» Articles «


Happy Valentine’s Day!


“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”
-Mother Teresa

flowers

I hope you are all spending time with those you love and who love you most. Happy Valentine’s Day!


5 Beautiful Blogs


Happy Friday! Today I’d like to take a moment to share with you five beautiful blogs & websites that I just can’t get enough of. These are my daily go to blogs for inspiration and an overall feeling of goodness. Check them out and be sure to spread a little love their way.

KinfolkMag: A photographic/journal-style blog that provides casual entertainment ideas. They put out a beautiful magazine that is available for purchase on the site and also have a Journal site as well as galleries of their various events.

Kinfolkjournal

My Ideal Home: A beautifully crafted tumblr page filled with awe-inspiring architecture, design, and decorating elements.

myidealhome

Sunday Suppers: Beautifully staged photographs and details of class-cooking-dining experiences, pairing friends and food. Classes are held in a waterfront loft in Brooklyn, NY and are taught by local Chefs. The food is market fresh, local and organic and the approach is to create seasonal and fresh meals together.

Sunday-Suppers

Treasures and Travels: Hosted by the two girls behind the online shop, Kalos which sells handmade jewelry and vintage clothing. They post about anything and everything they see, love, wear, etc.

TreasureandTravels

Tiny White Daisies: Beautiful photography is king at this tumblr page. The photographs range from nature, to architecture, to everyday sightings. A must see sight for beautiful finds.

tinywhitedaisies

Happy browsing!


January Jaunt in the Park


winter stroll

I know I’ve probably bored you to death with photos of our favorite state park, Sycamore Shoals, but I wanted to prove to you just how much we love this spot. We even brave weather in the teens with biting cold wind whipping off the river just for a joyful jaunt along the beautiful trails. It is amazing to me how beautiful this place is even in the dead of winter. Hope you all are bundled up tight and staying toasty warm this evening.

Winter Stroll, Nature

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
― John Steinbeck



Lower Your Grocery Bill & Monthly Meals (Part 2)


I hope you enjoyed Lowering Your Grocery Bill Part 1 of tips to lowering your grocery bill and preparing monthly meals. Today I am going to show you a sample meal plan with various recipes.

I mentioned in our first post that you should prepare your meals on a different day than your shopping day. We shop on Friday evenings when people are out painting the town red, this allows us to come home, put away groceries, soak beans, relax and then start fresh on Saturday morning. Prior to preparing your meals look at all of your recipes to consolidate prep time. If more than one recipe requires onions, then by all means, chop all of the onions at the same time. Trust me, this will save you oodles of time. Also, look for alternate cooking methods–if you have two items that can be baked at the same temp, prepare them first, put them in together, and move on to the next meal while they cook. You can also throw lots and lots of meals in a crockpot (chili!) while others are cooking in the oven.

Month #1

Dinners:
Roasted Red Potatoes, sauteed onions & salad
Chili over rice (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it)
Curried Carrot Soup
Grilled Eggplant Tomato Aioli Sandwiches
Grilled Chicken Salad
Chicken and Rice (with a variety of marinades & seasonings)
Burgers
Jerk Chicken Sandwiches
Frittatas

Sides:
Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, pine nuts
Grilled Zucchini or zucchini salad
Red potatoes (smaller portion than the dinner potatoes)
dinner rolls
corn on the cob

Lunches:
PB&J
Tuna Sandwiches
Our favorite Rice and Beans with salad
yogurt
granola

Breakfast:
Toast
Eggs
Homemade granola

Here are some of the recipes I used and the ways I’ve adapted them to keep costs low. Although the recipes are simple you can mix them up quite a bit with different seasonings and by mixing up the paired sides. Also, most of my seasoning is done by taste and I am not shy at all with adding seasonings especially when it comes to garlic and curry so be generous, I’ll try to keep track of my amounts when these items come back into our rotation.

Dinners:

carrot soupCurried Carrot Soup:
Adapted to save money From Rachael Ray
12 servings/6 meals
(6 ziplocks filled with 2 c. each)

I used Rachael Ray’s recipe as a guideline for making a cheaper version of the soup. Since I was making a lot of soup (ended up being 12 individual meals), I used 1 whole bag of the giant carrots instead of the baby carrots, 1/2 stick of butter, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1-1/2 onions (chopped), salt to taste, cayenne pepper to taste, curry to taste (lots and lots of curry–don’t be shy). I also added 3 tbsps of honey to sweeten it a bit and break up the heavy carrot taste, you can probably just use a 2 tbsp or so of regular sugar for this. Last change was cutting out the sour cream to keep it healthier. Also, these soups always seem a bit thicker after thawing them so Jack and I will add water, milk or cream to them to make it more soupy and give us a bit more per serving.

Roasted Red Potatoes:
Makes about 7 meals for 2, 1-5lb bag)
2-3 potatoes/person x 7

Jack and I wing this recipe every time. We ended up cutting 2-3 red potatoes into smaller cubes drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic, rosemary, pepper and a dash of salt. Toss potatoes to make sure they are thoroughly coated. Place in skillet, we use our cast-iron, place in oven at 350 degrees until they brown. Turn potatoes every 10 minutes to heat evenly and prevent burning. Pair with a larger portion of salad and veggies.

Also, did you know that according to food regulations, the bagged produce (like potatoes and onions) must weight at least what it says on the bag? Apparently this means that may times, distributors will throw in extra potatoes just to make sure they exceed the listed poundage. How does this help lower your grocery costs? If you weigh your bagged veggies, like onions and potatoes, you can end up with more bulk for your buck since the bags are a set price. Pretty neat, right?

Chili:
20 serv./10 meals
(10 ziplocks filled with 2 c. each)

My chili recipe changes each month depending on spices and what not but typically it takes 1 bag of beans (kidney, black or pinto–we like kidney best). Yes, I said bag, meaning you must soak them overnight or attempt the quick-soak method which requires bringing the beans to a boil then letting them sit in the water for 1 hour before cooking. I quick soak when we get back from the store and then throw them in the crockpot, cover with water and let cook overnight. In the morning, I brown 1 lb of ground beef and toss it into the crockpot along with lots of onions, chili powder, garlic, a little cumin, some tomato sauce (small can), 2 small tomatoes, Worcestershire and my favorite part of our chili recipe–cocoa powder! Seriously, this is the best discovery of my cooking life thus far. The cocoa gives the chili such an incredible savory taste. If your chili tastes too tomato-y, add brown sugar and Worcestershire to balance it out. I’ll be making a fresh batch next month and will write down my steps to share with you all. For now, don’t be afraid to use your favorite chili recipe. The main money saver is buying bagged beans, purcasing your produce from a produce stand or farmer’s market, making do with what you have on hand and limiting fancy ingredients.

Now, I must admit, we have a bit of a leg-up in the meat department. We buy local grass-fed beef once a year, and I work on the farm that we buy it from in the summer so that is extra money I don’t have to factor into my monthly totals (not that it would increase it too much). Just be aware this will raise your monthly amount a bit more than ours. However, if you are able to find some, I highly recommend buying grass-fed beef locally–it’s delicious! We buy about 30lbs and it lasts us the entire year, so we don’t actually eat very much beef.

Burgers:
Makes 10 burger patties

Since we have ground beef on hand it seems a shame to not make a round of tasty burgers. I hate preparing burgers for just one night, it’s a lot dirty work for just the two of us. I decided to see how well I could freeze these guys. I broke out 2 lbs of beef and added 1 chopped onion, about 1 cup of bread crumbs (depends on how juicy your meat is), garlic powder, pepper, 3 tbsp Worcestershire, basil and a touch of salt.

Perfect Burger PattiesNext, I made perfectly round patties by placing a large round cookie cutter onto wax paper and pressing the meat mixture into the cookie cutter as a mold which when lifted up, reveals a perfectly round patty. Yes, I like consistency that much. I experimented and wrapped some of the patties in foil then in saran wrap and some just in a healthy layer of saran wrap. Both seemed to keep well in the freezer. The 2 lbs made 10 burgers that we then paired with $.20 corn cobs from the produce stand down the road.

Egg, tomato, eggplant sandwichEggplant, Tomato, Aioli Sandwiches:
2 sandwiches/eggplant

I have already written an entire post on these bad boys. They are SO SO SO delicious. My favorite nights of the month are our hot sandwiches. Once again, be creative! There are so many different ways to combine your simple foods that turn them into favorite family recipes.

Chicken:
1 large package yields roughly 10 baggies for 2 people

We eat quite a bit of chicken but we have learned how to combine well with other sides to make it stretch. First of all, we almost always buy our chicken at Walmart, the large 5 breast packages, and usually when it is $.99/lb. We buy boneless, skinless breasts but there are other things like drumsticks and what not that you can buy cheaper if that is more your style. The reason we stick to breasts is because of their versatility.

chicken portionsThe only other prep task you might see us doing the same night of our grocery run is cutting up our chicken and placing it into smaller baggies. We slice the breast in half thickness-wise (so it’s half as thick making it a quick thaw) then cut into strips and place 2 serving sizes (3-4 oz–it’s a small handful) in one ziplock baggie. To give you an idea, Jack and I usually get about 10-12 baggies of cut-up chicken out of 1 large package of chicken.

Now you have chicken in meal bags ready to freeze. We typically pull out one bag of chicken/meal, thaw and cook to go on a salad or with rice. We also give variety to our chicken meals by adding marinades to the chicken prior to cooking or experimenting with the seasoning. One of my favorite ways to cook chicken is to sprinkle it with Salad Supreme, pepper and garlic, saute onions and serve with rice. Our first month we also ate Jerk Chicken sandwiches, where we simply pulled the chicken out, poured caribbean jerk sauce into the bag while it thawed, cooked the chicken and served on a burger bun kind of like a sloppy joe but with lettuce, tomato and onion. Delicious!

Since the chicken makes many loose bags in the freezer we store it in what used to be our ice bin. The bin seems to be the perfect size for a full month of chicken baggies.

Frittatas:
4-5 eggs/1 large frittata

Eggs are pretty stinking cheap around here. We buy ours at the little produce stand down the road for $.99/dz and since it’s at the produce stand we allow ourselves to buy it more than once a month. Jack eats one egg pretty much every morning but we have also incorporated eggs into our evening meals (the open-faced sandwiches and frittatas). The frittata ends up being about $2/meal for two people so it is great on the wallet. This is basically like scrambling eggs with veggies but here’s how we make it: Cut up some veggies (onion, green pepper, tomatoes) and sautee in olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan, season with garlic, curry, pepper and a little bit of salt. Whisk together 4-5 eggs in a separate bowl with about 1 tbsp of milk. Once the veggies are ready, spread them evenly around the bottom of the pan and pour the egg mixture over the top. Your eggs should fill all the space around the veggies and just barely reach the top of the veggies (so basically, you want to still see your veggies sticking out in various places, don’t cover them like a soup). Sprinkle the eggs with a bit more seasoning and place a lid over the pan and let cook for about 20 minutes. The eggs should fluff up nicely and create a little egg pie–kind of a quiche-like consistency without the crust. Cut into the middle to make sure your eggs are cooked all the way through. Pull out of the oven, allow to cool and serve with toast.

Sides:

I’m not sure I need much explanation on our sides. But here’s a quick overview:

saladSalads–just like any salad, we make do with what veggies we have on hand. Sometimes that can include many ingredients (cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, oriental noodles, onions, pine nuts, hard-boiled eggs) and other times we just use the last bits of produce in the house which may just be onion and tomato. Sometimes we buy salad dressing if it is on sale but often we make individual portions of dressing to go on our salad. This dressing is a mixture of balsamic vinegar(2 tbsp), olive oil(2tbsp), lemon juice (1/2-1tbsp), garlic powder and pepper. We just combine these until we’ve reached the right amount of zing.

The red potatoes we cook just like the dinner version but we usually just need 1/person, so it’s a smaller batch.

Grilled zucchini–cook however you normally would. We drizzle in olive oil with garlic and pepper sprinkled on top and place on the grill. We also grill it on skewers with peppers and onions.

Zucchini Ribbon SaladZucchini Ribbon Salad–Using a potato peeler, peel the zucchini in long ribbons and place in a bowl. Chop 1/2 of an onion and add to the bowl along with pepper and garlic (can you tell I like these two seasonings?). Prepare the balsamic/olive oil dressing listed above under “salads” and pour on top. I also usually have a package of pine nuts on hand for when I make pesto so I sprinkle those on top of this salad for a little added crunch. A small package of pine nuts costs about $2.38.

Corn and other veggies– just grill as you normally would. This veggie item varies according to which produce is the best price and better quality.

homemade dinner rolls Homemade Dinner Rolls– these are incredibly easy to make and cost nearly nothing if you typically have flour and yeast on hand.

Lunch:

Obviously sandwiches need little explanation but Jack’s favorite lunch meal, seasoned rice and beans, is so stinkin’ simple, I wonder sometimes why he loves it so.

On Sunday evenings I usually cook a small batch of brown rice (1-2 cups), pull out some extra beans that I’ve already cooked and put in the freezer and put about 1/2 cup of each into a lunch container. I also add a little pepper, salt and garlic along with a little chopped onion and tomato. In the other half of his lunch I chop up some lettuce and veggies and voila! A warm and healthy lunch for him to enjoy and it took me all of 10 minutes to throw together three for the week. Sometimes I’ll shred some cheese to go on the rice and beans, other times, if we’ve found tortillas on sale that month, I’ll give him a tortilla to wrap the mixture into, just to give a little bit of variety. Of course, he likes his staples and still swears the simple rice and beans mixture is his favorite lunch item.

Jack also makes homemade granola to eat with yogurt for snacks or lunches.

Here is a link to my grocery list from month #1. Keep in mind, I chose my menu recipes based on some of the ingredients already in my home. This is very important to keeping your grocery bill low. It takes a few extra minutes to take inventory of your fridge, freezer and cupboards but it lowers the cost tremendously. Google Recipes can come in handy here if you don’t yet have staple meals for various recipes. You can go to Google and type in “chili recipes” then over on the left column click the items you already have and see what links appear that use those items. From there figure out what else you would need from the store to make that recipe. This was very helpful when I wanted to find a carrot soup recipe.

Anyways, I say all that to inform you that if the item is not on my grocery list but I listed it above in my recipe instructions, I already had that item at the house. In month #1 this mostly pertains to seasonings. Also, although throughout the month we buy our produce at various farmer’s markets and the local produce stand, our first trip of the month we tend to buy the bulk produce and maybe a few other items if needed at the store.

Ok, I think that is plenty of information for you all to process. Keep in mind this was my very first month of monthly meal planning so, now looking back, the meals are terribly exciting but they tasted good and worked well throughout the entire month. We even had leftovers of some of these items to use in month #2 which helped break up the meal routine.

As always, let me know if you have any questions at all or if anything is unclear. Good luck!


Lower Your Grocery Bill + Monthly Shopping (Part 1)


lower grocery billThis past year Jack and I have picked up the speed on our ongoing money-saving mission. Although we don’t make very much money (we each work a normal job, an odd job for extra cash, and go to school full time), we have figured out where we can scrimp and scrape without robbing all the fun out of our lives. Despite bringing in very little money each month we are able to continually put money into savings and still afford a few niceties from time to time. We are not one of those insanely strict couples who never ever strays from the plan because, let’s face it, some days you just need a cheeseburger, but we do try to abide by our little rule set as closely as possible. However, allowing ourselves the flexibility to say, “screw the plan, we need a night out,” has actually given us motivation to stick to our budgeting strategy more consistently.

Now, this post is not meant to be a long lesson on how to save money and budget well, although I may be sharing some of our strategies and tracking sheets eventually. No, I tell you all this to say that our latest step in the long process of living simply and saving money one small piece at a time is to cut down our grocery bill. We don’t spend a lot of money on groceries, especially with just two of us, but we had been noticing that those unexpected mini trips to the grocery store throughout the month were causing the bill to be much higher than necessary. That realization is all it took for me to start researching–have I mentioned how much I enjoy researching? If you don’t believe me you will with this next bit of news…I ordered a book from the library that solely discussed lowering your grocery bill. Let me further emphasize to you how much I enjoy researching, this book was 300 pages long and I read every single page and loved every minute! The book I chose was, “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family.” It was awesome! At first I didn’t think I would actually learn anything because I constantly read about cheap and healthy eating on blogs and I think Jack and I have learned a great deal about saving on groceries but trust me, if you think you know cheap grocery shopping, think again.

Although many methods of saving are presented in this book, you can choose to use just one or combine many of their strategies, for instance, I refuse to cut coupons so I disregarded that chapter of saving tips. The one strategy that has made the biggest impact on our grocery bill is once-a-month shopping. This was/is very appealing to Jack and I and our current lifestyle. Last year was our most difficult school-wise, we both had very full class loads plus work and we felt like we were losing our minds much of the time. Luckily though, I had the idea to make a bunch of freezer meals we could thaw to save time cooking once or twice a week. This idea of once-a-month shopping takes my random amount of freezer meals to an entirely different level. Shopping once a month can seem like a daunting task, but if you check into it with an open mind, I believe you’ll agree it saves time, energy, money and effort.

Last month we spent $90 at the grocery store and $14 in produce for the entire month. Keep in mind this is just for two people but still, with all of our extra trips we were spending about $100 more than that.

The idea with this once-a-month shopping trip is to stock up on items that are on sale and that complement what you already have in your cabinets and fridge. Once you decide what you have to work with, choose a few recipes(6 to 8). You want your recipes to be simple and freezable. Of course, if every single meal is frozen you may find yourself lacking in produce. Jack and I, remedy this by adding a side (salad, rice, red potatoes, or grilled veggies) to every meal. We also have one night a week where we make some sort of breakfast meal, usually something with eggs–eggplant, egg & aioli sandwiches or frittatas. This month we also added BLTs to our weekly mix because turkey bacon was BOGO at Ingles, so for $2.38 we bought 2 packages of turkey bacon (12 slices in each), one is in the fridge and one the freezer for later in the month. Be creative with your recipe selection, although a large portion of your food will reside in the freezer, there are many other ways to incorporate fresh vegetables and other ingredients that won’t break the bank.

The next step is to write a menu for the month (this is the trickier part). Once you’ve chosen your recipes see how many portions each will make and how many meals this will actually amount to for your family. If you made a fabulous vegetable soup that contains 8-1 cup servings, you can scoop 2 cups into a baggie, flatten, freeze and have 4 meals ready to go for 2 people (remember you are pairing this with salad and perhaps a roll, so 1 cup is a normal serving size). Not all recipes end up having exceptional accuracy on serving size so I’ve now reached a point where I make my final monthly menu (actually write the meals on each day of the month) after I’ve cooked everything and seen how many meals it made.

Now that I’ve touched on writing a menu, let me take a moment to address keeping your produce fresh. Shopping once a month has taken a little bit of the variety out of our produce, for instance I don’t experiment too much with the fruits & vegetables we buy and basically just stick to apples and bananas to pair with our lunches. Other great fruits and vegetables that seem to last longer include grapes, carrots, oranges, celery, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, & zucchini. However, you are still able to incorporate those shorter-shelf-life fruits and veggies as long as you plan your menus well. If you buy avocados, buy some that aren’t quite ripe so you can hang on to them a few more days. If you need them to hurry up and ripen, toss them in a paper bag for the afternoon and they’ll ripen up quickly. If you buy them ripe, plan your meal so that you use those items in your first week of meals. Since we buy produce about twice a month, our 1st and 3rd weeks typically have more fresh veggies incorporated into the meals but that is not to say the week 2 and 4 are lacking, it’s just a different type of produce. Make sense? Back to our shopping steps.

Now, of course, you need to go to the store (or brave it before menu writing but after choosing your recipes). We go to 2 stores now. The week that we end up buying food, instead of giving in to the idea of coupon-ing (I just won’t devote that much time), we buy a Sunday paper and look at which store has the most deals with their “club card” that fits the most items on my shopping list. For instance, this month Ingles had about 75% of the items on my list (or some version of them–be flexible!) on sale and most of those were BOGO. We went there first and I purchased the sale items only, then I brought along last month’s receipt from Walmart and checked some of our staple items to see how their prices compared. If the staple item was cheaper than what Walmart had listed last month than I bought it at Ingles, if not, I head over to Wally World and purchase the item there instead. So yes, two stores in one night, it sounds crazy but it only took 20 minutes longer than my old shopping trips used to take AND I am not having to go back to the store ALL MONTH LONG. We shop on Friday nights, if you go later in the evening you can get discounted meats and breads (discounted meat is OK to buy just smell it first, it shouldn’t go bad if you put it back in the freezer–take advantage of the discount!). Friday evenings are also typically a quieter time to go gallivanting about the grocery aisles.

Once you’ve purchased all your items, bring them on home, pat yourself on the back and take a break. I like shopping on a Friday cause I can get beans soaking overnight for chili or to go in our rice and bean lunches and then get to work on the other meals in the morning after a nice long evening of sleep. When you prepare your freezer meals, take extra time at the beginning to get organized. This one day of cooking goes by very quickly if you can recognize ahead of time how many onions you will need to chop up, how much ground beef you need to brown, which casseroles can go in the oven together, what you can place in a crockpot and so on.

Once your meals have cooled, break them into individual or family-sized portions to freeze. If a recipe makes 4 servings and you are cooking for two people, split the meal into two baggies or containers so you only have to thaw what you are going to eat that evening. We have also discovered strategies for making the most of a very small freezer for those of you without a separate one, like us. If you do have a separate freezer, I even more highly recommend reading the book mentioned above. The family has so many more tips for those of you who can buy multiple gallons of milk, cheese, and so on.

Alright, if you are still with me, thanks for hanging in there, we are getting close! If you didn’t write your menu on a white board or some other handy visual prior to shopping, now’s the time to do so. Once again, I now find this easier to do after I have all the food prepared and laid out in front of me. You’ll quickly find that many of the recipes make more portions than you will need in one month. This is when meal planning gets really fun! Now you get to start having more variety in the following months. Example: Last month I made a giant batch of chili and a giant batch of carrot soup so this month I still have 5 packages of each leftover. I can now add those meals into the mix for this month’s menu, make the same amount of new meals to mix in and then, voila! More variety and you guessed it, even more left over the next month. I also like having the extra meals because it makes giving away a meal so simple.

You may be wondering what about breakfast and lunch? Well, here’s where we may vary a bit on pricing. I rarely eat more than a piece of toast and a banana for breakfast and Jack has 1 egg and a slice of toast so we are very boring there. For lunches we typically rotate PB&J, tuna, or a little rice and beans mix (will share recipe later) with a side salad. All very inexpensive lunch items to incorporate into your routine and none of which require making and freezing ahead of time. So, our lunches add extra bread, PB, jelly, tuna, a large bag of rice, and bagged beans to the shopping list. These are almost always on our list and are usually pretty inexpensive even without a sale.

As I mentioned before, our sides typically consist of rice, salad, veggies or roasted red potatoes. I usually just rotate these around with the freezer meals so we aren’t always eating the same main course with the same side–break up that routine. We also bake a batch of homemade dinner rolls to go with our soups each month. These cost next to nothing if you already carry a few basic baking supplies in your kitchen. Which raises yet another point, baking a few items from scratch–bread, rolls, pizza dough–goes a long way to keeping you on budget while giving you variety.

Are you overwhelmed yet? I know it’s a lot of information to take in but I promise 2 months in you’ll be singing it’s praises just like I was. I will leave you to soak in this information but will be posting our first month’s grocery plan with recipes and more details in the next few days. I will also be posting tips on storing all this food in a tiny freezer, showing you menu options and my grocery price tracking system. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peak into the way we’ve learned to cut our grocery bill in half!


Silence + Rejuvenation


The past two weeks have absolutely flown by. As you know, I am back in classes for what should be my last year. It has taken me seven years to get to this point so you can imagine my excitement as well as my exhaustion. While most of my fellow nursing peers are just now beginning to experience their “senior-itis,” my senior-itis has been ongoing for the past three years. All that to say, despite the chaos of the last two weeks–school, new job, studying–I have made an effort to set aside little portions of each day to simply sit back and enjoy a moment of quiet solitude. Whether it’s 5 minutes or 15, I feel like these little moments go a long way to helping the rest of my day seem more manageable.

peachbridalbouquet

And since the farm is my typical way of relaxing–being out in nature, away from distractions and the daily grind–I decided to share this picture from a wedding Linda arranged yesterday. I think this peach bridal bouquet is stunning, simple, and ever so elegant.

leaf bug

In the spirit of all things calm, simple and relaxing, I’ve also decided to share this picture of the lovely bug we found in our house a few weeks ago. Jack loved him and wanted some pictures so here is Freddie the leaf bug. I don’t know the technical name for these little guys, online everyone just calls them “leaf bugs” so if you know what else they are called, please fill us in.

Alrighty friends, I think that about does it for today. Coming soon I have 3 minutes brownies, soup recipes, a DIY wedding and our monthly shopping plan to save 50% on groceries (which worked!). Although I am unable to keep up three posts/week with classes back in session and more work hours, please keep checking back with us each week for new posts.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.”
-Anne Frank


Baltimore + Friends


Sorry for the brief hiatus from posting, I hope you all have had a chance to check out last week’s Jungle Safari Baby Shower. The hubby and I decided to take a last-minute trip up to Baltimore this weekend to visit our good friends Adam and Leslie. We kind of love them. With classes starting back in one week, we figured it was one of those “now-or-never” moments.

Baltimore

We had such a blast in Baltimore. Breakfast at Gertrudes outside the BMA, seriously the most amazing basil hollandaise sauce over eggplant and poached eggs. It was so delicious that I decided my latest mission is to cook the perfect poached egg.

Anyways, back to our weekend. We took in the beautiful views on Federal Hill overlooking the harbor.

Took a walk around Fort McHenry (think Star Spangled Banner). Loved the ocean views surrounding the fort.

We even managed a mini beach trip on Sunday followed by dinner in Little Italy and the most amazing cannolis. Yes, it was a great weekend.

Tomorrow is another day of flower cutting and market arranging at the farm. Kristin and I will be running the flower business at the Kingsport Farmer’s Market on Saturday so anyone in the area should come out and visit us. I promise, once you see the flowers you won’t regret giving up your Saturday morning. I’ll be sure to take some fun market pictures for you all. Happy Weekend!


Welcome to our new site!


Welcome to our new site, Sweet Peonies! This past year I’ve been talking with Jack about all the changes I would like to make to the blog if only I knew how. He, being the wonderful husband that he is, decided to learn all the coding necessary for making my blogging dreams come true! I think the design of our new blog is much more in line with my taste and style and it will open the door for some fun new post themes in the future.

Since Jack has put so much time into the little details of this blog, those that may be overlooked, I thought I would take a moment to point out and explain a few changes.

Of course, the first thing you’ll notice is our name change. Although The Kitchen Curtains served us well this past year, I think our new name Sweet Peonies is more my style–simple, concise, & sweet. Growing up, my mom had nicknames for my sister and I. Kendra was mom’s “sunshine” and I was her “sweet pea.” I decided to combine that with my love of flowers and nature and so, here you are reading this post at Sweet Peonies.

Next, we changed the blog colors a bit. I like the bolds that were prevalent on the old site but, at heart, I’m a simple girl who likes neutrals colors, clean lines, nature, western-themes & delicate details. That seemed like a tall order to design for the entrance page to the blog so we chose to focus on clean lines and simplicity which I think shows through our colors, title, and layout.

Jack has managed simple highlighting behind each section of text on our pages. I think my favorite technical aspect is probably the blog color wheel that you’ll see when you hover over each category on the menu bar—isn’t he clever?

Also, for those of you who may enjoy reading on-the-go, the blog has reactivity to screen size. Check us out on your iphone or ipod to see what I mean. Of course, there are still a few kinks popping up with this one but it is working more consistently now.

Another neat addition is the muted post sections. Roll your mouse over the social bars on each post (pin, google, facebook, etc.), you’ll notice the bars come to life when you roll over them. A simple addition but I think it helps make the overall design.

There are many other “behind the scenes” design treats coded into the site that I’ll be honest I don’t quite understand but I am ever so grateful to my husband for including. He is still working on our new gallery viewing format for the “Photos” tab but it will be a few more weeks before we can incorporate the new layouts.

I hope you enjoy the changes we’ve made, take your time and take a look around. Let us know what you think about the new site and please leave a message for Jack letting him know his hard work has paid off well. I’ve been told to expect some intermittent “blackouts” for the first 24 hours so if you get an error message, just try reloading.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing new posting categories with you in the next few months.


Mother’s Day + Small Tribute


Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there. Today is one of my favorite days because I love my mother so very much and I love having an entire day set aside for the sole purpose of honoring and celebrating her life, the sacrifices she has made and the person she is today.

My mom was recently offered a job in the Chicago area, a career opportunity of a lifetime for her. After much deliberation and conversation with my father, they decided she should take advantage of this opportunity, even though it means leaving my dad back home in Oregon until he can retire.

While this decision may sound crazy to most, and at times to our little family as well, I couldn’t be more proud of my mom. None of the decisions she and my father had to make regarding this position were easy. Moving across the U.S. to live alone, leaving the home you’ve poured so much time and effort into in exchange for a small apartment, trading the beautiful greenery and mountain settings of Oregon for the “concrete jungle” of a big city, and of course leaving behind all those you love most to pursue a dream that may or may not pan out…

I know many of you understand what it takes to make difficult decisions like these so you understand what must have gone into making the final decision to move. Despite all the so-called-craziness of this move, I am so proud that my mom took the job. She recognized the rut she was in, the day-in-day-out dead end job (you know the kind), and she took a chance. A very big chance. Decisions like these are the ones that make me respect my mother. Of course, no parent is ever perfect but it is always in the critical moments that I truly appreciate the example she sets.

My mother didn’t just tell my sister and I to follow our dreams and shoot for the stars, she didn’t just tell us to hold our heads high and put forth our best effort, she didn’t just tell us how to be strong confident women–she showed us. She showed us all these things when we were young and she continues to show us still today.

I am so proud of my mom and so grateful for her presence in my life, a gift not all can claim. I am grateful for the example she has set for me throughout the years, the encouragement she gives through every endeavor I undertake, the pride she takes in her family and in her work, her adventurous spirit and her persistent attitude. I am grateful that my mom has taught me to be confident in who I am, be proud of where I come from and to never give up on my dreams.

Thank you mom for all you do and all you have done for our family throughout the years. You do not go unnoticed. We love you more and more each and every day.


A Whistling Girl and a Crowing Hen


“As I look backward over a long checkered life, it seems to me that the hand of God has been weaving a beautiful pattern of many colors and shapes for me and for the people who have been and who will be associated with me.” -Leona Auer

Leona Auer is 101 years old and a Milligan alumna. This past week, I had the privilege of interviewing her and was simply in awe of who she is, where she has been and what she has seen. The quote above is from one of her books, “A Whistling Girl and A Crowing Hen.”

On a completely unrelated note: we are finishing out the last three weeks of classes so please excuse the sporadic posting–12 tests to go and then I’m all yours.


Easter + Golf


A few pictures from dad’s annual golf trip with his brother and brother-in-law.

Instead of Idaho, this year’s trip was spent in North Carolina, which meant the hubby and I were able to join the golfing fun over Easter weekend.

The trio

Jake joined the boys in two 18-hole rounds of golf each day while I attempted to soak up as much sun as possible while driving around the cart.

Beautiful weather, beautiful golf courses.

All in all, a fantastic Easter and such a blessing to see my dad.


Change + Acceptance


It never ceases to amaze me how much I don’t know about life. Every day brings new challenges, new joys and new adventures. Some days it feels as though this rocky rollercoaster that we are on just won’t stop. And the funny thing is, when it does stop, or at least pauses for a moment, that’s the moment when I feel most excited for the next big drop.

The hubby and I have been married for 4 years this May and our married life, as in our dating life, is full of never-ending surprises. We have frustrating daily surprises like broken down cars and doctor bills. Yet, at the same time, we are constantly being blessed with meals to get us through finals week or an unexpected check in the mail to treat ourselves to a night out. These past four years we have come to realize time and time again just how great God is and how blessed we are in Him.

These past few weeks it seems everyone in our family has had to make difficult decisions and come to some unexpected conclusions (more on this soon). When this happens, my usual response is to curl up in a ball and hide under the covers. To a certain degree I could get away with this while living under my parents’ roof. However, when the roof is your own, you have to put on your big girl pants and man up. This is not the easiest of lessons to learn and I constantly feel as if my progress is in a two steps forward, one step back rhythm. However, I suppose as long as I’m moving forward in the long-run, I’m doing alright.

Anyways, the point is, when so much change takes place at once, it sometimes easy to lose focus and forget what’s really important. This time next year, we could be moving to one of 7 cities if the hubby gets into a PhD school. If he doesn’t get in, we can go wherever we want, which is definitely the more terrifying option for me. You want me to choose from anything I want? And… cue meltdown.

So, what should I be doing now? Well, the hubby will be applying to schools in the Fall and I will most likely be applying to graduate programs or jobs (or both) in those cities as well. We won’t know anything until March next year, a mere 2 months before graduation, so until then I have a few options…

Option #1: Panic and overthink every possible situation that may arise.
Option #2: Panic and curl up under the covers. (My favorite)
Option #3: Know that the next year will continue to be a riveting rollercoaster of a ride, enjoy the ride, and trust that whatever comes next will be exhilarating, worthwhile and right.

Yeah, I know, number three is the winner, it sounds so simple and yet we all know it’s so much easier said than done. However, that is where I am choosing to put my focus–waiting and trusting that what is meant to be, will be, one way or another. Like I said at the beginning, I know very little about life so why waste time trying to decipher every last detail when I could be enjoying them all.

If you’ve made it this far, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sticking with me through this brief hiatus from our usual postings. After a long and taxing week, writing out my scrambled thoughts has a very therapeutic effect. Perhaps you too find yourself facing unexpected changes today. If that’s the case, I encourage you to stand strong and keep pushing forward.


100 Posts + Lemon Cake


Today we are celebrating our 100th post! What better way to celebrate this milestone than with a moist lemon cake and meringue-ish frosting? Hooray!

When I realized last week that I had just published post #99, I couldn’t decide what project was worthy of #100. So I finally decided to allow my hectic schedule to dictate the project depth, and thus my free time this week allotted enough time to bake a single cake.

I chose to bake a lemon cake for two reasons:
1.) I had leftover Meyer Lemons from an impulse buy (they were so pretty).
2.) I had never attempted a plain lemon cake.

Plain lemon cake may not seem like much in the way of motivation, however, as an ex-hater of all things lemon, I now feel the need to devour as much citrus-flavored goodness as humanly possible. So, that’s the story of how I came to bake a lemon cake.

While scouring the internet for lemony treats, I decided to abide by three rules for choosing the recipe:
1.) Simple
2.) Legitimate source
3.) Already purchased ingredients

As typically happens, my friend Martha Stewart came to my rescue. Martha’s lemon cake is a slight variation of her vanilla cake, which was perfect considering, I love her vanilla cake. Really, you can’t go wrong. She also used a whipped frosting on top which looks meringue-like but is actually lighter, almost foamy.

This lemon cake was incredibly moist with just the right amount of lemony goodness. So, if you’re looking for a simple, fail-safe, and super-moist cake recipe, Martha’s Lemon Cake is the way to go.

And so, here we are–100 posts down and hopefully many more to come. Thank you to all my diligent readers who hang in there with me through the good, the bad, and the ugly posts.

On another miletsone note, we are quickly coming up on the one year anniversary of The Kitchen Curtains and I would love to hear from you. Please shoot me an email or leave a comment letting us know what your favorite post has been so far.

Happy 100!


Thankful: The Husband


I love birthdays and no, I don’t just mean my own. I love celebrating life, and the people you love in it. I know many people dread their birthdays, another year, another letdown, blah, blah, blah. If you don’t love celebrating your birthday, at least let others enjoy the celebration, because guess what? You matter!

What better way to let someone know you love them and feel blessed to be a part of their lives than by celebrating the very day they were born? I love making others feel special. Setting aside an entire day just for this purpose is worthy of celebration. I mean, how many days do we set aside for the purpose of blessing someone else? Not many.

What is my point? Well, one of the many reasons I LOVE November is because it is both my birthday month and my sweet hubby’s. Yes, of course I love my birthday but I really love having an excuse to celebrate Jack. So, to continue our “Thankful” series, I am EXTREMELY thankful for Jack.

Jack and I met at church when I was in 5th grade. His mom was the children’s minister and our sisters had played t-ball together. Jack and I didn’t cross paths much until high school however, when my mom’s strategic choreography had us dancing opposite parts in a play for a church fundraiser. Jack played the school principal and I was the librarian (funny now that he’s a librarian). My mother, of course thought she was so sneaky. After a few, not-so-subtle hints from my father that Jack should take me out golfing (my dad eats, drinks, and breathes golf), we decided to do just that. From that day forward a beautiful friendship formed that grew to love and here we are 9 years later, married and living clear across the country from our old stomping grounds.

Jack and I have been married over 3 years now and I wish I could put into words just how incredibly thankful I am to have him as my best friend and husband. Although we have already celebrated his birthday this month, I wanted to officially add him to my list of “things” I’m grateful for and wish him a very happy birthday. Jakie, I’m so glad you were born and so happy with the life we are building together.

Thanksgiving gives us time to reflect on what and who we are most thankful for. Who are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?


November + Family


I love November. This is not simply a passing phrase for me, I wholeheartedly love November! November is my Christmas–if a November fairy came to my house, I would clean the chimney, set out cookies and milk, and probably write him a letter.

There are many aspects of November that I love, however, the best part for me, is of course, Thanksgiving. Growing up, this was always my favorite family holiday. We would all watch the parade, eat German pancakes, and sip hot chocolate. Then mom would get to work making her famous rice salad while dad worked on the turkey. Kendra and I would help where we could and sing along to our favorite tape, “Amy Grant Christmas.” The joy of Thanksgiving was simple–we were together and we were thankful.

This togetherness is what I most love about Thanksgiving. Living in Tennessee, I have come to realize the extent to which I’ve cherished my family’s Thanksgivings together. Four years have gone by without a family Thanksgiving and every year I realize just how much those days meant to me. We are no longer able to be together physically, but I carry my family with me throughout the holidays–continuing their traditions, remembering the past, and looking forward to what the future holds for all of us. I am incredibly grateful for the times we have had together.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, this month I will be highlighting a few of the many things that I am grateful for and I would LOVE to hear from you too! Leave a comment or head to our facebook page and tell us your favorite Thanksgiving memory, food, tradition, or simply tells us what you are thankful for this year.

Wishing you a very blessed November, may you be filled with thanks and surrounded by those you love and who love you.


End of Summer + Start of School


For those of you who know me well, you know how, shall we say, “unmotivated” I am when it comes to school. It’s not that I don’t like to learn, I just like to “do” more. I am a practical application kind of gal.

After graduating from high school, I made the “mistake” (my mother hates it when I refer to it as such) of taking a year off from school to work in Ukraine. Despite being a worthy cause, that one year of actually doing something worthwhile made going back to school to learn about doing something worthwhile much more difficult. It didn’t help that not long after my return, Jack and I were engaged and soon living in Tennessee. Before the wedding I attended a community college in order to incur as little debt as possible while working my way through a psychology degree. After moving to Tennessee and finding that very few of my credits were transferable, I decided to switch majors.

And here we are, present day, I am now a nursing major, not a place I ever thought I would end up. I used to picture myself as a sophisticated New York business woman carrying a leather briefcase, rocking the power suit, and running all around town with 4-inch heels. Now I am a disheveled Tennessee student carrying a 40 lb bag of nursing books, rocking my sweats, and running all around the hilly campus in my $2 flipflops.

Why am I giving you this snapshot of my college life? If you haven’t guessed yet, this was my first week back in class. This is the second time in my college life that I have been classified as a junior (that’s as far as I made it last time). Although I am still young I feel very old and very behind where I would like to be. When I go to class, I look across the lecture hall at the new generation of college students filing loudly into their seats, and although our ages are not too far apart, our worlds are. Their fashion choices confuse me and I constantly find that I have no knowledge of the media icons they imitate or the bands that ring out from their fancy iphones. It seems our worlds are worlds apart.

All of these factors contribute to my lack of motivation to be in school. However, I am officially on the downward slope, provided there are no more unexpected surprises up ahead, and attempting to constantly remind myself of that fact. Despite being a married, bill-paying, car constantly breaking down, working three jobs while going to school adult, I have successfully completed my first week back and I find myself still smiling.

I believe I owe Jake much credit on the smiles. You see, Jake thought I needed to get away before the chaos began again (for him too as he continues his Master’s degree). [![](jekyll_uploads/2011/08/chocolate-pie-quesadilla-bruschetta-lake-199-325x229.jpg "Jakie")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/08/end-of-summerstart-of-school/chocolate-pie-quesadilla-bruschetta-lake-199/) So on Tuesday (my last day of summer), we went out to the lake at Watauga Point. It was an absolutely gorgeous day here in Tennessee and we decided to take along a picnic. After our yummy turkey sandwiches we played a grueling game of catch with our fluorescent Nerf football followed by a bit of trail exploring and finally, cooling off in the water. Of course, I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to snap a few photos to share with you all. [![](jekyll_uploads/2011/08/chocolate-pie-quesadilla-bruschetta-lake-113-575x368.jpg "The Lake")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/08/end-of-summerstart-of-school/chocolate-pie-quesadilla-bruschetta-lake-113/)

Suffice to say, I think our little excursion was just what we needed to rejuvenate our souls as we prepare to buckle down for another fall semester. I hope you enjoy these pictures from our day at the lake.

Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement. Please be patient as I attempt to figure out a posting schedule that works with my new class schedule. And be sure to keep us in your thoughts and prayers and we attempt to finish these last few semesters strong.

A Birthday Wish: It’s my sister’s birthday today so I just wanted to take a second to wish her the very best birthday! She is my best friend and I would be absolutely lost without her. Kendra, I hope today you are surrounded by those you love and who love you. Sending you all my love today. Happy Birthday!


Why I Craft


After an interview with the local newspaper, The Elizabethton Star, I was forced to answer questions I had previously never articulated. For instance… Why did I start this blog? What are my goals for the blog? What are my goals in life? How do I manage to fit crafting and cooking into my busy schedule? How do crafts tie into my nursing goals?

Since the interview, I have pondered these questions and realized perhaps you, my readers, would enjoy hearing the intent behind my creative endeavors.

Flowers:
My mother would say I was a born “artist.” Ever since I was a toddler, I have had a fascination with nature. Mom tells me we used to go on walks where toddler me would stop at each little plant or flower we passed and gently inspect every last detail of it. I was captivated by this simple beauty.

Photography:
Moving on to my junior high days, all I wanted was a “real” camera (a Pentax 35). I’m sure I drove my parents insane asking for one over and over but I was so enamored by life. There are so many beautiful facets of life that we never stop to appreciate or perhaps we simply never slow down enough to notice. A camera makes you slow down. A camera makes you stop and take notice and keep a record of the beauty that fills our days.

Painting:
Painting has been a more purposeful learning experience. I first began drawing with charcoals and pastel chalks and fell in love with the blending process. In high school I finally decided to take an art class in order to learn some of the finer points of perspective and that is where I fell in love with painting.

Sewing:
Sewing started much later in life. Jack’s mom, my sweet mother-in-law, is one of the craftiest people I know. The year we became engaged, she bought both me and my sister-in-law sewing machines. Up until then I had slowly been learning the craft of making baby blankets and had monopolized the use of her sewing machine. When I finally had my very own machine, there was no stopping me. I worked furiously to learn the basics of sewing and have since learned new techniques as I go. There is a lot to know about sewing, I fear I may never know it all, but I suppose that just keeps me plugging away at the task.

Cooking:
I have always loved cooking and anyone who knows me, knows I love to eat. In the past, this food obsession has usually played out with baking, mostly because of my insatiable sweet tooth. My mom was the baker in our family, my dad the cook. I have learned many valuable lessons from watching and helping them throughout the years. While I do love the actual eating part of cooking/baking, the beauty of food is an aspect we often overlook. Half the joy of baking for me is making the food look fantastic once it hits the plate. I love incorporating as many colors as possible into the food I make. Chef Curtis Stone says that color equals health (unless we are talking cookies and food coloring).

So how does all of this fit into my life now? Jack and I have now been married over three years and our lives are just as busy today as they were on that wonderful day three years ago back in Oregon. Actually, our lives are probably more chaotic now than ever. Between work, school, homework, broken down cars, friends, and bills, we are moving 24/7, not to mention trying to fit in time to spend with one another. So why add crafts and cooking to these crazy days? Simple. It is who I am.

It seems from those beginning walks with mom, I didn’t have a chance and I am grateful for it. Aside from Jack, crafting gets me through the day. I get excited every time I get to craft or cook. By no means am I an expert. I don’t claim to be the next Martha Stewart, I am far from her level of expertise. I learn new things every single time I pick up a needle, paintbrush, or mixing spoon. To me, creating new things, whether through food or projects, is relaxing. Creativity is a release from this crazy life we lead.

As an aspiring neonatal nurse, I know this will continue to be a large part of my life. The stresses of a busy life will dwindle but the role of a nurse holds many daily challenges in itself that will, at times, try my sanity. I know, as petty as it may sound, these creative endeavors will help get me through those rough days.

So, this is why I blog. This is why I paint and sew and cook. It is all for me, my sanity, my enjoyment. Is it selfish? No. It is realistic. I believe every person needs to find that one thing that keeps them engaged, gets them excited, pushes them forward, and challenges them daily. While I blog for me, I share my experiences in the hopes of inspiring others. It doesn’t have to inspire you to cook or sew, but I do hope it inspires you to be creative and find your own niche.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a bit about the passion behind this blog. Thank you for your continued support. I hope you stick around the site and come back to visit often.


Honoring Alma Rose


This isn’t one of my typical postings but I figured it fit the “arts” category of this blog because of the musical interest. I wrote this article for Milligan and our local paper to announce a conference session being given by my violin professor, Dr. Kellie Brown. I thought this story was pretty neat and definitely worth sharing. Enjoy.


Dr. Kellie Brown, chair of the Milligan College music department, will present her research on orchestras in concentration camps at the American String Teachers Association (ASTA) National Conference in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday, March 17.

Brown’s session is titled “Alma Rosé and the Women’s Orchestra at Auschwitz: Lessons for Our Students on Tolerance and the Triumph of the Human Spirit.” Her research focuses on Alma Rosé, a woman whose music brought a glimpse of beauty and hope to hundreds of Auschwitz prisoners and even saved the lives of some of the musicians.

“The study of those who have gone before us and made their indelible mark on history, especially if it was through great personal sacrifice, is a worthy pursuit,” said Brown. “I think any time that type of subject can be part of an ensemble’s curriculum where students can learn more than just the notes, it is beneficial.”

Alma Rosé was the niece of the composer Gustav Mahler and the daughter of renowned violinist Arnold Rosé who founded the Rosé String Quartet. Alma was a successful violinist with a charmed life, but all that changed in 1938 when the Nazis took control of Austria, her homeland. Alma’s Jewish heritage made her a Nazi target, and she was eventually arrested and sent to Auschwitz in July 1943.

Despite all of the horrors associated with Auschwitz, Alma soon discovered the camp’s orchestra. Her fame and her family’s reputation made Alma the ideal candidate to conduct the women’s orchestra, which was, at the time, a mere rag-tag of women prisoners. Alma’s arrival ignited the orchestra’s success and respect, and it quickly grew to 50 members. Not only did orchestra members find hope through the music, but their value among the SS guards gave Alma the leverage to insist members were treated with decency. In this way, Alma was able to save these women’s lives through music.

Brown’s interest in this topic was a long time in the making. Sparked by a novel about a Jewish violinist living in WWII Germany, Brown quickly became interested in the lives of famous musicians during the Holocaust. After watching the movie, “Playing for Time,” which tells the story of the women’s orchestra in Auschwitz, Brown began her research on the life of Alma Rosé.

Brown’s lecture will provide the historical details about Alma Rosé and the Women’s Orchestra at Auschwitz. She will discuss the importance of incorporating this topic into the orchestra curriculum. In November 2009, Brown’s article, “Remembering Alma Rosé and the Women’s Orchestra at Auschwitz,” was published in American String Teacher.

Brown serves as director of the strings program and conductor of the Milligan College Orchestra. She is a frequent clinician and performer, and serves as the assistant conductor of the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra and assistant concertmaster for the Symphony of the Mountains.

In addition, she has written numerous compositions, arrangements and articles. In 2005 her first book, “An Annotated Bibliography of Musical Fiction,” was published by Edwin Mellen Press. Brown has studied at Furman University, East Tennessee State University and Appalachian State University and holds a bachelor’s degree in music education, a master’s degree in violin performance, and a doctoral degree in higher education administration, with an emphasis in music administration.

The ASTA National Conference is held yearly to benefit string teachers, students and performers. The conference provides opportunities to learn the latest teaching techniques and gain important information that will benefit students. The ASTA conference is the premier place to enhance skills and knowledge through sessions on pedagogy, string literature, college curriculum and more. Other topics on which Brown has presented in the past include “Incorporating the Elective Student in the College String Curriculum” and “Technology for the String Teacher.”

For more information, contact the Milligan College music department at 423.461.8723 or music@milligan.edu


Sweet Success


I thought I would start off my blog with an article I wrote for Milligan College on a recent graduate, Autumn Pruitt, opening her own bakery. Check out her website (www.blissbakery.com) to see some mouthwatering treats!

The article and its beautiful layout (courtesy of Art Brown) can be seen at here.

Sweet Success
by Tiffany Weinbender

When it comes to successfully beating the current economic climate, 23-year-old Autumn (Hardy ’09) Pruitt, seems to have found the recipe for success. When Pruitt arrived at Milligan as a freshman, her love of baking was nothing more than an enjoyable pastime. Now, equipped with a business degree and a liberal arts education, Pruitt has turned her passion into a reality.

Pruitt and her husband, Luke, recently purchased the former Bickford Bakery in Omaha, Nebraska. On May 1, 2010, with a new name and a bright future ahead, Bliss Old Market Bakery opened its doors releasing the smell of fresh pastries into the Eastern Nebraska air. Since the grand opening, Pruitt has been baking relentlessly to facilitate the high demand for her tasty sweets.

As a Christian institution that offers a liberal arts education, Milligan was the natural choice for Pruitt, who graduated in the spring of 2009 with a double major in humanities and business with an emphasis in management. Pruitt applied every aspect of her Milligan education to turn her business into a reality. She even used her senior humanities project as an opportunity to develop the business plan for Bliss Old Market Bakery. The project served as the capstone of both her humanities and business majors.

“So much of the confidence I had in approaching the business plan for the bakery can be attributed to the painstaking process of writing one as a student with the guidance of my project advisers: Dr. Heather Hoover, Dr. Phil Kenneson and Dr. David Campbell,” said Pruitt. “I felt like I had the tested tools to tackle the process here in Omaha after going through a similar process in the classroom.”

Pruitt credits much of her success to the format of the business program and the way each class builds on those before. “My humanities 490 project was extremely helpful, but I wouldn’t have been prepared for that project, or my new endeavor, had I not had the less glamorous classes like accounting, business law, corporate finance and marketing, among others.”

Pruitt’s dream of opening her own bakery and coffeehouse began at the age of 19, although her love of baking goes back much further. In fact, she can’t remember a time when she didn’t love baking with her family. Pruitt acquired her baking expertise from her mother and began adding to her recipe collection weekly after graduating high school. Pruitt continues to experiment with ingredients and add her own personal recipes to the bakery’s recipe box.

As for the current economic climate, Pruitt believes that despite the downturn, this is a great time in her life to fully pour herself into her dream. Although Pruitt did not expect to open her business this soon, she felt the opportunity was simply too good to pass. She completed extensive market research on Omaha’s growing industry and more specifically the culture and climate of the downtown area, not least of which was obtaining a job in the bakery long before any talk of buying it. In doing so, she was able to learn about the equipment, recipes and tricks of the trade before committing to the process. It only took one day for her to realize that she didn’t just like the idea of owning a bakery but fell head over heels for it.

Pruitt is well aware of the hardships that come to small business owners, but she remains confident that her education, skills and enthusiasm will make this venture a success.

“The life of an entrepreneur sounds glamorous sometimes, but unless you are really passionate about the industry and have had a chance to wrap your mind around the immense amount of time it will require, you will not be satisfied. That being said, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your dream realized and to have the opportunity to nurture its growth” said Pruitt.

Pruitt is an ideal example of how a liberal arts college like Milligan equips individuals to successfully reach their personal and professional goals. The college’s emphasis on applying faith to every facet of the world has impacted the way Pruitt runs her business.

“Milligan has reinforced the fact that you don’t need a religious title to be a servant leader or to minister. I treat people with respect. I provide my employee with a steady income and a healthy work environment. I listen to customers’ problems and we have become a part of each others’ daily lives. I try to live life with integrity and good character and to take a genuine interest in others,” said Pruitt. “Selling delicious baked goods is a good way to come in contact with my neighbors and develop a relationship with people I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to meet.”