March 26, 2015

Spring Cleaning: Non-Toxic DIY Products to Make at Home

Spring is here and it's time to sweep off the porch, throw open the windows and enjoy the sunshine. But what if like me, your home got a little dank and dusty through the winter months?


There's no better time than now to begin your spring cleaning. I definitely need to do mine! Don't you just feel more at peace when your home is tidy and clean? Clutter and grime breeds chaos and stifles creativity for sure.

I'm trying to be healthier and I know that goes beyond just what I eat. So many of the products we buy have harsh chemicals that aren't good for our skin and lungs. I've been guilty of mixing the wrong things while cleaning the bathroom and my home smelled like a swimming pool.

This spring, I'm trying my hand at making some all natural cleansers to use on my home. And I thought I'd share them on the blog too.

DIY Cleaners for the Bathroom

The bathroom is one of those areas in my home that I want to be clean, clean, clean. So I've been hesitant to use all natural cleaners because I was afraid they might not do the trick.

After reading about tea tree oil and its disinfecting properties, I'm going to give it a try.

To create a toilet scrub that freshens odors while cleaning, mix a half of a cup of baking soda with approximately 15 drops of tea tree oil. Pour that into the toilet bowl. Then, add 1/4 a cup of white vinegar and get to scrubbing. The vinegar and baking soda creates a fizz and the tea tree disinfects.

You can also mix some vinegar and tea tree oil in a spray bottle to use for routine cleaning of the seat and tank of your toilet.

The spray bottle of vinegar also works for your shower and sink. I keep a little jar of baking soda near my bathroom sink that I use to exfoliate my skin after washing my face but I learned that if a little bit fell into the sink, I could rub it around to clean that as well.

Cute salt & pepper shakers from the Dollar General Store make a great container/dispenser for this!

Got a cast iron bathtub with rust and stains? Did you know you can use half a grapefruit and some salt to clean it? Sprinkle the salt liberally and use the grapefruit half as sort of a scrubber. Get lots of juice in there and add more salt if needed.

DIY Cleaners for the Kitchen

Clean kitchen countertops with your spray bottle of vinegar and a little water. If you have granite, stone, or marble counters, substitute the vinegar with rubbing alcohol. You can also use vodka and I prefer the vanilla flavored version because of the great scent.

Cutting boards can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Use half a lemon to clean both plastic and wooden varieties. If it has stubborn stains, put some iodized salt on first and scrub that with the lemon to really get it good and clean.

If you need to clean cast iron, use olive oil and salt to make a paste. Then scrub well either with your fingers or a stiff bristled brush. You can rinse with warm water before re-seasoning your pans in a warm oven. NEVER use soap on your cast iron as it removes all the good baked in seasoning. Cast iron cookware can get to 400 degrees after just 4 minutes in a medium oven and it's sterile at 212 degrees.

Got an older fridge that needs some TLC? Use about a half a cup of baking soda mixed with warm water to clean it. The warm water will soften dried on food and stains while the baking soda is a mild abrasive to rub them away.

These are just a few of the simple recipes for cleaning products you can create for your home this spring. When you get ready to work around your home, consider your health and wellness. Choose products that contribute to your family's health and safety...not harsh chemicals that could do harm! Think outside the box next time and make your home really shine!

March 19, 2015

Thursday Three: Yoga & Jesus, Strange Wedding Traditions and De-Cluttering Your Home

I frequently see bloggers who regularly post a round-up of interesting links they stumble upon from across the Internet. Sometimes I click these links and sometimes I don't...depending on what they are.



Usually I'd rather hear from the bloggers themselves, as opposed to being directed to some other article or post. Sometimes, it's a great way to find out about different things that are going on or to find information I might not have found on my own.

I certainly don't think that everything I find interesting is of interest to you...but some of it could be.

I'm not sure if this is something I'm going to do regularly, but today I have three links for you that might be of interest.

The first one, I stumbled upon while doing a Google search of this phrase: "Should Christians Practice Yoga?" As a Christian who has been doing yoga, I know what I believe about this. But I was pretty surprised to find lots of folks in Internet land who are against it. Besides that, I know several folks in real life who are anti-yoga.

This article doesn't dig too far into it, but I love the imagery it evokes and since Easter is coming, I thought it was apropos.


The next one was sent to me by my best friend in California. It contains some silly origin stories about wedding traditions. I'm not much of a stickler for tradition and I'm not at all superstitious, but these are fun to read. My bridesmaids all have different dresses so we'd be out of luck in Ancient Rome, and my beau has a bad back and won't be carrying me across any thresholds (unless I get a running start and leap really high). You might get a kick out of them.


And finally, the last link is to an article in NY Magazine about how when you're raised not to be wasteful and save things for a rainy day, it's hard to de-clutter. I struggle with this concept all the time...why get rid of something when it's "perfectly good?" Just something to consider.

March 16, 2015

A Job Well Done

Do you ever feel like what you're doing doesn't matter? Do you think about the way you spend your days, your hours, your minutes, and what it all means?

Sometimes I think we try too hard to see the big picture and other times we can't see it big enough. One of the things I love most about the south is how we put so much meaning into everything we do, but maybe this also serves as a stumbling block.

Nothing is ever as simple as what it seems.

I have a friend who is always pushing me to do more with this blog. It's just her nature to be a pusher...and thank goodness for it because don't we all need someone like that in our lives? She has grand ideas and big dreams for me and Southern Belle Simple....whether that looks like writing a book down the road, or something else.

And I have grand ideas and big dreams for Southern Belle Simple too. Sometimes.

And sometimes I just want to go about my business writing a little blog in this teensy tiny corner of the Internet. And who cares if anyone reads it or not?

When I spent some time with my friend recently, she was doing her usual pushing (seriously, it's all coming from a place of love) and I pushed back a little, saying to her that I don't care about taking things to the next level...what if I'm perfectly happy just doing my thing?

My grandpa went to work at age 16 for the Kroger grocery store in my small hometown, where he was started out sweeping floors. Over the never nearly 40 years, he worked his way up to being the head butcher. He went to work every day and cut meat. There were folks in the town who came to him specifically because of the way he met their butchering needs. In fact, the grandfather of one of my dearest friends never let a chance pass to tell me how my grandpa always took care of him at Kroger. And of course my grandpa remembered his order exactly, an eye of round roast.

There was nothing flashy or glamorous about my grandpa's daily routine. I'm sure he never got paid what he was worth and I'm sure he didn't get any real perks. But I know he took pride in doing a job well done. And that was enough for him.

From him, I learned the importance of hustling, that is, working hard to seize every opportunity that comes along. While his career certainly had its challenges, I am pretty sure he had a feeling of accomplishment in serving others and making sure they had what they needed.

My grandpa's job wasn't who he was, it was just something he did. And even though he did it well, it didn't define him as a person.

But nowadays, so often it feels like we are defined by what we do. Or more often, what other people think about what we do. I've been caught on that hamster wheel for sure.

Sometimes I think about just how insignificant I am....and then other days I feel so burdened to try and make a difference with this great opportunity I've been given.

There's honor to be had in doing a job well done. Even if it sometimes seems small and insignificant.

I like to think that when we're born, there's a small space for us in the world. And as we grow and become who we are meant to be, we will stretch out into that space, filling it and hopefully pushing past its boundaries to really challenge ourselves.

Life goes by so fast. The longer I'm alive, the less I realize I understand. And that's okay.

Whatever happens, if it means something to you, it matters.

Drink it Up: A Honey of a Cocktail

I had the most delightful cocktail recently while traveling and I just had to share! If you aren't familiar with the Fairmont family of hotels, they are pretty special. For example, did you know that Fairmont Hotels have rooftop honeybee hives?


Each property is different, but the Fairmont I've stayed in is located in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. The hotel welcomed 105,000 Italian honeybees to its roof in 2009 and the area is now buzzing with three honey beehives. Not only do the bees enhance the hotel’s culinary program, it also provides a way to foster educational opportunities with local school students.

This spring, about 10 public schools in DC will have their own beehives and students will have a chance to learn about beekeeping and harvesting honey as they experience it firsthand.

We need bees because they are responsible for pollinating more than 80 percent of flowering plants, fruits and vegetables. So it's neat to see organizations doing their part to help. And I did my part to help as well by purchasing the Fairmont Georgetown's signature cocktail "The BeeTini." A portion of the proceeds from the drink support the DC Junior Beekeepers initiative.

You should definitely make this lovely drink...or better yet, if you have the chance to visit DC, try one at the Fairmont!


Fairmont Georgetown BeeTini

- 2oz Finlandia vodka
- 3/4 oz Sauza Tequila
- 1/2 oz lemon juice
- 1/2 oz honey syrup spoonful of honeycomb
- Optional lemon or lime wedge

Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice Shake for six seconds Strain while pouring into a martini glass Garnish with a spoonful of honeycomb A lemon or lime wedge may be added for more citrus.

Enjoy! (repeat as necessary!)

March 14, 2015

Returning to Possibility


Recently, I did some traveling for work. Even though some parts of the experience were a little hectic (cancelled flights, weather woes, an unexpected night spent in a city that was neither my destination nor my point of departure), the trip went pretty well.

Getting ready for a trip can be such an exciting thing. Especially if it's a trip you're looking forward to taking. Visiting a new place, seeing different people, and enjoying unique cuisine all add to the sense of adventure it brings...even if the trip for business instead of pleasure.

I love the city I call home, but I also love to travel and experience life from a new perspective. I'm a chronic people-watcher so I always enjoy getting the chance to observe different folks doing what they do. Sometimes I get so focused on my own little daily routine, I can forget that there's a whole big world out there with all sorts of folks who are also focused on their daily routines. When I travel, I'm always reminded of this.

Heading to the airport, bags packed and money in pocket, it felt like something different was on the horizon. A change of scenery, a change of pace, a change of routine can be so good for the soul.

Breakfast in a fancy hotel restaurant, with your own pot of coffee and a thick Sunday New York Times. Crisp linens that I didn't have to launder. My toiletries, neatly lined up along a marble bathroom vanity. A penthouse view of a bustling city. Tiny bottles of shampoo and lotion that magically reappear new & filled each day. A fully stocked bar and gift shop, only an elevator ride away. Someone else who pays the water bill on a giant sparkling tub perfect for bubble baths.

These are just a few of my favorite things about traveling.

My trip was quick, but it gave me the chance to see some things, meet some folks and experience a different setting. And that stirred up something in my creative spirit.

After finishing my last business meeting, I hailed a cab near Washington D.C.'s Union Station and headed to Reagan airport for my flight back to Tennessee.

During the cab ride, I started thinking about traveling and returning home. There's something about travel that gives me a renewed sense of possibility. But it's really more about coming home than it is being somewhere else. After coming home from a trip, I almost feel like I have been given a fresh start. Like it's New Year's Day or something.

Our lives are totally what we make of them. Each minute of each day. Granted, there are plenty of things that are out of our control, but the important stuff (like what we believe and how we treat each other) is ours alone.

You don't have to fly to far away lands to gain a new perspective on things, but sometimes it does help. Albert Einstein said that there are only two ways live life....either everything is a miracle or nothing is.

I like to say that every day is an adventure. In fact, I've had this motto for many years. We can wake up each day and see the opportunities as a great adventure we get to have.

Or we can see it as a never-ending list of tasks we must slog our way through, just barely surviving, always holding our breaths, waiting for the next escape.

Which do you choose?


March 12, 2015

Fun Staycation Ideas that are Simple & Affordable

Spring means spring break, but not everyone gets to fly away to some tropical paradise. If like me, you are spending your spring break as you would any other week, why not look at it as an opportunity for a fun Staycation?

So what if many of your friends are traveling to someplace fabulous. You can still have a blast staying home...all you need to do is think outside the box.

One great idea for a staycation is to have an impromptu party. I'm sure you have other pals who are not traveling and if you get together with them, it will definitely take the sting out of your being stuck at home.

But not just any old party will do...get creative and throw a Swap Party for your pals. Not only is it a great excuse to clean out your closet and home, but it's a free chance to get some new (to-you) stuff!

How to Throw a Swap Party 


First, you'll want to decide who to invite. Choose enough people that there's plenty of opportunity for variety in the items up for swap, but not too many that it becomes chaos.

Specify what types of items you want the swap to include. Clothing might get tricky unless everyone is around the same size, so I think accessories might make a good swap. This could include fashion accessories like jewelry, scarves, and handbags as well as accessories for the home like photo frames, book-ends, and vases.

Once you've settled on your guest list, extended invites and decided on specifics for the party, it's time to get down to the details of how the swap will work.

The best way to keep a swap party fair is to make sure everyone brings roughly the same number of items and that they are also in good condition. Make it clear in your invitation that this isn't the time to pawn off ratty old things. It's more a chance to pass along gently used items that you don't have much use for anymore.

One way to manage the swap is by using a point system. Larger, more expensive items could be worth more points and everyone can get points to shop with based on what they bring. You could also have the swap be for like items. For example, if you bring a purse, you get to take a different purse home. But this might take more planning to ensure that there are enough of the same types of items to go around.

Ultimately, it's just a fun way to spend some time with friends and hopefully gain a few new things at the end of the evening.

Serve some snacks and maybe a signature cocktail to make it more memorable!

Tropical Cocktails - Not Just for Vacation Anymore! 

Even if you aren't beaching it for Spring Break, there's nothing that says you can't bring a bit of the tropics to you! Another way to enjoy a staycation is to make up a batch of fruity cocktails...to share or keep to yourself.

Come home from work and unwind while channeling your inner beach goddess.

It could be something simple using whatever you have on hand. I recently mixed up some Simply Raspberry Lemonade with Vodka for a great little martini I'm going to start calling the Tropi-Tini Raz-Bikini. Seriously...try to say that without giggling.


Rim your glass with a little colorful sugar, add a paper umbrella and you'll swear you were somewhere warm and sandy! Okay, maybe not. But a staycation is still just as good a reason as any to sip a fruity cocktail! 

Challenge Yourself 

Finally, look at your staycation as a chance to get some things in order. Maybe there's a big project you've been putting off, but would like to complete. 

Or what if you just need to set some new goals and create new routines to help yourself achieve them? 

Another fun staycation challenge is to finally tackle some of the projects and recipes you've pinned to Pinterest. Do you ever feel like you pin and pin, but never actually make or do any of the stuff? I challenged myself to make a couple recipes for fun St. Patrick's Day treats I had pinned last year but never got around to making. 

There's just something so satisfying about challenging yourself and rising to the task, only to be able to check that thing off your list as complete. Maybe it's just me, but I like this sense of accomplishment. While it might not be as glamorous as a Caribbean cruise, everything is relative....and as my grandpa loves to say: "All you get out of life is what you enjoy." If you enjoy crafting or baking, or hiking or anything else, I hope you'll take some time to do that stuff! 

And when your friends come back from Cozymel with all sorts of stories to tell, you'll have plenty of your own to share of your staycation adventures!

March 5, 2015

Resident Birds


Each year, when winter winds begin to blow, I like to feed the birds. I always intend to put out birdseed for wild birds every month of the year, but you know what they say about the road to Hell being paved with the best of intentions. However, when it's really cold out, I know that food is scarce and I try to keep my feeder filled.

It's a way I honor the memory of my great grandmother, who also enjoyed feeding birds off her back porch. Her name was Aline (pronounced al-een), but I called her 'Great.'

She was a short, stocky woman with spindly legs and she always wore those little housecoats that zipped up the front, knee-highs that drooped around her ankles, and vinyl house shoes that were meant to look like leather. A native Texan, she was dealt a tough hand in life, but always persevered. Early on, she worked as a cook on the railroad before moving her family to Oak Ridge, Tennessee where my great-grandpa could find work. At that time, Oak Ridge had really just been established and for folks like my great grandparents (both sets on my dad's side), it was the land of Milk and Honey.

As long as I knew my Great, she scrimped and pinched pennies to make ends meet. She was a coupon clipper and a fan of cheap foods like Vienna (Vy-eenie) Sausages. But she always put aside a little extra money to buy me bubble bath from the Avon lady and she always made sure to have money set aside for birdseed. I think of her every time I see a Chickadee because those were her favorites, even though she said they sassed her when she talked to them.


My beau and I enjoy watching our birds gather around our patio to chow down on the food we provide all through the winter. I'm definitely no ornithologist, but I can identify most basic birds (which seems to impress him). We talk about the different species and what they are doing, imagining where they might live and who their bird families are.

A few weeks ago, he asked me about why some birds stick around during the winter while others migrate to warmer climates. I had never really thought about it before, but a few days later, I ran across a magazine article that explained this phenomenon.

Again, I'm no scientist, but I managed to glean this...Some birds are migratory and move to a different location during months of the year when the weather turns cold and food is scarce. Other birds are called resident birds and stick around the same area all year long.

It got me to thinking about how different challenges we face cause us to react. Sometimes things happen that cause circumstances where we just need to walk away for a moment. You've probably experienced that. I certainly have. With wedding planning in high gear, plus life's daily stresses, my beau and I have had to take a couple of time-outs lately to cool down and work out some issues. Eventually, we come back together and talk it out...trying to see where the other is coming from and ultimately remaining committed to one another and the life we are trying to create.

And sometimes, there are challenges in life that cause us to pick up and move. Just like my Great did all those years ago when she wanted a better life for her family. I don't know what their lives might have been like had they stayed in Texas, but I know her son (my grandpa) had a most wonderful experience as a kid and then teenager growing up in Oak Ridge. He was a star football player, had the opportunity to go to college on a scholarship and most importantly of all, it's where he met the love of his life, my grandma.

But what about those times when we need to stay and stick it out. This winter, as I watch those resident birds gather around the feeder on my porch hoping to get a little bit of food, I think about how they are determined to make it another day.

I read where the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been tracking changes in bird migration behaviors and that more and more birds are opting not to migrate at all. Experts aren't sure if this is because of climate issues or the increase of folks who supply birdseed in feeders. I like to think that the birds are getting tougher.

Seasons come and go, we are faced with difficult situations at every turn. Friends and loved ones get sick and pass away, jobs are won and lost, it's so easy to lose sight of our purpose. It's not a matter of if hard times are going to come, but when. And they will. But I want to be one of those resident birds who stick it out through thick and thin. That's the kind of friend I want to be, the kind of wife, the kind of sister and daughter...I don't want to be someone who flies the coop when the going gets tough.

I come from people who faced adversity and lived to tell the tales. My people didn't pack it up and pack it in unless it was really necessary, and then they made the best of all things. If it means doing the hard stuff day after day, hoping for something better, so be it. Eventually the reward will come. When the days are long and the weather warms, all those resident birds will sing a triumphant song...we made it! Another winter and we lived to tell of it. And we'll be there too. Singing along.

March 3, 2015

Engagement Photos by Zach and Sarah Photography - Tennessee

A few weeks ago my beau and I traveled to my hometown for our engagement photo session. With the wedding just around the corner, I felt like we waited too long to do the engagement pictures, plus we'd ended up rescheduling them about five times because of uncooperative weather. 

But the engagement shoot was part of our wedding photo package so we went with it. Other than various snapshots over the years, we don't really have any fancy photos together. Ultimately, I'm glad we ended up doing it because I liked the pictures and I feel like they captured our personalities. 


Sometimes engagement pictures I've seen are so cheesy...we're not really into all that posed stuff. But we had a great photographer (Zach and Sarah Photography) who did a fantastic job making us feel comfortable.


The day of the shoot, we drove all over my small hometown in search of cool spots for photos. It definitely gave me a new perspective on some places I've driven past my entire life. Each time our photographer Zach would see something he liked, we'd pull over and snap a few pics. It was a chilly, sort of overcast day and I wasn't sure how it would all turn out. But I'm pretty happy with them. 


Before too long, we'll have wedding pictures to share...but for now I'm enjoying looking through these. For more pictures by Zach and Sarah, check out their blog!