September 24, 2015

How to Host a Casual Fall Party on a Budget

Fall is finally here! And all the frizzy haired girls like myself heaved a collective sigh of relief. Less humidity means my coiffure might actually behave for some of the time. Of course might is the operative word.

But we love fall in the south. It's a respite from summer's sweltering heat and it also means football, pumpkin patches and everything apple and pumpkin flavored. I'm not wasting any time. Fall may have just begun, but I'm kicking it off with a casual fall party here on the blog.

I'm also visiting with my pals over at Mornings with Foxville 43 to share some ideas! There's no shortage of great pumpkin and apple products in stores right now. All you have to do is get creative!

And we're going to start with something delicious to drink!

1) Caramel Apple Sangria

I can't take credit for this incredible idea (or that gorgeous photo), but the Internet is a friendly place where we share and share alike, right? I stumbled across this recipe on a great blog and couldn't wait to recreate it!

All you need is:
  • Apple Cider
  • Sparkling wine (or sparkling water/ginger ale if you want to go the non-alcoholic route)
  • Caramel sauce
  • Sliced Apples
I guess it's really not Sangria if you don't use the wine, but I like to have options for folks who don't imbibe. Plus, I don't always feel like drinking wine (say what?). 

2) DIY Sweet Potato Bar

My southern beau and I have been enjoying sweet potatoes long before fall started, but they are perfect for the season and we don't plan on stopping anytime soon. 

I found a recipe for baked sweet potatoes in some magazine I read and they were topped with sauteed spinach, black beans and feta. We've made some variations of this a couple different times. But I always save half of my baked sweet potato and eat it with butter and cinnamon. What can I say, I like variety. 

To solve this problem, I'm setting up a DIY sweet potato station for my next gathering. I'll put out all sorts of various toppings and let my guests go wild creating their own unique combinations. 

Here are just a few that you might want to try:

Black beans + Salsa + Greek yogurt 
Steamed broccoli + almonds + Parmesan cheese
Salted butter + cinnamon + honey + pecans
Rice + soy sauce + snow peas 
Sun dried tomatoes + sauteed spinach + mozzarella 

I would probably also serve the usual baked potato toppings (sour cream, chives, black olives, and bacon bits). Setting up a baked sweet potato bar is such an easy way to feed your guests something hearty and delicious for fall. 

3) Pumpkin Parfaits 

This recipe for Pumpkin Mousse Parfaits comes from that doyenne of deliciousness herself, none other than Ina Garten. You just can't go wrong with Ina. 

Fall means bring on pumpkins. Pumpkin everything as far as I'm concerned. And there's nothing so great as pumpkin dessert. 

This one's easy to make, light and fluffy and served in small individual cups, which always makes for an extra special presentation.


These are just a few simple ideas you can try for a casual fall gathering at your house. If your friends are worth their salt, they won't care if it's perfect or not. Usually, folks just want to be together. And what better excuse to gather than the new season.

Happy Fall Y'all! 

September 23, 2015

99 problems, but too much time ain't one.

There are 99 days left in 2015. Let that sink in a little. Doesn't it feel like this year just started? No wait, doesn't it feel like 1998 just started? Somewhere my sixteen-year old self is slurping a can of Diet Coke through a carefully chosen color-coordinated straw, wearing knock-off Doc Martens, and so much Wet 'n Wild shimmery eye shadow that it's caked. And my hair is dyed a semi-permanent shade of medium auburn brown that can only be described as Cinnaberry (thanks, Clairol Natural Instincts).

But that can't be right. I've been out of high school for a decade and a half. Y2K, something we anticipated for what felt like ever, has already come and uneventfully gone. We are 15 years into the 2000s. How is that even possible?

Do you ever feel like time is going by faster than you can even mark its passing? 

Where my girls at whose kitchen wall calendar was still on the August page for the first two weeks of September? Am I the only one?

I had a big idea of writing a post to challenge you (but mostly myself) about what you're gonna do with the next 99 days. A sort of friendly call on the carpet to say, now what?

But the truth is, I have no idea what the answer is. It's hard for me to picture the next three days, let alone the next 99. And I struggle with the fact that it's completely assumptive to think we are guaranteed the next 99 days anyway. It's totally cliche, but true, that we aren't guaranteed with the next minute. Anything can happen at anytime. But the moments keep ticking by.

Are you spending too much time planning for things and not enough time living right in this moment?

Maybe you're one of those people who has your whole life planned out. You probably have a goal board. And that's awesome. I'm not there yet. I might never be there. But you know what? That's awesome too.

I don't have all the answers. But here's what I know: The success of my next 99 days will not come from things I did which were motivated by shame. On New Year's Eve I probably won't even remember this post, and I'm certain I won't sit down and check things off a list to see if I accomplished it or not. That's just not how I roll.

I want my next 99 (or however many I've got left) to include the following:
  • Saying yes to things I want to do, saying no to things I don't
  • Giving people more grace (i.e. permission to fail) 
  • Giving myself permission to fail 
  • Really listening when people I love are talking
  • Making new memories with people I love instead of just reminiscing about old ones
  • Looking for adventure and not being afraid to jump when I find it
  • Rescuing bugs that are trapped in my house
  • Watching more tear-jearker animal rescue videos with my husband
It's a good place to start. And yes, a huge part of me wanted to post 99 things. But I think I'll stop right there. Ain't nobody got time for that. 

September 19, 2015

Good things come.

I've always heard the old saying that "good things come to those who wait." And I mostly, sort of believed it.

Today I was at the thrift store, scouring the racks for some fabulous clothing finds. I looked through item and after item, not having much luck.

[As a side note, if you are a size S or XS fashionista who donates your old J.Crew clothes to my neighborhood Goodwill, thanks...but don't you have anything bigger? I just can't fit you.]

After circling the store twice and flipping through what felt like ten racks of clothing, I finally stumbled on a gently-worn cashmere sweater from Banana Republic, in my size.

Aha! Finally! And then this phrase came to my mind: Good things come to those who wait. Maybe this is true sometimes, or at least maybe it seems to be true. But what had actually happened is that I wasn't waiting when the good thing came to me.

I was looking.

What if instead the old saying were that "good things come to those who look?"

Or take it a step further...what if "good things come to those who don't stop looking until they find it?" 

Maybe finding an old used sweater at a thrift store doesn't do it for you, but whatever "it" is, there's something you're hoping for. And sometimes it might plop right down in your lap. I mean, I guess anything is possible. Scratch that, I know ANYTHING is possible.

But what if the thing you want hasn't come to you yet. Are you looking or just waiting? Sometimes the good things are hidden, even if just right under your nose. Who knows what you might find if you look?

Sometimes we wait. And wait. And wait and wait. But during all that waiting, what's the harm in looking for the good things too? If you look for something good, I promise you will find it.

September 12, 2015

What to do when your truth is ugly.

Whenever I seem like I'm holding some bit of information back, my husband has a saying.

"Tell the truth and shame the devil."

I really have no idea what this means, but it never fails to make me smile a little bit.

There are all sorts of reasons why I sometimes have a hard time telling my truth.

Sometimes it's because I don't feel like the person I'm talking to is going to receive it very well.

Sometimes it's because I'm just exhausted and don't feel like working up the nerve.

And sometimes, it's because I don't like the truth.

Sometimes, it's ugly.

Lately, I've been sitting on a big pile of ugly truth. And I don't care what the devil feels about it one way or another. I just don't want to let it out.

But isn't it funny how the truth is the truth, no matter if we say it or not? And if it is, in fact, the truth, it has a way of eating away at us.

So maybe you're wondering what my so-called ugly truth is. It's nothing unique to me. And parts of it may look just like yours.

It's a collection of things really. When you take a page from my book, it's not one neatly colored-inside-the-lines page, but a whole handful of them, ripped haphazardly without the luxury of perforations. Just jagged edges.

Selfishness. Jealousy. Hurt feelings. Anxiety. Worry. And that was just in the last 45 seconds of scrolling through my Facebook news feed.

We all struggle. It's just part of life. And some days are more of an uphill climb than others. But it is what it is. And if everybody threw all their troubles in a big pile, I'd still pick the ones I have. Because they really aren't even troubles to speak of. They just don't look so shiny and pretty through an Instagram filter.

We've been watching episodes of Seinfeld on Hulu this I love that show. I have a favorite episode when George's fiance Susan wants to start hanging out with the gang, but of course he isn't keen on the idea. Somehow they all end up at the coffee shop without George and Jerry knows immediately that this is not going to end well when George shows up.

My favorite part is when Jerry says quietly to himself "This is gonna be ugly." Susan overhears him and asks "What's that Jerry?" and Jerry replies: "Boy, am I ugly."

I don't know why but this makes me feel better about my ugly truth. Maybe if we can just see things clearly, it helps provide some perspective.

What if just admitting it could take some its power away? 

Sometimes the truth is ugly. That doesn't make it any less true. It might be difficult, messy, unattractive, uncomfortable, awkward and gross. And that's okay.

But then there's something that comes to mind. The final line from Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn --

'beauty is truth, truth beauty,' -- that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know"

If beauty is truth and truth is beauty, how can our truth every truly be ugly? What if it's not up to us to decide what is ugly or not, but instead we were meant to use our energy spreading truth? Even in the midst of what feels ugly, we can be our beautiful, powerful selves if we just hang on to what we know. The truth.

My great-grandma used to say that "the truth will stand when the world is on fire." 

I'd so much rather live in a few ugly truths than try to keep up a pretty lie. How about you?

September 11, 2015

Tailgating on a Budget

My favorite thing about football is tailgating. Snacks & socializing, what's not to love? With the Tennessee Vols prepping for their home opener, my pals over at Fox43 asked me to share some simple and easy tailgating ideas on a budget!

1) Scour the Dollar Store

If you've read this blog before, you know I am a huge fan of Dollar General, Dollar Tree and such. You can find all sorts of great containers that can be perfectly re-purposed for tailgating.

With Halloween just around the corner, the added bonus is that there's lots of orange and white stuff to be found.

I picked up these great white plastic storage bins from the Target $1 zone and with a little orange Washi tape, dressed them up for chips, popcorn, and lots of other tailgating snacks.

These little white metal buckets are another great option, also with the Washi tape.

2) Think Outside the Container Box

Another great tailgating tip to help you stay under budget is to make your containers do double-duty. I picked up a white plastic shower caddy which will be great to corral condiments, utensils, and more.
I also found a great black plastic Halloween treat bucket in the Target $1 zone that will make a cute cooler for canned drinks. It's all about the presentation, and it doesn't take much to make things look a little special.

3) Food that's Easy to Eat

Tailgates are informal and everybody doesn't always sit in one spot for long. So I like to serve foods that are easy to eat. A favorite is Chili Frito Pies, straight out of the bag. Just slit the top of a small-sized bag of Fritos, spoon in some chili and add your favorite toppings.

Another favorite snack of mine is S'mores. To make it easier for tailgating, I adapted the recipe to become little individual chocolate pudding pies, complete with graham cracker crusts and toasted marshmallows. 

You can toast the marshmallows at home under the broiler the night before and then add them to the pudding pies. Or if you have an open fire at your tailgate, toast 'em on site. 

These are just a few simple, affordable ideas to use for your next tailgate! 

September 8, 2015

Clubs I'll Never Belong To

Bookstores are a magical place where I always manage to spend more time and money than I originally intended. I have a similar love for libraries, especially because the books are free, although my husband considers them inferior because "you have to give the books back."

As a writer, going to bookstores can also be a challenge, especially when you haven't published a book yet, but wish you had. Looking at all those beautifully designed covers and reading all the clever titles can be a reminder of what you haven't achieved. 

During a recent bookstore trip, I found myself in the Home & Design section where what feels like a myriad of books by bloggers-turned-authors abound. 

As a blogger who wants to be an author, this is a double-edged sword of possibility and despair. 

The possibility comes from thinking "hey, if he/she can do it, surely I can too!" while the despair tries to silence that hopeful thought with a big ole fat turd of "never gonna happen." 

Are you ever guilty of disqualifying yourself like this? Why is it that we are so quick to take ourselves out of the running for something we truly want? 

Is it because we think the big picture end result we seek is impossible? Or is it that we just can't see to the end of today because of all the little things that have distracted us?

Do you ever feel like an outsider? Like you just don't fit? 

This weekend while shopping at the Dollar General, I had a brief conversation with the sales clerk who shared that his day wasn't going very well. When I asked him what the trouble was, he replied,"the world's a tuxedo and I'm a pair of brown shoes." 

How succinctly that says it all. 

As much as being different and celebrating our own version of unique-ness can be fun, sometimes it's really nice to just fit in. 

My mom likes to say that "people join clubs for the same reasons they once carried them." Think on that for a second. 

There's a certain kind of safety in numbers. Also the feeling of comfort that comes from not being the only person struggling with a particular issue. 

Don't you just want to feel seen, heard and most of all understood? 

I know I do. 

Back at the bookstore, I had a thought. There are clubs I'll never belong to. Not for lack of wanting, but just because of not fitting. 

I'll never belong to the club of people whose hair blows gently in the wind without frizzing. And I'll never belong to the club where they have the perfectly manicured nails and the clothes that fit just so and thin ankles. Or the one where people wear white linen and eat spaghetti while never spilling a drop. 

And then there are clubs I don't belong to yet. Like the one for book authors. I might not be a member today, but I won't say never. I'll just say not yet. 

That brings us to the club of which I'm a card carrying member. 

It's anything but exclusive. There's plenty of room for you and anyone else who might happen to tag along or wander in or just show up.  

Our dress code is not fancy. Many of us wear our hearts on our sleeves. 

Nobody calls the roll and you won't get a X by your name if you happen to miss a meeting. 

There's no collecting of dues. Although we do ask that you be yourself. [It's okay if you don't know who that is. Most of us are still figuring it out.

Instead of Robert's Rules of Order, we adhere to the natural order of life, which hardly ever actually follows any order that makes sense and keeps us on our toes, always wondering what is going to happen next. 

We are the dreamers. The thinkers. The over-thinkers. The kids who heaved a sigh of relief when the teacher said it was Library day, as opposed to P.E. The ones who feel deeply for the ones who hurt deeply. 

The ones who are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, even though we secretly (and wrongly) thought perfection might be possible. We are the ones who believe anything is possible. 

We are the ones with single moms who worked overtime to send us to the 'good' preschool. Whose dads wanted to create for us a more stable and peace-filled home than they'd had themselves. We are the ones whose grandparents told us we were their pride and joy. 

We were the ones who showed up, day in and day out. We were not star athletes. We were not the valedictorian. We don't always finish what we start. We don't always start what we want to finish. We still show up. Sometimes we feel like nobody notices us. Sometimes we hope nobody will notice us. 

We ask too many questions and we have none of the answers. But the answers to the most important questions are etched onto our hearts. We love the people we love without any rhyme or reason. Sometimes this is to our detriment. We keep loving them anyway. 

While the details of our stories may be different, we recognize that we all begin and end the same way.

We make room for each other.

There's room for you. 

Pull up a chair. Set your burdens down. Kick off your shoes. Today the world is a tuxedo and you are a pair of black patent wingtips. You fit perfectly here.

September 1, 2015

To be a writer, you must listen.

“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” ― Eudora WeltyOne Writer's Beginnings

To be a writer, you must first be a listener. More than that, you must be a watcher too. There's only so much inside you. The rest must come from around you. And before you can truly tell a story, you have to understand it all the way to your core. 

Remembering is like listening backwards, which can be hard to do. This is why I like to hear the same stories told over and over. Like the one about my grandpa hitchhiking to Laramie, Wyoming. 

Born in Texas, my grandpa moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee when he was a boy. There he discovered one of his first loves: football. In his senior year of high school, he was invited to several colleges for recruiting visits, including Auburn, Texas Tech and the University of Wyoming. He and a couple buddies set out during Easter break to visit the schools. 

Recruits were given money for bus tickets, lodging and so-forth but my grandpa and his buddies decided they would keep the money and hitchhike instead. It's hard for me to imagine a group of three high school students hitchhiking 1400 miles one way, but in 1953 I guess it wasn't that big of a deal. 

I've heard this story told so many times, I know it well and can anticipate what parts are coming next. But each time, something new comes to light. That's why I never tire of hearing it. 

And this is only one of the stories he lived. One tiny sliver of the pie of his life. 

There are so many things I want to write about, as a self-proclaimed champion for stories that deserve to be told. But unless I have the person's exact words, I'm going to be guilty of telling them from my own perspective. 

We are told to honor our father and mother so that our days may be long on the Earth. The best way we can honor the ones who came before us is to tell their stories. And the only way we can do justice to someone else's story is to know it inside and out. Thus, we have to listen.