December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013!

The blogosphere is abuzz today with talk of New Year's Eve festivities, stylish NYE party hairdos and fashions, traditions for ringing in the New Year and of course, resolutions for 2013.

2012 was a year of learning many lessons, some easy and others more challenging. One of the most important lessons I'm learning is how precious and fleeting this thing we call life is. And how easy it is for us to turn around and be another year older in what feels like a flash.

One of my biggest struggles is my tendency to be looking so far ahead, I miss the wonder and whimsy of the moment right before my eyes. If I were making a resolution for 2013 (I rarely make resolutions), it would be to remind myself to enjoy the tiny things that, when lumped together, make up this glorious, chaotic, blessed, love-filled existence.

I have spent a lot of time in my last 30 years worrying about ridiculous things that wasted too much of my precious energy. I hope you don't do that. I also spent way too much time doing things that didn't bring me joy. Learn from my mistakes and don't do that either.

If you have a friend who really gets you, cherish him or her. If you don't feel understood, my prayer is that this year will be a chance for you to make a genuine heart connection with someone new.

If I judged 2012 by the circumstances alone, one might think I could choose to see my glass as half empty. Getting fired, family struggles, everyday challenges, etc. But instead, I see my glass (which is really more like a punch bowl) as running over with more blessings that I can contain. I'm constantly amazed at how lovely life looks when I view it through the filter of grace that is in my heart.

I hope 2013 is a wonderful year for you! I hope it holds new beauty and blessings you weren't expecting. And I hope you feel utterly, completely and totally loved because you are.

December 28, 2012

After Christmas Shopping Fun

Many folks wake up at the crack of dawn the day after Christmas to do post-holiday shopping. For some, it's to return gifts that didn't quite fit or weren't quite what they were hoping for. Others do it to take advantage of the big sales.

I've never really participated in this tradition until this year. I love to shop. I do not like to spend money. This make for a unique conundrum much of the time. Growing up, my family did most of our clothing shopping at thrift stores...specifically Goodwill. As a teenager, this didn't always thrill me (to say the least). I went through a phase where I didn't want to buy things second-hand. Now that I'm all grown up and have "learned the value of a dollar," I'm back to thrifting with a vengeance.

For our day after Christmas shopping excursion, my mom and I walked briefly around a department store, found the prices to be ridiculous and headed to the nearest thrift store instead.

Thrift store shopping is not for everybody. I know there are folks who can't get on board and I respect that. You can't look at thrift store shopping the same way you look at regular shopping. First of all, you never know what you're going to find. This can be good in many ways because every steal and deal you run across is, in essence, a surprise.

Some people say they hate thrift store shopping because they can never find anything good. To these folks, I say they need to stick it out for the long haul. Sometimes the good finds are few and far between, but they are always worth it to me. On our after Christmas clothes shopping trip, I only found one shirt. But the fact that it was a like-new silk J.Crew blouse that probably retailed for over $100 yet cost me only $4 made the shopping trip worth it.

I know there are other thrifty folks out there and I just wanted to see if any of y'all fit in that category. Did you do any after Christmas shopping?

December 26, 2012

Anti-Recipe: Not Butternut Cake (aka the Best Christmas Cake Ever)

This cake happened by accident. The best things always do. It all started a few days before Christmas when my parents and I were reminiscing about the butternut cakes my grandma used to make for my dad at the holidays. They were really delicious and all that talk put us in the mood to have a butternut cake this year. So my mom decided to try and recreate the sweet treat for Christmas.

It's a really basic recipe using a boxed yellow cake mix with the addition of butternut flavoring. The cake is then frosted with scratch-made butternut flavored icing and chopped pecans. The problem was my mom couldn't find butternut flavoring anywhere in town.

Not one to let small setbacks stand in her way, she improvised with a mixture of vanilla and almond flavoring and I swear, the cake was even better than the original. Everybody loved it and asked for the recipe. We still have one small piece left that I'm rationing out like gold.

Here's the recipe if you're so inclined to try won't be sorry.

Not Butternut Cake

1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
1 stick of melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

Make the cake mix according to the directions on the box and add the melted butter and flavorings. Bake according to directions on box.


1 brick of cream cheese
1 stick of butter
1 box of powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup of chopped pecans

Cream together the first five ingredients. Stir in pecans. Frost cake according to your liking. Top with more chopped pecans or pecan halves for decoration.

(Here's a recipe for the butternut cake that seems most similar to the ones my grandma used to make...if you'd like to make this one instead.)

December 20, 2012

A Place to Belong

We all want to be welcomed. We all want to be brought in from the cold, from the aloneness, into a warm space filled with friendship. We want to belong. We’d love to have a person fling their door open, burst into smile, throw their arms around us and say, Get yourself in here. -- winn collier

These beautiful words (which a friend shared on Facebook) warmed my heart so much. They ring so true in my heart and I'm willing to bet they do in yours too. There's a deep desire in all of us to feel like we are part of be seen, heard and understood. I am so blessed this holiday season (and always) to have people in my life who make me feel loved and cherished and I hope you have that too.

I want this blog, my little corner of the internet, to be a place where feelings of love, friendship and belonging abound. It's not about page rank or unique visitors. It's about learning from each other and sharing a little love along the way.

I encourage us all to look with our hearts at folks who might not have friendship or a place of belonging and offer it to them -- freely without expecting anything in return. It is only by loving each other and extending grace that our lives have deeper meaning.

Blessings to you & yours this holiday season and in the coming year!

December 19, 2012

Visions of Sugarplums and Gingerbread

I already mentioned that the southern beau and I took a recent day-trip to Asheville, North Carolina  to enjoy some sights and sounds of the holiday season. One of my favorite things about the excursion was getting to view some gorgeous gingerbread houses! 

Asheville's Grove Park Inn is the site of a full-blown gingerbread competition, but we didn't make it there during this trip. Instead, we visited the Grove Arcade where several gingerbread contest entries were also on display. 

From someone who has attempted to build a gingerbread house and nearly pulled her hair out in the process, I was quite impressed by the talent and creativity on display. Who'd have thought the ancient Egyptians would be so festive? 

This magical creation came complete with shredded coconut snow! 

Have you ever successfully executed a gingerbread creation? How about unsuccessfully? There's no judgement here. I like the above gingerbread house because it's decked out with old fashioned hard know, like the ones Dolly sings about in her famous holiday tune.

This final gingerbread house reminded of the 18th century James White fort, home of the founder of Knoxville. Cute, huh? 

Some families create gingerbread houses together each year as a holiday tradition. I wish mine did, but I'm afraid we'd all end up frustrated...and the holidays have enough potential for that as it is. I hope you are having a wonderful week my friend! Can you believe it's less than 7 days to Christmas? Yikes! 

December 17, 2012

Brother Can you Spare 1:44?

There's a great local organization in my city called Community School of the Arts. This incredible nonprofit provides free, quality arts and music classes to children and young people who would not otherwise be able to afford them. Sounds pretty great, huh? 

Now's where you come in. Each time the above video is viewed, my friends at Best Behavior Creative Club will donate $1 to CSA. Up to $500! At the time of this post's writing, we're almost to 300, but I know we can get to 500 or above with your help. Please view and share this video! It will only take a minute and 44 seconds but it will make a much greater impact in the life of a child. 

Thanks friend. 

Rustic Holiday Decorations in Asheville

I ran across these lovely holiday decorations during my visit to Asheville and wanted to share them with you. I love how the vintage kitchen gadgets are strung up as a garland...what a cute idea! I think this was along the front of Tupelo Honey, which is fitting. 

I've seen box graters used as light fixtures and muffin tins repurposed for organizing things, but I've never seen them elevated to decor in such a unique way. 

I think it would be cute to decorate an entire Christmas tree with kitchen themed items....for instance if you had a large collection of antique cookie cutters. Here's another neat way a blogger named KayteeJane turned her vintage cookie cutters into a festive holiday garland.

There are so many things we can do if we just get a little bit creative. Often, I think about our ancestors who managed to do so much with so little. Surely with all the resources we have today, we can do more with less! 

December 15, 2012

On this day: Gone with the Wind Premiere

On this day in 1939, Gone with the Wind premiered at Atlanta's Loew's Grand Theatre. Wouldn't you love to have been there? The stars of the film descended onto the city and caused quite a stir. From Clark Gable (seen below with his beautiful wife Carole Lombard) to Vivien Leigh and others, it was a night to see and be seen. 

New Hollywood has nothing on the glamour and opulence of old was a different time and we'll probably never really know what it was like to be part of that world. But I love looking through the old images that I find...imagining how it must have felt to have all eyes on you, bringing Margaret Mitchell's masterpiece to life. There are so many awful things going on the the world right now, I guess I just wanted to look back with fondness to a simpler time. 

Here's a link to a wonderful blog with lots of great back story from my friend Denise, who I met a couple of years ago at the Margaret Mitchell House social media event. Enjoy! 

December 13, 2012

Southern Holiday Gift Ideas

I've gathered some gift ideas to share with my friends at Knoxville's WTNZ Fox43 this morning and I'm thrilled to share them here too. I'm about fifty percent finished with my Christmas shopping and only beginning to feel the pressure as December is quickly passing by. Hopefully some of my ideas will inspire you as you are selecting that perfect holiday gift for each person on your holiday shopping list.

1. Shop Local -

I can't say it enough...local businesses are so important to our communities and I believe we've gotta support them this holiday shopping season (and all through the year). A college sorority sister of mine opened a great shop in Downtown Knoxville called "Nothing Too Fancy" that offers a wide selection of unique, one-of-a-kind items. From iPad cases made of recycled flannel shirts, to Dolly Parton t-shirts and items with our area code, this shop captures the spirit of Knoxville.

I can almost guarantee that wherever you live, there's a local merchant nearby who would appreciate your business. Won't you join me by shopping local and supporting the livelihoods of folks who are pursuing their passions to make amazing products available to the public?

2. Gift the Gift of Art -

I love giving and receiving handmade art and craft items as holiday gifts. I already mentioned my visit to Asheville's Big Crafty craft fair and there are probably craft events like this in your area as well. Another great holiday gift that I'm hoping to receive is this year's Dogwood Arts Limited Edition Print. Knoxville's Dogwood Arts Festival does a great job getting art out there in our community and each year they choose an artist's work to reproduce as a print. This year's artist is Andrew Saftel and the print, from an original work entitled Scenic Roadis just gorgeous. You can get one here for $100.

3. The Gift of Thrift -

Some people are funny about giving/getting second-hand items as gifts. I am most definitely not one of those people. I LOVE getting thrifted gifts. Who cares how much it cost if the person saw it and thought of you? You can get really creative with thrift store shopping and put together all sorts of gift sets/combinations that you know the folks on your list will love.

I found three nice mugs at my local Goodwill for $1 and made little gift sets with tins of tea and a holiday ornament tied around each one. This would make a great teacher gift. Then I bundled some vintage cookbooks together with twine and tied a whisk to the bundles with a bright ribbon. These are great for an aspiring (or amateur) chef. Finally, I found a vintage lidded candy dish at an estate sale recently. I cleaned it thoroughly and filled it with peppermint bark. An easy gift for a hostess or a dear friend.

4. Food for the Soul -

For my final gift idea, I put together a holiday basket of breakfast goodies...what can I say? Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I included local treats such as bagels made here in Knoxville, jam from Emily G's and coffee roasted right here in East Tennessee. A holiday tea towel makes it complete. You could include whatever items you (or the recipient) would prefer, but this is a really good way to give a gift you know will be appreciated. I mean, we all gotta eat, right?

I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season! If you have other gift ideas that you think would inspire us, please share in the comments!

December 12, 2012

Simply a Southern Belle: Tallulah Bankhead

On this day in 1968, Hollywood (and the rest of us) lost one of the greats with the passing of Ms. Tallulah Bankhead. This Alabama-born belle followed no rules but her own and made a quite a splash wherever she went, from London to Washington D.C., New York to Los Angeles. 

I can't help but wonder how different Gone with the Wind would have been if she'd been cast as Scarlett. And it wasn't a lack of trying on her part to win the role...the story goes that she enlisted members of her Alabama family to stage a letter writing campaign to David O. Selznick claiming she was the only actress right for the part. It's sort of sad when you think about it...a genuine southern belle denied the chance to play the quintessential southern belle, and passed over for a Brit, no less (of course y'all know I love Vivien Leigh so I mean no disrespect).  

Bankhead wrote the following in her autobiography about the situation: "I'll go to my grave convinced that I could have drawn the cheers of Longstreet and Beauregard and Robert E. Lee had I been permitted to wrestle with Rhett Butler. 

**I was recently dining with a group of ladies and talk turned to baby names. Some mentioned the name Tallulah (which I happen to love) and expressed disdain for it. Maybe she wasn't born in the south? 

December 10, 2012

Think Inside the Box: Smiling Rock Box Shop

One of the booths I really enjoyed perusing at the Big Crafty craft fair in Asheville was the Smiling Rock Box Shop. Smiling Rock Boxes are wooden boxes enclosed by glass panes that house a variety of different objects, from special collectibles to ordinary everyday items.

The ones that contained antique fishing lures were my favorites because they reminded me of my great grandpa, an avid fisherman (when he could get away from his busy life as a farmer).

Another box that struck my fancy contained three lines of barbed made me think of my grandparents' farm. I love the idea of taking a simple thing, and turning it into a work of art by showcasing it in a handcrafted box.

Wouldn't this be a great way to save a special childhood toy or memento? I don't know for sure if you can send in your own items and have them 'boxed,' but it's worth a shot to ask. The artist's contact information is on the Smiling Rock Box website.

I love attending craft events because it's such a neat way to get inspiration and see what other creative folks are dreaming up. Even if the crafts aren't your style, you can still appreciate them for the work and time that went into creating them.

Are you crafty? I like to think I am, but there are so many things I still hope to learn. What crafty creations have you made lately?  

December 5, 2012

Drink it up: Holiday Drink Recipes to Make & Share

Today marks the anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition, so to commemorate this blessed event, I'm sharing a couple festive drink recipes that would be perfect for any holiday get together. I like these because they aren't your typical cocktails and they have a southern twist.

Christmas Alexander

1 cup cream
1 cup gin
1 cup creme de cacao

Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate overnight. Serve straight up or over ice in 4-ounce glasses or mugs. Enjoy!

Eye Opener Milk Punch

2 cups vanilla ice cream, softened
1 cup milk
1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 cup light rum
1/4 cup brandy
4 drops vanilla
1 tsp sugar
nutmeg to garnish

In a large pitcher, combine softened ice cream, milk, bourbon, rum, brandy, vanilla, and sugar. Stir until well blended. Serve over ice with nutmeg sprinkled on top.

What's your favorite holiday spirited beverage? We usually have mimosas on Christmas morning, but poinsettias are also quite yummy (cranberry juice & champagne).

December 4, 2012

Traveling Adventures: Asheville & The Big Crafty

Sunday, the southern beau and I visited Asheville, North Carolina together for the first time. I wanted to attend a holiday craft fair I'd read about in Country Living Magazine and he accompanied me like the good sport that he is. The main attraction of our day was the Big Crafty, an artsy fartsy craft show held at the Asheville Art Museum.

I saw so many wonderful goods made by lots of talented people. I'll be sharing more of the cool things we saw, but my favorite thing was the art of Joe Engel. His mixed media painted wood pieces really caught my eye...I wanted to bring one home with me.

After the craft event, we made our way to the Grove Arcade, an historic downtown building that has been converted into retail and residential spaces. Lots to see and it was a gorgeous day for walking around, taking in the sights and sounds of the city.

We ate lunch at Early Girl Eatery, a quaint little spot tucked into a narrow alleyway. My cabbage, beets and beans were delicious and the southern beau enjoyed his grits and potatoes with tomato gravy. We could only look longingly at the homemade desserts as we left because both of us were too stuffed to enjoy more.

We ended our adventure by driving around the River Arts District, though most shops were closed as it was pretty late in the day (and Sunday). We're already planning another visit! 

Have you been to Asheville? What's your favorite thing to do there? I'm thinking about a weekend trip in January...any suggestions? 

December 3, 2012

Only In the South: Holiday Light Show Extravaganza

There's a house near where the southern beau lives that goes ALL OUT for Christmas. It's not just decorated to the hilt...there's a light show. Set. To. Music. The folks must have their own radio frequency because there's a big sign nailed to a telephone pole in their yard that tells you what station to tune in to. Then you just sit back and take it all in. The above video gives a small glimpse. I'm sure the neighbors hate it. We keep going back year after year! All I can say about this is only in the south! 

December 1, 2012

Holiday Blogger Outing with Southern Belle Simple, part 2

I've said before that, for me, the best thing about blogging is the relationships it has fostered...including with readers and other bloggers who are following their passions. Last year, I got together with a fabulous group of Knoxville bloggers for a little holiday shindig and we decided to do a repeat this year. Our group was a bit smaller than last time (we missed the ones who couldn't attend), but we had a great time catching up, getting to know each other better and cheering each other on in our various goals and endeavors.

From L to R:
Yours truly
Heather of The Mommyhood
Heather of Sprinkle Bakes
Kate of The Sassy Swan

(yes, two Kates and two was easy to remember names!)

Hopefully, you'll pay them a visit! These women are incredible and so are their blogs! I'm so grateful to call them friends. Whether you are a blogger or not, I encourage you to cultivate friendships with folks who can help you along your path in life. It's so great to have a group of people who can offer feedback, bounce ideas around and just tell it like it is.

Happy Monday my dears!