December 31, 2010

The End of Ten, 2010 that is…

alpine churchI hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season. I can’t believe it is the last day of 2010. When I was in the 2nd grade, my class was part of a big anti-smoking initiative and I can remember the teachers telling us we were the (Smoke Free!) Class of 2000 and it seemed like such a mysterious thing. Then the year 2000 finally came and went (without much ado) and here we are on the cusp of 2011. Time really does fly. Just a short year ago, this blog was still a secret pastime of mine and now there are actual real live people who read it. Oh how I love you real live people….even those who don’t comment.

Since they are on our minds, I figured I’d mention New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve only made a few successful resolutions in past years (one being that I didn’t drink any juice made from concentrate, another that I didn’t wear the color red) and none have had any real lasting effect on my life. My friend Rachel and I are toying with the idea of resolving to never leave the house without makeup on, but I’m not sure my skin can handle it.

Instead of making lots of resolutions that I will ultimately fail at and end up feeling all the worse, I have decided to compile a list of things that I already try to do in the hopes of doing them more often in the coming year.

In no particular order….

dominoes 1

Play more

Worry less 

Make better use of my imagination (an imagination is a glorious gift that for some, I fear, gets pushed to the back of the shelf when we reach a certain age…..let’s put an end to this, ok?)

ayla walk by faith

Walk by faith…not by sight

Ask questions and really listen to their answers

Be brave

Don’t be afraid to cry

frost on windows

Believe that since dreams spring up in us for a reason, surely they will come true

Look for new dreams that haven’t yet sprung up

ayla's cville depot in snow

Encourage the dreams of others, especially when they need encouragement the most

Eat more fresh fruits & veggies

Accessorize, for this ability is the only thing that separates us from the animals! (according to Coco Chanel)

aylas coffee cup

Wear more sunscreen

Contribute something to the world that is uniquely my own

Show appreciation to others for their contributions

Remember who I am & where I come from

Celebrate the lives of those I have loved by re-telling their stories, recreating their delicious recipes, reliving their traditions, and remembering them fondly on this blog


I’m so excited about what the new year has to offer us and I can’t wait to experience it with all of you! Thanks for being part of my world and allowing me to be part of yours…Hooray for 2011! See you next year!

{all photos courtesy my talented cousin Ayla W.}

December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas 2010!

oprylandhotel xmas ornament ayla

“Time makes no difference. Whatever the century, wherever the place, Christmas is the Day of Days, the day of the heart's content, of gracious deed and deepest gratitude, when thoughts turn to the near and dear, to those who may be coming home, to celebrate at home the birth of Him Who has given to all of us all we are and may ever hope to be. Dear Christmas! Sweet Christmas! Happy Christmas! No day that man has known since the beginning of the Beginning can mean so much to man. Let us be together. Let us be good together. Let us be gentle together. Le us come home, if we can. Let us have joy this day. Let us have reverence. Let us never, never, never forget the significance of Christmas. For His sake, let us love one another. Dear Christmas. Sweet Christmas. Happy Christmas.”

{image courtesy Ayla Whittaker, text via McCall’s Dec. 1961}

December 24, 2010

On the Eve of Christmas


“Cloaked in the quiet of the winter's night, the Glorious Beginning stirs anew in the hearts of men. In every hamlet, wise men again are drawn to a manger, to watch, to wonder, to worship.”

{image courtesy}

December 23, 2010

We’re all nuts!


As I started gathering recipes for all the holiday dishes that I wanted to make this year, I noticed a slight trend. Everything I plan to make has a common ingredient. Not butter (although most everything has that too)…Pecans!

So far, my list includes:

Spiced Pecans

Baked Brie w/ Pecans, Jalapeños & Mayhaw Jelly

Church Window Cookies (recipe calls for chopped pecans)

Graham Crackers w/sugared pecans

My non-pecan items are Butter mints, Orange Jell-O Salad & Egg Pie. By the way, all of these items won’t be eaten at the same time…We’re having a Christmas Eve Pizza/Finger Food free-for-all, a Christmas mid-morning breakfast and then a later in the day lunch. Those lovely pecans up there were gifted to me last year by a sweet lady who had a tree in her yard…but I’m not a champion nutcracker so I opted for shelled this year. Speaking of Champion Nutcrackers…check out this video of my Pe-pa cracking hickory nuts on a huge rock at my family’s farm. Love him!

Why I keep saying “uh-oh” is still a mystery!

If you’ve never tasted hickory nut pie, you’re missing out big time! In my family, we think hickory nuts are way better than pecans, but they’re sort of hard to come by. And even if you have a tree, it takes a long time to crack enough to do anything with on a large scale.

Are you finding any common themes among your holiday recipes? Or are you finding yourself feeling a little bit nutty? Try not to stress…these next couple of days are going to fly by and if you’re stressed, you won’t enjoy them nearly as much!

December 22, 2010

To Grandmother’s House We Go


Many folks are gearing up for holiday travel…some of you may have already embarked on your journeys and I hope everyone arrives safely! I won’t be going to the lovely home pictured here, but in a way, it is my grandmother’s house. This house was to have been my great grandparents’ residence, built through the Cumberland Homestead Act under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. They ended up moving to Michigan so my great grandpa could get a better paying job in a steel mill and never lived in the house. It now serves as a living history museum for the Homestead. While I would love to have this house in my family, I’m glad that it has been preserved in a way to show what life was like when it was new.


My great grandpa also helped to build this stone bridge which still stands near the site of the house at Cumberland Mt. State Park. He was a talented man with a very rich life. This will be our first Christmas since he went to Heaven and while I know he is rejoicing now, it’s still hard to celebrate such a joyous time (that he got such a kick out of) without him.


I know everybody isn’t as fortunate as my family to have tangible things to stand as monuments to the ones they love. When I visit this bridge, I will always think of him and what kind of a person he was. Or when I visit the Homestead Museum, I can think of my great grandmother and the house she would have had. Even in cases where there is nothing physical to remember them by, we can still live our lives in ways that honor our loved ones. I want to make my great grandparents proud and treat people the way they would have expected me to treat them. I might fail at this lots of the time, but it’s still something that matters to me.

Let’s all hold our loved ones close this year and remember fondly the ones who aren’t with us anymore. Happy Hump Day!

December 21, 2010

Harper Lee’s Generous Gift

The following story, written by beloved southern author Harper Lee, was published in McCall’s Magazine in 1961. Because of the age of the piece and the fact that McCall’s is no longer in publication, I’m not really sure how the copyright works, but I just wanted to share it for the sake of Christmas (I’m not taking any credit for it or making any money from this post). Please give it a read…As a wanna-be writer, the prospect of something like this happening is sort of a dream.

[UPDATE: I was informed that posting the entire story here was indeed a copyright violation SO I took it down. My apologies to Ms. Lee, I would never try to take any credit for anything you had written.....and I'm sure nobody could ever mistake your wonderful words for mine anyway. Here is an updated link to the story via the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read Website/Institute of Museum & Library Services.]

In case you are wondering, in the year that her friends gifted her, Harper Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Their support allowed the world to know a truly wonderful gem. I can’t say that anything like this has ever happened to me on such a grand scale, but there are plenty of people in my life who believe in me and support me in other ways. Whatever your dream may be, why not consider permitting someone to believe in you? How do you know that the next masterpiece isn’t within you, just waiting to be created?

December 20, 2010

I Heart Tinsel Trees

silver tree

This little aluminum tree belongs to my Me-me…it’s been around for at least 50 years and only made a more recent appearance within the last 15 years or so because I think we saw a silver tree in a junk store and I was utterly enamored by it. When I found out that there was a similar one in my grandmother’s attic, I insisted she pull it down. She even had the light that came standard with the trees when they were bought new, a bulb with a rotating disk of colors that reflected on the tinsel branches and made quite a lovely show. Last week I posted about how I don’t mind not having a “living” tree, which was a hotly debated issue! I guess some folks might think a silver tree is just tacky, but I think it’s beautiful. Until this vintage one comes to live at my house (please Me-me?), I have a couple of smaller silver ones that I decorate with each year.


Do any of you have an old (or new) silver tree at your house? Last year I searched high and low for a pink tree without any luck. I know my friend Terry is cringing right about now….but she humors me! Happy Monday Everyone!

December 17, 2010

The Only Christmas for Me

I’m such a sap, but this song gets me every time. Maybe it’s because my sweet home state of Tennessee doesn’t have too many songs that celebrate all it has to offer. Although “The Tennessee Waltz” puts a tear in my eye as well. When I was in the 5th grade, our class put on a Christmas program for the parents and part of it involved dancing to this song…boy/girl, each couple nervous and awkward making a circle around the gym. I guess every time I hear the song, I think about my eleven year old self, awesomely clueless as to what life had in store. And really, I still don’t know what to expect half the time…so not much has changed. But I hope I’m a bit less awkward.

I can’t believe we are just a week away from Christmas. Let’s make this next week last as long as possible by slowing down and really enjoying all the little things. The Happiest of Fridays to YOU!

December 16, 2010

Vintage Christmas Snapshot


This photo belongs to a dear friend of mine…it’s of her precious grandfather and mom (possibly aunt?) when she was a little girl. I love how clearly you can see the tree in the background with all the shiny tinsel but even more so, the obvious joy on their faces. It’s just a lovely shot and to me, it really captures something special about Christmas.

Hope everyone is having a productive and stress-free week! Happy Thursday!

December 15, 2010

Southern Happenings: Gone with the Wind


On December 15, 1939, one of the most beloved films of all time premiered in Atlanta. It was a red carpet event if there ever were one with throngs of fans trying to catch a glimpse of Ms. Leigh herself as well as the dashing Clark Gable. I just can’t operate a self-respecting southern blog without paying homage to this fabulous happening…{images courtesy AJC}

Rhett at Five Points{the parade at Five Points}

Ed Rivers

{Vivien Leigh with GA Governor Ed Rivers & GWTW Producer David O. Selznick}

{Clark Gable speaks to his adoring fans}

391215 Atlanta, Ga. - Actress Vivien Leigh and actor Clark Gable meet 'Gone With The Wind' author Margaret Mitchell at a party given by the Atlanta Women's Press Club, Friday afternoon, Dec. 15, 1939.
{Vivien Leigh & Clark Gable meet Margaret Mitchell…wouldn’t you just love to know what they talked about?}

Gone With The Wind 1
{the film’s program}

{Scarlett…hmm, I wonder if this blog’s background shade was at all inspired by this image? I’ll never tell!}

I haven’t watched GWTW in awhile…maybe I’ll pull it out tonight while I’m getting caught up on laundry and gift wrapping. I only wish I could have attended the premiere. Hope everyone is having a wonderful Wednesday!

December 14, 2010

Vintage Holiday E-Cards


Vintage Christmas cards are so sweet and I’m a real sucker for their simple designs. Here are a few that I found online and then added text to them using Picnik (so easy!). Are you sending out cards this year? I have a whole stack ready to be stamped and mailed.

Red Card, White Door Christmas Card-1

What about all your web friends that you communicate with via email? I think a pretty image like one of these would make a lovely e-card. I have made some wonderful friends in blogland, but I don’t have their home addresses. I’d still like to drop them a note of Christmas cheer. A cute holiday e-card might be just the thing!


The best thing about these web images is that you can customize them however you see fit. They are so old, there isn’t really an issue of copyright anymore. Even though I consider myself a failed graphic designer, I love finding just the right text and fonts to use with images I have collected. I’m going to try to do something with these…who knows, you might just find one in your inbox!

Vintage Christmas Card Pink Angel-1

We got lots of snow in East Tennessee yesterday and it’s colder than a witch’s teat in these parts…are you staying warm where you are?

December 13, 2010

Christmas Trees, Real & Imaginary


Some people get their panties in a wad if the tree twinkling in the corner isn’t a Spruce, Fir or Pine. I truly don’t believe a “live” or “cut-down” Christmas tree is any better than an artificial one (gasp! horror!) Now while those of you who think I’ve committed a cardinal sin collect themselves, let me explain. What is special to one person might not mean anything to another. Maybe you insist on having a living (notice I won’t say “real” because my tree is real too, even if it isn’t alive) tree because you love to go chop it down or pick it out from a tree farm each year. Maybe you love the smell or the idea of bringing something alive into your home for a few weeks. I’m sure if my family had always adhered to the tradition of a live tree, I would feel as strongly.


I was 13 when we got our beloved Christmas tree. My family had just moved into a new house and since we had a little bit more room, we decided to get a new, bigger tree. We all piled in the mini-van and went to Lowe’s to pick it out. I knew as soon as I saw it that it was the one. Six and a half feet, full and bushy, the perfect shade of green… it was a glorious specimen to my 13 year old self. It also cost $100…a huge amount to us, especially for something to be used only once a year. I must have made a convincing case because it came home with us that night.

That first Christmas with the tree and almost every one after that has included the same routine: My dad and I get it down from the attic and proceed to assemble its many parts…each tier of branches color coded to match a set of holes on the trunk. We try to identify the color of paint on each branch, even though they have chipped and faded over the years. My mom flits around rearranging things and hanging ornaments while my brother humors us by sitting in the same room for the required yuletide minimum. This is our tradition. It doesn’t involve driving out to a snowy farm and using an axe or saw, but its our tradition just the same and it means the world to me.

Another part of my tree trimming traditions included putting up a tree for my great grandparents. I’m not sure how this got started, but each year I would go to their house and my grandpa and I would decorate their tree while my grandma flitted (it’s genetic) around the kitchen cooking us a delicious lunch to eat when we were done. In the earlier years they always had a living tree. It was a Spruce that would tear your hands to shreds while the huge lights they used burned like crazy. I convinced them to switch to a non-living tree after awhile and when those gigantic lights finally burned out, we replaced them with small ones. But every one of those times is an equally priceless memory to me….whether the tree was alive or not. I know you “live tree” lovers out there don’t mean to, but when you look down your noses at us “non-living tree” folks, it’s kind of like you are saying our memories and traditions aren’t as special as yours.

This is a highly debated topic. There are die-hard fans of living or cut trees who will never go artificial. Maybe your family is one of these. Maybe you have a special “store-bought” tree like ours that you love to use every year. Or maybe you don’t put up a tree and instead string lights everywhere and have a gorgeous wreath. No matter what you do for your Christmas traditions, treasure the ones you make the traditions with. Cling to your traditions, relish them each year, but be willing to let them evolve and change every now and then.

Now, I’m just dying to know….what kind of tree do you have? And one more thing….I haven’t even begun to share my love of Christmas trees that are silver! More on that to come.

December 10, 2010

Southern Eats: Warm Cranberry Casserole!


Cranberries are a wonderfully versatile food…tart and sweet, great in cold salads or dried as a snack. I had never eaten them hot until a few years ago when I got a fabulous church cookbook with this recipe in it. I haven’t made it yet this year, but I will. It’s one of those dishes that you can justify eating for breakfast because it has oatmeal in it. Just not too many days in a row if you want your pants to fit.

Hot Cranberry-Apple Casserole

  • 3 cups of peeled, cored and chopped apples
  • 2 cups whole, raw cranberries
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups quick cooking oatmeal
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans…or no nuts at all)
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 stick melted butter

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a two-quart casserole dish. Place in it the mixture of the chopped apples and whole cranberries. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and sugar. In a medium-size mixing bowl, blend to moisten the oatmeal, chopped walnuts, brown sugar and butter. Pour crumb mixture over fruit mixture. Bake uncovered for 75 minutes. Serves 10-12 (at my house 6-8).


Here is an extreme close-up of the ooey-gooey deliciousness! Trust me, if you make this, everybody will want the recipe!

December 9, 2010

Homemade Holiday


At some point, every child has come home from school with a handmade Christmas tree ornament. At the time, they seem like the most beautiful things imaginable, and even though they don’t hold much worldly value, they are priceless to me. It makes me wish I had created more of these baubles as a child so that I’d have more to reminisce about. Some of these photos are of ornaments my brother made when he was little and some are mine. They might not look like anything to anybody else, but they are probably one of the first things I’d grab in a fire. We even have a little strip of garland (below) that my Pe-Pa made when he was 5 years old…and he’s 73 now.


Carefully strung on a piece of yarn, these red and green construction paper shapes have really stood the test of time. I’m not sure how it came to be in our possession, but I treasure it.

069         077

My brother made both of these cross ornaments in pre-school (macaroni is such a versatile tool)

070             072

My silly plastic spoon people ornaments (Fred & Ginger on the left and a 1920s flapper on the right) … I should probably admit that I made these as a teenager, don’t laugh!


This little painted ornament serves as proof that I identified myself as Katie at least once in my life (this is my handwriting after all), but I swear I never wanted to be called anything but Kate. Maybe I was just having a small identity crisis one Christmas?


Bubbie’s glitter angel usually tops our tree. I just love how it catches the light. Hallmark is stocked with lovely things, but give me this sweet handmade look any day!


Finally, this ornament belonged to my paternal great-grandmother. We always said it was filled with angel hair…kind of a silky white material inside a silver plastic ball. I love putting up the tree and looking over each of these special ornaments as we hang them on a branch. What wonderful (either homespun or delicately designed) ornaments are you enjoying this season?

December 8, 2010

I Heart Art: Lesley Eaton

violin peppered paper 

Since I can often get lost in the world of Etsy, I decided to attend a local holiday crafters market this weekend and look at some handmade goods up close and personal. One of my favorite booths was that of Peppered Paper Designs. The talented artist and illustrator behind the work is Lesley Eaton, and I wish I had gotten to meet her. Her painted paper collages are even more gorgeous in person, and some prints of them can be purchased on her site. The violin one would be a neat gift for the budding musician in your life.

sweet pea peppered paper

There are several kitchen-themed works too….although I think this one would be a great gift for anybody in your life that you share the term of endearment with.

house portrait

Lesley will even do a custom collage of your house from a photograph…I love this so much! Putting a little extra thought into our gift giving goes such a long way, don’t you think?

In other news, a dear sweet southern lady (Hi Carol!) gave me an award…she always has something positive to say and her blog brings a smile to my face every time I visit. There’s so much great holiday stuff going on in blogland right now, I’m going to hold off on passing the award along, but I will give it out a bit later.

stylish_blogger_award{Thanks Carol for thinking of me}

Hope everybody is staying warm on this chilly Wednesday!

December 7, 2010

Gravity, the Moon and Tears in my Soup


Last night I made some soup. It wasn’t anything particularly special…certainly not gourmet by any stretch. But it was delicious. And it made me weep. I’m sure I probably put way too much emphasis on food (is that even possible?), but in this case I wasn’t being overly dramatic. Or at least I wasn’t trying to be. It was just really cold out (even snowing a bit) and I thought what better thing to have for dinner than a big bowl of hot vegetable soup. Using my great-grandmother’s method (it’s the only one I know), I dumped all the necessary ingredients in a big pot and let it simmer awhile. After a couple of hours, I went to check on the soup and when I lifted the lid off the pot, the smell completely transported me.

grandma's veg soup

This soup was my grandma’s attempt at healthy cooking. Bless her heart, it has enough grease to clog an artery. But she knew I loved it and would often call me to come by and have a bowl for lunch. If I stopped by her house and she didn’t have any made fresh, she could always seem to find a container of it in the deep freeze, usually in a recycled cottage cheese tub, sometimes with my name written on a piece of masking tape on top. It might not seem like a big deal, but it made me feel loved. As I stood over the pot on my stove last night, with tears streaming down and thinking to myself what a magical thing scent can be, I was overwhelmed by how memories can feel so alive. It was like my grandma was right there with me. And in a way, she was. Here in the south, this is just one of the ways we keep the ones we love close to us even when they are physically gone. I love this quote from a book by Mary Karr, “She could no more be gone than gravity or the moon." That’s exactly how I feel about so many of the folks I have loved. We might not be able see or touch them, but we know they are with us all the same.

grandpa&grandma young at homestead{my precious great-grandparents when they were just a young couple in love}

December 6, 2010

The Afters: Light up the sky

I heard this song on the radio recently and I’ve been singing it like crazy lately…I just can’t get it out of my head. The characters in the video illustrate the lyrics using flares and fireworks to light up the night sky, but I like the idea of God lighting up the sky for me all on His own. I took these pictures of the sky around sunset at my house the other day.


Here are some of the lyrics-

When stars are hiding in the clouds
I don't feel them shining
When I can't see beyond my doubt
The silver lining
When I've almost reached the end
Like a flood you're rushing in
Your love is rushing in
You light, light, light up the sky
You light up the sky to show me that you are with me
And I can't deny that you are right here with me…


I know that many people feel depressed around the holidays. It’s easy to have high expectations about how everything should go and then when reality falls short, we just can’t get over it. Let’s support each other and reach out to others in our lives who might be susceptible to feeling down. Sometimes just a kind word makes such a difference. And take some time to look up at the sky every now and then…you just never know when it’s lit up especially for you.


December 3, 2010

Tinsel and Treasures Galore


We’re in the thick of Christmas here at the SBS household and I wanted to share a few of my decorations…and would also love to see some of yours! No tree for me this year, I instead decided to pull out all my whimsical stuff and do a little menagerie of sorts…The southern momma gifted me this gorgeous vintage Italian ceramic 3-tiered cake stand and what better place to showcase all my favorite ornaments. If you squint your eyes its triangle shape sort of looks like a tree, right?


A few years ago I found these adorable retro deer…velvet flocked of course with tiny gold antlers and bells that jingle (are there any other kind?).


A pair of antique snowfellas make nice companions for the deery-lus as they bask in the light reflected off the pink tinsel while tromping over hills of purple.


All this frivolity is overlooked by some of Santa’s reindeer (who used to be a dated brass, but got a coat of paint and now all is well). I decked this wreath with different snips of ribbon and now it’s more haute co- than bass pro!


Finally, the entire tablescape…it’s like a Christmas “where’s waldo” for hoarders! Sorry, I like a lot of knick-knacks. Yes that’s Charlie Brown with his pitiful tree and trusty beagle companion…also a tiny Rudolph and his pal Sam the Snowman (made famous with the voice of Burl Ives). I like it and that’s all that matters…


Now come on and tell us all what’s brightly lit at your house! And if you send a picture, I’ll post it! Pinky promise. {southernbellesimpleblog AT}

Happy Friday and to all a Good Night!