March 21, 2018

Simple Easter Decorations & Treats

Spring is here and it's a great time to indulge in some fun and simple Easter treats for the entire family. You don't have to spent a lot of money or go to a lot of trouble. There are plenty of great springtime projects to make and do. 

Check out this fun little round-up and maybe you'll be inspired to get creative this season! 

Pear Bunny Salad

Who better than Betty Crocker for a little inspiration...check out this adorable bunny salad made from pear halves. It's healthy and cute...and super simple to make. You might even have all the ingredients on hand. 

Honey Bun-ny Sweet Treats

Check out this cute tutorial from the delightful blog Eighteen25. Using store-bought pre-packaged honey buns, you can add some colorful twine and a cute tag and voila, such a great little Easter goody. Tuck it into a school lunch or pop it in an Easter basket. 

DIY Glittery Easter Eggs 

I don't care how old I get, I'll never tire of good ol' glitter as a go-to for crafting. And those traditional plastic Easter eggs definitely lend a great surface for it. With some simple glue or mod podge, you can turn neon colored plastic eggs into something that looks sophisticated and fun. 

Chocolate Eggs in Tiny Easter Baskets 

Everything is cuter on a miniature scale. I snagged some tiny straw baskets at a discount store and plan to use them as party favors holding small marzipan eggs at Easter. My local Aldi store had some great varieties of Easter candies and treats. 

Some of my other favorite places to shop for seasonal decorations and supplies include thrift shops like Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc as well as Dollar Tree/Dollar General. You can find some great options without spending much money. 

Happy spring & Happy Easter y'all! 

March 7, 2018

Three Simple Drink Recipes for Spring

Spring is just around the corner and lots of trees and flowers are already blooming. Except Knoxville just got hit with a bit of colder weather. Hopefully it won't last and before too long we'll be enjoying warmer days spent outside on patios and porches. And what's better than a refreshing drink on a warm spring day? Here are three simple drink recipes you might want to make this season!

Not Your Childhood Cherry Cola 

Cherry cola always felt like such a treat in childhood. Granted, it was easy enough....just putting a few maraschino cherries into your Coke, but that combination of flavors hit the spot.

Not only are cherries delicious, they are great for your health. Packed with antioxidants, cherries may help fight cancer. Plus, one cup of cherries has as much potassium as a small banana. This helps keep your blood pressure under control. 

So let's drink to our health....with an updated version of that childhood favorite.

Try swapping your usual cola for Red Rock, a brand of soda founded in 1885 in Atlanta, Georgia. For the first part of the 20th century Red Rock was a soda leader, even getting endorsements from baseball player Babe Ruth. It fell out of favor but has made a comeback in the past twenty years or so. I thought it was delicious and had a less syrupy quality than other colas.

Instead of those bright red maraschino cherries, try using morello cherries, which are more sour and commonly used in pies and cobblers. It makes for a great flavor combo if I do say so myself. Cheers y'all!

Iced Chai Tea with Grenadine & Vanilla

I drink iced tea all year long, but spring is definitely one of the times I enjoy it most. There's pretty much no iced tea I don't like, but sometimes I enjoy adding something a little bit special.

I've been on a chai tea kick lately, enjoying the savory and aromatic variety with all its flavors. To take my chai to the next level this spring, I'm adding grenadine and vanilla extract.

The vanilla only helps to enhance the flavors already in the chai and the grenadine adds just the right amount of sweetness. Delicious!

Dreamsicle Margarita 

Recently I saw a guy on television making margaritas with Mountain Dew and tequila. While this doesn't exactly sound all that appealing to me, it did inspire me to experiment with a few other options. This is how I ended up finding a recipe for the Dreamsicle Margarita....tequila, orange soda, and vanilla ice cream are all on the ingredients list....delish! Head over to Genius Kitchen to find the full recipe.

Yum! I'll definitely be enjoying this one come spring.

Happy sipping y'all!

March 2, 2018

This Will Not Break Us.

I'll never forget when my then fiancĂ© and I were completing our wedding registry at Belk and looking at china patterns, the sales lady took a delicate plate and banged it against the display shelf to show us just how durable bone china really is.

I was horrified at first, but saw that she was didn't crack or break. While I'm not saying this is necessarily a good way to test the strength of your fancy dishes, it was a good reminder that not all is what it seems.

If you had asked me prior to this demonstration, I would have sworn bone china was the most fragile and delicate option available. I would have been incorrect. In fact, bone china, though thinner and lighter than porcelain, has the greatest strength and highest chip-resistance of all ceramics. Stick that one in your save for later trivia file.

Isn't it funny how something that you perceive to be very delicate or fragile can surprise you with an inner strength you didn't know it had?

I found myself in this very situation recently while having a conversation with my paternal grandmother. While our relationship has been somewhat complicated over the past decade, she remains one of the most influential people in my life.

Some of my earliest, most vivid memories are of time spent with her, playing Barbies or cooking or making arts and crafts. And it wasn't just the things we did together that felt special. It was the way she related to me. The way she made me feel valued, without expecting me to do anything to earn her acceptance or approval.

In many ways, she was my first best friend. Actually, I think I always saw her as more of a friend than a grandma. Maybe that's why I have never called her Grandma, opting to instead call her by her first name, Patsye. In my childhood mind, it was more than a name....sort of a term of endearment more special than the generic 'grandma' used by most kids.

I always saw her as one of the most creative people I knew. She could make anything. As long as I could dream it up, she could figure out a way to make it. A talented seamstress and quilter, she brought to life the beautiful dresses and outfits I would sketch. When I asked her to make me a quilt with a ballerina on it, she rose to the challenge, turning scraps of satin and vintage lace into a tutu and toe shoes.

But while I always saw my Patsye as talented, creative and kind, I knew she had another side. A very fragile, sensitive side that could surface in any given situation and leave me feeling very confused.

Once, while looking at old photographs of her as a teenager, I saw one where I thought her hair looked funny. It was the 80s, and I'm sure it was the fact that hair styles of the 1950s were very different from hair styles that I knew to be 'normal.' I said, "Patsye, why does your hair look so funny?" not meaning any disrespect, but truly wanting to know.

This upset her very much, hurting her feelings and somehow she didn't understand that I didn't really mean it as an insult, just an innocent question. She went to her room and as I recall, didn't come out for the rest of the evening.

There would be other situations like this. When things would upset her or cause her to withdraw into herself. I learned early on that I had to tiptoe around her in some ways. But my grandpa was always there as a buffer, swooping in to make a joke, or change the subject, to protect her from one thing or another.

While I love my grandmother dearly, I would never have used the word strong to describe her.

But thinking back to her life, I can imagine that it was challenging. Her parents had an actual shotgun wedding and she always believed they were never in love. She told me on more than one occasion she never saw them be affectionate or say that they loved each other. She also felt very rejected by her mom, which I'm sure impacted her in many ways. These early life experiences shape us so much and while as a kid I only saw her as my grandmother, as an adult I can look back and see that things weren't always so great for her.

There have been plenty of not so great things that have happened since then as well. Family dramas, fractured relationships, addiction and illnesses that threw a major wrench in all the plans. This is not where I thought we'd be.

The other day I was visiting with my grandmother and found myself getting emotional about a situation I have been facing. It sounds cliche and I guess it is, but after I poured out my heart to her, I said, "It's just not fair." 

"No, it's not fair," she said. "Nothing ever is. But we are strong. This will not break us." 

I remember looking up at her through my tears and thinking, who is this person? Where did she come from? 

Perhaps she has had this inner strength all along. No, not perhaps. I'm sure of it. I don't know where it was or why she kept it hidden from me for the most part. But when I needed a reminder, she was right there. Speaking wisdom.

And she's right. This will not break us. I won't let it. And even though I have no idea what you're facing....hear this: it will not break you. Even if you feel like you are already broken. The part of you that matters most is fully intact. Unbreakable.

This is why I eat peanut butter crackers on my Wedgwood wedding china. Or whatever else I happen to be eating on any given day. I want to always be reminded of the importance of putting my valuables to good use. And also I want to remember that whatever I'm dealing with, it will not break me.

February 23, 2018

If Life is a Contest, I'm Changing the Rules

I've been doing Girls Inc mentoring since the fall. Each week for one hour, I spend time with a group of  9- and 10-year old girls at an elementary school in my neighborhood.

Mostly we do art projects or some other type of crafts. We meet in one of the school classrooms and we're limited on space and time, so our activities aren't anything too extensive or messy. A lot of paper crafts and drawing and coloring.

Last week we were drawing and making posters with magic markers and puffy dog & cat stickers, as 9 and 10 year old girls do.

I try to comment about everyone's projects and tell them what a great job they're doing. I think back to how much it meant to me when one of my teachers made a big fuss over something I made or did in class. I try to find some kind of unique element in each of their artworks to draw attention to and make them feel good about.

Last week somebody in the group said that somebody else's drawing was better than hers. I said, "It's not a contest. Plus yours is really great." Another of the girls, who strikes me as something of a cynic (just for the record) said, "Oh, it's ALWAYS a contest." And she was definitely referring to more than just an art project.

Something about the way she said it made me feel like she had known this for a long time. And she pitied me for not being in on the secret.

This got me thinking. First off, it made me sad that a 9- or 10-year old girl would have this philosophy about life. That there are always winners and losers.

As a 35 year old girl, I definitely feel like it's a contest but I don't think I felt that way at their age. Maybe I'm just remembering it wrong. For some reason, I thought it was the world and all its screwed up messages that had somehow led me to believe this at this point in my life.

Maybe I've always adhered to this belief system. I didn't try to argue with her or tell her it's not a contest. I just started thinking about it a little bit.

So what if life is a contest. What are we competing for? And in what categories are we competing against each other?

Prettiest? Skinniest? Most successful? Nicest house? Fanciest car? Biggest bank account? I'm sure there are plenty more, but these come to mind first.

Maybe if we rethink the contest itself we can have a healthier, better perspective on how we relate to each other and how we view ourselves.

What if the categories include things like "How kind was I?" "Did I take advantage of every opportunity that came my way?" "Was I willing to go the extra mile for people who needed a little bit of help?"

What if we're actually not competing with each other at all but really we're competing with ourselves? Those other versions of ourselves that try to creep in and sabotage our progress. The ones who want to lie to us and tell us that we're not good enough...that we'll never be good enough...that we really can't do it and we might as well just give up now.

It would be easy to blame the world for this and all these crappy messages but on some level, we still get to decide what comes in and out of our own minds. We can build a wall like a strong fortress that keeps those lies out. And we don't have to do it alone. With a support system of faith, friends, family, and personal cheerleaders it is possible to build a foundation of Truth and positive hooplah in our hearts.

Have you been watching the Olympics? I have to admit I haven't, but I know that each athlete competing didn't get there overnight. Just like anything else we want to be good at, it takes practice.

Keeping our negative thinking in check takes practice. Celebrating our accomplishments instead of ripping ourselves apart takes practice.

Whether you believe life is a contest or not, at some point we will all end up at the end. I have to believe we won't care so much about winning and losing when we're taking our last breaths. But hopefully if we have won the race in the ways that it matters we will experience a feeling of accomplishment, and much more important than that, a peace unlike any we could have known otherwise.

February 14, 2018

How to Host an Olympics Watching Party

The Olympics are such an exciting event and what's not to love about finding a reason to host a party? I've got a great round-up of some fun Olympic-themed party ideas from the blogosphere...check these out and consider hosting an Olympics party of your own!

Project Nursery's Entertaining with Emily went for the gold with this adorable tabletop display! Create your own with gold and blue paper plates plus mint julep cups stuffed with colorful tissue paper for the Olympic torch.

Speaking of the Olympic torch, make your own edible version using traditional ice cream cones and cheese curls. Too cute! (via Living Well Spending Less)

By far, one of the most fun Olympics parties I came across was this one from Bird's of the cutest blogs around.

Some other ideas I had play off the color scheme of the Olympic rings, arguably the most recognizable thing about the Olympics.

1) Buy small tin pails in red, blue, green, black and yellow and use them to serve popcorn or other snacks at your event. [I found some at Party City]

2) Buy small plastic bowls in red, blue, green, black and yellow and use them to serve color coordinating candies. [Again, Party City]

3) Hang a garland of American flags [USA! USA! USA!]

4) Serve cupcakes with chocolate coins in gold, silver, and bronze.

5) Small colorful gift bags are great for favors.

6) Serve drinks in cups with sugared rims (color coordinating sugar in Olympics shades).

7) Play games and give out small toy medals to guests.

8) Watch classic Olympics films [Cool Runnings, Miracle, The Cutting Edge, etc]

February 3, 2018

The Things We Lose

I've been thinking lately about loss. Not so much in a emotional, melancholy, can't get out from under the covers way, but more about loss from a straightforward logic perspective.

After changing my college major at the end of my sophomore year, I learned I would now be required to take a sequence of science classes my previous major had not required. I didn't want to fall behind and had to find an option I could complete in the time frame as well as one that would fit into my already set schedule.

Somehow I landed on Botany. Nobody I knew had taken it so there would be no sharing of notes or hitting up friends for old tests and study guides. But, plants, yeah that could be cool,  I thought. Might learn something practical I could use later on.  The class included a twice weekly 1-hour lecture plus a three hour weekly lab.

It was in the lab that some of the info I was learning really seemed to click, and while I have sadly never become a botanist or put my plantly knowledge to any sort of real use, there was something very important I learned.

The apical meristem.

Never heard of it? Yeah, I hadn't either until I randomly took a college botany class. Prepare to be enlightened.

You see, plants have this thing called an apical meristem. Located at the very tip of a plant's shoots, it sends little messages for the plant to keep growing. One definition says it encourages growth. So it's like the plant's tiny cheerleader. Come on, keep going, you've got this! 

But what happens if the apical meristem gets broken or cut off? Oh never fear my friends, because SCIENCE! (and God). If a plant loses its apical meristem, aka its cheerleader, then the lower regions on the remaining branches (which also have meristems of their own that are just waiting to be needed), start to grow to make up for what was lost.

This is why you will see trees or shrubs that have been topped or cut down to just the sticks grow back even fuller and bushier than before.

And it isn't just the parts of the plants we can see above ground that have this. There are root meristems too. If a plant loses parts of its root, the same little workers down below send messages to grow in other areas to make up for what isn't there anymore.

And this brings me back to my starting point about loss. We have all lost something in our lives. Some of us may feel like we have lost everything at one point or another. Maybe you're at that point right now.

My husband likes to joke about makin' gains in relation to his time spent at the gym. Gotta eat right so I can go to Gainsville. Need to lift so I can get those gains. And it does feel awesome when we gain something in this life. Our gains and accomplishments definitely have a way of trying to define us.

But I wonder if it's really our losses that can sometimes have more power over us.

Like you're just chugging along, trying to live your best life, and all of a sudden something swoops in and removes one of those all important apical meristems....someone or something that made you feel good, encouraged, like things were working right for you. What happens then?

For me, it's very much like what happens in plants. I tend to go into freak out mode, and I start scrambling to make up for what was lost. Digging deeper into the reserves to keep those all important growth encouragers activated. Sometimes this is good because it means I'm not giving up. But sometimes it means I'm trying to replace things that can't be replaced.

Have you ever lost something (or someone) and tried desperately to replace it with something (or someone) else? How did this work out for you? For me, it's never good. The replacement always ends up feeling like a cheap imitation.

But even in loss, there is room for growth. And sometimes it's the things we lose that leave us feeling more like ourselves. More free. More beautiful.

I have a wonderful, joyous, abundant life, with so much to be thankful for. But I still have huge gaping holes of loss. Loss of relationships that I thought would last forever. Loss of identities that I clung to because they felt so safe and comforting. Loss of opportunities that may never come around again. When put that way, it doesn't seem like a very pretty picture.

But I think of the apical meristem. And how even after it has been hacked down to very nub at ground level, a beautiful plant may very well grow back from it, fuller and stronger and more vibrant than ever before. To me, that is encouraging.

January 31, 2018

Simple DIY Flower Arrangements to Brighten Up Your Space

As winter lingers on, there's no better way to brighten up your space than with cheery flowers. And who says you have to spend buckets of money on expensive arrangements when you can DIY. I'm a big fan of grocery store flowers. I'm known to grab a few bouquets and take them apart, mixing and matching colors and types of blooms, and scattering them around in various containers.

And who's to say you are just limited to boring old vases? If a container holds water, it can work as a my humble opinion. This is why you'll see me using anything from a vintage Ironstone pitcher to a delicate teacup or re-purposed bottle or jar to show off my blossoms.

I was inspired by Vintage Romance Style to turn a Dollar General glass votive holder into something Kate Spade might put her name on. Isn't this adorable? The glass container will run you a whopping $2 and a paint pen or tube of acrylic paint might be another dollar or two. Or if you're like me, you may already have this stuff lying around. So go to town shopping your supplies and make something like this to showcase a few pretty stems.

While you are scrounging around for things you already have, keep an eye out for a straw place mat or cork trivet. These can be used to give new life to a plain old can or vase. Hester's Handmade Home inspired me to try something like this, and what a cute blog it is for all sorts of ideas and projects.

I snagged a few mismatched place mats at my local Goodwill that were perfect for wrapping around a tall glass cylinder vase. This is great for flowers with long stems that need more support in an arrangement.

Finally, I turned an old t-shirt into something a bit more stylish. For a few bucks, I found a cute black and white striped tee at Goodwill. Then I cut it into random triangles and used homemade Mod Podge to adhere it to a clear vase from my stash. Full disclosure, this was inspired by an old issue of Better Homes & Gardens I had been saving, but I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

Here's the original inspiration....

I hope these ideas inspire you to give your next grocery store flowers a little something extra with the containers and arranging. It's all about the presentation y'all....happy blooms!

January 10, 2018

Simple Treats to Chase Away the Winter Blues

Winter can be a blustery time. The holidays are over, but it's still quite a while before spring finally arrives. It's dark when we wake up, and dark when we get home from work. Everything looks brown and dead. Cold, dreary days can really start to wear on us all.

That's why it's good to look for ways to chase away these winter blues. I've got a few fun and simple ideas that you might want to try. These would be great for friends and family, or just to enjoy for yourself.

Warm Up with a DIY Hot Cocoa Station

Warm drinks are a great cure for what ails us, especially when those chilly winds are blowing outside. Coffee and hot tea are fine, but there's something about cocoa that hearkens back to childhood and offers a soothing nostalgia good for the soul. 

Gather up all your favorite cocoa accouterments and assemble a DIY hot cocoa station for your next party. Or maybe just have this on hand for yourself after a long day. It feels fun and festive and who doesn't love a little sugar buzz to ward off the chill. 

via Party City

Some of my favorite cocoa add-ins include: 

Crushed peppermint
Assorted marshmallows (of course)
Cinnamon sticks
Peppermint sticks
Mint candies (including peppermint patty) 
Whipped cream 
Chocolate chips

Polar Bear Paws 

We don't have polar bears in Tennessee. In fact, we hardly get any snow around here at all. So since you won't see any actual polar bears in our neck of the woods, why not celebrate these cuddly creatures with a sweet treat? 

Polar bear paws are easy to make. All you need is cookies (or cupcakes), white frosting, shredded coconut and decorative candies. Check out this blog for more detailed directions! 

Snowman After-School Snacks 

As a kid growing up in Tennessee, snow days were like a rare gift. We just don't get a lot of snow around here. But there's always a chance and in the meantime, why not celebrate Frosty with some fun snacks made to look like him? 

With some basic clear plastic cups and a Sharpie, you can turn a simple snack into something really cheery and fun. Same goes for string cheese. 

Sometimes it really is the simple things that can bring us the most joy. I hope you'll take time this winter to inject a little fun into your everyday routine. And I hope if the winter blues find you, they don't stay very long!