April 30, 2013

Writer's Envy

Do you ever read some amazing bit of writing and think "why didn't I write that?" I guess it could be called writer's envy. But part of being a writer (I am, you know) is reading what other people write. Lately, I've felt like some of the stuff I've read just spoke to my very soul. Does that ever happen to you?

"For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love." 

First was a quote from Carl Sagan that I added to a picture of my dogs (including dearly departed Bentley). Anyone who has ever loved a pet knows the feeling of responsibility for these small precious lives. It shouldn't be taken lightly.

Then, it was a poem I heard read on NPR. The poet, Marie Howe, is the State Poet for New York.  You can also hear Howe read her poem here (if you'd rather close your eyes and listen.) It's that good.


Even if I don’t see it again — nor ever feel it
I know it is — and that if once it hailed me
it ever does –

And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as towards a place, but it was a tilting
within myself,

as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn’t — I was blinded like that — and swam
in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I’d die
from being loved like that.

– Marie Howe

Hope you're having a great week!

April 29, 2013

An Elegant Fourteen

If I weren't already sold on my southern beau, I definitely would be after this weekend. He came through for me during a situation where I was about to lose my cool and even though we didn't accomplish what we'd set out to, his actions reminded me that he's one of the good ones. 

You probably think there was some sort of life and death situation at hand...nah, just a fashion emergency. 

You see, I'm getting ready to take a trip. Not just any trip...a conference at which I'm speaking. Me? Speaking at a conference? I'm still pinching myself. And as I always do when these types of events come up on the calendar, I put too much pressure on myself to choose the perfect outfits that will make the 'just-right' impression and let all these folks know how fabulous I am (I know...it sounds crazy when I type it out). Shouldn't I have better things to do? 

So my beau and I were rushing around the mall Saturday to hunt for some pieces for my travel wardrobe. Did I mention it was our second mall trip of the day? I'd sent him to Gap to return all the stuff I bought during our first trip of the day...why it looked amazing in the dressing room and then awful at home I'll never know. 

While he was doing that, I raced in and out of every mall store I could think of with no luck (it was almost time for the mall to close). My beau found me, near tears, in the junior's department of Dillard's (NOT a good place to be when you're feeling less than fabulous). 

He was trying to say everything he could think of to make me feel better. 

"What about Cache? That place has tons of sparkly dresses that might work for your trip." 

I looked at him like he was crazy.

I'm not trying to disparage Cache or anyone who might shop there, but I didn't think the store would have anything that was really my style (or size). He kept on about it until I gave in. 

This is where I should probably note that men and women are so very different. Anytime a clothing store employee asks me if I need help finding anything, I always say I'm just looking. Even if I do need help, I'd rather just look on my own. 

When we entered Cache, I walked around a bit taking in the sequins and zebra print (Did I mention there was a teenager trying on prom dresses?). At some point the Cache employee must have asked my beau if we needed help because whatever he said to her caused her to start fluttering around the store, pulling things off the rack for me. 

In the end, none of the options were really my style (as I'd suspected), but at least we gave it a try. 

As we were leaving the mall, my beau said "Now see, that wasn't so bad. The lady was very helpful once I told her it was imperative that we find what we were looking for." 

I laughed a little, thinking about how ridiculous our "dire" situation must have seemed to the poor woman who just wanted to go home for the day. 

"And what did you tell her we were looking for?" I asked. 

"An elegant fourteen." 

Maybe it's only funny to me because I know him, but bless his heart. I pictured him making it very clear to the woman that we simply MUST find an ELEGANT fourteen. But of course! 

I hesitated to include this story in the blog because who really wants to make their dress size public knowledge? But it just warmed my heart so much to have someone who would go to any lengths to try and make me feel better, when the situation was only dramatic because I overreacted in the first place. 

Do you ever struggle with wanting to make a certain impression and feel like your fashion options are holding you back? 

April 24, 2013

Way Back Wednesday: College Beauty Pageants

Have you ever thought about how social media has allowed us to be connected to famous people like never before?

It seems like celebrities are more approachable to us now, but apparently there has always been some element of this. Think about fan clubs and fan letters of days gone by...it wasn't high tech but it still got the job done.

In fact, there was a practice that got celebs really involved in the lives of some college beauties...as evidenced in the 1956 University of Tennessee Volunteer Yearbook.

And just who was this man of national renown? Why Tennessee Ernie Ford, of course! I wonder if he was the most famous person they could think of or just the only one who responded?

So these beauties were chosen from among UT's finest 1950s co-eds. Then photos of the top 21 (as decided upon by local judges...whoever that might have been) were sent to Tennessee Ernie Ford to decide which 6 were the prettiest. 

I get that this was a different time, but seriously? I'm really glad this tradition was put to rest by the time I attended the ol' University of Tennessee. It's hard enough to be a young woman, in college, trying to find your way in the adult world without having to be concerned what Tennessee Ernie Ford thinks of you. I think all the ladies were lovely. So there. 

April 22, 2013

Drink It Up: Gin Cocktail a.k.a. 3-2-1, Repeat

How is it Monday already? The weekend just flew by! I guess they usually do, but this one went especially fast. If you're like me and need something to lift your spirits after a long day of work, try this delicious gin cocktail. It's easy as pie to make and perfect for sipping. Plus it's light enough for spring. I think it's technically called The Southside, but I'm calling it a 3-2-1, Repeat (if needed).

3-2-1, Repeat Gin Cocktail 

Here's how to make it:

3 oz of Gin (I like Beefeater) 
2 oz of fresh Lemon Juice 
1 oz Simple Syrup (I used the Stirrings ready-made Simple Syrup but you can make your own)

Shake and strain over ice. Garnish with fresh mint and enjoy! Now, if you need to repeat, feel free. It is Monday, after all. 

April 18, 2013

How to Shop for Second Hand Treasures

We've all heard that one man's trash is another man's treasure. With budgets getting tighter these days, shopping second hand is more popular than ever! From estate sales to thrift shops, there are lots of second hand treasures out there if you just know how and where to look.

This morning, I'm joining my friends at Knoxville's Fox43 to share some tips on finding great second hand treasures!

My first tip is "Shop Early, Shop Often."

Estate sales and yard sales aren't for the faint of heart...you must get there early to find the best selection. There are some great community sales here in Knoxville put on by local churches and other nonprofit organizations and folks line up before the doors even open!

In the case of yard sales and estate sales, the early bird gets the worm!

Okay, the second part of that is "Shop Often" and this particularly applies to shopping at thrift stores. Thrift stores have inventories that are always changing. You can't visit one time and expect to find exactly what you're looking for. The secret is to drop by frequently to increase your chances of stumbling upon treasures!

Not only that, but you can't be afraid to dig. Second hand stores aren't always organized like traditional retail stores. Sometimes you have to dig through boxes and bins to find the good stuff. I dug a Chanel scarf out of a box in an Atlanta thrift shop once...and it only cost $.99 (yes, that's 99 cents!). But if I hadn't rooted around, I would have missed it!

My final tips for finding second hand treasures involve asking yourself a couple of questions before making a purchase:

1) Does the item have value?


2) Does the item have potential?

When I say value, I don't necessarily mean monetary value. It's just about what kind of value it has to you. Maybe the item is something you need or something you've been wanting to find for a long time. Perhaps it's something a friend would love to receive as a gift. We can't buy everything we come across just because the price is right. And this helps to keep that in perspective.

Same goes for thinking about an item's potential. Everything you see in a thrift shop or at an estate sale might not appeal to you at first glance. But it's important to think about what the potential might be...maybe with a coat of paint or a little updating, it would be something really great.

These are just things that have worked for me over the years! What are your best tips for thrifting?

April 16, 2013


Ugh. We're only a day into this week and so many terrible things going on...my heart is heavy for the folks in Boston. Both the ones directly affected as well as those who are affected indirectly. I've been praying for them and hoping they feel comfort during this, what I'm sure must be an awful time.

It's not business as usual and it won't be, but I wanted to resume regular posts. Partly because it gives me something to do besides be glued to the television watching these horrible things unfold. Partly because these are the times when we most need something to connect with...to feel like we aren't alone...to feel like there are others out there who love & care about us. I certainly want you to feel loved and cared for.

For ways you can help those involved in the Boston Marathon tragedy, I found this page on the Huffington Post.

And of course you can pray.

April 14, 2013

Happy Birthday Loretta Lynn!

Honoring one of the greats today...she's a national treasure! 

Happy Birthday Loretta Lynn! Hope you have many, many more! 

April 12, 2013

Friday Flashback: Classic Southern Automobiles

As a child, and now as an adult, one of my favorite things to do is sit and listen to my grandparents tell stories of their youth. I love the way they travel back in time with each memory and I love seeing them as their younger selves, through their eyes and the stories they share with me.

One of my favorite stories about my paternal grandparents involves my grandma, an automobile, and a good fight. My grandparents went on their first date when they were 13 (at which time my grandpa told my grandma he loved her...she didn't return the sentiment just yet). While they dated seriously later in high school, their early teen years found them occasionally on the outs.

On such an occasion, my grandma accepted a ride to school with another young man. Looking back, she says she wasn't all that fond of him, but he had a car...and in 1950, a kid with a car was a big deal. My grandpa always chimes in how he didn't have a car, but he didn't think it mattered that he was challenged in the automotive department because my grandma cared more about substance and strength of character.

So I guess my grandma (Patsye) was riding down the road with this other boy when they happened to pass by my grandpa (Richard). Upon seeing his beloved riding shotgun with another fellow, Richard blew a gasket. He got the guy to slow his car to a roll and dove into the front seat through the open driver's side window...fists flying. The driver must have had the wherewithal to stop the car but they continued to duke it out until my grandpa was declared the winner.

Patsye jumped out, pretending to be horrified, but I think secretly loving it (what girl doesn't want to see her man fight for her honor?). And what man wouldn't have wanted to throw his hat in the ring for her...she was a fox, as evidenced by the photo above.

I'm sure there are so many stories like this...young people and their cars...it's such a rite of passage, no matter the decade. Do you have any special memories about your first car or the first car you took a ride in?

April 11, 2013

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut or have a swelled head.

Love doesn’t force itself on others. It isn’t “me first.”

Love doesn’t fly off the handle.

Love doesn’t keep score.

Love doesn’t revel when others grovel.

Love takes pleasure in the truth.

Love puts up with anything.

Love trusts God always.

Love always looks for the best. It never looks back, but perseveres until the end.

April 9, 2013

Anti-Recipe: 'Stached Potatoes (aka Makedonitiki Skordalia, huh?)

My friend Bronda gave me an awesome cookbook for Christmas called Big Vegan: More than 350 Recipes, No Meat/No Dairy All Delicious. It is chock full of great recipes! One that I made this week is very delicious, yet impossible to pronounce and even harder to spell. It's a Greek dip called makedonitiki and the recipe strays from the usual ingredient of walnuts and calls for pistachios instead. It's basically mashed potatoes with ground pistachios mixed in...thus my new name for it 'Stached Potatoes.

To make it, all you need is a pound of potatoes, boiled until tender (I left the skins on) and then mashed.

In a food processor, create a paste of the following: a half cup of extra virgin olive oil, a fourth of a cup of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 4 garlic cloves, a cup of pistachios and a pinch of salt.

Stir the pistachio concoction into the potatoes until mixed well. I guess you can serve it cold or warm, as a dip or a side dish. I'm not going to lie, it has a distinct taste. I like it but I'm not sure it's something I'd make over and over again. Has anyone ever heard of this or eaten a variation of it? The original recipe supposedly called for walnuts instead of pistachios but the cookbook cites the fact that they turn the dish gray...ew.

April 8, 2013

Happy Birthday Barbara Kingsolver!

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver. While not born in the south, she was raised in rural Kentucky and much of her writing celebrates southern settings, locations and culture.

If you haven't read Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, I highly recommend it. It tells the story of an evangelical minister from Georgia who takes his family to live in the Belgian Congo as missionaries. It's one of those amazing books that has a lasting impact on you...or at least it did on me.

Kingsolver has also written non-fiction, including a book about her family's attempt to eat local for an entire year. In the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, she chronicles their food production and consumption on a farm in Virginia.

Are you a fan of her writing?

April 7, 2013

Loved & Lost: Old Dogs

Ever since I was a little girl, I've been a dog lover. I've also been known to root for, adopt and/or fall in love with the underdog (both those in human and dog form). Sometimes this means I end up doing things against my better judgment. One of those things was adopting a 14-year old Yorkshire Terrier named Bentley in summer of 2011.

{Leon (75 lbs) & Bentley (7.5 lbs)} 
My southern beau was in a unique situation. A local family had moved to a different state and left their dogs behind in the care of dog-sitters while they tried to sell their house and settle their affairs. Phillip (my beau) was one of the dog-sitters. It became apparent that not all of the family's dogs were to be moving with them, including Bentley, who Phillip was instructed to surrender to the pound.

Apparently the family didn't think he would survive the move and they saw this as their only option.

I'll never forget when Phillip called to tell me this whole sordid tale.

"There's this little dog, Bentley," he said. "And they want me to just dump him at the pound. And I know the pound will take one look at him and think he's not a good candidate for adoption. It's the end of the road for this guy."

I remember asking him if he knew of anyone who might be willing to take the dog.

"That's why I'm calling you," he said.

Oh brother.

And that's how I ended up with a shoe box full of stinky, gnarling, poop-matted fur in the form of a 7-pound geriatric dog.

After a proper bath and haircut (plus getting him up to date on all his shots), Bentley looked quite presentable. I knew his days might be numbered...he was, after all, 14. But I thought, what the heck? I can give this little guy a good life, even if he doesn't have much time left.

I never dreamed he would live almost two years. During that time, he had a loving home. He traveled. He met lots of people. He was cared for. I felt like it was the least I could do.

{my Me-me, a southern grandma, holding Bentley during a family outing} 
Last week, Bentley started showing signs that things weren't quite right. He repeatedly lost control of his bowels. He was barely eating and drinking, despite my most earnest pleas. And today, with his mum and dad (me and my southern beau) by his side, he passed away.

It's been hard and we'll be sad for awhile. But what encourages me is the human heart...and its capacity to love. I never planned on adopting a small crotchety dog with halitosis and chronic priapism (seriously). And on paper, it was probably not my smartest decision. And I never planned on him becoming such an integral part of our little motley crew.

But somewhere along the way in these past two years, my heart grew to include him. And the thing that makes me so happy is that even when those we love are no longer with us, the love we feel for them never leaves us. I have no idea what happens to dogs when they die. I want to believe they go to heaven. I just really don't know. What I do know is that we gave a little dog who was headed to the pound a good life for a couple of years. It doesn't make me special. It was just the right thing to do.

Puppies are adorable (Call me Captain Obvious). And it's a wonderful thing to raise a puppy and have him for years and years. But there are old dogs out there who need homes too. And maybe your home needs an old dog, just as mine did. Even though Bentley only stayed with us for two years, I hope he knew that we were his forever home.

April 5, 2013

The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen Giveaway!

Happy Friday y'all! Hope your week has been enjoyable. Mine was great, including the chance to meet that talented pair of food lovin' gents, the Lee Brothers! Matt Lee and Ted Lee, southern cooks, authors (in my opinion, southern food anthropologists) are on a whirlwind book tour that happened to include a stop at a fabulous local bookstore in Knoxville.

{What's a southern book signing without some snacks? Pimento cheese on a biscuit anyone?} 
I was fortunate enough to meet them and chat a little bit about the latest book and what makes it special. If you're a fan of theirs, you won't be disappointed in this volume, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen. It's more than just a cookbook...it's really a narrative, a love story to Charleston and all the wonderful, delicious food dishes the city is known for.

{image via Charleston City Paper
And you have a chance to win a signed copy! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling me the last thing you cooked/baked/made in the kitchen...even if it was just a mess! The giveaway will run through Friday April 12 at noon EST. Now what are you waiting for? Don't you want to win?

You can also order a signed copy (among other goodies) from The Lee Bros. website! And if they are coming to a city near you, I highly recommend you go see 'em and tell them I said hi! 

April 4, 2013

DIY Easy Affordable Art for your Home

Happy Thursday friends! I'm starting my day with an appearance on Knoxville's WTNZ Fox43 for a fun segment about one of my favorite things: art! Knoxville has a thriving art scene, what with all the talented folks in our area plus the Dogwood Arts Festival, First Fridays, etc. I'm a huge advocate for supporting local artists, but when budgets don't allow for art buying, we can do the next best thing and make our own.

For today's television segment, I'm sharing some easy, affordable and creative ways to add art to your home. I hope you get a little inspiration.

a page from a calendar I framed...cheery! 
My first idea is called "Finding Art in Ordinary Places." Art is all around us if we simply take the time to look. From a greeting card sent by a special friend to a vintage postcard collected on a memorable trip, if you like it, there's no reason it can't become art in your home. Another ordinary household object that can become a work of art is a wall calendar. I always save my calendars from year to year because they are just so beautiful.

{a framed greeting card & a framed vintage post card} 
Old books with gorgeous illustrations also make great fodder for framing...I blogged on this when my dear friend used botanical illustrations from a science textbook to decorate a room at his southern wedding/event venue

My next idea goes all the way back to the 18th century: silhouettes. Where this art medium was once seen as the poor man's version of portraiture, it is now tres chic! I've done some silhouette art before, also inspired by a calendar in homage to Gone with the Wind.

All you need is a photo oriented to the profile, a sheet of tracing paper and black card stock. I created this silhouette of my dog Leon in just a few minutes and I think it would be adorable framed or mounted on a canvas. Such an easy way to add a bold work of art to your home!

Finally, I'm sharing a beloved collage as inspiration for making DIY art collages for your home. Collage is another time-honored art form and I think collages make great additions to your walls.

My mom actually created this collage for me using old photos of all the grandmothers, aunts and ladies in our family. You could do a collage similar to this one or just use torn paper with bold colors and shapes. The best thing about collage is that you don't need any advanced artistry to make one!

There are so many ways to incorporate art into your home. These are just a few of the easy DIY art projects I have tried and I hope you enjoyed them!

Watch more of my WTNZ Fox43 segments here! 

April 2, 2013

Happy Birthday Emmylou Harris

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite southern songwriters, Ms. Emmylou Harris. Apparently she knows about more than just a love that will never grow old (lyrics below) because she's turning 66 today, but looks like she is getting younger with each passing year. This Alabama belle has enjoyed a long, successful career, yet still had her share of heartbreaking sadness. Her love story with Gram Parsons has been referenced in songs, poems and now, even floral designs.

Go to sleep, may your sweet dreams come true
Just lay back in my arms for one more night
I've this crazy old notion that calls me sometimes
Saying this one's the love of our lives

'Cause I know a love that will never grow old
And I know a love that will never grow old

When you wake up the world may have changed
But trust in me, I'll never falter or fail
Just the smile in your eyes, it can light up the night
And your laughter's like wind in my sails

Happy Birthday Emmylou! 

{The video below makes me so happy...I have no idea who the girl is but she seems so sweet as she romps with her horses in the snow...and the song is wonderful. I wonder if Emmylou likes it?} 

April 1, 2013

A Kindness

The other day, I did a nice thing for a stranger. It wasn't anything life changing, just a small act of kindness. And I'm not bragging on myself...what I want to share is why I did the nice thing.

I did not do something nice because of any sort of spiritual beliefs or convictions I hold, even though I am a Christian. I did not do it because of how it would make me look to the other person or anyone else. In the moment it happened, I wasn't even sure why I was doing it. 

Later, I realized I did it because of two men and the impact they have had on my life: my grandfathers.

On paper, they might seem very different. One was born in Texas, the other in Michigan. One attended college, the other didn't. Regardless, they are two of the very smartest people I have ever known. One is extremely liberal, a self-proclaimed 'yellow dog democrat' while the other is pretty conservative, the son of a Freewill Baptist minister.

The thing they have in common (other than loving me) is the fact that they are two of the biggest bleeding hearts you'll ever meet...and I mean that in the best sense of the phrase. It's probably to their own detriment -- because they are so giving, I think they have a tendency to be taken advantage of. But the best thing is, they don't even seem to care.

The reason they do for other people, in my opinion, is that they want them to have good lives. And on some level that has stuck with me because it's the same reason I did a small kind thing for a stranger this week.

It wasn't because I'm a good person. It was because I have seen kindness demonstrated, time and time again, by two people who mean so much to me. I'm not saying they are perfect. Nobody is. But I believe they always intend to help, not to harm. My life would look so different were it not for them and I don't want to imagine a world without them in it. But I take comfort knowing that in those moments when I have the opportunity to do a small kindness, it can be a testament to the lives my grandfathers have lived.

Is there someone in your life who made this kind of impact on you? Perhaps you are that person to a whole group of people. I guess my reason for writing this post is to remind myself (and you) that even the tiniest thing can make a difference. I have been the recipient of kindness so many times. I'm glad I had the chance to pass it on, even in a small way.