August 29, 2013

September 2013 - Better Breakfast Month

September has been designated as Better Breakfast Month and, for the past couple years, I've commemorated it by attempting to eat healthier breakfasts during the month.

In September of 2011, I was just starting a new healthy way of eating. Last September, I was nearly a year into trying a vegan diet, but still needing a little jump start in some areas. 

I'm glad September is almost here, because I think Better Breakfast Month is just what I need to get things going in the right direction again. 

I've always believed that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I feel better when I eat a healthy breakfast. I get more accomplished in the morning and I have more energy throughout the day. Yet, so often I grab something in the junk food category first thing in the morning or eat nothing at all. 

I'm joining my friends at Knoxville's WTNZ Fox43 to share a bit more about Better Breakfast Month, as well as some better breakfast options that might inspire you. I'll post the video as soon as it's live. Here's a link to a past breakfast post about how to make oatmeal taste better

During the month of September, I hope you'll join me in eating better breakfasts! Tweet or Instagram photos of your breakfast using the hashtag #BetterBfastMonth. You can also upload photos of your better breakfasts to Pinterest and tag them with the hashtag #BetterBfastMonth and I'll add them to my Pinterest board! If we all encourage each other, we can do this! 

August 27, 2013

Random thoughts on a Tuesday

Do you remember that book "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?" I'm going to write my own book called "A Branch Grows in My Living Room." I feel like this sort of thing would happen to me alone. 

Life has been a tiny bit crazy these days...and I've been pushing the blog to the bottom of the to-do list. My hot water heater kicked the bucket, flooding my home in the meantime (see the blackened carpet above). And I'm grateful as can be to be getting the carpet replaced, but the process of packing up all your belongings as if you are moving in order for carpet to be installed is something of a chore. 

In the midst of packing up everything, I moved my couch away from the wall and spotted this little branch just growing, growing up through my living room.

I recently watched a documentary called "Happy" (available on Netflix if you subscribe). It's all about the idea of happiness and how it means different things to different people around the world. I suggest you watch it if at all possible. Especially if you need a little attitude adjustment or a perspective shift. I perpetually need an attitude adjustment and a perspective shift these days, so I might start watching it on repeat. 

There's really no point to this post. Just to share those few thoughts. And my little branch. Which sort of makes me happy for no reason. 

I hope you're having a good week. 

August 21, 2013

Southern Roadtrip Detour: Rogersville, Tennessee

I'm such a sucker for small southern towns that boast some sort of historical significance. If Davy Crockett slept there or anything similar, that's good enough for me. This is why when I was traveling along I-40 in East Tennessee recently and saw a sign for Historic Rogersville, I suggested to my friend and traveling companion that we take a detour.

My friend Terry and I had driven from Knoxville to nearby Johnson City to hear Emily P. Freeman speak at a women's conference. You might be familiar with Emily as author of the book Grace for the Good Girl and her blog, Chatting at the Sky.

It was an enjoyable event and Emily shared some encouraging words, but the highlight of the trip (in my opinion) was historic Rogersville.

It's a little ways off the interstate, but we had some time so we decided to check it out. Rogersville, Tennessee is one of the oldest towns in the state and has a couple of claims to fame. One is the amount of Federal-style architecture, which was impressive. Another is the Hale Springs Inn, an historic hotel and tavern that is fully operational and apparently quite the popular spot for swanky events. We were disappointed to find that it was closed to the public for a wedding that particular day.

Since we couldn't check out anything beyond the exterior of the Hale Springs Inn, we headed out of town just a bit to another historic site, the Thomas Amis Mill. The Thomas Amis home, a log cabin, was built in the late 1700s and it has now been restored and converted into a restaurant.

Amis Mill Eatery offers a full menu of different tasty items, including cheesy squash soup which I'd never had before but enjoyed very much.

It was so fun to dine out on the back porch of a house built in the 1700s while looking down at this lovely view. I hope to travel back to Rogersville again because it's just so quaint. Plus the Hale Springs Inn restaurant seems like a good excuse to return!

Have you made any fun or unexpected detours lately? Safe travels!

August 15, 2013

Celebrate Peach Month with Simple Drink Recipes

Peaches have always been one of my favorite fruits. They are so versatile, so delicious and so very southern. For this week's segment on my local Fox affiliate show 'Mornings with Fox43,' I'm sharing three simple and tasty drink recipes that incorporate peaches!

Each recipe begins with the same simple syrup made with fresh peaches.

Fresh Peach Simple Syrup
  • 2 peaches
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
Combine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer covered until the sugar dissolves and the peaches soften and become uniform in color. 

Remove pan from heat and let cool for 30 minutes. Refrigerate 8-12 hours or overnight. 
**You can separate the peaches from the simple syrup or use the mixture as is, depending on your drink recipe.

 by VlaD (DaV.) (contact)

The first drink I created is something I'm calling the "Rise & Shine." Sometimes I feel like the only person in America who doesn't like orange juice. I love fresh oranges, but I just can't stomach the juice. This drink begins with orange juice but the addition of the peach syrup plus La Croix peach/pear flavored seltzer makes it a perfect drink for brunch or just to enjoy with your breakfast. 

Rise & Shine 
  • 1 part peach simple syrup
  • 3 parts orange juice
  • 1 can of La Croix Peach/Pear flavored sparkling water 
Serve over ice in a glass garnished with a slice of fresh peach and enjoy! 
**Note: Substitute champagne for the sparkling water to get instant peach mimosas! 

My next peach drink creation is one that is very near and dear to my heart: Peach Iced Tea. I should probably give credit where credit is due to fast food restaurant Pal's for my inspiration. I visited Pal's for the first time last weekend and their 'Peachy Tea' was so tasty, I wanted to recreate my own with all fresh ingredients.

I always use Lipton or Luzianne tea bags and while I never measure anything exactly, I usually use two tea bags per large pot of water.

Classic Southern Peach Iced Tea
  • 1 part peach simple syrup
  • 3 parts brewed tea 
Mix together and serve over ice with a mint garnish. Enjoy! 

photo via Ocean Spray
Finally, I wanted to create an easy drink recipe that would be perfect for all these end of summer soirees we're trying to cram into our schedules before fall. 

Peachy Keen Mocktail (Cocktail)
  • 1 part peach simple syrup
  • 1 part Ocean Spray Sparkling Cran-Lemonade
  • Optional Alcohol addition - Vodka or Gin 
This one combines peach simple syrup with Ocean Spray Sparkling Cran-Lemonade. It's as simple as that, but it's really delicious. You could even add Gin or Vodka to make a more spirited version. 

Enjoying a frou-frou drink with friends is fun, but it's easy to rack up a bar tab with just a couple of cocktails. There's no reason we can't indulge in some festive drinks at home that are simple to make and kind on the budget. I hope these recipes inspire you to do just that! 

August 13, 2013

Knox Heritage Summer Supper in a Glass Box

Knox Heritage is a wonderful Knoxville nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the community about the importance of historical preservation of local buildings and properties. Each year, Knox Heritage holds a series of fundraising events called Summer Suppers.

Each supper is held at a local venue and has its own committee of volunteers who plan, prepare and serve the meal to attendees.

Committee members and other local businesses make an initial donation to cover the cost of the food and all the money raised from event ticket sales goes to Knox Heritage to help it fulfill its mission of preservation and protection of Knoxville's historically significant sites.

I served on a committee for a Knox Heritage Summer Supper a few weeks ago and I wanted to share my experience!

The setting for the Summer Supper I helped with was a mid-century modern home on Cherokee Boulevard in Knoxville. The home was designed by well-known Knoxville architecture firm Barber McMurry and the gracious homeowners who opened their living room for the event were both professors at UT's College of Architecture.

Our theme was classic 1950's, with a typical steakhouse menu that included:

Classic Martinis & Whiskey Sours
Wine, Beer, & After Dinner Liqueurs
1950’s Appetizers
Shrimp Cocktail
Bleu Cheese Wedge Salad
Prime Rib
Steakhouse Potatoes
French Green Beans
Homemade Cloverleaf Rolls
Chocolate Chip Icebox Cake

The committee members divided up the food preparation and other tasks. Half the group arrived early to set up the tables and handle decorations. The other half stayed late to take everything down. It was so fun to work together a group and see the event come together!

We ended up raising nearly $6,000 for Knox Heritage! And even though it was quite a bit of work, it was all great fun. I can't wait to take part in a Summer Supper again next year!

Chocolate Chip Icebox Cake...I've gotta get the recipe! 
Does your city have anything like this? I think it's important that we preserve the history and heritage of our cities....rather than tearing down old buildings to build new ones in their place.

{top image via Flickr Creative Commons by MsBlueSky}

August 5, 2013

New Every Morning

Happy Monday friends! I hope your week is off to a great start. I just wanted to share a passage that encouraged me and I have a feeling it might encourage you too.

"The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don't just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed. 
Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny." 
- Steven Pressfield (The War of Art)  

Steven Pressfield's The War of Art is a must-read if you are struggling to accomplish something in life that you believe you were meant to do. I've been reading and re-reading it for months now and it's just so great.

Maybe the above quote speaks to me so deeply because I'm a recovering procrastinator. As such, it feels so good to be reminded that every moment is a new chance to turn things around. In fact, every second is a new opportunity to do something I've been putting off up until now.

Maybe this sounds Pollyanna of me. Did you know I was recently accused of being Pollyanna and it was meant as a criticism? If keeping on the sunny side and trying to see the good in people and situations is wrong, I'm not sure I want to be right.

When I was growing up, we sang a song at my church about how God's compassion and mercies toward His children were new every morning. It was based on a passage from Lamentations 3:22.

Each new morning is a chance to experience God's love for you and each new moment is a chance to do something different you've always dreamed of. See, I told you it was encouraging.

August 1, 2013

Simple DIY Teacher Gifts for Back to School

 by tncountryfan (contact)
Summer might have more than a month left, but students in my neck of the woods are preparing to head back to school. My mom is a teacher and she started back a couple weeks ago! Teachers make such a huge impact on the lives of their students. No matter how old you are, I bet you can remember a special teacher who made a difference for you. 

With school starting up again, I thought it would be a great time to share some simple DIY teacher gifts for my regular segment on Knoxville's Mornings with Fox program (segment video is below). 

It's all about doing little things to make people feel special. I'm a firm believer that you don't have to spend much money to create a memorable, meaningful gift. 

1. Custom Monogrammed Duffel Bag

I saw some adorable custom duffel bags from Neiman Marcus, but at $98 for three I decided to pinch my pennies. Instead, I made this great DIY version, which would make a wonderful back-to-school gift for a teacher. For $4.99 I got a plain white canvas laundry bag and for another $4.99, a package of iron-on letters (both items from craft store A.C. Moore). The iron-on letters were simple to apply and should stay in place as long as the bag isn't washed too frequently. 

2. DIY Spa Kit in a Jar 

image via The Gunny Sack 
I can't take credit for this wonderful idea of a Spa in a Jar, but I wanted to share it! Teachers' lives are stressful so what better way to show them our appreciation than with a little gift to pamper themselves. I'm a big fan of using Mason jars for all sorts of things because they are affordable and can be repurposed again and again. 

I actually created two different Spa in a Jar with body products and another with mani/pedi products for a little different twist. There's nothing really special about any of the items in the jar. It's just about presentation and how you put it all together. Don't forget the printable labels for your spa items (also via The Gunny Sack)! 

3. Chalkboard Clip Board To-Do List 

Another great idea I can't take credit for, but who cares? There are so many creative people out there making things...why not spread the love around? This one's from a great blog called Simplicity in the South. All you need is a basic clipboard, some chalkboard paint (or black spray paint) and chalk. I happened to have a can of chalkboard paint on hand, but I've used flat black spray paint plenty of times with the same effect. Just don't forget to treat your surface with a layer of chalk dust before you write on it. 

These are just a few simple ideas for DIY teacher gifts. I hope they inspire you to get creative in your gift giving. Teachers are special and they deserve to be made to feel special too!