July 21, 2017

I don't want to do nothing

This past spring, my husband and I went to Easter church service with my parents. Their church holds a certain nostalgia for me because it's the same one I attended during my teenage years. One of my dear friends from youth group is now the associate pastor and the main pastor of the church performed our wedding ceremony.

The church, which is now much larger with modern features, was once the site of our youth group lock-ins, where we'd play capture the flag and hide and go seek. On Easter Sunday, the pastor shared a really great message. I won't get into all the details of it, but he touched on various things that hold us back, things that keep us bound up, stuck. He specifically mentioned shame.

Do you ever wonder why certain things pop into your mind after many years of being buried?

What came to my mind during the sermon about shame was an incident that happened when I was in high school. I was probably fourteen or fifteen...not yet old enough to drive myself to and from school.

The kids who drove exited school through one door, to the lot where their cars were parked. The ones whose parents picked us up went out the front door and sat in clumps on the sidewalk waiting for our rides.

One day, I was sitting out there waiting for my ride and saw a scene unfold. An older teenager I knew from church was out there. His name was Ivan and he had Down syndrome. He was a good-natured guy everybody knew and liked. His mom or whoever was picking him up pulled into the loading area and he got up to meet her.

On the way to his mom's car, Ivan's feet got tangled up and he stumbled, falling face first on the concrete. His books flew every which way and his backpack slid forward up around his neck as he lay on the sidewalk. This group of boys were sitting nearby and one of them jeered, laughing loudly at Ivan, applauding him sarcastically.

Ivan's mom, who I also knew from church, jumped out of the car and came running over. She was furious, her face red as she pointed at the boy who had taunted her son. "Don't you ever laugh at him," she said, with a staccato rhythm, as if each word had its own exclamation point.

She went to help Ivan up, checking to see if he was hurt and helping him brush himself off. She put her arm around his shoulders, walked him to their car and they drove away.

This whole scene unfolded before me probably twenty years ago. That's a pretty long time. But something my parents' preacher said on Easter brought it back to my mind as if it were yesterday. Shame can definitely hold us back. But sometimes what holds us back brings its own form of shame.

When Ivan fell, I did nothing. When the other kid laughed, I did nothing.

It's just as possible to be any of the characters in this little vignette. How many times have you been the one who fell? Maybe not a literal fall, but a misstep that caused you to take a tumble in life. Maybe you set out on a path that didn't lead where you intended. Did you feel foolish? Like a failure? With your shortcomings on display for all the world to see.

Or maybe you've been the mean kid. For the record, the guy in my story had a history of being mean. After writing this post, my curiosity got the best of me and I looked him up on Facebook. I saw a photo of him holding a cat and another of him holding his baby niece. Maybe he's not such a bad guy but he seemed pretty mean back then.

We're mean for all sorts of different reasons. Fear. Wanting to fit in. Needing someone else to feel small so we feel bigger. It's like we sit and wait for someone to show any sign of weakness, and we pounce on them.

Or maybe, in various situations in life. you've been like me. Watching everything happen and wishing you could stop it, but finding yourself unable to do anything about it. Not quite as guilty as the mean kid hurling taunts, but also not innocent either. I wish I could tell this story a different way. I wish I could brag and say that I stood up to the playground bully. But that's just not what happened.

We can't change what's been done. As badly as we feel about it, there's nothing we can do about past mistakes. But surely we can learn from it. Let's not be the ones who do nothing.

**I wrote this post months ago but it wasn't until a recent news story in Cocoa, Florida that compelled me to publish it. I'm not passing judgement in any way. In these times when life seems so unfair and circumstances are so challenging, it's hard to know what to do. But doing nothing is not the answer.**

July 16, 2017

Happiness = Things X Meaningful ^ Repeated

You know how in movies or on television, people in psychiatrist's offices are always lying on couches? That has never been my experience in real life. Although, technically, I guess I've never been to a psychiatrist.

When I refer to therapy or counseling from my own experience, I'm talking about psychologists. I just wanted to make it clear in case you were wondering.

During adulthood, I have seen a handful of counselors and they have always been psychologists, which means they can't prescribe medication.

The first time I went to a therapist was with my mom. It was during my teen years and I think she was worried about me because of some things that were going on with my biological dad. I don't remember much about the counseling session, but mainly just that I was pretty guarded seeing as how I was a teenager and my mom was in the room.

After college when I found myself working for a university, my employer's health insurance included something called an EAP, or employee assistance program. It provided six sessions with a counselor, chosen from an approved list. I took advantage of that for awhile and saw a couple of different counselors but never really felt like I connected with either of them.

Before our wedding, my now husband and I had a few short counseling sessions with our pastor. It was all well and good, but our time was limited and it was mainly to get a discount on our marriage license.

It wasn't until our second year of marriage when things had gotten, well, frankly quite challenging that we decided to see a couple's counselor. It was probably the best decision we could have made. Our counselor was a really great guy, thoughtful with a calm demeanor. And he helped us work through so many important things. Our marriage is stronger and happier thanks to his input and wisdom.

We've been fortunate to get our counseling through a local university clinic, whose staff is made up of students doing their clinical work in the PhD program and payment is on a sliding scale. If you have always wanted to seek counseling for one reason or another, please don't let cost be a reason not to. Whether you have an employer provided EAP or maybe there's a college in your area with a similar program to what we have, there are options out there.

And please don't let shame or fear keep you from seeking help. Sure, people might judge you. People judge each other for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. That shouldn't stand between you and the possibility of getting help.

Last year I was diagnosed with Scoliosis and now I go to the chiropractor. There are plenty of folks who think chiropractic care is all hooey and snake oil. But it has helped me.

There is no shame in seeking help of any kind. And that includes counseling.

I'm sure there are people, maybe even some who know me, reading this thinking they would NEVER go to a therapist, let alone tell anyone about it.

Well you just might be surprised how much it could help you.

Case in point...

I was talking to my therapist this week about an experience I had with a local nonprofit. I saw a call on Facebook that this organization was looking for volunteers and I was available and decided to pitch in and help. It was no big deal and I am not trying to brag on myself but I was amazed at how happy I felt during and after the time I spent.

Like this feeling of being able to do something small and make a difference in someone's life. It was incredible.

And my therapist said that it made perfect sense. He said it's common for people to think that in order to be happy, we have to focus on making happiness our goal.

But you can't just try to be happy. It doesn't work that way.

Then he said something I know I'll always remember.

Happiness comes as the result of doing meaningful things.

How many times have we tried to do less than meaningful things with the end goal of happiness? But those things didn't produce the desired feeling we had hoped to achieve. And we end up feeling like our efforts, or even worse...ourselves, are a complete and total failure. This can be kind of a kick in the gut.

So what's the secret to happiness? I'm becoming more and more convinced that it's simply finding out what those meaningful things are for each of us. And doing them.

What's meaningful to me might seem silly to you and what's meaningful to you might seem like a chore to me. But we all get to have our own unique brand of meaningful. Whether that's self-care, doing for others, creating, physical activity, travel or whatever. And maybe (probably) it's a combination of all these.

I've always said that one of the things I love most about the south is that we put a lot of meaning into everything we do. And exploring that meaning, including telling the stories of those who are no longer here to tell them, is one of my favorite things. It has meaning to me. This blog is my meaningful thing. Not because of post clicks or unique visitors but because it's a small way I can add something encouraging to the world. It's a way I can spill the beans and remind people (maybe you) that we're not alone here. We're all in this together.

If you've found yourself lately in the pursuit of happiness, maybe change your focus. Consider embarking on a new journey....in the pursuit of meaning. And I'm betting that along the way, happiness will find you.

July 12, 2017

Shop Local | Tennessee Gift Baskets from Maryville-Based Clover Hill Trading Co.

Summer is a time for celebrations...from weddings to baby showers, birthday festivities and housewarming parties. And there's nothing like a thoughtful gift to make a meaningful occasion that much more memorable.

I love finding new and unique gift options that make people feel special and I recently stumbled across an awesome local company with some great gift baskets.

Clover Hill Trading Co., based in Maryville, Tennessee, offers carefully curated gift baskets filled with local goodies that are sure to delight everyone who receives them.

Owner Stacey is an artist who believes there is nothing like receiving a gift filled with items crafted locally and I completely agree! And our region of East Tennessee has some incredible makers and artisans creating lovely wares.

Clover Hill Trading Co. baskets come in a variety of styles with products and goods for different occasions. Local potters, farmers, candle makers, coffee roasters, and apiaries have been carefully selected and sourced for these splendid baskets.

Joyful Morning Gift Basket | Clover Hill Trading Co. 

This gift basket is sure to get your morning started on the right foot. It has nearly everything you need for a "joyful morning" from locally roasted coffee to handcrafted pottery made right in East Tennessee. Yes, that's a mug from none other than McQueen Pottery, a favorite of mine whose wares grace the tables at Blackberry Farm and other fabulous eateries. 

This basket also includes wares from Knoxville Chocolate Co., Smokey Ridge Apiary, and Laurel Mountain Candles. 

This would be a perfect gift for a bride and groom to enjoy on their first morning as a married couple.

Clean Slate | Clover Hill Trading Co. 

This summer has been hot....and I'm not just talking about the weather. The real estate market in East Tennessee has been on fire with buyers competing for fewer homes than in many years.

But for those lucky folks who do manage to snag their dream home, why not give them a memorable housewarming gift?

There are plenty of other reasons to celebrate a clean slate...perhaps a new stage in life, a new job or a new way of thinking. This gift basket will help clean out the cobwebs (literally and figuratively) in style!

Clean Slate | Clover Hill Trading Co.

Gourmet Charcuterie | Clover Hill Trading Co. 

July is National Picnic Month and what better way to celebrate the occasion than with a really grand picnic? Clover Hill has you covered with their Gourmet Charcuterie gift basket.

Including tasty snacks from East Tennessee's Century Harvest Farms, plus fruit, local chocolate, goat cheese and more, this basket will make your mouth water.

There's no reason a gift can't be for yourself...so consider this awesome ready-made picnic for your next soiree!

Gourmet Charcuterie | Clover Hill Trading Co.

Fireside | Clover Hill Trading Co. 

This might just be my favorite Clover Hill Trading Co. basket because it reminds me of another favorite of mine: fall. Cooler weather, crisp leaves and nights spent around a crackling fire. 

This basket includes everything you need to make your next fireside experience more delightful, starting with a wool blanket, kindling and matches, plus your very own s'mores kit. Add a bottle of wine and the locally made insect repellent, and you're all set. 

Perfect for your next romantic getaway! 

Clover Hill Trading Co. offers hand delivery within 30 miles of Maryville, TN and if you want to send a basket to someone who doesn't live nearby, there are shipping options available too. I have friends all over the country who would be tickled to receive these beautiful baskets...how about you?

Are you a local vendor or purveyor of fine goods? Clover Hill is always looking for craftsmen to add to the collections. If you are interested, contact Stacey at hello@cloverhilltrading.com.

July 8, 2017

Learning to FIDO

In the thirteen years I've been with my now-husband, I have received an education about all sorts of military-related things.

When we first started dating, my well-meaning mom bought him a pair of boxer shorts patterned like the American flag. You've probably seen some variation of this...one side is blue with stars and the other side red and white stripes. When she presented the shorts to him, he politely thanked her but later told me he wouldn't be wearing them.

"How come?" I asked.

"I'm not putting the American flag on my ass," he replied, as if this were something I should have known.

Not having much previous experience with anything military-related, this and so many other things were totally new to me.

Like how there's a big difference between people who are tough (they don't talk about it or feel the need to display it) and people who are fake tough (they wear it like a banner for all to see). Or the fact that you don't 'shoot' guns, you 'fire' them. Or how most military movies get so much so wrong.

Something else I've learned a little bit about is some of the different sayings and phrases commonly used by members of the military. Early on, my husband taught me the phrase "Smooth is fast." It means that when you get in a hurry, you can get flustered and make mistakes that you probably wouldn't make if you took your time. My husband said this to me for years and then, while watching the film Shooter, we heard Mark Wahlberg say it, with the addition of the phrase "Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast." 

It's funny because my great-grandmother actually had a very similar phrase she liked to repeat, which is "the best way to go fast is to go slow." For a long time I had no idea what that meant, but coupled with the smooth is fast saying, it makes more sense.

Something else my husband has taught me is FIDO. In military slang, it's an acronym for the phrase "F#@k it, drive on."

When I asked him what might be some scenarios in which FIDO is an appropriate response, he said maybe if lost your weapon or your pack, or your ride broke down or any other number of things. There's no time to stop and worry about it because there's too much at stake. Drive on.

It sounds so simple, but it's actually quite hard for some of us. So many times in life, I have an inclination to stop moving forward and ruminate on the situation at hand.

Sort of like how my beloved Aunt Bo doesn't chew her gum, she just "wallers (wallows) it around in her mouth," I am wont to waller in so many situations. To roll around and settle in, exploring every inch of every possible morsel that might apply to me.

And this isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes a healthy amount of self-reflection can be good. It can help us see things more clearly. It can help us learn about ourselves and others. It can help us avoid certain situations or keep unhealthy patterns from repeating.

But there are other times in life when it just doesn't serve us to stop and waller. When we're actually better off to FIDO.

I'm learning this.

Some situations are just baffling. Sometimes the behavior of others, while completely out of our control, affects us in colossal ways. No matter how much we explore every inch of this junk, it might never make sense. It probably doesn't make sense to the others involved either, if that makes you feel any better.

I'm definitely not advocating any sort of approach that involves ignoring your feelings or pretending like things don't affect you. This doesn't seem healthy to me. But I am saying that in certain instances, it may just be better to FIDO.

I'm reading this book called You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life and it says that much of our reality is created by the crap we have believed in life. Because of all the messages our subconscious has taken in without our even realizing it.

That we aren't good enough. That we don't deserve good things. That we deserve the judgement and criticism of others. That we should hold ourselves to an unattainable standard of perfection.

This is where FIDO could really help. When we find ourselves accepting a truth that we didn't intend to believe in the first place. I do it all the time. Behave a certain way because of some wacky belief that I didn't realize I had.

And instead of stopping to ponder it or waller it around to see it from all sides, maybe I should just keep in mind that I have bigger, more important things to do in this world and I should just FIDO.

July 3, 2017

A Knoxville Stay-Cation with East TN Tours

Sometimes a big, extravagant summer vacation just isn't possible. Whether because of scheduling conflicts, budget or both, big trips may not be in your future this summer. I feel your pain. After a spring that was jam-packed with travel, I have no trips on the horizon.

But what if I told you there were all sorts of incredible things to enjoy right under your nose? Maybe you should consider a "Stay-cation" this summer! I recently had the opportunity to take a walking tour in Knoxville and become a tourist in my own town. It was a blast and I really enjoyed the experience.

The walking tour I participated in is called the "Chef’s Table Tour with East TN Tours." For a flat fee, you get to do the tour and enjoy yummy food to taste at each stop along the way. My tour experience was complimentary as part of an agreement to write about it on the blog, but you all know I don't recommend anything unless I really mean it!

East TN Tours is owned and operated by Lauren Quinn who was also our tour guide for the event. I met up with Lauren at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center at the corner of Summit Hill and Gay Street on a Saturday afternoon for our tour.

One thing that is great about Knoxville is free parking in all the downtown garages on the weekends. Plus, the Visitor’s Center offers free parking for tours. Maybe your city has a bustling downtown area that you've been meaning to explore. There are probably all sorts of restaurants and places you haven't visited. Even after living in Knoxville for nearly 20 years, there are plenty of spots I haven't tried yet.

Lauren was a great guide, offering us portable mister fans to beat the heat. She is obviously passionate about local culture and history and gave our group lots of fun facts along the way.

We walked from location to location, spending a bit of time at each for the food portion. By partnering with local restaurants, East TN Tours is able to pre-arrange each experience along the tour.

Another fun part of the tour was getting to talk with other folks in the group.

Our first stop was Clancy’s Tavern and Whiskey House, on Gay Street just next to the historic Tennessee Theatre. In fact, this is usually where we go right before seeing a show at the Tennessee. When my brother and his girlfriend were visiting, we took them there to grab a bite before seeing Rent and it was delicious.

An Irish pub with a large drink menu, Clancy's offers something for everyone. Plus their food is tasty and they have vegetarian options.

For the tour, everyone else had Shepherd's Pie and I had a veggie burger. So good!

Next we walked over to Market Square and enjoyed some treats at Tomato Head. I had the tomato soup, which might seem like a strange choice on a hot summer day, but theirs is so good I couldn't pass it up.

From there, we walked down Gay Street to Jackson and our next stop, Balter Beerworks.

Balter is a new-ish brewery located in an old service station on South Broadway. This wasn't my first time there, but it was my first time enjoying some of their yummy food.

Balter serves their own craft beers and food made from scratch. My husband likes to go for the $1.50 tacos, which are pretty darn great.

For the food tour, we sampled Balter’s burrito bowl, a layered dish with rice and beans, topped with blackened chicken, lettuce, charred salsa, pico de gallo, crema, cilantro, cotija cheese, and house made chips. Mine was meat-free but it was still so hearty and delicious.

And believe it or not, this is only a half-sized portion.

Next, our tour continued down into the Old City for a stop at a spot I've been meaning to try, Old City Wine Bar. Located on West Jackson Avenue, it is nestled in the midst of an area having a real resurgence.

Old City Wine Bar is a nice little spot, with more than 48 wine offerings on tap by the glass and three times as many by the bottle.

There's also a limited tapas-style food menu. For our tour, we were treated to a light summer salad with baby Swiss chard, dried cranberries, cucumber, and creamy crumbled goat cheese. It was great.

Our final stop on the East TN Food Tour was at Sugar Mama’s, a bakery/bar in the 100 Block of Gay Street. This is a cute local spot I've been meaning to try. With craft beer, homemade baked goods and other yummy food options, what's not to love?

I didn't get a good photo of the front of Sugar Mama's so I'm stealing this one from another member of the tour. Visit her awesome blog here. 

Our dessert options at Sugar Mama’s included a basket of pastry samples. We tried things like a cherry danish made from a 100 year old recipe, chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, curry shortbread, and fudge cream. 

It was all very tasty and I even bought some extra items to bring home for my husband. 

We all left Sugar Mama’s with full stomachs and smiles on our faces. Everybody walked back to the Visitor's Center where we went our separate ways. This was a great experience and one that I'd highly recommend to anyone looking to explore Knoxville.

There were several other bloggers on the food tour, and we got a group photo. Check out their blogs below from left to right: 
Whether your town has options like this or not, there are all sorts of ways you can find adventure without getting on a plane or a train. Look for ways to take a stay-cation this summer and get creative. I'm sure you'll find all sorts of fun to be had!