November 15, 2017

Thanksgiving Tips & Tricks for a Less Stressful Holiday

I have always loved Thanksgiving, but for some reason I'm really getting into the spirit this year. It might sound really cliche, but I'm feeling so thankful. Every day I'm reminded of all the things I have to be grateful for. And with that sort of a perspective, it's hard to feel stressed. 

That doesn't mean there won't be less than perfect moments. I'm certain there will. But I'm not putting any pressure on myself to make sure everything is a certain way. Of course, it helps that I'm not hosting but as a good guest, I won't show up empty handed.  

If you are hosting Thanksgiving this year, I've got some great news for you. It doesn't have to be perfect. Seriously, it won't be. 

But you can still create a wonderful experience for those you hold dear. And with these tips, you can avoid some of the potential pitfalls the day can bring. 

Appetizers are your best friend 

If I had only one tip to pass along for a less stressful Thanksgiving, it's this....appetizers and nibbles are your very best friend. You might be thinking "but that doesn't go with my perfect menu!" Or maybe, "Everyone will spoil their appetite for the amazing meal." Or whatever you're thinking. 

I promise you that appetizers are the way to go. People will be hungry. They might not eat breakfast because they are saving room for all that turkey and dressing. Something won't be ready at exactly the time you thought it would. Uncle so and so will say something offensive. Aunt you-know-who will be in rare form. Having a tray of snacks and nibbles for your guests to nosh on before the main meal is served will help cover a multitude of sins. 

Preferably something with salt and fat. 

What about a popcorn bar with all different flavors and assorted toppings? This is a great light snack for guests to enjoy pre-meal. 

Don't forget the relish trays

Maybe it's just me, but I think relish trays are a must for holidays. Things like pickles and olives not only make great pre-meal nibbles, but they also help to cut the richness of some of the other traditional holiday food. 

Go for a mix of dill and sweet pickles, as well as a variety of olives. Don't forget the party picks and maybe a small bowl for your pits (if you have any). 

There's also the southern staple of taking a brick of cream cheese and topping it with some type of hot pepper jelly. Add crackers and you're good to go. 

Don't try to make everything from scratch


Finally, there's no reason to try and make every single thing on the table from scratch. There are lots of great store-bought options available that take lots of stress out of the equation. 

Things like cranberry sauce (Trader Joe's has a great option) and rolls (I swear by Sister Schubert and a local option for Knoxville, Flour Head bakery). They aren't the star of the show so don't stress too much. 

You can also go the easy route with desserts. Not a baker extraordinaire? Just pick up something sweet from the store. It's not such a big deal. We make things way too hard on ourselves. 

Create a Thanksgiving drink station 

Instead of trying to do everything yourself for your holiday meal, how about letting your guests do it for you? Create a DIY drink station stocked with all sorts of juices and mix-ins and let your guests go to town! 

Some options they might enjoy: 

Cranberry juice + seltzer water + lime + vodka (optional) 

Apple juice + ginger ale + caramel syrup + white rum (optional) 

Lemonade + tonic water + grenadine + gin (optional) 

Sometimes it's really the simplest things that end up being the most popular. Don't make things too hard on yourself and you're sure to have a much better Thanksgiving. Plus, this frees up your time and energy for the important stuff....being grateful and celebrating your blessings! 

November 3, 2017

For the Ones Who Try to Do Good

They say it ain't broke, don't fix it. But the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

So what if you're not a squeaky wheel? What if you're the wheel that rolls along, trying way too hard to make it seem like you've got everything together all the time. The one that shows up early and stays late. And agrees to help when you don't feel like it. And gives everyone a pass instead of calling them on their crap. The one the others depend on not to squeak.

This is a sticky spot to find yourself in.

I'm reminded of the Bible story of the prodigal son, and how I've always related to the brother who stayed home and worked hard for his father. I like to think that he wasn't doing it to get a big pat on the back. He was just doing what he felt in his heart to be right. And then when his brother returned after squandering the dad's hard earned money, he was welcomed with a big party (of all things!). I can see how the first son would have felt so bitter and angry.

It's like the bar is set so high for us so-called good doers. Sometimes by the world, but often by ourselves. We hold ourselves to unrelenting standards. We don't necessarily want to or enjoy it, but we don't know how to be any other way.

And then you have another person who comes along, screws up everything and still gets a free pass. And not just a free pass, but a freaking party.

I'll be the first to admit there have been times in the past I've done the 'right thing' because someone was watching or I thought I'd get some kudos for my behavior.

But sometimes we do the right thing because it's the right thing. Full stop. Even if we were secretly hoping we might also get some bit of recognition for it, it's not what motivates us.

But on the other hand, it sure would be nice. We don't regret doing what's right, but we wish deep down in our heart that someone might notice.

And sometimes we do the right thing because it's a badge of honor we wear. Because we believe it's our duty or calling.

And not to let us completely off the hook, but lots of times, this is not something we've chosen for ourselves. It's instead something that feels pushed upon us. Like the straw we happened to draw from the pile.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I walked the pencil thin line between wanting to be liked by my classmates and wanting to be liked by my teachers. The two were at odds with each other because in order to be liked by your classmates, you had to be cool. To be liked by your teacher, you had to be good.

Being good felt safe. Being liked felt safe. It took a lot of energy. It still does. I oughta know.

There's no easy answer here. Maybe it's because I grew up as part of a generation of people who got a trophy for simply participating. Maybe it's because deep down, we crave the feeling that comes from being known and being seen.

Maybe it's because we just wish someone would stop for a second, place their hands squarely on our shoulders, look us oh so directly in the eye and say "I know you're working really hard. And I know it hasn't always been easy. And I know it still isn't easy. But I'm so proud of you."

If nobody has ever said those words to you, consider this message from me, right now:

I know you're working really hard. And I know it hasn't always been easy. And I know it still isn't easy. But I'm so proud of you.

It might not count for much. You might be thinking, you don't even know me. Maybe not. But I might know how you feel. I'm proud of all of us. The ones who are trying. Trying to do good in the face of those who can't or won't see it.

Some people simply do not give us what we need. Relationally, emotionally, or whatever. Sometimes it's because they truly aren't able to, and sometimes it's because they just stinking refuse. Either way, it's tough.

At the end of the day we get to decide...we get to decide what kind of person we're going to be. In this life there are work horses and show ponies. People who leave you high and dry and others who gut it out alongside you when the shit hits the fan. One way might be easy. But the other way is good.

November 1, 2017

DIY Fall Home Decor from the Dollar Store

Fall is here and I definitely like to enjoy November as its own separate time, with all the special things this season brings. Leaves crunching under your feet, apple cinnamon everything and Thanksgiving to name a few.

Retail stores are already in the jingle bell spirit, but I like to wait until after Thanksgiving to put out any Christmas decorations. That's just judgement if you already have your tree up.

I like to decorate my home for all the different seasons, especially during fall. However, I don't like to spend a lot of money on decorative items. That's why my go-to for fall decor is my local dollar store. I usually hit up both the Dollar Tree (where everything is exactly $1) and the Dollar General, where things are still fairly cheap but all different prices.

Here are some fun home decor projects you can DIY this fall, and all of it came from the dollar store.

1) Chalk Painted Pumpkins - 

It's hard to believe these cute pumpkins started out as bright, Halloween orange but they did. I was inspired by Kim who has tons of great projects on her blog.

I scored my foam pumpkins at the Dollar Tree for a buck apiece. 

With a little chalk paint (or acrylic paint), you can give them a whole new life. Depending on your style (modern, shabby chic, country, etc), you can dress up your painted pumpkins in all sorts of ways. Plus if you take care of them, they will last from year to year. 

2) Metallic Pumpkins - 

There's something so glam about metallics and I wanted to makeover some Dollar Tree pumpkins with this style as well. I snagged some small, molded resin pumpkins and spray painted them a few different neutral colors, including bronze, camel, and gold. 

These will make a great centerpiece for my fall table!

3) Mini Acorn Chalkboard -

When I saw a cute acorn shaped front door decor at Dollar Tree, I snatched it up right away. Sometimes you have to be willing to see the hidden potential of your dollar store treasures. I wasn't so fond of the cheesy looking artwork on the acorn, but the shape of it was cute and I knew with a coat of black chalkboard paint, it would be a great little memo or message board.

I even found a nearly identical version on Etsy, priced at nearly $30 (shown below)!

4) Dried Bean Votive Candles  -

When I'm creating centerpieces for a table, I always try to incorporate as many textures as possible for visual interest. So for this dollar store DIY I headed straight to the grocery section and snagged three bags of dried beans. Then I found some stemless wine glasses which are perfect for votive candle holders.

You could also use a hurricane glass or another clear container. This has a nice harvest feel to it, perfect for the fall season.

It's fun to get creative and without a lot of financial investment, there's no pressure to make everything perfect. For a few dollars, you can get crafting this fall and add some autumn awesomeness to your home!