January 29, 2014

My Name is Not Rebecca

Every day that I'm alive, I become a little bit more like my mother. This is not a bad thing...but it's definitely something that has taken me by surprise.

If you had told my moody teen-aged self that this was my fate, I wouldn't have believed you....but it's true.

Here's a little story to illustrate my point.

When I was a child, my family shopped at Goodwill and garage sales. This didn't bother me all that much because we often found really great things...like a Donna Karan t-shirt which I proudly wore to junior high.

The only thing I didn't like about buying second-hand was the monograms. Don't get me wrong, as a good southern belle, I love a monogram. I just want the monogram to be my own.

During Goodwill shopping excursions of my childhood, we'd frequently find perfectly good, sometimes "like brand new" items that happened to have their previous owners' names embroidered on them. Back-packs, beach towels, tote bags, etc. Because my mom is who she is, we rarely passed up on these good deals regardless of whose name had been stitched on them.

So it was perfectly normal for me to have a towel that said Daniel or a purse with a big swirly M on it. If the price was right and the quality was inherent, we didn't pass it up.

As a kid, this was not cool. When I wore a hand-me-down cheerleader costume to elementary school on Halloween, all my friends wanted to know why it had KAREN emblazoned across it instead of KATE (in this case it had been my aunt's, but still).

One time my mom found a piece of wall art at a thrift store that had another family's address on it. Since it was "like new" and in the color scheme of our home's decor, she snagged it. I can't tell you how many people came to our house and asked what was the story about the other address?

For a while (high school and college), I tried to distance myself from my thrift store heritage. As I came into my twenties and beyond, I shopped the Target clearance racks like a fiend. Then I got my first real job. Little by little, I realized that while retail store wares looked shiny and lovely, my newly earned pennies would stretch farther at yard sales and thrift shops (my mom was right).

Now that I'm well into my 30s, I'm a proud consignment and thrift store shopper. This past weekend the southern beau was holding my place in line at Goodwill while I scanned the rack of handbags near the cash register. I spotted an adorable thermal lunch tote with the cutest print of brightly colored snails. Then I turned it over and saw that the other side was monogrammed with the letters RRM. Without skipping a beat, I snatched it up and bought it. No, my name is not Rebecca Rose Miller (or any other combination). But I will carry that bag with pride because it was a good deal on a "like new" item that works just fine for holding my lunch.

My momma is so proud.

{click image above for link to source} 

January 27, 2014

100 Years of Good

Have you ever heard someone talk about a moment in his life that something happened and he knew he'd always remember it, no matter what?

Maybe you've experienced a moment like that.

I used to hear my mom talk about how she remembered exactly where she was when President Kennedy was shot. I can remember exactly where I was on 9/11.

But that's not really what this post is about.

I always spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was young. Some of them lived close by and others lived in different towns and cities. The ones who lived closest were the ones I saw the most frequently.

My great-grandparents were very instrumental in my life and I spent many days at their house, eating my grandma's homemade vegetable soup or listening to my grandpa tell tales. During one particular visit, my grandpa said something to me that I knew I'd always remember.

We were sitting on the couch, which was odd because he most often sat in his recliner. I really can't recall what we were talking about that prompted him to say this, but when he did, it hit me really hard.

"You can never do too much good for a person."

For years, I thought about this...although I didn't believe it. You see, I grew up thinking that in many cases tough love brought better results. That if you kept doing good for a person over and over while getting nothing in return, you'd just end up hurt and bitter.

But what my grandpa knew was that there is no end to the good that we can do for each other. Just like there's no end to the good that God wants to do for us.

My grandpa wasn't perfect, but he was oh so good. He spent his whole life doing what he thought was best, for the good of others. Even when it meant the ones closest to him got a little hurt in the process.

Today is his 100th birthday. And he's celebrating it in Heaven. When faced with the concept of eternity, 100 years is but a moment, a twitch of an eye. My grandpa has only begun to bask in the goodness that is God. It will take him an eternity to let God pour His goodness out on him. But he's got plenty of time.

January 23, 2014

Simple Store-Bought Dessert with a Homemade Twist

Decadent, homemade desserts are a wonderful treat. But we don't always have the time (or in my case, the expertise) to create them. Today I'm appearing on Knoxville's WTNZ Fox43 to share some simple ways to take store bought dessert mixes and give them a homemade twist.

1. Refrigerator Coconut Cake

This recipe is such a southern staple and you'll most definitely find it in your favorite church and community cookbooks.

All you need is a boxed white cake mix, prepared according to the directions on the package.

When the cake is still warm, poke holes in it and pour 3/4 of a can of sweetened condensed milk over it until all is soaked into the cake.

Then, frost the cake with whipped cream (Cool Whip) and sprinkle coconut on top. Easy peasy.

2. Honey Bun Cake 

This cake recipe is one my granny used to make for us all the time when I was growing up. It wasn't until later did I learn it's just a cake mix, doctored up.

You'll need:

1 deluxe yellow cake mix
4 eggs
8 oz. sour cream
3/4 cup oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 T cinnamon
2 cups powdered sugar
4 T milk
4 tsp vanilla

Combine first four ingredients. Pour half of the batter into a well-greased 9x13-inch pan. Mix cinnamon and brown sugar and sprinkle half of it over the layer of batter. Add the rest of the batter and top with remaining cinnamon/sugar.

Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes.

Mix last three ingredients to make the frosting. Pour over cake when it's still warm.

**Note - For the segment, I used two 9x9-inch round pans because I wanted to stack them. The frosting turned out so much prettier on the round cake. I adjusted the baking time accordingly.

3. Sweetheart Cherry Chocolate Trifle 

For the final recipe, I wanted to do something chocolate. I decided to go with a standard brownie mix, prepared according to the package directions. Any brownies will do. Then I chopped them into 1-inch cubes.

I whipped up some white chocolate instant pudding and layered this in wine glasses with the brownies and cherry pie filling. It made a pretty dessert that you could serve your sweetheart on Valentine's Day or just enjoy by yourself. My original idea was to make this in a large trifle bowl, but it's always fun to get your own special serving of a dessert...especially when it's presented in a fancy way.

[image credit - coconut cake  by nsdis (contact)]

January 21, 2014

Being Brave: The #UnWord2014 Project

Some really inspiring blogger gals are doing a project and I decided to take part in it. You might be familiar with the trend of choosing a word or phrase to embrace for the year. This can be a neat thing to do to start the brand new year on the right foot or perhaps set the tone for how you want it to go. I've never done it myself, but always sort of wondered what my word might be.

In the case of the bloggers (Edie, Darlene, Nester, and Angela), instead of embracing a word, we're un-embracing. The idea is to think about what word you need to do away with...because aren't there so many things that just don't serve our best interests?

I started thinking about what word I wanted to declare as my unword for the year and it seemed everything kept leading me back to the same place. Every area that first appeared to leave me lacking stemmed from my fear of it.

My un-word for 2014 is unafraid. I don't want to be afraid of unknowns and unpredictables (which so many things are). I don't want to be freaked out when everything doesn't go "a certain way."

But even more than that, I want to be brave this year. Fear is such a nasty little booger...it creeps in little by little and before we know it, there are so many areas of our lives that we're living halfheartedly, afraid to step out or speak up, afraid to be ourselves or let our raveled edges show.

I was on my way to an event recently and feeling anxiety about it because I worried it would be awkward or I wasn't going to fit in. In the car as I was arriving, the song below came on the radio. It encouraged me so much. Then a good friend shared the video on Facebook and it reaffirmed my desire to kick fear to the curb and embrace my brave self.

Imagine that God is saying this to you: "I just want to see you be brave."

Because He does, you know. You were created with something amazing inside and it's only in overcoming your fear that the world can experience the awesomeness that is you.

January 17, 2014

Friday Favorites: January 17th Edition

Happy Friday y'all! I hope your week has been a good one. There's so much to do this time of year...it still has that newness (like a brand new composition book) and so much promise. What will it bring? How will you meet the challenges and joys of the next 12 months? 

Heck, sometimes I think we need to focus on the challenges and joys of the next 12 minutes. Here are a few things I'm enjoying right now. I'd love to hear about what has your attention lately too. 

1. Sarah Jessica Parker for Hallmark Gold Crown 

A new line of lovely stationery from SJP, exclusively at Hallmark Gold Crown stores. They are playful and pretty...perfect for a friend or sweetheart.

2. Almond Pound Cake

I'm no baker. In fact, the last two cakes I made went into the garbage. I had big plans for a baking post and then it was mostly a disaster. That being said, I can eat baked goods like a champ. My southern beau came into some homemade almond pound cake and I've been enjoying it this week. Here's a recipe that looks reputable if you'd like to make it yourself. Also the photo goes with the recipe. 

3. Peppermint Tea 

I'm an iced tea drinker from way back. I've always been skeptical of hot teas and felt like they were a waste of time. Since having the flu, I've changed my tune. My new favorite hot tea is this peppermint variety from Traditional Medicinals. It's a wonderful way to end the day.

4. My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman

I started reading the book "My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer" this week. It might be over my head, but I'm going to stick with it, based on the reviews. I have no idea where it's going and I can't wait to find out. I wanted to read more in 2014 and a recent trip to the library yielded this. So far, I came across this passage that I like: 

God calls to us at every moment, and God is life, this life. Radical change remains a possibility within us right up until our last breath. 

 I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

January 15, 2014

Simple DIY Butter Mints Shaped like Buttons

If you've ever been to a southern wedding or baby shower, you've probably had butter mints in all their pastel glory. They were super popular back in the day and have made a resurgence lately with all the lovely handmade touches currently popular in the world of event planning. I've been doing some fun DIY videos with The Bride Link and for the most recent one, we made some homemade mints of our own.

 It's so simple to whip these up and you can create all sorts of great shapes and colors. Check it out!

January 12, 2014

Being Connected to God

Most of my life, I thought you had to go to church to be connected to God. Maybe this is because the people I have known who seemed most connected to Him went to church all the time. It makes sense that I would draw this conclusion from childhood and form a belief around it that I carried with me for many years.

My great-grandparents wore their church attendance as a badge of honor, even so much as keeping a tally of the times they had missed services in their lives (for illness, hospitalization, and other major reasons). I'm not making fun of this or them. I respect them very much for holding to their convictions. 

If, while I was growing up, my family did end up missing a Sunday morning church service, we usually watched TV preachers to make up for it. This gave me a sense of relief...if we couldn't be there in person, at least we could watch remotely as Charles Stanley and John Hagee brought down sermons from their televised pulpits. 

Years later, I feel grateful to have gotten some clarity about God and what being connected with Him means to me. I know now that I don't need to be inside a church building to feel connected to Him. In fact, I believe I'm always connected to Him. This connectedness isn't something that happens or doesn't happen. It just is. 

I'm just as connected to God when I'm watching Andy Griffith reruns as I am when I'm shopping at the thrift store. God is there because I'm there. Wherever I am, so is He. 

If you are struggling with feeling alone, I hope you know this is the biggest lie. You are not alone and you don't have to go through life feeling that way. It's wonderful to have a church where you can go and feel uplifted and encouraged. But even if you don't attend church regularly, you can still be connected to God. Just give Him permission to love you. You'll see. It'll be amazing. 

[photo via flickr by dherman1145 (contact)]

January 9, 2014

There's No Google Analytics in Heaven

I spend a lot of time thinking about heaven. If this seems weird to you, well I don't know what to say. I just do. When I was a kid, I thought about it as this mysterious, Care Bear land type of place. As I got older and more of the people I loved started going there, my thoughts of heaven were just curious mostly.

What are they doing up there all the time? If heaven is infinite, do they even know the difference from one day to the next? Does it ever get dark? 

Sometimes my thoughts of heaven are really comforting during an otherwise stress-filled event in daily life. I'll be going through something and think to myself "Would this matter if I were in heaven?" The answer is usually no. And this helps me not get so bent out of shape about it.

Sometimes I find myself measuring every little thing...like we so often do when it comes to life under the magnified lens of social media. Do I look okay? How many "likes" did that post get? What are my Google Analytics for this website or that?

I can't say with certainty exactly what heaven is like, but I feel like I can most definitely, certainly say that there are no Google Analytics up there. I don't think there's room in heaven for anything that makes us feel less than or like we don't measure up. And I'm positive there's nothing in heaven that determines our value by how many hits we have or what our bounce rate might be.

I read a really good post recently about how to figure out what your purpose is in life. It really makes it seem so simple...and it is. Our purpose is not about what we can acquire or who we impress. It's not about how many people visited our blog or how quickly we accomplished a certain set list of life goals (10 Things to Accomplish in your 20s...ugh).

There's nothing wrong with wanting to accomplish things or setting goals. And there's nothing wrong with wanting to lower your bounce rate (I do!). But don't let these things define you.

2014 got off to a rocky start at my house...the southern beau has pneumonia and I've been battling the flu. We don't live together so we can't do much except bemoan our symptoms on the phone. One day I was feeling particularly low and decided to listen to an audio recording from a friend of mine who is a pastor. It encouraged me so much and goes along with the post about finding your purpose too (It's called Peter Pan if you have trouble with the link).

I hope your year is going well. And I hope you know that if it didn't start out with a big ol' glorious bang like you'd hoped it would, there's always a new day and a new chance to get things going in the right direction. And the alternative is heaven. So we're doing alright.

January 8, 2014

Simple Napkin Folding Techniques with The Bride Link

My current home of Knoxville is a hotbed of creative entrepreneurs. Each time I encounter another great person pursuing his or her passion, I'm reminded of this. Haley Dotson is one of those folks.

She created the successful website The Bride Link after her own experiences trying to corral wedding vendors while planning her wedding. The Bride Link is a great resource for brides-to-be because it gives them a one-stop shop for quality vendors, venues, service providers, etc.

Haley has recently expanded her content to include various lifestyle subjects (not necessarily related to weddings) and she invited me to participate in her DIY Wednesday series. For this video, I demonstrate three simple napkin folding techniques that would be great for any occasion.


January 2, 2014

Simple DIY Craft Projects to Beat the Winter Blahs

Winter can be such a dreary time, what with the cold weather, fewer daylight hours and post-holiday let down. This morning, I joined my friends at Knoxville's WTNZ Fox43 to share some simple and fun creative craft projects to help beat the winter blahs.

Each project was simple to complete and inexpensive too. You might even be able to do these using supplies you already have on hand.

1) DIY Frosted Glass Votive Holders 

 These pretty votive holders are so easy to create and really capture the simple beauty of winter. To re-create some like the ones I made, you'll need white glue, sponge brushes, some type of glass candle holder (even highball glasses or stemless wine glasses will work), and Epsom salt.

Mix two parts glue to one part warm water to create a homemade Mod Podge. This is how you'll adhere the Epsom salts to the glass. Paint this glue mixture onto your clean, dry glasses. Then sprinkle Epsom salt all over the glued surface until the entire thing is coated.

Once this is completely dry (4-6 hours), insert a candle or battery-operated votive and enjoy the warm glow!

2) DIY Mitten Garland

Maybe I'm just on a garland kick right now, but I love hanging cheerful strands of things around my home. I didn't want to put my Christmas garland away, but this fun winter project made a nice replacement for it. 

First, I cut mitten shapes from torn pages of a book (it was from the freebie bin at a local used bookstore). Onto each paper mitten I glued small red hearts that were cut from some scrap felt. 

Finally, I punched holes and strung these up on a piece of satin ribbon. This project was so easy and will be great for those winter days as well as for on into February and Valentine's Day. 

3) DIY Birdseed Wreath and Ornaments 

My third project from today's Fox43 segment is a way you can give back to those fine feathered friends who live in and around your yard. I love to sit and watch the birds eating from a feeder outside my window, but only one or two can actually feed at any given time. This project is a way you can feed more birds without buying any additional bird feeders. 

To create the DIY birdseed treats, begin by mixing 4 T of unflavored gelatin with 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Simmer gently until the powder is dissolved. Stir in a cup of birdseed and mix until it's all coated with the gelatin. Now pour this into some type of container that will act as a mold. 

For the large wreath, I used a cake pan with a jar of beans sitting in the middle (for the hole). For the smaller feeder ornaments, I used a muffin tin. You can push a section of a straw into the mixture in each muffin cup to create a hole where you can tie a string. 

After a couple of hours in the refrigerator, your birdseed molds will be ready to eat and the birds will surely thank you as you spread some cheer this winter!