December 24, 2014

Such a place as fairyland

“There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.” 

― L.M. MontgomeryThe Story Girl

December 23, 2014

What I Want for Christmas - My Grown Up List

The other night I went to a holiday party providing free photos with Santa for kids and families. My friend brought her young niece who sat on Santa's lap and posed for a photo, but promptly informed my friend that while that Santa was pretty good, he wasn't the 'real' Santa because the real one (another Santa from a previous event she attended) knew she was seven years old and that she had trouble keeping her room clean. She didn't feel the need to tell the second Santa what she wanted for Christmas since he clearly wasn't the real one. It was way sweet.

I remember the magic of believing in Santa Claus. One Christmas I left my teddy bear in the living room chair to keep watch for him in the hopes that he could report back to me what he saw.

I knew Santa had to be real because my little brother and I would carefully leave out some sort of snack (off-brand Cheez-its or animal crackers from the Dollar General Store perhaps) and be oh so excited the next morning to find that "he ate them!!!"

Being a grown-up, Christmas now has a different meaning to me. There's still plenty of magic to behold, but you have to look a little closer to see it. You have to actually stop to take time to look for it in the first place.

If Santa were really real (and not my dad) or I could go back to believing like I used to, what would I ask of him?

This is my grown-up Christmas list.

1) An email inbox that doesn't grow exponentially overnight
2) More lazy Saturdays spent doing absolutely nothing
3) A heart that forgives, but also forgets
4) Not being out of breath when I have to do 60 seconds of jumping jacks
5) For Rayna and Deacon to just end up together once and for all
6) To sit down for one more Christmas morning breakfast at my great-grandma's table, and in the spirit of holiday magic, I'd abandon my vegetarianism to eat the saltiest country ham you've ever tasted, with red eye gravy
7) A new Harry Potter book nobody's ever read before
8) Renewed health for my family - physical, emotional, spiritual, the works!
9) A Barbie Dream House
10) To be with friends old and new, to share memories and stories of times we've enjoyed together

I hope you get everything on your list this year my friend! xoxo - Kate

December 15, 2014

Southern Christmas Traditions - Southern Living Sweets to Eat & Read

I have such a sweet tooth and when Christmas rolls around, I just can't resist indulging in some holiday sweets. There are so many great recipes out there for holiday goodies, but I'm running a bit behind this year, plus it would be impossible to try them all.

Since I've had some baking fails in my life, I try to stick with recipes that are tried-and-true and you don't get any better than the Southern Living test kitchen.

These culinary wizards work all through the year on confectionery creations, testing and making sure that they can share the recipes in good faith. Thank goodness for them is all I can say!

Here's a wonderful recipe that would be fun to recreate with your family this year and who knows, maybe you should make a few extra to leave out for the man in the red suit.

Minted White Chocolate Balls

Makes 32 cookies • Hands-on 30 min. • Total 1 Hour
(Coat in chocolate two at a time)

  • 56 vanilla wafers, crushed (less than 1 [11-oz.] box)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
  • 4 ½ tsp. light corn syrup
  • 6 Tbsp. peppermint schnapps
  • 3 cups white chocolate morsels
  • Crushed peppermint candies for coating

1. Stir together first 6 ingredients; shape into 32 balls.
2. Microwave chocolate in a bowl at HIGH 30 seconds; stir. Microwave 20 more seconds or until smooth, stirring once.
3. Coat balls in white chocolate. Sprinkle with crushed hard peppermint candies immediately afterwards.
4. Place in parchment paper-lined pan. Chill for 30 minutes or until set.

Yum! For more great recipes like this, pick up the December issue of Southern Living Magazine, on newsstands now. And if you want even more great southern Christmas fun, consider the wonderful new book Southern Living Christmas All Through The South: Joyful Memories, Timeless Moments, Enduring Traditions. It is a gorgeous sight to behold and would make a wonderful gift for your favorite southerner or yourself!

**This post contains an Amazon affiliate link, but please don't feel any pressure to click on it**

December 14, 2014

Not Holding On -- Just Letting Go

We're in the thick of the holiday season, which seemed to have started somewhere around October 1st this year...always earlier and earlier. The hustle and bustle that come with November and now December can make it easy to lose focus on what really matters.

To be completely honest, I struggle to maintain healthy perspective. One minute, my eyes are glazed over at the sight of bright and shiny things on display in my favorite department store window...the next minute, I'm crying about a story of a family spending the holiday season in a local mission.

Do you ever have trouble finding a balance between all the extremes we're faced with on a daily basis? I have rich friends and poor friends, but all have a story and not always with a happy ending. Life never stops, not even for Christmas, a day for many folks that's simply known as Thursday.

It sort of tends to shine a big spotlight on things or at least that's how it feels. Things that we've basically accepted as the norm the rest of the year can feel larger than life at Christmas. Family strife, relationship woes, estranged friends, lost love. Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, resentment, and just being plain old mad at the world.

I've got just as much of that stuff as anyone and sometimes it really brings me down.

But no matter what, the scale is always tipped in my favor. I've got so much to be thankful for and I don't mean that in a trite or cliche way. So much. And yet I still manage to hang onto the past hurts that really weigh on me.

Holding on is hard. Remember the monkey bars on the school playground of your childhood? Even though I'd start out strong, I could never make it all the way across. A couple bars in, I'd find myself just hanging there, holding on as tight as I could. But alas I wasn't very athletic and instead of holding on any longer, I'd let go and drop to the ground so the next person could take his or her turn.

Could letting go be that easy? For so many of us (myself included), we keep hanging on...and often to things that don't serve our best interests. What would happen if we just let go?

I've mentioned before that I'm attending a yoga class and it has really stretched me (literally and figuratively) outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes the teacher will instruct us to do a pose and I think my body just won't move in that way. And then I'm surprised when it does. When I first do a posture, it feels sort of uncomfortable. But then my teacher will tell us to really sink into the stretch, and what felt nearly impossible a few minutes before starts to get easier.

Maybe letting go isn't so easy after all. Or maybe it gets easier as we practice it, sinking in a little more each go around. I guess it just depends on what we're holding onto.

I wish for you the same thing I wish for myself not just during the holidays but all the time...perspective to see clearly what truly matters and courage to let go of things that don't.

December 12, 2014

Classic Holiday Fashions for the Southern Gentleman from Onward Reserve

The holiday season is such a festive time, but it can be stressful too. Socializing with co-workers is one thing that tops many peoples' worry lists. This year, I've been invited to a couple different work-related soirees, but instead of going solo as I might have done in the past, I get to bring my southern beau. 

He's definitely a jeans & t-shirt kind of guy, so the thought of dressing up for a bunch of different parties isn't his cup of tea. Maybe you have a spouse or partner who falls into this category. I decided to enlist the help of an expert, in this case the fine folks at ONWARD RESERVE. 

A luxury and specialty retailer, ONWARD RESERVE was founded by T.J. Callaway and has three locations in Georgia (Athens, Buckhead, and Thomasville) as well as Charlotte, North Carolina and a Chattanooga, Tennessee pop-up shop.  

In an effort to provide consumers with the very best in lifestyle brands as well as up and coming collections, T.J. Callaway established ONWARD RESERVE in 2012, after leaving a successful career in investment banking. Some of the designers and international brands carried by the shop include: Barbour, Peter Millar, Dubarry, Vilebrequin and others. However, the stores also pride themselves in offering unique finds from brands like Smathers & Branson, Fulton & Roark, Martin Dingman and Token & Icon.

I sat down with Virginia Johnson, the creative director of ONWARD RESERVE to talk about some style options for a dapper gent this holiday season and beyond. 

SBS: The holidays are here and that means parties. Are you getting excited? 

OR: Who doesn’t love holiday parties? I especially love another excuse to get dressed up! 

SBS: I love getting dressed up too, but my beau isn't quite a fan. Can you help me guide him toward some fail-safe options for our holiday social calendar? 

OR: Guys may not have the same love for getting dressed up as girls do, but at Onward Reserve we make it easy to shop for things that he’ll want to wear. 

For a fun festive look these “Party Pants” are sure to be a hit:

Pair the party pants with this quarter zip sweater:  

SBS: I'm loving those pants up there, but they might be out of my beau's comfort zone.

OR: If he’s a little more conservative try these cords

with a classic button down, like this  

and a cashmere sweater for warmth. 

SBS: What if the holiday party is a bit more dressy? Not black tie, but not super casual either.

OR: The occasion may call for a blazer, in which case I prefer to ditch boring navy and go for a cool tweed like one of these beautiful Martin Dingman jackets.

SBS: That's gorgeous! Okay, one last question. What about footwear? My guy lives in Chaco sandals most of the year, but they aren't really holiday gathering appropriate...if you know what I mean.

OR: If you’re going to be partying all night-he’s going to need great looking, comfortable shoes.

These are perfect: 

SBS: What great options! Thanks so much Virginia for sharing your ideas about holiday fashion for the guy who wants to look great and feel confident (and comfortable) at the same time. Is there anything else you'd like to share with Southern Belle Simple readers? 

OR: Onward Reserve currently has 5 retail locations. Our stores are a fun, comfortable place for guys and their better halves to shop. Grab a beer, watch the game and get some holiday shopping done!

Happy Holidays y'all! 

** I was not compensated in any way for this post, nor are these affiliate links. Just wanted to share some cool stuff with you.** 

December 11, 2014

Local Holiday Gift Ideas - Hostess Gifts for Christmas

This time of year, you might be invited to a holiday party (or seven). Throwing a Christmas or New Year's party is fun, but it's also a lot of work. That's why it's nice to show your appreciation for your host's hospitality with a great hostess gift.

I was taught that you never show up to a holiday party empty-handed, whether you contribute a pot-luck food item, a great bottle of wine or just a little trinket for your host.

It's a great way to let your host know you care and it's also a way to help ensure you'll be invited back! If you're looking for some unique holiday hostess gifts with a local twist, look no further!

I went to some of my favorite local businesses in Knoxville, but your town probably has some great ones as well. I hope you'll be inspired to shop local this Christmas season and help small businesses keep their lights on!

1) Local & Regional Art for the Holiday Hostess 

Some of my favorite gifts over the years have been handmade items. There's a great gallery in Knoxville called Liz-Beth & Co. that stocks a wonderful array of local and regional pieces. 

Some possible gifts to consider for a holiday hostess with the mostess: 

Pottery - Not only are these pieces handcrafted locally, but they are also made with Tennessee clay. The glasses and wine carafe would be a great gift together or separate. You could also throw in a bottle of your favorite local wine or some great local cheeses or charcuterie for a ready-made holiday appetizer sampler. 

Jewelry - Small jewelry pieces are another great hostess gift option whether for the holidays or all through the year. These dyed-silk wrap bracelets with assorted charms are beautiful and would be perfect for women of all ages. 

Something for the host - Maybe your host is a dapper gent...or perhaps the guy you're looking to make a good impression on is your boss, hosting you for your office Christmas party. If he appreciates the finer things, consider one of these handcrafted wooden pens by artist Russ Bell

Made from a variety of exotic woods, each pen is different and features a unique cigar band decoration. There are also options made from the wood of whiskey barrels. Other gift items for the host include cuff-links, a massage gift certificate or tickets to see a favorite team.

2) Holiday Hostess Gifts with a Personalized Touch 

I've always enjoyed receiving gifts that were personalized. There's just something about stuff with our names or monograms on it that we seem to love here in the south. 

A great local shop in Knoxville makes all your personalization dreams come true...Me and Co. Run by the lovely and talented Michele, this shop is adorable. You can buy gifts and things in-store to have personalized, as well as bring in any items from anywhere. 

Another fun item to gift a holiday hostess is a personalized Christmas platter or plate. Present it with your favorite Christmas cookies and then let your host find her name underneath! It's the gift that keeps on giving. 

3) Snacks & Treats for the Holiday Hostess 

When it comes to last minute holiday hostess gifts, you just can't go wrong with food. Depending on your host or hostess, the party menu might be set in such a way that the idea of adding an unexpected cheeseball induces stress. So maybe you take edible gifts that don't have to be eaten right away. If you know your hostess would approve, take some snacks and munchies to share with the group. 

My go-to these days is anything from the Captain Rodney's line of products. A wonderful Tennessee company based in the quaint hamlet of Bell Buckle, Captain Rodney's has great glazes and sauces, and my personal favorite...pepper jelly. 

I heard Southern food writer extraordinaire Julia Reed speak about her love for this southern delicacy, but I was already a fan. You've probably had it...a huge brick of Philadelphia cream cheese drowning in pepper jelly, eaten with club crackers. Is there anything better?

Another great Captain Rodney's product is the Boucan Glaze. I guarantee the recipe shown below will change your life. Well, maybe. But it's pretty darn good. I get mine at Linda's Hallmark in Knoxville, a great local business that is not your ordinary Hallmark shop!

These are just a few ideas for holiday hostess gifts. Get creative this Christmas season and make your party hosts/hostesses feel truly special by giving them a thoughtful gift. You won't regret it!

November 20, 2014

Peace vs. Chaos: Which Do You Choose?

For the past four or five weeks, I've been taking a yoga class at my gym. Ew, I just threw up in my mouth a little at that me I'm not a health nut or very fit so please don't feel put off. There was a time when I'd have quickly closed the browser window instead of reading much of anything relating to health & all just seemed so intimidating and unattainable to me.

In fact, I've been on health & fitness roller coaster the last several years. First I adopted a vegan diet and lost a significant amount of weight. Then I switched to being vegetarian and slowly stopped making as many healthy choices and gained some of the weight back. Now I just want to feel healthier and not worry so much about what the scale says.

So, a few months ago (thanks to the encouragement of my beau), I joined a gym and started working with a trainer. And in addition to the training and use of the facility, my gym also offers lots of different classes, including yoga, which I've been attending.

The yoga class meets for about an hour and honestly, it's become one of my very favorite hours of the entire week.

In the past I would have been one of those people who thought yoga was weird and a waste of time so I'm kind of proud of myself for embracing it. Each class includes some stretching and poses, nothing too hard since the participants are mainly beginners.

My very favorite part of the class (no joke) comes toward the end when we're winding down and usually lying on our backs with eyes closed. The teacher says "Now, give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing." I wait all week for this moment and when it finally arrives, I relish it.

If you have an abundance of free time on your hands, you might not appreciate this the same way I do. But for me, it's one small opportunity to do nothing. And these days, those don't come around very much. We're so ultra-connected all the time. Even when we're supposedly doing nothing, we're always doing something...checking email on our phone, texting, making grocery lists in our heads, or whatever.

Do you ever give yourself permission to do nothing?

I mentioned to my yoga teacher how much I enjoyed this part of class and she made a comment that really stuck with me. She said: Pretty much everything we do in life is either moving us toward peace or toward chaos.

My hour of yoga definitely moves my week in a more peaceful direction. But I'm sure there are plenty of other things I do that move me toward chaos.

Saying yes to things I should politely decline. Beginning a conversation with the intent of showing someone why I'm right and they're wrong. Spending time with certain people. I'm guilty of moving toward chaos for sure.

But I like looking at it as a spectrum we are constantly moving back and forth on, never completely one or the other. Life's never 100 percent peaceful or 100 percent chaotic...instead it's always a big old mix of everything in between. But when I look at each moment as an opportunity to move a little closer to peace, that encourages me.

What are some other ways you can choose to move toward peace in your life? I dare you to try one of them today. Even if it's hard. You won't regret it.

November 11, 2014

Somebody's Got You

The other day I said to my southern beau, "if we end up having a child, would it be okay if we named it Leon?" In case you weren't aware, Leon is my dog...a 9 year old rescued boxer mix who captured my heart from the first moment I saw his bright shining face in a photo on the website of our local animal shelter.

Leon chilling in bed - He has his own Facebook page by the way!
Since bringing him into my home, my heart has opened up in places I didn't even know existed...places that are now filled to the brim with love for his smelly 70-something pound self.

We may or may not name our future child Leon, but that's beside the point. Earlier this year, Leon started walking funny. We first noticed it when visiting my parents. He was dragging his back feet and happened to walk across their jute rug, leaving the tops of his paws raw and bleeding. Then we noticed that he had trouble using the bathroom because his back legs didn't want to support him when he tried to squat.

After some tests and Internet research, we figured out that he probably has a degenerative disorder, much like multiple sclerosis in humans, causing nerve damage in his hind quarters. It creates loss of sensation in his feet which is why he drags them and often walks on his back knuckles.

It's pretty hard to watch your sweet able-bodied pup go from leaping up multiple steps in a single bound to needing to be carried just to get out of a doorway. But his spirit is still just as sweet and so far it doesn't phase him too much.

Leon and I lived alone together for nine years and nearly every night we've slept side by side, first in a queen and now in a roomy king sized bed. Since his condition has gotten worse, he really can't get up into the bed by himself so I find myself hoisting him up several times a day.

He has a $40 dog bed located in my bedroom, and he enjoys sprawling on it, but sometimes he just wants to come up on the big bed. Usually all it takes is a little whine but sometimes he rests his face on the edge of my bed and looks at me with those big ol' eyes. It doesn't matter what I'm doing or how comfortable I am, I always get up and haul him up here.

I gotta say it's not a graceful act. He's wiggly and wobbly and I have to reach under his stinky little dog armpits and sling him up about three feet in the air, all the while trying to lift with my legs and not my back. But every time I do it, I always say the same thing. "Momma's got you."

Sometimes he cries from the floor in the middle of the night and I go through this dog-lifting routine while half asleep. When I wake up with him next to me, I often can't remember how he got there except I know he didn't do it by himself.

He doesn't have to worry about how he's going to get up on the bed, he just knows that I'm going to take care of it for him. In so many ways this is a picture of what love looks like. Messy, awkward, uncoordinated efforts that result in somebody feeling safe and cared for.

Lots of people in my life have been there for me like that...way more times than I deserve. It doesn't always play out exactly the might be something as simple as an encouraging text or Facebook message from a friend. But even these seemingly little things remind me that there are people in my corner, people who've got me.

Sometimes I feel guilty thinking about all the people who've never felt loved or cared for like that. Even still, I know this is how God feels about all of us. But I guess if somebody who was supposed to love you treated you mean, it's hard to believe in God.

The best way I can even begin to remedy it is to add a little more love to the world. We all can.
It only takes noticing people. Well, not just noticing but also really seeing them. And looking past their "I'm fine" to see what hurts lurk below. It might be awkward or wobbly. And we might end up wondering how we got there. But let's do it anyway.

November 4, 2014

Big Sexy Hair & Marlboro Reds

This past weekend, I went to the most memorable 50th birthday party. It was unique, lively and one-of-a-kind...perfect for its guest of honor. When I first heard this party was in the works, I wasn't sure I could get on board with the theme.

"Big Sexy Hair & Marlboro Reds." 

A 50th birthday is definitely something to be celebrated but you might be wondering just what is so special about hair spray and cigarettes.

Let me back up a little. The party was for my Aunt Bo. Her real name is Karen, but as the first niece on that side of the family, I gave her the name Bo. 

I have racked my brain trying to remember what inspired me to start using this moniker, but I honestly cannot remember. Just all my life she's been Bo to me (and every other subsequent child in our family). 

My Aunt Bo is one-of-a-kind. One quality that comes to mind when I think of her is how fiercely loyal she is. As my brother likes to say "Bo would kill someone for you" (and he's only half joking). 

When I was a baby, my Bo was still in high school and all my life I've heard stories about how she'd skip class to drive to Knoxville with my grandparents to visit me and my mom. 

After my parents divorced and we moved back to the town my mom was from, I spent a lot more time with my aunt. As a kid, I vividly remember her taking me to Hardee's in the morning. She'd get a steak biscuit (with mustard) and a huge Mountain Dew while I'd have a two-pack of cinnamon raisin biscuits with orange juice. On my birthday, she'd always take me shopping for a new outfit at Goody's. 

It was also my aunt who let me drive a car for the first time...on a country back road through "the swamp" near our family farm. I was 11 years old and the car was some gray behemoth, probably an 80-something model Oldsmobile. I had no idea what I was doing and I floored the gas pedal, causing us to lurch forward. It would be several years before I finally learned to drive for real, but this early lesson gave me a feeling of accomplishment. 

Something else I'll always appreciate my aunt for is trying to help me straighten my hair. It was 1995 and Jennifer Aniston's "Rachel" hairdo was all the rage. My mom was at a loss for what to do with my frizzy locks, but my aunt would sit for hours, sectioning my hair off in small pieces, using a giant barrel curling iron to try and smooth it for me. I thought I was so beautiful with my bouncy straight mane...little did I know that it looked more like a lampshade. 

I can never chronicle all the things my Aunt Bo has done for me or all the wonderful memories we have together. Life has for sure had its ups and downs, but she is a strong person and she never stops doing good for the people she loves. 

My Aunt Bo and Me 

When her group of girlfriends decided to throw her a surprise 50th birthday party, they wanted it to be something she'd really enjoy. 

My aunt is quite frugal. She shops at Goodwill and buys off-brand items regularly. But apparently she has said before that no matter how poor she might find herself, there are two things she will never skimp on. You guessed it...Big Sexy Hairspray and Marlboro Reds. In honor of her dedication to these products, her friends centered her party around them. 

It was actually very lovely, even with the packs of cigarettes in the centerpieces. Only in the south, right? 

The southern aunt is something of an institution. I can think of so many people who had/have a special aunt with whom they made all sorts of wonderful childhood memories. Then you grow up and your special aunt becomes this awesome cheerleader of sorts, celebrating your triumphs and being mad with you when things don't go your way. It's like the next closest thing to your mom, but without all the bad memories of hating her when you were a teenager. 

My dad's special aunt was the first person to serve him Mexican food, specifically tacos, when he was a kid. He still tells this story and recounts his awe at this exotic dish. 

My beau has a special aunt too, like a second mom really, who is a very important part of his life.

I have other special aunts who've also impacted my life in different ways. I am so fortunate to have these folks in my corner and I'm glad I could help celebrate my Aunt Bo's big birthday! Here are some photos of her brunch party...

Me, my grandma & my mom before my aunt arrived 

My mom and her dear friend, who is also sort of like an aunt to me

the lovely brunch spread, complete with the most delicious cinnamon toast I've ever eaten 
Do you have a special aunt who means the world to you? Don't wait til a milestone birthday to tell her!

October 30, 2014

Last Minute Halloween Treats

Halloween is tomorrow, but there's still time to throw together some last minute tricks and treats. I'm joining the crew from Knoxville's Fox43 to share a few simple ideas for Halloween treats and decorations you can re-create without spending a lot of time or money.

 1) Dracula Doughnuts

This simple treat would be a great addition to your Halloween party snack table. All you need to create it is a dozen doughnuts and some silly Dracula teeth. Insert one set of teeth into a doughnut and voila! You can add candy pieces for eyes if you want. Spooky!

2) Witches Broom Goody Bags

If you want to put together some adorable treat bags for your trick-or-treaters, look no further than these fun witches brooms. For each treat bag, you'll need two small brown paper lunch sacks, a thin stick and some twine.

Cut off the top several inches of one of the brown paper sacks and set it aside (this will be the inner container part of the treat bag). Then shred the other bag from top to bottom in thin strips. Insert the trimmed bag into the bottom of the shredded bag and fill with candy or other treats. Next gather the shredded strips and tie at the top with twine. This is the bottom of the broom. Add the stick as your broomstick for a final touch.

3) Monster Mouth Cookie Sandwiches 

Another tasty Halloween treat that would be fun to make with folks of all ages is monster mouth cookie sandwiches. 

A fun and simple Halloween snack! Take two chocolate chip cookies (I used store-bought in a large size, but if you want to make your own that's fine too). Spread one side of each cookie with frosting (tinted red). Line up six or seven mini marshmallows on one cookie and top with the other cookie to create a spooky smile.

4) Healthy (but adorable) Jack O'Lantern Mandarin Orange Cups

This would be super cute to include in a Halloween lunch. Or you could even give these out to trick-or-treaters since they are sealed safely. It's probably best not to give homemade treats to kids you don't know but these would be fun and sort of healthy! 

5) Elegant White Pumpkins

If ghosts and goblins aren't your style, try this simple pumpkin decorating project to add last minute Halloween style to your home. Decorate small white pumpkins with black sharpie by drawing different shapes and designs. You can also use different colored ink or even spray paint. It's so simple, but makes a bold statement!

For more Halloween fun, here are a few posts from last year. 

Fun & Simple Halloween Decorations on a Budget 
Vintage Halloween Decorations to Make 
Simple Last Minute Halloween Treats to Make and Share 
Halloween Candy Corn Bark 

October 19, 2014

How to Pray Correctly

A few weeks ago, I was house-sitting for some friends in a different city and ended up at a bookstore where Max Lucado was giving a talk. There was a time when he was quite an influence in my life. I grew up reading his devotional books and I even had a Max Lucado study bible. Needless to say when I stumbled upon him in the flesh at Barnes and Noble, I stopped to listen.

He spoke about his latest book, Before Amen and how he views himself as a 'recovering prayer wimp.' I enjoyed hearing him share for a few minutes, but I found myself looking around and what struck me is how many other people had stopped to listen too. I watched them hang on his every word, most looking very attentive.

For people who believe in God and seek any kind of connection with Him, I guess we're all somewhere along the journey of finding the answer to the question: how to pray. 

I was taught to pray at a young age. First by the example of my family members, and then by Sunday School teachers at my church. I was told to bow my head and close my eyes. Bedtime prayers were learned. We prayed before meals too.

One well-meaning church teacher made a big poster and hung it in our Sunday School class as a reminder of the order of things when it came to praying.

Down the left side of the poster were the letters P,R,A, and Y. Each letter stood for a word that took us through the prayer process.


As an oldest child with a strong desire to please, I thought this was great! Steps to follow for correct prayer? Yes, please. I would strive to get the order right each time. Start out by praising God. Then, time to ask for His forgiveness. Next, and only after those first two crucial steps could I make my requests known. Finally, I never really understood in the context, but still attempted each time I prayed.

But then as I got older, I started to question things.

How much praise is enough before I can move on to repenting? 
What if I forget to repent for something before I ask? 
Will my requests be answered if and only if I find the perfect combination of praise and repentance? 
What if I think of something else to repent about while I'm yielding? Do I have to start the entire process over again? 

I worried that I wasn't praying the right way. Then I got stressed out about it. I'd end up not wanting to pray at all for fear of the damage it might cause in not doing it correctly.

Then I went through a whole phase where I thought God was probably mad at me because I hadn't prayed in a long time. So I went even longer without talking to God.

Can you relate?

I don't know what changed exactly or what I learned, but one day I realized it didn't have to be that way anymore. I felt in my heart that the "God stuff" is more about the relationship we have than me getting anything right.

So, in essence, even asking the question "how to pray correctly" is unnecessary.

Think about it like this. Have you ever thought about the correct way to talk to your best friend?

Do you have protocol for when they answer your telephone call? Of course not. You probably don't say "hi, this is so-and-so speaking."

When I call my best friend, sometimes I say "hey, it's me." Or sometimes I start off the conversation by saying "OMG you will not believe this!" Sometimes I don't even call...I just send a quick text. And I don't start it out by saying "Oh my most precious dear friend so-and-so, please allow me to share my feelings about the day."

When you have a closeness with somebody, none of that stuff is required.

Sometimes the only communication between friends is a shared BuzzFeed quiz on Facebook that you know he will think is hilarious. And that's all he needed to know exactly what the message was meant to be.

And this is exactly how it can be with God. A prayer can be a long beautiful love letter written in your best handwriting. Or it can be a single word yelled in anger. We don't have to hold anything back from God. He can take it.

Sometimes a prayer is nothing more or less than a breath.

There's no correct way to pray. As long as what you're saying or feeling is true.

There's a lot I don't understand. But I know God wants to hear from us. Don't get hung up on whether you're doing it right. Just do it. You won't be sorry.

October 16, 2014

Simple DIY Projects for a Fall Wedding

Fall is a popular time for weddings, but all brides don't have unlimited budgets to work with. What's a fall bride to do? DIY of course! I'm joining my friends from WTNZ Fox43 to share some simple and affordable DIY options for a fall wedding.

One wedding must-have is flowers, and fall lends itself to some gorgeous color palettes. Wedding flowers can really eat up a big chunk of a bride's budget, but while a bride might not want to scrimp on her bouquet, there's no reason you can't cut corners for men's boutonnieres. I'm not a fan of silk flower for brides, but there are ways you can work them into your event. First, I'm sharing how to make fun and simple bouts on a budget.

DIY Fall Wedding Boutonnieres 

Depending on your colors and style, brides can get really creative with boutonnieres. First, I visited a local craft supply store to check out its dried and artificial floral selection.

This can be overwhelming because of all the options, but just choose things that strike you. I always err on the side of simple vs. flashy, especially since the men's flowers shouldn't distract from the bride's and her attendants.

To make DIY fall wedding boutonnieres, you'll need:
  • Silk flowers (your choice)
  • Floral tape & wire
  • Wire cutters 
Now, just get creative. Snip a few stems and blossoms and play with it until you get a look that you like. Fasten everything together with the wire and then wrap the stem in the floral tape. Voila! Everything shown cost less than 10 dollars and you could create multiple boutonnieres from one bunch of silk flowers.

Mismatched Vintage Wedding China for a Fall Wedding 

Next, think about your table decorations. A popular trend with weddings is using mismatched vintage china, but unless you are a serious dish collector, it's hard to gather enough.

The great thing is that these days, there are companies that specialize in this service by renting vintage china in a variety of colors and patterns.

The ones I'm showing are borrowed from Colleen Munyan at Unique Settings.

Unique Settings is a company that offers mismatched china rentals to brides in Knoxville as well as around East Tennessee. With tons of gorgeous china patterns to choose from in a variety of sizes, there are styles and colors for every bride's taste and budget. Plus Unique Settings delivers and picks up everything to and from your venue. Colleen at Unique Settings offers table styling services as well.

vintage china for wedding table

What I love most about the idea of using vintage mismatched china for a wedding is the history behind it. Each piece has a story and brings a new level of depth and meaning to a wedding. In the south, we put a whole lot of meaning into what we do and I wouldn't have it any other way. 

The other thing I love about this practice is that it gives new life to old dishes that otherwise might have been relegated to dusty attics and/or thrift store shelves. So often, I'll see one beautiful plate while thrift store shopping, but can't bring myself to buy it because it isn't part of a set. 

Colleen from Unique Settings gets to give vintage china and other dishes a new sense of purpose. Plus, there are so many different patterns and possible combinations, no other bride would ever have your exact same tablescape. 

[**Shameless plug - Colleen at Unique Settings was so sweet to let me borrow some of her wares for the segment and I wanted to share a link to her IndieGoGo site where she's trying to raise funds to attend the upcoming Pink Bride show in Knoxville. Pass it on!]

using mismatched vintage china for wedding table

DIY Wedding Favors for a Fall Wedding 

My final DIY fall wedding project is wedding favors. Call me old fashioned, but I'm still a fan of the simple matchbook, with gold embossed names. But today's brides have taken wedding favors to the next level and beyond!

I don't care for favors that require you to do anything (i.e. seeds to plant, etc.). Besides the basic matchbook, I like favors that are edible in nature.

One simple fall wedding favor is to create spiced tea mix and put it in small individualized jars. Include a tag that says something like "Love is the Spice of Life." You could always make that quintessential spice tea mixture I enjoyed growing up (complete with Tang and red hots candy). Brides could even buy pre-made drink mix in bulk. For the segment, I used a store-bought chai mix that smelled heavenly.

Another great (easy and cheap!) fall wedding favor is small bags of caramel popcorn. You could include a note that says "Love Always Pops Up" and pass these out to your guests as they leave. Popcorn is available in so many varieties and flavors. You can find good quality popcorn in bulk also. If you want to make your guests work for it, give them un-popped corn instead.

I'm in the middle of planning my wedding, but it's not happening until spring. There's a special place in my heart for a fall wedding, but our venue is so popular, it was already booked up for fall. We were happy to get the date we did!

Are you a fan of wedding DIY? No bride wants to be stressed out on her big day, but saving a little moolah always lowers my blood pressure. Here's to the next wedding you help plan...hope it's lovely!

October 13, 2014

Criticizing vs. Creating: We Get to Choose

Have you ever known somebody who was really critical of other people? No matter what good there was to be celebrated or enjoyed, they zero in on the negative and give it all their focus. Maybe you've been that person. I know during certain times in my life (or when I'm around certain people), I've definitely let my critical streak run rampant. 

It's a vicious cycle if you think about it. We start out feeling bad about something in our life...maybe we feel less than or lacking in some area. So we criticize someone else as a way to make ourselves feel better. But doesn't it always leave us feeling worse? I know it does for me. 

Recently, I had dinner with a group of blogger acquaintances and it made me sad to hear some of the stories they shared about scathing criticism they've received from readers, co-workers, etc. about things they had written on their blogs (or the fact they had a blog at all). 

Did you know there are online forums where anonymous haters can make snarky comments and other criticisms about blogs they love to hate? I'm embarrassed to say I've visited them in the past for pure entertainment value. But why is tearing each other down entertaining? 

Even though I never posted anything, my reading those sites is basically the same as me sitting quietly while someone tears down another person with his words. I wouldn't stand idly by while someone bad-mouthed my best friend...yet it feels so much harder to do anything about anonymous internet trolls. 

But again, I think it goes back to the cycle of feeling badly --> saying mean things in an attempt to make someone else feel badly --> and then feeling badly about yourself again. 

When you're stuck on that roller coaster, it's hard to get off. 

So what's the remedy for being less critical? 

Create something. Anything. Just create. 

I know it seems simple and that's because it is. 

Whether it's a delicious meal for your family or a little doodle on your desk calendar. An epic poem or a batch of homemade laundry soap. Just make something of your own. 

Creativity displaces criticism because it opens up a world of possibilities where you feel like you can make things happen. And in that world, you are free to explore your own talents and gifts instead of picking apart the gifts and talents of others. 

Besides, being critical of what someone else created takes about one tenth of the effort of actually creating something yourself. It's easy to stand back (in the shadows of the Internet, no less) and throw barbs at others. 

What's hard is getting up each day and pushing yourself to create something of your own. 

I'm a big fan of author Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) and I'd be willing to bet that criticizing others is a form of the resistance he's so keen to point out. When all your energy is going toward tearing someone else down, there's little time to spend lifting yourself (or somebody else) up.

I would rather fail a hundred times trying to do something my heart was fully committed to than sit back and do nothing, while snarking about the shortcomings of others. Wouldn't you? 

October 5, 2014

Why People are Friendlier in Small Towns

I just read the most interesting op-ed from the LA Times. It posed the idea that the rudeness we have come to expect from people in our everyday interactions has to do with the fact that our societies have gotten too big. Apparently there is science behind the thought that as we live in larger and larger communities where we don't really know each other, our civility decreases.

What interested me most about this is that it pretty much applies scientific thinking to what most of us in the south have always known....folks in smaller communities are friendly.

I'm not saying this only applies to the south, but that's my point of reference (not to mention the focus of this blog). And there are absolutely some terribly rude southerners (just as there are rude people everywhere). But friendliness in small southern towns is just not an anomaly.

According to the LA Times article, people in smaller communities are friendlier because their reputation depends on it. When you feel known and respected in your community, you're more likely to behave better towards people. And alternately, I guess being surrounded by strangers means you don't care as much about protecting your reputation.

Growing up in the small town of Cookeville, Tennessee, being surrounded by strangers was a foreign concept for me. It's not like it was Mayberry or anything, but I just can't remember a time of venturing out and not running into someone who knew me or my family.

Even now when I go back to visit (after living in Knoxville for nearly 14 years!), I always see a familiar face. Maybe it's my preschool teacher or someone my mom used to work with, or somebody I went to church with growing up or maybe a member of my own family. I like to think I would try not to be rude no matter where I am, but the idea of displaying that type of behavior in front of someone who has known me all my life gives me a bad feeling (thus demonstrating that the science mentioned in the article is true for me).

One of my life's mottos (as coined by my dad who said this to us while we were growing up) is "Remember who you are and where you come from." I'm not just one person out there in the world, but in lots of ways I'm the product of the lives lived by the people who came before me. My grandparents, while far from perfect, stood for things that were honest, good and true. And they tried to instill that in my parents who wanted the same for me.

Ultimately, the biggest takeaway I get from articles like this is the importance of community. For awhile my community in Knoxville centered on my college experience. It was sort of a ready-made community with lots of avenues to be involved and connected. After college, I went through a pretty long period of feeling disconnected because most of the friends I had made moved away and I stayed. I had to work really hard to meet people and find new ways to connect and create community. And it's probably just been the last two or three years where I have really felt more plugged in.

It doesn't matter where we go or who we encounter (whether strangers or family), we still have an opportunity to impact the world for good. And it might be something as simple as holding the door for someone.

Maybe you've gone through a transition in life and feel disconnected. I hope that's not the case, but if it is, I want to encourage you. You are not alone. There are other people out there who want to hear your stories, and will laugh at your jokes. Don't spend another day believing the lie of alone.

As we each realize our value (to God, to each other, to our communities), rudeness becomes less of an issue because we are free to love each other instead. And I believe that can happen in communities of every size. But I'm always going to be grateful I grew up in small town. I've been lucky to travel all over the world, but I always love going back home. There's something about being known that gives a kind of comfort anonymity can't hold a candle to.

October 2, 2014

How to Throw a DIY Pizza Party

Did you know October is National Pizza Month? There aren't many people who don't love a good slice. Today I'm sharing some simple tips for hosting your own DIY Pizza Party!

1) Decorations for a DIY Pizza Party

There's a certain feeling you get in a good pizza parlor, so when you host a DIY pizza party at home, you might want to try and incorporate some of those elements. Red and white checkered table cloths are great, plus votive candles in red glass containers.

I'm a sucker for cute penant garland so I created one using cardstock. You could also find a fun printable and go that route. 

You might also want to set the mood with pizza themed music. I found some crazy songs that are all pizza-related, so click here or here if you want to check those out. 

2. DIY Pizza Kits

Next, you'll probably want to think about food. There are lots of ways to host a DIY Pizza Party and none of them are particularly difficult. 

One option that was inspired by a friend of mine is to have a "Clean out the fridge" pizza party. Pull out all your leftovers, including jars with just a little dab of this or that, and let your family go to town creating unique (and potentially wacky) pizza combinations. 

Pickles and peanut butter? Why not! Leftover veggies? Throw 'em in! If you think about the latest crazes in gourmet and artisan pizza pie, there's probably a combination that will work for just about anything. 

You can make your own dough from scratch or grab a quick-baking mix. There's also the option of ready-made crusts. Or why not branch out from the norm and try using pita or naan bread. You can find some great options at your local market. 

When having guests, the simplest ideas can be received with the biggest wow factor when you pay attention to presentation. Instead of just stacking the possible ingredients on the kitchen counter, divide them up into little bowls or containers. This helps create a more visual impact and makes your guests feel like things were personalized just for them.

3) Dessert Pizza 

Finally, you'll want some sweet element at your DIY Pizza Party. At first, I was thinking of making one large dessert pizza...because there are some great possibilities there (giant chocolate chip cookie, various toppings, etc.). But then I decided to go with a sweet treat that was more individual. 

Tiny sweet pizzas! The base is a sugar cookie, then you top with frosting (tinted red) and some white chocolate shavings. Add a few red candy pieces and voila! These would be so fun for the kiddos too, especially if you let them assemble the cookie pizzas.

Hosting parties and entertaining guests doesn't have to be over the top, expensive or hard to be fun! I hope you got a little inspiration for the next party you're planning to throw! Happy Thursday friends!

October 1, 2014

Fall Fantasies: #SmellsClean

My southern beau likes to joke that my super power is empathy, and he's sweet to say that. But the truth is, my real super power is my sense of smell. I'm challenged in the vision department, having worn coke bottle thick glasses (and sometimes contact lenses) since kindergarten and I've heard of how people can have a sense that grows stronger to make up for where another is weak. 

Maybe that explains my crazy sensitive nose. I smell everything without even trying. People's perfume or deodorant. The kind of laundry detergent or fabric softener someone uses. Cleaning products. I'm just really aware of the smells around me. Sometimes this is great, but other times it can be a burden. 

Because my sense of smell is so finely tuned, I want to have pleasant smells around me, especially when I'm at home. 

Every time I walk into my home, I take a big whiff which alerts me to what I might find. Maybe it sounds crazy, but I feel conditioned to do this. If the garbage hasn't been taken out or the dog has had an accident, I smell it immediately. 

My beau has tried to break me of my habit of smelling people, at which apparently I'm not as stealthy as I think. It usually goes like this: 

He comes toward me for a hug. We embrace. He hears "sniff, sniff." 

Him: Did you just sniff me? 
Me: Oh, of course not...I was just breathing. 
Him: You totally did. Do I stink? 
Me: Um, no. But I do smell something weird. 

I'm not picking on him, really. But I guess after living alone for nine years, I had gotten used to not having anyone else's smells to contend with. 

Since cooler weather has slowly been making its way into East Tennessee, I've been enjoying open windows and not having to run the air conditioner. But when you've been gone during the day with no air running and the windows shut, the house can smell stale and musty when you first arrive. 

This is exactly what I was faced with yesterday, after being out for the majority of the day. When I got home, it didn't stink exactly, but everything just seemed sort of stale. I immediately opened the windows and lit a couple of candles. 

Candles have always been my go-to for a quick good smell fix. And fall candles are so fun, with their autumny, pumpkin goodness. One I'm really loving right now is Glade's Sage & Thyme Market. 

It isn't overpowering, but after a few minutes of being lit it freshens up my space. And that's after having an old smelly dog, the beau's gym clothes and other potentially odoriffic elements. 

I like to keep different candles on hand, depending on my mood. And I don't like to spend a fortune on a candle either. I've been known to snag some great ones (never even lit!) at yard sales or thrift stores. And sometimes if I'm grocery shopping, I'll cruise the candle selection near the cleaning products. 

I love it when my house is clean, but even when things are a little cluttered, I love it when my house smells clean. I feel happier and more peaceful when my environment is pleasant smelling. Don't you? 

What are your favorite smells of fall? 

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by SC Johnson, A Family Company. All thoughts & opinions are my own.