October 11, 2017

All Pumpkin, All the time - A Round-up of Pumpkin Flavored Foods for Fall

October is here and there's no better way to celebrate the season than with all pumpkin, all the time. Your barista isn't the only one holding the keys to the pumpkin spice kingdom. You've probably noticed that all sorts of your favorite foods are now available in pumpkin varieties.

I went on a shopping spree at my local Trader Joe's and gathered up all the pumpkin flavored things I could find to do a little taste test. Some of it was delicious, some a little different, but there's no shortage of pumpkin fun to be had.

Check out some of my favorite pumpkin flavored grocery items below!

Pumpkin Flavored Breakfast Options

Start the day on the right foot with your favorite breakfast items, only pumpkin flavored! Need a little eye opener? Try a cup of pumpkin flavored coffee. Or if tea is more your thing, there's that too! There's even a pumpkin spice flavored almond milk that would make a great dairy free coffee creamer for a Vegan pumpkin spice latte. 

Looking for some pumpkin breakfast foods to complement these a.m. beverages? Try country pumpkin spice granola cereal, pumpkin biscotti (would be great dipped in your pumpkin coffee) and organic frosted toaster pastries, in pumpkin flavor of course. 

Pumpkin Snacks to Enjoy Anytime! 

Pumpkin is not just for breakfast...Trader Joe's also has plenty of great pumpkin options for lunch too. Things like yummy pumpkin soup, which goes nicely with pumpkin flavored crackers. Are you tired of pumpkin yet? 

Pumpkin Sweet Treats 

Nothing like finishing up our pumpkin round-up with some sweet treats. Pumpkin seeds are actually very healthy for you, but I'm not sure that putting them in cookies really counts as a health food. But it's important to remember that pumpkin season comes only once a year. Pretty soon, we'll be egg nogging it up so let's just enjoy the pumpkin parade while it lasts. 

Probably my least favorite of all these pumpkin flavored treats was the petite pumpkin spice cookies. I wanted to like these because they are so cute, but the flavor just seemed a little bit too much for me. 

What's your favorite pumpkin flavored treat? Where do you go for all things pumpkin? 

October 9, 2017

For the Love of Dogs

In life, there are different kinds of people. Cat people. Dog people. Iguana people (that's a thing, right?). I am a dog person. Cats are fine, but dogs are definitely my thing. I come from a long line of dog people, at least as far as I know.

I've heard stories of how, as a child, my great grandfather used to roll around in the dirt, kicking and squalling if a stray dog came along that he wasn't allowed to keep. His daughter, my grandmother, grew up on a farm, in a house that had a door in the floor. I've never been exactly clear on this, but from her description, it sounds like the door led into a compartment or cellar of sorts. She describes her childhood as having a steady stream of puppies always readily available. The mother dog would give birth in that compartment and my grandma, whenever she felt like it, would reach in and pull out an armful of puppies.

My mom had dogs from a young age too, including a beloved Saint Bernard (whose name escapes me) and a mutt named Mussolini. Some of my earliest memories are of dogs. My grandparents' beloved brown and white beagle mix, Inky and my great-grandparents' fluffy brown sheep dog Tippy Sue.

The first dog that belonged just to me was a little dachshund mix that I named Duke, after a dog in a book I loved.

When I was a teenager, my family got a black lab named Commodore who ruled the neighborhood. We defied all the leash laws, which allowed him to come and go as he pleased. This included adhering to a strict schedule of daily walks with many of our elderly neighbors who treated him to a slice of bacon or bologna afterward. Commodore died in 2010, on the same day as my great grandfather. They didn't really know each other but I loved them both so much that it was somewhat comforting to think they took that last journey on the same day, if not together.

In January of 2006, I brought home a shelter pup that would change my life and my heart forever. A black and white boxer/pitt bull mix, Leon Otis Spears was magical. I surely didn't deserve his particular variety of pure love and adoration, but somehow I was lucky enough to receive it for nearly ten years.

Some of the darkest days of my life were after Leon died. For nearly a decade, his had been a consistent presence that always made me feel safe and loved. I was devastated after his passing and it was nearly a year before I felt ready to bring another dog into my family.

When my husband and I adopted Ruthie, a special needs Yorkie from a local rescue group, it just felt like the exact right time. That was in January of last year and I can't imagine our life without her.

Later in the summer of last year, I saw a Facebook post by an acquaintance whose co-worker was fostering a tiny, ancient chihuahua. The photo spoke to my heart and we decided to adopt Sweetie, a twelve (maybe fourteen?) year old black and white chihuahua with spindly legs and bright, bulging eyes.

As I type these words, she is eating her dinner of ground turkey, peas and carrots and brown rice, which my husband prepares in the Crock Pot for her and her siblings.

She was cuddling with me recently and I remember thinking that I couldn't imagine our family without her. Even though she's only been with us a little over a year, it feels like forever. And Ruthie, who we've just had nearly two years feels like even longer.

After Leon died, I thought I'd never love another dog again. Ever. I was practically certain of this. And when we first got Ruthie, I thought I'd like her but I never dreamed how dear she'd become to me.

There are so many good life lessons to be learned from our experiences with dogs. What I'm starting to realize is how they change our hearts permanently. I haven't always been the best at giving or receiving affection. I guess it's just a defense mechanism of mine....a form of self-protection.

But with Leon, it was like I had a safe place to pour out my love and snuggles to someone who always wanted to be on the receiving end. He never pushed me away or acted aloof. He never rejected me.

Having that opportunity to practice acting out my affectionate side helped me grow more confident in that area. It might sound silly, but I know it helped me become better able to give and receive affection with people.

I got this image in my mind of the human heart, being sort of closed up at first until something powerful comes along and cracks an opening. It's not always easy to let love in, but then over time, the opening grows. That's why I think I've been so quick to fall in love with these most recent dogs. Because Leon split my heart wide open so there was plenty of space for them to find a place in there.

And that brings me to the latest addition to our little odd squad. A few weeks ago, the lady who works with the rescue organization that brought us Sweetie called me. I was at Wal-Mart, in the frozen food aisle, when she started telling me about this old ragamuffin dog that had been surrendered to the shelter. He was matted almost beyond recognition and they thought he had come from a hoarding situation. She thought of us because of our willingness to adopt older dogs and asked if we'd consider taking him.

It didn't take much convincing (thank goodness I married a dog person too) and the following week, she brought him over for a meet and greet. He's really old...we have no idea exactly how many years. And he's blind in at least one eye. We've been calling him Grandpa because so far it's the only name that seems to fit. He might live two more years or two more weeks, but we wanted him to have a safe, loving home where he could spend the rest of his life.

And we'll benefit from it too. Or at least our hearts will.

September 29, 2017

Life Lessons I Learned in the Bathroom at Whole Foods

The other day I stopped into my local Whole Foods to grab something to eat. I went to the ladies restroom to wash my hands and when I opened the door, a small boy, maybe four or five years old was standing in front of the sink.

"I need water," he said to me.

I looked around at first, making sure it was definitely me he was speaking to. Then, I realized he was trying to wash his hands, but was too short to reach the faucet.

"Do you need help with the soap, too?" I asked.

"Uh huh," he said, holding his hands under the soap dispenser, which was also too high on the wall for him to reach.

I pushed the button, releasing a few dollops of foamy soap into his outstretched fingers. Then I reached up and turned the faucet on as he did his best, on tiptoes, to wash his hands under the stream of water.

Without thinking, I began to dispense a few paper towels for him too.

"I'm having pizza for supper," he shared. "Two slices, and you can sit with me if you want."

I smiled. "That's really nice of you," I told him.

"Look for me out there," he said. "I'll be the one with the two slices of pizza. You can sit with me."

And with that, he exited the bathroom, hands clean and ready to eat his two slices of pizza.

After I finished up, I walked out of the restroom and spotted his family. There was what seemed to be a mom and dad, and a couple of younger brothers and sisters. The mom was wrangling them all and my bathroom buddy was contently eating his pizza. He didn't see me as I passed by and at that point, I felt like it would be strange to approach the table as this random woman who had chatted with their child in the bathroom.

But this interaction has stuck with me. I've pondered it so many times.

It's cliche, but we can learn so much from kids. I guess not having any myself, I forget this because I don't engage with them on a daily basis. But there were some good lessons from my bathroom interaction.

First, it's okay to ask for help. Actually, it's not just okay, it's completely natural and normal. We all have something to offer and we all have some sort of needs. Why not work together and help each other along the way?

Then there's the topic of community, which I was welcomed into, no questions asked. I guess I looked harmless enough and this kid appreciated my assisting him with his hand washing, so it just seemed like the next logical step to invite me to sit with him while he ate two slices of pizza.

How many people in the world feel lonely, disconnected, and like nobody even notices them? Sometimes I get a sad feeling in the pit of my stomach when I see an older person, eating alone at a restaurant. But do I ask them to join me? Not usually.

My young friend in the Whole Foods bathroom has got it right. We all need something from each other. And together, we aren't so alone.

I want to be more like him. Willing to ask for help without feeling like in doing so, I'm admitting some sort of weakness. And I want to be more willing to create community, taking it beyond just those I know and am familiar with, but extending this idea of community to others. Those who might otherwise be eating or spending their time all alone.

Those who might need a bit of extra help, but also have something valuable to give.

September 28, 2017

Clayton Tiny Homes presents The Saltbox

Clayton Tiny Home Saltbox

This week, I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at a very special tiny home. The Saltbox, with 452-square-feet of charm and style, is part of the Clayton Designer Series. Clayton is a well known name around East Tennessee and one of the largest home builders in America.

The Saltbox was designed by Birmingham-based architect Jeffrey Dungan, whose work has been featured in Southern Living as well as Garden & Gun. The Saltbox is designed to be a perfect year-round vacation home if you're looking for a life that combines simplicity and luxury.

Before I even set foot inside the house, I was struck by its clean lines and unique style. Of course it didn't hurt that when I toured it, it was located against the picturesque backdrop of Fort Loudoun Lake. The house will be moved to the Clayton showroom in Maryville, Tennessee where you can visit it for yourself!

Once I went inside the house, I loved the way its design felt so open and airy. The living area, which felt spacious to me, had plenty of room for a regular sized sofa and two comfy club chairs. I love the concept of tiny houses, but I wouldn't want to sacrifice having friends over or entertaining and thankfully, you wouldn't have to with the Saltbox.

There was also space for a dining table, able to accommodate six chairs. I could easily imagine eating a quiet dinner with my husband or enjoying a fun meal with a few friends around the table.

Careful attention to detail was paid in the kitchen, with modern quartz countertops, a deep sink and plenty of cabinet space. Everything felt very solid and built to last. And the interior style was modern but not so trendy that it would feel outdated anytime soon.

The walls and ceiling were both covered in pale shiplap, and the flooring was a wide oak plank. All of this helped to unify the space. Soaring 9'5" ceilings and walls of windows added to the tiny home's spacious feel. I also love how no nook or cranny was wasted. A small area past the kitchen served as a writing desk, but it would also make a great place for folding laundry, being adjacent to the washer/dryer.

The bathroom had a full sized tub and subway tile for a spa-like feeling. In fact, the bathroom in the tiny house was about the same size as that of my own (circa 1959) so I felt right at home.

In the bedroom, which also featured the pale shiplap walls, there was plenty of space for a queen sized bed and two side tables. A nook opposite the bed would have been perfect for a small dresser or even a TV stand.

I learned that the tiny home was built indoors at a facility in Addison, Alabama. It is outfitted with a Summit Appliance® range, dishwasher and refrigerator, special ordered from a company in New York that creates appliances for tiny apartments in the big city. These are also perfect for tiny houses.

The house is incredibly energy efficient with Ply Gem® aluminum clad windows and doors, a space-saving tankless water heater and optional 1,000 gallon above-ground cistern to harvest rainwater, which would give Saltbox owners ways to minimize utility consumption.

Something else about the house that I really liked was the fact that unlike some tiny houses you might have seen with wheels, it can be permanently affixed to your land.

As well as being a great permanent home, the Clayton Tiny Homes Saltbox would make a perfect weekend retreat for a writer or artist, as well as an airbnb on a beautiful piece of property.

Clayton's Designer Series started as a collection of concept homes, but with research and development, they have pushed the limits of innovation, rethinking the future of housing in better and smarter ways.

They strive to listen to their customers about the trends they appreciate as well as the dreams they have for their homes. Clayton saw that there was a desire for minimalism, high-quality materials and increased functionality. As the minimalist lifestyle gains popularity, they believe that more people will embrace the ideas of living at a lower cost, using less energy, and being responsible for less upkeep.

The Clayton Tiny Homes meet international residential building codes, which means the homes can be placed anywhere. Pricing starts in the lower $100,000's.

To learn more about the Saltbox and Clayton Tiny Homes, visit designerseriestinyhomes.com or follow them on Facebook. 

September 25, 2017

Things I Like About Me

The other night, I was watching a live web stream of the county fair beauty pageant in my hometown. Only in the south, right? No longer living there, it's kind of funny to be able to pull up a website and watch the televised event from anywhere in the world. It's a small town and my mom was one of the hosts so I had a good reason to watch.

Seeing those lovely young ladies walk around on stage in their fancy dresses and perfectly coiffed up-dos reminded me of my own fair pageant days. Wait, you didn't know I was a contestant in a beauty pageant back in the day?

I was in fourth or fifth grade and I remember the pageant like it was yesterday. My hot rolled hair was teased into big poofs and I was wearing pantalettes. It was the 80s and I had wanted a much more sparkly dress for the occasion, like a real pageant dress. But my parents decided against it. The dress they wanted me to wear was more Laura Ashley than Bob Mackie, but it came with pantalettes and that was what finally convinced me. Pantalettes! Can you imagine? The sole reason I wanted to wear them was I thought they made me look just like Scarlett in Gone with the Wind.

I walked out on that stage, covered in its scratchy bright green outdoor carpet, holding my breath as the emcee introduced me.

As part of the pageant registration, we had been required to fill out a questionnaire about ourselves, with information about things we liked and disliked.

In a booming voice, the emcee bellowed my name and announced that my favorite foods were broccoli & cheese and brownies (hopefully not mixed together, right?). The crowd clapped politely and as I turned to walk off the stage, I CLAPPED FOR MYSELF. There's a VHS home video somewhere to prove it. I didn't consciously plan to do it, but in the moment it must have felt like the right thing to do.

The beginnings of this post were already forming before I was reminded of these fair memories, but then watching the fair pageant just sort of helped it all come full circle. I was having a moment in which my mind was flooded with negative thoughts. All about myself. Things I don't like about myself. Things I find repulsive about myself. Things I hate about myself.

And the sad part is, I know I'm not alone in feeling this way. Every day I see and hear comments made by people who are struggling with self-hate. Sometimes it's in real life, sometimes it's on social media. Ironically, its usually people I feel so envious of for one reason or another. People whose lives seem way more fabulous than mine. Who appear to have it all together (whatever 'it' happens to be). But apparently they are struggling too.

I was thinking about how I'm 35 and even if I lived to 90 (which would be amazing!), I will have already spent more than a third of my life feeling this way. Which is ridiculous. And such a complete and total waste of my precious energy.

I didn't get here overnight. But it wasn't always like this. Once upon a time, another version of me wearing freaking pantalettes marched out on a stage in front of a crowd of strangers and gave herself a round of applause. That's the me I want to be. The one who did her thing, liked what she liked, and celebrated it. I was her once, so surely I can be her again.

I know it's not that easy. Years of screwy messages and wrong beliefs built up over time to get here. But surely it is possible to get back to that other me. And that's what led me to this post.

I'm tired of picking myself apart, ripping myself to pieces and finding so much not to like. It's just dumb.

I'm starting my list of things I like about myself. It's not complete, but here are a few things. Maybe I'll add to it. Perhaps it will inspire you to do the same.

Things I like about me:
  1. My hair. Last week, my husband said matter of factly, "Your hair is really big." I know. And I like it. (He meant it as a compliment btw).
  2. My sense of humor.
  3. My not wanting to be late. Ever.
  4. The way I pretend to eat the dog food and say "yum, yum, yum" to entice my picky chihuahua to eat when she won't otherwise.
  5. My tender heart and the fact that I cry nearly once a day about one thing or another. 
  6. That I can recite all the US Presidents in order to the tune of Yankee Doodle
  7. My love of words and language. 
  8. My eyebrows (I overplucked them to the max as a teen, so the fact that I have any left at all is a miracle) 
  9. My curiosity about anything and everything, which drives me to keep learning no matter how old I am. 
  10. My creativity and the way I can see possibility in things others might have passed over or relegated to the curb. 
  11. My fascination with old things, the stories they hold and the important roles they played in the lives of those who possessed them. 
  12. My mad cooking skillz (not baking, I cannot bake. Do not confuse the two). 
  13. My love of dogs (especially old dogs - once again, things others might have passed over or relegated to the curb) 
  14. The way I can always find great treasures at thrift stores 
  15. The fact that I'm tall. 
So yeah, that's just a few things. I hope to figure out a few more. If you are struggling with negative feelings about yourself, I dare you to try this exercise. If you can't think of one thing, ask somebody who loves you to help. I guarantee you there's plenty of good stuff to like. 

September 20, 2017

Things to do on the First Day of Fall

Friday, September 22nd is the first official day of fall. Just yesterday, I was sweating in the muggy East Tennessee heat, but I'm willing temperatures to cool down now that the new season has finally arrived. I'll let you know how it goes.

I love the feeling that each new season brings. And maybe it makes me basic, but I love fall. It ushers in some of my favorite traditions. So with the first day of the season, let's celebrate with a big time.

Here are some of my suggestions for things to do on the first day of fall, or at least at some point during the next three months. Happy Fall, Y'all!

:: Make this variation of a fall Chex Mix 

:: Visit a local pumpkin patch and pick out a few pumpkins for your front porch 

:: Watch Dead Poets' Society, one of my favorite films that feels perfect for fall 

:: Read the poem To Autumn by Keats

:: Drink caramel apple cider floats

:: Rake the leaves for a neighbor who needs a bit of help

:: Get a little crafty with a can of orange glittery spray paint and whatever you can get your hands on. 

:: Listen to Eva Cassidy sing Autumn Leaves

:: Wear corduroy and flannel

:: Make my Hillbilly Apple Dumplings

You'll need: 
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple
  • 1 can of refrigerated crescent rolls (8 oz)
  • 1 stick of butter (or less)
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 can of Mountain Dew 
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
Wash, core and slice apple into 8 pieces. Wrap one triangle of crescent roll dough around each slice. Arrange these in a 9x13 baking dish. Melt butter in a saucepan and add sugar and vanilla. Stir until lumpy (sugar does not need to dissolve). Pour the mixture over the crescent-wrapped apples in the pan. Pour Mountain Dew over the crescent-wrapped apples. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes.

:: Plan a weekend adventure to small town festival where they celebrate things like apples, giant pumpkins, or scary stories

:: Turn plain brownies and candy pumpkins into mini pumpkin patch treats! 

:: Enjoy a Friday night high school football game in a small southern town 

:: Try pumpkin spice everything 

:: Make the most of this season that ushers in a time to reflect on gratitude, togetherness with ones we hold dear, and the chance to make new memories with your favorite people. 


September 18, 2017

Vintage Beauty Shops

“I think that the most important thing a woman can have- next to talent, of course- is her hairdresser.” ― Joan Crawford

“People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don’t know, I’m never there.” ― Dolly Parton

“Beware of her fair hair, for she excels
All women in the magic of her locks; 
And when she winds them round a young man's neck, 
She will not ever set him free again.” 
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“She could hear her hair growing.” 
― Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

“Maybe the hairs on my head were numbered" she went on with a sudden serious sweetness "but nobody could ever count my love for you".” 
― O. Henry

“There will be those who love you for your hair and those who love the beauty of your mind and those who adore the warmth of your heart. but there will be those who will leave you for not conforming to their type of hair, mind and heart. And there will be those who will live/die to see your bad hair days, derailed mind, and broken heart. but what matters most is Who You Are” 
― Goitsemang Mvula

“Her hair was full of lights” 
― Ana├»s Nin

“she's got
tucked away
in her hair
poems swim
under her skin.”
― Sanober Khan, A Thousand Flamingos

“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”
― Coco Chanel

September 15, 2017

The Best We Can Hope For | Life Lessons from Kenny Rogers

When I was in college, my roommate graciously agreed to let me use my Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits CD as our alarm clock music. Every morning we woke up to "Lucille," "Ruby," "Coward of the County," and arguably Rogers' most iconic tune, "The Gambler." While Rogers isn't responsible for writing "The Gambler," he brought it to life in a way that makes me feel like he believes every word of the song is true. 

Today, while driving home from work, "The Gambler" was playing on the radio and I felt overcome with emotions. Roll your eyes all you want, but that song kills me every time. 

This got me thinking. There are really only two kinds of people in the world. One is those who recognize "The Gambler" for the brilliant pearls of wisdom it imparts on so many levels, that are relevant across all cultures, across all demographics, and all eras of time. Then there are those people who think it's just a song. 

Lately, I've been doing some meditating. Don't laugh. After years of hearing about its positive effects on people who have difficulties juggling stress and anxiety, I finally decided I would give it a try. 

To be perfectly honest, I have always thought meditation was all a hoax. I mean, the idea of sitting quietly in the midst of a hectic day sounds heavenly, but what does it really do for you? 

Not knowing where to start on my own, I downloaded a meditation app on my smartphone called Headspace. The free version of the app gives you a short series of daily meditations and even though I'm only a few days in, I feel like some of it is working. 

One of the things that has stuck out to me so far is how the guided meditation tells you to let go of your thoughts. It actually gave the illustration of sitting on the side of a road and watching the traffic go by. Seeing each passing car as a thought, coming into frame and then moving along on its way. 

This feels like a new approach because I guess we're prone to want to jump in there and take control. I know I am. But apparently what's really better for us is if we can sit back and let the flow happen. 

In some ways this flies in the face of what I was taught to believe as a child. I remember reading the Bible verse that said you should take every thought captive. That paints quite a picture doesn't it? This idea that your thoughts are all running around on the loose and it's your job to hunt them down and capture them and somehow keep them all in your possession. 

But this illustration from the meditation app sort of makes it seem like your thoughts are flowing and it's not your job to capture them...it's your job to let them pass by. 

The irony is Kenny Rogers in all his wrinkle-free glory is probably somewhere at a meditation retreat right now. He gets it. Why can't we? 

You've got to know when to hold 'em. 

What does that mean to you? First, I think you have to consider what you're holding. I've held onto some things which have served me well over the years. Certain beliefs I can draw strength from in times of trouble. Feeling like I'm part of something much bigger than myself. People who will stand by me, who love me no matter what. 

Know when to fold 'em. 

Folding in a card game means you've looked at your cards and you've assessed the situation and decided it's not worth going forward with the hand. You haven't yet left the table but you're out for now. 

Some folks might say we don't fold nearly enough...taking on too many things that aren't really suited for us. Others might believe we need to take more risks with our little cushy lives. You get to decide for yourself what's right for you. 

Know when to walk away. 

Then there's walking away. Walking away is a peaceful way of ending something. Things didn't get so bad but it's not working for you. Thus, it was time for you to go in a different direction. 

If you have found yourself in a situation like this at present, I give you permission to walk away. Seriously. 

Know when to run. 

And what about when to run? What things in your life have you run from? I know for me there have been plenty. What's more, there were plenty of other things I should have run from and I didn't. We always pay for those dearly. 

When Kenny says you never count your money while you're sitting at the table, I take this to mean the table is where the work is happening and counting the money is sort of like celebrating prematurely. The work's not done so it isn't time to count the money just yet.You'll get to count up your spoils and celebrate but maybe now isn't the best time.

He goes on to say that the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep. This could apply to so many things in our lives. In my case lately, it applies to my thoughts. In reference to that idea of meditation as allowing your thoughts to flow by, I've been trying to figure out what to throw away and what to keep.

Negative, harmful thoughts about myself that keep me stuck in a mindset that doesn't serve me...I'm pitching those straight into the garbage.

Hopeful thoughts, ones that feel light as air, with the soft fragrance of possibility surrounding them...those are the ones I'm working to keep.

The only part of the song I don't actually agree with is the part about dying in your sleep. That's not the best we can hope for. I believe we can hope for so much more than that. 

September 7, 2017

Super Simple Tailgating Tips for Fall

It's football time in Tennessee and we're getting ready for the first home game of the season at Neyland Stadium. I've got a few fun and simple tailgating ideas you might want to try this fall as you celebrate the joys of college football with a hundred thousand of your closest friends.

We know tailgating is all about the grub! These ideas are not only easy, but they taste great! Hope this inspires you to think outside your typical tailgating box, so to speak.

Big Orange Popcorn! 

Who doesn't love popcorn, in all different forms? Serve up your favorite brand of cheesy popcorn in cute white cups for individual servings. Your party guests will keep coming back for more!

Chilly Weather Chili in Stuffed Peppers 

Chilly weather calls for chili, the perfect tailgate food! Make up a batch of your favorite recipe or opt for store-bought. Trader Joe's as an awesome vegetarian option in a can. Spoon your chili into bell peppers (mine are UT orange of course, but any variety will do). You can cook the chili ahead of time and then reheat your stuffed peppers in the oven or a crock pot. Let your guests dress it up with various toppings. Yum! 

Orange & White Caprese Salad Stacks

Caprese salads are one of my favorites and making them as a stack means they are easy to transport for game day. I snagged some great orange tomatoes and layered slices of tomatoes with sliced mozzarella cheese. Drizzle with some olive oil and maybe a splash of balsamic vinegar. 

Some other things you might want to grab for your next tailgate: 

Orange & White pumpkins (perfect decor for Big Orange Football!); a galvanized tub to hold your drinks; Assorted orange sodas (or whatever flavor fits your team); brown Solo cups (they even have laces!) 

August 29, 2017

HGTV's Urban Oasis 2017 in Knoxville, TN

Since I first moved to Knoxville nearly two decades ago to attend the University of Tennessee, our 'scruffy little city' has grown and changed in many exciting ways. Still rich with southern hospitality and that special energy that only comes from being an SEC college town, Knoxville has been ranked a hot city for business, most dog-friendly and also one of the friendliest places in America.

We're also lucky to be home to the headquarters of HGTV. Knoxville has a thriving downtown, amazing restaurants, a pretty cool music scene, plus a growing number of local craft beer purveyors. It's also home to some really vibrant neighborhoods, including Fourth and Gill which is where HGTV chose its Urban Oasis® 2017.

The home is a charming Craftsman style bungalow which started out as a duplex. Under the direction of HGTV Urban Oasis 2017 Project Manager Scott Branscom, it has been transformed into a beautiful single-family home, with 1,850 square feet and three bedrooms and two baths. Branscom is COO of Grace Construction in Knoxville.

HGTV tapped local firms Open Door Architecture and Tillman Companies to handle the concepting and build-out of the structure. The home, which is centered around an open and airy living concept, features art direction and decor from Atlanta-based interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn.

There's no shortage of curb appeal, beginning with the cheerful 'millennial' pink front door. Each spacious room seems to open up into the next, with careful attention to detail that celebrates the iconic style of the home's era while still feeling completely fresh and modern.

  And the outdoor living spaces are to die for. I would never tire of having my morning coffee on the front porch, lounging on the back screened-in deck for cocktails and maybe stealing away for a romantic evening by the fire pit in the backyard.

What is the HGTV Urban Oasis? The HGTV Urban Oasis Giveaway complements the network’s annual HGTV Dream Home Giveaway and HGTV Smart Home Giveaway. During the first five years of the HGTV Urban Oasis, the project featured a contemporary residence in a luxury, high-rise property in a major U.S. city. Beginning in 2015, following the hot trend in home renovation, HGTV decided to purchase and completely remodel older bungalows near trendy urban communities.

Enter to Win the HGTV Urban Oasis 2017 The best part about this house is that it could be yours! The HGTV Urban Oasis Giveaway 2017 sweepstakes runs from October 2 through November 22. Online users may enter twice per day via HGTV.com. Full rules are available at HGTV.com. As the winner, you would receive a grand prize package valued at more than $600,000. It includes the home plus $50,000 provided by national mortgage lender Quicken Loans®. Find more photos and layouts, plus info on how you can enter for a chance to win the HGTV Urban Oasis 2017 at HGTV.com/UrbanOasis.

Photos © 2017 Scripps Networks, LLC.  Used with permission; all rights reserved. 

August 26, 2017

It's Never a Good Day to Be Estranged.

Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go according to any rules. They're not like aches or wounds, they're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

They say there's a time and place for everything. Even the bible has that whole section about a time and purpose for every thing under heaven. But there's never a good time to be estranged.

Not when you're 22 and getting ready to graduate from college. Not when you're 28 and feeling generally lost and disconnected. And especially not when you're 33, getting married to the love of your life.

As a kid, I remember hearing stories on the news about someone being shot by his strange wife and I used to wonder what exactly they were basing that on. I wondered if I knew any strange folks, and were they capable of killing someone they used to love. I later learned that what I heard said as 'strange' was actually the word 'estranged.' But at the time, I had no idea what that meant or that I'd one day live it.

Defined as being no longer close or affectionate to someone; alienated, estrangement is one of those things nobody wants to talk about.

Even researching this piece was tough because the stats about estrangement are relatively few. One article suggested that the current stats are probably wrong anyway because so many people are estranged but don't talk about it.

Even if this doesn't affect you personally, I'll bet you can think of at least one friend who has a family member they don't see or speak to, or who doesn't speak to them. That is, if your friend is willing to share this.

I've never shared anything quite this personal on the blog, but over omelets and mimosas awhile back, my husband told me I needed to quit playing it so safe. So here goes.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, "wow, this is a great day to be estranged from my family."

Sometimes it happens all at once, because of a big fight or problem. Other times it's more like the end result of a recipe...the ingredients were there and the conditions were right.

As an aside, please don't get your hopes up and think I have any answers about how to fix these family heartbreaks. I have none. But it's not always about having the answers. Sometimes it's just about not feeling quite so alone.

Here's what I know...

If you have family that you don't associate with or speak to, you're not alone. This issue affects all different kinds of families: rich, poor, from all sorts of cultural backgrounds and education levels from all walks of life. What these families do have in common is that they once declared their affection for each other. And now there's a great divide.

Sometimes these fissures happen over division of stuff and property when one generation passes away. Other times it's about lifestyle choices, including marriages or divorces, too much drinking or drugs. Or maybe it has to do with hurt feelings, hard feelings that built over time, like layers in a pastry...smooshing together until they can't be peeled apart anymore.

These kinds of things have a way of taking on a new life of their own and eventually planting themselves firmly in your path.

You learn to work around the issue, to live with that giant elephant in the room. Sometimes its presence affects you more than others. Sometimes you feel almost normal.

Other times it hits you smack dab in the middle of the face (or really in the heart) and leaves you feeling like the wind has been knocked out of you.

Certain days are harder than others. Holidays. Anniversaries of particular events or occasions. Sometimes you just want to skip these altogether.

And then there are those people in your life who don't understand, who won't ever understand exactly how you feel. Maybe they blame you or think you're ridiculous because you can't just get over it or work it out. Maybe they lost someone dear to them and think you're squandering a precious gift they wish they still had. Sometimes these people are even harder to deal with than the ones you're estranged from.

In a perfect world, all families would gather. Every person would feel seen and known. There'd be no awkwardness or stuffing down your feelings. It would be a free, safe place to speak from your heart, knowing you would be heard by people who'd love you no matter what.

But of course we know this is not a perfect world.

As easy or tempting as it might be to point blame, these types of situations are just too complicated for that. Everybody plays a part and we all contribute something in some way. It'd be much easier if all the heroes wore capes and the bad guys donned eye patches, but it ain't the case.

Something to remember: If you're estranged from your family, or they are estranged from you, you don't have to feel ashamed about it. And you never, ever have to feel guilty because someone else tries to give their opinion about your situation without understanding all the facts. Heck, even if they do understand the facts...it doesn't mean they truly know how you feel.

And it definitely doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. I'm not putting the blame squarely on the other party, just saying that it's complicated and we don't know always know why certain situations unfold the way they do.

Maybe you are doing the best you can. Sometimes that has to be enough. But on the flip side, maybe they are doing the best they can. Sometimes that has to be enough. That doesn't always make things easy.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about and can't think of one friend in this situation, then you're probably living a pretty good life.

But if this post resonates with you in any way, I hope it makes you feel like maybe there's someone else out there, living their life and being grateful for all the good stuff, while still hurting over the hard stuff too. I hope you know you aren't alone.

August 23, 2017

Ways to Celebrate Hummingbird Season

It's hummingbird season in East Tennessee and lots of the tiny winged wonders are currently passing through our region to find warmer temperatures further south. Did you know some hummingbirds travel about 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico without stopping? What an incredible trek for such a small bird to take all alone!

There are all sorts of ways to celebrate hummingbird season, including helping our fluttering friends as they move along their journey.

One way to celebrate the wonder of hummingbirds is by making your yard or garden a space where they feel welcome.

Offer a Food Source for Hummingbirds 

Want to attract hummingbirds to your yard? Here are some tips to make your space welcoming to them. 

One way to attract hummingbirds is to incorporate flowering plants that they like, including varieties with all sorts of bright colors.

Opt for tubular choices because they hold the most nectar. This might include flowers such as columbines, daylilies, foxgloves, hollyhocks, impatiens and petunias.

Make sure to leave open spaces so the birds can move around from each nectar source. A hummingbird can snack on nectar from hundreds of flowers in any given day.

Don't have a green thumb? Never fear! There are other ways to attract hummingbirds to your yard.

Install Hummingbird Feeders around Your Home

When I don't know something, I like to go straight to the source for the best information. This is why I stopped by Knoxville's Wild Birds Unlimited to get more info about what types of hummingbird feeders to use and how to mix the nectar.

Here are a few things I learned:

  • Hummingbird nectar is always a ratio of 4:1 (four parts water to one part sugar)
  • If you make your own nectar from granulated sugar, you'll need to boil your water so it dissolves
  • Or you can make things simple for yourself and pick up a pouch of fine sugar and a mixing bottle (available at Wild Birds Unlimited
  • Hummingbird nectar isn't actually red -- just the container is. DO NOT add red food coloring to your hummingbird nectar. The dye is bad for the birds' kidneys. Just make sure to use a feeder that has a red tint. 
  • In fact, the more red you can incorporate around your feeder, the better. Hummingbirds have no sense of smell but very good eyesight so it's the red that attracts them. 
  • Put your hummingbird feeder(s) where you can see it. That's the fun of attracting hummingbirds...getting to enjoy watching them!

Wild Birds Unlimited has all sorts of hummingbird feeder options, plus stands and perches, nectar, and pretty much everything you need to attract various wild birds to your yard.

A Twist on Traditional Southern Dessert: Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird Cake is a popular southern dessert that combines pineapple and banana in a luscious cake, topped with rich cream cheese frosting. What's not to love? Southern Living first ran a recipe for this sweet treat in a 1978 edition of the magazine, and since then it is supposedly their most requested recipe. **Not made of real hummingbirds....it seems like that would be a given, but somebody might be wondering.** 

If you want to make a traditional southern hummingbird cake, check out these ideas.

I decided to create something a bit lighter that takes traditional hummingbird cake and gives it a simple twist: Hummingbird Parfaits. 

You'll need: 

Pound cake, chopped into small pieces
Sliced bananas
crushed pineapple
pecans or walnuts
whipped topping 

In a small parfait glass or jar, add a spoonful of crushed pineapple. Layer a few pieces of cake, sliced bananas, more pineapple, cake and whipped topping. Sprinkle with pecans or walnuts. 

If possible, make these ahead of time and refrigerate them while the juices mingle together. I know, it's not your grandma's hummingbird cake...but it's a new take on a southern staple. If we can't adjust and put our own stamp on things, what's the point? 

You could also make this in a trifle bowl and serve it in pretty vintage tea cups or other small dishes. 

All this talk of hummingbird cake got you in the mood to host a party? No party is complete without a signature drink! 

Mix up Signature Drinks - Hummingbird Cocktail 

As we covered earlier, hummingbird nectar IS NOT ACTUALLY RED...just the feeders are. But in the spirit of serving up what appears to be red-tinted nectar to hummingbirds, I'm mixing up a cocktail that's perfect for your next birding session. 

As I like to keep things simple, it only has a few ingredients: 

Sallie's Greatest Strawberry + Basil Simple Syrup 
Prosecco (or champagne)

For a non-alcoholic option, use plain seltzer water. 

Pour some of Sallie's syrup in a glass, top with bubbly and garnish with a few basil leaves or strawberries. Sip! Enjoy! 

Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival at Ijams Nature Center

Another great way to celebrate hummingbird season in East Tennessee is with other hummingbird enthusiasts at Ijams' seventh annual Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival! The festival will be held Saturday, August 26 from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The event will include children's activities, guest experts speaking on various topics, wildlife demonstrations, arts & craft vendors, and more! 

A big highlight of this event for attendees is the banding demonstrations. Banding is a way to harmlessly capture, weigh and measure hummingbirds and then band them before letting them go about their way. Ijams notes that banding offers a way to document hummingbird movement through migration. 

[All hummingbird photos courtesy of Wild Birds Unlimited - Knoxville, TN]