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.