September 1, 2015

To be a writer, you must listen.

“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” ― Eudora WeltyOne Writer's Beginnings

To be a writer, you must first be a listener. More than that, you must be a watcher too. There's only so much inside you. The rest must come from around you. And before you can truly tell a story, you have to understand it all the way to your core. 

Remembering is like listening backwards, which can be hard to do. This is why I like to hear the same stories told over and over. Like the one about my grandpa hitchhiking to Laramie, Wyoming. 

Born in Texas, my grandpa moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee when he was a boy. There he discovered one of his first loves: football. In his senior year of high school, he was invited to several colleges for recruiting visits, including Auburn, Texas Tech and the University of Wyoming. He and a couple buddies set out during Easter break to visit the schools. 

Recruits were given money for bus tickets, lodging and so-forth but my grandpa and his buddies decided they would keep the money and hitchhike instead. It's hard for me to imagine a group of three high school students hitchhiking 1400 miles one way, but in 1953 I guess it wasn't that big of a deal. 

I've heard this story told so many times, I know it well and can anticipate what parts are coming next. But each time, something new comes to light. That's why I never tire of hearing it. 

And this is only one of the stories he lived. One tiny sliver of the pie of his life. 

There are so many things I want to write about, as a self-proclaimed champion for stories that deserve to be told. But unless I have the person's exact words, I'm going to be guilty of telling them from my own perspective. 

We are told to honor our father and mother so that our days may be long on the Earth. The best way we can honor the ones who came before us is to tell their stories. And the only way we can do justice to someone else's story is to know it inside and out. Thus, we have to listen.

August 31, 2015

Where I'm from.

This bit of writing (see below) was inspired, like so many others, by the original Where I’m From poem by Ms. George Ella Lyon, a writer and teacher who was lucky enough to be in-real-life friends with Tennessee poet Jo Carson. Carson’s work Stories I ain’t Told Nobody Yet is what inspired Lyon to write about where she was from, which happens to be Kentucky.
I recently attended a writing conference where one of the speakers led the group through an exercise to write our own versions of this poem. The only problem was, she wanted us to visualize one meaningful place that had significance in our childhood. I have trouble picking just one.
There were so many places that helped form me, so many people who shaped me, so many things that made me. While it would be impossible to give proper mention to all of them, I wanted to try and shed some light on some of the important ones.
What Makes Me
by Kate Spears 
I am from the shirt factory, the tobacco field, the homestead and the barn loft.
I am from places that many people want to leave, but still there are others who stay. I am from people who picked up and moved. I am from people who put down roots and remained. I am from people as loyal as the day is long, and others who are fickle and change their mind with the seasons or whatever way the wind is blowing.
I am as loud as a fire-and-brimstone preacher and as quiet as a patient fisherman who understands the success of the day is the day itself, not what’s in the bucket.
I am from drawstring bags made of felt and filled with polished silver, from weathered barns piled high with junk that somebody else has to sort through after you die.
I am from green stamps, clipped coupons, and buy-one-get-one-free. I am from store-brands, and dented cans, Goodwill clothes and yard sale Tupperware. I am from waste nothing, want everything, and all you get out of life is what you enjoy.
I am from porches covered in Kelly green indoor/outdoor carpet. I am from pink formica countertops and kitchens that because there is no proper ventilation, smell of fried potatoes, cabbage and salmon patties long after the last bite has been eaten.
I’m from Levi Garrett, Kent Golden Light Kings, Vantage Ultra Light 100’s, and Marlboro Reds.
I am made of Mountain Dew, vy-eenie sausages, white half-runner beans, and red-eye gravy. Of honeysuckle and wild blackberries, poke sallet, hydrangeas and fried apple pies.
I’m from people who sang Amazing Grace, from people who sat on the back row of the church, and some who never darkened the door.
I’m made from people who washed feet, worshiped under the brush arbor and ate dinner on the ground.
There’s a tall maple tree outside my kitchen window. And soon, the helicopters will flutter away. My tree was once a helicopter growing on a tree that was also once just a helicopter. And back, and back, and back.
And so it goes for the things that make us. Nothing is new. Everything is a part of everything else. You carry it all with you so that one day, it will grow again.

August 27, 2015

Sweet September - Celebrate National Honey Month

September is National Honey Month and I wanted to share some of my favorite recipes that incorporate this wonderful natural product. Who grew up with the little bear-shaped honey bottles as a pantry staple like I did? My granny saved them once the honey was gone and used the empty containers as make-shift sippy cups for us kids. 

Honey is a most versatile food. In fact, it's one of the only things I can think of that really works for any meal. Honey on a buttered biscuit for breakfast, or in your morning tea, followed by a peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch and some kind of delicious salad with homemade honey dressing for dinner. What's not to love? 

I'm visiting those fabulous folks at Knoxville's Fox43 to share more of my favorite honey recipes! I hope you enjoy them. And if you have any favorites of your own, share them on social media with the hashtag #NationalHoneyMonth during September. I'll be pinning some more great ones on my National Honey Month Pinterest Board. Check it out! 

Sweet & Salty Goat Cheese Appetizer

For this simple crowd-pleaser of an appetizer, start with a log of goat cheese. Roll it in 1/2 cup of roasted, salted sunflower seeds (You could also use cracked black pepper). Drizzle with 1/3 cup of honey and garnish with nuts or fresh berries. Serve with your favorite crackers for delicious nibbles pre-meal. 

Quinoa Honey Breakfast Bake 

This recipe has been adapted from one that I ran across on the website of the National Honey Board. There are lots of great honey recipes there to check out! 

It appealed to me because you don't have to cook the quinoa first. Plus, I figured you could use whatever fresh or frozen fruits you had on hand. I happened to have peaches and blueberries, which make for a tasty combo. For the full recipe, click here. Also, I don't see why you couldn't substitute oats for the quinoa. There are lots of great baked oatmeal dishes with honey out there. 

Bee-Tini Cocktail 

This delicious cocktail recipe is one I've shared before, but it's just so good I figured it warranted another post! I tried it first at the Fairmont Hotel in Georgetown. They actually have their own rooftop bees, which made it even more special! 

For more great honey info, check out the Honey Board website. Did you know that you can bring your honey back to life even if it crystallizes? Here are more fun facts and honey tips.

And don't forget to check out my Pinterest board for more honey fun! Happy National Honey Month y'all!

August 17, 2015

How to Find Yourself if You're Lost

Life goes by in a flash. From birth to now (wherever we happen to be along life's merry way), we've changed so much. But sometimes I think that who we start out as in the very beginning is who we truly are.

But who is that exactly? Would you recognize that person if you saw him or her walking down the street? Do you ever feel like you've lost yourself? It's something I struggle with some of the time. I find myself doing or saying something and thinking "who is this person with my body and voice?"

If you're feeling like you've lost yourself because you aren't sure who you are anymore, maybe it's time for some soul searching. But just where to look? Here are a few places I recommend.

1) Old journals. 

Sometimes the way we bare our hearts and souls in years passed when we are going through struggles and experiencing things we might look back and think are silly, it can be a window into who we really are. I started my first journal in the first grade and haven't looked back since. Even though many of the entries over the year are cringe-worthy, they help paint for me a picture of the person I've always been.

2) Letters from friends.

I don't know about you but I'm a saver of letters. Especially now in the digital age. It's so special to me to look back through cards and letters from grandparents and people in my life who are no longer here on earth.

Sometimes the people in life who love us the most are the ones who see us the most clearly. Look for yourself in their words and sentiments. You will find something good.
3) Drawings we did of ourselves as a child (or drawings done of you by a child).

We pile so much crap on ourselves that it can be hard to look at our reflection with loving eyes. If we go back to somebody who is looking at us with the most loving eyes, they may be the one seeing our truest self.

4) In the mirror first thing in the morning. 

I'm talking about when you still have that little fog of sleepiness hanging over you and just glance at yourself in the mirror after waking up. So many times I stumble to the bathroom in the morning and catch a look at myself, all rumpled and frizzy hair.

And I often catch a glimpse at my 8-year old self. I see the same eyes looking back at me. I see that same earnestness and hopefulness about the future as well as possibility. There's no reason we can't still have that same feeling of possibility.

It's the world and the lies we've believed that caused us to think that anything is not possible.

5) Toys and games from childhood. 

Recently, I went down into my basement and ran across a plastic bin of Barbie dolls from when I was a kid.

Think about your childhood.

What was something you did as a kid that brought you the most amount of joy? Maybe your thing was playing with Barbies or maybe it was putting together puzzles. Maybe it was coloring or pretending you owned a store or running a cash register or playing like you had a restaurant.

I'm not saying that if you played restaurant as a child, you should start a restaurant now. But think back to the things that brought you the joy in those experiences and look for ways now that you can recreate those experiences and feelings.

The reason I loved the Barbies is because they let me create worlds and stories and characters and adventures in people's lives when my own life didn't have a whole lot of adventure to speak of.

And I think that it's still a big part of why I feel the calling and passion in my heart to be a writer. Because I want to create those stories and tell them so other people can relate to them and feel encouraged.

6) Look at the mischief you made. 

Picture a time in your childhood when you got in trouble or were a little bit mischievous. There's always a driving force in those things...unless you were just a mean child (which I doubt).

I remember one time as a child, I wanted to move some furniture in my bedroom and my mom said she would help me later, but I didn't want to wait for her so I decided to try and do it by myself.

I ended up breaking a china tea set because I pushed a table and everything just kind of went flying. And my mom was upset with me, but looking back I feel like I was so independent. I wanted so badly to do it by myself. I wanted to take care of things on my own and I still see that in me today.

I still see that independence and that feeling of wanting to do it my way. But there's a way I can harness that for good so that I don't just go around breaking things and upsetting people.

If only finding ourselves was done with the aid of a giant treasure map, "X" marks the spot. But it's a process more delicate and complicated than that.

Author Lucy Maude Montgomery said is best: “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” If you've been feeling lost, I hope you can spend some time remembering soon. 

August 15, 2015

How to be a blogger

This post might seem untimely. But it's pretty relevant to me. I used to spend a huge part of my day reading blogs. I had a list of all my favorites and I would hop around the Internet from one to another taking in the latest posts. This was back when I worked at a regular 8-to-5 job that I left each day and didn't give a second thought to during my downtime.

Since making a shift to my current work in the world of marketing, there's less definition about when the work day begins and ends. Meaning I'm always thinking about one work-related thing or another at all hours of the day and night. And I really love my job. But I don't have much time to read blogs anymore.

The other day, I found myself with some free time and ended up going down a rabbit hole of blog reading, trying to get caught up on what some of my old favorite bloggers were up to. I was surprised to find that many had not posted anything new in several months and some seem to have quit blogging altogether.

Then it hit me. If anyone else found himself doing the same thing and landed on my blog, he might think I had given up on blogging too.

For the first three years after starting Southern Belle Simple, I blogged regularly, religiously, at least 5 times a week (Monday through Friday). Then I made a career shift and my time was more filled with work responsibilities. Since 2012, my blogging frequency has slowed significantly (once or twice a month?).

If you are an avid blog reader, you may have experienced this as some of your favorite bloggers have slowed down or stopped blogging. Or maybe you are a blogger yourself and this is you. One thing that may be to blame is burnout. I've experienced this for sure. Something else that may be a stumbling block for bloggers is frustration from not having many readers or feeling like your voice doesn't matter in a sea of others who are louder and more "popular."

Here's the bottom line. If you feel in your heart the urge to blog, you should go for it. For that matter, blogging is simply a means of communication and not the end-all and be-all by any stretch of the imagination. The deeper calling is to write. If you feel led to write, it means there's a reason your voice needs to be heard.

Don't be selfish with the incredible gifts and talents God gave you. The world needs your unique perspective, just like it needs mine. And for the record, I'm mainly writing this post to myself. I just thought there might be others who could benefit from it too.

A year or so ago, I was invited to attend an exclusive event for bloggers. Everyone was talking about different funny things they had experienced while blogging and also what kinds of emails and correspondence they received from readers.

One blogger in attendance is pretty popular among certain circles. She was complaining how she got all sorts of requests from readers asking for guidance on how they could make their blogs as popular as hers. She basically said that because of the influx of bloggers out there all vying for attention of companies and readers, the window to become a successful blogger had shut.

To me, it sounded like a message of "don't even try. You won't make it and it's not worth it anyway."

So is that what we would tell young writers? Just because a ton of great books have already been written, it isn't worth trying to write another? Or what about songwriters and composers? Are there no great songs still left to be sung? Or what about filmmakers? There will be no more movies in the future that are worth watching because all the good ones are already out there?

Nonsense. There's plenty of good stuff to go around. There's enough pie for all of us.

So that being said, here are my best tips for how to be a blogger...if you were wondering.

1) Just do it. If you feel it in your heart, you gotta run with that. It doesn't matter that other bloggers are quitting or that social media is always changing. Maybe a long-form blog isn't what you had in mind anyway. Find what works for you and do that.

2) Tell your truth. Blogging isn't really about painting a picture-perfect scene that presents your life in such a way that everyone wants to be you. I mean, there are plenty of blogs like that but do they make you feel better about yourself? They usually serve to make me feel worse. But when you tell your real-life, gritty truth, it gives the world a chance to relate to you. The real you.

3) Don't bury your treasure. When a thought or idea comes to you, and you ruminate on it for awhile and it seems like a good topic for a blog, explore it. Ideas are like Velcro. If they stick, it means something is working. Sometimes a thought comes to me for a blog post, but then I bury it under busy schedules, household chores and mindless social media scrolling. If you do this long enough, the ideas will seem fewer and farther between. I oughta know.

The bottom line is this: It's never too late to start something new. It's never too late to give life to a dream in your heart. All we get is this one life (if we're lucky). Do the stuff that matters. And if for you, that includes writing or creating something, do that.

August 14, 2015

Just be like everybody else. Or maybe not.

This time of year is bittersweet. Even though summer doesn't officially come to a halt for some time, when the kiddos go back to school, it feels like they not only take with them every drop of summer goodness but truly usher in the beginning of fall (minus the fall temperatures that are but a wish our sweating hearts make every waking moment of the day).

I don't have kids, but I so enjoy seeing all the back-to-school photos that my momma friends are posting right now. Earnest little faces with some type of homemade sign (I guess that's a thing) declaring what grade they are set to begin. Backpacks bigger than they are. Snaggle-tooth grins.

I'm 33 (33!) which means I've lived at least 1/3 of my life (I mean, that is if I were lucky enough to live to be 100) and yet this time of year still makes me feel like I'm about 11. I remember the back-to-school clothes shopping...pennies pinched tight hunting for big bargains. And I remember the first day of school, usually a 10 a.m. dismissal where we'd find out who our teacher was, meet him or her and get our school supply list for the year.

I thought my school supply list was like the Bible. Meaning that I did not want to deviate from its requirements in any way. That's just the kind of kid I was. I can remember arguing with my mom in the aisle at Wal-Mart, that "yes it did matter if my notebook paper was wide-rule and no I didn't care if college-rule was cheaper."

I was so afraid of standing out or making waves. I wanted my school supplies to be just like everyone else's. If a teacher stipulated that we needed 100 3x5 notecards, I counted them out exactly. If we were supposed to have a particular kind of colored pencil or marker for science, I wouldn't settle for anything except the exact one.

I think I spent a great deal of my childhood worrying that I was going to be on the outside of something and maybe having the same school supplies as everyone else was a way to ward against this?

There are still ways that I fall into this trap of sameness. Maybe it brings a small bit of safety with it because it doesn't require us to think creatively. Or maybe it's because it allows us to float along on auto-pilot.

My mom posted some meme on Facebook today and tagged me (thanks momma!) in it. It said:

"No one is you, and that is your power." 

I believe this is true for all of us. Each so unique, so carefully woven together. And all of us with our stories, our triumphs and struggles. I hope the older I get, the less I want to be just like everybody else. But we're all connected. And that's pretty good too. 

August 13, 2015

Simple Organization Tricks from the Dollar Tree

If there's one rule I try to follow in my home, it's "a place for everything and everything in its place." This can be hard, especially when it is just so much easier to let things pile up where they lie.

As a kid, my favorite Berenstein Bears book was the one about the messy room. Brother and Sister bear's room degenerated into a huge mess and their parents were oh so frustrated. Ultimately, Papa Bear built them all these really cool compartments and organization systems to corral their junk.

What does it say about me that I loved this book so much? I can be a clutter bug, but I really prefer organization. And while I love the idea of having all sorts of fancy containers, spending lots of money at fancy container stores just isn't really practical for me.

That's where Dollar Tree comes in. In many ways, it's kind of like a thrift store because going there can be a treasure hunt and you aren't sure what you will find.

I'm sharing some organization tips and tricks on Fox 43 this morning. For me, it's all about thinking outside the box while being frugal at the same time. I hope it inspires you to get organized in your home!

Be Creative About Intended Use

Everything has an intended use, but there's no rule that says you can't get creative. Each section of items at Dollar Tree can usually do double duty in other areas of your home. 

For instance, office supplies are often great for helping you create order in the bathroom. I like to use pen and pencil containers to keep my makeup brushes and lip gloss tubes in one place. They are tall and slender and at $1 a pop, quite a bargain.
 Other office supplies that can work in the bathroom include zippered pencil pouches (also great for makeup, cotton swabs, etc.). I even like the clear plastic ones that snap into 3-ring binders. A great way to keep everything organized while traveling.

Kitchen stuff is also great for organizing things in other parts of the house. I like to organize my jewelry in ramekins and small plastic leftovers containers. Bright plastic bowls are also good for this because I keep them in a top drawer so I can see all my bracelets and earrings at a glance when I'm getting ready in the morning. 

I also stumbled upon a cute glass relish dish at my local Dollar Tree. I think it would be perfect for loose change at the end of the day as well as plenty of other uses. 

Other office supplies that are great for adding organization are binder clips. When clipped on the side of a table or desk, you can use them to keep your cords and cables neat and save yourself lots of headaches later on. 

Another great product I picked up at the Dollar Tree is a small 4x6 photo album. I use it to organize recipe cards as I'm doing meal planning. Plus the clear plastic pages protect my cards in case any sauce goes flying! 
These are just a few of the items I picked up at Dollar never know what you'll find at that place. 

Don't be afraid to pick and choose. 

It's your house so at the end of the day, you gotta live there. So what if putting your vacuum cleaner bags in the kitchen cabinet seems weird to your friends. If a solution works for you and helps you keep the order at home, don't sweat it.

My southern beau and I recently moved and we've been figuring out all the organizing solutions that will work at our new place. Everything we did at our previous home may not really make all that much sense anymore, but I'm glad we're free to pick and choose.

So do it your way and don't get too stuck trying to follow certain rules of order based on what DIY blogs and magazines say.

Happy organizing!

July 30, 2015

How to Throw a Slumber Party

When I was growing up in the late 80s and 90s, slumber parties were the thing to do on Friday nights. My then group of girlfriends was known to have them regularly, each of us taking turns convincing our parents to host gaggles of silly giggling teens for the evening.

This was all before social media (thank goodness!) and the advent of today's technology, so I like to think that our shenanigans were pretty innocent. The activities varied depending on whose house we happened to be staying at.

My friend Cayce had a big rope swing that provided much outdoor amusement. At Beth's house, we played cut-throat games of Monopoly until the wee hours of the morning. And Lindsey's mom always made beignets for breakfast. But the central focus of most of the slumber parties I attended was something called "The Dance Game." We'd divide up into teams and choreograph dance routines to perform. We went all out with costumes, musical soundtracks, hair & make-up, the works. And all of this was done without iPods, without YouTube, without any way to even record that it happened.

Sometimes I long for those simple days. But there's nothing to say we can't re-capture some of the magic of it. Why not throw a grown-up slumber party for your best friends?

Summer is wrapping up as students where I live head back to school. I'm stopping by Fox43 to share some simple ideas for an "End of Summer Slumber Party." I hope it inspires you!

1) DIY Popcorn Station

What goes better with staying up all night gossiping than popcorn? I went to a lovely girls' night out party recently at the home of blogger Decorella and she set up a popcorn bar, complete with toppings of all kinds. I was so inspired by her idea that I decided to adapt it for a slumber party!

All you need is plain popcorn, oil spray and some different spices. Decorella Danielle used store-bought coconut oil spray to mist the popcorn before sprinkling on various spice toppings. Or if you happen to have an oil mister, that works too.

Some examples of spices to have on hand for your guests to try:
  • Cinnamon Sugar
  • Garlic Salt
  • Cumin
  • Italian Seasoning
  • Ranch Seasoning
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Lemon Pepper  
Yum! Such a perfect slumber party snack!

2) Slumber Party Treats

image & inspiration via 
Instead of spending your time in the kitchen, why not serve up some of your favorite old fashioned candy? Nobody really thinks about slumber parties as dinner's after dinner and late into the night when all the real fun takes place. 

I had the most fun shopping for all my favorite candy that I enjoyed during my teens. Things I never eat now, but just for a special occasion like a slumber party. 

Some old school candy to try at a slumber party - 
  1. Sweet Tarts
  2. Nerds
  3. Bubble Gum
  4. Twizzlers
  5. Cotton Candy 

3) Girl's Night Spa Masque 

As we get older, it's time we were taking better care of our skin. At the slumber parties of my childhood, I never thought about washing my face before bed. But now, it's a different story. To help ease the transition, why not try a DIY facial masque at your next sleepover! 

Start with bananas for a simple mask, because they are inexpensive and really pack a punch for your skin. Not only do bananas contain Vitamin A to help diminish dark spots, blemishes and rough skin, but they also have Vitamin B and Potassium which may delay aging and moisturize. You can use bananas alone or with other key ingredients to really treat your skin's unique issues. 

Here's the skinny on various combos to try - 

Plain Banana (mashed) - Apply to face for 15 minutes and rinse with cold water to have more glowing, evenly toned skin. 

Banana (mashed) + Honey - This combo (same application as above) rids your skin of bacteria, helps eliminate acne and brightens skin. 

Banana (mashed) + Turmeric - Great antibacterial properties to keep blemishes away. 

Banana (mashed) + Greek Yogurt - Tightens skin and lessens the appearance of larger pores.

What other ideas do you have for a memorable slumber party? I hope you are inspired to throw a slumber party soon! And when someone's bra or panties end up in the freezer, you'll know the party was a success! 

July 16, 2015

Celebrate Blueberries with 3 Simple Recipes

July is National Blueberry Month and what better way to celebrate this adorable fruit than by eating them? Did you know that when it comes to health, blueberries really pack a punch. They are jam packed with antioxidants, which fight free radicals that can run rampant in your body. Plus, they are a great way to get Vitamin C and fiber. They may help lower blood pressure and could improve your short-term memory. What's not to love? 

I'm joining my friends on Knoxville's Fox43 to share some simple recipes that you might want to try as you are eating more blueberries this month and on into August. This is definitely their time of year to shine, so take advantage of the great selection in stores and at your local farmer's markets now! 

1) Artisan Bread w/ Blueberries & Ricotta 

I tried a similar version of this recipe at Marche in East Nashville, except it had peaches in place of the blueberries. It left such a lasting impression on me because it was just so darn beautiful when the server brought it to the table. Plus, it was decadent, but also wholesome...that might seem like a strange combination. But it was! 

To make it, all you need is some good quality artisan bread, blueberries, ricotta cheese and honey. 

Now if you have time, I'd recommend making your own homemade ricotta. Here's a good recipe if you'd like to try your hand. Otherwise, just pick some up at the grocery store. I used Trader Joe's store-brand for this recipe. 

Grill or toast a few thick slices of bread. Spread thickly with ricotta. Apply blueberries and drizzle with honey. It's so simple, and such a great way to eat up all these blueberries this season. 

2) Blueberry Corn Salad

Is this simple summer salad that features blueberries, sweet corn, cucumbers, jalapeƱo, red onion, drizzled with a sweet honey lime dressing.

  • 3 ears fresh sweet corn, husked 
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries 
  • 1 cucumber, sliced 
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion 
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped 
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 tablespoon honey 
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1. Bring water to boil in a medium sized pot. Cook corn for 5-7 minutes. After it is cool enough to handle, remove it from the cob.
2. In a good sized serving bowl, combine corn, blueberries, cucumber, red onion, and jalapeno.

For the dressing, stir together lime juice, oil, honey, cumin, salt, and pepper. Pour dressing over salad and stir until combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

3) Blueberry Fizz 

With all the ripe blueberries available now, I knew there had to be a great way to use them in a delicious summer cocktail! You could make this with or without alcohol, depending on your preference. 

You'll need: 
  • Vodka (I used vanilla flavored)
  • Blueberry Soda (I found a great version at Trader Joe's)
  • Lemonade
  • Fresh blueberries (for garnish)
Mix 1 part vodka with equal parts blueberry soda and lemonade. Garnish with fresh blueberries. You could even freeze some in ice cubes for something a little more special.

What's your favorite way to enjoy blueberries? They are perfect for smoothies, as a topping for a tossed salad, or just by the handful. Treat yourself to some today! 

July 10, 2015

How to Throw a Wimbledon Watching Party

This weekend the 129th annual Wimbledon Championship tennis tournament draws to a close, with the final matches set for Saturday and Sunday. I went to Wimbledon about fifteen years ago, during my first trip abroad as a naive 18-year old having just graduated from high school. I knew nothing about tennis, and wasn't sure what to make of it all, but the entire experience made quite an impact. 

While my travel companions staked out a courtside seat to watch Anna Kournikova, I wandered around and entertained myself people watching and taking it all in. I had strawberries and cream. I drank Pimm's and Lemonade. It was the quintessential Wimbledon experience. 

When my friends at Knoxville's Fox43 asked me to share some ideas for throwing a Wimbledon watching party for their special Wimbledon show, I was happy to oblige! 

1) What to drink at a Wimbledon Party? 

Nothing but Pimm's & Lemonade will do! Pimm's is a liqueur with a spicy, citrus flavor and it mixes perfectly with all sorts of things. My favorite thing to enjoy with Pimm's is plain old lemonade, but you can also use a sparkling lemonade or just add in some club soda. 

Apparently Brits take their Pimm's very seriously, especially when it comes to the addition of mint. Tennis star Andy Murray's mom Judy tweeted a photo of her drink at Wimbledon, complaining about it having too much mint, which caused the Pimm's company to issue an official statement: 

"No more than three British-grown mint leaves should be used to garnish each glass." 

While I must confess that my mint was grown in Tennessee, Pimm's was easy to find at my local package store if you'd like some of your own! 

Recipe for Pimm's & Lemonade (Pimm's Cup) - 

Tradition Pimm's No. 1

Add two parts lemonade (sparkling or plain) to one part Pimm's liqueur. Garnish with a slice of orange, lemon, apple, and cucumber. And don't forget the 3 required leaves of mint! 

Supercharged Pimm's No. 1

Add five parts lemonade and two parts Pimm's to one part gin. Garnish as above. 

2) What to eat at a Wimbledon Party? 

If you ever have the chance to go to Wimbledon, you must have strawberries and cream. There are many possible explanations behind the popularity of this sweet, red fruit and its association with the tennis event. 

Wimbledon's head public relations person said recently it probably had to do with the fact that all the way back through the years, strawberries are always in season while Wimbledon is being played. Plus, eating strawberries was de rigueur in Victorian England. 

For my strawberries & cream, I decided to take it even a step further with the addition of a traditional English biscuit (what we think of as a cookie) crumbled up on top. 

Recipe for Strawberries & Cream 

Rinse your strawberries and remove the green tops. Slice and/or quarter and put them into small bowls (1 bowl per person/serving). Pour heavy whipping cream into a metal bowl that has been chilled in the freezer (a trick that always helps me) and beat it until stiff peaks form. Put a generous spoonful of cream over each cup of berries and top with cookie crumbles (I used McVitie's Chocolate Digestives, a popular UK brand of cookies that is carried by my local grocery store).  

Check out this cool infographic to see just how many servings of strawberries were enjoyed at Wimbledon last year. 

3) Decorations for a Wimbledon Party 

The official colors of Wimbledon are green and purple, so I tried to incorporate that with my party decor. As with any sort of entertaining, I always try to use what I have on hand before buying a bunch of party stuff that I don't really need. 

Wimbledon is also known for white, that is the crisp white attire players are strictly required to wear.

White serving pieces look great with pops of color, especially green and purple. 

I was inspired by this gorgeous arrangement I found on Pinterest, and re-created one of my own with purple hydrangeas in a trifle bowl. I also made some place card holders by cutting a slit in each tennis ball and inserting a place card. Simple and cute! 

Will you be watching the Wimbledon finals? Who are you cheering for? 

June 29, 2015

The Thing You Crave the Most

Cravings are strange. I'm sure there's probably lots of scientific research behind them, none of which I'm going to mention here, but if you Google "Science of cravings" you can find approximately 1,280,000 results on the subject. So there's that.

The other night my family went out to a restaurant where we've eaten for years. It's known for its seafood, but for some reason as I read over the menu, I felt like I was craving the vegetable lasagna. Even as I had the thought, another thought came to me that I probably shouldn't order lasagna at a restaurant known for its if there were some sort of restaurant police that might not approve my decision.

Oh those darned shoulds and should nots. Why do they always rear their ugly heads? I'm not talking about a feeling in your heart that is leading you in one direction or another. I'm referring to those feelings that come based on nothing more than some abstract idea of "the right thing" to do. Why is it so hard to follow the truest desire of our heart (which seems like the most natural thing to do) and yet so easy to follow someone else's idea of what's right for us (often white knuckling our way through it, by gosh!)?

Math has never been my strong-suit, but one strategy I used as a kid to complete challenging math homework was to first think of the most basic thing I knew to be true and work my way forward from there.

Perhaps that same method could be applied in other areas of life?

When faced with a challenge where the answer doesn't seem clear, why not start at the very beginning and work your way forward from there?

What is the most basic thing you know to be true? That you're loved. That you have value. That how you feel matters. That your life has meaning, significance and purpose.

Brings a certain kind of peace, doesn't it? From this place, it's much easier to listen to your heart rather than force yourself kicking and screaming towards some reality that doesn't really serve you.

Sometimes the thing we think we crave isn't really what we want anyway. When my southern beau and I were engaged and preparing for our wedding, we created a gift registry at a local department store. As I walked around the store with that little scanner gun in my hands, I found myself scanning all sorts of things as he looked on in amusement. Finally, he asked "do we really need that many dishes?"

It wasn't until much later that I realized what I was doing. I was trying to satisfy a craving in the only way I knew how. But what exactly was I craving? Community. Somehow I believed that by having lots of dishes and serving pieces in my kitchen arsenal, I would naturally create a sense of community and a reason to invite others into our home. But all these years leading up to the wedding, I've had other dishes to speak of. And the number of times I've hosted parties or events at my home is disappointingly small. And yet my craving for community is no less great.

So where's the disconnect? Once again, all I can do is start at the beginning and think of the most basic thing I know to be true. I crave community. That place where true connection happens, where we can be our real selves, where burdens are shared and spirits are lifted just by being together.

Now, what can I do to create more of that? It's more of a rhetorical question I guess, but one I'm going to ponder and then act on.

That leaves me with this question for you. What do you crave most? What is the most basic thing you want out of this life? And what steps can you take to move toward that thing, rather than away from it? I don't have the answers, just like with all those math problems that stumped me from seventh grade pre-algebra. But I know what I know. And that's a pretty good place to start.

June 4, 2015

Celebrate National Doughnut Day with these Simple Ideas!

It seems there's a holiday for every occasion under the sun. They run the gamut from those that are sort of silly to others which are definitely worth celebrating. And then there are holidays that perfectly combine a sweet sentiment with something oh so fun. Tomorrow is just such a day....June 5th. Did you know it's National Doughnut Day? You hadn't heard? Oh friend. Have I got news for you.

Doughnut (also spelled donut) Day got its origins during the First World War when workers from the Salvation Army went around passing out coffee and donuts to soldiers (i.e. doughboys) in the trenches. Their service to the troops (which went beyond just the doughnuts) was meant to provide a meaningful connection to home even though they were far from their families and the comforts of daily life. 

So while you're chowing down on your next hot glazed, be reminded of these brave folks and their service.

And if you want to celebrate National Doughnut Day, here are a few simple ideas you might want to try. 

1) Doughnut Hole Topiary Cone
I was inspired by another blogger with this project and her step-by-step tutorial is so easy to follow! I used toothpicks instead of frosting to secure my doughnut holes to the foam cone, but otherwise followed her tips and hints to a tee. 

2) Doughnut & Milk Shooters 

I found the cutest tall & skinny vases at the Dollar Tree (of all places). Repurposed as drinking glasses, they make a perfect way to enjoy a shot of milk with a doughnut. You could either serve it on the edge of the glass or place it on the straw. This idea would be so great for a kid's birthday or slumber party, as well as for a fun baby shower treat! 

3) DIY Doughnut Decorating Party 

Another fun way to celebrate National Doughnut Day is by hosting a DIY Doughnut Decorating Party! Being creative is a great way to relieve stress. Creating something pretty and delicious that you get to eat? What's not to love?

Start with your favorite kind of plain doughnuts (store-bought, from a fancy bakery, or even homemade). Then gather all sorts of accouterments to decorate them. I got some different types of sprinkles, small candies, and three different types of frosting. Now go to town decorating some doughnuts!

I also turned a few of those small balsa wood containers into possible party favors by printing images of doughnuts and pasting them to the lids. I think they ended up looking really cute!

Feel like celebrating National Doughnut Day without spending any moolah? Two top doughnut chains are serving up freebies on June 5, 2015. 

If you're a fan of Dunkin' Donuts, you can get a free treat when you buy a beverage this Friday.

However, if the "Hot Doughnuts Now" sign of Krispy Kreme beckons you, enjoy a free doughnut without any purchase (one per guest). More than 100,000 folks enjoyed their free doughnut last year, and I wonder how many will participate tomorrow! 

May 31, 2015

HIIT Me with Your Best Shot: My Personal Training Experience on #teamNFC

In January, I was invited to be part of a cool project with a local fitness club in Knoxville, National Fitness Center. As a member of #teamNFC, I have access to all the great National Fitness Center gyms and facilities in East Tennessee. With the wedding behind us, life has finally resumed to a somewhat normal routine (sort-of) and I am always looking for ways to make fitness and health a part of that.

I struggle to find my rhythm with working out....meaning there are lots of peaks and valleys. Sometimes I am all gung ho about it, but other times I feel like it's hard to get motivated. The main thing I've learned about myself in this process is that I like to change things up a lot so I don't get tired of doing the same stuff over and over.

This means taking different classes (Zumba, Yoga, etc) and trying various equipment I've never used before. And most recently, it meant working with a National Fitness Center personal trainer on some high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

I won't lie....I was really intimidated by the HIIT room and had never felt confident to try it out until now. I think working with a trainer is a great way to get your feet wet if you've never spent much time in a gym. It helps me feel more confident 1) just having someone there to encourage you and 2) because someone who really knows about this stuff is guiding you.

My trainer, Kasey Kurtz was super encouraging and explained the whole HIIT* process to me at our first session. This helped me feel like I knew what I was going to be doing and gave me a chance to ask questions before the timer was set.

We used a variation of the Tabata regimen, which I later read is based on a study by a professor of that name who was trying to find a way to help train Olympic speed skaters. Kasey showed me how to do different high-intensity exercises and then took me through three cycles of them with periods of rest between.

My before pic...there's no after for a reason ;)

It was really hard. Especially after I've been pretty lax about doing any sort of cardio since the wedding & honeymoon. I'm not going to say I rocked it, but she was very positive and gave me constructive criticism when needed. Overall, it was a great experience. I couldn't lift my arms the next day but the soreness quickly subsided and I felt empowered that I accomplished the tough workout.

I used to think that personal trainers were for really fit, super health-nut, gym-crazy people. And maybe they are in some cases. But for regular people like me (a little out of shape, unsure about some of the equipment, intimidated by the tank tops/muscles/grunting stereotypes), it's great to have the option of a trainer when I need some direction. 

And knowing the trainer wants you to succeed is encouraging too. There's also something good about the accountability created by working a trainer. Your time is spent doing things that actually get results. Thanks to Kasey for the great workouts! I'm really honored to be part of #teamNFC and excited to see what the next few months hold for my health! 

*You may see the name changed to PHITT (Personal High Intensity Interval Training) if you visit a National Fitness Center club in East Tennessee. Plus, if you are interested in checking out National Fitness Center, there are options of both personal training AND group training sessions. Check out their list of classes offered here.

May 21, 2015

Simple Summer Drink Recipes - Southern Style

Summer is almost here and it's a popular time for parties and other get-togethers. Don't just serve your guests boring beverages...think outside the box with some creative concoctions!

Here are three fun and simple drink recipes you might want to try this summer! They are perfect for everything from a backyard barbecue to a fancy bridal shower and everything in between.

Blackberry Lemonade 

There are a couple different ways you can make this delicious summer drink, one is a bit more labor intensive and the other is easy as can be!

For the recipe that's a bit more work, you need to make a simple syrup of blackberries and sugar. You'll need about a pound of blackberries, 1 cup of sugar and a half cup of water.

Bring the berries, sugar, and water to a boil in a saucepan over moderately high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until fruit is soft, for five minutes. Then remove it from heat and let it sit to cool. You can pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing gently it in and tossing the solids. Or you can use it with the berries and all, it's your preference.

Now pour this blackberry syrup mixture into a pitcher and add lemonade. I like the low-calorie version from Trader Joe's but you can use your favorite store-brand or make it from scratch.

The simpler method for blackberry lemonade requires, of all things, blackberry jam! Since this is my favorite type of jam, I always have a jar of the homemade variety on hand. Don't go thinking that I make it, but I have positioned myself well among talented jam-smiths (is that a thing?) who keep my larders fully stocked.

Add a teaspoon of blackberry jam to the bottom of a glass and top it with lemonade. I actually prefer a fizzy lemon soda which makes this drink seem even more special.

Best Homemade Peach Iced Tea Recipe 

Okay, now I know you're probably thinking...what's so special about peach iced tea? Seriously, what isn't special about it? The refreshing perfection of brisk iced tea mixed with the sweetness of peaches ripened on the tree in the summer sun! Need I say more?

I have a great secret for making peach tea and it's so easy. Two words....peach nectar. You can buy great quality peach nectar at most fancier grocery stores. I got mine at the Fresh Market on the same aisle with the cocktail mixers.

Of course you can make your own peach syrup (similar to the blackberry syrup above) but if you don't have time, go the easy route. Basically you just mix the peach nectar into your tea according to your tastes.

Another trick I like to use is to freeze some of the peach nectar in an ice cube tray. Then, you can just drop the peach cubes into the tea and enjoy more of a hint of flavor as they melt.

Easy & Delicious Non-Alcoholic Bloody Mary 

I've never made a Bloody Mary but the southern beau and I had one the other day at a great local eatery and ever since, I've been thinking about trying it out at home.

I grabbed a bottle of Fat & Juicy Bloody Mary mix at the Fresh Market and while perusing the drink aisle, I saw a four-pack of Dry cucumber soda.

For a simple and tasty non-alcoholic Bloody Mary, mix equal parts of the tomato juice mixture with the cucumber soda and voila, that's all there is to it. You can add vodka if you want a more spirited concoction but I think it's pretty tasty without it. This recipe is great for a summer brunch or a picnic!

And there you have it...three simple summer drink recipes! Don't forget to liven up your summer parties with some tasty treats. And always drink responsibly!