August 31, 2015

Where I'm from.

This bit of writing (see below) was inspired, like so many others, by the original Where I’m From poem by Ms. George Ella Lyon, a writer and teacher who was lucky enough to be in-real-life friends with Tennessee poet Jo Carson. Carson’s work Stories I ain’t Told Nobody Yet is what inspired Lyon to write about where she was from, which happens to be Kentucky.
I recently attended a writing conference where one of the speakers led the group through an exercise to write our own versions of this poem. The only problem was, she wanted us to visualize one meaningful place that had significance in our childhood. I have trouble picking just one.
There were so many places that helped form me, so many people who shaped me, so many things that made me. While it would be impossible to give proper mention to all of them, I wanted to try and shed some light on some of the important ones.
What Makes Me
by Kate Spears 
I am from the shirt factory, the tobacco field, the homestead and the barn loft.
I am from places that many people want to leave, but still there are others who stay. I am from people who picked up and moved. I am from people who put down roots and remained. I am from people as loyal as the day is long, and others who are fickle and change their mind with the seasons or whatever way the wind is blowing.
I am as loud as a fire-and-brimstone preacher and as quiet as a patient fisherman who understands the success of the day is the day itself, not what’s in the bucket.
I am from drawstring bags made of felt and filled with polished silver, from weathered barns piled high with junk that somebody else has to sort through after you die.
I am from green stamps, clipped coupons, and buy-one-get-one-free. I am from store-brands, and dented cans, Goodwill clothes and yard sale Tupperware. I am from waste nothing, want everything, and all you get out of life is what you enjoy.
I am from porches covered in Kelly green indoor/outdoor carpet. I am from pink formica countertops and kitchens that because there is no proper ventilation, smell of fried potatoes, cabbage and salmon patties long after the last bite has been eaten.
I’m from Levi Garrett, Kent Golden Light Kings, Vantage Ultra Light 100’s, and Marlboro Reds.
I am made of Mountain Dew, vy-eenie sausages, white half-runner beans, and red-eye gravy. Of honeysuckle and wild blackberries, poke sallet, hydrangeas and fried apple pies.
I’m from people who sang Amazing Grace, from people who sat on the back row of the church, and some who never darkened the door.
I’m made from people who washed feet, worshiped under the brush arbor and ate dinner on the ground.
There’s a tall maple tree outside my kitchen window. And soon, the helicopters will flutter away. My tree was once a helicopter growing on a tree that was also once just a helicopter. And back, and back, and back.
And so it goes for the things that make us. Nothing is new. Everything is a part of everything else. You carry it all with you so that one day, it will grow again.

August 27, 2015

Sweet September - Celebrate National Honey Month

September is National Honey Month and I wanted to share some of my favorite recipes that incorporate this wonderful natural product. Who grew up with the little bear-shaped honey bottles as a pantry staple like I did? My granny saved them once the honey was gone and used the empty containers as make-shift sippy cups for us kids. 

Honey is a most versatile food. In fact, it's one of the only things I can think of that really works for any meal. Honey on a buttered biscuit for breakfast, or in your morning tea, followed by a peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch and some kind of delicious salad with homemade honey dressing for dinner. What's not to love? 

I'm visiting those fabulous folks at Knoxville's Fox43 to share more of my favorite honey recipes! I hope you enjoy them. And if you have any favorites of your own, share them on social media with the hashtag #NationalHoneyMonth during September. I'll be pinning some more great ones on my National Honey Month Pinterest Board. Check it out! 

Sweet & Salty Goat Cheese Appetizer

For this simple crowd-pleaser of an appetizer, start with a log of goat cheese. Roll it in 1/2 cup of roasted, salted sunflower seeds (You could also use cracked black pepper). Drizzle with 1/3 cup of honey and garnish with nuts or fresh berries. Serve with your favorite crackers for delicious nibbles pre-meal. 

Quinoa Honey Breakfast Bake 

This recipe has been adapted from one that I ran across on the website of the National Honey Board. There are lots of great honey recipes there to check out! 

It appealed to me because you don't have to cook the quinoa first. Plus, I figured you could use whatever fresh or frozen fruits you had on hand. I happened to have peaches and blueberries, which make for a tasty combo. For the full recipe, click here. Also, I don't see why you couldn't substitute oats for the quinoa. There are lots of great baked oatmeal dishes with honey out there. 

Bee-Tini Cocktail 

This delicious cocktail recipe is one I've shared before, but it's just so good I figured it warranted another post! I tried it first at the Fairmont Hotel in Georgetown. They actually have their own rooftop bees, which made it even more special! 

For more great honey info, check out the Honey Board website. Did you know that you can bring your honey back to life even if it crystallizes? Here are more fun facts and honey tips.

And don't forget to check out my Pinterest board for more honey fun! Happy National Honey Month y'all!

August 17, 2015

How to Find Yourself if You're Lost

Life goes by in a flash. From birth to now (wherever we happen to be along life's merry way), we've changed so much. But sometimes I think that who we start out as in the very beginning is who we truly are.

But who is that exactly? Would you recognize that person if you saw him or her walking down the street? Do you ever feel like you've lost yourself? It's something I struggle with some of the time. I find myself doing or saying something and thinking "who is this person with my body and voice?"

If you're feeling like you've lost yourself because you aren't sure who you are anymore, maybe it's time for some soul searching. But just where to look? Here are a few places I recommend.

1) Old journals. 

Sometimes the way we bare our hearts and souls in years passed when we are going through struggles and experiencing things we might look back and think are silly, it can be a window into who we really are. I started my first journal in the first grade and haven't looked back since. Even though many of the entries over the year are cringe-worthy, they help paint for me a picture of the person I've always been.

2) Letters from friends.

I don't know about you but I'm a saver of letters. Especially now in the digital age. It's so special to me to look back through cards and letters from grandparents and people in my life who are no longer here on earth.

Sometimes the people in life who love us the most are the ones who see us the most clearly. Look for yourself in their words and sentiments. You will find something good.
3) Drawings we did of ourselves as a child (or drawings done of you by a child).

We pile so much crap on ourselves that it can be hard to look at our reflection with loving eyes. If we go back to somebody who is looking at us with the most loving eyes, they may be the one seeing our truest self.

4) In the mirror first thing in the morning. 

I'm talking about when you still have that little fog of sleepiness hanging over you and just glance at yourself in the mirror after waking up. So many times I stumble to the bathroom in the morning and catch a look at myself, all rumpled and frizzy hair.

And I often catch a glimpse at my 8-year old self. I see the same eyes looking back at me. I see that same earnestness and hopefulness about the future as well as possibility. There's no reason we can't still have that same feeling of possibility.

It's the world and the lies we've believed that caused us to think that anything is not possible.

5) Toys and games from childhood. 

Recently, I went down into my basement and ran across a plastic bin of Barbie dolls from when I was a kid.

Think about your childhood.

What was something you did as a kid that brought you the most amount of joy? Maybe your thing was playing with Barbies or maybe it was putting together puzzles. Maybe it was coloring or pretending you owned a store or running a cash register or playing like you had a restaurant.

I'm not saying that if you played restaurant as a child, you should start a restaurant now. But think back to the things that brought you the joy in those experiences and look for ways now that you can recreate those experiences and feelings.

The reason I loved the Barbies is because they let me create worlds and stories and characters and adventures in people's lives when my own life didn't have a whole lot of adventure to speak of.

And I think that it's still a big part of why I feel the calling and passion in my heart to be a writer. Because I want to create those stories and tell them so other people can relate to them and feel encouraged.

6) Look at the mischief you made. 

Picture a time in your childhood when you got in trouble or were a little bit mischievous. There's always a driving force in those things...unless you were just a mean child (which I doubt).

I remember one time as a child, I wanted to move some furniture in my bedroom and my mom said she would help me later, but I didn't want to wait for her so I decided to try and do it by myself.

I ended up breaking a china tea set because I pushed a table and everything just kind of went flying. And my mom was upset with me, but looking back I feel like I was so independent. I wanted so badly to do it by myself. I wanted to take care of things on my own and I still see that in me today.

I still see that independence and that feeling of wanting to do it my way. But there's a way I can harness that for good so that I don't just go around breaking things and upsetting people.

If only finding ourselves was done with the aid of a giant treasure map, "X" marks the spot. But it's a process more delicate and complicated than that.

Author Lucy Maude Montgomery said is best: “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” If you've been feeling lost, I hope you can spend some time remembering soon. 

August 15, 2015

How to be a blogger

This post might seem untimely. But it's pretty relevant to me. I used to spend a huge part of my day reading blogs. I had a list of all my favorites and I would hop around the Internet from one to another taking in the latest posts. This was back when I worked at a regular 8-to-5 job that I left each day and didn't give a second thought to during my downtime.

Since making a shift to my current work in the world of marketing, there's less definition about when the work day begins and ends. Meaning I'm always thinking about one work-related thing or another at all hours of the day and night. And I really love my job. But I don't have much time to read blogs anymore.

The other day, I found myself with some free time and ended up going down a rabbit hole of blog reading, trying to get caught up on what some of my old favorite bloggers were up to. I was surprised to find that many had not posted anything new in several months and some seem to have quit blogging altogether.

Then it hit me. If anyone else found himself doing the same thing and landed on my blog, he might think I had given up on blogging too.

For the first three years after starting Southern Belle Simple, I blogged regularly, religiously, at least 5 times a week (Monday through Friday). Then I made a career shift and my time was more filled with work responsibilities. Since 2012, my blogging frequency has slowed significantly (once or twice a month?).

If you are an avid blog reader, you may have experienced this as some of your favorite bloggers have slowed down or stopped blogging. Or maybe you are a blogger yourself and this is you. One thing that may be to blame is burnout. I've experienced this for sure. Something else that may be a stumbling block for bloggers is frustration from not having many readers or feeling like your voice doesn't matter in a sea of others who are louder and more "popular."

Here's the bottom line...

If you feel in your heart the urge to blog, you should go for it. 

For that matter, blogging is simply a means of communication and not the end-all and be-all by any stretch of the imagination. The deeper calling is to write.

If you feel led to write, it means there's a reason your voice needs to be heard.

Don't be selfish with the incredible gifts and talents God gave you. The world needs your unique perspective, just like it needs mine. And for the record, I'm mainly writing this post to myself. I just thought there might be others who could benefit from it too.

A year or so ago, I was invited to attend an exclusive event for bloggers. Everyone was talking about different funny things they had experienced while blogging and also what kinds of emails and correspondence they received from readers.

One blogger in attendance is pretty popular among certain circles. She was complaining how she got all sorts of requests from readers asking for guidance on how they could make their blogs as popular as hers. She basically said that because of the influx of bloggers out there all vying for attention of companies and readers, the window to become a successful blogger had shut.

To me, it sounded like a message of "don't even try. You won't make it and it's not worth it anyway."

So is that what we would tell young writers? Just because a ton of great books have already been written, it isn't worth trying to write another? Or what about songwriters and composers? Are there no great songs still left to be sung? Or what about filmmakers? There will be no more movies in the future that are worth watching because all the good ones are already out there?

Nonsense. There's plenty of good stuff to go around. There's enough pie for all of us.

So that being said, here are my best tips for how to be a blogger...if you were wondering.

1) Just do it. If you feel it in your heart, you gotta run with that. It doesn't matter that other bloggers are quitting or that social media is always changing. Maybe a long-form blog isn't what you had in mind anyway. Find what works for you and do that.

2) Tell your truth. Blogging isn't really about painting a picture-perfect scene that presents your life in such a way that everyone wants to be you. I mean, there are plenty of blogs like that but do they make you feel better about yourself? They usually serve to make me feel worse. But when you tell your real-life, gritty truth, it gives the world a chance to relate to you. The real you.

3) Don't bury your treasure. When a thought or idea comes to you, and you ruminate on it for awhile and it seems like a good topic for a blog, explore it. Ideas are like Velcro. If they stick, it means something is working. Sometimes a thought comes to me for a blog post, but then I bury it under busy schedules, household chores and mindless social media scrolling. If you do this long enough, the ideas will seem fewer and farther between. I oughta know.

The bottom line is this: It's never too late to start something new. It's never too late to give life to a dream in your heart. All we get is this one life (if we're lucky). Do the stuff that matters. And if for you, that includes writing or creating something, do that.

August 14, 2015

Just be like everybody else. Or maybe not.

This time of year is bittersweet. Even though summer doesn't officially come to a halt for some time, when the kiddos go back to school, it feels like they not only take with them every drop of summer goodness but truly usher in the beginning of fall (minus the fall temperatures that are but a wish our sweating hearts make every waking moment of the day).

I don't have kids, but I so enjoy seeing all the back-to-school photos that my momma friends are posting right now. Earnest little faces with some type of homemade sign (I guess that's a thing) declaring what grade they are set to begin. Backpacks bigger than they are. Snaggle-tooth grins.

I'm 33 (33!) which means I've lived at least 1/3 of my life (I mean, that is if I were lucky enough to live to be 100) and yet this time of year still makes me feel like I'm about 11. I remember the back-to-school clothes shopping...pennies pinched tight hunting for big bargains. And I remember the first day of school, usually a 10 a.m. dismissal where we'd find out who our teacher was, meet him or her and get our school supply list for the year.

I thought my school supply list was like the Bible. Meaning that I did not want to deviate from its requirements in any way. That's just the kind of kid I was. I can remember arguing with my mom in the aisle at Wal-Mart, that "yes it did matter if my notebook paper was wide-rule and no I didn't care if college-rule was cheaper."

I was so afraid of standing out or making waves. I wanted my school supplies to be just like everyone else's. If a teacher stipulated that we needed 100 3x5 notecards, I counted them out exactly. If we were supposed to have a particular kind of colored pencil or marker for science, I wouldn't settle for anything except the exact one.

I think I spent a great deal of my childhood worrying that I was going to be on the outside of something and maybe having the same school supplies as everyone else was a way to ward against this?

There are still ways that I fall into this trap of sameness. Maybe it brings a small bit of safety with it because it doesn't require us to think creatively. Or maybe it's because it allows us to float along on auto-pilot.

My mom posted some meme on Facebook today and tagged me (thanks momma!) in it. It said:

"No one is you, and that is your power." 

I believe this is true for all of us. Each so unique, so carefully woven together. And all of us with our stories, our triumphs and struggles. I hope the older I get, the less I want to be just like everybody else. But we're all connected. And that's pretty good too. 

August 13, 2015

Simple Organization Tricks from the Dollar Tree

If there's one rule I try to follow in my home, it's "a place for everything and everything in its place." This can be hard, especially when it is just so much easier to let things pile up where they lie.

As a kid, my favorite Berenstein Bears book was the one about the messy room. Brother and Sister bear's room degenerated into a huge mess and their parents were oh so frustrated. Ultimately, Papa Bear built them all these really cool compartments and organization systems to corral their junk.

What does it say about me that I loved this book so much? I can be a clutter bug, but I really prefer organization. And while I love the idea of having all sorts of fancy containers, spending lots of money at fancy container stores just isn't really practical for me.

That's where Dollar Tree comes in. In many ways, it's kind of like a thrift store because going there can be a treasure hunt and you aren't sure what you will find.

I'm sharing some organization tips and tricks on Fox 43 this morning. For me, it's all about thinking outside the box while being frugal at the same time. I hope it inspires you to get organized in your home!

Be Creative About Intended Use

Everything has an intended use, but there's no rule that says you can't get creative. Each section of items at Dollar Tree can usually do double duty in other areas of your home. 

For instance, office supplies are often great for helping you create order in the bathroom. I like to use pen and pencil containers to keep my makeup brushes and lip gloss tubes in one place. They are tall and slender and at $1 a pop, quite a bargain.
 Other office supplies that can work in the bathroom include zippered pencil pouches (also great for makeup, cotton swabs, etc.). I even like the clear plastic ones that snap into 3-ring binders. A great way to keep everything organized while traveling.

Kitchen stuff is also great for organizing things in other parts of the house. I like to organize my jewelry in ramekins and small plastic leftovers containers. Bright plastic bowls are also good for this because I keep them in a top drawer so I can see all my bracelets and earrings at a glance when I'm getting ready in the morning. 

I also stumbled upon a cute glass relish dish at my local Dollar Tree. I think it would be perfect for loose change at the end of the day as well as plenty of other uses. 

Other office supplies that are great for adding organization are binder clips. When clipped on the side of a table or desk, you can use them to keep your cords and cables neat and save yourself lots of headaches later on. 

Another great product I picked up at the Dollar Tree is a small 4x6 photo album. I use it to organize recipe cards as I'm doing meal planning. Plus the clear plastic pages protect my cards in case any sauce goes flying! 
These are just a few of the items I picked up at Dollar never know what you'll find at that place. 

Don't be afraid to pick and choose. 

It's your house so at the end of the day, you gotta live there. So what if putting your vacuum cleaner bags in the kitchen cabinet seems weird to your friends. If a solution works for you and helps you keep the order at home, don't sweat it.

My southern beau and I recently moved and we've been figuring out all the organizing solutions that will work at our new place. Everything we did at our previous home may not really make all that much sense anymore, but I'm glad we're free to pick and choose.

So do it your way and don't get too stuck trying to follow certain rules of order based on what DIY blogs and magazines say.

Happy organizing!