January 25, 2017

Simple & Delicious Drinks to Help Beat the Winter Blues

Winter can be downright depressing what with the dreary short days and cold weather. The holidays are over, which is something of a let-down and spring feels so far away. 

Even though Knoxville has been experiencing a relatively mild winter these past few weeks, cold weather is supposedly coming. 

I've ramped up my Vitamin D intake and am trying to be kinder to myself and those around me during these harsh times. I'm also trying to drink more water. But water gets boring and sometimes it's fun to enjoy a special drink, especially when winter really gets you down. 

I'm sharing three of my favorite drinks to help you get through the most blustery winter day. Just think, March will be here before we know it! 

Morning - Rise & Shine Breakfast Smoothie

I tried to get on the green drink bandwagon, but many of the recipes I tried weren't really for me. There's something about sipping kale through a straw that I struggle with. 

But I found a great recipe for a breakfast smoothie that incorporates a little bit of green (spinach) with some yummy fruit for a tasty combination. I even added some hemp seeds for extra protein. 

To make it, you'll need: spinach + pineapple + banana + mango

One tip is to use frozen fruit instead of ice and your smoothie will be frosty and delish. 

Afternoon Pick Me Up - Dirty Chai Latte 

I only recently discovered my love of chai, which is the word for tea in many parts of the world. Chai (rhymes with 'pie') is a centuries-old beverage which has played an important role in many cultures.

Chai from India is a spiced milk tea that has become more and more popular in the past few years. It is generally made of:

• rich black tea
• heavy milk
• a combination of various spices
• a sweetener

The spices tend to vary depending on what region of India you happen to be in. The most common are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and pepper. Indian chai produces a warming, soothing effect, and goes a long way on those cold winter days. I first tried it at a local coffee shop in my hometown and now I'm hooked. 

Add in a shot of coffee and it becomes a "dirty chai." 

You can make your own from scratch or take the easy route, as I have with a store-bought chai option from Tazo. 

Evening Nightcap - Honey Bee-tini 

I first tried this amazing drink while staying at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood. The hotel even has its own bees on the roof that produce the honey for the cocktail. 

To create your own bee-tini, mix equal parts vodka, tequila and lemon juice. Add in a teaspoon of honey and garnish with fresh honey comb. 

Great for those winter nights when your throat is feeling scratchy. Plus, it's just spirited enough to help you hang in there til spring! 

The world might feel like a harsh place right now, but let's all hang in there and hope that sunnier days are ahead! 

January 15, 2017

No Mold for our Brokenness

My first "real" job was as the administrative assistant at a good sized real estate company in my home town. I had just graduated from high school and was headed off to college that fall, but needed some work for the summer.

I was replacing a soon-to-be-retired older lady who had held the position of office admin for many years. She had her job down to a science and trained me on all the ins and outs of the real estate world. We hit it off pretty well and became friends.

In the process of getting to know each other, I learned she was a ceramics artist. In her possession were hundreds of ceramic molds, used for casting all sorts of various ceramic creatures, vases, and other objects. Having just moved to a new house, she needed help transporting them safely and I volunteered.

I didn't quite know what I was in for. Each heavy, white chalky mold had to be carried individually with utmost care so it didn't get chipped. She explained to me that even the smallest chip in the mold could ruin a future casting. After several hours, we finally finished transporting the molds and she treated me with a trip to Sonic as a way to say thanks.

I'm not sure why this memory has stayed buried for so many years (16 to be exact!), but it came to me tonight at the grocery store of all places. There was a heavy-set man in the deli area, carefully inspecting some overpriced pre-packaged crab cakes. I must have gotten my cart a little too close to him because he moved quickly on, apologizing for blocking my way.

"It's fine," I said. "I'm in no hurry."

"Oh, I know how it works here," he said. "You gotta keep moving along and stay outta people's way."

This made me feel sad and I wish there had been something else I could have said to let him know he really wasn't in my way or any bother at all.

Then, when I got to the checkout line, I noticed the guy ringing up my groceries had a black eye and half his face was bruised and swollen. I immediately tried not to let him think I was looking at it. And even though I really wanted to ask if he was okay, I instead launched into the story of how I was nervous to show my face at that particular store after breaking a huge bottle of wine in the checkout line during my last visit.

He told me it was okay, that it happened just about every day.

As I left the store, my heart felt so heavy for the two guys I had encountered. Without knowing any of their stories, I just felt like maybe each was carrying his own heavy load.

What does this have to do with my memories moving the ceramic molds? My encounters at the grocery store got me thinking about molds. How each mold was created to form just the exact right ceramic casting you wanted to create. And how if even a small chip got in the mold, it would potentially ruin the piece of art.

There's no mold for our brokenness in life. Each little chip we've gotten over the years causes us to look a tiny bit different from each other. And over time, our brokenness changes us in big ways. The only uniform thing about brokenness is that we all have it. From the ones of us who don't know where tonight's meal is coming from to those of us who just polished off a fancy steak dinner.

We try so hard to shine ourselves up and put our best versions forward.

What looks like perfection, right down to the Ralph Lauren 400 thread count sheets, is often falling to pieces around us. Each of us carries our hurts inside. And sometimes those hurts are so big, they take up more than their fair share of space, squeezing and pushing their way out, causing us to transfer them, hurting the ones around us.

You can never know what kind of hurt someone is carrying just by looking. Even with the ones you feel closest to or think you know best.

Seeming like you have it all together is not indicative of reality much of the time. The ones who get dressed up and sit quietly in the church pew, singing "Holy, holy, holy" in full voice are often the same ones who come home and cry in their driveway, yell at their dog, or snap at their husband. Let's just say I would know.

I don't believe God causes our suffering or wants us to hurt. I do believe our brokenness can help us love each other better and understand each other more.

But we have to acknowledge it. To give it a name and let it be.

This can be hard when so many things about our lives seem good. I often get mad at myself for focusing on any sort of problems or challenges because I think "My issues are not nearly as bad as the next person's. I haven't really earned the right to feel this way." 

I think this is dangerous because it keeps us from acknowledging our truest feelings and hurts. Even if there's nothing we can do about them. We just never know when something we experienced can cause us to have a unique perspective and maybe even offer a tiny bit of comfort to someone else going through the same thing.

And then, even in the midst of the brokenness, a little beauty can grow.

January 14, 2017

Love, Life, and La La Land

On New Year's Day, my husband and I went to the movie theater to see the new film La La Land. Just after Debbie Reynolds passed away (rest her soul), I found myself watching that famous song and dance sequence from her iconic film Singing in the Rain and remarked to my husband that I wished Hollywood would bring back the musical.

This was before I knew anything about La La Land. Then I randomly came across a December issue of "Parade" magazine with it featured on the cover. It's so funny how things like this happen.

I wasn't sure if my husband would like the film. He's not mad for musicals the way I am. But instead of sitting there worrying if he was enjoying himself, I got lost in the story.

**Spoiler Alert** If you plan to see the film, but haven't yet, you might not want to read any further. Although I'll try not to give too much away.

The story of an aspiring actress and an aspiring musician, the movie stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It won a ton of awards so it's probably already on your radar.

The colors are vibrant, the music will stay in your head, and the story will break your heart in the most beautiful way.

It brought both me and my husband to tears. What can I say, we're just a couple of romantic softies.

At first, I was not happy with the ending at all. But in some ways, it was true to the musical genre. I grew up hearing the music of musicals, especially Camelot, a favorite of my mom's.

It wasn't until I was around nine or ten that I fell head over heels in love with musicals, thanks to my grandpa. I was staying with my grandparents for the weekend and my grandpa took me to the video rental store inside of Kroger to rent a VHS tape. Most of the kid movies in stock seemed too babyish for me and I remember asking him to help me choose a more grown-up film.

He pulled a VHS tape with a red cover from the shelf and said, "Here, you might like this."

"What's it about?" I asked.

"It's been awhile since I saw it, but mainly a bunch of kids in New York. And it's a love story."

I was sold. We rented the tape and I couldn't wait to get back home to watch West Side Story. 

That first weekend, I probably watched and re-watched the film at least five times. Then, each subsequent weekend I visited, I would beg my grandpa to let me rent it again and again. I wanted to be Maria with her beautiful dark hair and white dress, at the dance with Chino but dreaming about Tony from afar.

We must have eventually gotten our own copy of West Side Story because I introduced my younger brother to it and he was hooked as well. Just last summer, while on a beach vacation with our parents and significant others, the movie came on TV and we could still recite nearly every word of dialogue and song.

Once I realized that musical films were a thing, I tried to see every one I could find. Cinderella, Oklahoma!, and Godspell quickly became favorites, along with A Chorus Line, Annie, My Fair Lady and Guys and Dolls. Actually, I don't know if I've ever seen a musical I didn't like. I've even been lucky enough to perform in a couple of them, including during high school and for a local community theatre.

Right now as I type this, the soundtrack to The Sound of Music is on my retro record player. Earlier this week, I scored a copy of The King and I at my local Goodwill.

There's just something so magical about stories set to music. And the way the actors burst into song to express what they are feeling brings something inside me to life.

Plus it's so comforting. For me, listening to musical soundtracks is like spending time with old friends.

There are so many hard things in the world these days. I'm not saying musicals are the answer, but they help me get through the day. Many an evening after a long day at work, or a Saturday while doing odd chores around the house, I can be found listening to my musical soundtrack records.

It wasn't too long ago that I told my grandpa about my getting a record player and that I was starting to collect musical soundtracks. He said, "but can't you get pretty much any song you want on your computer?"

Yes, but it's just not the same.

January 11, 2017

Ways to Serve Your Community

I've always loved the quote "Bloom where you're planted." It serves as a great reminder that even though we may not exactly end up in the spot we thought we would, there's still an opportunity to add some beauty by blooming no matter where we are. 

In my opinion, this is especially important lately as things around the world and in our own neighborhoods are becoming increasingly challenging for some of our friends and neighbors. If I can add even just a little bit of beauty or make someone's situation feel a tiny bit more hopeful, I want to do it. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a Federal Holiday. For many years my family took this three-day weekend as an opportunity to go away to a cabin in the woods and spend time together. There's definitely nothing wrong with that! Sometimes a bit of relaxing and refreshing can make a huge difference. But lately, many organizations around the country are encouraging folks to view this day as a chance for service. 

Here are just a few simple ways you can serve your community, on MLK Day or anytime. 

Create Care Packages for Neighbors 

It might seem like a small thing, but to a neighbor or member of your community who is older or not able to leave his or her home for whatever reason, care packages are often appreciated very much. 

Neighbor care packages might include things like snacks or treats, magazines or crossword puzzle books, and hand lotions, tissues, or lip balm. When giving the gift of snacks, make sure you find out if your friends have any dietary restrictions or allergies. 

When delivering the care packages, maybe allocate some time to spend with your neighbor as well. The gift of friendship is the best gift of all, and for many of our older neighbors who don't get visitors, a smiling face and a listening ear can be a godsend. 

Collect Items from Nonprofit Wishlists 

Most area nonprofits that serve the community have wishlists on their websites. I try to familiarize myself with these so that when I run across various things they need, I can pick them up. 

For example, most of the local animal shelters accept donated items such as newspaper, old towels and blankets, and pet food. If you're doing any New Year cleaning out of your home, make sure to donate items like these where they can help someone else! 

Thrive, a local nonprofit serving the Lonsdale community in Knoxville, is currently collecting garden tools for their community garden. There's a wishlist on their website with all sorts of things you might have collecting dust in your garage, from garden tools to bags of mulch and the like. 

Spread the Love! 

Valentine's Day is just around the corner and I bet there are plenty of folks who won't get a card this year. Why not write Valentine's Day notes of encouragement to all your neighbors? Or maybe contact a local retirement home and ask if they  have any residents who could use cheering up. 

It just takes a few minutes to sit down and write a few lines in a card. And for the cost of a stamp, you can really brighten someone's day. There's still plenty of time to do this between now and February! 

**Disclaimer: These suggestions are just as much for me as they are for anyone else. I don't always do such a great job at serving my community. Sometimes I just want to come home after a long day and veg out in pajamas. But I know it will be worth it if I can just try a few of these things!**

For my local friends, here's a link with more Knoxville volunteer opportunities than you can even imagine! And no matter where you live, I'm sure there are nonprofits and other organizations looking for a little help. 

January 10, 2017

Breaking Things that are Fragile

Do you know the difference between peace and chaos? At my house this morning, it was a split second. The time it took for a bone china bowl to slip from my husband's hand as he was taking it out of the dishwasher. The bowl then clanged loudly against a ceramic souffle dish, causing both to shatter. 

The noise was enough to startle me and both our cantankerous aging dogs. In all fairness, our rescued Yorkie Ruthie is only five, not nearly old enough to be considered a senior citizen. But she and her recently adopted sister, Sweetie, a shelter chihuahua who might be upwards of 13, were startled nonetheless. 

We did what any good married couple worth their salt would do...got into a huge argument of course. If you can't tell, I'm being sarcastic. Even as it was all unfolding, I thought to myself this will definitely make it to the blog. Making matters worse, my husband picked that moment to yell, "Well I guess now you're going to write mean stuff about me on your blog!" 

Who knew mind reading was a skill of his? 

No, but really. He completely supports me and my desire to share certain stories online. And I would never set out to write anything mean about him (or anyone). Usually he is involved in the stories I tell, but it's all about our learning together...working together and trying to be better, together. It's not about fault-finding. But truth finding. To gain wisdom, and understanding. 

I wasn't even mad that the bowl(s) got broken. In the past, I would have been. This is something I'm making a conscious effort to work on. Not getting my feathers ruffled about things that don't really matter. Two broken dishes? In the grand scheme of life, the world, rapidly melting glaciers, starving children, war and other terrible things, two broken dishes are not even the tiniest fraction of a blip on anyone's radar. 

But my husband expected me to get mad. And I guess he had every right to, based on how I have reacted to these types of things in the past. So he got defensive. And this led to our misunderstanding each other, which led to the fight. 

But it didn't take long for us to talk it out, work it out, hug it out, and so forth. 

All of this reminded me of the fragility of things. That when you use things daily, like china bowls, or Royal Doulton souffle dishes, there's a good chance they might get scratched, chipped or even broken all to pieces. 

The bowl was nothing special. One of seven like it that I'd picked up from the clearance shelf at Belk. No local stores carried the bowls that came in our china pattern, so I found a suitable substitute for a steal. This is actually the second of these that has been broken, so now I think we're down to five. But I wasn't particularly attached to them. 

The souffle dish was more unique. My mom had purchased it from an estate sale and given it to me as a gift. If you're thinking I don't seem like the kind of person who makes souffle, you'd be correct. We have used the bowl for serving side dishes, salads, and even my husband's occasional late-night cereal habit. So yeah, if you'd ask me if I wanted you to smash it with a hammer, I'd have said no. But even so, having it get broken was not that big of a deal. 

This is the risk we must take when we put our valuables to use. Daily handling, the routine maintenance and care they require, and storage of them may cause them to be destroyed. Well at least certain types of things. 

The good news is that with our inner valuables, unlike our dishes or knick knacks, they are much stronger and harder to break. While I can't promise you won't find yourself staring at them in pieces on the floor, I know for sure that they don't end up in the garbage. When something inside you is shattered, this is a loss for sure. 

But it's only a loss in terms of what you knew. When it comes to our most precious things, nothing can ever really be lost from us. These things might change shape, or take on new forms, but what's at the heart of them is always there. As if it were deep inside our bones. 

I'm actually writing a book about this very thing. Well, trying to write a book. We'll see how it goes. I thought maybe if I put it out there and shared this fact with you, it might hold me more accountable. My book writing has gotten pushed to the wayside lately. But it's a new year, and I'm hoping to be able to bring it back to the forefront. Say a little prayer for me it crosses your mind. 

Happy 2017 friends!