July 28, 2014

Our Dreams: The Only Reality We Ever Know

"I believe in the dream. I think we only live through our dreams and our imagination. That's the only reality we really ever know.

— Diana Vreeland in A Question of Style: A Conversation with Diana Vreeland by Lally Weymouth, Rolling Stone Magazine, 1977.

Have you ever found yourself awake in the middle of the night after a scary dream? This happens to me sometimes and it's hard to shake that feeling of fear. I try to tell myself it's just a dream....it's not reality.

But then I ran across this quote from the iconic Diana Vreeland and it got me thinking. About dreams. And what's real vs. what isn't.

For so much of our childhoods, we are told that our dreams aren't real. Especially the scary ones.

"It was just a dream...it wasn't real. It can't hurt you."

What if somewhere along the way, we started believing this about all our dreams?

I'm not talking about nightmares starring the boogie-man. I mean the dreams that are rooted way down deep inside of us...in those dark secret places where they can barely get enough air to breathe.

What comes to me is a question, one that's somewhat difficult to ask...but asked it must be.

Do you think your dreams are silly? 

I guess in order to think anything about your dreams, you must first know what they are. [If you aren't sure, maybe spend some time looking inside your heart. You'll find a dream (or two hundred) in there.]

So, about that dream of yours....Is it something you've held out hope that maybe, just maybe, one day might be possible?

Is it something you can imagine yourself doing, week in and week out, in the face of any and all opposition, whether you ever earn a red cent from it or not?

Do you tell yourself your dream can become a reality or do you dismiss your deepest hopes for fear they might be silly? I think fear of being seen as silly is a terrible thing. Just consider what wonderful adventures you might have if you'd only allow yourself to look a bit silly in the process.

Beside my desk is a small postcard with a drawing of a trapeze artist. On it is a quote that says: "It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all."

What are you risking these days? I don't mean your stock market investments. I'm talking about your reputation.

Are you more concerned about what people think of you to the point that you'd let fear of looking silly be a good enough reason to by-pass the possibilities of your dreams?

Unlike those scary dreams that plague my sleep, the dreams of our heart are very, very real. As Dame Vreeland said, our dreams are the only reality we know. So doesn't that mean we can use them to shape our lives? I say yes to that. 

July 25, 2014

Fashion Lessons from My Childhood: Wearing Boots with Dresses

[This post was sponsored by Country Outfitter. All opinions and adventures are my own.]

I've always loved fashion, particularly shoes. Maybe it's because a good pair of shoes can make you feel like you're going places. In particular, I love boots. Always have. Come to think of it, some of my life's most defining moments took place while I was wearing boots. Do you ever think about your past self? A younger you, who might have been a little bolder or a little less scared to try something new. When I think about my childhood self, so many of the memories that come to mind include vivid imagery of what I wore. 

I think there's something we can learn from our childhood selves. After all, isn't that who we've been all along? I'm looking back at some of my childhood fashion choices to hopefully gain a little wisdom from my younger self. 

My first pair of boots were pink cowgirl boots. Honestly, I was so young, I really don't remember wearing them. But they are simply fab. I like to think I took my first steps in them. Who's to say it isn't true?

Another pair of boots that I loved like crazy as a child were white leather ankle boots with fringe around the tops and round silver buckles. My aunt and uncle (who were just dating then), took 5-year old me to the county fair and of course, I wore my white boots paired with a denim mini-skirt [What is it about little girls wearing boots with dresses? So adorable!]

We were riding in my uncle's truck, which I'm sure he'd cleaned thoroughly to impress his date (who would later become my aunt). I was riding in the middle between them. Glancing down, my boots were so beautiful and if I kicked my feet just so, the fringe fluttered in the wind. 

"Kate, don't kick your feet, you'll knock open the ashtray," my uncle warned. 

I hated to disobey him, but my boots looked so pretty as the sunlight glimmered on the shiny silver buckles. What could it hurt to give my heels another little kick? My white leather boot-clad toe hit the truck's ashtray compartment, which practically exploded, blowing ashes all over my boots (and me). My uncle was not pleased. 

Lesson learned: Sometimes you should listen the first time. 

Then I was 12 and wanted my first real grown up pair of cowboy boots. I begged my grandpa to take me to a boot shop nearby to get some. As an only grandchild on that side of the family, I was used to getting my way. But real cowboy boots were expensive and my grandpa wasn't convinced. Finally, I wore him down. 

When we went to pick out a pair, I tried all sorts of brown and black options. Feeling like they just weren't special enough, I kept looking. Finally, I spotted the pair that I knew were the ones. Soft gray leather with colorful cut-outs on each side. And not just any cut-outs. Neon green cacti and bright blue coyotes howling at a neon yellow moon. It was the 90s. Neon was kind of a thing. What makes me sad about these boots is that my feet were still growing. The next summer, I outgrew them and never wore them again. But I'll never forget the feeling they gave me...even if it didn't last long. 

Lesson learned: Savor every moment and every experience...you never know when something great will fade into the past.

As I came into adolescence and the joys of being a teenager, I struggled to figure out who I wanted to be. Boots with dresses were a big part of my wardrobe. One day I'd wear a black velvet baby doll dress with black patent leather ankle boots a' la Cyndi Lauper. The next, I might find myself in a dress printed with farm animals paired with slip on Keds booties. My style (like my angsty teenage moods) was all across the board.

So you might be wondering what's the lesson to be learned here? We don't always figure everything out when we want to. But in time, life unfolds and good things will come from it. At 32, I'm still trying to figure out who I want to be. And I think that's a good thing.

Another hard life lesson I learned while wearing boots took place in college. My sorority was having a hoe-down themed date party and there was a guy I liked and I wanted him to accompany me. His name was Frank. Little did I know that Frank had a girlfriend on the side who also happened to live in the same dormitory as me.

I took him to the party and probably fawned all over him, acting a little too silly...the whole time not knowing that after the night was over he would be going back to the dorm room of another girl. When I found out I was mortified and pretty mad. I confronted him, but he wouldn't come clean. Not much came of it after that. He ended up staying with her and we parted ways.

But the lesson from the boots was this: Don't settle for someone who doesn't think you're amazing. There's no reason to play second fiddle or be with someone who'd rather be with someone else. 

Thankfully, memories of Frank have faded into the past. There's only one guy in my life now and I'm glad there's only one girl in his life: me.

Another great lesson learned from the Frank fiasco was how important it is to have great girlfriends in your life. My friend Jill had some particularly choice words for Frank the next time she saw him and it made me feel supported to know that someone was looking out for me.

When I look back at all these stories, it strikes me how often I've worn boots with dresses in my life. This fashion statement, with all its iconic southern style, sort of sums up for me what it means to be a woman.

Wearing a dress feels oh so feminine and lady-like, but the boots remind the world that there's a toughness too. Isn't that what being a woman is all about? Finding that perfect balance of strength and softness?

These are just a few of the many life lessons I've learned, and what I wore. Do you have any memorable shoes that made you feel like you were going places? Maybe you had a favorite pair of boots that you loved. How do you like to wear boots with dresses? 

July 24, 2014

Preserving Fruits and Vegetables: How to Can

Growing up in the south, with grandparents who farmed, canning and putting up summer vegetables was a big part of my childhood. Of course I was too young to really know what was going on, but I remember how hard my grandmothers worked alongside my mom and aunt as they washed, peeled, cooked, cooled and canned various crops.

I've wanted to can for some time now, but was pretty intimidated by it all, after hearing horror stories of pressure cookers exploding, food spoilage and contamination. When a sweet southern lady invited me to spend a day with her and learn how to can, I jumped at the chance!

**NOTE: This is in no way an extensive resource for canning...just my experiences. I'm linking to some great information for you if you're a novice canner or hoping to try it out. Read on!

Pressure Canning vs. Water Bath Canning 

For my first lesson in canning, we selected green beans as our test subject. Depending on what you want to can, you will have to choose your method. Green beans require pressure cooker canning because they are a low-acid food. Click here for more information on this type of canning.

Water bath canning might be better for beginning canners since you are more likely to have a large stock pot vs. a pressure cooker. I've since added a pressure canner  to my wedding registry! Water bath canning is best for high-acid foods, which are easier to preserve. Click here for more information on water bath canning.

Both canning methods require some of the same basic tools. For any kind of canning, you will need: 

1) Either a pressure cooker or a stock pot for water bath canning
2) Jars - glass Mason jars (Ball® brand or other). 
3) Jar lids (this is the round, flat part) and jar bands (this is the part that looks like a ring)
4) Jar lifter - to remove hot jars from the canner
5) Jar funnel - to help you get your food into the jars more easily
6) Lid magnet or tongs - to remove lids from the hot water prior to placing them on jars

Basically, you follow your recipe depending on what you are trying to make. Be careful if you are using recipes from vintage cookbooks. Many of the older methods that were once used for canning are now considered unsafe or unhealthy. If your cookbook is more than 20 years old, take that into account and be sure to process your jars even if it doesn't call for it.

Here are a few other things to consider as you are canning: 

Canning Do's & Don'ts - 

It's important to remember you must use jars made for canning. Do not to re-use old Mayonaise jars or any other types of jars that had food in them bought from the store. These are not made to hold up to the heat of canning over and over again.

Also, don't ever re-use lids, but you can re-use bands.

Jars must be clean (really clean!) and hot before you put food into them. When I canned green beans, we filled the kitchen sink with hot water and submerged the jars prior to filling each one with green beans.

Lids must be hot too, before putting them on the jars so you'll want to keep them in a small pot of hot water. 

My best advice is to gather all materials before you begin. And make sure you have plenty of time to devote to canning because it's not something you can rush. At one point, the pressure cooker we were using wasn't sealed all the way so we had to stop and start all over. Then one of my jars didn't seal because two lids got stuck together. Little things can go wrong, but it's a learning process.

After a successful first attempt at canning green beans (13 out of the 14 jars I canned sealed properly!), I feel much more confident. I haven't tackled any other canning projects yet, but I think jelly might be my next thing to try. I feel silly for being so intimidated and avoiding it for so long, but now that I can can, I feel like I'm keeping part of my family legacy alive. I'm nowhere near achieving the master cook and canning status that my granny might have had, but I'm working on it.

Here's a complete resource for canning, if you want to check it out! 

July 21, 2014

When Your Family Hates Your Cooking

In the south, the way we cook and the foods we eat matter a lot to us. I think this is probably true of other cultures besides the south, but since this is my only point of reference, that's all I know. Not only is our food sort of central to our traditions and celebrations, but the act of cooking can also be such a meaningful expression of love.

Take for instance the last meal I made for my southern beau. I carefully washed and chopped vegetables. I heated some fancy olive oil in a skillet, making sure it wouldn't burn. I added garden fresh herbs. I whipped up half a dozen farmers' market organic cage-free eggs (you know the kind that come from chickens who live in penthouses and dine on silver trays).

In case you were wondering, the end result of this culinary process was supposed to be something like a frittata. I worked my kitchen magic, all the while thinking about how much I love my beau and how making him a special meal would in turn make him feel special too.

He ate in mostly silence and when I asked him if he wanted seconds, he replied "I didn't really like it, honey."

I was a little devastated.

Am I the only one who has felt this way? Why is it that we put so much meaning into preparing a meal and if our family loves it, we feel so great but if they hate it, we feel awful? I know it's nothing personal against me. And it's not like my beau hates every meal I cook. But there have been a few things over the years that have gone down in history as being the 'worst of the worst.'

Most recently, it was my frittata fiasco, but before that were some other dishes he didn't like, including a red cabbage dish that was utterly inedible.

I know that a few kitchen missteps don't make me a bad cook. Yet these things still leave me feeling sort of dejected. But why? I think this feeling comes from the amount of pressure we put on ourselves to create the perfect meal, bake the most beautiful cake, plan the Pinterest-worthy party, etc. It's a lot of pressure.

Before ever starting one of my own, I used to read blogs religiously. The first blog I stumbled upon was Apartment Therapy and its sister site, The Kitchn. Founded by an adorable married couple, the blog was all about creating a beautiful life in a small space. I ate it up. I bookmarked every post that applied to me, printed tons of recipes and tried to soak up as much inspiration as possible.

Then not too long ago, I read somewhere that the blogs' founders were divorcing. The husband gave an interview saying that the pressure of trying to create the perfect life had contributed to the downfall of their marriage. And this made me so sad for them, because from the outside it appeared they had created this perfect life for themselves...but I guess it was never enough.

When is this bubble going to burst? This "my life is only worth something if it looks good enough to showcase on social media and the Internet" bubble. It just can't sustain itself. I'm afraid it's already making people feel like crap and it will only get worse. Even the current trend of the "Pinterest Fail" is a bit worrisome to me. So you tried to reconstruct some Disney character out of fondant and it turned out looking like Al Capone. Did it taste okay? Did you try your best and put your heart and soul into it? So what if the end result wasn't exactly like the inspiration photo on Pinterest. Does that really mean your effort was a failure?

My goal with Southern Belle Simple is to create a little bit of lovely in the world. But even more than that, my goal is to tell my story. Not in a way that makes me look better, but just who I really am. And apparently I am a person who gets too overzealous with herbs which have the potential to render my frittatas inedible.

So what? It doesn't say anything about my character. And my beau still choked it down...which means it wasn't even really that bad.

I'm sure everyone who cooks has made something that someone didn't like. It doesn't mean they had to throw in their apron.

We've got to give ourselves a break. And I'd hate to think of all the wonderful things we'd miss if fear of failure kept us from trying.

July 9, 2014

Simple Tips to Make a Family Reunion More Fun

Summer is family reunion season. In fact, more than 65% of all family reunions take place during the warmer months. Whether you're planning a family reunion this year or just looking for ways to re-connect with your loved ones during the summer, here are some simple tips to make it more fun for everyone.

1) DIY Creative Family Tree Art

One of the biggest reasons some folks are hesitant to attend family reunions is that they feel like they won't know anybody or they won't know what to talk about. With families spread around the globe, it's not uncommon to have relatives you've never met.

A way to break the ice at your next family reunion is to create DIY Family Tree art. Not only does it allow everyone to get their creative juices flowing, but it also provides a way to start talking about who's who and how you each fit into the family tree.

All you need is some poster board or cardstock. Your family tree art can be large or small, simple or elaborate. If you're very artistic, you might want to draw portraits of each family member. Or maybe you can represent them with stickers (like my example above), photos, or just text.

Making a family tree is also a good way to teach kids about the members of their family and how everyone is connected. Even if you aren't headed to a reunion this summer, this project is something for your family to do together. Then, as new members of the family are born or marry into your clan, you can add them to the tree.

2) Genealogy Guessing Game 

Another way to break the ice and learn more about each other at a family reunion is with a genealogy guessing game. I found a simple template on Microsoft Publisher and printed it off at home, but you can also just use index cards. Put names and photos of members of your family on one side of each card and fun facts about them on the other.

You can use these in several different ways. First, you can play a game where you try to identify which family member is being described based on the facts, then flip the card over to check and see if you were right.

They can also function as flash cards prior to the reunion so you can get a better idea of who will be there and what you might want to talk to them about.

You could even make the cards with photos on one side before the reunion and then have everyone who is there write some fun facts about themselves on the back of their card. Possibilities are only limited by what you can think up!

3) Create a Totally Cool Family Time Capsule 

This is another idea that would be fun to try whether you are attending a family reunion or not. Creating a family time capsule is a great way to capture a slice of your family's life right now.

Think about what types of objects (or photos of them) you'd like to include. A family time capsule might be filled with things such as:
  • medals or awards recently won
  • favorite family recipes
  • graduation mementos
  • something from a favorite collection
  • lost teeth
  • small items with sentimental value
  • coins
  • a letter to your future self
  • souvenirs from a special vacation or trip 
  • post cards
  • beloved family photos 
  • flash drive with photo/video files
When you have all your time capsule items gathered up, you'll need some sort of container that can be sealed for at least a year, but maybe more. If your entire family is participating in the time capsule, limit each person to a couple of items. Then pack it away and don't open it back up until the next family reunion. 

Then, you'll have something to look forward to as well as something to talk about when you look back at how much everyone has changed since you sealed the time capsule.

4) Host a Family Photo Swap 

The thing about family photos is often there is only an original copy. To ensure that nobody has to fight over the awesome picture of great aunt Priscilla, I propose a photo swap.

For $10 or less, you can make black and white copies of lots of your beloved family photos at a local print shop. I took mine to Kinko's and did them this way, but you could even scan photos on a home scanner and print them off at a photo studio.

Gather up your photos and make some copies! Then you can divide up the prints so each person at the reunion (who wants one) can get a batch. Ask everyone to do this so you end up leaving with some great photos too.

If you just want digital copies, you could also have everyone scan the photos in and share them via an online file sharing service such as Dropbox.

Some of these ideas might be a little bit cheesy, but isn't that what family reunions are all about?

The bottom line is that a family reunion gives you a chance to reconnect with all the people who share your heritage. Some people go all out with themed family reunions, exotic beach getaways or mountain retreats. My family had a fun reunion years ago at Norris State Park. I don't think we did any activities, but we enjoyed ourselves all the same. Whether your reunion is uber fancy or oh so simple, I hope you enjoy connecting with the folks in your family! 

July 7, 2014

How Old is Too Old?

Age is such a funny thing. It's not really real you know. So much meaning and weight gets tacked on to how old we are. I'm not saying I'm against celebrating birthdays, or even having big blowout celebrations for milestone birthdays. Those things are worth celebrating.

But what does age really matter?

This weekend, I listened to a podcast called Pop Culture Happy Hour about being too old for youth culture and toys. It raised some interesting points about how we outgrow certain things from childhood and not others.

I guess it depends on what type of childhood you had, but mine was pretty great. There was no shortage of time for me to play, especially with my grandparents who always seemed happy to oblige me. I had lots of favorite toys. But more than just the toys themselves was the opportunity they gave me to imagine and dream up all sorts of things.

Transitioning to adulthood is a natural process of growing up. Toys are abandoned for other pursuits. But why does it feel like using our imagination should be outgrown too?

On the podcast, the hosts talked about some of the things they did as children, including re-enacting the mini-series Roots using Matchbox cars. Another described how she and her sister would rake leaves into a giant game board and act like superheroes.

These stories spark something so strongly in me because they remind of similar things I used to do...like my game of "Drive-Thru Window" in which I'd be inside the house near the bedroom window and my grandpa had to go outside and walk up to it. Each time, he'd be a different made-up character, placing outrageous imaginary food orders that I'd have to whip up. We played this for hours.

As I sit here typing this post, my desk holds a couple of small plastic Hello Kitty happy meal toys, as well as my childhood watercolor set and a plastic penguin figurine that when you remove the head reveals a stash of crayons (also a beloved childhood toy). It's not so much that I want to be surrounded by toys, but maybe I just like the whimsy they inspire.

As my southern beau likes to say about me, "you do require a certain amount of whimsy."

Yesterday we got to spend some time with a wonderful lady who happens to be 85. She's a dear family friend and the adventures (and tragedies) her life contains would fill several volumes. But what struck me most about her is her youthful spirit. She was widowed at age 43 (so young) and never remarried. Then she went to college at age 70 and graduated with a degree in art. She certainly doesn't seem to think that she's too old to do anything her heart desires.

In passing, she made a comment about yodeling and when my southern beau found out she yodeled, he asked her to do it for us. She then belted out "I Want to be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" complete with yodeling and harmony. It was amazing! And it just served as another reminder to me that who we are isn't really defined by how many years we've been alive.

[image via]

July 3, 2014

The Difference Between a House and a Home

Last week I spent some time in my hometown and during my stay, we stopped by my great-grandparents' house. This is the house where they lived for nearly as long as I can remember...it's the house where I spent countless Christmas mornings eating a huge country breakfast as well as other holidays as well as ordinary days.

They haven't lived in the house for a few years. My great grandma passed away in the summer of 2003 and my great grandpa died in 2010. Since then, their sons (my grandpa and his brother) have been renting the house to various tenants. The most recent tenant just moved out and since the house was vacant, I wanted to go see it.

Driving the familiar route to the house, I almost convinced myself for a second that my great grandparents would be there. I know this is crazy, but when something is so familiar to you as being one way, it can be hard for our mind to accept that things have changed.

When we first pulled into the driveway, the house looked the same. Then, on closer inspection I began to see all the little things that made it perfectly clear my grandparents hadn't been there in awhile. The yard, which they were meticulous about caring for, was littered with little sticks and a few scattered weeds. My grandma's hanging plants were gone and so were her 2-liter bottle whirlygigs. There was no compost pile, no garden. No Mercury in the driveway.

Things only became more obvious when we walked inside the house. The previous tenant had moved out and left a ton of his stuff, which was scattered from room to room. Walls had been re-painted in colors my grandma would have hated. Floors re-carpeted in a variety of patterns and styles. I went from room to room, looking for anything that might be a sign of the life that my grandparents had lived.

Their bedroom, which had been turned into a child's room, was painted teal green with purple accents. The carpet was a modern berber, unlike the plush psuedo-shag that had once lined the walls.

I opened the door to what had been their bedroom closet and saw that its floor was still covered with the carpet I remembered. Now if you aren't sentimental or kind of a germaphobe, this next part might not make sense to you.

I got inside the closet and sat on the floor. I felt the carpet under my fingertips. It felt the same. I leaned down until my face was inches away from the floor and sniffed...it smelled the same. For just that second, nothing in the house had changed. My grandpa could have easily been in his chair, reading his Bible. My grandma might have been in the kitchen, scrambling eggs with a mess of poke sallet (which she knew I loved). The local a.m. radio station might have been playing so they could hear the obituaries and see which families they needed to call on to pay condolences.

But then they were gone again...the house was different and I was left having an allergy attack with a nose full of dust mites.

There's a big difference between a house and a home. A house is a place where you live. And I will always think of that particular house as my great grandparents' house. But it's painfully obvious it is no longer their home.

A home is a place where you come alive. My grandparents weren't alive in that closet...that's not why the smell meant something to me. They are alive in my heart. And that's why it's just as easy to for them to be at home in my heart, because they are still alive to me in there.

We might live lots of places in our lifetime, but our true home is not somewhere that can be seen or smelled. Home is where the truest part of us resides.

[images via flickr Creative Commons license  12, 3, 4, 5]

July 1, 2014

Why My Groom Won't Dance to Beyonce at Our Wedding Reception

Today I saw a video making its way around the Internet world. It brought a big smile to my face and a warm feeling inside my heart. But even as I watched it, I knew I would never experience anything like it. And that's okay. Let me explain.

The video captured a lip-sync and dancing performance of a groom at his wedding reception. He and his groomsmen took the dance floor and performed smooth dance moves for the bride, while songs by Beyonce and the Backstreet Boys played on. I immediately tried to picture my own soon-to-be groom at our upcoming wedding. I cannot on any level imagine him putting together a choreographed routine to perform. But there's a reason for this. Dancing just isn't his thing.

In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times we've danced together in public during our ten years as a couple. One was a week into our relationship when he accompanied me to my last sorority formal in my senior year of college. Another was at a gala fundraiser for the arts and then there was our infamous dance lesson.

We're not even having dancing at our wedding. When I shared this factoid with our wedding videographer, there was an uncomfortable silence on the other end of the phone.

He couldn't fathom this. Apparently dancing at weddings is sort of commonplace. Sort of the norm. The expected thing.

It's not that I'm against dancing. Quite the opposite. I dance all the time. And I love to do it. But my would-be groom on the other hand...dancing isn't really his thing.

However, there are plenty of other things that are 'his thing.'

Like filling ice cube trays. And taking out the garbage. Listening to talk radio. Reading scary books. Helping people. Taking pieces of scrap metal and crafting them into fully functional (and beautiful) tools. Driving down country roads to explore places we've never been. Making up magical stories and telling them to me over the phone when I can't fall asleep. Listening to me and really hearing what I say. Fixing things. Telling me it's going to be okay even when a situation feels otherwise.

My beau is good and brave and true. And if he doesn't want to jump around at our wedding reception, dancing to Beyonce and acting silly, that's okay. I'm marrying him for who he is...not who I might try to make him become.

The online world isn't inherently evil. But when we let it speak to us about things we think our lives are missing, it can be a slippery slope. If you didn't have "the perfect marriage proposal" you can spend hours feeling bad about yourself while watching tear-jerker, awe-inspiring proposals on YouTube. If your child is behind in school, the online child prodigy who can recite the preamble to the Constitution heaps shame on your head. And if you didn't have a great relationship with your dad, the countless dad and daughter videos of touching shared moments can leave you feeling pea green with envy.

When are we going to realize the beauty of what's right in front of us? What is it going to take for us to stop looking outside and wishing for something different....but instead find joy and contentment in the wonderful things we already have?

I couldn't care less if my groom doesn't burst into song or set up a flash mob situation at our wedding. I know that the wedding is only the first step in the rest of our life together. And I feel like that's going to be pretty great.

The next time you see something online that makes you feel less than, give yourself a break. And remember that there's really no such thing as more or less. Just different folks who enjoy different things and have different talents and gifts.

June 30, 2014

Dining On: Mutt's Sauce, the Sauce for Every Meal

As a southern blogger, I sometimes get contacted by brands. Folks want to send me their products so I can write glowing reviews of them on the Internet. I don't say yes to everybody, mainly because I don't want to take a freebie and then feel compelled to say something nice that isn't true.

But when a high school pal of mine mentioned that she had started a sauce company, I couldn't wait to try the product and share it with you all. Imagine my surprise and delight when a complimentary box of it arrived at my doorstep!

Allow me to introduce you to Mutt's Sauce.

Mutt's Sauce is a ketchup-mustard hybrid (with other ingredients) named for my friend's grandfather, who brought the sauce to life. He earned the nickname 'Mutt' for his ability to blend in wherever he went. Mutt's Sauce is billed as "the sauce for every meal."

There are several recipes on the Mutt's Sauce website, but most of them involve meat. Since my beau and I are vegetarian, I wondered if this would limit our options...obviously meat is a big part of sauce eating here in the south (barbecue, marinating, grilling, etc.).

Nevertheless, my southern beau got right to work, taste testing Mutt's Sauce and putting it on all sorts of different foods. We have eaten up one entire bottle of it already!

Here are some of the foods my beau has enjoyed Mutt's Sauce on (and his review):

Bagel & cream cheese - "Awesome!"
French fries - "It's magical."
Bologna (Lightlife Vegetarian brand) & Cheese sandwich - "Really innovative."
On a tossed salad as a dressing - "An unexpected flavor, but good."
Carrot sticks - "Great!"
Eggs - "Fantastic"
Baked potato - "Mmm Hmmm"

And his pick for the best food to eat with Mutt's Sauce, grits. See below.

"Grits and Mutt's Sauce was possibly the finest thing I ever ate." - the Southern Beau

So far, my favorite way to eat Mutt's Sauce is as a dipping sauce for sweet potato fries. I mixed it with a dollop of creme fraiche and it was downright delicious.

There are two varieties of Mutt's Sauce, original and spicy. The original was by far my favorite, but the spicy was good also. You can learn more about Mutt's story and order your own Mutt's Sauce here.

It's also available for purchase at some local stores in Tennessee and Ohio.

A big country hug to Charlynda for sharing the Mutt's Sauce love and also for bringing her grandfather's creation to life so that the rest of us can enjoy it!

P.S. Use the code "MUTT20" on your order (good through July 11th) to receive 20 percent off! Just go ahead and get a case...you won't regret it! 

June 18, 2014

Big Hair is Both My Curse and My Blessing

I haven't written anything about my hair on the blog in a long time. Which is strange because I deal with it everyday. I've struggled with it, fought against it, and tried to embrace it for years. With my upcoming wedding, I definitely want to get my hair in good shape. So on my last trip to the salon, I asked my stylist what I might do to improve its health.

She kind of frowned at me sort of tight-lipped, as if to say it might be hopeless. And then she recommended some expensive salon deep conditioning treatments and/or deep conditioning at home.

{This is exactly how I look under a hair dryer} 
Then she went on to say that without a hood hair dryer, my home attempts would be basically futile.

I was pretty discouraged. I can't really afford regular trips to the salon to sit under the dryer while reading January issues of People and US Weekly. Plus, who has time for that?

{My mom, dead center, when she was in high school...rockin' a perm that she swears lasted 10 years}
When I was in my hometown a few weeks ago, my mom suggested I go to the beauty school. This is her solution for all beauty issues. Even though she's had many strange and bizarre experiences at the hand of a student beautician (one told her she was the spitting image of Christina Aguilara). Either she just doesn't care because the price is too great to pass up or she's the eternal optimist, always hoping the next trip will be better.

So I gave it a try. A $10 beauty school deep conditioning treatment seemed better than a $40 salon version.

This is where I have to insert the part of the story that happens anytime I go to a new person to have my hair done. My current stylist is used to my mop so she never says these things, but anyone who has never dealt with my hair before has these things to say (every time, I promise you).

  1. You have so much hair. Like so much. How do you have this much hair? So much. Much hair. 
  2. How much shampoo do you use? Oh my gosh, I bet you go through an entire bottle of shampoo in no time. You have so much hair. 
  3. You have a lotta hair.

People, I am well aware there's a lot going on up there. Really? I can still fit through doors.

{Me at age 4 or 5...sporting hot roller curlz and a frown like no other...my signature look at that time. Also note the corsage!}
So the beauty school deep conditioner treatment was okay....I couldn't tell much of a difference after it was over.

And then they sprayed some kind of product on my semi-dried hair that looked like that spray snow in a can you get at Christmas. I think the nozzle was clogged or something.

Not only did it coat my even poufier than usual hair with oily white globules, but it got all over my clothes AND my purse.

I silently cursed my mom for suggesting the beauty school and I reminded myself never again to go for the cheaper option which often ends up being more expensive in the long run.

My next at-home solution for treating my hair was to buy a plastic shower cap and wrap a hot towel around my head. But I am on an anti-microwave kick and didn't think heating a towel in the oven was a safe option. So that didn't go anywhere.

{my hair makes me fly....yes, I have a lot of it}
Then I stopped in my neighborhood thrift store last week. I had already scored some major finds in the clothing department (Banana Republic pants, silk Ralph Lauren blouse, etc).

I decided to stroll through the housewares before heading to check out.

There I saw it...a hot pink hood hair dryer. And praise be, it actually worked! For the low, low price of only $16 (plus half a canister of Lysol wipes to sanitize it).

Less than half the cost of one salon treatment. I figured if I used it just three times, it would more than pay for itself vs. going to the salon.

And if you think it's gross to buy someone's old hood hair dryer at the thrift store, think about how many people sit under the same ones at the salon? Now I have my very own.

I used it the night before last. My southern beau kept asking if it was working. I don't know what he was expecting...maybe some magical transformation.

We'll see how my hair looks after a few months of home treatments.

And yes, I go through a lot of shampoo.

June 16, 2014

Building the Right Foundation

There's a construction site outside my window. As I type these words, the shrill beep of a truck backing up rings over and over (and over). I got spoiled for the few years when the outpatient surgery center next door to my home sat empty. No sounds could be heard, no people seen milling about.

Then, one day I saw a handful of people walking around over there. They looked so official in their hard hats with their clipboards, nodding and taking notes as they scrutinized the property. 

As if overnight, it became a sea of activity. Dump trucks, backhoes, and all sorts of heavy machinery working nearly round the clock to get the building revamped and rebuilt so it can become something brand new. 

Now, there's a huge dirt trench that runs along the other side of my fence. Any shred of privacy I got from the rambling weeds and brush between us was carefully ripped out with a backhoe. 

It's not a pretty sight. But I'm hopeful that whatever they are building over there will end up making the property look better in the long run. 

Building anything is never easy. Whether you are starting from scratch or taking something that's already there and tearing part of it away so you can rebuild something better. 

But there's something oddly comforting about this process. In many ways, it's all we know. Our lives are constantly being molded and changed. Our relationships are built and from there they grow and develop. 

Who we are is fundamentally the same until one day, there's a tiny shift and we see everything differently. 

I have a dear, dear friend who has recently lost a significant amount of weight. Someone made a comment to her that when she was 80 pounds heavier, she was surely enslaved to food and that now she's lost the weight, doesn't she feel so much freer? 

She is definitely freer, but her response was profound to me. She said she was never enslaved to food. She was enslaved to a wrong belief that there was something inherently wrong with her and that food would in some way mask or fix that. The narrative she hears on the inside has changed and that's what is allowing her physical body to change. 

I have had wrong beliefs for much of my life too. Beliefs that I wasn't good enough, that I had to prove myself by working hard, by showing people what I could achieve. Nothing good can be supported on a foundation of wrong beliefs.

It's only when we have a foundation of grace that we can allow good things to be built in our lives. A foundation of being loved, of feeling like we are enough, of knowing that we are accepted and that we have value.

In case nobody's told you lately: You are loved. You are enough. You are accepted. You have value. 

June 4, 2014

Harry Potter, Wedding Dresses and Why You Shouldn't Show Up at David's Bridal without an Appointment and 90 Minutes to Spare

There's this thing I'm guilty of doing...it's sort of like reverse snobbery. I don't know why exactly, but often I assume things that apply to the vast majority of people won't apply to me. Maybe it's because I've always felt a little bit different than other folks or maybe it's because the things I think and feel aren't quite the norm.

Here's an example. For many years I heard people talk about how much they loved the Harry Potter books. In college, my friend Stephanie was obsessed! She even read some borderline raunchy fan fiction that was not appropriate for good southern baptist girls. Harry Potter was all anybody could talk about. And thus, I assumed I would hate the wizarding world and avoided it like the plague.

Then several years later my co-worker and friend convinced me to give it a try. I trusted his opinion on other things so I agreed to read the first book in the series. Would you believe I stayed up ALL NIGHT reading it and finished the entire book in one sitting? It began my love of HP that still lives strong today.

So the moral of the story is I should learn not to assume.

Fast forward to the other day when my mom suggested we go to a local bridal store and try on wedding dresses. I have no idea why, but I guess I've always assumed that I would not be able to find my dress at a traditional store. Maybe I thought they wouldn't have my size or the prices would be outrageous. A few days before, we had actually ordered some dresses online and I was convinced one of them would be 'the one.'

Knowing nothing about bridal store etiquette, we (my mom, dad, and I) just showed up at our local David's Bridal. Apparently you need to have an appointment for wedding dress shopping, but they were having an unusually slow Friday so they accommodated us. The main reason for this excursion was to appease my mom, who felt that ordering a wedding dress on the internet didn't create the same experience of trying on and choosing from several options in a dress shop.

I was so convinced I wouldn't find the dress at the shop that I was borderline rude to the saleswoman and tried to communicate with my eyes for her to not pin her hopes on any sort of commission...since I didn't think there was any chance we'd be making an actual purchase.

She whisked me into a mirror-less dressing cube and helped zip me into what I only know to describe as a girdle and matching can-can. Three or four different dresses materialized and I tried them, but none felt all that special. I asked her if she had any really plain un-shiny dresses without a bunch of sparkles and frills. Apparently that's not the common request at David's Bridal because she looked at me like I was crazy.

Then another dress came in the dressing room, was pulled up and over my head and secured with the same clips I use to keep potato chips from getting stale. I glanced down at the dress but since there was no mirror, I really had no idea how it looked.

I stepped out of the dressing room and was met with my own reflection in wall-to-wall mirrors. The first thing I saw was my mom's expression. Even my dad sort of gave me a funny look. Then the tears...this was the dress. I loved how it made me look and feel.

I've heard people tell their own version of this story, but I never dreamed I'd have one of my own. I guess that's the thing about life...we just can't assume anything because we're constantly being surprised and learning things we never thought could be possible. For that matter, there has always been part of me that never thought I'd be a bride so even that idea has taken getting used to.

The moral of this story? Be open to possibilities. You just never know what's possible and that's pretty great.

May 29, 2014

Southern Living Summer Cookbook Giveaway

The life of a blogger has its perks...one of which is some of the really great products that come my way every now and then, in exchange for a review. I recently received three incredible cookbooks to review and since my cookbook collection is already bursting at the seams (oh the woes of a tiny home), I decided to offer them up in a fun giveaway!

I'm also hanging out with my pals on Knoxville's Mornings with Fox43 today and sharing a few recipes from the books. If you're just visiting after hearing about the giveaway on air, welcome to Southern Belle Simple!

Check out the books below and then leave a comment to be eligible to win them!

1) Southern Living Scooped: Ice Cream Treats, Cheats, and Frozen Eats

Scooped is a visual treat for your eyes! From the moment I took it out of the package, I couldn't stop staring at the gorgeous images of yummy-looking frozen treats. 

The thing I loved about this cookbook is that all the recipes are pretty easy. 

And it doesn't require you to make your own ice cream from scratch...it's more of a collection of ice cream hacks with delicious implications. I had trouble choosing a recipe to create on air, but I know Abby Ham is a fan of S'Mores so I chose that one. I think it was a hit! 

2) Southern Living Country Music's Greatest Eats - Presented by CMT: Showstopping Recipes & Riffs from Country's Biggest Stars 

Another really fun book, this volume was packed to the brim with all sorts of fun information and not just food-related. Country music is such a southern staple. And it's fun to read about folks who have become big, big stars and be reminded that they eat pretty much the same stuff we all do. 

I was excited to receive a copy of this book because its author is a friend I met through the Southern Food Writers Conference. Tanner Latham is an all-around good guy and his southern podcast Authentic South is worth a listen. 

3) Southern Living Heirloom Recipe Cookbook: The Food We Love From The Times We Treasure  

This cookbook might be my new favorite. It read more like a slice of history than a simple collection of recipes. The beautiful handwritten mementos and other notes combined with stories of yesterday made for a really lovely experience. 

Something else you'll love if you're a Southern Living fan is the vintage SL covers throughout the book. 

What a neat walk down memory lane! I remember flipping through my granny's magazines as a child and thinking the food always looked so perfect and delicious. 

If you've been looking to enhance your cookbook collection, here's your chance! I'm giving away these three incredible cookbooks from the Southern Living collection (via Oxmoor House) and you can win them. To enter, just leave a comment on this post. Tell me what's cookin' at your house right now? 

Giveaway will run through midnight EST Sunday, June 1st. I'll choose the winner at random and announce Monday, June 2nd. Good luck to you all! Giveaway open to U.S. residents only.

Disclosure:  I was provided with copies of these books for review purposes.  

May 21, 2014

Ugly Truths About Dating the Same Person for a Decade

I just read an article that depressed me on so many levels. It was called "18 Ugly Truths about Modern Dating that you have to deal with." I guess the title should have prepared me, but I was taken aback by just how harsh and ugly these so-called truths are.

Things like how modern dating is all about who cares less, pointless social media confessions, and futile attempts to be someone's top priority. Is this really what it's like in the dating world? I can't relate to that much because even when I wasn't in a relationship, I didn't date.

Oh, I had crushes. And I invited gentlemen to accompany me to various sorority events in college. But I never had a steady boyfriend, until the one I have now. Whom I've been 'dating' for a decade.

This prompted me to think about some other ugly truths that might arise from a situation like ours. So here they are in no particular order... Ugly Truths About Dating the Same Person for a Decade

Editor's Note: I wrote this post before I got engaged. In many ways, these truths are even uglier because it now means (if all goes as planned) I'll be embracing them for the rest of my life. But everything is meant to be in humor...there's plenty of good stuff too. 

1.) Freedom to Share 

Remember when you really liked someone and wanted them to like you back? You would have rather died than had them know anything about your bathroom habits. After a decade of dating, my southern beau feels quite free to describe to me all sorts of things I don't want to know about that may or may not happen while he's in the bathroom. I'll just leave it at that.

On the other hand, having someone who will let you bare your soul without judgement is pretty great. I can tell it like it is and he has to listen. But what's more than that, he usually has some sort of encouraging word. Which makes things instantly better.

2.) Being Asked "When Are You Getting Married?" 

Again, I started writing this post pre-engagement and at that time we had just celebrated our 10 year anniversary....which prompted so many people to ask me that dreaded question. Now that we're finally engaged, the ugly truth is having to hear people say "Finally!" and look oh so relieved on my behalf.

But there's also an upside. The way I see it, some marriages don't even make it to the 10-year mark. So if we've managed to date for a decade, this gives me a lot of hope about the next five decades or so.

3.) Assumptions 

After dating for a long time, people start to assume things. I guess it's only natural. But I can't tell you how many people have assumed my beau and I lived together. One even went so far to assert that we were "common law." I politely explained that no we are not and that this isn't something a good southern belle strives for or would ever brag about.

What I don't mind is when folks assume we're happy, which we are.

4.) Old vs. New  

Remember when you first met a new friend (or potential suitor) and the fun of getting to know each other while sharing all the stories about experiences you've had? After ten years, some of the stories aren't just as entertaining. When you've heard them time and time again, the interest is a bit more forced, the requisite laughter a little canned.

But, as the incredible complex creatures that we humans are, I find there's always something to surprise me about my beau. Whether its his sudden willingness to watch bad tween dramas on the CW or his embracing my idea to incorporate a hashtag into our wedding (#KatePlusPhil in the house!), it keeps me on my toes.

5.) Gloves On, Masks Off 

When someone's been in your life for ten years, it's easy to feel like they aren't going anywhere and take them for granted a little. And this leads to stripping off your sweet 'public' exterior and revealing your own flavor of private ugly that lies underneath.

This sounds worse than it is, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that after a long time of being with someone, you feel much freer to be yourself (which is also sort of like #1 Freedom to Share). And what's better than having freedom to be yourself? I can't think of much.

The bottom line is this: there's ugly truths about all aspects of life. None of us are perfect and we never will be (whew, that takes some pressure off, right?).

Social media has changed our lives in so many ways and according to the article I read, modern dating is worse for it. But then I think of people who meet the love of their life across the virtual space and it gives me hope again.

Nothing is purely ugly...it's in the middle space, with all the infinite shades of gray, that true beauty abounds. And all our situations look different.

Have you learned any ugly/beautiful truths about relationships or anything else in life? Sometimes it helps to know we aren't alone.

May 15, 2014

How to Know When You're Ready to Get Engaged

A few weeks ago, on an unseasonably humid day in late April, my southern beau proposed. It happened nearly 10 years to the day from our very first date....and our wedding (which we've already been excitedly planning) is set to take place almost one year from now.

The decision to get married feels like a biggie....and certainly not one I wanted to enter into lightly. But somehow I just knew it was the right thing.

I can't say that I recommend dating someone for 10 years prior to marriage, but I also can't say it's a bad thing either. It's just what happened for us.

I remember all the years before I met him when I feared I'd never find anybody...always hoping that someone would cross my path or look my way. I never really had a steady boyfriend and didn't date a whole lot either. Maybe I felt like I wasn't worthy or perhaps just put up a wall around myself to protect myself from getting hurt.

I'll never forget what my mom said to me after my first date with the southern beau: "Just be open to the opportunity. Don't close yourself off from any good thing that might come out of it."

And of course she was right.

Then I look back to the decade we've spent getting to know each other, the ups and downs, the ins and outs. There were times when I didn't think we'd make it. There was a short time we didn't. But we found the way back.

There's no checklist or Cosmo quiz that can tell you when it's the right time to get engaged (or make any big life decisions). You just have to trust your gut (which is really your heart).

Have you ever wanted to believe something really badly? And you worked double overtime to try and convince yourself it was so? This is such a tricky spot to find yourself in...always striving and trying to push a believe you hold in your brain down into your heart.

It was never supposed to work this way. Our truest beliefs are already alive in our hearts. Our heads just haven't caught up yet. And the beauty is that you don't have to convince your head of something your heart already knows.

I don't have to convince my heart that my beau loves me...because I already believe that he does. So the idea of spending my life with him sounds alright to me.

In many ways, it's exactly like how I don't have to convince my heart that God loves me...I just believe it because the truth of it lives in my heart.

I don't want to make a big deal of my engagement because I know there are folks out there who feel alone...maybe their sweetheart passed away. Or maybe they haven't found anybody to spend their life with. I was there once so I can relate.

But we can all be encouraged that whatever life decisions (large or small) that we might find ourselves faced with...we can do whatever our heart desires. That will always be the right choice.

And if it makes you feel better, people who get engaged after 10 years of dating are not an urban legend...we do exist!

May 12, 2014

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper

My mom is a 4th grade teacher and she was recently administering standardized year-end tests for her students. A big part of making sure the test is carried out fairly is removing all distractions from her classroom, covering bulletin boards and just seeing to it that the students can completely focus on their exams. 

Another part of it is ensuring that their knowledge is measured...not what they can get from another student. She was sharing with me how she has to remind them to keep their eyes on their own paper...since it's really supposed to be about what they know and not anything else. 

Then I ran across the lovely artwork pictured above. How often do we get so focused on what other people around us are doing? Comparing ourselves, our lives to people we know or strangers on the Internet, whose lives seem more interesting or more exciting than our own. 

Life is too short and too precious to waste one second comparing or feeling bad about a particular hand we've been dealt. Let's keep our eyes on our own paper and find ways that we can shine as our unique little selves. 

To order a copy of the gorgeous print by the talented Emily McDowell, click here

May 2, 2014

How to Decorate Your Hat for the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is here and even if you aren't watching the excitement from Churchill Downs, you can still enjoy the festivities!

This morning, I joined my friends at Knoxville's Fox43 to share some ideas about how to decorate your hat for a Kentucky Derby party or other event. The most important thing to remember is you don't have to spend a lot of money to feel fantastic, just get creative and use what you have!

Check out my segment below or if you are receiving this post via email, you can click here to view it.

How to Decorate Your Hat for the Kentucky Derby 

Some items to consider using for Derby Hat decorations:
  • Rhinestone brooches or pins
  • Colorful silk scarves
  • Silk flowers or greenery
  • Real flowers or cut greenery
  • Feathers 
  • Mesh ribbon (such as the kind used on wreaths)
  • Grosgrain ribbon
  • Silk ribbon
  • Tulle or netting
  • Lace
  • Scrap-booking trinkets or accouterments 

I used bobby pins to fasten the different decorative items to the hats for a less permanent solution. You could also use a hot glue gun or floral wire.

Just remember that if you are going to wear the hat for an extended period of time, weight and balance could become an issue if you use heavy things.

But it's a fun project and a fun time to get dressed up and celebrate springtime in the south! I hope you were inspired to decorate your own Kentucky Derby hat this year! There's really no limit except your creativity! 

April 30, 2014

The End of an Era

Change is hard. Do you find this to be true for you? I'm not sure if this is how everybody feels or maybe just me...but change is something I don't always do well with.

I guess I get used to things being a certain way and then when they aren't anymore, I feel a little off. 

Possibly it's just that I'm overly dramatic and like to make a bigger deal out of situations than they really are. 

When I visited my grandparents last night, little did I know it was the end of an era. 

You see, when I was growing up I spent a lot of time at my grandparents house. And my favorite thing to do was play Barbie dolls with my grandma. We'd hole up in my purple bedroom, playing Barbies for hours. If it weren't for her frequent smoke breaks or having to go start supper, we'd have set a record of some kind. 

{my grandparents' house, beautifully drawn by my aunt Michele}
The only problem was, it was hot. My grandparents' house had been a small farm house that was added onto a little at a time until it reached the state it was in when they bought it. They moved into it in the early 1960s. No air conditioning of course, because I guess people didn't have it back then. But by the time I came along (the 80s), air conditioning was much more common. 

All my other family had it, even if just window units. But not my grandparents. 

My grandma was really skinny and smoked a lot. She drank ginger ale and was cold all the time. So I guess she didn't care about not having air conditioning. And my grandpa is from Texas and loved being as hot as possible...especially when he was outside. 

I can remember staying with them in the summer, trying to fall asleep at night and being so hot the sheets stuck to me. Or while we were playing Barbies, my legs would get sweaty behind the knees and I'd end up with carpet fuzz all over me. 

A few years later, they got a window air conditioner. I guess they must have liked it, because this led to getting another, then another, and another until finally they had one in every room of the house. I didn't spent as much time with them since I was getting older, but those window air conditioners cooled the house down pretty well. 

But last night, when I went to visit them, I learned they got central air conditioning. To feel cold air coming from a vent on the floor at their house was like nothing I've ever experienced. My grandma can't figure out how to work the digital thermostat, but neither could I so we read the manual together. 

It's not like getting air conditioning is life shattering. But it's just bizarre for something that's been one way your whole life to up and change like it's no big deal. It's not really about the air conditioning because I'm happy for them to feel more comfortable in their home. But this is not something I thought would ever happen.

Has this ever happened to you...where something you thought was the norm just up and shifted?

April 17, 2014

Fun and Simple Ways to Decorate Eggs for Easter

Spring is a time of new life. Easter has always held a special place in my heart because of what it means to my faith. But the less-than-spiritual traditions of Easter are special too, because they bring back warm memories of childhood, including dyeing eggs with my grandparents and Easter egg hunts with my brother and cousins.

Did you know 180 million eggs are dyed and/or decorated for Easter in the United States each year? That's a lot of eggs! While those old school Paas Easter Egg Decorating kits were a mainstay of my childhood, I decided to branch out this year with some new Easter egg decorating ideas. 

I'm joining my friends from Mornings with Fox43 for a segment on Fun and Simple Ways to Decorate Eggs for Easter. These methods are fun and affordable and don't require lots of crafting skill...so you gotta love 'em! 

1) Dyeing Easter Eggs with Silk Scarves 

I've seen this project floating around on a few different blogs, but I've been so skeptical about it...until I tried it for myself. My silk dyed eggs turned out really beautiful. And believe it or not, this was fairly simple. 

 To create gorgeous dyed Easter eggs using silk, you'll need:
  • Eggs (white)
  • 100% silk fabric with a pattern (I used a silk scarf, but you could use silk shirt, silk ties, etc) 
  • White cotton fabric (old pillowcase, handkerchief, or whatever you happen to have)
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • An enamel pot
  • Bread ties or rubber bands 

Begin with a raw egg (no cracks). Wrap it tightly in a scrap of silk and tie with a bread tie or rubber band. Then wrap this in a square of white cloth and secure with another bread tie or rubber band. Place the wrapped egg in the pot and cover with water. Add a splash of vinegar. Bring the water to a boil and let it boil for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes (or so), remove your egg with tongs and place in cold water. When it's cool enough to handle, unwrap and voila! 

In case you're thinking "Silk? Didn't she say this was affordable?" the answer is your local thrift shop. I found a gorgeous silk scarf for $.99 and it already had some rips so I didn't feel bad about cutting it up. You can usually find outdated silk ties, dresses or blouses on the ninety-nine cents rack too (I hope your thrift store has a $.99 rack like mine does). 

2) Color Blocked Easter Eggs 

Another simple, but really pretty Easter egg decorating project, that was created for less than $5. I snagged a package of six plastic Easter eggs for $.88. Then, using spray paint I already had on hand, I painted each half of the eggs with the loveliest shades of turquoise and gold. 

I love the way these painted Easter eggs turned out so much. Who says a project has to be complicated to be good? And it's totally up to you depending on your desired color scheme. 

3) Sweet Easter Treats 

I wanted one of my Easter egg decorating ideas to be edible, so when I found a Wilton cake pan with egg-shaped molds at a rummage sale, I decided to put it to good use. With a basic Rice Krispies Treat recipe, I created egg-shaped treats and decorated them with store-bought frosting and candy.

Super easy and fun for all ages. You could even leave the eggs un-decorated until Easter and let your family decorate them together. If you don't have an egg-shaped pan, you can always shape them by hand or use plastic Easter eggs as a make-shift mold. 

For more fun Easter facts, check out this infographic from The History Channel's website. Do you eat your chocolate rabbit ears first?

April 16, 2014

How to Behave at a Dinner Party

By the title of this post, you might think I get invited to a lot of dinner parties. This isn't exactly true. I don't think it's a reflection on my being unwelcome at these types of events, but instead says something about my close circle of friends. I guess we're more for casual outings, restaurant dinners and laid-back gatherings at home as opposed to fancy dinner parties. But you never know when you might get an invite to a soiree or gala.

What, you don't go to dinner parties much either? No matter, these tips will serve you for any social occasion in which you might happen to find yourself.

 by bubbo.etsy.com
1) Make Conversation 

This seems painfully obvious, but I encounter so many folks who seem to lack this skill. I guess when they say conversation is a lost art, it's the truth.

How it works is, you ask other people polite questions (more on that in a second) and then you smile and nod while they answer you. Then, if they ask you questions, you answer them as well.

Conversation is not one person doing all the talking while the rest try to get a word in. And it's not sitting there scrolling through your phone. Which leads me to number 2...


Really? This is not something we should have to be told. But sadly, it is. I'm not talking about checking your phone to see if the baby-sitter texted a question about your child or taking an emergency call.

I'm referring to people who slump down in their chairs, scrolling aimlessly through their Facebook news feed while a dinner party is going on around them. I don't get this at all. It sends the message to the host that their efforts aren't worth your time. And it sends a message to the other guests that they aren't as interesting as a random Internet meme or cat video being shared on social media.

And if you are older than 40, you should definitely know better than to do this. You lived in a world without smartphones for goodness sake.

3) Don't Ask Inappropriate Questions or Discuss Topics that Might be Offensive

Recently, a dear friend of mine went to a party and upon her polite refusal of wine, another guest turned to her and asked if she was an alcoholic. First of all, it's nobody's business why she didn't want wine. She's not an alcoholic, but if she were, how awkward would that have been?

And none of anyone's business for sure!

Don't ask people if they are an alcoholic. Or what their political affiliation is. Or how they voted. Or how much their paycheck was.

Again, this all seems like obvious stuff, but maybe we're getting away from common sense and need to be reminded.

Other dinner party conversation topics to avoid: dissection, animal slaughter, feces...actually anything to do with the bathroom in general or in specific.

4) Don't Name Drop

So your best friend is a famous celebrity. That's awesome. But it's really not being a good friend to try and leverage their "it" factor to make yourself look better at parties. If it comes up casually or if someone asks you directly, it's okay to mention it, but don't be 'that person' who's obsessed with who they know.

The doll's biscuit was stale, but she bit her tongue lest she offend her kind hostess {via}
5) Don't Make a Fuss 

So you're a vegetarian and the main dish is chicken. This happened to me recently. If you can politely convey this message to your host(ess) prior to the food being served, I think that's okay. Otherwise, just push it to the side. Don't make a big fuss about how it was murdered. Even if you think it was.

6) Don't Ask to Bring a Guest

Throwing a dinner party seems like it would be a great deal of work. And it takes much planning. If you are invited to a party, but aren't given the option of bringing a date/plus one/guest, don't ask to do so.

The party host has probably considered his/her budget, seating limits, and guest list in the planning stage and an extra person could really throw that out of balance.

And never, ever show up with unannounced with an extra person. This is just rude.

Aunt Bee is a gracious southern hostess, she won't lead you astray!
7) Follow the Host's Lead

If in doubt, just look to your host or hostess. If she takes second helpings, it's a sign that you can too. If he opens more wine, have some. If your hosts don't serve alcohol, don't ask for any. You can be sure that your host wants you to be comfortable and at ease.

Any type of social gathering should be fun. And when you follow these simple, basic, social rules, you'll be the hit of every party.

Other things to consider:

Bringing a Hostess Gift - This is a great thing to do when you're invited to any social gathering, as long as it isn't something that requires the host to take his or her focus away from the party. Cut flowers, a potted plant, a bottle of wine or even a basket of local jam & honey is nice. Never a pet.

Writing a Thank You Note - Non-negotiable. You MUST write a Thank You Note and you must do so promptly. And NOT an email. Some belles carry Thank You Notes in their purses and leave one in the mailbox on the way out for their hosts to find the next morning. I like to show that I'm not too cheap to buy a stamp. Plus, every host will appreciate getting a few kindly penned words by post.