December 28, 2016

Fun & Simple New Year's Traditions

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year's Eve. It's one of those festive holidays that feels like it should be celebrated while dressed to the nines, at some swanky party with other glam looking revelers. But then I also secretly want to be at home in my pajamas, eating comfort food and watching favorite movies til the stroke of midnight.

No matter how you're celebrating New Year's this year, I've got some fun and simple ideas and traditions that you might want to incorporate into your festivities. Be advised that most of the New Year's traditions involve good old fashioned superstition. It's all in good fun of course, but I don't know if I really believe any of it. Still, there's something comforting about traditions you enjoy again and again.

Put Together the Perfect Charcuterie Tray

Charcuterie has to do with prepared meats like salami, sausages, and pate. A charcuterie board or tray is a great option for a New Year's party because it can include a little bit of everything and something for everyone. Whatever your favorite tastes and flavors may be, your charcuterie board can incorporate whatever you like. Some offerings you might want to include are: 

  • Deli meats (prosciutto, ham, salami, corned beef, etc) 
  • Assorted cheeses (hard and soft)
  • Dried fruit (figs, apricots, pineapple, raisins, and plums) 
  • Nuts (Marcona almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts) 
  • Honey
  • Crostini or crackers 
  • Pickles (sweet and dill) 
  • Olives (green, black, kalamata, etc) 

Arrange your charcuterie platter in a way that is pleasing to the eye, and your guests will love it. Start with a cutting board or large tray. Anchor it with a few bunches of grapes and some wedges of cheese. Then add your meats. Layer in different dried fruit, nuts and pickles. Use fresh rosemary for a garnish. Throughout the night, you can replenish your offerings as they run low, but guests are sure to love all the delicious options that a charcuterie tray can provide. 

Eat Black Eyed Peas & Greens for Luck 

Eating Black Eyed Peas is one of my favorite New Year's traditions. If you want an easy recipe that incorporates both, check out my Tennessee Caviar (adapted from this). 

Stir together 2 cans of black eyed peas (drained), one can Ro-Tel, and one can yellow corn (drained). Add 2 cups of zesty Italian salad dressing and stir well. Refrigerate for at least one hour, up to overnight. You can also add shredded kale or spinach as a garnish. 

Beans and greens eaten on New Year's are said to bring good fortune because they resemble money (coins and dollars). Who couldn't use a little more of the green stuff? Eat up! 

Eat Round, Sweet Foods in Honor of Life's Continuous Circle

From donuts to cookies, or cakes, many cultures enjoy sweet round foods as part of their New Year's celebrations. It may be because they represent the circle of life, the way things flow from the end of one year to the beginning of another. 

Cream puffs or profiteroles are a great option for a New Year's party. You could even set up a cream puff station and let guests add their own toppings. Offer things like chocolate and caramel dipping sauces, whipped cream, and sprinkles for a fun DIY dessert bar. 

Eat 12 Grapes at the Stroke of Midnight for Good Fortune in the New Year

New Year's traditions in Spain include eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight. Supposedly this began after a grape surplus in the early 20th century. The idea is to eat all 12 grapes while the clock is striking midnight. Each is supposed to represent the months of the coming year. 

To make your New Year's grapes feel a bit more special, try sugaring them. Rinse grapes and then dust them lightly with caster sugar or powdered Jell-O for a bit more flavor. As they dry, the sugar will crystallize and create a lovely treat. 

Whatever you do eat, don't eat lobster on New Year's...since they move backwards, it's said that eating this can cause you to have regrets in the New Year. And we don't need any of that! 

December 22, 2016

Stretch Your Pennies: Holiday Saving Tips

How do you determine your holiday shopping budget? If you're anything like me this year, you might have found yourself scrambling at the last minute and end up spending more than you intended for rush shipping, settling for less than personal generic gift selections, etc. 

Maybe you're one of those people who shops all through the year and right about now, you are sitting back drinking egg nog while the poor procrastinators like me are running around like mad. Don't rub it in. 

The bottom line is that we want the holidays to feel special. And while the love we feel for those we hold dear can't be summed up in a package or gift bag, it still feels awfully great to see their faces light up when they unwrap something they were hoping for. 

No matter what your shopping habits or style, it's never a bad time to think about your budget. 

Are you familiar with the 50/20/30 rule? Not only is this a handy way to keep your holiday shopping in check, but it's also helpful to remember all year long as you are managing your money. 

I've never been so great at budgets. I've always been more the type of person who tried to save some, but didn't really track my spending. The times I have really paid close attention, it was crazy to see where my moolah went. 

My husband and I have been making a more conscious effort to cook meals at home as opposed to grabbing lunch or dinner out. This has made a huge difference in our health as well as our pocketbook. We love to treat ourselves to a special dinner at our favorite restaurants, but we're trying to meal plan and bargain shop for the most part. 

I'm always reminded of that Bible verse in Luke that says "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much..." There have been times when I've had little as well as times when I had a little more. But I want to be a good steward of my resources, from my talents to my funds. 

Last night, after dinner with my best friend (her treat!), our server followed us outside the restaurant with nearly tears in his eyes and said to my friend "God bless you. Thank you so much." She had given him a considerable tip as part of an idea she and her 9 year old are trying called "Secret Heart Santa." They are being generous this holiday season, as their hearts lead them to be, and trying to do it in a secret way. This also included paying for another family's Christmas tree. 

Of course she wouldn't want me bragging on her, but this warmed my heart so much and reminded me of exactly why I want to be a good steward of my resources. So that when my heart leads me, I can give generously without hesitation.

Thanks to Personal Capital, a personal finance software company, for the infographic and inspiration for this post.  I was not compensated for this post and all thoughts and opinions are my own

December 7, 2016

Simple Christmas Decorations for Less than $5

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I just can't believe December is here again...and with it, Christmas. But instead of getting caught up in the hustle and bustle that certain elements of this season can bring, I'm choosing to focus less on the stress and more on the things that matter.

East Tennessee was hit hard by the wildfires that tore through our region recently. Lives were lost, homes and businesses destroyed. And that on the heels of so many other struggles and challenges that our communities are facing. Sometimes, things like Christmas decorations seem trivial or silly.

But I was reminded recently of the greatest mission that any of us is charged with: to be a source of encouragement to each other. That's what I set out to do when I started this blog.

It's not about being perfect, or even presenting the illusion of perfection. It's not about buying all the things, just for the sake of having all the things. It's about simple ways to bring a little bit of loveliness to your world.

And today, we're doing it with Christmas decorations that cost less than $5 each. This is a round up of some of my favorite ideas, as inspired by other bloggers. Because you know, sometimes all it takes is a little inspiration.

First, I've got a simple holiday garland made with items from the health and beauty aisle. Cotton balls and dental floss, to be exact. I threaded a large needle with floss, and strung up some cotton balls. I doubled the floss through each one to hold it in place an equal distance from the next cotton ball.

This great blog was my inspiration. Check out the pretty vignette blogger Kathy created with strings of cotton ball garland hanging from the ceiling. So much whimsy!

Next, turn a plain old white candle from the Dollar store into a cheerful snowman.

All you need is a white candle in a glass jar, a bit of scrap ribbon or fabric (for his scarf) and Sharpie markers. I happened to have an orange one on hand, but you could use whatever color you want for your snowman/snowperson.

A great gift idea for a teacher, neighbor or Secret Santa.

Speaking of great gift ideas, here's another one that also doubles as a cute decoration. Turn any clear glass jar into a Santa-themed candy dispenser. For this one, you'll need some black ribbon and a bit of gold or yellow paper. And red candy! I used cinnamon red hots but you may have a different favorite.

Click here for full tutorial.

All of these ideas are pretty simple, but sometimes the simple things are exactly what we need. Life can be complicated enough on its own. Why make matters worse?

And you don't have to be a blogger or think of yourself as a "crafty" person to enjoy these types of projects. Just jump in. Give yourself permission to try. Tap into some creativity you didn't know you had. It's good for the soul. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas season!

December 2, 2016

Dollywood Foundation Announces Details for MY PEOPLE Fund

Fund already has raised more than $1 million; Need is much greater

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (Friday, Dec. 2, 2016)— Dolly Parton announced Wednesday evening the creation of the Dollywood Foundation My People Fund, established by Parton, The Dollywood Company, Parton’s dinner theaters and The Dollywood Foundation, to provide $1000 each month to Sevier County families whose homes are uninhabitable or were completely destroyed in the recent Smoky Mountain wildfires. In less than 36 hours, the fund already has raised more than $1 million, but the need is much greater.

Any family who lost their primary residence (renters and homeowners) due to the wildfires in Sevier County will be eligible. A pre-application for those affected will be available at beginning today at 4 p.m. Completion of the pre-application is not required but is encouraged to expedite the distribution process.

The first funds will be distributed Dec. 15-16 and Dec. 19-20 from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. at the CARE MORE Assistance Center at the LeConte Events Center in Pigeon Forge. One check per household per month will be issued. All recipients must show a photo I.D. Families can receive aid for up to six months. Anyone needing assistance in the application process should call 1-800-DOLLYWOOD.

“We are proud to assist Dolly in the creation of the My People Fund,” said Craig Ross, President of The Dollywood Company.  “We hope this serves as the first step to rebuilding for the families of the Sevier County community. We send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to everyone affected.” 

Jim Rule, CEO of World Choice Investments, LLC said, “It is our hope that the My People Fund will make a difference to those families looking for a way to move forward during this difficult time. The Dixie Stampede and Lumberjack Adventure families are honored to help Dolly provide this special support.” 

“We are working to gain a better idea of the number of families affected by the tragedy,” said David Dotson, President of the Dollywood Foundation. “The My People Fund has already secured more than $1 million and climbing. But we know that substantially more donations will be required to meet the need.” 

Significant donors to the fund include Verizon, Tanger Outlets, Miley Cyrus’ Happy Hippie Foundation, CoreCivic and The Blalock Company.

Cumulus Knoxville and The Vol Network will hold a radio-thon for the My People Fund on Monday, Dec. 5 from 6 a.m. – midnight.

Anyone who would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the My People Fund may visit For those wishing to send donations via mail, those contributions should be sent to: My People Fund, c/o Dollywood Foundation, 111 Dollywood Lane, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863.

Please help the Dollywood Foundation share the word about this effort by using the hashtags #MyPeopleFund and #someplacespecial. 

November 16, 2016

Simple Tips for Hosting a Harry Potter-Themed Fantastic Feast

If you're a Harry Potter fan, I'm sure you're planning to see the new spin-off film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I can't wait to see it myself! In the meantime, let's get into a magical mood with some simple ideas for hosting your own Harry Potter-themed Fantastic Feast! 

Since the new Fantastic Beasts film is set in the 1920s, let's stick with the time period and throw a roaring 20's party, with a speakeasy theme. 

For the costumes, think Great Gatsby, prohibition era, 1920's style clothing. Flapper costumes, lots of black and gold, sequins and pearls. Or you could always just throw on a wizard's robe and call it good. 

Now for the eats...there are so many fun ideas you can try for a Harry Potter theme party. 

Professor Sprout's Veggie Garden Treats 

For a healthy option, how about this great treat that features fresh veggies! All you need are some small plastic cups, fresh veggies cut lengthwise, and some type of dip. Hummus is a great choice, or your favorite salad dressing. 

source unknown

Goblin Gold Cupcakes 

For some sweet treat options, why not dress up plain Jane vanilla frosted cupcakes with a little Goblin gold? These great chocolate coins are widely available in holiday displays right now. Add them to your favorite bakery cupcakes and voila! And if you want to make your own cupcakes from scratch, try this recipe. 

HoneyDukes Candy Floss Cupcakes

I stumbled upon these gorgeous creations from the baking blog Bakingdom and tried to make my own (more simplified) version. Honeydukes is the candy shop in the village of Hogsmeade and there's also one at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. One staple of the shop is candy floss (aka cotton candy) and I thought this would be a great cupcake topper. 

The version shown features a pom pom topper, but either that or real cotton candy will work depending on what you can find. So cute! 

Scamander Strawberry Cordial 

During the Prohibition era (1920-1933), when Newt Scamander was having his adventures in New York, the only place to get a spirited drink was a speakeasy. Another name for a speakeasy was a blind pig, which is consequently the name of the one in the film.

These not-so-secret establishments were popular as the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcoholic drinks was illegal in the United States at that time. 

Here's a recipe for a Prohibition era drink recipe, that you can make with or without alcohol. 

More Harry Potter Wizard-esque Fun for a Fantastic Beasts Party! 

  • Drag out your Halloween decorations or scour the shelves of your local discount store for clearance price Halloween merchandise. I found some great skull decorations in a clearance bin at my local grocery store
  • Make your own broom
  • Incorporate creepy crawly bugs and other gross things (I painted some Dollar Store plastic insects gold and dusted them with green glitter for a more glam look)
  • DIY a Golden Snitch from a giant Ferrero Rocher and glittery accessories from the floral department of Hobby Lobby! 

Whatever you do to get in the mood for the new Fantastic Beasts film, I hope it's wizardly wonderful! Happy wizarding friends! 

November 2, 2016

Simple Ways to Jazz up a Boring Sandwich

November 3rd is National Sandwich Day, and there's no better way to celebrate the occasion than by enjoying the delicacy that inspired it. Thanks to the Earl of Sandwich, we're all a little better off. 

Would you believe that Americans eat around 200 sandwiches each year? From ham and cheese, to salami on rye, tuna melts and good old peanut butter and jelly, there's no shortage of sandwich combinations to enjoy. 

But don't just eat any old boring sandwich! Try some of these fun and simple ways to jazz up your ordinary lunch. 

Pour on the Sauce

Plain mayo and mustard are a fine starting point, but why not incorporate some other fun flavors? Stir together some store-bought pesto and a little mayo for a rich spread that's great on all sorts of sandwiches. Here are a few other tasty flavor combinations to try on your next sandwich. 

Wasabi + Mayo

Balsamic vinegar + Mustard

Gunshot Sauce + Mayo

Tobasco + Ketchup 

Lemon Juice & Sea Salt + Mayo

Curry + Ketchup

Rosemary + Mustard 

Sour Cream or Cream Cheese + Cilantro 

Relish the Relish

Love tart and tangy flavors? Pickles, olive and relish are a great option for you! Hot and spicy jalapenos can give a kick to plain old tuna salad. Or whip up a batch of homemade olive tapenade for your next boring ham and cheese. Even the humble grilled cheese gets new life with the addition of relish, sun dried tomatoes or olives. 

Spread the Spread

I'm not talking about condiments here...but extra things you can spread thickly on a sandwich to make it even heartier for those cold winter days. Tasty options like hummus (a favorite of mine) or pimento cheese, which can really add some oomph to a boring sandwich. 

Next Level Peanut Butter & Jelly 

I love a good PB&J as much as the next person, but sometimes even this beloved standby needs a little something extra. How about bacon? Trader Joe's has a bacon jam that has gotten rave reviews. Plus, they just got in a new product - Roasted onion and garlic jam. How about that for a memorable sandwich experience? 

Other ideas to give PB&J a boost? 
  • Toast the bread first, or make the sandwich and put it in a Panini press
  • Instead of bread, use toaster waffles to change things up 
  • Try almond, sesame or cashew butter with a tart jam like orange marmalade 

Dress it Up

You may have heard the saying that "we eat first with our eyes" and I believe it's true. Something that is presented in a creative or thoughtful way will always be more enticing than something just tossed onto a plate. 

 Try parchment paper and twine (see first image above) to give your sandwiches a little something special. I picked up some cute plastic napkin holders that would also be great sandwich servers, a bit reminiscent of the British tradition of serving toast. 

I hope your next sandwich is delicious! Happy National Sandwich Day! 


October 27, 2016

What About Me?

This morning I went to my kitchen and was horrified at what I saw. Two baking pans, covered with the crusty, dried remains of last night's dinner. And in the sink, several forks and spoons, with bits and pieces of food particles slowing drying on them. A knife coated in peanut butter, the horror! The dishwasher, only inches away, was partially filled with dirty dishes, but had plenty of room to hold these items...should someone have felt the need to load them in. 

My husband, who had only been in the kitchen moments before, failed to tidy up anything. In fact, it probably didn't register with him that it needed tidying. We're different that way, in the things we notice. 

So I naturally did what any normal person would do. I started cleaning up, banging the dishes around loudly in the sink, hoping he'd at least hear me and feel guilty because I was having to do it. 

Are we a mess or what? When I say "we" I'm not even referring to my husband and me, although our house sometimes teeters between a state of slightly messy and "what just exploded in here." 

When I say we're a mess, I mean we as humans. As I was washing the peanut butter off a knife I had not used, feeling deeply wounded at the unfairness of it all, I had to laugh at myself. So ridiculous. 

What's the big deal about doing something kind or helpful for somebody else? In this case, how did tidying up my husband's dishes become such a monumental issue that I would actually be offended to get stuck with the task? 

It all comes down to this: What about me? 

I'm so quick to see only myself, my own wants and needs, my own sense of what should be. I would think nothing of having my husband clean up after me. Or perform some other task that might make my life easier, less hectic, more fun. Because it's all about me, right? Not! But sometimes it feels like that. 

Like there isn't going to be enough for me. Enough what exactly? Enough time, enough energy, enough recognition, enough acceptance, the list goes on. 

We're so wrapped up in our own little worlds, players in our own dramas and comedies. We build our sets, painstakingly curating our homes and other surroundings with all manner of things we think bring us joy. We toil and trouble ourselves to get everything just perfect. And we carefully cast each show with supporting characters who will bring just the right dramatic overtones and comedic timing. But be not mistaken about one important thing: we are the star. And it all must revolve around us, a perfect backdrop against which we can shine. 

It kind of sounds pathetic when you think about it like that. 

This idea of dying to ourselves is a big part of Christianity. One of my very favorite Bible verses is from Galatians...for I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. 

Even if you don't profess a Christian faith, or any faith at all, the idea of selfishness is pretty much universally seen as rotten and not any way we should be. 

I don't think we ever set out to be selfish. But somewhere along the way, our experiences and the messages we receive make us feel like we aren't getting our fair shake. Like everybody else is having it better than us. And this is infuriating because aren't we're entitled to our piece of the pie? So we focus on ourselves and don't even realize we're doing it. Until we're banging dishes around trying to shame our spouse for the fact that the kitchen needed tidying up. 

And the most ironic part of all is that I wouldn't have had this moment of clarity had I not been standing in front of the sink, quietly contemplating things, giving my soul a moment to breathe and reflect, all the while washing dishes in the first place. 

Nobody is perfect. I have done bad things in my life. I've hurt people. And I've been selfish. And I've missed out on things that could have really blessed my heart because I was too busy worrying about getting my fair shake. I don't believe this is something we ever get free from as long as we are living on earth. It's a daily struggle to remember what's important, and to let go of the rest. 

It's something I'm working on. That doesn't mean I don't have my moments of "What about me?" But I have found the cure for this to be doing something for somebody else. Not an act of obligation, but giving purely and freely out of the abundance of the heart. In that place, there's no room for selfish anything. 

October 19, 2016

Fun & Simple Last Minute Halloween Ideas!

Halloween is such a fun holiday, no matter how old you are. We've already made our annual visit to the local pumpkin patch, and our pumpkins have been sitting on the front porch waiting for some spooky designs. 

October means fall, and all the things we love most about the season, from cooler temperatures to leaves crunching under your feet, football watching on Saturday afternoons and pumpkin spice everything! Want to add some spooky style to your home for Halloween? 

Here are a few easy ideas that the whole family is sure to enjoy! 

1) Ping Pong Ball Halloween Lights

When I first saw this idea of creating a string of ghosts using cheesecloth, ping pong balls and a strand of white lights (via Unoriginal Mom), I knew I wanted to try it. 

Then I stumbled upon a bag of ping pong balls already painted to look like eyeballs and thought this variation might be even easier, and still lots of fun! 

All you have to do to make this is slit an X into the back of each ping pong ball. Push the end of a pencil through the opening to loosen it and insert each light from the strand into each eye ball. 

Light it up for some spooky fun! 

2) Easy Pumpkin Decorations without Carving

Carving pumpkins is fun, but so messy. And I don't know about you, but I want my fall decorations to last as long as possible. I usually transition them into Thanksgiving, and sometimes even revamp them with a Christmas theme. So carving is not my first choice for decorating Halloween pumpkins. 

Thankfully, there are so many fun things you can do to pumpkins without carving them! 

I found a package of cute Halloween cut-outs made of felt with adhesive on the back. These could be easily applied to a bigger pumpkin for a fun spooky scene. You could also make your own designs by cutting shapes from sheets of felt and holding it in place with glue-dots. Then there's also the option of using sheets of sticky-backed foam...which come in different colors of glitter for a sparkly effect. 

Not only are these options easy to apply, but they are also easy to remove, so this project is a great way to decorate your pumpkins for the Halloween season and then make them easy to re-use as part of a Thanksgiving display. 

Or, sticking with my eyeball theme, grab a package of googly eyes from a craft store. Create a one-eyed monster pumpkin, or a seven-eyed monster pumpkin. Let your creativity run wild. 

[image & inspiration via Find it. Make it. Love it.

3) Halloween Treat Cookie Monsters 

Who can resist a loveable, colorful monster? From Cookie Monster of Sesame Street to those adorable characters in the film Monsters, Inc., there's just something about that fur, those googly eyes that tugs at my heartstrings. 

I tried to capture a little bit of that monster madness with these simple Halloween monster cookies. All you need to create these is a dozen chocolate chip cookies (store-bought or homemade, you decide!). Next, top them with vanilla frosting, tinted in various monsterriffic colors. Here's a tried-and-true recipe from my blogger pal Heather at Sprinkle Bakes. Finally, add candy eyes, the more the merrier. 

Easy. Silly. Delicious! 

I hope you are inspired by some of these ideas to add a little Halloween haunted fun to your home this month. Happy Halloween y'all! 

October 7, 2016

Funerals in My South

This week I attended a funeral. Like the wanna-be cultural anthropologist that I have always been, I couldn’t help but wonder what future generations would think of us if they were able to witness our most intimate and personal moments of grief. You can learn so much about a people by their traditions, especially the ones they practice at the end of a life.

The south is a wide and varied place. My experiences of it may be completely different from yours, yet we are both correct when we consider the region our own. Funerals are a big deal in the south. Not just by the way you celebrate the life of the person who has passed, but also in how you circle up to surround the living who are left behind.

In my south, funerals are visitations at the funeral home, complete with bowls of mints and boxes of Kroger brand facial tissues on every surface. Hunter green wall-to-wall carpet, and brass fixtures. It’s people who stop by the funeral home after they get off work, for visitation. Some go home and change clothes, but others still come just as they are, in their work shirts, with their name on the chest. They arrive and sign the guest book, while waiting to pay their respects to the grieving sons and daughters, spouses (if any), grandchildren and whoever else is left.
It’s little old ladies, nosy and wanting a peek at the body “to see if he looked ‘real good’” or not, disappointed when it’s a closed casket. It’s neighbors who are not at all neighborly, who come out of the woodwork to see if they can get first dibs on the old home place, when it inevitably goes up for sale.
It’s photo slideshows, looking back to happier times, images of childhood, glory days in the service, milestones, celebrations, and snapshots taken for no reason at all. It’s people who knew you when you were just a little thing, who haven’t seen you in a coon’s age, who wouldn’t have known you from Adam, except wasn’t your grandpa that Whittaker man who used to preach over at Scott Street? And you’re Glen’s girl? Oh right, his granddaughter.
It’s I sure am glad I ran into you, but I hate that it was under these circumstances. It’s people you never see except at weddings and funerals.
And funerals themselves are held at little country churches, that don’t come up on Google when you’re trying to get directions. Churches with double glass front doors that open right into the sanctuary, where there’s light brown paneling half-way up the walls, and pinkish-purple carpet. And an old fashioned water fountain, a rectangle of smudged chrome, with a shiny faucet and a hard metal button that hurts your finger to press. The stream of water barely comes up an inch, and you have to smoosh your mouth down onto it because you’re thirsty and you don’t want to have a dry throat when it comes time to read your poem to the congregation.
Funerals in my south are Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine. And song leaders who tell you to turn to number 181 in the little red Heavenly Highway book, and all stand while we sing It is Well with My Soul.
And while you sit up in the sanctuary, crying not just for the one whose life is being memorialized, but also for the others you loved who are no longer with you, you take comfort knowing that the ladies of the church are downstairs in the basement, setting out assorted Corningware and Pyrex dishes, including three different kinds of macaroni and cheese, and four kinds of potatoes. Lunch, which will be waiting for you when the burial service at the adjacent graveyard has concluded. Complete with Taps and a 21 gun salute.
It’s hugging people’s necks that you don’t know, just because they are there and it seems like the right thing to do. It’s listening to stories you’ve heard before, and feeling comforted by the familiar.
For some, it’s just too much to stay and be comforted. And the very best they can do is get through the funeral service, and slip out quietly.
And sometimes it’s let’s all go back to Granny’s house, for old time sakes. And you go, and visit with cousins you never see, and reminisce about better times. Not knowing that in just a few short weeks they will move mountains to change the will, gripped in the grasp of greed and “it’s what Pa would have wanted.”
Funerals aren’t really for the dead. They’re for the living. The ones left behind. The ones left asking all the questions, often with none of the answers they want or need.
If a cultural anthropologist from the future came back and witnessed our funeral traditions, I wonder what they’d think. I wonder how much these traditions will change and evolve over time.
I hope they always have the macaroni and cheese.

September 24, 2016

When Your Momma Hustles

I haven't been blogging much lately. It makes me sad when I log into the back-end of Southern Belle Simple and see that I've only posted a couple of times in any given month. Apparently some of you are still out there, but I can see why others might have moved along to more exciting online spaces, with fresh new content that is updated daily.

I think back to the good ol' days when I was posting to the blog religiously, at least five times a week. It's not that I don't feel I have anything to say anymore or that I'm thinking of shutting down the blog. Heavens no. Actually, there's so much more I want to say. So just what is my problem?

I blame the fact that my momma hustles. Stay with me now.

One time, years ago, I was having a conversation with my grandpa about work and life, and other things. My mom's name came up and my grandpa said these words: "Now, your momma, she hustles."

What he meant was that my mom is a hard worker who is always looking for opportunities to work a little bit more and bring home a little bit more bacon.

The dictionary defines hustle as to obtain by forceful action or persuasion. Anyone who knows my mom would agree that her special brand of persuasion is unique, but quite effective. Basically, she gets s#!t done. I mean that in the best possible way.

As long as I can remember my mom has worked. She's worked more than one job sometimes to ensure that our family had what we needed and then some. And of course my dad worked too, but with my mom it was different. She was always looking for ways to bring in a little bit more money for our family.

She learned it from her dad (the grandpa who so aptly described her in this way). He's hustles too. His first job at 16 turned into a career that he kept at for nearly 50 years. But all along the way he was always looking for ways to work a little bit more and bring home a little bit more bacon. And he got it from his parents who were the same way.

It's definitely not a greed thing. I believe my family has a hardworking mentality and I think they get a sense of accomplishment from doing a job well-done. Plus, it never hurts to have a few extra dollars in your pocket.

Now that my grandpa is retired, he gets to do more of what he enjoys but he still works at certain things and is always wheeling and dealing. And my mom will probably be one of those people who never actually retires, but just sort of transitions from one kind of work to the next.

That brings us to me. Being self-employed means hustling is the name of the game. In some ways this is really great because the sky's the limit. In other ways, it's not so great because it means there's always something else to do, some other person to call, some other email or bit of marketing content to write. But I love what I do. And I feel grateful for the chance to do it.

I've just been hustling so much to build my work-life, my creative-life has been a little on hold. This blog is the result of that creative life. I started it in 2009 when I was working at a job where I felt little to no creativity and was dried up inside. I needed to express something, anything and this blog is how it came out.

Over the past seven years, so many incredible things have resulted from it. It's the thing that's really and truly me. And when I don't do anything with it for weeks at a time, I start feeling sort of funny and sad.

I'm so glad I come from and was raised by people who are hardworking. I'm so glad I had the example of a mom who was always willing to take on a little bit more to make sure her family had a good life.

But there has to be a balance.

The creative stuff matters.

As my mom has told me more than once, "You gotta do the stuff that feeds your soul." I'm not sure what that looks like for you, but for me a big part of it lies in this blog. I hope that whatever it is that you enjoy, that thing that taps into your creative and beautiful soul, that thing that causes you to come alive....I hope you can carve out some time for that thing.

We all gotta hustle to some extent, but who says we can't obtain by forceful persuasion the things that make us feel like our real true selves.

September 21, 2016

Happy First Day of Fall Y'all - Simple Treats & Easy Decorations to Welcome the Season

Even though you wouldn't believe it by the temperatures in Tennessee right now, fall is finally here! Fall is definitely the favorite time of year of so many people (including me!). 

In honor of the first day of fall, I'm sharing a few simple treats and easy decorations to welcome the season.

First, a fall simmer pot to add some of the scents of the season to your home! 

1) Easy Fall Simmer Pot Recipe 

When I was growing up, my mom used to always have a simmer pot on the stove with leftover orange peels, cinnamon and cloves. It always smelled so wonderful! 

There's no shortage of scented products available to buy in stores. And some of them even smell good. But with all the chemicals and artificial ingredients, they may not be good for our health. 

That's why a DIY simmer pot can be a great natural alternative. 

Here's what you need: 

  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Apple slices
  • Orange slices
  • Cloves
  • Water

Fill a saucepan with water over high heat until it boils. Add the ingredients above and stir. Boil for a few minutes and then turn the heat down so the pot will simmer. There's no need for a lid because this will let all the great smells escape. 

Keep an eye on your simmer pot and add water as needed. Inhale deeply and enjoy!

2) DIY Apple Candle Holders

I've seen this idea all over the Internet, and it just looked so easy and cute, I had to try it. Apples are available in abundance right now. I got mine at Trader Joe's, only $3.99 for a big bag. 

To do this project, you'll need apples & tealight candles. I opted for the battery operated ones because they are safer with pets (and people!). 

Trace around the shape of your tealight on the top of the apple. Then, carefully cut out the circle shape with a paring knife (or X-acto knife).

Finally, using a melon baller, scoop out the apple flesh inside the circle, making a hole that is large enough for the candle to fit inside. 

Pop it in, and voila! What a cute and EASY project for fall.

3) Apple Nachos - A Simple & Delicious Recipe for Fall

via Haute & Healthy Living

There are tons of ideas for this simple and tasty fall party snack around the web. I found a healthier option at the great blog Haute & Healthy Living that uses almond butter, maple syrup and vanilla extract to make a caramel-like topping.

But the beauty of this type of recipe is that you can get creative and make it however you prefer!

All you need are some apples (sliced thin and soaked in lemon juice to keep them from turning brown) and whatever toppings you want to enjoy with them.

Possible toppings might include:

  • Caramel sauce
  • Chocolate sauce (or chocolate chips)
  • Peanut butter chips
  • Coconut
  • Raisins
  • Candy pieces
  • Marshmallows
  • Pretzels
Delicious and oh so simple to make! I hope you'll take some time this fall to really enjoy the season. Fall always seems to arrive with so much gusto, but then before we know it Thanksgiving and Christmas are upon us. 

Want to really make the most of fall? Here are a few things on my fall bucket list. I hope you are inspired to make some special memories with your family this season! 

Visit my Fall Pinterest board to see more great fall recipes, projects and ideas!

September 19, 2016

My Lottery Ticket Life

Sometimes the Internet is a terrible place. A place that leaves me feeling like my life is not nearly as glamorous or exciting as I'd like it to be. A place that only serves to illuminate for the rest of the world everything I already believed was wrong with me, and how I'm not doing as well as so-and-so or having as much fun/success/whatever as someone else.

But using the Internet is a necessary evil for work and daily life so I press on, all the while attempting to maintain a healthy perspective and constantly trying to remember that we all struggle, and nobody's life is perfect. 

We're just bombarded with so many messages that have potential to leave us feeling less than. It's like a perfect storm sometimes.

But other times the Internet is wonderful. Serving as a way to connect us, acting as a vehicle to bring us stories and information we would have never otherwise encountered. 

Yesterday, I came across an interview on NPR with John Krasinski, the actor who played one of my all time favorite TV characters, Jim Halpert. In the interview he used the phrase "lottery ticket life" when referring to the level of success he has achieved. I guess he feels like he doesn't deserve it....that it was some sort of fluke, like winning the lottery. 

That phrase "lottery ticket life" really stuck with me and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. 

Something else I read yesterday was an article by Maria Shriver, in which she talked about how she's giving up complaining about the so-called mistakes her parents made during her childhood. She even referenced Alison Piepmeier and her poignant piece about being grateful for the beautiful life she was able to live.

Alison passed away recently, and while I didn't really know her, we were from the same place and that counts for something. 

So what's the point of all this rambling?

Not too long ago my husband and I had a fight. Everyone argues of course, but this one was a doozy. Let's just say it ended with one of us slamming the door in the other one's face and the other giving the door slammer a gesture involving a certain finger. Please know this is not how we typically behave. And would you believe it was just a little can of LaCroix fizzy water that started it all? Pamplemousse if you were wondering. But these things happen. And I think we're doing the world a disservice by pretending they don't.

Marriage is hard. Relationships are hard. Communicating is hard. It doesn't mean we give up, but sometimes in the midst of the struggle, it doesn't look so pretty. 

Later that day after our fight, when the situation had blown over, we met back up to find that each of us had decided to surprise the other with a treat of a cool drink - the gift of the Chik-fil-a iced tea magi if you will. 

All is now forgiven, and we've moved on from it, but it's important to me to remember it. Even in the middle of these silly blow-ups, or whatever other petty things might present themselves, I still believe I, too, have a lottery ticket life.

It has nothing to do with being happy all the time, but everything to do with being grateful. Heck, even actual lottery winners aren't any happier (according to this article).

I might not be the star of a TV show, or a Kennedy. But I have so much to be thankful for. The anniversary of September 11th always manages to put that into perspective too. I feel almost guilty for this because it comes up every year and leaves me feeling such a great deal of clarity...for awhile. But chances are, once that tender rawness has passed, we all just go right back to our weird little ways of coping, often losing our cool over dumb stuff, making mountains out of molehills, and just having an unhealthy lack of perspective.

All the decisions we make add up the person we are. Every little tiny thing we do over the course of a day adds up to who we are becoming. Every little choice we make. Every reaction we have to every situation in which we find ourselves.

This occurred to me this morning when I walked out the front door of my house and promptly sloshed a big cup of coffee down the front of my shirt. I have to be honest, my first reaction was to get mad. I looked down at my beautiful peach shirt and saw the ugly brown stain. But my very next thought was this: Don't be the kind of person who gets mad over something as silly as a spilled cup of coffee.

Because if I allow myself to be that kind of person, it's like giving that mouse a cookie. It will open a floodgate of other ways I will allow myself to waste precious energy being upset for no reason. Where will it end?

I don't want to be the kind of person who gets mad over things that don't matter. A student at a local university recently felt so hopeless that he jumped off a pedestrian bridge on campus, taking his own life. THIS is something to get upset about it. That a soul would feel so lost, so hopeless. There's no shortage of stories that break my heart all to pieces.

All you have to do is turn on the news for one minute to see some horrific story about people struggling, suffering, and really hurting. But I don't want to have to always be comparing my life to others to see the good in it. I want it to be able to stand alone as something to be thankful for. No comparisons.

I may as well have won the lottery.