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, yield....one 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.