December 30, 2013

Weighing Values

I had lunch with a colleague of mine the other day and he shared a story about how his grandfather, an Eastern European Jewish immigrant, came to this country as a teenager in the early 1900s. He started out pushing a scrap cart, mending clothing to make a living and ended up attending Phillips Exeter Academy and later, Harvard.

My friend's grandfather went on to build a successful real estate development business and retired at 50 to an island in the Caribbean.

As he spoke of his grandfather, I could sense how much the man had meant to my friend and it touched me that he would share the story.

Since my own grandparents, who have impacted my life greatly, are always at the forefront of my mind, I got to thinking.

My family spent some time over the holidays watching old home movies, including some I'd never seen before where my great-grandfather recounted aspects of his life story.

With little more than an elementary education, my grandfather went on to hold many jobs and eventually become a minister. In the video, he said that by age six he could identify every tree in the forest by its leaves and/or the taste of its bark.

I always knew he had a vast knowledge of nature, but this astounded me and still does.

In life, we place value on so many different things. Some might say that a Harvard education is more valuable than being able to identify trees. But I believe both fill an important need in our society.

What we value says so much about us. Sometimes we don't even realize where we are placing value, but it is often evident by how we spend our time or energy. I'm not much for making New Year's resolutions, but in 2014, I hope I can keep my focus on the things that really matter.

[image via  byErvin Bartis (contact)]

December 20, 2013

Childlike Hearts

Every time I hear the song Tender Tennessee Christmas, I think of Michael. I was in the fifth grade, a kinda chubby kid with frizzy hair and coke bottle glasses. When our school started preparing for our annual Christmas program, I could hardly wait. 

There were to be two different choreographed dance numbers and we could choose which one we wanted to participate in. The options were an all-girl dance and a boy-girl dance. Since boys didn't pay much attention to me, I thought this might be my chance to make an impression, so naturally I opted for the boy-girl dance. 

I was hoping to dance with my then crush Jason or one of the cute B.J.s (there were several). 

On the first day of rehearsal for the boy-girl dance, all the students participating were gathered in the school's gym where the teachers attempted to corral us into some semblance of order. 

They made us line up from shortest to tallest, one line of boys and one line of girls. Did I mention that I was also tall? As the tallest girl in the group, I quickly realized how they were pairing us up with our dance partners. By height. 

I scanned the line of boys to see who might be matched up with me. Then I saw him...the tallest of the boys. Michael. Why this boy had ever agreed to be in the boy-girl dance was beyond me. He scared me. He got in trouble. He wore Metallica t-shirts. I played with My Little Pony. 

As I suspected, we were paired up. There was no dancing to take place that particular day and I can't tell you how relieved I was. I remember all my friends talking at lunch about who they were paired up with and when I said Michael, they all looked aghast. 

Looking back, it absolutely breaks my heart that we would see another child as being so different from us...but that's what happens when you don't know someone and don't take time to understand where they come from. 

For the Christmas program, the boy-girl dance consisted of three large circles of dancers across the gym. Each circle rotated as we right-together, left-together'd to Amy Grant singing about childlike hearts and the love circling around us like gifts around our tree. 

Michael never said one mean word to me, or really any word at all. He just showed up to rehearsals like everybody else (in his Metallica t-shirt) and did the dance. I remember trying to get him to look me in the eye while we danced, but he mostly stared at the floor. His hands were dry and sand papery. 

I learned later that his mom had been killed in a car accident. I think he lived with his aunt. I saw in the paper recently where his younger brother had been arrested for some reason or another. I lost track of him after middle school and I always wondered what happened to him. 

It's such a small thing to remember, but for whatever reason it left an indelible mark on me. Every time I hear the song, I am sort of taken back to that elementary school gym. Awkward and nervous, so unsure of myself and who I was to be. So afraid to make one misstep, both in the dance and in my life. It felt safe to see him as an outsider and to treat him as such. Even if I knew in my heart it was wrong. 

I wish I could go back and be nicer to him. I wish I could go back and do a lot of things. But I think it's memories like this that remind us of things we want to do differently moving forward. 

December 19, 2013

Simple Christmas Crafts for the Family

I have a confession to make...I'm not very crafty. I am creative, but crafts aren't really one of my strengths. I have learned that the secret to success in the world of crafts (for me at least) is choosing projects that are really simple. There's nothing like a giant crafting fail to put a damper on your holiday spirits.

I pick easy crafts and they usually turn out alright so this gives me confidence to keep crafting. Today I'm doing my regular Southern Belle Simple segment on Knoxville's Fox43 morning show and what better topic to discuss than some easy last minute Christmas craft ideas!

All of these are super easy and hard to mess up. Also, they don't take up a lot of time so if you've put it off to the last minute this year, you can still get a little DIY holiday spirit in your home! Get the whole family involved...they might moan and groan at first, but they'll thank you later for the fun memories.

1) Simple Painted Burlap Table Runner

Burlap is the anti-crafter's best friend. It covers a multitude of crafting sins and I keep a huge stash of it on hand at all times. I decided to make a painted burlap table runner to add some cheer to my holiday table.

The best part is there are no rules to follow so it can really be anything you want. I cut a rectangular piece of burlap (approximately four feet long and 2 feet wide). Then I painted gold polka dots all over it using gold craft paint and a wine cork as a stamp. I trimmed the ends in a zig zag pattern and hot glued a Christmas ribbon across each one. Voila! So easy and cute.

2) Faux Stained Glass Window Decorations

This simple craft project holds a special place in my heart because I used to do it with my grandparents when I was a little girl. Crafting was definitely more fun at their house because they didn't care how big of a mess we made.

To create these fun faux stained glass decorations, you need crayons, wax paper, a pencil sharpener and an iron.

Sharpen a bunch of crayons and collect the shavings. Lay those out on a sheet of waxed paper and place another sheet on top. Then, with a warm iron, press down until the wax melts and creates a design you like.

It's best to use similar colors (red & pink, yellow & orange, etc.) or else your combinations can just turn brown.

I put my southern beau to work making these and we had a blast. We cut them into shapes and turned them into oversized Christmas ornaments with scraps of black cardstock. When you hang them in a window, the light comes through the wax and looks really pretty.

3) DIY Felt Christmas Garland

This project was inspired by a felt garland I saw at Walgreens, but it was a little sad and squished looking. I decided to make my own.

All you need are sheets of felt you can cut into strips, ribbon and other trimmings and a hot glue gun. This took very little time to make and turned out to be around five feet. It would be so cute hanging on a mantel or Christmas tree.

Such a fun, simple project!  

I hope these ideas inspired you to get crafting! You don't have to be a pro or spend a ton of money to do a project that is memorable and meaningful. The other night after we finished some of these projects, my southern beau said "this was the best day ever." To me, creating an experience with the ones you love is the real joy...having a cute decoration when you're finished is just icing on the cake!

December 13, 2013

Whose Story is it Anyway?

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about stories. I share stories of my own, and reflect on stories I have been told over the years. I pay homage to storytellers whose lives have impacted mine, whether I've met them or not.

A thought struck me the other day about just why it is I put so much effort into telling stories. I think stories are so important because they have a life force all their own.

Consider this...don't you get just a little excited when you hear the words "Once upon a time" and know that a story will follow them?

Another reason stories come alive is because they are points of connection. When we have shared experiences with other people, it forever links us to them. And when we get back together after months or sometimes years and recollect, it brings the connection to life.

Because stories are a living thing, I think it is a great honor for someone to allow you to tell his story. That's why I would never want to tell any story that wasn't mine to share. Mind you, I tell lots of stories about other people on Southern Belle Simple, particularly my grandparents. Some are living and some have gone on, but when I tell their stories it's a way to honor them. And I like to think the ones who are no longer with us would give me their blessing to recount their adventures so the next generations can know them.

[Sidenote: I'm convinced that if my grandpa (an old timey preacher) had lived into more modern times, he'd be all over YouTube and the web. He was a great storyteller plus he had star quality.]

Some stories are hard to believe. Like the one about my grandma, whose childhood pet was a crow that came to wait for the bus to drop her off each day after school. But didn't like the Watkins salesman.

Some stories make me laugh. Like the one where my five-year old self disobeyed my uncle and kicked the ashtray in his truck, dumping out all the ashes and cigarette butts on the floorboard (and soiling my white fringed cowboy boots).

Some stories make my cry in a good way. Like the one about my mom working in a drugstore when I was a baby and trying so hard to make ends meet and create a wonderful life for me (she did, by the way).

Some stories make me ache on the inside. Like the one about my grandpa when he was a little boy having to ride on a train from Michigan to Tennessee with the body of his baby sister in a little casket being brought home to bury.

But every story is a part of me and the people who make up my life.

If we never tell the stories, entire parts of our lives will remain a mystery swallowed up by the past. I mourn the loss of stories I never got a chance to hear.

As a good southerner, I know that certain things are always better left unsaid, but I know there are plenty of good stories left to tell.

I've said this before, but it warrants repeating: the best way we can honor the ones who matter to us is by telling their stories. And if they are still around to tell the stories themselves, we can honor them by listening.

December 10, 2013

Something Worth Saving

I was thinking the other day about Tupperware. The reason I thought of it is my southern beau borrowed a reusable plastic food storage container from a friend and later disposed of it. I saw some similar ones at the grocery store and bought them as a replacement for our friend.

It was so easy to grab a neat stack of plastic bowls with perfectly fitting lids. I thought about how kids today wouldn't believe there was ever a time you couldn't buy such things at the grocery store. I'm not even that old and I remember a time when Tupperware only came from parties.

Then I think back to my grandmothers and how it must have seemed to them. Their versions of reusable plastic food storage containers were cottage cheese cartons and Cool Whip tubs. And sometimes those brown Country Crock butter bowls.

After growing up in the 1920s and 30s, it wouldn't have made any sense to throw away those sorts of useful containers after just one use. Same went for plastic bread bags and aluminium foil. I can remember my great-grandmother washing bread bags and upending them to dry on her kitchen faucet.

Just recently I caught myself rinsing off a square of tin foil and had to chuckle because I know my grandma would be proud.

Wasting anything just wasn't an option to the older generations of my family. On Thanksgiving my cousin shared a story of how my grandparents would scoop the bathwater out of the tub after she had been bathed and use it to water their plants. I remembered a similar habit: my grandpa showering over a plastic bucket to collect water for the same purpose.

I'm not sure that I want to go to those lengths, but I do believe there should be a balance of some sort. What if we get so used to wasting, disposing, and throwing everything away that we begin to do the same thing with people?

It's so easy to get into the grooves of life, going about the motions of our day. I might do a small kind act for a stranger and pat myself on the back. But what about those other people...the ones we know who feel sad and alone, the ones who get on our nerves, the ones we just refuse to take the time for...what about our actions sends them the message that they are worth saving?

**Author's Note: Recently, someone I love very much was hurt because they thought something I wrote on this blog was directed at them. That couldn't be further from the truth. This blog is just a place for me to share my heart...all the words of wisdom I might dish out are usually intended for myself. I certainly need all the wisdom I can get! If something I write strikes you in a way that makes you feel I'm pointing a finger or trying to send a message to you, I assure you that is not the case. Thanks for reading and have a happy day! 

 [image used with Creative Commons License  by classic_film (contact)]

December 5, 2013

A Southern Holiday: Gifts Made in the South

There are so many talented and creative folks who call the south home. This is why I've decided to buy local, southern-made goods and items this holiday shopping season. Not only does it support southern purveyors, artisans and merchants, but it's also a fail-safe way to make sure the people on my holiday list are delighted with what they receive.

Since I'm visiting my pals at Knoxville's WTNZ Fox43 this morning for a segment, I decided to share some of the southern made holiday gift items that I've gotten so far. 

1) Hostess Gifts & Stocking Stuffers 

You should never show up to a party empty-handed, whether you bring a covered dish, flowers or a plant, or a bottle of wine. For some folks in my family, a bottle of wine could be substituted for a jar of moonshine, but you get the idea. 

Here are some great options for southern made hostess gifts, which could also double as teacher gifts, stocking stuffers or items for a white elephant gift exchange. 

1) "Christmas Candle" from oil & wax soy candles {made in Nashville} Available at Knoxville's Rala or online
2) Original Salted Caramels from Shotwell Candy Co. {made in Memphis} Available at Rala or online
3) Sea Salt Chocolate Bar from Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co. {made in Nashville} Available at Three Rivers Market or online 
4) Muddy Pond Sorghum from the Guenther Family {made in Monterey, TN} Available at Blackberry Farm
5) Baby Buns Lavender Soap from Wild Hare Soap Co. {made in Knoxville, TN} Available at Three Rivers market or online

2) Gifts for the Foodie

Not sure if you're shopping for a foodie? If you have someone on your holiday shopping list who reads cookbooks for fun, subscribes to a zillion food blogs, and loves eating local, it's a safe bet a foodie is in your midst. I highly recommend this cookbook by my friend Carrie Morey. Pair it with a package of her famous Callie's Charleston Biscuits (available at Fresh Market and other retailers) to make the foodie on your list oh so happy.

3) Gifts for the Fashionista

Europe and NYC no longer corner the market on high fashion. Make those fashionistas on your holiday list pleased as punch with the gift of custom denim and jewelry made right here in the south. 

Marc Nelson Denim is based in Knoxville, Tennessee and creates custom fit and small-batch run denim made in America (in the south). The men’s and women’s collections can be found in boutiques and specialty retailers across the U.S. as well as the company’s online store

Knoxville shoppers can find Marc Nelson at Bliss as well as other area retailers. I just got my first pair in the slim boot style and they make me feel like a rock star.

Another great southern made item for the style-setter on your holiday shopping list is Lenny & Eva jewelry. Now in boutiques all around the country, this brand was started by a sweet gal from my hometown. She's even graced the blog before when I featured her photography from a vintage southern wedding (to die for). 

Knoxville folks can find a wide selection of Lenny & Eva at Bliss (or you can check for a store near you using the store locator). 

4) Gifts for the Art Lover 

The gift of art is always a good idea because it allows you to present someone special with a one-of-a-kind piece that you chose just for them. The south is home to lots of talented artists, but two I happen to really like are Beth Meadows and Brian Pittman

Beth is known for her colorful mason jar art while Brian's pen and ink drawings center around cathedrals and other architectural marvels. Beth Meadows and Brian Pittman are extremely talented and I love supporting their creative endeavors. 

Both have work available at Knoxville's Rala and Brian will be on hand Friday, Dec. 6th for a First Friday event.

These are just a few of the locally made items that caught my eye this holiday season. Are you supporting local merchants and artisans? I'd love to hear what some of your favorite items are! 

For more southern gift ideas, check out these other posts featuring local and DIY holiday gifts

December 2, 2013

Social Graces: How to Have Fun at Your Holiday Office Party

When the holidays roll around, our calendars start filling up with festive fetes and soirees. But, what's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year often morphs into the most stressful time of the year...especially if you feel less than confident in social situations.

One hot topic that often incites anxiety is holiday office parties. Last year, I wrote about how to survive your holiday office party in my Social Q's etiquette column for Modern Ink Magazine.

You can read my full advice on making the most of your holiday work party here.

Between then and now, I've lived a little and learned a few things so I wanted to share some more advice that might come in handy when it comes to socializing with co-workers at a holiday office gathering.

Do keep conversation light.
Don't talk shop the entire time. Work might be what you have in common, but the purpose of this gathering is to celebrate the year's accomplishments by giving yourself a break from the grind.

Do bring a date/spouse/partner if permitted.
Don't bring several additional family members just so they can enjoy the free food.

Do participate in a gift exchange or white elephant game if there is one.
Don't buy the most expensive or least expensive gift you can find. Stick to the rules of the game, depending on what they are (price limits, homemade gift, etc.)

Do bring a covered dish or appetizer to share if it's a potluck.
Don't attempt to make a brand new recipe at the last minute if there's any chance it could turn out strange or inedible. Stick with a classic or favorite that you know everybody will love.

Do contribute to a group gift for your boss if there is one.
Don't make a big show of presenting the gift as if it came from you alone.

Do enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine (if you want to).
Don't drink to excess and embarrass yourself or someone else.

Do have fun and make some memories.
Don't stress out about it. The holidays come around only once a year...relax and be yourself.

With all the folks out of work these days, those of us with jobs are pretty fortunate! Let's keep a healthy dose of perspective and enjoy the season of festivities to the fullest. 

December 1, 2013

Pretty Holiday Greeting Cards from Minted

Each year for as long as I can remember, my family has sent out a photo card for the holidays. And each year, I've taken it upon myself to create said card...sometimes with construction paper or ribbon, other years using glitter and glue, painstaking as it were.

Our card list grew longer and longer and I guess the task got to be too much for me because last year, for the first time ever, my family did not send out Christmas cards.

Christmas came so quickly that with the hustle and bustle of everything else, making a holiday card just wasn't a priority.

I didn't want that to happen again this year and the timing couldn't have been more perfect when I was contacted by about featuring their custom holiday cards and other stationery on Southern Belle Simple.

I've never used Minted before, but after spending some time on the site, I found lots of holiday card designs that I really liked. The best part is they are designed so beautifully that I don't have to waste any time crafting some elaborate creation from scratch.

I sat down with my mom this past weekend and looked at possible photo options for our family holiday card. It's tricky because my brother has a new romance and we weren't sure if it was appropriate to add a photo of his girlfriend to the card (too soon?)...with her permission we ended up including her though.

Then there's my southern beau...even though he's been on the scene for many years, he isn't always keen on the whole family photo thing...but he was a good sport and agreed to let us include him too.

That's the thing about family. When you love a whole bunch of different people in all sorts of different ways, the lines get pretty blurry. But there's enough good stuff to go around. Plus, the smudges are where the real magic happens.

What is your family's holiday card tradition? Do you send out cards with photos or maybe one of those end of the year wrap-up letters? 

November 22, 2013

Social Graces: How to Get Along with Your Family at Thanksgiving

I've seen a couple of posts on getting along with your family at Thanksgiving and I decided since southern families are known to put the fun is dysfunctional, I should probably weigh in on the subject. Every family has its challenges. Some are more obvious than others, but no matter what you're dealing with...the holidays just seem to have a way of bringing them to their boiling point. 

My family is not perfect, although some of us claim to come pretty darn close (bless their hearts). Our Thanksgiving celebrations are usually less prone to drama since we drive to my aunt and uncle's house in Nashville and most of us put on our big city manners. 

I'm not picking on anyone because I love them all...and I'm positive I have been surly and difficult at times myself. 

So here are some tips that I recommend for getting along with your family this Thanksgiving (and beyond). 

1. Manage your own expectations. 

I'm making this number one because I think it just might be the most important of the list. What I mean by this is don't show up at Thanksgiving expecting your family to behave differently than they usually do. Just because it's a holiday doesn't mean anything magical has happened to their personalities. Even on their best behavior, they are still the same people. 

The worst feeling is when you expect someone to act differently than they usually do and then feel disappointed when they don't. Prepare yourself for the reality and then you won't be let down when Uncle Johnny gets mad that nobody laughs at the same joke he's told for 14 years. 

2. Keep it light. 

Unless Southern Living Magazine is coming to your Thanksgiving meal to shoot a story for next year's issue, it doesn't matter if your holiday celebration is perfect. Nobody cares if the plates are chipped (or even plastic). Nobody cares if the napkins are paper or cloth. Nobody cares if your table looks like something Martha Stewart would have whipped up. Don't put so much pressure on yourself and it will be much easier to avoid family won't be nearly as tense. 

3. Stay in the present. 

The past is over. It cannot be changed, forgotten, edited or much as we'd like for it to be. Don't harbor past grudges and don't air past grievances at the holiday table. If something happened in the past, try to let it go. That doesn't mean it didn't hurt you or that you shouldn't feel what you feel. But hashing out he said/she did, you vs. us, etc. won't really make you feel better.

4. Give 'em some grace. 

Nobody is perfect. Everybody brings his or her own baggage to the Thanksgiving table. What comes across as snarky from one person might be his attempt to avoid talking about what's really bothering him. Apply grace liberally...that is, show kindness and mercy to folks even when you want to pinch their little nu-nus off. 

5. Gratitude. 

It's hard to be petty about family squabbles when we stop to think about the folks all around the world who don't feel loved or valued and never get enough food to eat, let alone on Thanksgiving. Let's be grateful for the ones we call family, whether tied to us by blood or choice. Even when they drive us crazy...we're lucky to have the chance to gather with them for a meal. 

6. Drink. 

Wine is good. Lots of wine. One year, I accidentally took a prescription painkiller on Thanksgiving and then had some wine. I don't necessarily recommend it, but it was my least stressful holiday, to date. Something to think about. 

Seriously though...most of these things are just as much for me as they are for anybody else. We need our families...they are our ties to who we came from and the ones who will live on long after we are gone. Let's look at them with eyes of love this year. And hope they can find it in their hearts to do us the same favor. 

November 21, 2013

Southern Storytellers

Earlier today I was typing an email and spelled the word possible "possobile" before catching my mistake. This might not seem like big of a deal and it isn't so much...but in another way it is because I'm not a careless speller. I think the problem is that I'm always rushing, always multi-tasking, always thinking of the next thing.

And there's a time and a place for that, but there's also a time and place to slow down and enjoy the moment. I took a few minutes for a break and instead of vegging out in front of 10 minutes of mindless Netflix, I picked up a book I've been meaning to read. Stories of the Modern South: A Rich Collection of Southern Fiction by Some of the Great Storytellers of Our Time. 

The first story I flipped to was "Pantaloon in Black" by William Faulkner.

This is the first sentence:

He stood in the worn, faded clean overalls which Mannie herself had washed only a week ago, and heard the first clod strike the pine box. 

I had to stop after that one because I'm just in awe of Mr. Faulkner's ability to tell an entire story in so few words. This is the kind of writer I want to be. I know it's kind of a long-shot, but I'm not giving up. Read his sentence again if you need to.

Whenever I think about Faulkner, I always think about Mr. Shelby Foote. Another incredible southern wordsmith who had a way of telling stories unlike anyone else.

Speaking of southern storytellers, we lost a great one today with the passing of Mr. John Egerton. I was fortunate to meet him at Knoxville's Southern Food Writing Conference and I was also able to witness his beaten biscuit demonstration.

I'm grateful for these and all the other writers and storytellers who've help shape our region's narrative. Now, it's up to us to keep the stories coming. I'll leave you with these words, more from Mr. Faulkner, about gratitude.

"Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: It must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all." 

November 20, 2013

Glory Day: Memories of Football and Family

Growing up in the south, especially in Tennessee, it's sacrilege if you don't like football. I'm just not much for sports of any kind...even though I've always sort of tried to be excited. Tailgating I like...the eating and socializing part. It's just the game watching I don't feel as strongly about.

If this means we can't be friends anymore, I understand.

But what small connection I do have to football has less to do with any particular team and more to do with my grandpa. That's him up there in the photo, second row from the bottom, fourth from the right. This was his high school team in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

I'm sure my grandpa always wanted a grandson he could play football with and teach the rules of the game. Since I came along instead, we made do. I'd humor him by listening to stories of his glory days and help him cheer on his favorite teams (University of Tennessee, Auburn, and whoever happened to be playing Georgia). Then he'd play Barbies with me (sometimes).

Football was a big part of my grandpa's identity. It shaped his youth and then his college experience. And while he went on to become a father and a grandfather and have a successful career, I believe it all goes back to football for him.

When he talks about those days, his eyes light up in a way that is hard to explain. He can still remember so many details about his experiences. I used to sit and listen to those stories as a child to humor I ask him to tell me and I hang on every word.

Today, he turned 78. I count him as one of the biggest blessings of my life. All my grandparents have been. I know we shouldn't spend too much time looking back, but I really like to know about the people I come from...their stories, their hopes and dreams, their silly antics and their cherished memories. One day, when he is no longer around to tell me these things, I hope I've heard his stories enough times that they are always with me.

November 16, 2013

The History of Pie: A Special Guest Post

Today's post is brought to you by my southern beau. I asked him to write an article about the history of pie and he has outdone himself. I hope you enjoy! 

Here’s something you never hear anyone say: “Man, I hate pie.” That’s because we all love pie. Every human being from the dawn of time has loved pie. Anyone who says they don’t like pie is either a liar or some kind of monster in human form.

That being said, have you ever thought about your pie? I mean really thought about it. Where does this wonderful pie come from? Who was the genius who first gave us pie? That knowledge is lost to time. We will never know. If we did, there would no doubt be statues of this most magnificent human specimen on every corner, in every town square, and most certainly every pie shop and bakery the world over.

But what we can do is pull back the veil of history and get some clue as to when and where this wonderful food group was born. Most historians agree that the mighty Greeks were the first to make a pastry shell by mixing flour with water. Then the Romans caught on by stuffing pastry with meat and mussels. They are also thought to be the originators of the sweet pie by making something like a cheesecake called Placenta as described by Cato the Younger in his treatise De Agricultura. God bless him. Or, since he was Roman, gods bless him. Ha.

You might think there was pie at the first Thanksgiving in 1621. You’d be wrong. No apple pie. No pecan pie. No pumpkin pie. Can you imagine that? The very first Thanksgiving without pie? Well, it's true. Sad but true. What they did have were English style pies brought over with them from Europe. So they did have pie, but it was meat pie. The record is foggy but it's clear that the first thanksgiving centered around fowl and venison, and it's not hard to imagine the pilgrims had meat pies. They often made pies because the pastry helped preserve the meat.  

The first pumpkin pie was recorded in the Americas in 1675. It was made of spiced and boiled squash. No thanks. Pumpkin pie as we know it today wasn’t popularized until the 1800’s in America. And boy has it caught on since then. The largest pumpkin pie ever recorded was in New Bremen, Ohio. It was twenty feet in diameter and weighed in at 3,699 pounds. It beat out the town's previous effort from 2005. That pie was a paltry 2,000 pounds. And only twelve feet in diameter. What a joke.

Remember, people. Pie is serious. It's come a long way to get here. Remember the legacy of your pie. The pies that came before it. The pies yet to come. Pie is a sacred trust. A privilege, not a right. This season, let’s all love our pie and remember what it took to make it.

Hope y'all enjoyed this little history go eat some pie! xoxo-SBS 

November 14, 2013

Simple Thanksgiving Table Decorations

It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is only two weeks away. Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents or grandparents complained how time went by so fast? I finally understand what they were talking about. Another year has nearly gone by, but there's still plenty of time to really enjoy the season. I hope you'll be able to be with the ones you love and make some good memories.


There's something about the Thanksgiving meal that feels so special and an occasion like this deserves some special decorations. This morning, I'm making an appearance on WTNZ Fox43 to share simple Thanksgiving table decorations that you can create on a budget. 

It's easy to have stylish, beautiful things when money is no object. But when you are pinching pennies, or just can't really justify spending money on unnecessary things, it's great to have options. I believe that everyone deserves to have beauty in his or her life. 

For a unique Thanksgiving table centerpiece, I decided to take my inspiration (and my supplies) from nature. First, I started with a small squash from which I removed the top and seeds. I think this cost approximately $3 at my local grocery store. The filler is all greenery, leaves and other natural elements I clipped from some bushes around my house (i.e. free). You could also use fall leaves or even buy cut flowers. I wanted to go for that sprawling, natural look and I think I achieved it with ferns, magnolia leaves, rosemary, and a few other twiggy bits. 

Next, I set out to create some simple Thanksgiving place cards with a twist. A small potted plant at each place is a creative way to illustrate your seating arrangement. This method also has the added bonus of providing guests a small memento or favor from the event. I found this pin-cushion plant on sale at my local florist (less than $5) and added a name tag with a piece of brown paper and a skewer. 

Another simple place card idea involves oranges and cloves. Using whole cloves, create a name or initial in a large orange. Not only is this something of a conversation starter, but the citrus and clove scents mingled together smell wonderful too. 

There are so many other creative Thanksgiving ideas out there floating around. Do you have anything special planned for your holiday meal? 

Thanksgiving doesn't have to be fancy and it doesn't have to be stressful. For years, my family got all worked up over the holidays and I don't think we truly enjoyed them as much as we could have because of all that anxiety and tension. Just do what makes you happy. And love the ones you're with!

November 10, 2013

Veteran's Day: My Favorite Veteran

It's Veterans Day and I thought it fitting that I should take a moment to honor my favorite veteran, my southern beau.

My beau served in the United States Marine Corps and truly embodies the Marine motto of always faithful. 

We've been dating (or as my great-grandpa liked to say "courting heavy") for nearly a decade. People think it's weird, but you just can't worry about what people think. We love each other and what we have works. Marriage is definitely something we both want, but for now we're just going to continue our courtship. 

Life brings different challenges and our relationship hasn't always been easy...we even parted ways for a while. But somehow we found our way back together and I just can't imagine my life without him in it. 

In no particular order, here are some of the reasons I love him BTE (better than enything...not a typo...just our little inside joke): 
  • He writes me love letters
  • When it's that time of the month, he goes to Dollar General to get supplies. Last time, he called me from the feminine hygiene aisle to ask "Do you want the ones with wings?" 
  • He takes me to S&S Cafeteria for date night, even though we're the youngest people there by about 20 years 
  • If I'm feeling less than confident, he tells me I'm a powerful lioness 
  • He took me dancing and made it fun, even though we were terrible
  • He finds awesome baby animal videos on YouTube and we watch 
These are just a few, but you get the picture. I appreciate his service and wanted to honor him on this Veteran's Day.

Quick & Easy Low Calorie Snack

I'm a foodie from way back. I was a foodie before the term even came to be. I've always loved food; talking about it, reading about it, making it, eating it. In college, my good friend Stephanie used to joke that two of her favorite things were eating and snacking, and I wholeheartedly agree with her.

I think snacking is great because sometimes I'm just not hungry enough to eat an entire meal. However, it can be challenging to come up with healthy snacks that aren't boring. During a recent trip to Trader Joe's, I stumbled on a product that I've decided is my new favorite snack. 

Trader Joe's British Style Crumpets, in the cinnamon variety. I always had a general idea of what a crumpet was, based on watching British movies or television. But I'm certain I've never had anything like this. 

The only product I can really compare it to is an English muffin, but crumpets are so much better! When toasted, crumpets are spongy and soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside. 

At only 110 calories each, crumpets are delicious and filling. I've been enjoying them with Eden Organic Apple Butter, which adds about 40 calories for a perfect quick and easy 150 calorie snack option. 

All this talk of crumpets has me thinking about jolly England. I traveled there for the first time after graduating from high school and have been fortunate to visit a couple times since. Here is goofy, 18-year old me with one of the Buckingham Palace how we color coordinated our outfits? 

If you love snacking on apples, check out this post with a few great healthy apple products and recipes. Another healthy snack choice is oatmeal. I have a few suggestions for making oatmeal taste better, if you're so inclined. And if a sweet, not-so healthy snack is what you're craving, I insist you try my Ritz Cracker Candy...but trust me, you'll want to make a double batch. 

Do you have a favorite Trader Joe's product you'd like to share? I apologize to folks who don't have a Trader Joe's nearby...but maybe your local grocery store or bakery has a crumpet equivalent. If you have other ideas for how to enjoy these delicious items, please let me know! 

November 2, 2013

Traveling Eats: Atlanta's South City Kitchen

While attending a professional conference in Atlanta recently, I had one night free and met up with a dear friend for dinner. My friend, a long-time Atlanta resident, chose the spot: South City Kitchen.

If you haven't eaten at this lovely establishment, I highly recommend it! In operation for more than 20 years, South City Kitchen specializes in "contemporary southern cuisine with a sophisticated twist."

My friend arranged for us to have a most memorable experience...soon after we were seated, our dashing server brought out a sample of a few different appetizers. Then, after main courses complete with perfectly paired wine, we were treated to a similar sample of every dessert!

{buttermilk fried chicken + garlic collards + smashed potatoes}

{chicken livers + benton's ham}

{desserts, clockwise from top L: pineapple upside down cake; pecan pie; mississippi mud; banana pudding} 

To say we left the restaurant feeling a wee bit stuffed is an understatement...but it was a special occasion. South City Kitchen has a wonderful atmosphere and the staff were gracious and hospitable. If I lived in Atlanta, I'd eat there often!

October 31, 2013

Simple Last Minute Halloween Treats

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, but somehow this year I haven't gotten into the spirit. I was traveling for much of October and some of that time was under the weather a bit. So now Halloween is here and I have nothing to show for it.

Since I am joining those fine folks at WTNZ Fox43 for a segment this morning, I thought I'd share some simple, last minute Halloween ideas to inspire viewers at home as well as myself! There's still time to throw together some spooky decor and goodies using things you probably already have on hand. 

1. Milk Jug Ghosts 

I've seen this cute project floating around (get it, ghosts float?) on Pinterest and I decided to try it myself. Nothing could be easier, especially if you already have the plastic milk jugs on hand. 

All you need is a clean, dry (empty!) plastic gallon jug. The best for this project are translucent, but not completely opaque since you want the light to shine through. 

Using a permanent marker, draw a ghost face on the outside of the plastic jug. Or you could cut out shapes from black paper and tape them on (my method). Then add a light source inside. It can be one of those electric votive candles or even a strand of holiday lights. 

2. Witches Hats & Brooms 

Probably one of the main reasons I love Halloween is the candy. Who's with me? I was raised on the classics, Reese's peanut butter cups and Hershey's kisses. I guess that's why the next two Halloween treats seemed so appealing to me.

To create the witches hats, you'll need some type of flat, round chocolate cookie, Hershey's kisses and chocolate frosting. 

For the witches brooms, you'll need mini Reese's cups (not those tiny ones though) and mini pretzel sticks.

These Halloween treats are really easy to make and so fun! It's hard not to eat them as you make them, but isn't that sort of the point?

3. Paint Swatch Halloween Characters

Using paint swatches is great for all sorts of crafty projects. You probably want to find the swatches that are square, rather than the ones that resemble bookmarks. I used black cardstock to create the facial features. 

These would make great Halloween cards, place cards for a party or event invitations! 

4. Halloween Pudding Characters 

Another simple Halloween treat is made from turning store-bought pudding cups into creepy characters. For the vanilla pudding, you can draw a ghost face right on the plastic cups.

 {photo via}

For the Frankenstein faces, add a little green food coloring to the pudding and crumble Oreos on top. How cute is that? 

I hope you have a Happy Halloween! 

Want more Halloween ideas from Southern Belle Simple? Check out these posts: 

October 22, 2013

When You've Run Out of Stories

I often struggle when people ask me what I do. I wear lots of hats in life...freelance public relations consultant, social media strategist, blogger. But the part of what I do that I most deeply identify with is that of a storyteller.

To me, blogging and storytelling are one and the same. I love both equally. Lately, I haven't been posting to the blog as frequently as I had before. When someone asked me why, I said it was because I was going through a re-imagining phase...seeking new inspiration. That was kind of a lie. 

The truth is, the reason I haven't been blogging is because I was afraid I'd run out of stories. October rolled around and I thought about the typical October posts I could do. Pumpkin recipes, trips to the pumpkin patch, stories of Halloweens past. Been there, done that, crossed them off the list. 

So, this brought me to the conclusion that I'd told all the good stories and thus run out of stories to tell. 

As someone who really likes telling stories, this scared me. And depressed me a little too. 

The other morning, I was sitting on the patio drinking a cup of tea. And I found myself talking to God (as I so often do). 

What if I've run out of stories? 

And I heard so clearly in my heart these words: There are plenty of stories left to tell. Plus the really good ones warrant telling again and again. 

I immediately thought of my grandparents and all the stories they've told me through the years. The really good stories are the ones I ask to hear over and over. I know how they end, but I ask to hear them anyway. 

There are plenty of stories left to tell. 

As I let that sink in, I realized how silly I'd been to think I could run out of if there is a finite amount. There are plenty of stories left to tell...stories of people I haven't even met yet, and untold stories of people I've known all my life. And brand new stories of things that haven't even happened. We can tell them again and again, relishing our favorite parts, embellishing them as we see fit. And in each new telling, the stories shift and change. And illuminate things that were previously shadowed. 

Each day is a new opportunity. A new sunrise on a new chance. A clean sheet of paper on which to write a new story. 

Every person we meet has a story. They might never have the chance to tell it if we don't ask. 

October 18, 2013

Callie's Charleston Biscuits

I first had the pleasure of meeting Carrie Morey at The Southern Coterie Summit on Jekyll Island earlier this year. We reconnected at the Southern Food Writing Conference and International Biscuit Festival in May. She is so kind and genuine and I was excited to see her smiling face this past week at the Southern C Summit in Nashville, where she was passing out biscuits and promoting her new cookbook.

Carrie started Callie's Charleston Biscuits because of her mom, Callie White, who made the most delicious country ham biscuits for catered affairs. There are now seven varieties of biscuits, in addition to cheese crisps, pimento cheese and other incredible products that you can buy at various retailers around the country, including The Fresh Market.

Morey's new cookbook, Callie's Biscuits and Southern Traditions, is a must-have for any southern (or wanna-be southern) cook.

You might think me silly, but I was moved to tears during Carrie's presentation at the Southern C Nashville event. Not because biscuits make me cry (well, the good ones do actually), but because it just encourages me so much to see someone pursuing a passion and having great success doing so. When she shared about how she had started out driving around in her Suburban delivering biscuits or vacuum sealing them in her laundry room, it reminded that the really good things in life are worth working for. Luck is part of it too, but hard work and dedication paves the way.

If you haven't tried Callie's Charleston Biscuits, I hope you will! I tried the Cinnamon variety for the first time recently and they are a tiny bite of heaven. No lie!

October 17, 2013

Wear Something Gaudy Day GWTW Style

Today is one of my favorite days of the entire year. Okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration  but it is a day near and dear to my heart. October 17th has been designated as "Wear Something Gaudy Day." I grew up hearing my grandma use the word with great disdain to describe jewelry, fashions or home decor she didn't approve of. She was also quite fond of the word 'uncouth' and used it often to describe people who weren't southern and/or people who weren't acting like good southerners. 

I, for one, appreciate the gaudier things in life. And in honor of today, I wanted to celebrate one of my favorite characters who rocked her gaudiness in all its glory.... 
gôdē/ adjective
  1. 1.
    extravagantly bright or showy, typically so as to be tasteless

For example:

{Belle Watling} 

This Gone with the Wind anti-heroine gave Scarlett a run for her money by befriending Rhett and just plain ol' being a decent person. I always loved her style...her strawberry blonde hair and crimson lips, her red velvet jail-visiting ensemble trimmed in white fur. I wish she had gotten more of a story line in the film. 

{pink tulle + a spray of roses on top = gaudy for sure, but she owns this look & I love it!} 

{Just because there's a war going on doesn't mean you can't get your gaudy on!} 

So you heard it here, you can rock your gaudy looks with pride! And for that matter, if you love how it makes you feel, go gaudy every day. Style is about expressing your personality and if you've got it, flaunt it! 

October 10, 2013

Fall Favorite: Simple Pumpkin Doughnuts

It's pumpkin mania this time of year with pumpkin-flavored everything in stores and restaurants. I love pumpkin just as much as the next guy (maybe more than!) so I wanted to share a favorite pumpkin recipe of mine: Pumpkin Doughnuts.

I'm also stopping by for a visit with my friends on Mornings with Fox43 and thought this recipe would be a fun thing to demonstrate. Deep frying on live doesn't get more southern than that!

Pumpkin Doughnuts
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
Blend first five ingredients together well. Combine remaining ingredients and stir into the dry ingredients until moistened. 

Now for the frying...this could vary depending on your preferred method. If you have a fryer, use that. Otherwise, use a tall-sided stock pot. A couple inches of vegetable oil in the bottom is all you will need. The secret here is low and slow. Bring the oil to medium-ish heat. Drop spoonfuls (or scoopfuls) of batter into the oil. The doughnuts will begin to float as they fry. Turn them over a few times so that each side is fully cooked. You might need to test one by poking it in the middle with a toothpick to see if it's done. If not, cook it a little longer in the oil. Transfer cooked doughnuts from the oil to a plate lined with a paper towel. 

When the oil has drained, transfer to a brown paper sack with a little powdered sugar sprinkled in it. Shake the sack until the doughnuts are coated evenly. Try not to eat just one.