August 9, 2017

Simple Tips for Making Back-to-School Lunches More Fun


As a kid, lunch was one of my favorite things about school. What can I say...I have always been a foodie. Usually I ate cafeteria food, but sometimes (depending on which friends I happened to be influenced by at the time) I wanted to bring my lunch to school.

Most kids around where I live have gone back to school, even though it might seem a bit early to folks in other parts of the country. Remember what an exciting time it was? Freshly sharpened pencils, new friends and teachers, and maybe even getting a new backpack or lunchbag?

When I was a kid, my mom tried to make good lunches, but they were always a little out of the ordinary. This was before anyone in my small southern town had ever heard of bento and it would be many years before Pinterest was available for inspiration. Plus, our family tupperware collection was mostly made up of containers missing their lids.

On more than one occasion, by the time lunch rolled around my brown paper lunch sack would be soaked through with whatever my lunch happened to contain...including pickle juice.

Lunch is important for students. It helps them have the energy they need to stay focused and learn. I'm channeling my inner elementary school student and sharing some tips for making lunches more fun!

1) Make Lunch Fun 


We gotta eat lunch, but we also want to enjoy ourselves! There are so many simple ways to make back-to-school lunches more fun. 

I turned to Pinterest to get some inspiration, and it did not disappoint! 

From adorable sandwiches with cute faces to strawberry mice, there is no shortage of fun to find on Pinterest. Check out how one blogger turned ordinary sandwiches into cuddly creatures below! 



Another idea I had was to jazz up some boring Ziploc bags! With just some craft paper, tape and a few colored markers, I turned plain clear plastic bags into cute snack bags. 
  • Draw horizontal black lines down a zipper bag and fill with animal crackers for a tasty zoo!
  • Affix an image of an underwater scene to the back of a bag (so you can see it through the plastic) and fill bag with goldfish crackers. 
  • Draw some green grass or affix a nature scene to the back of a bag and fill with carrot flowers. 

There are plenty of other fun lunch ideas, depending on your child's age!

  • Take sheets from an activity book and turn them into napkin rings. Include a couple of crayons and your child has a fun activity to look forward to each day. 
  • I found some great alphabet cookies that would make a fun lunchtime game. A blogger named Allison created some neat free printables that use alphabet cookies to encourage learning. Check them out here.
  • Draw silly pictures or leave little encouraging notes in your child's lunchbox. I found some adorable inspirational stickers at Dollar Tree and stuck them on plain old bananas. An encouraging word does a body good and it will make lunch something to look forward to for sure!

2) Think Outside the Lunchbox


Get creative with containers to maximize options for lunch. You don't have to limit lunch to traditional lunchboxes. Small tote bags can also make a fun way to bring a lunch. When I was in high school, I saved small shopping bags from fancy department stores so I could use them to carry my lunch to school. I thought I was so sophisticated with my little brown bag from bloomingdales. 

Who says you have to carry the same bag every day? Dollar Tree and the Target Dollar Zone often have different cute bags for cheap. Keep it interesting by changing up your lunch bag to match your mood. 

Also, get creative with food containers too. I found some adorable plastic food storage options in the baby section of Dollar Tree, complete with cute animal faces. I also picked up some great plastic bins from the office supplies section. Just be sure to check for BPA and wash everything thoroughly before using it. 

3) Go Beyond the Sandwich


Sandwiches are great, but sometimes it's fun to switch things up. And who says lunch has to include a sandwich anyway? Wraps are a good option, especially because they hold up pretty well for several hours. Hard boiled eggs make another great lunch, paired with other healthy options like nuts, fruit and veggies. 


Here are some other possible lunch options:

  • Pimento cheese or pesto on a spinach wrap
  • Ham or turkey and cheese wrapped around pretzel rods
  • Hummus and sprouts in a mini pita
  • Tuna or chicken salad on Triscuits 


Lunch doesn't have to be a chore...make it fun with these simple tips! 

July 30, 2017

Why I Love Funeral Homes


I went outside to walk my dogs the other morning and the fog was so thick, I could barely see to the end of my driveway. And it's a short driveway. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the roses on the bush in front of my house were still covered with dew.

As a southern girl who grew up going to a lot of funerals, it took all of .03 seconds before I found myself humming the classic hymn "In the Garden." Depending on where and how you were raised, you may or may not know it.

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, says the first line. Illustrated perfectly by the dew clinging to the blossoms on my knockout bush.

And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the son of God discloses....as a kid this line always made me picture the voice as a string of letters and symbols literally falling from the sky.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me...this line was fodder for many a corny preacher joke heard during my childhood. The dramatic way the words are sung, and the fact that southerners are notorious for stringing our words together makes it sound like you are in fact singing "Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me." And all the corny preachers in the south said: Can anyone guess God's first name? [the punchline is supposed to be Andy...get it?]

This song, said to have been written in 1913 by Charles A. Miles, was a staple at southern funerals of my childhood. Along with "Beulah Land," it was one of those songs you just knew would be played.

In the funerals of my childhood, held less frequently at churches and more often at local funeral homes, there was a special group of funeral singers. Likely a small quartet of willing church choir members, “In the Garden” was always part of their repertoire.

I always found it interesting that the singers didn't stand up front in the funeral home chapel, but were instead in the back or in an adjoining room, out of sight entirely.

You could hear their voices, but never actually saw them. I guess this is because it was supposed to have been less of a performance and more of a soundtrack for the occasion.

Funerals never freaked me out as a kid. They still don't. I kind of liked them.

In seventh grade, I was best friends with a girl whose family ran a local funeral home. I guess because funerals are all hours, and all different times of year, it was more convenient for them to live on-site. My friend lived with her parents in an apartment that was above the funeral home, up a set of wrought iron stairs around the side of the building.

This never seemed weird to me at all. Her aunt and uncle had the adjoining apartment and she could go back and forth as she pleased. It created a real sense of community and I actually thought it was wonderful. They always made me feel so welcome when I visited.

Sometimes we went down the back staircase into the funeral home to say hi to her uncle. This wasn't creepy or anything to me. I found it very peaceful.

There was a big room where all the sample caskets were displayed. I had been there before, with my great-grandparents when they did their pre-arrangement. Pre-arranging funerals was a big deal in my family. My great-grandparents knew exactly what they wanted and made sure their wishes were carried out, right down to what preachers were to speak and what songs were to be sung.

In fact it got to be kind of a problem because after they chose the ministers they wanted to hold their funerals, many began to die off and they had to move down their list of alternates.

My great-grandma’s faith, Freewill Baptist, dictated that a woman’s hair was her crowning glory, so naturally she even had special instructions about who was to fix her hair and how nobody was supposed to cut it. She wanted a baby blue casket, "to match her eyes." We didn't try to remind her that her eyes would likely be closed at that point, but oh well.

One of the first times I encountered death as a child and old enough to understand it, was when my great-great uncle Willie passed away. It was 1988 and I was six years old. We hadn't been close but he was one of those people who was just there for as long as I could remember. Not part of my daily life, but always a fixture at family reunions or other special gatherings.

I remember hearing my parents talking about the fact that he had died. "Wait, what?" Uncle Willie died, my mom said. This news hit me like a Mack Truck. I burst into tears, feeling sad all the way down into my toes. We had been sitting in our car, in the driveway of my grandparents house on Walnut Street. I couldn't believe something so awful could happen. And what’s more, I couldn’t believe how sad I felt about it. Even at age six, I realized I was growing up.

There'd be other deaths. Extended family members and family friends. My parents didn't always take me to the funeral home, but many times they did. And I liked it. Funeral homes could be such peaceful places. And I had such a big extended family, it was always like a reunion of sorts.

"You're growing like a weed," they'd say. "Such a grow’d up girl. I wish't we all got to see one another more than just at funerals."

And the food. There was nothing like funeral home food at the small town southern funeral homes of my childhood. Big ol' trays of cut up veggies and fruit, sandwich platters and buckets of fried chicken, giant bags of Ruffles potato chips and tubs of sour cream and onion dip. And desserts, both homemade and store-bought. Every different kind of Coke you could drink, even Pepsi and Dr. Pepper which we never had at home. You could eat whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted to.

And there were kind people who wanted to do nice things for you to make you feel better because you were sad. Honey, can I get ‘chew a cold drank? Well, I do believe you can.

And the Kleenex! At funerals home of my youth, there were boxes of Kleenex everywhere! On virtually every surface, near a little always full bowl of mints you could help yourself to. And not just the bright yellow Kroger brand box with the thin, scratchy facial tissues inside. These were thick, plush pillowy sheets of softness, housed in boxes with beautiful designs or perhaps even under a brass tissue box cover. As a kid, Kleenex was much too much of a luxury at my house and something my parents never bought. If you had a sinus infection or a bout of allergies, you'd carry around a roll of toilet paper from room to room.

Of course as I got older and more close relatives and friends started to die, funerals were not something to look forward to. When I was born, all my grandparents and great-grandparents were still alive. Once I hit high school, my great grands started to pass away. One by one, each year or so. Those funerals were much tougher...not only because I loved them dearly and they had been such integral parts of my life, but also because on one particular side of the family there were some strained relationships. By the time my granny passed away, one faction of the family wasn't exactly friendly to the other and it created some awkwardness at the funeral. But we muddled through.

I guess in a way a funeral is like the last thing you can really do for a person. This is why I stood, along with other members of my family, for hours on end in a receiving line as hundreds of people attended a visitation and paid their respect for my great grandpa. An old time country preacher who had lived in the area all of his 96 years, he knew everybody. And he was from a time when people still went to funerals, or at least to visitation. When just showing up really meant something.

We stood there at the front of the chapel, near his open casket, letting people file through, shake our hands, and hug our necks for hours. And tell us how good he looked.

No matter how tired I felt, or how much my feet hurt in my pointy toed shoes, it was so comforting to have all those people tell me what my grandfather had meant to them. To hear them recount stories of how he’d baptized their father, or married their parents, or held their own grandpa’s funeral. And how he had always been there for them. And how they just wanted us to know that it made a difference in their lives.

And the entire time, I thought "This is exactly what he would have wanted me to do. What he would have expected us to do." And it was something I could do for him. So that’s what I did.

Death doesn't have to be scary or weird. Even though it's sad. And funeral homes don't have to be creepy places. Sometimes they can bring real comfort. Especially when it feels like the one you loved is being honored and celebrated. When there’s a loss of somebody who meant the world to you, it’s okay to want to mark the event in some way. To come together with others who knew and loved the dearly departed. To cry together, tell stories together and just remember. And I guess for me that’s what funeral homes are for. A place where the life of somebody who mattered is recognized.

[image via Library of Congress Digital Repository

July 26, 2017

Dog Days of Summer - Cool Stuff for Your Pampered Pooch

We're right in the thick of the Dog Days of Summer and this is a great time to celebrate our furry friends with some dog-friendly products.

Whether your dog is young or old, active or not, there's sure to be something here he or she might enjoy! I'm sharing some great products for dog lovers who want to show their canine companions some love while the temps are hot.


Thanks to my friends at CitiFid-O for these great recommendations. You can find these and many more items for your pets at CitiFid-O, located in the heart of downtown Knoxville.


An awesome local shop, CitiFid-O takes great pride in offering as many local products as possible for the urban pet owner. From the moment you step in the store, you’ll feel their passion for cats and dogs. From the moment your pet steps in the store, they’ll feel like they’re home.

Fun Stuff for Dogs that Love the Water: 


A collar that doesn't get stinky and nasty when wet! This is perfect for dogs who have lots of style and want to express it. 


Stylish, 100% waterproof and forever odor-free, Muck Dog Collars are the perfect solution for dogs who love to explore. The special flexible coating allows your dog to swim, roll and romp through the great outdoors, but doesn't allow any of that outdoor dirt to get inside the collar and stink it up. When you're done for the day, just run water over the collar and it comes clean in seconds. 

Strap on a Muck Collar to deny dirt, beat bacteria, and play dirty!
  • 100% waterproof
  • Soft but strong webbing
  • Forever odor-free
  • Will never absorb moisture, dirt, or bacteria
  • Cleans in seconds
  • PVC free

Fun floating toys perfect for a day at the lake or the quarry! 


Clockwise from top - 
  • West Paw Frisbee - it floats and flies! 
  • Ruffwear HydroPlane - not only does it float, but it's made of abrasion resistant materials
  • Kurgo Doggie Dart & Backyard Birdie - fun colors and also floats
  • West Paw Boz - colorful squishy balls that float and bounce
  • Ruffwear Lunker - a fun toy that floats -- plus it's made of recycled materials 

And since safety is also important, how about a life vest for your dog? The K-9 Float Coat has a cool handle right on top that allows you to easily lift your pup out of the water. 



Keep Your Canine Companions Cool with these Products: 


Some say cool is a state of mind, but when temps reach the 90s and above in Tennessee, it's something we're all trying to achieve...especially our furry friends. Dogs can overheat easily and these products are highly recommended to help them stay cool when weather is hot. 

Chill Seeker Cooling Vest | Canada Pooch 


Turn summer's heat from grueling into cooling with this cool product! It uses evaporative technology to keep your pup cool on hot days. 

Simply soak the vest in water and wring it out. As the water evaporates, it absorbs heat and cools your pooch for ultimate summer comfort. 

PetSafe Drinkwell® Everflow Indoor/Outdoor Fountain


No more refilling the water bowl! Now pets always have access to fresh, filtered water with the Everflow Pet Fountain. When used outdoors, the fountain connects to a standard garden hose and automatically refills to the desired water level you've chosen. When used indoors, the Everflow can hold 1.5 gallons of water. The fountain continuously circulates and filters the water, keeping it cleaner and fresher than a normal water bowl.

Dexas Snack-DuO™ Bottle and Collapsible Companion Cup




This great product is a dual water bottle and snack container that offers both cool water and a crunchy snack for your dog when you are both on the go. Watertight cap top on liquid side, widemouth snap lid on snack side. Flip open the lid to dispense treats or kibble, then pop open the cap top to pour a cool drink of water in the attached collapsible companion cup. BPA free and dishwasher safe.

Coolin' Pet Cot 


Help your dog stay cool in the heat with the K&H Coolin' Pet Cot™. This product combines the innovative design of the Original Pet Cot™ with the addition of a cooling center for added comfort. 

It's truly a unique cooling dog bed!

Musher's Secret 


Musher's Secret is a dense, barrier wax that forms a breathable bond with your dog's paws. Developed in Canada for use with sledding dogs, it provides tenacious protection even in the most extreme conditions. 

 Mushers Wax available in three sizes. Safe and Natural, it's made from a blend of several food-grade
waxes, then refined according to special formulations. Musher's Secret is the safe, non-toxic
way to protect your dog's paws. The semi-permeable shield is absorbed into the paws, allowing perspiration to escape through the toes.

Check out these products to keep your furry friends fluffy and free of fleas & ticks: 


FURminator® Long Hair deShedding Dog Tool


By reducing shedding up to 90%, the FURminator Deshedding Tool enables you to share your home with your dog, without surrendering it to his hair. Used and recommended by veterinarians, groomers and pet professionals, this tool is guaranteed to reduce shedding better than any brush, rake or comb!

Natural Chemistry Flea and Tick Shampoo



Natural Flea & Tick Shampoo for Dogs kills fleas and ticks by contact. It is fully effective for up to 7 days. The shampoo is also effective on blackflies and mosquitoes. It contains oatmeal proteins that moisture, nourish and revitalize dry coat, also leaving the coat soft and smooth.

Dog Gone Smart Dirty Dog Shammy Towel

Dog Gone Smart Dirty Dog Shammy Towel can help you get your wet dog dry after a bath. It’s an absorbent microfiber towel that soaks up 20 times the amount of water and mud than the average shammy towel can. And it dries eight times faster than cotton towels or a blow dryer. This quick-dry towel also features dual hand pockets with elastic to allow for a better grip when drying off your pooch. Added bonus: your dog will enjoy the feel of the ultra-soft fabric as it massages him while it dries.

Help your dog feel calm during fireworks and summer thunderstorms with ThunderShirt! 


The patented ThunderShirt design applies gentle, constant pressure to calm anxiety, fear, and over excitement. Calms during fireworks, thunder, separation, travel, vet visits, and much more with no training and no medication so your dog stays drug-free. Great for rescue dogs.

This is just a sampling of the great products available at CitiFid-O in Downtown Knoxville. There are so many cool gadgets and gizmos available for dogs and since our furry friends are such an important part of our lives, why not pamper them this summer and beyond? 

July 21, 2017

I don't want to do nothing


This past spring, my husband and I went to Easter church service with my parents. Their church holds a certain nostalgia for me because it's the same one I attended during my teenage years. One of my dear friends from youth group is now the associate pastor and the main pastor of the church performed our wedding ceremony.

The church, which is now much larger with modern features, was once the site of our youth group lock-ins, where we'd play capture the flag and hide and go seek. On Easter Sunday, the pastor shared a really great message. I won't get into all the details of it, but he touched on various things that hold us back, things that keep us bound up, stuck. He specifically mentioned shame.

Do you ever wonder why certain things pop into your mind after many years of being buried?

What came to my mind during the sermon about shame was an incident that happened when I was in high school. I was probably fourteen or fifteen...not yet old enough to drive myself to and from school.

The kids who drove exited school through one door, to the lot where their cars were parked. The ones whose parents picked us up went out the front door and sat in clumps on the sidewalk waiting for our rides.

One day, I was sitting out there waiting for my ride and saw a scene unfold. An older teenager I knew from church was out there. His name was Ivan and he had Down syndrome. He was a good-natured guy everybody knew and liked. His mom or whoever was picking him up pulled into the loading area and he got up to meet her.

On the way to his mom's car, Ivan's feet got tangled up and he stumbled, falling face first on the concrete. His books flew every which way and his backpack slid forward up around his neck as he lay on the sidewalk. This group of boys were sitting nearby and one of them jeered, laughing loudly at Ivan, applauding him sarcastically.

Ivan's mom, who I also knew from church, jumped out of the car and came running over. She was furious, her face red as she pointed at the boy who had taunted her son. "Don't you ever laugh at him," she said, with a staccato rhythm, as if each word had its own exclamation point.

She went to help Ivan up, checking to see if he was hurt and helping him brush himself off. She put her arm around his shoulders, walked him to their car and they drove away.

This whole scene unfolded before me probably twenty years ago. That's a pretty long time. But something my parents' preacher said on Easter brought it back to my mind as if it were yesterday. Shame can definitely hold us back. But sometimes what holds us back brings its own form of shame.

When Ivan fell, I did nothing. When the other kid laughed, I did nothing.

It's just as possible to be any of the characters in this little vignette. How many times have you been the one who fell? Maybe not a literal fall, but a misstep that caused you to take a tumble in life. Maybe you set out on a path that didn't lead where you intended. Did you feel foolish? Like a failure? With your shortcomings on display for all the world to see.

Or maybe you've been the mean kid. For the record, the guy in my story had a history of being mean. After writing this post, my curiosity got the best of me and I looked him up on Facebook. I saw a photo of him holding a cat and another of him holding his baby niece. Maybe he's not such a bad guy but he seemed pretty mean back then.

We're mean for all sorts of different reasons. Fear. Wanting to fit in. Needing someone else to feel small so we feel bigger. It's like we sit and wait for someone to show any sign of weakness, and we pounce on them.

Or maybe, in various situations in life. you've been like me. Watching everything happen and wishing you could stop it, but finding yourself unable to do anything about it. Not quite as guilty as the mean kid hurling taunts, but also not innocent either. I wish I could tell this story a different way. I wish I could brag and say that I stood up to the playground bully. But that's just not what happened.

We can't change what's been done. As badly as we feel about it, there's nothing we can do about past mistakes. But surely we can learn from it. Let's not be the ones who do nothing.

**I wrote this post months ago but it wasn't until a recent news story in Cocoa, Florida that compelled me to publish it. I'm not passing judgement in any way. In these times when life seems so unfair and circumstances are so challenging, it's hard to know what to do. But doing nothing is not the answer.**

July 16, 2017

Happiness = Things X Meaningful ^ Repeated


You know how in movies or on television, people in psychiatrist's offices are always lying on couches? That has never been my experience in real life. Although, technically, I guess I've never been to a psychiatrist.

When I refer to therapy or counseling from my own experience, I'm talking about psychologists. I just wanted to make it clear in case you were wondering.

During adulthood, I have seen a handful of counselors and they have always been psychologists, which means they can't prescribe medication.

The first time I went to a therapist was with my mom. It was during my teen years and I think she was worried about me because of some things that were going on with my biological dad. I don't remember much about the counseling session, but mainly just that I was pretty guarded seeing as how I was a teenager and my mom was in the room.

After college when I found myself working for a university, my employer's health insurance included something called an EAP, or employee assistance program. It provided six sessions with a counselor, chosen from an approved list. I took advantage of that for awhile and saw a couple of different counselors but never really felt like I connected with either of them.

Before our wedding, my now husband and I had a few short counseling sessions with our pastor. It was all well and good, but our time was limited and it was mainly to get a discount on our marriage license.

It wasn't until our second year of marriage when things had gotten, well, frankly quite challenging that we decided to see a couple's counselor. It was probably the best decision we could have made. Our counselor was a really great guy, thoughtful with a calm demeanor. And he helped us work through so many important things. Our marriage is stronger and happier thanks to his input and wisdom.

We've been fortunate to get our counseling through a local university clinic, whose staff is made up of students doing their clinical work in the PhD program and payment is on a sliding scale. If you have always wanted to seek counseling for one reason or another, please don't let cost be a reason not to. Whether you have an employer provided EAP or maybe there's a college in your area with a similar program to what we have, there are options out there.

And please don't let shame or fear keep you from seeking help. Sure, people might judge you. People judge each other for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. That shouldn't stand between you and the possibility of getting help.

Last year I was diagnosed with Scoliosis and now I go to the chiropractor. There are plenty of folks who think chiropractic care is all hooey and snake oil. But it has helped me.

There is no shame in seeking help of any kind. And that includes counseling.

I'm sure there are people, maybe even some who know me, reading this thinking they would NEVER go to a therapist, let alone tell anyone about it.

Well you just might be surprised how much it could help you.

Case in point...

I was talking to my therapist this week about an experience I had with a local nonprofit. I saw a call on Facebook that this organization was looking for volunteers and I was available and decided to pitch in and help. It was no big deal and I am not trying to brag on myself but I was amazed at how happy I felt during and after the time I spent.

Like this feeling of being able to do something small and make a difference in someone's life. It was incredible.

And my therapist said that it made perfect sense. He said it's common for people to think that in order to be happy, we have to focus on making happiness our goal.

But you can't just try to be happy. It doesn't work that way.

Then he said something I know I'll always remember.

Happiness comes as the result of doing meaningful things.

How many times have we tried to do less than meaningful things with the end goal of happiness? But those things didn't produce the desired feeling we had hoped to achieve. And we end up feeling like our efforts, or even worse...ourselves, are a complete and total failure. This can be kind of a kick in the gut.

So what's the secret to happiness? I'm becoming more and more convinced that it's simply finding out what those meaningful things are for each of us. And doing them.

What's meaningful to me might seem silly to you and what's meaningful to you might seem like a chore to me. But we all get to have our own unique brand of meaningful. Whether that's self-care, doing for others, creating, physical activity, travel or whatever. And maybe (probably) it's a combination of all these.

I've always said that one of the things I love most about the south is that we put a lot of meaning into everything we do. And exploring that meaning, including telling the stories of those who are no longer here to tell them, is one of my favorite things. It has meaning to me. This blog is my meaningful thing. Not because of post clicks or unique visitors but because it's a small way I can add something encouraging to the world. It's a way I can spill the beans and remind people (maybe you) that we're not alone here. We're all in this together.

If you've found yourself lately in the pursuit of happiness, maybe change your focus. Consider embarking on a new journey....in the pursuit of meaning. And I'm betting that along the way, happiness will find you.

July 12, 2017

Shop Local | Tennessee Gift Baskets from Maryville-Based Clover Hill Trading Co.


Summer is a time for celebrations...from weddings to baby showers, birthday festivities and housewarming parties. And there's nothing like a thoughtful gift to make a meaningful occasion that much more memorable.

I love finding new and unique gift options that make people feel special and I recently stumbled across an awesome local company with some great gift baskets.

Clover Hill Trading Co., based in Maryville, Tennessee, offers carefully curated gift baskets filled with local goodies that are sure to delight everyone who receives them.

Owner Stacey is an artist who believes there is nothing like receiving a gift filled with items crafted locally and I completely agree! And our region of East Tennessee has some incredible makers and artisans creating lovely wares.

Clover Hill Trading Co. baskets come in a variety of styles with products and goods for different occasions. Local potters, farmers, candle makers, coffee roasters, and apiaries have been carefully selected and sourced for these splendid baskets.

Joyful Morning Gift Basket | Clover Hill Trading Co. 


This gift basket is sure to get your morning started on the right foot. It has nearly everything you need for a "joyful morning" from locally roasted coffee to handcrafted pottery made right in East Tennessee. Yes, that's a mug from none other than McQueen Pottery, a favorite of mine whose wares grace the tables at Blackberry Farm and other fabulous eateries. 

This basket also includes wares from Knoxville Chocolate Co., Smokey Ridge Apiary, and Laurel Mountain Candles. 

This would be a perfect gift for a bride and groom to enjoy on their first morning as a married couple.


Clean Slate | Clover Hill Trading Co. 


This summer has been hot....and I'm not just talking about the weather. The real estate market in East Tennessee has been on fire with buyers competing for fewer homes than in many years.

But for those lucky folks who do manage to snag their dream home, why not give them a memorable housewarming gift?

There are plenty of other reasons to celebrate a clean slate...perhaps a new stage in life, a new job or a new way of thinking. This gift basket will help clean out the cobwebs (literally and figuratively) in style!

Clean Slate | Clover Hill Trading Co.

Gourmet Charcuterie | Clover Hill Trading Co. 


July is National Picnic Month and what better way to celebrate the occasion than with a really grand picnic? Clover Hill has you covered with their Gourmet Charcuterie gift basket.

Including tasty snacks from East Tennessee's Century Harvest Farms, plus fruit, local chocolate, goat cheese and more, this basket will make your mouth water.

There's no reason a gift can't be for yourself...so consider this awesome ready-made picnic for your next soiree!

Gourmet Charcuterie | Clover Hill Trading Co.

Fireside | Clover Hill Trading Co. 


This might just be my favorite Clover Hill Trading Co. basket because it reminds me of another favorite of mine: fall. Cooler weather, crisp leaves and nights spent around a crackling fire. 

This basket includes everything you need to make your next fireside experience more delightful, starting with a wool blanket, kindling and matches, plus your very own s'mores kit. Add a bottle of wine and the locally made insect repellent, and you're all set. 

Perfect for your next romantic getaway! 


Clover Hill Trading Co. offers hand delivery within 30 miles of Maryville, TN and if you want to send a basket to someone who doesn't live nearby, there are shipping options available too. I have friends all over the country who would be tickled to receive these beautiful baskets...how about you?

Are you a local vendor or purveyor of fine goods? Clover Hill is always looking for craftsmen to add to the collections. If you are interested, contact Stacey at hello@cloverhilltrading.com.

July 8, 2017

Learning to FIDO


In the thirteen years I've been with my now-husband, I have received an education about all sorts of military-related things.

When we first started dating, my well-meaning mom bought him a pair of boxer shorts patterned like the American flag. You've probably seen some variation of this...one side is blue with stars and the other side red and white stripes. When she presented the shorts to him, he politely thanked her but later told me he wouldn't be wearing them.

"How come?" I asked.

"I'm not putting the American flag on my ass," he replied, as if this were something I should have known.

Not having much previous experience with anything military-related, this and so many other things were totally new to me.

Like how there's a big difference between people who are tough (they don't talk about it or feel the need to display it) and people who are fake tough (they wear it like a banner for all to see). Or the fact that you don't 'shoot' guns, you 'fire' them. Or how most military movies get so much so wrong.

Something else I've learned a little bit about is some of the different sayings and phrases commonly used by members of the military. Early on, my husband taught me the phrase "Smooth is fast." It means that when you get in a hurry, you can get flustered and make mistakes that you probably wouldn't make if you took your time. My husband said this to me for years and then, while watching the film Shooter, we heard Mark Wahlberg say it, with the addition of the phrase "Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast." 

It's funny because my great-grandmother actually had a very similar phrase she liked to repeat, which is "the best way to go fast is to go slow." For a long time I had no idea what that meant, but coupled with the smooth is fast saying, it makes more sense.

Something else my husband has taught me is FIDO. In military slang, it's an acronym for the phrase "F#@k it, drive on."

When I asked him what might be some scenarios in which FIDO is an appropriate response, he said maybe if lost your weapon or your pack, or your ride broke down or any other number of things. There's no time to stop and worry about it because there's too much at stake. Drive on.

It sounds so simple, but it's actually quite hard for some of us. So many times in life, I have an inclination to stop moving forward and ruminate on the situation at hand.

Sort of like how my beloved Aunt Bo doesn't chew her gum, she just "wallers (wallows) it around in her mouth," I am wont to waller in so many situations. To roll around and settle in, exploring every inch of every possible morsel that might apply to me.

And this isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes a healthy amount of self-reflection can be good. It can help us see things more clearly. It can help us learn about ourselves and others. It can help us avoid certain situations or keep unhealthy patterns from repeating.

But there are other times in life when it just doesn't serve us to stop and waller. When we're actually better off to FIDO.

I'm learning this.

Some situations are just baffling. Sometimes the behavior of others, while completely out of our control, affects us in colossal ways. No matter how much we explore every inch of this junk, it might never make sense. It probably doesn't make sense to the others involved either, if that makes you feel any better.

I'm definitely not advocating any sort of approach that involves ignoring your feelings or pretending like things don't affect you. This doesn't seem healthy to me. But I am saying that in certain instances, it may just be better to FIDO.

I'm reading this book called You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life and it says that much of our reality is created by the crap we have believed in life. Because of all the messages our subconscious has taken in without our even realizing it.

That we aren't good enough. That we don't deserve good things. That we deserve the judgement and criticism of others. That we should hold ourselves to an unattainable standard of perfection.

This is where FIDO could really help. When we find ourselves accepting a truth that we didn't intend to believe in the first place. I do it all the time. Behave a certain way because of some wacky belief that I didn't realize I had.

And instead of stopping to ponder it or waller it around to see it from all sides, maybe I should just keep in mind that I have bigger, more important things to do in this world and I should just FIDO.

July 3, 2017

A Knoxville Stay-Cation with East TN Tours


Sometimes a big, extravagant summer vacation just isn't possible. Whether because of scheduling conflicts, budget or both, big trips may not be in your future this summer. I feel your pain. After a spring that was jam-packed with travel, I have no trips on the horizon.

But what if I told you there were all sorts of incredible things to enjoy right under your nose? Maybe you should consider a "Stay-cation" this summer! I recently had the opportunity to take a walking tour in Knoxville and become a tourist in my own town. It was a blast and I really enjoyed the experience.


The walking tour I participated in is called the "Chef’s Table Tour with East TN Tours." For a flat fee, you get to do the tour and enjoy yummy food to taste at each stop along the way. My tour experience was complimentary as part of an agreement to write about it on the blog, but you all know I don't recommend anything unless I really mean it!

East TN Tours is owned and operated by Lauren Quinn who was also our tour guide for the event. I met up with Lauren at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center at the corner of Summit Hill and Gay Street on a Saturday afternoon for our tour.

One thing that is great about Knoxville is free parking in all the downtown garages on the weekends. Plus, the Visitor’s Center offers free parking for tours. Maybe your city has a bustling downtown area that you've been meaning to explore. There are probably all sorts of restaurants and places you haven't visited. Even after living in Knoxville for nearly 20 years, there are plenty of spots I haven't tried yet.

Lauren was a great guide, offering us portable mister fans to beat the heat. She is obviously passionate about local culture and history and gave our group lots of fun facts along the way.

We walked from location to location, spending a bit of time at each for the food portion. By partnering with local restaurants, East TN Tours is able to pre-arrange each experience along the tour.

Another fun part of the tour was getting to talk with other folks in the group.


Our first stop was Clancy’s Tavern and Whiskey House, on Gay Street just next to the historic Tennessee Theatre. In fact, this is usually where we go right before seeing a show at the Tennessee. When my brother and his girlfriend were visiting, we took them there to grab a bite before seeing Rent and it was delicious.

An Irish pub with a large drink menu, Clancy's offers something for everyone. Plus their food is tasty and they have vegetarian options.

For the tour, everyone else had Shepherd's Pie and I had a veggie burger. So good!


Next we walked over to Market Square and enjoyed some treats at Tomato Head. I had the tomato soup, which might seem like a strange choice on a hot summer day, but theirs is so good I couldn't pass it up.


From there, we walked down Gay Street to Jackson and our next stop, Balter Beerworks.


Balter is a new-ish brewery located in an old service station on South Broadway. This wasn't my first time there, but it was my first time enjoying some of their yummy food.

Balter serves their own craft beers and food made from scratch. My husband likes to go for the $1.50 tacos, which are pretty darn great.


For the food tour, we sampled Balter’s burrito bowl, a layered dish with rice and beans, topped with blackened chicken, lettuce, charred salsa, pico de gallo, crema, cilantro, cotija cheese, and house made chips. Mine was meat-free but it was still so hearty and delicious.

And believe it or not, this is only a half-sized portion.


Next, our tour continued down into the Old City for a stop at a spot I've been meaning to try, Old City Wine Bar. Located on West Jackson Avenue, it is nestled in the midst of an area having a real resurgence.


Old City Wine Bar is a nice little spot, with more than 48 wine offerings on tap by the glass and three times as many by the bottle.

There's also a limited tapas-style food menu. For our tour, we were treated to a light summer salad with baby Swiss chard, dried cranberries, cucumber, and creamy crumbled goat cheese. It was great.



Our final stop on the East TN Food Tour was at Sugar Mama’s, a bakery/bar in the 100 Block of Gay Street. This is a cute local spot I've been meaning to try. With craft beer, homemade baked goods and other yummy food options, what's not to love?

I didn't get a good photo of the front of Sugar Mama's so I'm stealing this one from another member of the tour. Visit her awesome blog here. 


Our dessert options at Sugar Mama’s included a basket of pastry samples. We tried things like a cherry danish made from a 100 year old recipe, chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, curry shortbread, and fudge cream. 

It was all very tasty and I even bought some extra items to bring home for my husband. 

We all left Sugar Mama’s with full stomachs and smiles on our faces. Everybody walked back to the Visitor's Center where we went our separate ways. This was a great experience and one that I'd highly recommend to anyone looking to explore Knoxville.


There were several other bloggers on the food tour, and we got a group photo. Check out their blogs below from left to right: 
Whether your town has options like this or not, there are all sorts of ways you can find adventure without getting on a plane or a train. Look for ways to take a stay-cation this summer and get creative. I'm sure you'll find all sorts of fun to be had!

June 28, 2017

Fun & Easy Ideas for a July 4th Celebration


July 4th is a day worth celebrating and it's a great time to throw an impromptu summer party for all your favorite people. Whether you're planning to live it up with larger than life July 4th festivities or maybe just host a small summer soiree, our nation's Independence Day is a perfect opportunity to throw a party.

If you've been around this blog before, you know I like simple projects, recipes and party ideas. Why make things harder than they have to be?

Here are three fun and simple ways to celebrate the 4th of July in style!

Drink it up: Star Spangled Stunners

via
Every good party must have a signature drink. It doesn't need to be alcoholic, but if you want to make things a bit more spirited, I won't try to stop you. 

Obviously our color scheme is red, white and blue. With all the wonderful fruit in season right now, this makes it easy to create some delicious concoctions. 

Start with some fresh fruit...raspberries and blueberries are good options. Freeze them in a tray of ice. Then, when they are nice and frozen, plop them into a glass of coconut water (I used Bai). 

You can also add some rum for a bit more spirit. 

I know it seems pretty basic, but sometimes it's the most basic things that really are best. Delicious and easy! 

Jazz Up Plain Coleslaw with Tasty Toppings


Coleslaw is sort of the proverbial red haired step child of the summer barbecue. It's not nearly as exciting as mac and cheese and it's not nearly delicious as potato salad. 

But nobody puts coleslaw in the a corner, at least not on my watch. Here are three ways to take ordinary shredded cabbage and take it to the next level. 

Shredded Cabbage + Blue Cheese + Grape Tomatoes 
Cabbage + Sliced Almonds + Mandarin Oranges + Soy Ginger Dressing
Shredded Cabbage + Coleslaw Dressing + Hot Sauce 

Create a DIY S'mores Station - 


There's nothing quite like s'mores to take you straight back to the magic of childhood summers. Maybe it's the fact that s'mores are kind of messy or perhaps it's just how everyone comes together to enjoy them but they are a great option for an impromptu summer soiree. 

I saw this great DIY S'mores Bar (via Party City) and decided to create my own! 

I was also inspired by the fabulous blog, Love and Zest...check out her S'mores creation below! It's nearly too pretty to eat. 

Love and Zest 
I hope this inspires you to get creative with your 4th of July celebration and make it really special. 

Happy Birthday America! 


June 26, 2017

Fashion Articles I Might Actually Read


All my life, I've had a love-hate relationship with magazines. There's nothing more exhilarating than getting a new one, glossy and filled with perfume samples under their little flaps, and information like 7 Steps to a Better You, TODAY! My taste in magazines has changed over the years, and I suppose this is normal, but the intensity of my love-hated for them has not waned.

As a kid, I got Highlights, which taught me to be a Gallant, not a Goofus. Then, for a period I read The American Girl Catalog, pining always over Molly, the only doll I could identify with (she had glasses don't you see?).

From there, I shifted my focus to Teen, Sassy, YM, and Seventeen. I learned how to flirt, what to wear on a first date, and whether my guy best friend was in fact a Dawson or a Pacey. Then Cosmo Girl and Teen People. Finally, Vogue, Marie Claire and W, which gave me my first real taste of the high fashion world. I was convinced I'd have Anna Wintour's job one day and even typed up and mailed a letter telling her so.

As a senior in high school, I considered myself quite the fashionista. I experimented with styles like cut-off boyfriend jean-turned capris, pre-Man Repeller, but repelling men all the same. I also wore a dress over a pair of pants, which I considered to be quite avant garde for my small-town high school in the late 1990s.

As I got even older, my magazine reading habits shifted away from the fashion titles and more toward home-centric subject matter. Better Homes & Gardens, Real Simple, Domino and such.

But I still want to be plugged in to the world of fashion. Sometimes, I just don't feel like there's a place for me. I'm too old for the trendy 20-something clothes, too young for the boring 40-something clothes, too particular for the cheap, fast fashion crap and too broke for Eileen Fisher.

Maybe you've felt the same way? Fashion magazines are supposed to be aspirational, and I get that, but why do they often leave me feeling worse about myself? Hence the hate part of my love-hate relationship.

I was considering this while washing dishes recently. I started thinking about how many articles in fashion magazines I skip right over because I just don't have the energy to give myself a pep talk afterward.

I think that's why I've moved into mags about home. Home magazines don't seem to bring the same shame that fashion mags do. Buying a new lamp or a punchy accent rug seems more attainable, no matter what size pants I might be wearing.

So, fashion editors, if you are listening, here are some articles that I might actually read.

10 Pants that Don't Give You a FUPA (look it up)
3 Shoes that Don't Make Me Cry After Wearing them All Day (And Also Don't Make Me Look Like a Grandma at the Grand Canyon)
5 Cute Shirts that Hide Back Fat
How to Shop at Thrift Stores and Look like you Shop at Bergdorfs
Outfits for Family Holiday Functions that will Probably Be Super Stressful
What to Wear to Church When You Haven't Been in a Long Time
Up-Dos that Don't Make You Look like a Member of a Gospel Singing Group
Outfits to Wear right after your ex Denied your Facebook friend request


Help a girl out, mkay? 

June 23, 2017

All Things Pink in Honor of National Pink Day


Today is National Pink Day. There's no real reason for the holiday except as an occasion to celebrate that most beloved hue. I haven't gotten on the Marie Kondo "Joy Sparking" bandwagon but I do believe in things that make us happy and pink definitely never fails to make me smile. 

But I am a millennial (barely) and Millennial Pink is a thing,  so there's that. I combed through my photo archives and put together this round-up of a few that make me smile. 

Happy Pink Day y'all! 

1. Pink Lipstick & Pink He-Man Shirt (yes, this is me)



2. My Sweet Leon snoozing peacefully with his Pink little lips



3. My breathtakingly beautiful bridal bouquet with all my favorite shades of pink, peach and coral


4. Perfect pink peonies grown by my dad, transplanted from my great grandmother's garden

 

5. A sentiment we should consider from time to time (Como Si, Como No near Flagler Beach, Florida)

 

6. 60th Anniversary Cake for my grandparents' recent celebration

 

7. Love this combination of aqua and pink

 

8. My next bathroom will be pink


 9. Pink Shelling Beans, aka Shellies from the local farm stand


 10. A perfect pink flower at my favorite garden 

 

11. Art meets Fashion meets Fabulous at the Met for the Comme de Garcons Show 


 12. The Museum of Ice Cream

 

13. Fabulous raspberry creme brulee at District in Cleveland

 

14. View from the porch of my favorite Air BNB (I can't wait to go back)

 

15. More gorgeous blooms from my wedding...those carnations are the perfect shade of dusky pink. To. Die. For. 

 

16. Watermelon + Mint + Feta Salad

 

17. One more glorious peony for good measure


18. A fabulous mock-cocktail perfect for summer evenings (or you can also add champagne for more spirited fun)

 

19. Birthday flower arrangement from a dear friend


 20. Assorted Pink Macarons from Laduree NYC


21. Eudora Welty (by Katherine Sandoz)

 

22. Strawberry Congealed Salad, aka Pink Fluff

 

23. View of Sunrise from Ormond Beach where I spent summers as a child


24. Strawberry Butter made fresh from just picked strawberries, slathered on hot biscuits


25. Words of encouragement I needed to hear.