March 28, 2017

Do not read this blog.

Attention everyone. Or anyone who might be reading this. Which might be no one. This is a public service announcement. There are certain people who probably shouldn't read this blog. Thus, here is your warning. Read at your own risk.

Do not read this blog if your parents loved you perfectly, if you have your faith completely figured out, or if you can tuck the front part of your shirt into your jeans exactly like a J.Crew model and still look skinny.

Do not read this blog if you wake up without an alarm clock, if everything in your house matches, or if your vehicle still has "new car smell." ...kidding, I'm just bitter and mildly jealous of anyone with a car that doesn't smell like a fourteen year old chihuahua.

If you judge people who go to counseling or have a therapist, definitely don't read this blog. Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is reach out for help. This is not a weakness.

Do not read this blog if you have vividly white teeth in perfect rows, or if your eyebrows are arched just so without any tweezing, or if you never have to shave your toes.

If you think gay people or black people or fat people or any people for that matter are less than not read this blog. Actually, on second thought you might learn something. About kindness and love. So you can read this blog.

If you never had a fat phase, or an awkward phase, or an ugly phase or a bad hair phase, please don't read this blog.

If you're wandering or wondering, read this blog. Got family dysfunction? I got it too. You may read this blog.

If you floss every day, you can maybe read this blog. And teach me how.

If you've ever felt a million miles away from someone you loved most in the world, while sitting in the same room with them, you can read this blog. Got a broken heart or a broken relationship or a broken spirit? Please read this blog. Start with this. And maybe this.

If you don't cry at that coffee commercial where Peter comes home for Christmas, please avoid reading this blog.

If you've ever had the rug pulled out from under you, been backed into a corner, had your life turned upside down, or received the short end of the stick, please read this blog. And be my friend.

If you sometimes say the wrong thing, end up feeling silly or wish you could rewind the past ten minutes for a do-over, definitely read this blog. You're among your people.

If you feel like a has-been or a never-was or you're afraid you'll never reach your full potential, or you think you might have peaked in high school, read this blog. There's hope for you and me.

Life is what happens while you're too busy waiting for life to happen. When we finally accept this, it will be a great epiphany....I just always manage to forget. If you're reading these words, there's hope for you. Even if it feels like your last crumb of hope was eaten by a cartoon mouse in an ironic sort of way. There is hope. I promise.

And for the record, anyone who wants to can read this blog. That's all.

March 22, 2017

Creative Ways to Set a Spring Table

When I was a kid, I used to love setting the table before dinner. Instead of eating in our home's formal dining room, we normally ate around a plain wooden table in the middle of our kitchen. It wasn't fancy china or exquisite linens that I used to adorn our eating surface, but instead my mom's old woven placemats and pottery dishes, beige rimmed in baby blue.

Our meals weren't gourmet, but the act of gathering together was meaningful anyway. Memorable.

“If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.” 
― Shauna NiequistBread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes

I hardly ever get to set the table anymore. My husband and I sometimes eat in the den, on trays in our laps. When we do use our dining table, it's still just the two of us and we rarely put down placemats or light candles. But that's okay with me. Meals don't have to be fancy to matter. When you are gathered with those you love, this is what matters most.

Although, sometimes it's still fun to set a lovely table and spring is a great time for this. Whether you are hosting a large gathering of dear friends or just dining with one or two special someones, there's no reason you can't get creative and set a lovely spring table.

Here are some of my best tips for setting a spring table. I hope it inspires you to get creative and think outside the box at the next meal you host for friends and loved ones.

Creative ideas for setting a pretty spring table

1) Choose a color scheme and stick with it - 

Not everyone loves the typical springtime colors of bright yellow, pink and aquamarine. Perhaps you are drawn to more muted hues. For my latest lovely spring table, I opted to use shades of the Pantone 2017 color of the year "greenery." Green is my favorite color and there are so many shades of it to enjoy, from chartreuse to brighter acid-green shades to pale tones of moss, fern and olive. 

2) Shop your home before hitting the home decor store - 

Unless you're a complete minimalist, I bet you have lots of items around your home that can be re-purposed to create a lovely table setting. Just from where I'm sitting in my home, I see baskets and vases, pitches and glass containers, plus plenty of green plants. All of these things can be used to set a lovely table! 

You don't have to hit the home decor store or spend a penny to set a lovely table. Shop your home, including things you may have tucked away. 

3) Mix and match - 

Few of us have the luxury of owning entire sets of matching china, stemware and silver. If you're like me, you've collected odds and ends over the years. Clear off a space on a table or counter and gather up various plates, chargers, table linens, etc. Pretend you are a magazine editor and look for things that complement each other as you're building your table setting. 

And as Tim Gunn likes to say, "make it work!" So what if you only have three brown transferware plates. Mix them into the lineup with all white dishes for a little unexpected surprise. Got several different patterns of floral china? Unify them with gold or silver chargers. 

Something else I like to mix and match is cloth napkins. I have amassed a great collection of odd silk and linen napkins in different shades of green. These are perfect for a spring table, but can also work during the winter holidays too. 

4) Incorporate natural elements - 

I like to do everything on a budget, so I rarely spend a lot of money on floral arrangements. But a sprig of greenery can go a long way. I've been known to take my scissors and walk around the yard, snipping a few pretty pieces to use in my tablescapes. Even a so-called weed can sometimes look really pretty when presented in the right way. 

5) Leave room for the food - 

We've all seen the picture perfect tablescapes in magazines and on blogs. But I often wonder how realistic these are for actual meals. When setting your table, leave some space for the food. Make sure everything has a bit of breathing room. If people are too nervous to move for fear of elbowing a compote, this can cause undue stress. 

And finally, have fun with it! So what if things aren't perfect. Setting a table before sharing a meal you've prepared is a special expression of love for your family. Be grateful for the moment and don't take things too seriously if your end results aren't magazine worthy. This is real life after all. 

March 17, 2017

What I've Learned - 2017 Edition

I was almost a St. Patrick's Day baby. Born just a day late on March 18, I've always wished for a March 17th birthday. The same way I've wished to find any sort of Irish ancestry in my lineage. I guess my pale skin and reddish hair have always made me long for some connection to the Emerald Isle.

In honor of the 35th anniversary of my birth, I thought I should share a few things that I've learned. I originally thought of calling it "35 in 35: What I've Learned in 35 Years on Earth." But then I tried to think of 35 actual good things worth sharing and it got super hard after about number seven, so I scrapped that idea.

Trust me, I still have plenty more to soak up and hopefully more years in which to do it. This isn't even for you so much as it is for me, to document and remind myself to be thankful when I look back on it later on.

Here goes nothing....In no particular order.

1) Always get there early. Not awkwardly early which I am wont to do, but just early enough that you have time to spare in case any unforeseen hiccups should present themselves. It shows people you value their time. And you never know who you might get to meet.

2) Along the same lines as number one...value people's time. It's your most priceless resource and wasting people's time is like smacking them in the face with a fish. Rude.

3) Don't get too caught up in long-term plans. It's not bad to plan and have goals, but sometimes this can cause you to miss out on the little moments that make up your life. Instead of trying to work toward something so far in the future that may or may not happen, focus on how you can make people feel in each tiny interaction you have with them. If you do this, it will add up to a pretty great experience. And people will like you. I'm not saying I always do a great job at this, but I have been lucky to encounter people who do and I'm trying to be more like them.

4) Drink more water. Always.

5) Memorize this phrase: "It's not about me." This applies at least 75% of the time, probably more. When someone is rude. When someone cuts you off in traffic. When your spouse is in a bad mood. Usually they are just doing the best they can and you happened to get caught in the cross fire.

6) Give yourself permission not to engage with people who bring you down. You can only do so much and your own joy and peace is too valuable. Don't throw your pearls before swine.

7) Wear the best quality shoes you can afford. Even if they are second-hand. Your feet will thank you.

8) The more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to take care of. This takes a lot of energy. I am far from minimalist, but I am learning that a cluttered house stresses me out and having a bit less is more peaceful.

9) Don't go to McAllister's (or any other busy lunch spot) and have a 48 minute call on speaker phone where you plan your Spring Break vacation menu. This is rude to other patrons who might not want to hear about it. And what do you mean nobody likes Oreos? Who are you?

10) Realize that the little spot cleared out for you in the world is small but important. Wiggle into it and figure out how you can make the most of what you're given, but don't take over or spread out too much to where you crowd somebody else.

11) Live in a way that would make your great-grandparents proud. This includes picking up cigarette butts that people have thrown out along the edge of your driveway.

12) Don't get in such a hurry. Refer to #1. You'll save yourself a lot of stress just by arriving early.

13) Honor the miracle of your body and all its many functions. You'll miss these when they don't work so well anymore.

14) Pay compliments and really mean them.

15) Don't huff and roll your eyes when you end up behind a slow walking person at the grocery store.

16) Live in such a way that it let's other people know it's okay to be [broken, sad, angry, lonely, whatever]. Don't be ashamed if you are in therapy, taking medication, seeking help.

17) Never pay retail prices for jewelry. Visit your local pawn shop. You'll be amazed at what you can get for a fraction of the cost.

18) Plan and take vacations. Your best friend might move to California and you'll mean to visit him for 14 years but if you never actually plan and do it, you will majorly miss out.

19) Practice standing in front of the mirror and trying to really love what you see. Don't just tolerate yourself. Celebrate the fact that you are a miracle.

20) Don't let someone who can't or won't acknowledge your pain cause you to doubt your own experience. If something bad happened to you, you can feel however you want about it. Be true to your deepest hurts. It's the only way they will ever have a chance at healing. Don't expect a drowning person to save you. Some people are drowning so deep in their own stuff, whether anger, guilt, sorrow, ignorance, etc. that they can't save themselves, let alone throw you a lifeline.

21) Recognize the beauty and glory of friendship. Just the word sounds trite because we've boiled it down and slapped it on every piece of craft fair home decor we could find. But the next time you feel like someone really sees you, really understands what you're going through, truly gets you...that incredible connection is something to be held in high regard.

22) Dogs. Or cats. Pets in general. Get some. So you say you're not an animal person. Maybe that's true. Maybe you have other ways of coping with what life throws at you. For me, it's dogs. My husband and I agree that our first year of marriage would have been much less stressful if we'd had a dog. It just brings me so much joy. After my Leon passed away, I didn't think I could ever love another dog again. But thankfully my heart felt ready the following year and now our bench is two dogs deep, with hopefully more on the way.

Always keep learning. Always keep loving. Especially yourself.

March 13, 2017

The Best Revenge

Whoever said "living well" is the best revenge obviously never ran into her ex-boyfriend on a humid, July day at Wal-Mart, hair frizzed to the max, wearing a stained Goodwill t-shirt and two different socks. That would have been me. Mind you, it was a long time ago because I have had the same boyfriend since 2004 and he's now my husband.

I was never one of those people who dated recreationally. I had crushes in high school, and I was once asked to accompany a sweet, but awkward boy to the homecoming dance, but it wasn't particularly memorable. My prom date was my best friend (thank goodness) and after graduation, I went off to college with the hope of finding true love. It just took me a few years to do so.

But for one fateful season between my freshman and sophomore years of college, while back in my hometown working a summer job, I sort of dated a guy. Mainly we just spent a couple of months talking and hanging out on his front porch swing on muggy Tennessee nights, eating atomic fireballs. Our first official date was to the sno-cone shop, aptly named "Sno-Daze" and over the course of the summer, we saw exactly one movie together at the theater, The Fast and the Furious. 

Ours was not true love, or really any love at all. Just attraction and infatuation. I should have known there was a shelf-life to that type of thing, but having had absolutely no experience in that arena, I was shocked when he stopped taking my calls about a month into the fall semester.

So, let's just say that when I bumped into him at Wal-Mart the following summer, clad in grungy clothes, with my mom in tow, I feel certain it didn't induce some type of woeful regret on his part. I tried to put on a devil-may-care attitude, but the whole thing just gave me a stomach ache.

You see, I come from a long line of people who cannot. let. things. go. Figuratively and literally. This applies to our feelings about situations as well as items we have come to own. I am incredibly jealous of anyone and everyone who can simply move on. That just isn't me. I will hash and re-hash the same scenarios for years, often never getting any closer to understanding the how and why.

Sometimes I jokingly refer to myself as Nancy Drew, but in truth, I'm more an Encyclopedia Brown...getting all the facts down in my trusty notepad and solving the case during dinner, sometimes before dessert.

But so many times in life, we just don't get the facts we need to solve anything. This is a common underlying theme for me. I'm reminded of a quote from my all-time favorite TV show, Sex & the City when Miranda says, "Carrie, we can analyze this for years and never know the answer. I mean, they still don't know who killed Kennedy."

I'll never know why my summer fling dumped me at the end of August without any explanation. It's just one of the many, many things I will never know. And it's not something I really ever think about...I just figured you'd get a kick out of my embarrassing nostalgia.

Are you ever afraid there are other questions that will never be answered for you? Important questions. Questions that you feel you deserve answers to.

Like why somebody who was supposed to love you for much longer than a summer vanishes from your life without any reason. Or why somebody did or said something that hurt you, but can't or won't explain their motives. Or why people can't or won't simply acknowledge things that might give you some peace. Even if it's not the explanation you dreamed of.

Living well is not the best revenge because no revenge is good. You think it's going to make you feel better, but it never does. Being happy with your own life helps. Not because you're shaking your proverbial fist in an "I'll show you" sort of way, but just being genuinely happy with things. There's a peace that comes from having a life you want to focus on, with people you care for, and things you feel passionate about. Before too long, there's no room (or time or energy) to hold those grudges that once took up so much of your space.

That doesn't mean you won't always wonder about the questions left unanswered. But hopefully they won't keep you up at night.

March 8, 2017

Fun & Simple Ideas for National Popcorn Lovers' Day

For many people, March 9th is just another day at the old grindstone. But for those of us fun-loving folks, who are always looking for a reason to celebrate the ordinary moments in life, it's National Popcorn Lovers' Day. No really, it is.

Did you know Americans consume 14 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually? That's 43 quarts per or about 10 gallons per year for every man, woman and child.

In honor of this festive occasion, I'm sharing three simple ways to enjoy popcorn, one of my favorite snacks.

DIY Popcorn Station

One of my very favorite ways to serve popcorn at a party is with a DIY popcorn topping station. There's just something about giving your guests a bunch of different toppings that is so much fun for them. Maybe it's because as adults, we don't get to have as much whimsy in our lives as we'd like. 

To set up your own DIY popcorn topping station, you'll need enough freshly popped popcorn to feed your group and assorted topping options. 

Possible popcorn toppings to have on hand include: 

Popcorn salt & pepper
Assorted herbs & spices
Nuts (pine nuts, peanuts, slivered almonds, pumpkin seeds, etc.)
Shredded cheese
Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apricots, etc.)
Chocolate chips or other candies 
Cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg

To pop the perfect batch of popcorn on the stovetop, cover the bottom of a 3- to 4-quart pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil (not butter, it will burn). Place 3 kernels of popcorn in the pan, cover with a loose lid that allows steam to escape, and heat. When the kernels pop, pour in enough popcorn to cover the bottom of the pan, one kernel deep, cover the pan and shake to evenly spread the oil. When the popping begins to slow to a few seconds apart, remove the pan from the stovetop. The heated oil will still pop the remaining kernels.

Set out your popcorn in a big bowl. Arrange your toppings nearby for easy access. I like to have those little brown paper lunch bags so people can add the popcorn and toppings, and shake up everything in the bag to mix it. If you don't make your popcorn from scratch, you may need to have a spray bottle of oil on hand to coat the corn and give your toppings something to stick to. 

One of my favorite popcorn topping combinations is garlic salt + parmesan cheese with a little dried oregano or chive. So delish! 

Also, if you happen to live near a Trader Joe's, you might want to pick up a bottle of their latest product, Everything but the Bagel seasoning. If you're a fan of everything bagels, you're going to love it. And apparently, in some markets, it's flown off the TJ's shelves. The Knoxville TJ's had some of it as of this post's publication. 

Something Sweet - White Chocolate Pudding Popcorn 

I wanted to include a sweet popcorn option in my Popcorn Lovers' Day round-up, but didn't want to settle for the standard caramel popcorn fare. Then I came across this recipe for vanilla pudding white chocolate popcorn and had to try it. It only requires a few ingredients and is super easy! For the full recipe, click here. 

Basically, you stir together melted white chocolate and instant vanilla pudding and then coat your popcorn with the mixture. It sets up and you can top it with sprinkles or add other candy treats. 

Caramel Popcorn Cocktail 

Finally, a tasty beverage that incorporates your favorite classic snack, caramel popcorn. Start with your choice of caramel topping and put about a teaspoon in the bottom of a glass. Add a shot of vodka and top with cream soda. Skip the vodka if you want to make this kid-friendly (obviously). 

Garnish with some caramel popcorn on a toothpick. Drink up! 

What's your favorite way to enjoy popcorn? I hope you enjoy National Popcorn Lovers' Day. Happy popping, ya'll! 

Many of the images were used with permission from the Popcorn Board. Click here to learn more.

March 5, 2017

The Sunday Night Blues Club

What is it about Sundays that makes the day start off so great, with so much possibility, and then end with such a feeling of dread? Apparently I'm not alone. One recent study found that more than 75% of the people who responded feel it too. Are you one of them?

I can see how Sundays might hold a certain amount of stress and anxiety for people who hate their job and the idea of returning to it on Monday morning. I happen to really enjoy the work I get to do, so it's not that for me.

There's just something unsettling about Sunday night.

I think some of it has to do with my Sunday experiences from childhood.

Some Sundays were spent with my entire family, gathering for a big meal after church. We'd eat til our bellies were full and then the adults would nap or talk while the kids played. These Sundays didn't fill me with any sort of dread, except that I hated for all the fun to come to an end.

Then there were other Sundays on the weekends I spent with my biological dad. Most of the time, we'd spend Sunday lunch and some of the afternoon with my great grandma, which I enjoyed a lot. But when our visit came to an end, I knew it was only a matter of time before he took me back home, and back to my regular life.

Don't get me regular life was good. But sometimes it was tough to try and straddle the fence between both worlds. It was almost like I saw myself as two different people...playing two different parts.

I think that's the toughest thing about divorce. As a kid, you want to feel a certain level of security from your surroundings and part of that comes from having all the people you love most gathered together, interacting. As strange as it sounds, I think it has to do with this feeling that there is strength in numbers. That there are enough people around who love you and won't let anything bad happen to you. Isn't that what family is all about?

Of course this isn't always possible.

I worried a lot as a kid. About a host of different things. Bizarre things. Things you probably wouldn't believe even if I told you.

For example, when I was really little, some teacher in a church Sunday school class told us that one day Jesus would come back to earth to save everyone. And she told us that he'd be riding on a majestic white horse. What's more, he'd be bringing an army of horses with him and when he snatched up all the Christians into the sky, we'd each ride on our own horse back to Heaven.

I don't know about you, but the thought of this scared the $hi# out of me. I had ridden horses before with my grandpa, but not by myself. I didn't even know how to ride a horse by myself across a pasture, let alone ACROSS THE SKY.

So naturally I added this to the top of my list of things to worry about, and spent lots of time and energy being concerned about it.

In many ways, my propensity to worry has helped me get where I am in life. It has driven me to do more, to be better, to achieve things. But I don't always get to enjoy these achievements as much as I'd like because it can feel like I'm always worried about the next thing.

And thus, here I sit, on a Sunday night, feeling those little persistent worries creep in.

I have no idea why I'm sharing any of this malarky. For real. But I guess I was thinking that maybe if someone else out there feels this way, you might realize you aren't alone.

So how do you combat these feelings? I'm sure there are plenty of solutions. I have no idea what might work for you. Here's what helps me:

- Marry a funny guy. Or girl. Or if you opt not to be married, at least choose a partner who can make you laugh. It goes a long way in helping me with feelings of anxiety and the blues.

- Adopt a shelter pet. Or two. My dogs make a huge difference contributing to my feelings of peace and calm. Even the dearly departed ones.

- Find a spiritual community. Maybe this is a church. Or a group of other like-minded folks. It helps to be part of something where you're united in the common good.

- Consider getting some counseling. If you have issues to work through (and don't we all?), having someone to talk to really helps.

If you stumbled on this post, and anything I've written resonates with you, I hope you feel a little bit less alone. And I hope you don't spend any of your precious energy worrying about silly stuff like I have. I mean, here I am, thirty years later, and I still haven't had the chance to ride my sky horse.

March 3, 2017

A Sticky Situation

I had to get a new cell phone over the weekend. The screen on my old one went completely dark and the guy at the Verizon store told me it was beyond repair. This type of thing can be very stressful. What is it about the relationship we form with an inanimate object that gives us so much comfort and identity? Sad, huh? 

My husband jokingly said while we were sitting at the counter waiting for the salesperson, "remember when a phone was just a thing that hung on the kitchen wall?" 

We've come a long way baby. 

As a sidenote, I think the salesman upsold me on the fanciest, most expensive phone out there but I didn't realize it until things had already progressed too far. 

By then, I had already decided I liked the phone. I told him I needed a phone for my business (probably a mistake) and he said without skipping a beat, "You're in luck because this is a business phone." Is that even a thing? 

Of course just the phone itself isn't enough also needs the fancy protective case which now does not come equipped with a glass protector. That's sold separate for an additional $40. 

After the guy got everything packed up and ready for me, I paid my bill and left the store, placing the new phone in my purse as I went along about my day. 

Last night when I was using my new phone, I noticed there was something sticky on the case near the mouthpiece. Not knowing what that could be I remembered the phone salesperson using a piece of rolled up packing tape to remove any lint from the screen before applying the screen protector (high tech, I know). 

I thought maybe some of the tape adhesive had gotten stuck to the phone, causing it to be sticky. I figured it wasn't that big of a deal and so I took a wet tissue, wiped it off and went on with my business. 

This morning I was driving to work and my phone started ringing. Except I didn't realize it was ringing because I didn't know what the ringtone sounded like. I thought it was a pretty song playing on the radio. Business phone, my foot. 

When I got to my destination, I pulled my phone out of my purse to check my message and noticed that once again there was something sticky near the mouthpiece. 

I thought, "Okay this is ridiculous. I have paid too much for this phone for it to have some kind of weird sticky stuff oozing out of it." 

I went through every possible scenario in my mind as to how the sticky stuff could have found its way on there. 

Maybe it was something the sales guy had used in the cleaning process like I thought with the tape. Maybe he didn't get all the packaging materials and clear plastic films removed from the case before he put the phone into it. 

I thought and thought and thought about what could be causing this problem and what the phone salesperson might have done to cause it. 

Later as I was slipping my new phone into the side pocket of my purse, I remembered something. To try and protect my new investment, I had been storing it in a single side pocket on the inside of my purse. I reached into the pocket, feeling all the way down to the very bottom and found a glob of sticky substance. 

Who knows what piece of random candy might have found its way in there before adhering to the lining of my purse, but it was certainly my doing. All along the problem with the stickiness had been caused by something I did. 

Thoughts to ponder...when I was confronted with the situation, I felt certain it had been caused by somebody else. I never even considered the stickiness on my phone had to do with me. 

How often do we neglect to see our own role in a problem? How often do we refuse to see that the problem we're dealing with might have been caused by ourselves? How often do we want to look at every other person or thing and say that maybe they are causing our problem. 

When it's really our own fault all along. 

This applies in so many areas of my life. 

So many times I feel frustrated about a situation and it feels completely natural to look at all the other people involved and point at all the things I wish they could do differently. 

And sometimes, they are part of the problem. And sometimes my frustration is their fault. But sometimes, just like the sticky goo on my cell phone, it's something I'm doing that causes my frustration.  It's not always so easy to see this. But it's a good thing when we get a little bit of clarity and have that "Aha!" moment. 

No matter what, I have a role to play in any given situation. Instead of immediately putting the blame on somebody else, and launching a Nancy Drew style investigation as to where to place blame, maybe I should just consider myself first.