November 19, 2015

Simple Thanksgiving Shortcuts to Save your Sanity!

Thanksgiving is next week and while it's a special holiday, there's also a lot of pressure to create a meal that looks like something from a magazine. 

It's hard to enjoy the time spent with family when you put so much pressure on yourself to make it perfect. I feel like sort of a hypocrite writing about Thanksgiving shortcuts because I'm not responsible for my family's Thanksgiving meal. We're really lucky to have multiple generations and us younger folks haven't quite been passed the torch of cooking the main meal. Everyone brings at least something though, so our host (my great-aunt) doesn't have to do everything.

Even though I'm not the Queen of Thanksgiving, I know how to spot a shortcut. And I know that when you are having a huge bunch of hungry people at your house, shortcuts can be a godsend!

Here are some of my favorite shortcuts you might want to cash in on this year...

1) Pie in a Jar - So I'm not sure who to thank for this glorious invention, but I gotta give a little shout of praise to whomever came up with pie in a jar! All you need to do is add butter & eggs, pour into your crust and bake. So simple and it's Trader Joe's so you know it's delicious.

2) Cheese & Crackers Platter - You've been there. In the kitchen trying to make some magic happen and your husband (who keeps saying he's starving) keeps coming up behind you, reaching into the pot of whatever you're cooking to grab a bite. This is one of my biggest cooking pet peeves. My southern beau knows to stay out of the kitchen until everything's done...but that doesn't mean he isn't always trying to push the limits.

Now, what if you're cooking for ten or twenty people and they are all getting hungry. If everything isn't happening on schedule, they might try to sneak a bite.

There's a simple solution that will save the day....give them some nibbles to stave off the hunger pangs until the meal is ready.

Create an amazing cheese & crackers platter that guests can enjoy while they wait. I like to feature a variety of cheeses (some soft, some hard, some tangy) and crackers, but also nuts, olives and fruit.

It doesn't have to be perfect, just delicious.

3) Treats for Fido - 

After my beloved pup Leon passed away this year, I haven't been able to get another dog. But hopefully that will happen when the time is right. When Leon was with us, he loved holidays because that meant more people with potential treats and food scraps to slip him under the table.

Problem was, he had a sensitive stomach. I recommend having some designated dog treats on hand so your guests can offer Fido a treat (if they want to) without you having to worry about cleaning up dog barf during dessert.

When I found Thanksgiving-themed Turkey Cranberry dog treats at Trader Joe's, I couldn't resist snatching them up. My boy would have loved these. [Sidenote - If your pooch does eat a little too much, canned pumpkin is where it's at. I used to feed it to Leon when he had tummy troubles.]

4) Leftover Love - I'm not a big fan of leftovers, but Thanksgiving and leftovers go hand in hand. Make your leftover turkey really count by enjoying it on a sandwich paired with these chips.

If you thought Turkey flavored chips were a thing of the future, welcome to the future my friends.

Want more Thanksgiving fun? Check out this cool infographic with some stats about how turkey day is celebrated around the country!

**I was not compensated for this post. I just really LOVE Trader Joe's** 

November 7, 2015

No regrets

"The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time."

— Mary Oliver

November 6, 2015

A November space

"But there is always a November space after the leaves have fallen when she felt it was almost indecent to intrude on the woods…for their glory terrestrial had departed and their glory celestial of spirit and purity and whiteness had not yet come upon them."

--L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars (Anne of Green Gables, #4)

November 5, 2015

Ways to Celebrate Thankfulness during November

November is one of my absolute favorite months of the year. Fall is here (even when the south is experiencing what seems like a heatwave) and in a few short weeks it will be Thanksgiving. Somehow Thanksgiving always seems to sneak up on me, but this year I'm prepared.

Instead of waiting for it to feel like Thanksgiving, I'm jumping in at the beginning of the month to milk this holiday for all it's worth. I'm talking about being thankful, people.

The minute the Halloween decorations were put away, the Christmas music started playing in retail stores. And I love Christmas (seriously, love it!), but why should Thanksgiving have to get lost in the shuffle?

Being thankful isn't something for one day. Gratitude shouldn't get packed away with our wool sweaters and only come out when the days are shorter, or leaves crunch under our feet.

I believe there's a lot of power in being grateful. What we believe shapes our reality and when we truly see our lives chocked full of the gifts they have, our reality follows suit.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving (that's totally a thing, right?), I'm visiting with my friends at Knoxville's WTNX Fox43 to share some fun and simple projects that just might inspire you to tap into feeling thankful and make November really count.

1) Thankfulness Paper Chain

I'm just such a sucker for paper chains and garland. They are kitschy and retro in all my favorite ways. And because they are so simple to make, I wanted to craft one as part of my month of thankfulness.

There are lots of options for making paper chains, from cutting construction paper to using store-bought paper chain kits like the one I shared on television (got it at Michael's). I even found this great free thankfulness chain printable you can customize.

Each day, get your family members together and have everyone write something he or she is thankful for on a strip of paper. Then connect the strips together to form a chain. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you'll have an entire chain of thankfulness. Sweet, huh? 

2) Fall Leaves Gratitude Garland 

Like I said before, I love a good garland. It's an easy way to decorate one area of your home (like a doorway or mantle) without going over the top. 

You can cut your own leaves out of paper, use silk or artificial ones, or even real ones. For this project, I used foam leaves because I wanted to write on them and that seemed like the best option. 

Again, take some time with your family each day to reflect on something you're thankful for and write it on one of the leaves. As you string together your garland, be reminded of all the things you have to be thankful for. It never fails to put things in good perspective when I really stop and consider all the blessings in my life. It sounds a bit like Pollyanna, but it's so true. 

3) Thanksgiving Clothespin Wreath

Apparently clothespin wreaths are not a new thing, but I only stumbled across the idea recently. There are lots of variations out there, but I decided to make a simple natural clothespin wreath accented with burlap ribbon. 

All you need are wooden clothespin (I got mine at the Dollar General Store) and a wire wreath form (which was $2.99 at Michaels). For a total of $5, this wreath isn't half bad. And you could always jazz it up with paint, washi tape, wood stain, or whatever. 

The idea is to write what you're thankful for on each pin. Or hang it on your front door and let your guests fill in what they are thankful for. When it comes to crafting (in my world anyway), there are no rules. Just simple projects that don't cost a lot and let you give life to your own inner artiste. 

I hope you enjoy November. As my grandpa loves to say: all you get out of life is what you enjoy. Make the most of it pals!

November 4, 2015

Perfecting the art of fine.

This is for the superwomen.

The ones who take on too much.

The ones who need to feel like they're in control.

The ones who get mad because others around them aren't pulling their weight but are also secretly glad because it just reaffirms their belief that they could do it better on their own anyway.

The ones who feel angry because yet another thing they've agreed to do that they didn't want to do has made them tired, stressed out, devoid of energy, ready to give up.

This is for the women who scream at their partners, and leave the house and cry in the car on the way to the appointment they have to keep.

This is for the women who hate the way things are and believe deep down that there must be another way but can't see how to get from point A. to any point that's better than A.

This is for the ones who've accepted that life is one big trade-off. And that every time you say yes to something, it means saying no to a million other things.

It's for the women who wanted to please their parents, who wanted their teachers to like them, who wanted everybody to like them. Who cringe at the thought of criticism. Who try to be invisible in the face of confrontation.

This is for the women who know they were put here for more. Not more things, as in a longer list of things. Not more as in quantity or "how many more tasks can I cram into the 86,400 seconds in any given day?"

But the women who know they were put here for more quality. A better quality of life.

The ones who believe they can achieve it yet make choices that keep them from achieving it.

It's for the ones who hate where they're at, but don't know what to do.

It's for the women who have perfected the art of being fine, no matter who's asking, no matter the time of day.

It's for the women who turn a good situation into something bad, because they are so stuck inside their own heads, conversations they only imagined become real and looks that probably meant nothing turn into loaded glances.

It's for the ones who feel alone, even thought the irony is that there are so many of us. It's like we're all alone together.

Let's be alone together, shall we?

November 3, 2015

Competency is not calling.

Have you ever been really good at something? Maybe you've always known you were good. Like it was part of your awareness of who you were from a young age. Or maybe you spent your whole life totally oblivious, until an opportunity came for you to demonstrate a certain task or participate in a hobby and you were like, dang, "I'm really good at that." 

When I was a kid, my dad made me take piano lessons for several years. The problem was I never learned to read music. I didn't practice enough and my teacher totally called me out on it, but when it was time for our quarterly recitals, I memorized my pieces and played them like a champ. To my family who saw me play that big grand piano on the stage of the Bryan Fine Arts Building, I was totally competent. Except I wasn' was sort of a sham.

Playing piano was not my calling.

Once this was apparent, my folks let me take voice lessons instead. But things got dangerous when they realized I had a decent singing voice. This would usher in a period of my childhood that I remember as "The family is gathered, and my mom is forcing me to put on a performance for them."

She was a stage mom, minus the stage...unless you count the raised platform of our living room fireplace and my humble boombox, with its six D batteries.

I enjoyed singing to a degree, but I didn't live for it. I wasn't one of those kids who would grow up to be a Lee Ann Rimes or a Taylor Swift (as if you didn't know this). Just like piano, singing would become yet another thing that wasn't my calling.

Except the difference between singing and piano was my singing was pretty good. It's possible people were just being polite, but strangers always paid me nice compliments after each performance and I was invited back to sing for various events (mostly church, but also weddings). And, like I said before, I enjoyed it for awhile.

Then when I didn't really want to do it anymore, it was confusing. I missed the compliments, but not really that much. Singing became something I quit doing for an audience and mainly did only in the car with my best friend, when our favorite Backstreet Boys song came on the radio.

This was probably the first time in my life that I was faced with this fact:
Competency is not the same thing as calling.
On up through high school and even college, I would go on to display competency in all sorts of other things (just not soccer...I was terrible at soccer).

But none of the things I was competent at ever felt like my calling.

What is a calling? The dictionary defines it as "a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation." 

I'm much more keen on the first part of the definition than the second. I like thinking of a calling as a strong urge toward a way of life, but when you throw the word 'career' in there, it messes with my head.

See, what if your career isn't exactly your calling? This is particularly hard to make sense of if you are good at your career.

I think some people end up in careers that align with their calling. Maybe you're one of them. But there are also people who just happen to be good at something and end up getting paid to do it. We can't confuse this with calling, because it isn't the same thing.

It's kind of like saying I was good at playing piano because I memorized two songs and could play them with my eyes closed. I was competent, but it wasn't what I was put on earth to do.

That's my personal definition of calling, by the way.

To me, a calling is something you were put here to do. What's more, if you couldn't do it anymore, you would feel like you were dead. It's that life-giving thing that the more you do it, the more you want to do it. And alternatively, if you can't do it or just don't do it, you feel like the life is sucked out of you.

Let's play a game. Fill in the blank below to reveal something you may or may not want to know:

If I couldn't _____________________, I'd feel like the light (and life) inside me was snuffed out. 

Maybe your blank contains your current career or vocation. You're one of the lucky ones.

Or, maybe it's something a bit less specific. No matter what, I totally believe there is a calling for each of us.

But whether or not that calling is directly related to our paycheck, those waters are a bit murkier.

Just don't believe the lie that competency or even quality is the same thing as calling. I mean, it's awesome to have gifts and talents. Be so glad that you do.

But know that being really good at something does not make it your calling. Even if you have found yourself in a position or role that you're getting a lot of praise for or getting paid a nice salary to do it.

Remember It's a Wonderful Life, when George Bailey's little brother Harry went on to become the war hero? You know where I'm going with this. If not for George who saved him from the icy water, Harry would not have gone on to do those brave things. It sounds so cheesy, but there's a hole in the world in the shape of you. We all need what each other has to give. And I think most of the people who are living really joyful, productive lives have figured this out.

God, seeing a need, uniquely, exquisitely created and crafted you, as a way to fill what was missing in the world. And each of the world's needs is different. Some fall under a more practical category. It's not my passion to work in the medical profession, but thank goodness we have doctors and nurses who do have this calling. The ones whose calling it is to get up every day and provide those kinds of services and care to people.

I've never felt called to be a teacher. But I'm so grateful to all the wonderful teachers who have touched my life through the years.

I've never felt called to be in politics, but I'm so glad we have people (although not all of them) who are passionate about changing our world for the better and who will work tirelessly to create policies and laws.

And then the world has other needs, for beautiful things like art and music and incredible delicious foods. Things that can revive our crushed spirits and souls, sometimes at just the moment we think it isn't worth going on anymore.

I think it's so important we find out what our calling is and find ways to pursue it. It doesn't mean that our calling gives us the paycheck we want. But it also doesn't mean that just because it doesn't, we should quit trying to pursue our calling in other ways. Other doesn't have to be lesser. Just different.

This blog gives me a place to work out my calling. If I couldn't write and tell my stories and tell your stories, I'd feel like the light inside me was snuffed out. And when I can do those things, I feel like there's a new life force within. It's like a renewing sense of life that only grows, pushing me to do it more and more and more.

My hope is that one day your calling is what you can spend most of your time doing. And until then, I hope you can feel encouraged that you aren't the only one struggling. You're not the only one wondering what the right answer is. You're not the only one afraid you are missing out on something more.

November 2, 2015

I lost a knob.

One of the knobs fell off my dresser. This is the story of how that simple occurrence had a profound effect on my way of thinking.

The irony of it is that the dresser itself cost $15 (purchased from a college student moving out of his apartment). It's mahogany, but I wasted no time slapping a coat of chalk paint on it in English yellow.

The knobs, made of delicate pink glass and bought from Anthropologie, brought the dresser's total cost to over $100. How is it possible that the knobs cost more than the whole darn piece of furniture?

Anyway, one of the knobs fell off about a year ago. The part that is bolted through the drawer is still there, but the glass pull popped out of its housing. All it would take is some strong glue and that thing'd be good as new.

Except it isn't. I've learned to live with the missing knob, working around it in a myriad of different ways. Usually, I leave the drawer ajar slightly so I can reach in and open it without disturbing the knob (which will come off at the slightest touch). Other times, I forget and yank on it only to have it come off in my hand.

The other day, nearly a full year after the knob first came loose, I had an epiphany....why not switch the drawer with the loose knob (the second from the top which happens to house my socks and other unmentionables) with the bottom drawer that I hardly ever open? (It's filled with odd papers, out of season pajamas, and miscellaneous bric-a-brac).

I sat back for a moment overwhelmed by my own level of genius at this brilliant idea.

Then I realized it wouldn't really fix anything. It was yet another work-around for a problem I can't or won't solve.

How often is this a pattern I follow in other areas of life. Do you adhere to this particular flavor of coping? It goes a little something like this: Things don't go quite right, but in the midst of being caught up in it all, you never seem to do the simplest thing that would make life a lot easier.

And then each time you're reminded of the original problem, you beat yourself up for not fixing it. And then the fact that you've let it go this long makes you feel like a huge failure and even less capable of fixing it. Thus the wheel keeps spinning and you ride til you puke.

Avoidance seems easy for awhile. It feeds you a lie that is oh so easy to believe. The problem will go away. Just don't think about it. Do something else for awhile. Take your mind off things, with more things. 

But then, the next thing you know, it's just you in the quiet of the night, alone, except for your thoughts and those 8 or so hours between this moment and the moment the alarm clock will ring. Not a pretty sight.

The other day my husband and I were talking about the apocalypse. One of my favorite quotes of his, which never fails to make me smile is this: "Not all apocalypse scenarios are zombie driven."

It seems like such a crazy thing to happen, some sort of Mad Max, Walking Dead situation. I asked my husband why he thought people were so caught up in the world of zombies and apocalyptic scenarios in the first place. He said it might have something to do with starting over. Like, even if things were awful, it was sort of a clean more bank records, no more debt, no more paper trail following you around.

How sad it made me feel that the prospect of that seemed appealing but for just one second. Like a huge do-over, with no more anything that tied you to what was before.

But then I quickly realized how awful that would be. I want to be tied to what was before. Even mistakes I've made and things I wish were different. If it takes me ten years to fix that knob, on the very first day of the eleventh year, I can still hope for possibility of fixing it. I can still hope that things will turn around and be better.

If you're still here, there's still hope for you.

November 1, 2015

#BlogLikeCrazy - November 2015

The first time I met Javacia Harris Bowser was several years ago, at a blogging conference for the now defunct Skirt! Magazine. We were both blogging for the publication at the time and had made the short trek to Atlanta for the event.

We ended up being seated at the same table and I'll always believe it was meant to be because this lady is a force to be reckoned with and in incredibly positive influence in my life. The founder of the popular website "See Jane Write," Javacia is an incredible writer and encourager of women in her community (and around the world). She is a mover and shaker who I'm proud to call a friend.

We've stayed in touch over the years and she even featured me on her blog a few years ago. I recently joined the social media platform Periscope, not really knowing what to do with it but wanting to experience this cool, new thing I've been hearing about. It prompted me to follow some of the folks I'm connected with on Twitter and Javacia happened to be one of them.

Tonight, I was vegging out with a pile of magazines, trying to get ready for the coming week and heard this funny little chime on my phone alerting me that someone I followed on Periscope was online. Lo and behold, it was Javacia, sharing the #BlogLikeCrazy project. (*Sidenote: If you haven't checked out Periscope, you might want to. I haven't scoped yet, but you can find me thru my twitter @sthrnbellesimpl)
Image via See Jane Write
The #BlogLikeCrazy challenge involves thirty days of blogging for the month of November (similar to the National Novel Writing Month #NaNoWriMo). It feels like just what I need to get myself back into the swing of things around here.

At the Skirt! conference (where I met Javacia), I'll never forget hearing from one of the speakers about how as a writer, you have to be able to picture your audience as if they are anxiously waiting just on the other side of a door to hear what you have to say. At that point, I had only been blogging for a year or so and it was hard to imagine any sort of audience reading at all, let alone some mob of people who cared to hear from me. 

But then the speaker asked if any of us believed this could be true. Some force that seemed to be outside me caused my hand to shoot up and I yelled "I do!" It was very surreal, but at that moment I did see it. Not like I saw myself rich and famous or anything. But I could picture people who might enjoy hearing what I had to say.

From there, a lot has happened. I quit one job and got fired from another one. I started my own business and went to work for lots of different companies. I got married and bought a house. But all along the way, Southern Belle Simple has remained. Many popular bloggers I've followed (some for years!) have closed up shop. At times, I have nearly considered it myself. My writing frequency has waned and sputtered. I have cried to my husband about it, attended other conferences to get re-invigorated and joined writing groups for support. Somehow this #BlogLikeCrazy thing feels different. Knowing Javacia is at the helm gives me courage to do it.

So stay tuned for what November will bring.