red) and some white chocolate shavings. Add a few red candy pieces and voila! These would be so fun for the kiddos too, especially if you let them assemble the cookie pizzas.

Hosting parties and entertaining guests doesn't have to be over the top, expensive or hard to be fun! I hope you got a little inspiration for the next party you're planning to throw! Happy Thursday friends!

October 1, 2014

Fall Fantasies: #SmellsClean

My southern beau likes to joke that my super power is empathy, and he's sweet to say that. But the truth is, my real super power is my sense of smell. I'm challenged in the vision department, having worn coke bottle thick glasses (and sometimes contact lenses) since kindergarten and I've heard of how people can have a sense that grows stronger to make up for where another is weak. 

Maybe that explains my crazy sensitive nose. I smell everything without even trying. People's perfume or deodorant. The kind of laundry detergent or fabric softener someone uses. Cleaning products. I'm just really aware of the smells around me. Sometimes this is great, but other times it can be a burden. 

Because my sense of smell is so finely tuned, I want to have pleasant smells around me, especially when I'm at home. 

Every time I walk into my home, I take a big whiff which alerts me to what I might find. Maybe it sounds crazy, but I feel conditioned to do this. If the garbage hasn't been taken out or the dog has had an accident, I smell it immediately. 

My beau has tried to break me of my habit of smelling people, at which apparently I'm not as stealthy as I think. It usually goes like this: 

He comes toward me for a hug. We embrace. He hears "sniff, sniff." 

Him: Did you just sniff me? 
Me: Oh, of course not...I was just breathing. 
Him: You totally did. Do I stink? 
Me: Um, no. But I do smell something weird. 

I'm not picking on him, really. But I guess after living alone for nine years, I had gotten used to not having anyone else's smells to contend with. 

Since cooler weather has slowly been making its way into East Tennessee, I've been enjoying open windows and not having to run the air conditioner. But when you've been gone during the day with no air running and the windows shut, the house can smell stale and musty when you first arrive. 

This is exactly what I was faced with yesterday, after being out for the majority of the day. When I got home, it didn't stink exactly, but everything just seemed sort of stale. I immediately opened the windows and lit a couple of candles. 

Candles have always been my go-to for a quick good smell fix. And fall candles are so fun, with their autumny, pumpkin goodness. One I'm really loving right now is Glade's Sage & Thyme Market. 

It isn't overpowering, but after a few minutes of being lit it freshens up my space. And that's after having an old smelly dog, the beau's gym clothes and other potentially odoriffic elements. 

I like to keep different candles on hand, depending on my mood. And I don't like to spend a fortune on a candle either. I've been known to snag some great ones (never even lit!) at yard sales or thrift stores. And sometimes if I'm grocery shopping, I'll cruise the candle selection near the cleaning products. 

I love it when my house is clean, but even when things are a little cluttered, I love it when my house smells clean. I feel happier and more peaceful when my environment is pleasant smelling. Don't you? 

What are your favorite smells of fall? 

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by SC Johnson, A Family Company. All thoughts & opinions are my own.

September 18, 2014

Simple Non-Alcoholic Drink Recipes to Make

I love a delicious cocktail, but sometimes an event (or a person's lifestyle) calls for something non-alcoholic. There's no reason to think that just because alcohol isn't involved you can't serve unique and delicious beverages. This morning, I'm joining those folks at Knoxville's Fox43 to share three simple recipes for delicious non-alcoholic drinks. Check them out!

Simple and Delicious Non-Alcoholic Drinks

1) Power Tea 

This drink would be perfect for tailgating, especially while preparing to cheer on the Tennessee Volunteers. Even if you aren't a Vol for Life, you can still enjoy this tasty concoction. You might want to change the name though! 

Power Tea Recipe: 

Brew 1 gallon iced tea (I used Tazo orange flavored). Stir in 4 cups orange juice. Add 1 liter orange flavored sparkling soda. Stir together, serve with ice and enjoy. 

2) Mocha Madness 

For all those coffee lovers out there, this non-alcoholic drink might give you a little buzz...but caffeine is the only source of its spirit. To create it, brew a pot of coffee. While the coffee is still warm, sweeten it to taste. After it cools, stir in heavy whipping cream to your liking. Some people enjoy a darker coffee, while others enjoy a little coffee in their milk. To this, add two small scoops of mocha ice cream (or mocha gelato). As everything melts together, you get a wonderful mixture! 

This drink would be wonderful for your next book club or game night! 

3) Cheers Darling Hibiscus Mocktail 

This recipe was the simplest of all, but the drink is so refreshing! You start by placing a preserved hibiscus flower in the bottom of your glass. I tried several package stores as well as a gourmet chef's market before finally finding hibiscus at a local grocery store (The Fresh Market).

The blossoms come packed in syrup and sort of taste like raspberry. You can eat them, but I don't think I would. From here, just pour a carbonated drink of some kind over the flower. I used a hibiscus flavored sparkling soda (Onli brand, purchased at Publix). This makes the loveliest drink and so easy!

This could be great for a baby shower or bridal luncheon. Of course if you want to make a more adult version, you could top the hibiscus flower with champagne or another type of sparkling wine.

Cheers, darling! 

September 14, 2014

What I Want

I want to pay more attention, not less.
I want to get wiser instead of smarter. 
I want to listen more and zone out less. 
I want to spend more time with people I love and less time with people I have to impress. 
I want to give of myself, my time, my energy, and my resources without ever worrying that there won't be enough to go around. 
I want to cook beautiful, delicious, decadent meals for my family and never take a single photo for Instagram. 
I want to travel to distant lands, and have new adventures. 
I want to create new inside jokes with old friends. 
I want to eat cold spaghetti out of a bowl while standing in front of my grandma's refrigerator. 
I want to wear my fancy perfume, the one I've been saving for a special occasion. 
I want to stand up straighter. 
I want to laugh 300 times each day. 
I want to create more and consume less. 
I want the days and hours and minutes of my life to count for something. 
I want to do a cartwheel. 
I want to stop judging everybody so damn much. 
I want to stop judging myself most of all. 
I want to send more letters and postcards. 
I want to find an authentic Hermes scarf at a thrift store for ninety nine cents. 
I want to have more picnics
I want to see each person, really see him or her, and quit lumping them all together as some collective 'other.'
I want to learn once and for all that the value of an experience has very little to do with its monetary measure.
I want to accept the past for what it was, realize it's over and let it go.
I want to remind myself that nothing is impossible if you refuse to give up.
I want to make the world's best deviled eggs.
I want to give more than I take.
I want to leave things better than I found them.
I want us to agree that I can want what I want, and you can want what you want and neither cancels out the other.
I want to throw away the rule book and declare us all winners.
I want to remember every day that all of this is worth it.

Now your turn. What do you want? #WhatIWant 

September 11, 2014

Memories of College Days Gone By: Transportation Woes & Blinky

The other morning I found myself stuck behind a school bus while hurrying to a business meeting. It wasn't just any ordinary school bus. The bus I was stuck behind happened to be a University of Tennessee transit bus, one out of a fleet of many like it that zips around campus taking students to and from class or wherever glamorous places they happen to be going.

I found myself reminiscing about my own college days and feeling a tiny bit bitter because we didn't have such fancy (or reliable) transportation.

8 a.m. class on the other side of campus? Back then, it meant waking up extra early and hoofing it [a fancy term for walking]. Nowadays students probably have an app on their smartphones that alerts them to when the bus is coming so they don't have to spend even an extra minute waiting in the elements.

I'll never forget my cousin, who was older by six years, telling me about her first day of college experience. She got up early and put on a cute pair of sandals with her linen walking shorts (people, it was 1994). She said by the time she got to class, she was a disheveled mess complete with blisters, sweaty hair, and other war wounds.

I vowed never to experience this during my college days, but probably took it to the other extreme by wearing stretchy pants and t-shirts way too frequently. Once, while eating lunch with a group of girls from my sorority, a friend glanced my way and asked me, "Didn't you wear that shirt yesterday?"

Without missing a beat, my roommate piped up and said "Yeah, and she slept in it too." Not my finest fashion (or hygiene) moment.

But back to the issue of transportation. It kind of makes me feel like a grandma or grandpa with the proverbial story of walking to school up hill both ways in the snow. "In my day, there weren't any high falutin' buses. We had to walk to class (uphill both ways)."

The thing is, walking was good for us. I actually miss all the walking I did in college. And I enjoyed getting to walk with people, and talk to them while we walked. Nobody had his or her phone out because cellphones were for 'emergencies only' and mainly just used at night, when the free minutes kicked in.

[Another side note - My freshman year of college, I was the only person I knew with a laptop computer and I never once took it to class with me...that's what my spiral bound notebooks were for, duh.]

In so many ways, I'm grateful for what we didn't have back then. I'm grateful there was no social media, no Twitter or Facebook, no Instagram.

[As if! Our Blinky van was never this cool looking]
One thing we did have while I was in college that I doubt still exists on UT's campus is Blinky. Blinky was a 15-passenger Ford van with a blinking strobe light on the roof. This phantom cab of sorts made one wide continuous loop around campus after dark, picking up and dropping off mainly unaccompanied ladies and people on crutches so they wouldn't have to walk unsafely to their destinations. I spent many a night outside my dorm or the dorm of a friend, scanning the horizon for that dimly blinking light, hoping that Blinky was on its way. Blinky drivers really made the experience what it was too, some not speaking a word while others talked your head off, taking each curve on two wheels.

I know these are just silly stories. But there's more to it than that.

Each subsequent generation will have different experiences. And each will probably think they had it harder than the next one. And in some ways maybe that's true. But I know that kids today face different challenges. In many ways, I think it's harder now than ever before.

One day people who haven't even been born will teleport to their college classes and their parents will bemoan the way they used to have to ride only solar powered buses (the audacity!).

But for now, I'll reminisce about the way it was for me. And maybe you have some fond memories about the way things were in your experiences. I hope so!

September 10, 2014

Why You Should Always Marry the Funny Guy

As a bride-to-be, I've spent a lot of time thinking about marriage...what it means, and what it might be like. Even before I was engaged, I thought about it. Heck, before I ever met my beau I thought about it then too.

As a little girl, I sometimes imagined the man I might date and eventually marry. In my teen years, I had a ridiculous list of qualities that I wanted in a mate...written on a sheet of paper torn from a composition book, now lost (thank goodness). I'd be too mortified to read what my 14-year old self sought in a life partner, let alone want to share it with y'all.

Whatever was included in that magical list of must-have qualities, I'm positive I thought it was a combination that would equal true love and happiness.

I'm sure lots of researchers would say there's a science to matchmaking. That based on a thorough list of qualities and personality traits, it can be determined what partner might be best for you. I haven't done online dating but I was always intrigued by how those types of sites pair people up. I've known several couples who met online and are very much in love so I'm not disparaging that method at all, but I just wonder how a computer can determine who might go with whom.

When I first met my beau (soon to be husband), I never considered him to be someone I'd end up dating or potentially marrying. He was friendly enough, but I thought he had terrible fashion. When he finally asked me out on a date, I said yes because it had been so long since I'd had a date and I was caught up in the excitement and terror of getting ready to graduate from college a few weeks later.

Over the next decade, our relationship has deepened and gone through all sorts of wonderful and challenging periods. Hopefully we've both changed for the better. But one thing that has not changed and I hope never will is his ability to make me laugh.

I don't mean the kind of jokes that you politely chuckle at to spare someone's feelings. I'm talking about belly laughs. The kind where you can't believe something could be so funny and you need to say "please stop, it hurts to laugh anymore."

Whether it's something he's doing on purpose to be funny (ask him to tell you about the high society of Birmingham) or just being himself (accidentally using the dog's toothbrush, mixing up the meanings of popular phrases "pigeon hole" vs. "pigeon toe", etc), he never ceases to make me laugh and laugh.

Of course I think he's attractive to look at too, but we all know that looks can change, as can any other physical qualities.

I'm no relationship expert. I've really only had the one so there's not much for me to compare it to, but I know we've been able to laugh our way through some trying times. And I'm certain more challenges are ahead. But it'll be okay. Because we can laugh about them. Eventually.

So if you find yourself looking for a mate, my advice is to find one who makes you laugh. And keep him/her around for the long haul.

August 19, 2014

You've got this. You can do it. Keep going.

I was the first baby born in my mom's group of friends. When I came along, she was only 24, an age that seems increasingly younger and younger the older I get. 24! So young.

She had a tight-knit group of pals who were a big part of my early years. Her childhood best friend has always played a key role and I called her Aunt Becky for a time [sidenote: Is that a southern thing? Calling a family friend "auntie" or "uncle"?] Anyway, I somehow outgrew calling her "aunt" and settled on calling her my godmother. It has more pomp and circumstance, don't you think? We're nothing if not over the top (in the very best way).

My mom had another childhood friend named John, who for some reason I called "Poppin' John." I don't know for sure how this moniker came to be, but I think it had something to do with the Smurfs, or Papa Smurf, or perhaps the popular dish hoppin' John?

The point of this story is that even though many of my mom's girlhood pals have gone their separate ways, many of them still keep in touch. Through the magic of social media, I'm in touch with some of them as well, even if I don't see them as often as I'd like. Poppin' John, who is now just John, shared the most wonderful story today on Facebook and I re-posted it on the SBS Facebook page.

I wanted to share it with you too, in case you don't frequent the social medias or maybe missed it.
John shared how he was taking a run while on a business trip. As he neared his hotel, a lady in a McDonald's parking lot hollered out to him "You got this! You can do it! Keep going!"

He said he was so encouraged that it caused him to run up a hill he didn't think he could have mustered before.

He challenged his Facebook friends to "be the encouragement that somebody needs today." It hit me squarely between the eyes. This is what I want out of life.

Be the encouragement.

If my blog is nothing else but this, I will feel like I've achieved my goal.

I so want to use this space as a place to encourage others. It's not about the Pin-worthy outfits or meals I photograph in just the right light. It's not about the swoon-worthy DIY projects I do or the way every room in my house looks like an Anthropologie catalog. None of these things are even true by the way...my last outfit was a Wal-Mart t-shirt, my last meal was at S&S Cafeteria, I haven't DIY'ed in ages and my house is great, but nothing that a design blogger would gasp about.

So many days, sometimes several times a day I find myself needing to hear the words that lady yelled at Poppin' John. You got this. You can do it. Keep going. 

And my guess is that you do too.

Why do we need to hear this so much? I think it's because we're so hell-bent on believing the worst. That we don't got this. We can't do it. And why not just give up?

Honestly, I feel like giving up sometimes. There are sad things all around us. And it's easy to get dragged down by it all.

But the truth is always true. We were created with a purpose. And while this life seems really hard sometimes, there's always good stuff around the corner. We can expect good things. Because we've got this. We can do it. So let's keep going.

August 18, 2014

Wanting Less

I have a love-hate relationship with magazines. As I type these words, there is a pile of them collecting dust in the next room...some from two and three months back that I haven't yet read. You could say I'm saving them for a day when there's unlimited time to sit and flip through them at leisure (as if that time actually exists in our reality!). 

Or maybe the magazines go unread because sometimes they make me feel sort of funny. Like maybe my life doesn't quite measure up because it doesn't look the way the glossy pages say it should. 

But then sometimes I read something in a magazine that makes me feel oh so encouraged, and not at all like there's anything 'less than' about my experience. More is one of those magazines for me. If you've never read it, I highly recommend it. It seems to have more substance than fluff. 

The latest article that I'm really digging was from the July/August 2014 issue of More, penned by Sandy Hingston. Titled "The joy of wanting less," the article details the author's experience of cleaning out different random spaces in her home on a whim and the feelings that came about. 

Basically, she comes to terms with the fact that her current house is where she'll most likely spend the rest of her days and realizes that if this is the case, why not go ahead and make it exactly what she wants it to be. 

I've shared my own struggle in this with a good friend. I told her once about wanting to re-paint the walls in my house, but how I was paralyzed to do anything because of the hassle that it would require. My thought was if I was probably moving sometime in the future, did it really matter anyway? 

This points to a much bigger issue that I've long struggled with...believing the lie that my life was in some sort of holding pattern and that it hadn't officially begun yet. 

Here are some of the other ways this has played out for me: 
  1. Saving a fancy dress for some magical event that never seems to come
  2. Not wanting to wear good perfume except on really special occasions, as not to waste it
  3. Waiting for the perfect time to visit a dear friend across the country (for the past 10 years!)
  4. Not inviting people over to my house because I'm not happy with how it looks (thanks to all those magazines with the picture perfect homes)
  5. And, so on and so forth 
I think a big reason for this is that there are lots of things about my life that don't look the way I thought they would when I reached this point in time. We tell ourselves that life should look a certain way when we are out of college, or perhaps reach a particular age. And when it doesn't, there's this idea that the life we are experiencing isn't real because it doesn't look the way we thought it would. 

It's such a trap we fall into. We're missing out on the joy that could come from experiencing every moment because we're waiting for the moment that supposedly hasn't happened yet. 

In the More article, the author talks about letting go of the dream of being the next great novelist, or having a house by the beach, etc. And in doing so, she can stop living for the next thing, but really enjoy what's right in front of her. 

"When you're not ceaselessly anticipating what comes next, you take better care of what you've got." 

I'm happy to say that I've painted my house. And I have gotten new carpet, plus a new rug AND throw pillows! These are small things that bring me such joy because they make my home a more pleasant place. 

And maybe I'll live here forever or maybe I'll move in two years. But either way, I'm not waiting for something that may or may not happen. 

I love this quote from the article too: 

"Being driven all the time to want else, to want more, is exhausting." 

I completely agree.

Is there something you can't seem to move forward about? I hope you feel encouraged that when we let go of the "shoulds" it frees us up to enjoy so much more possibility.  

August 8, 2014

College Memories: Nostalgia for Years Gone By

You know how when you're younger and you hear old people talk about how things have changed, and how they used to be and maybe how they long for things that once were. When we're young, we're so naive...we think "but it won't be like that for me."

Then you find yourself at 32 years old, shopping for tweezers to pluck a few errant chin hairs and are smacked right in the face with the reality of what those old people were talking about.

Tonight I stopped by the brand new Wal-Mart that just opened near the University of Tennessee. Classes haven't started yet, but there were a few random students and their parents shopping for rugs and lamps and such. I didn't really need anything (does this ever stop me from shopping?). But mostly I just wanted to check it out and see what all the hype was about.

It was really just your average Wal-Mart. But the fact that it's so easy to access from campus is sort of strange to me. Maybe it's because when I was in school, piling into a friend's car and making a late night trip to Wal-Mart was something of an adventure. Then, the closest one was at least a 15 minute ride away. Plenty of time for talking in the car, maybe listening to some awesomely bad music from the early 2000s.

Nobody told me how much I was supposed to enjoy those times while they were happening. I'm not sure who this wise person might have been, but at the time it was the farthest thing from my mind. Those four years flew by in a flash. From my first day of college when my parents and best friend left me crying on the front steps of Hess Hall (they were crying too) to the day I graduated with so many dear friends and family cheering me on.

I feel so grateful for those experiences and I certainly don't take them for granted. In a way, my time at college was extended because the fall after I graduated, I accepted a full-time job in the same department where I'd studied. I spent seven more years working for the university and also was able to get my graduate degree.

When I left that position a few years ago, the University had been where I spent almost every day of my life for eleven years.

What's more, I live less than one mile away from the place to this day. I've watched so many things change about the campus and the surrounding areas. Some for the better and some, I'm not so sure. I still don't know if this whole Wal-Mart thing is actually necessary.

Lots of beloved spots have shut down, with new ones (or parking lots) popping up in their places. I don't like to live in the past, but this time of year always makes me reminiscent for college days. When those students head to class in a few weeks, most won't think for one second about how one day they could be the chubby 32-year old buying tweezers while younger, cooler people who haven't even been born yet peruse rugs and lamps with their parents.

Do you ever find yourself looking back at memories of school days? Or maybe you hated school or have bad memories of that time. Be encouraged my friend...no matter what's behind, there's surely something better ahead!

August 7, 2014

Back to School Teacher Gifts Under $5

Summer officially goes until beyond Labor Day, but many schools around the country (or at least around the south) are back in session. Knox County (where I live) students will head back into the classroom on Monday and that's where they'll stay for the next ten months or so until summer rolls around again.

During each school year, teachers are hard at work shaping those young minds. Since I grew up with a mom who also happened to be a teacher, I got to see firsthand the impact my mom had on her students.

Even now that some of her previous students are all grown up, many still say she was their favorite teacher. We've all had a teacher (or several if we were lucky) who made a difference for the better. And he or she probably didn't receive the thanks they deserved....or the pay. While a bigger paycheck for your child's teacher might not a reality, there are plenty of other ways to show your appreciation for their dedication.

There's no reason to wait until Christmas or even the last day of school to give teachers a small token of thanks. And it doesn't have to break the bank. Here is a whole round-up of back to school teacher gifts under $5 that are sure to please even the strictest of folks.

Go Germ Free - 

Teachers' days are spent with students who pass germs around like wildfire. Hand washing is a must, but why not make it less of a chore?

A bar of soap wrapped in pretty craft paper and tied with twine makes a great back to school teacher gift. Another simple idea is to buy a decorative soap dispenser and pre-load it with great smelling liquid soap. Your teacher (and his/her immune system) will thank you! 

Tasty Treats & Delicious Drinks - 

You've heard the way to the heart is through the stomach, but a shiny red apple just won't cut it for today's teacher. Their schedules are packed to the brim so they usually appreciate a snack they can eat on the run. These individual servings of popcorn are a healthier alternative and come in a variety of unique flavors. Plus popcorn is a whole grain, right? 

Another simple and affordable teacher gift option is to fill a pretty jar with something you know the teacher will like. Whether it's a variety of gourmet herbal teas, classic candy options or even some sort of homemade treat, the contents will be appreciated and the jar can be used again. 

Sweet Stationery - 

Teachers have to write a lot of notes...the ones you want to receive about your child's latest amazing accomplishment as well as the less than brag-worthy behavior. With school budgets already stretched thin, teachers usually end up paying for these types of things out of their own pockets or going without. 

There are so many great stationery options available, for a steal! 

Super School Supplies - 

Another category of items that make great back to school teacher gifts are school supplies. Again, much of these types of things are often paid for out of teacher's own pockets. So every little bit can go a long way to help a teacher out and make him/her feel appreciated!

This only scratches the surface of great back to school teacher gifts you can buy on a budget. It takes a little creativity, but even for $5 or less you can find some fun things. 

Other affordable back to school teacher gift ideas:
  • Gift cards to a favorite restaurant or coffee shop
  • Treat basket filled with snacks
  • Extra rolls of paper towels or boxes of Kleenex
  • Lip balm and hand lotion
  • Manicure sets
  • Gift certificate for a massage (perhaps several parents can pitch in on the cost of this)
  • Bouquet of flowers from your garden or local grocery store florist
What other teacher gifts can you think of? If you're a teacher, what types of gifts would you most like to receive? 

July 31, 2014

Homesick for Somewhere We've Never Been

Our language can be so confusing. I wonder all the time about how certain words translate. The word homesick is one I wonder about. If you didn't have an understanding of what it meant, would it be hard to make sense of?

A vivid memory I have of feeling homesick was in elementary school. It might sound crazy, but oftentimes when my class had a substitute for the day, I was homesick for my teacher. I must have taken a lot of comfort in the familiar and when my teacher was away I missed her.

I woke up the other morning with an uneasy feeling. I told my beau about it and he reassured me, but asked if I knew what might be causing my anxiety. I couldn't put my finger on what I was feeling until I was alone in the car, but that's when I realized I was homesick.

It's a sinking feeling, heavy and cold. You can't see it and you can't predict when it will surface. But when it does, there's a sort of emptiness...like nobody ever really knew you and nobody'd miss you if you were gone. It sounds like the end of the world, and when it settles on you it feels that way too. But the good news is there's a simple cure.

The best way that I can think of (or at least what works for me) to quit being homesick is to spend time with somebody who loved you before you were born. When somebody loves you before you're born, it means they've known you as you always were. And no matter how you were or how you are, it means they love you anyway. I'm lucky to have a few people like this in my life.

But some of those somebodies who loved me best aren't around anymore. And I think without even realizing it, I found myself homesick for them and the places they once were.

I'm homesick for my granny's house. Not for the building that still sits atop a little hill in the country. Nor the walls and windows and front porch covered in bright green Astro turf. Not even for the big flat rock under the hickory nut tree that my uncle loaded up and hauled off after she died.

But I'm homesick for the nights spent scootched up next to her on the couch, watching Wheel of Fortune. I'm homesick for her pink formica kitchen countertops...covered in flour as she rolled out biscuit dough for my breakfast. I'm homesick for her cheesy scrambled eggs which tasted better than any I've ever had since.

When I found myself feeling homesick the other day, I imagined myself at my granny's and I felt a little better. I pictured her in Heaven and thought about how because so many people who have pieces of my heart are there that some of my heart feels like it's in Heaven too.

I'm homesick for Heaven even though I can't describe it or envision it. I have no idea what it looks like or feels like, but there's a part of me that wants to be there sometimes. The older I get, the more people I've loved will go there. And that's a sad/happy sort of feeling.

It's a powerful thing to know that somebody loved you before they even knew you. If you have the chance to love someone like that, I hope you will.

It's definitely how I feel about my younger siblings, and cousins, and dear friends' babies, who are growing up before my eyes. Maybe one day they'll be homesick for me. I couldn't imagine a greater honor.

July 30, 2014

Choosing a Pet Sitter for Your Dog: Leon Takes a Mini Vacay

[This post was sponsored by DogVacay. All opinions are my own.]

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a company called DogVacay wanting to send me on a mini vacation while my dog Leon enjoyed a mini vacay of his own.

Before that, I wasn't familiar with DogVacay, but then again I haven't used a pet sitter before for Leon so it's not really something I have ever sought out.

DogVacay is a website (they also have an app) that connects pet owners with qualified pet sitters who live nearby. You can read reviews of pet sitters in your town, city or zip code and when you find one you like, it's easy to book a stay for your pet. Each pet sitter has different specifics, but there are options of pet sitters who will let you bring your dog to their home or sitters who come to your home.

I'll admit, I was skeptical at first about leaving my sweet Leon. Not because I didn't think the folks at DogVacay were qualified, but because he has had some health issues in the past six months or so that have made life a bit more challenging.

When I explained this to the rep from DogVacay, and that I didn't think I could participate in the Mini Vacay promotion, she was so sweet. She explained that they work with lots of owners of special needs dogs and that she was sure she could find me a sitter who would be a good match.

It just so happened there was a great pet sitter who lived practically in our neighborhood. I made contact with the pet sitter (her name was Happy) and she was available for the date of our mini vacay. After a few back and forth messages via DogVacay, I booked our reservation. All payments are made through the website, which is nice because then you don't have to exchange money when dropping off your pet.

Instead of taking Leon to Happy's house, I asked if she could stay at our place and she was glad to oblige us. He has some neurological issues that cause his back legs not to function correctly, so walking can be tough. I thought it would be easier for him to be in his familiar surroundings.

When Happy arrived, I liked her immediately. She was really sweet and interacted with Leon like they were old friends. We chatted for awhile to go over a few more things, and then my beau and I were off for our mini vacay.

Some of the fun things we did included:

Browsing for Treasures at a Favorite Antique Store 

Blue velvet anyone?  

Obligatory Antique Store Selfie 

Antique Store Selfie wearing wacky hats (my beau looks impaired here, no?) 

Taking a walk around a neighborhood park and checking out the sights, including this cool yard sculpture of a Moose by local artist Kelly Brown 

 Dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Knoxville's Sun Spot
[Tilapia with corn and grits]  

You might be wondering about our "vacation." For the sake of full disclosure, it was actually a stay-cation spent around our town, but even that can be so refreshing from time to time. And since Leon's been having his health issues, I have kept my time away from him at a minimum. So it was nice to leave him in great hands and not have to worry. 

While we were out, Happy took a few pictures of Leon so we could see what he was up to...DogVacay calls these photos "pup"dates. Too cute! 

The peace of mind it gave me let me relax a bit and enjoy my mini vacay!  

When we arrived home, Leon and Happy seemed to have had a great time together. He was calm and not the least bit anxious. As an over-the-top dog mom, this made me feel so relieved. 

When you love your pets as members of the family, leaving them with strangers can be tough. But having someone who genuinely seemed to care about him made it much, much easier. 

Whether planning another short stay-cation or even a longer, extended trip, I'm so glad to know there's someone in the neighborhood I could call on to watch my guy. Plus, if Happy weren't available, there are several other options of Knoxville pet sitters who come highly recommended from DogVacay. 

When it comes to our fur babies, you just can't put a price on knowing that they are loved and cared for when we aren't around. Even though my first DogVacay experience was provided as a courtesy from the company, I would have paid for the experience 100%. Leon loved it and so did I. 

Thinking about trying DogVacay for a mini vacay of your own? Use the coupon code SOUTHERNBELLE to receive $10 off your first reservation. And don't forget, all DogVacay reservations include free pet insurance, 24/7 customer support and daily photo "pup" dates so pet parents can feel peace of mind knowing their best friend is in good hands.

Do you ever leave your dog with a pet sitter while you're out of town? Maybe you've used DogVacay. I'd love to hear about your experiences!