August 29, 2017

HGTV's Urban Oasis 2017 in Knoxville, TN

Since I first moved to Knoxville nearly two decades ago to attend the University of Tennessee, our 'scruffy little city' has grown and changed in many exciting ways. Still rich with southern hospitality and that special energy that only comes from being an SEC college town, Knoxville has been ranked a hot city for business, most dog-friendly and also one of the friendliest places in America.

We're also lucky to be home to the headquarters of HGTV. Knoxville has a thriving downtown, amazing restaurants, a pretty cool music scene, plus a growing number of local craft beer purveyors. It's also home to some really vibrant neighborhoods, including Fourth and Gill which is where HGTV chose its Urban Oasis® 2017.

The home is a charming Craftsman style bungalow which started out as a duplex. Under the direction of HGTV Urban Oasis 2017 Project Manager Scott Branscom, it has been transformed into a beautiful single-family home, with 1,850 square feet and three bedrooms and two baths. Branscom is COO of Grace Construction in Knoxville.

HGTV tapped local firms Open Door Architecture and Tillman Companies to handle the concepting and build-out of the structure. The home, which is centered around an open and airy living concept, features art direction and decor from Atlanta-based interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn.

There's no shortage of curb appeal, beginning with the cheerful 'millennial' pink front door. Each spacious room seems to open up into the next, with careful attention to detail that celebrates the iconic style of the home's era while still feeling completely fresh and modern.

  And the outdoor living spaces are to die for. I would never tire of having my morning coffee on the front porch, lounging on the back screened-in deck for cocktails and maybe stealing away for a romantic evening by the fire pit in the backyard.

What is the HGTV Urban Oasis? The HGTV Urban Oasis Giveaway complements the network’s annual HGTV Dream Home Giveaway and HGTV Smart Home Giveaway. During the first five years of the HGTV Urban Oasis, the project featured a contemporary residence in a luxury, high-rise property in a major U.S. city. Beginning in 2015, following the hot trend in home renovation, HGTV decided to purchase and completely remodel older bungalows near trendy urban communities.

Enter to Win the HGTV Urban Oasis 2017 The best part about this house is that it could be yours! The HGTV Urban Oasis Giveaway 2017 sweepstakes runs from October 2 through November 22. Online users may enter twice per day via Full rules are available at As the winner, you would receive a grand prize package valued at more than $600,000. It includes the home plus $50,000 provided by national mortgage lender Quicken Loans®. Find more photos and layouts, plus info on how you can enter for a chance to win the HGTV Urban Oasis 2017 at

Photos © 2017 Scripps Networks, LLC.  Used with permission; all rights reserved. 

August 26, 2017

It's Never a Good Day to Be Estranged.

Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go according to any rules. They're not like aches or wounds, they're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

They say there's a time and place for everything. Even the bible has that whole section about a time and purpose for every thing under heaven. But there's never a good time to be estranged.

Not when you're 22 and getting ready to graduate from college. Not when you're 28 and feeling generally lost and disconnected. And especially not when you're 33, getting married to the love of your life.

As a kid, I remember hearing stories on the news about someone being shot by his strange wife and I used to wonder what exactly they were basing that on. I wondered if I knew any strange folks, and were they capable of killing someone they used to love. I later learned that what I heard said as 'strange' was actually the word 'estranged.' But at the time, I had no idea what that meant or that I'd one day live it.

Defined as being no longer close or affectionate to someone; alienated, estrangement is one of those things nobody wants to talk about.

Even researching this piece was tough because the stats about estrangement are relatively few. One article suggested that the current stats are probably wrong anyway because so many people are estranged but don't talk about it.

Even if this doesn't affect you personally, I'll bet you can think of at least one friend who has a family member they don't see or speak to, or who doesn't speak to them. That is, if your friend is willing to share this.

I've never shared anything quite this personal on the blog, but over omelets and mimosas awhile back, my husband told me I needed to quit playing it so safe. So here goes.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, "wow, this is a great day to be estranged from my family."

Sometimes it happens all at once, because of a big fight or problem. Other times it's more like the end result of a recipe...the ingredients were there and the conditions were right.

As an aside, please don't get your hopes up and think I have any answers about how to fix these family heartbreaks. I have none. But it's not always about having the answers. Sometimes it's just about not feeling quite so alone.

Here's what I know...

If you have family that you don't associate with or speak to, you're not alone. This issue affects all different kinds of families: rich, poor, from all sorts of cultural backgrounds and education levels from all walks of life. What these families do have in common is that they once declared their affection for each other. And now there's a great divide.

Sometimes these fissures happen over division of stuff and property when one generation passes away. Other times it's about lifestyle choices, including marriages or divorces, too much drinking or drugs. Or maybe it has to do with hurt feelings, hard feelings that built over time, like layers in a pastry...smooshing together until they can't be peeled apart anymore.

These kinds of things have a way of taking on a new life of their own and eventually planting themselves firmly in your path.

You learn to work around the issue, to live with that giant elephant in the room. Sometimes its presence affects you more than others. Sometimes you feel almost normal.

Other times it hits you smack dab in the middle of the face (or really in the heart) and leaves you feeling like the wind has been knocked out of you.

Certain days are harder than others. Holidays. Anniversaries of particular events or occasions. Sometimes you just want to skip these altogether.

And then there are those people in your life who don't understand, who won't ever understand exactly how you feel. Maybe they blame you or think you're ridiculous because you can't just get over it or work it out. Maybe they lost someone dear to them and think you're squandering a precious gift they wish they still had. Sometimes these people are even harder to deal with than the ones you're estranged from.

In a perfect world, all families would gather. Every person would feel seen and known. There'd be no awkwardness or stuffing down your feelings. It would be a free, safe place to speak from your heart, knowing you would be heard by people who'd love you no matter what.

But of course we know this is not a perfect world.

As easy or tempting as it might be to point blame, these types of situations are just too complicated for that. Everybody plays a part and we all contribute something in some way. It'd be much easier if all the heroes wore capes and the bad guys donned eye patches, but it ain't the case.

Something to remember: If you're estranged from your family, or they are estranged from you, you don't have to feel ashamed about it. And you never, ever have to feel guilty because someone else tries to give their opinion about your situation without understanding all the facts. Heck, even if they do understand the doesn't mean they truly know how you feel.

And it definitely doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. I'm not putting the blame squarely on the other party, just saying that it's complicated and we don't know always know why certain situations unfold the way they do.

Maybe you are doing the best you can. Sometimes that has to be enough. But on the flip side, maybe they are doing the best they can. Sometimes that has to be enough. That doesn't always make things easy.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about and can't think of one friend in this situation, then you're probably living a pretty good life.

But if this post resonates with you in any way, I hope it makes you feel like maybe there's someone else out there, living their life and being grateful for all the good stuff, while still hurting over the hard stuff too. I hope you know you aren't alone.

August 23, 2017

Ways to Celebrate Hummingbird Season

It's hummingbird season in East Tennessee and lots of the tiny winged wonders are currently passing through our region to find warmer temperatures further south. Did you know some hummingbirds travel about 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico without stopping? What an incredible trek for such a small bird to take all alone!

There are all sorts of ways to celebrate hummingbird season, including helping our fluttering friends as they move along their journey.

One way to celebrate the wonder of hummingbirds is by making your yard or garden a space where they feel welcome.

Offer a Food Source for Hummingbirds 

Want to attract hummingbirds to your yard? Here are some tips to make your space welcoming to them. 

One way to attract hummingbirds is to incorporate flowering plants that they like, including varieties with all sorts of bright colors.

Opt for tubular choices because they hold the most nectar. This might include flowers such as columbines, daylilies, foxgloves, hollyhocks, impatiens and petunias.

Make sure to leave open spaces so the birds can move around from each nectar source. A hummingbird can snack on nectar from hundreds of flowers in any given day.

Don't have a green thumb? Never fear! There are other ways to attract hummingbirds to your yard.

Install Hummingbird Feeders around Your Home

When I don't know something, I like to go straight to the source for the best information. This is why I stopped by Knoxville's Wild Birds Unlimited to get more info about what types of hummingbird feeders to use and how to mix the nectar.

Here are a few things I learned:

  • Hummingbird nectar is always a ratio of 4:1 (four parts water to one part sugar)
  • If you make your own nectar from granulated sugar, you'll need to boil your water so it dissolves
  • Or you can make things simple for yourself and pick up a pouch of fine sugar and a mixing bottle (available at Wild Birds Unlimited
  • Hummingbird nectar isn't actually red -- just the container is. DO NOT add red food coloring to your hummingbird nectar. The dye is bad for the birds' kidneys. Just make sure to use a feeder that has a red tint. 
  • In fact, the more red you can incorporate around your feeder, the better. Hummingbirds have no sense of smell but very good eyesight so it's the red that attracts them. 
  • Put your hummingbird feeder(s) where you can see it. That's the fun of attracting hummingbirds...getting to enjoy watching them!

Wild Birds Unlimited has all sorts of hummingbird feeder options, plus stands and perches, nectar, and pretty much everything you need to attract various wild birds to your yard.

A Twist on Traditional Southern Dessert: Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird Cake is a popular southern dessert that combines pineapple and banana in a luscious cake, topped with rich cream cheese frosting. What's not to love? Southern Living first ran a recipe for this sweet treat in a 1978 edition of the magazine, and since then it is supposedly their most requested recipe. **Not made of real seems like that would be a given, but somebody might be wondering.** 

If you want to make a traditional southern hummingbird cake, check out these ideas.

I decided to create something a bit lighter that takes traditional hummingbird cake and gives it a simple twist: Hummingbird Parfaits. 

You'll need: 

Pound cake, chopped into small pieces
Sliced bananas
crushed pineapple
pecans or walnuts
whipped topping 

In a small parfait glass or jar, add a spoonful of crushed pineapple. Layer a few pieces of cake, sliced bananas, more pineapple, cake and whipped topping. Sprinkle with pecans or walnuts. 

If possible, make these ahead of time and refrigerate them while the juices mingle together. I know, it's not your grandma's hummingbird cake...but it's a new take on a southern staple. If we can't adjust and put our own stamp on things, what's the point? 

You could also make this in a trifle bowl and serve it in pretty vintage tea cups or other small dishes. 

All this talk of hummingbird cake got you in the mood to host a party? No party is complete without a signature drink! 

Mix up Signature Drinks - Hummingbird Cocktail 

As we covered earlier, hummingbird nectar IS NOT ACTUALLY RED...just the feeders are. But in the spirit of serving up what appears to be red-tinted nectar to hummingbirds, I'm mixing up a cocktail that's perfect for your next birding session. 

As I like to keep things simple, it only has a few ingredients: 

Sallie's Greatest Strawberry + Basil Simple Syrup 
Prosecco (or champagne)

For a non-alcoholic option, use plain seltzer water. 

Pour some of Sallie's syrup in a glass, top with bubbly and garnish with a few basil leaves or strawberries. Sip! Enjoy! 

Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival at Ijams Nature Center

Another great way to celebrate hummingbird season in East Tennessee is with other hummingbird enthusiasts at Ijams' seventh annual Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival! The festival will be held Saturday, August 26 from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The event will include children's activities, guest experts speaking on various topics, wildlife demonstrations, arts & craft vendors, and more! 

A big highlight of this event for attendees is the banding demonstrations. Banding is a way to harmlessly capture, weigh and measure hummingbirds and then band them before letting them go about their way. Ijams notes that banding offers a way to document hummingbird movement through migration. 

[All hummingbird photos courtesy of Wild Birds Unlimited - Knoxville, TN]

August 9, 2017

Simple Tips for Making Back-to-School Lunches More Fun

As a kid, lunch was one of my favorite things about school. What can I say...I have always been a foodie. Usually I ate cafeteria food, but sometimes (depending on which friends I happened to be influenced by at the time) I wanted to bring my lunch to school.

Most kids around where I live have gone back to school, even though it might seem a bit early to folks in other parts of the country. Remember what an exciting time it was? Freshly sharpened pencils, new friends and teachers, and maybe even getting a new backpack or lunchbag?

When I was a kid, my mom tried to make good lunches, but they were always a little out of the ordinary. This was before anyone in my small southern town had ever heard of bento and it would be many years before Pinterest was available for inspiration. Plus, our family tupperware collection was mostly made up of containers missing their lids.

On more than one occasion, by the time lunch rolled around my brown paper lunch sack would be soaked through with whatever my lunch happened to contain...including pickle juice.

Lunch is important for students. It helps them have the energy they need to stay focused and learn. I'm channeling my inner elementary school student and sharing some tips for making lunches more fun!

1) Make Lunch Fun 

We gotta eat lunch, but we also want to enjoy ourselves! There are so many simple ways to make back-to-school lunches more fun. 

I turned to Pinterest to get some inspiration, and it did not disappoint! 

From adorable sandwiches with cute faces to strawberry mice, there is no shortage of fun to find on Pinterest. Check out how one blogger turned ordinary sandwiches into cuddly creatures below! 

Another idea I had was to jazz up some boring Ziploc bags! With just some craft paper, tape and a few colored markers, I turned plain clear plastic bags into cute snack bags. 
  • Draw horizontal black lines down a zipper bag and fill with animal crackers for a tasty zoo!
  • Affix an image of an underwater scene to the back of a bag (so you can see it through the plastic) and fill bag with goldfish crackers. 
  • Draw some green grass or affix a nature scene to the back of a bag and fill with carrot flowers. 

There are plenty of other fun lunch ideas, depending on your child's age!

  • Take sheets from an activity book and turn them into napkin rings. Include a couple of crayons and your child has a fun activity to look forward to each day. 
  • I found some great alphabet cookies that would make a fun lunchtime game. A blogger named Allison created some neat free printables that use alphabet cookies to encourage learning. Check them out here.
  • Draw silly pictures or leave little encouraging notes in your child's lunchbox. I found some adorable inspirational stickers at Dollar Tree and stuck them on plain old bananas. An encouraging word does a body good and it will make lunch something to look forward to for sure!

2) Think Outside the Lunchbox

Get creative with containers to maximize options for lunch. You don't have to limit lunch to traditional lunchboxes. Small tote bags can also make a fun way to bring a lunch. When I was in high school, I saved small shopping bags from fancy department stores so I could use them to carry my lunch to school. I thought I was so sophisticated with my little brown bag from bloomingdales. 

Who says you have to carry the same bag every day? Dollar Tree and the Target Dollar Zone often have different cute bags for cheap. Keep it interesting by changing up your lunch bag to match your mood. 

Also, get creative with food containers too. I found some adorable plastic food storage options in the baby section of Dollar Tree, complete with cute animal faces. I also picked up some great plastic bins from the office supplies section. Just be sure to check for BPA and wash everything thoroughly before using it. 

3) Go Beyond the Sandwich

Sandwiches are great, but sometimes it's fun to switch things up. And who says lunch has to include a sandwich anyway? Wraps are a good option, especially because they hold up pretty well for several hours. Hard boiled eggs make another great lunch, paired with other healthy options like nuts, fruit and veggies. 

Here are some other possible lunch options:

  • Pimento cheese or pesto on a spinach wrap
  • Ham or turkey and cheese wrapped around pretzel rods
  • Hummus and sprouts in a mini pita
  • Tuna or chicken salad on Triscuits 

Lunch doesn't have to be a chore...make it fun with these simple tips!