December 11, 2017

How to Accept a Gift


They say 'tis better to give than receive, but in many ways I think the adage is wrong. In my opinion, 'tis often easier to give, instead of better. There's something about receiving gifts that is hard for many people, myself included.

I wrote in the past about how to receive a compliment, but this goes a little deeper than that.

While recently traveling to New Jersey for a work training, I invited my mom to come along so we could extend my trip by a day or so and do some holiday sightseeing in NYC.

My first inclination for lodging was to go with what I knew, so I investigated the option of staying at the Paul, a hotel I had stayed at previously in the year with my dear friend on our trip to the Big Apple. In May when we'd visted, that hotel was available at a decent price and even though our room wasn't huge, it was hip and close to lots of things. And the beds were super comfy. But during November for my trip with my mom, that hotel's rates were more than double what they had been earlier in the year.

After extensive Internet searches, including checking prices, various locations, and tons of online reviews, I found a hotel that seemed like a good option. It was decently priced, not too far from our point of arrival & departure (Penn Station) and had gorgeous photos online. Plus the other folks who had stayed there had positive things to say.

I selected a small, modest room knowing we wouldn't be spending a ton of time there anyway.

When we arrived at the check-in desk, the hotel staffer told us in what seemed to me an apologetic tone, that she'd had to upgrade us to a different room, a loft. Even though the word upgrade would seemingly mean a better room, at the word loft I imagined my college dorm, with wooden bunked beds crammed in above tiny compact desks below. Oh well, I thought. Our trip is short and we don't want to spend a bunch of time in the hotel room anyway.

When we got off the elevator on the eighth floor and walked around the corner to room 808, I thought to myself....don't be disappointed if this isn't anything special. We're just lucky to be here.


Then we entered our loft. In the foyer, the walls were covered with a gorgeous black and gold art deco wallpaper, and there was a cool lithograph as well as a giant round gold mirror. That opened into a spacious living room and kitchen with sleek stainless appliances and a wide island with three stools.


In the living room was a white leather sofa, a big round marble coffee table and on the wall was mounted a television four times the size of mine at home.

Big windows and a set of French doors opened onto a balcony with chairs overlooking the skyline. Down the hall was a roomy bedroom with a king bed and across from it, a bathroom much larger than either of the ones at our own houses. It was covered in beautiful gray and white subway tile and had a big soaking tub on the left and a glass encased shower on the right.

My mom and I figured there must have been some mistake. This couldn't be our room.

"She did say she had to upgrade us," my mom said.

"Yeah, but this is more than just a simple upgrade," I replied.

This is unreal.

"Oh well, you should always look for little gifts and unexpected blessings at every turn," said my mom. She's pretty wise that mother of mine.


On the last morning of our trip, after my training had ended and we were free to have our big day in the city, I sat on the comfy leather sofa in that giant hotel living room, sipping espresso from our self serve machine and trying to prepare to soak up every moment of the day ahead.

I found myself thinking about the gift of the experience, including the incredible hotel room we'd never have otherwise chosen for ourselves had it not been for a happy accident and our fortuitous upgrade.

Here's what it got me thinking about gifts:

1) Gifts can come without warning when we least expect them.

2) Thinking we don't deserve them or they are too good to be true will only rob us of the joy of receiving and enjoying something we weren't expecting.

3) Acting like or believing we did something to earn them or deserve them removes God from the equation. They cease to be a blessing and become a barter system. This can set us on a dangerous path of working harder to receive things that we would have gotten anyway.

4) There is no shortage of gifts to be had. If we miss one, there's infinitely more to come.

5) Gifts never come in exactly the same packages or the same way. One day a gift might be the opportunity to stay in a fancy hotel room that costs more than twice what you paid for it. Another day it might be a WWII veteran at a convenience store who thinks he knows you and greets you with a warm handshake and "It sure is good to see you. It's been too long." This will bless your heart in so many ways.

6) If we focus on what we perceive to be the negative, we will lose our ability to see all the gifts around us that are right in front of our noses. Kind of like the Timothy Busfield's character in Field of Dreams who couldn't see the baseball players while they were practicing on the field only a few feet away.

7) If we thinks gifts come with strings attached, it is often because we are guilty of giving gifts with strings attached. Cut the strings and just enjoy the gift.

8) Life will always be an adventure if you believe another gift is just around the corner. You won't know what to expect but it will be wonderful never-the-less.

9) Giving a gift brings joy to the giver. Accept any and all gifts with grace and gratitude.

You will likely receive at least one gift this holiday season. You'll probably give a gift too. Maybe just keep these things in mind.

December 6, 2017

Christmas Gifts for People Who are Hard to Shop For


It's officially the Christmas season and I haven't bought a single gift. Usually I try to give gifts that are a combination of handcrafted and locally sourced. Sometimes this isn't possible, but I love finding unique Christmas gift options for those people who are notoriously hard to shop for.

As we have more and more things, it seems like we need less and less these days. Again, that's why those unique, personalized or quirky gifts are sure to delight and surprise their recipients.

Here are some options that I'm considering giving as Christmas gifts this year:

The Gift of Something Handcrafted or Handmade


Handmade gifts are awesome. Nothing says I really thought of you like a gift of something truly unique. If totally handmade isn't an option, go with a personalized gift to make your friend or loved one feel special. 

When I need something personalized in Knoxville, I visit Me & Co in The Gallery shopping center (with Chili's near West Town Mall). Me & Co owner Michelle has been blessed with some amazing creativity and awesome handwriting. She can customize and personalize just about any gift you can imagine. 

She created a gorgeous piece of art for me that incorporates my wedding date which is still one of my most treasured possessions. As I was planning my wedding and it looked the forecast was calling for rain, I snagged some basic navy umbrellas and took them to Michelle to personalize for me and my bridesmaids. Even though the day ended up being sunny and bright, that umbrella is a sweet reminder to make lemonade when life serves up lemons. 

Michelle creates original art and she also customizes things like Christmas ornaments, both of which would make a wonderful Christmas gift for those people who are hard to shop for. 


Me & Co. also has some really adorable gift options that need no customization at all. From the wall art and frames to Scout tote bags and other containers, you won't have any trouble finding something you want to take home. They even created their own custom candle for the holidays, aptly named Tennessee Christmas and it smells heavenly! Pop it into a cute bag with a box of matches and it's an instant hostess or teacher gift! Maybe don't send the matches to school with your child though...


The Scout clutch is one of my favorite things at Me & Co right now....one side is silver and the other gold and when you add the gold tassel, it is all kinds of chic for your holiday parties. Would you believe just yesterday I used a zip-loc baggie to hold my lip gloss and other items? I could be using this right now! 

The Gift of Something that Helps our Earth


Got a birder on your Christmas gift list? Maybe your hard to shop for person just loves nature and enjoying the beauty of their own backyard. Birdfeeders and food for the birds make wonderful gifts, especially when they are as cute as these from Wild Birds Unlimited! 


These seed characters are a fun addition to any bird feeding station, especially around the holidays. And they even have cute names, like Dash (the gingerbread man), Buttons (the snowman) and Rascal (a cute raccoon). 

They incorporate a mix of many birds' favorites: seeds, nuts and fruit and can help you attract many of your favorite backyard birds, including chickadees, woodpeckers and goldfinches.


The Gift of Something that Removes the Guesswork 


How many of you have a person on your hard to shop for list who happens to be a guy? I've definitely struggled in the gift department for my beau. He's kinda picky and doesn't use a lot of things so it always seems like he picks out his own gifts, which totally ruins the fun surprise. 


Gift baskets for guys are a great option and they have some pretty cool ones at Wicker & Wire, a new shop in Knoxville. There are all sorts of options to include in your gift baskets, as well as unique containers too. They will wrap up the gift basket for you using items you have chosen or you can go with one of the pre-made gift basket options in the shop. Easy peasy. 

I also saw a bunch of cool stocking stuffers for the guys in your life, including brass beard combs (but of course!) and money clips with clever quotes. 


I hope these Christmas gift ideas inspired you for those hard to shop for people on your list this year. It's important to remember that it's the thought that counts, but a little sweet gift always brings a smile to any face. 

November 15, 2017

Thanksgiving Tips & Tricks for a Less Stressful Holiday


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

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

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

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

Appetizers are your best friend 




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

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

Preferably something with salt and fat. 

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

Don't forget the relish trays




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

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

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


Don't try to make everything from scratch

 

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

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

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

Create a Thanksgiving drink station 


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

Some options they might enjoy: 

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

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

Lemonade + tonic water + grenadine + gin (optional) 

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

November 3, 2017

For the Ones Who Try to Do Good


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

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

This is a sticky spot to find yourself in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 1, 2017

DIY Fall Home Decor from the Dollar Store

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

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

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

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

1) Chalk Painted Pumpkins - 


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

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

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

2) Metallic Pumpkins - 

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

These will make a great centerpiece for my fall table!

3) Mini Acorn Chalkboard -

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

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



4) Dried Bean Votive Candles  -


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

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

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

October 28, 2017

Monsters Made with Love


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

October 27, 2017

What's Hot Right Now (It's Not What You Think)


I know you've seen them. Bright glossy magazine covers staring you in the face as you stand in line to check out at the grocery store or Target. Beautifully made-up smiling celebrities that you sort of recognize. Bold headlines in punchy colors that read things like:

Must haves for Fall
This season's hottest trends
What's hot right now! 

It's always something like a ridiculously expensive coat that is so right now, even though you have a perfectly good coat in your closet that keeps you plenty warm and still fits. Or it's a way of styling your hair or doing your makeup. Or perhaps a certain color of lipstick that you can't live without. 

But are any of these so-called must haves really a must? Will our lives be rendered incomplete without matte lipstick, ruffled sleeves and embellished denim? 

I was at the hair salon a few weeks ago when I first starting thinking about this. I love my hairstylist but I don't so much like the salon where she works. They could definitely use a bit of customer service revamping. I was waiting in the lobby when a twenty-something woman came to escort me to the hair washing station. I smiled at her and stuck out my hand to introduce myself and she gave me a confused look before presenting me with a limp, floppy fingered handshake. 

Are handshakes a lost art? I really hope not. What about opening the door for people or standing up to greet someone when you are introduced? I continue to try and do these things, even though I encounter many folks who do not. 

So this got me to thinking about another list of things. Things that are not only hot right now, but in my opinion, will be hot forever and always. These are truly our must haves in every season of every year. They aren't passing trends, but timeless options that will always flatter us and always leave us looking and feeling our best. 

:: Trying to appear interested more often than we try to be interesting  

:: Being on time, all the time. Or maybe even a few minutes early 

:: Eye contact! Seriously, is this really something we need to be reminded of? Apparently so. 

:: Big smiles and firm handshakes (it's not that hard, people) 

:: Going out of our way to make others feel comfortable and at ease (this is the very basis of southern hospitality) 

:: Showing genuine concern when someone is going through a rough patch 

:: Putting down our phones and actually looking at the person across from us

:: Remembering that each of us has silent heartaches and invisible struggles and that we could all use a little (or a lot of) grace 

:: Keeping in mind that no matter where you are in life, there are always people who have it way better and plenty of others who have it way worse 

:: Instead of interrupting, wait your turn to talk. Then say something worthwhile. 

:: Don't waste time or resources that don't belong to you. 

:: Be the type of person you want to meet. 







October 23, 2017

Ctrl-Shift-Delete


In writing, I have found that the way to improve on anything is in the editing. I think about all the writers through time who had nothing more than a parchment or scroll on which to capture their thoughts. The pressure they must have felt to get it right, the first time. We are so spoiled with the ability to push our fingertip on a little square and see a letter or number appear on a brightly lit screen in front of us. And even more spoiled we are to be able to quickly add, edit or delete letters, words or entire paragraphs.

Editing is crucial to writing, but it's also important in other areas of our lives. Take our homes and closets for example. You've probably read at least one article in a women's magazine that stressed the importance of editing your closet, or your collections of bric-a-brac around the house. Editing means using a critical eye to assess what's in front of you and be willing to remove some of what you see. To pare it down and get rid of what's unnecessary so that the most crucial bits will get more attention.

My problem is once I start editing, it becomes difficult to stop. And it's not limited to just my closets or my collection of mismatched linens. I find myself wanting to edit the past.

It's very easy for me to get lost in my own head. To look inward as a way to get clarity on things that have happened before, or are in the midst of happening now. And in doing this, I always end up replaying certain moments or periods of time in which I wish things had been different.

Things I wish I had said differently, or not said at all. Decisions I made that I wish had taken a different turn. Entire periods of time when I felt so disconnected and alone.

Once I begin to dance around the entrance of this particular rabbit hole, it takes no time at all for me to find myself falling deeper and deeper into its seemingly endless darkness.

On the way down, I am reminded of all sorts of different occasions where I said what seemed like the wrong thing, or behaved in what now is so obviously the wrong way, or I didn't speak up when I wished I had. And because I have a tendency to be very critical of myself, it becomes very easy for me to punish myself for all these past mistakes.

But try as I might, I can't actually do anything about it. We can't go back and edit the past. What's done is done. And all we have is the next moment in which to try again.

Last night my husband and I watched Dead Poets' Society. He had never seen it (how is that possible?) and it has such beautiful scenes of fall that it felt like a great movie option for an October Sunday evening date night at home. I had forgotten just how heartbreaking the film is, made even more so when you consider the real-life struggles Robin Williams must have faced that led to his suicide. So much talent and personality. His films are some of my all-time favorites. He was more than just a Hollywood celebrity. He felt like a part of our history. I can't believe he's gone.

While sometimes certain words and phrases become trite or cliche with time, I believe they bear repeating. And more than that, they sometimes require us to edit our perspective so that we can approach the next opportunity with new eyes. And perhaps avoid making the mistakes our future selves will want to edit out.

Like Williams' character in the film said to his students, "Carpe diem. Sieze the day." 

We think we have all the time in the world. Especially if we are relatively young-ish and somewhat healthy. It isn't always the case. And it's so easy to get sucked into the daily grind. The little workplace dramas and uphill race to success.

But what are you doing in this life? What important things are you really tackling? And by important, I mean things that are true to who you are. Meaningful things that, when repeated, produce true happiness.Sometimes it's good to get a little wake-up that helps create new point of view. I needed it today.

October 18, 2017

Simple Last Minute Halloween Decorations!

Halloween is nearly here and even though we don't typically get trick-or-treaters, it's still fun to inject a little spooky style into our home this time of year.

I've got pumpkins on the porch, and a few skulls here and there. Plus some cute bat cut-outs scattered about. But this year, I wanted to add a couple more spooktacular decorations without breaking the bank.

What's a thrifty blogger to do? Head to my local Dollar General store of course! I scoured the shelves and was able to get several things I just knew I could work my Halloween crafty magic on.

First stop? Googly eyes. I mean, you just can't go wrong with these silly accouterments. My inspiration came from this cute blog. In no time, I had covered a couple of small glass jars with eyes to create some sweet and silly Halloween monsters. I filled my jars with brightly colored crinkled paper, but you could also paint them like the one below.


Here's looking at you, kid!

Next, over to the candle aisle to nab a few plain white pillar candles, in glass jars. I think I might have used these for snowmen around the holidays last year, but this time they are perfect for ghoulish ghosts! A black sharpie was all I needed to give them some personality. You could also paint or stencil these with Hallloween scenes.

Check out these adorable white candles turned spooky from Creative Ramblings! So cute and super simple to make.

Via Creative Ramblings


Finally, there's just no end to what you can do with a little creativity and a hot glue gun. As a child of the 80's whose mom was crafty, I loved glue gun crafts! I finally broke down and bought one of my own recently and Halloween projects are a good use of my new tool.

You can make all sorts of spooky spiderwebs with the glue. Look at this unique creation from a blogger who turned a plain old Dollar Store vase into something straight out of the Addams Family!




I hope these ideas have inspired you to think creatively without spending a fortune. They sure did inspire me! 

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.