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 seafood...as 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!

May 13, 2015

Why I'd Make a Terrible Baptist Missionary

I ran across these vintage postcards on a website I like to visit and they took me back to my childhood growing up in a big baptist church in Tennessee. Each Sunday, my family would deck out in our finest and go to our respective classes for Sunday School before the main church service. 

I loved Sunday School because it was a lot of like regular school and I was kind of a nerd who loved that sort of thing. Since our church was pretty big, there were enough kids to divide us up into all-girls, all-boys and co-ed classes for each age group. 

I usually preferred the all girls class and was often the teacher's pet. One of my favorite Sunday School teachers was an elderly man named Mr. Dunn who let me read the lesson and each accompanying scripture verse every week. He said I had a nice, clear reading voice and I'm sure the rest of the kids in the class gave a collective groan even though I ate it up. 

Down the hall from my Sunday School class was a big supply closet where all the teachers' books and curriculum materials were kept. In that closet were stacks and stacks of postcards with little messages and cute images on them. These cards were meant to be sent to other kids that we might know to invite them to come to church. 

I guess you could say that a regular part of my Sunday School experience was outreach. Baptists are all about going out into the world and preaching the gospel to all people, and I guess that included the people in our community who might want to receive weekly post cards inviting them to church.

My Sunday School teacher had a big list that contained names and addresses of kids who had visited our church up to that point and each week, we'd spend some time dividing up the list and sending each person a card. Which I guess is a nice thing to do. Our teacher would give us each a stamp for our assigned card and when they were ready to mail, I'd take them down the stairs and outside to the big blue mailbox in the parking lot of the post office next door (I told you I was the teacher's pet).

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Except I knew most of the kids on the list from school. And many of them had only visited one time because they spent the night with another kid from my church or some other situation like that. I knew in my heart that they probably weren't going to visit again with any intentions of joining our church. So in many ways, I felt like sending these cards was a big waste of a stamp.

Then I got the bright idea that I could make this whole situation work for me. 

You see, my grandparents lived in Knoxville which was about a hundred miles away. 

And back then (before cell phones and computers), calling long distance was a big deal. And even though I liked writing them letters, we never seemed to have stamps at our house. So often, I'd write more letters than I could ever send. 

What can I say....I saw my opportunity and I seized it. I began sending my Sunday School outreach postcards to them. Every week, I'd write as small as humanly possible to fit as much about the latest and greatest happenings in my life on that little card. Then I'd stick my free stamp on it and send it off to my grandparents. 

My teacher never knew (or at least I don't think he did). And honestly, I didn't even feel bad about it. I figured it was better to send card to someone who actually wanted to get it than to someone who was just going to throw it away. I wonder if my grandparents ever thought it was odd that I invited them to Sunday School about 20 some odd times.

And that is why I'd be a terrible Baptist missionary. 

May 7, 2015

Last Minute Mother's Day Gifts

Mother's Day is almost here and while some people might think this is a holiday created by the greeting card companies to increase sales, I'm not buying it. According to my sources, Mother's Day got its start around the turn of the 20th century when a young lady from West Virginia wanted to honor her mother and it took her three years to get the holiday made official...leave it to a southern girl to do right by mama and set a good example for the rest of us! 

Do we really need a reason to celebrate mom? I think not. We should celebrate the women in our lives daily, but often things get busy and we fail to make note of just what they mean to us. So Mother's Day rolls around and gives us a chance to make up for it! 

I'm sharing some incredible Mother's Day gift ideas and I hope they inspire you to put some heart and soul into making Mom feel special whether its Mother's Day or all through the year. And Mother's Day isn't just for moms....special grandmas, aunts, sisters, step-moms, godmothers and mentors all need to be told they are loved and appreciated too! 

Gifts for New Moms (and Moms who Love Pink) 

These great tote bags from Dash & Albert would make a perfect gift for a new mom who might be celebrating (or getting ready to celebrate) her first Mother's Day. They are stylish and chic, but functional too. Who says diaper bags can't be fashion forward? 

Plus, there's the fun zipper pouch from Sugarboo Designs with the great quote from Audrey Hepburn. Help mom corral those miscellaneous items in her purse or tote with one of these cute organizational tools. 

Gifts for the Mom Who Loves to Feather Her Nest 

Most moms are always on the go and much-needed quiet time at home can be a real treat. The popular Ibiza throw by Pine Cone Hill is a great gift for mom to enjoy during a cozy night at home or a Sunday afternoon nap. 

Some great-smelling candles, such as these from Simpatico would be a great complement to this too. They are clean burning and after all the wax is gone, they double as a beautiful hobnail vase...it's like two gifts in one! 

You could even take it a step further and create a whole day of relaxation for mom, maybe to include a special breakfast and lots of quiet time for her to do what she enjoys most. It might be just what she needs! 

Gifts for the Glamour Gal Mom 

If your mom likes all things that glitter, jewelry is a safe bet. Lenny & Eva holds a special place in my heart because it was started by a lovely lady in my hometown of Cookeville, TN. My southern beau has gifted me with a few different pieces from the Lenny & Eva Trousseau collection and I love mixing and matching them. 

Some of the pieces have sentiments and quotes, while others are made up of beads and charms, but all have a whimsy that is unique. 

Another great line of southern-made jewelry is Louisiana-based Grandmother's Buttons. This line is made up of pieces that are hand crafted with vintage buttons, 100 years old or more! 

Gifts for the DIY Crafty Mom

If your mom is a DIY type, you might want to give her an experience she'll always remember. One idea for a great gift is to treat her to a class or workshop. 

You might remember that I took a class a few years ago where I learned all about the wonders of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. 

I highly recommend this experience and if you're in Knoxville, the Back Porch Mercantile is the place! Plus, there's even a special deal going on now for a discounted class session. This is even something you and your mom could do together! Who doesn't love some quality time with their momma? I know I do! 

All these great Mother's Day gift options are available at the Back Porch Mercantile in Knoxville. This is a fabulous local gift shop with lots of charm and personality. Every time I visit, it's impossible to leave empty-handed...plus it's the place I send my southern beau when he needs inspiration for birthday gifts, Valentine's Day, etc. 

Stop by and tell them I sent you! Or you can call today and reserve a spot for you and your mom to take a workshop in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint! 

The Back Porch Mercantile 

May 1, 2015

Lunch at Husk Charleston

The southern beau and I just got back from an incredible week in Charleston for our honeymoon. We basically ate our way through the city. A first time visit for both of us, we explored some really great local spots, based on the recommendations from foodie friends. Everybody said we had to try Husk so we hit it up for lunch on our last day. It absolutely did not disappoint. 

We started with the Dragoon Punch, a light refreshing beverage made of brandy, rum, iced tea and lemon juice. It was amazing...and I could have enjoyed several more. 


Next, an appetizer of pimento cheese. I'm such a pimento cheese snob and always compare any that I eat to my own homemade version. Chef Sean Brock's tangy cheddar spread lived up to the hype. It was dry with a paste-like consistency (which is how I prefer it), with a great tangy flavor. Pickled ramp relish and bits of country ham sprinkled on top were the perfect garnish. 

Shrimp and grits, a Charleston staple, were almost too pretty to eat! 

Then, some 'Husk' puppies with white barbecue sauce as a perfect complement to my bibb lettuce salad. Yes, it was covered in ham. 

The restaurant, located in a gorgeous old house, was just around the corner from our hotel. We enjoyed the entire experience and felt it was a must-do for the trip. Sometimes restaurants receive lots of hype for no reason, but I highly recommend Husk. It exceeded my expectations and then some! 

April 10, 2015

One Perfect Day

Do you ever have one of those days that just feels like one for the record books, in a good way? It's not like anything particularly monumental happened, but then again, maybe it did. 

Good Friday was just such a day for me. 

It started with a breakfast date with one of my dearest friends. What is it about feeling heard AND understood by someone that just makes life better? If you have someone who listens to you and gets you, you're pretty lucky. I definitely am. 

Then it was on to my hometown, where the beau and I had lunch with an old friend who is performing part of our marriage ceremony. Some of the time was spent catching up, and some was spent just chatting about marriage in general and what it all means. It's nice to be able to connect with someone who knew you at age 14 and still loves you in spite of it! 

Later, I got a wonderful visit from the mother of my preschool bestie. My friend lives in California now, but I've remained close with his family through the years and it was such a treat to visit with his mom and catch up. We have a lot of common interests and having an uninterrupted hour to discuss them was heavenly. 

Then it was off to the hairdresser for a trial run of my wedding day hair-do. I have to admit, this was the first time I've ever had my hair professionally styled....I wasn't sure what to expect. But the stylist came highly recommended and the entire experience was great. We settled on a style that I really liked and I got more comfortable with the whole veil scenario (which is kind of awkward the first time). 

Then my mom (who I rarely get to spend quality time with) and I hung out for a bit and ended up attending a dance recital for my other bff's 8 year old daughter. 

As she took the stage for the first time, I thought about the day she was born. My friend had invited me to be in the delivery room and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. New life coming into the world. Somebody who just moments before hadn't been part of your reality, and then poof, there they are. As I watched her little personality shine on stage, my eyes filled up with tears. I squeezed my friend's hand to let her know just what a special moment this was.  

I thought about how it hadn't been that long ago we were just silly teenagers in high school. So much of the past 15 years has been a blur, from graduating high school to college and my twenties. Maybe it's because I'm getting married or maybe it's because I'm approaching my mid-thirties but I feel like I've hit a big wall in some ways. Like I finally realize life is just about the people who matter to us. And I don't want to miss anything important in the lives of those folks who are important to me. 

Is this normal? Do other people figure this out much earlier and I'm just a late bloomer? You don't have to answer...these are just hypothetical questions. However, if you have any wisdom to impart, please feel free to share! 

Have you ever had a day like this? When all things point you towards a feeling of wholeness and you are convinced you could die happy right there on the spot? 

April 9, 2015

Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day - Easy Projects for the Family to Enjoy Together

Earth Day takes place each year on April 22. Whether you consider yourself to be environmentally conscious or not, Earth Day matters. We all share this beautiful planet. Why not take some time to really appreciate and celebrate it?

If you'd like to celebrate Earth Day this year, here are three simple ideas that you might enjoy making with your family.

Citrus Bird Feeders 

I ran across this idea here and thought my backyard birds would probably love it....was I right! Such an easy project that the entire family can help with. 

All you need to create cute citrus birdfeeders is some type of fruit (I used large pink grapefruit), birdseed, oats, peanut butter and a little oil. Scoop out the fruit from each half. Then mix together the birdseed, oats, pb & oil. Spoon it into the citrus halves and use twine to hang them from your nearest tree. 

You can refill the fruit halves over and over again and eventually, everything goes back to nature. So cute! 

Pretzel Trees 

Earth Day is a great opportunity to start conversations about conservation. While making trees out of pretzels doesn't necessarily help the earth, it can give you a way to start talking to your family and friends about how to think more earth-minded. 

Plus, these treats are just so adorable! For the full how-to, check out this fun blog. 

All you need are pretzel sticks and candy melts. And it's just that simple. Seriously. Take this opportunity to spread some earth love today! 

Eggshell Seed Starters 

Spring is here and the time for planting is upon us. I love gardens but don't really have room for lots of plants in my small condo. Still, I enjoy starting and tending to seedlings for transplanting later on. 

Eggshells are a great way to start seeds. All you need are clean, eggshell halves, potting soil and seeds and voila! Seedlings! Once they begin to grow, you can transplant them to a garden or larger container. The eggshells provide some nutrients to your young plants as they decompose and until then, they look so stinking cute! 

These are just three simple ways you can focus on the earth around us. There are plenty of others that have a greater impact...but it requires creativity and willingness to try! What other ways does your family celebrate Earth Day?

April 8, 2015

Heaviness & Light

What is it about love that both weighs you down and helps you fly at the same time? This week has been tough. After the passing of our boy Leon Spears (the greatest dog who ever lived) on Easter, I've felt sort of in a fog. There's plenty of good stuff to enjoy and look forward to as our wedding quickly approaches, but I still feel such a heavy sadness.

In my Tuesday yoga class, I shared how I was feeling with my teacher and she was very sensitive about the whole situation, taking me through poses and postures that are supposed to increase joy.

During our final relaxation (my favorite part of the class), she asked me if I'd like to have some heavy sandbags to rest on my abdomen. At first it seemed weird, but once I settled in and let myself get lost in the moment, it was nice.

I thought about how loss is like that sometimes....a heaviness that sits squarely across your gut, holding you down, making each breath more difficult than it should be.

To some people, the loss of an animal might not warrant such grief. Clearly those people never had a pet like Leon.

But loss is loss is loss. Whenever someone is dear to you and they go away, there's a sense of missing. When you love someone, it's like you're connected by an unbreakable invisible thread. No matter how far they might be or how long it's been since you saw them, the connection remains intact.

The spirit is such an incredible thing. We think the body matters so much, but really it's just the temporary house for something way more important.

I think the heaviness of loss can be good because it reminds us of just how connected we are to the ones we love. And there's a certain lightness that comes with that too...because when someone we love leaves this world, it takes one end of that invisible string into another realm. So there's a constant battle between sinking into the heaviness and allowing ourselves to float up to a place where we might begin to fly.

April 5, 2015

Obituary for Leon Spears

Leon Otis Spears, ten years old, of Knoxville, Tennessee passed over the rainbow bridge and into the arms of Jesus on a glorious Easter Sunday, April, 5, 2015.

A mixed breed dog, Leon had a beautiful black coat that shined and spots of white that gleamed in the sun. He had magnificent touches of the purest pink around his cheeks and nose and on his underside. Leon self-identified as a boxer, but unlike traditional boxers, he had a long majestic black tail with a tiny bit of purest white on the tip that whipped anything in its wake. According to one kindly man Leon met at yard sale, he was definitely 7/8 boxer. Maybe.

Leon's birthplace is unknown, but at or around the end of his first year of life, his home was Young Williams Animal Shelter on Division Street in Knoxville. At that time he was going by the name Frost and had been at the shelter for nearly 28 days, meaning he was near the end of the road if not adopted. But God had other plans.

On January 2, 2006, a naive girl visited the shelter seeking a dog to adopt. She didn't then fully understand the magnitude of this decision or how her choice would alter the course of her life, her heart and her family forevermore.

In the small room where that first meeting took place, she was struck by the pup's big dark eyes, turned up "pig" nose and cheerful demeanor. As he pressed his full body weight against her, tail thumping like mad, it was clear this dog was the one.

Leon was forced to spend at least two additional days at the shelter for a procedure that was not pleasant, but mandatory as required by the adoption facility as a way to control the pet population.

On the day he was to be officially adopted (aka his 'gotcha day'), his new mom had to attend a new adoptee orientation class and fill out necessary paperwork before standing in a long line with other folks who were adopting pets. When Leon Otis Spears stepped through the doors into the front lobby of the shelter, there was a collective gasp as each person murmured "that's the cutest dog I've ever seen."

Leon was brought home for the first time in a 1997 Ford Explorer that proved to be the source of much joy in his life, both for trips around town, to the park and across the state to see his family.

Like a prisoner set free, Leon nee Frost blossomed in his new life like a flower turning its face toward the sun.

Several health-related set-backs had the potential to derail his happiness as he was stricken with the mange early on, but in the face of all obstacles, as he would for the next decade, Leon met each situation with joy, gratitude and dignity.

In his early years, he had several important role models to help shape his character, including his uncle Commodore, a wise black lab; a sister Zelda who constantly encouraged him in every sort of mischief; a cat Scarlett who treated him with general disdain; and his brother from another mother, Jordan, a boxer/lab mix who lived next door.

Important human companions in Leon's life include his former co-worker and best buddy Reid; dear friend and futon companion Mr. Henry and Aunt Terry who always moved aside in the good-natured way so Leon could get to Mr. Henry faster.

Leon's life was full of adventure, including one memorable boating excursion with his buddy Jordan's family. He traveled to exotic locales such as Cookeville, Tennessee, Murfreesboro, and Cleveland. Highlights of each trip included seeing cows alongside the road, stopping at drive-thru windows for special treats, and having the entire backseat of the car to himself for stretching out.

He was employed for a time in the University of Tennessee's Art Department but was let go for undisclosed reasons (there was talk of discrimination of the species variety).

Leon then flourished in his new role as HR Director of Screen Door Media where he supervised one employee, Mister Phillip.

One might say Leon and Mister Phillip had an adversarial relationship, but deep down each loved the other in a unique way. Some of Leon's fondest memories of Mister Phillip would probably be when he had to pick up his poop and keeping him company during horror movie marathons. Prior to his passing, Leon was very much anticipating his momma's upcoming wedding to Mister Phillip and had finally come to terms with the fact that he would have to share his king-sized bed with his new dad from hence forth.

Other special friends to enter Leon's life would include Bentley, a 12-year old rescued Yorkie, and Donatella, a box turtle with an approximate age of 40 years old.

In early 2014, Leon was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a condition that causes nerve damage. Even after losing the use of both back legs, Leon's spirit was always strong and his positive attitude never wavered over the next year.

He left the world surrounded by his family and was laid to rest in the middle of a green pasture at his great-great grandparents' farm in Baxter, Tennessee.

Leon is survived by his Gramma Cindy and Grandpa Burton, an uncle Will and aunt Camille, Mister Phillip and his beloved Momma.

Said his momma, Kate Spears of Leon: "I never knew my heart could hold this much love. I thought I was just getting a dog. I ended up getting a precious companion who looked at me with more kindness, more adoration than I've ever experienced. He increased my capacity to give and receive love and for this, I will always be grateful."

Spears went on to say, "If I had a dollar for every time Leon and I were out in public and someone commented on how cute/sweet/adorable/great-looking he was, I'd be rich many times over. He spread joy everywhere he went. He lived a life of joy and it made the world a better place...or at least my world." 

"Loss of a dear friend is devastating, but I'm so glad I never have to face the reality of a life without ever knowing Leon. I'll always carry him in my heart." 

My Sweetest Friend

I'll be kind, if you'll be faithful
You be sweet and I'll be grateful
Cover me with kisses dear
Lighten up the atmosphere
Keep me warm inside our bed
I got dreams of you all through my head
Fortune teller said I'd be free
And that's the day you came to me

Come to me my sweetest friend
Can you feel my heart again
I'll take you back where you belong
And this will be our favorite song
Come to me with secrets bare
I'll love you more so don't be scared
When we're old and near the end

We'll go home and start again

March 26, 2015

Spring Cleaning: Non-Toxic DIY Products to Make at Home

Spring is here and it's time to sweep off the porch, throw open the windows and enjoy the sunshine. But what if like me, your home got a little dank and dusty through the winter months?

There's no better time than now to begin your spring cleaning. I definitely need to do mine! Don't you just feel more at peace when your home is tidy and clean? Clutter and grime breeds chaos and stifles creativity for sure.

I'm trying to be healthier and I know that goes beyond just what I eat. So many of the products we buy have harsh chemicals that aren't good for our skin and lungs. I've been guilty of mixing the wrong things while cleaning the bathroom and my home smelled like a swimming pool.

This spring, I'm trying my hand at making some all natural cleansers to use on my home. And I thought I'd share them on the blog too.

DIY Cleaners for the Bathroom

The bathroom is one of those areas in my home that I want to be clean, clean, clean. So I've been hesitant to use all natural cleaners because I was afraid they might not do the trick.

After reading about tea tree oil and its disinfecting properties, I'm going to give it a try.

To create a toilet scrub that freshens odors while cleaning, mix a half of a cup of baking soda with approximately 15 drops of tea tree oil. Pour that into the toilet bowl. Then, add 1/4 a cup of white vinegar and get to scrubbing. The vinegar and baking soda creates a fizz and the tea tree disinfects.

You can also mix some vinegar and tea tree oil in a spray bottle to use for routine cleaning of the seat and tank of your toilet.

The spray bottle of vinegar also works for your shower and sink. I keep a little jar of baking soda near my bathroom sink that I use to exfoliate my skin after washing my face but I learned that if a little bit fell into the sink, I could rub it around to clean that as well.

Cute salt & pepper shakers from the Dollar General Store make a great container/dispenser for this!

Got a cast iron bathtub with rust and stains? Did you know you can use half a grapefruit and some salt to clean it? Sprinkle the salt liberally and use the grapefruit half as sort of a scrubber. Get lots of juice in there and add more salt if needed.

DIY Cleaners for the Kitchen

Clean kitchen countertops with your spray bottle of vinegar and a little water. If you have granite, stone, or marble counters, substitute the vinegar with rubbing alcohol. You can also use vodka and I prefer the vanilla flavored version because of the great scent.

Cutting boards can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Use half a lemon to clean both plastic and wooden varieties. If it has stubborn stains, put some iodized salt on first and scrub that with the lemon to really get it good and clean.

If you need to clean cast iron, use olive oil and salt to make a paste. Then scrub well either with your fingers or a stiff bristled brush. You can rinse with warm water before re-seasoning your pans in a warm oven. NEVER use soap on your cast iron as it removes all the good baked in seasoning. Cast iron cookware can get to 400 degrees after just 4 minutes in a medium oven and it's sterile at 212 degrees.

Got an older fridge that needs some TLC? Use about a half a cup of baking soda mixed with warm water to clean it. The warm water will soften dried on food and stains while the baking soda is a mild abrasive to rub them away.

These are just a few of the simple recipes for cleaning products you can create for your home this spring. When you get ready to work around your home, consider your health and wellness. Choose products that contribute to your family's health and safety...not harsh chemicals that could do harm! Think outside the box next time and make your home really shine!

March 19, 2015

Thursday Three: Yoga & Jesus, Strange Wedding Traditions and De-Cluttering Your Home

I frequently see bloggers who regularly post a round-up of interesting links they stumble upon from across the Internet. Sometimes I click these links and sometimes I don't...depending on what they are.

Usually I'd rather hear from the bloggers themselves, as opposed to being directed to some other article or post. Sometimes, it's a great way to find out about different things that are going on or to find information I might not have found on my own.

I certainly don't think that everything I find interesting is of interest to you...but some of it could be.

I'm not sure if this is something I'm going to do regularly, but today I have three links for you that might be of interest.

The first one, I stumbled upon while doing a Google search of this phrase: "Should Christians Practice Yoga?" As a Christian who has been doing yoga, I know what I believe about this. But I was pretty surprised to find lots of folks in Internet land who are against it. Besides that, I know several folks in real life who are anti-yoga.

This article doesn't dig too far into it, but I love the imagery it evokes and since Easter is coming, I thought it was apropos.

The next one was sent to me by my best friend in California. It contains some silly origin stories about wedding traditions. I'm not much of a stickler for tradition and I'm not at all superstitious, but these are fun to read. My bridesmaids all have different dresses so we'd be out of luck in Ancient Rome, and my beau has a bad back and won't be carrying me across any thresholds (unless I get a running start and leap really high). You might get a kick out of them.

And finally, the last link is to an article in NY Magazine about how when you're raised not to be wasteful and save things for a rainy day, it's hard to de-clutter. I struggle with this concept all the time...why get rid of something when it's "perfectly good?" Just something to consider.