Over Here, Becoming My Own Valentine

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Where do I begin? One, I’m sharing this not because I want to – posting your personal mess on the internet is a lil’ scary. However, somehow I got a following here and I want this blog to be an honest place where girls can say “me too,” where you can know you’re not alone in having struggles. Two, please read to the end because I am excited to share my truth with you and how cheesy enough, I’ve become my own valentine! Here, we go.

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Last year, in many ways, I was on the hot mess express. I stepped into a new job that was and is wonderful for me. Yet, working and brushing shoulders with 5 girlfriends all day everyday brought up a TON of insecurities. Pretty sure those insecurities have been there since middle school, just cozy and dormant. To note, these co-workers are dear friends who have been in my life for the past 6 years, and have never communicated anything but love. YET, starting work with them, all the sudden I felt like I didn’t know if they liked me … I didn’t feel funny enough … or outgoing enough … or strong enough.  I felt paranoid all the time and really couldn’t put a finger on why. This was months. Not fun.

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It’s weird because God almost gave me a warning this storm was coming. The previous two Mays, around the same time each year I had distinct memories of similar conversations. I was talking in groups of girls about things that I honestly wasn’t interested in, but I was working HARD to fit in, cracking jokes and trying to appear a part of things. Both times, the most random whisper came from within, “Why are you doing that?” 

I forget God knows and sees me far better than I know myself. I had no awareness to the performance I had learned to turn on and I sure as heck didn’t want to go there. So, I ignored the clear voice of God both times. Yep.

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Then, there I was this past year with the huge insecurities woken back up. They were alive and well and wailing for me to pay attention to them. Luckily, I had learned to not be scared of tension, that tension is the EXACT place God wants to meet me. 

So, after months of seeking and waiting in the mess, here’s my truth that He showed me. Here’s the new foundation He built for me after tearing down what was there.

I have immense value. Before anyone likes me or values me or before I do anything well, I AM FULL OF VALUE.

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My spread of traits – outgoing and shy, fun and boring, kind and short, strong and weak, silly and serious, unique and normal – is the perfect spread to be me, to be a wonderful me! Our world teaches us we have to be just as (fill in the blank) as the girl next to us, but why can’t we embrace having a beautiful spread that’s all our own?

It sounds silly, but I literally feel like I have a new best friend in my life and it’s me.

I used to need people to show me that I was likable, BUT NOW I LOVE MYSELF. And when you really love something or someone, it is a game changer. All the sudden, you have patience for that person. You see the best in them. You forgive them. Grace becomes natural. You remind them of their strength and you push them towards things they love. You are a voice in the corner, always. And the best love doesn’t have a measuring stick or a set of expectations. Loving yourself like that, is the gift that my God has shown me. I will never be the same.

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Yep. Thanks for listening, friends. I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day and know you are so full of value today and worthy of all the love in the world, even your own.

A Creative in Our Midst

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She is not just creative, she is a creative. Unlike anyone I know, my friend embodies the true spirit of this word. She’s a visionary, with boundaries that have never been set. The work she makes comes from her soul, and her unique voice delivers a specific poetry. She is Kelsey Prater – photographer, artist, writer, wife, and dear friend. Let me introduce you to this creative in Knoxville.

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Born in our scruffy city, Kelsey was a little artist from the beginning – drawing, writing, and always finding avenues to express herself. Before she could even write, Kelsey would dictate stories to her mom who would write them down and bind them into books. After joining the yearbook club and getting her first SLR camera, she became enamored with photographing people. Years later, this obsession would become not just an outlet, but a career.

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After getting her creative writing and English degree, Kelsey took a social media and marketing position for a local beer distributor. She was shooting weddings and portraits on the side and eventually knew that she needed to make the switch. So, last May, she cut the cord with her office job and went all in as a freelance photographer. Praise hands for Kelsey! Praise hands, for not staying in a job that doesn’t fill you up! The transition has gone so well, with 20 weddings booked already this year, and with a new passion and motivation to “go to work” each day! I’m so inspired by the gumption of my brilliant friend.

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This is her beautiful work. She captures the honest and emotional moments between people. Her photography is so special and you can see for yourself that it tells a story and captures all kinds of raw feeling.

This quote is Kelsey’s favorite and I think it is the undercurrent in her creative process as a photographer: I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

As she focuses on connecting with people, getting to know their story, their nuances, and expressions that make them unique, she simply gives them the space to feel like themselves. Then, in that state of ease and honesty, her camera can capture a moment that reflects the soul. She has a phenomenal ability to do this. In my mind, this skill makes her a true artist even more than the ability to choose the right settings or lighting.

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Before I finish this praise-fest, I have to share a little bit more about why I personally LOVE HER! Kelsey is my very-own-personal Elizabeth Gilbert (if you’ve read Big Magic or listened to the podcast Magic Lessons, then you know to feel jealous). She reached out to me in a time where I was just starting to take myself seriously as a writer/blogger and modeled what it looks like to CREATE JUST TO CREATE, just for the sheer joy of it! “Yes, I need to make enough money to live, but for me it’s about telling people’s stories and the joy I get from that,” she explained. “You could have a different relationship with your career where you think, ‘This is who I am,’ but I want who I am to inform what I do.” Pure gold, from her heart.

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Her word for this year is rooted. Kelsey responded as a true creative with what she’s rooted in, “beauty and attention.” Our days might seem busy, but they can slow down to beautiful moments if you’re paying attention to the who and what around you. “It’s easy to sleepwalk through your life, but this year I want to let the beauty of my surroundings overwhelm me and break my heart open,” she sweetly said. What a special and magical soul Kelsey has! I love getting to see that translate to her art and the way she lives her life.

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Thank you for getting to know this creative in Knoxville who inspires me! I hope you go do something for the sheer joy of it or slow down and pay attention to your day in her honor. Also, since Kelsey is your friend now too, go schedule her for whatever you have coming up next – engagement, weddings, senior, baby, family portraits, boudoir, styled shoot, you name it!

Follow her on Instagram, @kels.prater, or go to her website, kelseyprater.com.

My Staple Meals

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One of my goals last year, was to have staple meals that I could put on repeat. Every week I was doing new recipes that took forever or boring meat and veggies, and I wanted to have dishes that felt like my classics, my greatest hits in the kitchen! Confession: I also sort of have a superhero mom dream to have yummy meals that become comfort food for my family. That’s how my mom was – she had her special strawberry salad, lamb and taziki sauce,  chicken tetrazzini, omg and the best mini pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. I remember her making these and other special meals and how they filled our home up with love and comfort. It sure is simple, but it sure does mean something, at least to me.

So, in pursuit of my own recipes, I found SIX that my hubby and I loved in 2017. I made them so many times that I almost know them by heart, woohoo! Plus, most of them are Whole 30 – great bonus!

Alright, time to feast your eyes. Here’s my top 6!

P.F. Chang’s Lettuce Wraps

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http://40aprons.com/whole30-lettuce-wraps-pf-changs-recipe/

Tastes just like PF Chang’s – I use soy sauce instead of the amino’s … one day maybe I will be that healthy. Also, I make the two sauces early in the day so when it’s dinner time I just have to chop veggies and sauté everything.

Spaghetti Squash

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http://www.paleorunningmomma.com/paleo-slow-cooker-meatballs-whole30/

I use marinara from a jar … because well it tastes better and it’s way easier. I LOVE this recipe for the meatballs though – it’s so easy and fun to mix it all together with your hands. Plus, spaghetti just has that wonderful effect of being comforting, right?

Breakfast Bake

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I make this with sausage and it is the perfect breakfast to get ya going in the morning, full of protein but it also has that special savory/sweet combination. I think I made this literally 8 weeks in a row … yep, a little obsessed!

Here’s the rest:

Acorn Squash: Thanksgiving in a Squash!

https://www.paleorunningmomma.com/stuffed-acorn-squash-paleo-whole30/

Sweet Potato Tacos: Great as Leftovers!

http://www.paleorunningmomma.com/paleo-chili-stuffed-sweet-potatoes-whole30/

Zuppa Toscano Soup: Healthy Olive Garden!

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A big thank you to the food bloggers who crafted these special recipes, who gave me a place to start with creating my own staples (40 Aprons, Paelo Running Momma, and Aimee Mars). Here’s to another great year of cooking!

Hello, 2018!

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New year, SAME me. That just sounds better right? I used to give into the temptation of creating a new me. When I was younger, and would feel depressed without really having that label yet, I would make a list of all the new things I wanted to be! Heh, those lists went nowhere, but sure did make me feel better.

The past year, I experienced so much refinement of who I am. While I have goals for this new year, they really boil down to the same thing I experienced in 2017 – refinement of the real me (the way I function, my perspective, my habits, my desires, etc.)

That being said, I do have ONE NEW MANTRA! I heard a quote about a month ago in a podcast and it has stayed pretty consistently in the background of my mind. It comes from the Queen of Movies:

“I want to feel my life when I’m in it.” – Meryl Streep

Love this. When I heard it, my heart paused, took it in, and then hasn’t let go of it. So, this is my mantra, my fresh intention for 2018, to feel my life when I’m in it.

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Every season is so different and boy do I appreciate the one I am in now – it’s relatively relaxing and happy. I remember though last fall, the refinement I mentioned came with some necessary valleys. It’s a long story that I will post about one day, but I was frustrated with a tension in my life that was staying around for far longer than I wanted it to. Frustrated it wouldn’t resolve, I talked to my friend PRISCILLA MOLINA who I adore. She told me, “Laura, this is your life. This is it.” I hear that a lot now, in her wonderfully Cuban and sassy yet somehow tender voice. That simple reminder made me realize I was missing my life. Worried about fixing it and focused on the “perfect” future, I was missing out on what the season actually felt like. Once I gave into that and let it just be, I could actually connect with myself. I could then be honest with God and that tension finally had the space it needed to heal.

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So, this is the dilemma: when life is hard, we over-work our minds and try to fix it. When life is easy, we float and don’t take in the goodness. Meryl Streep may as well have been the Queen of Slow Living because her quote calls us to slow down and FEEL the good and FEEL the pain. Heck, yesterday I was trying to “FEEL the busy” and yep it felt a little silly.

I think there is something here though to help us in the pursuit of slow living (which even though I hate buzzwords, how can I neglect this beautiful concept?). If you are going to live slowly and take in the moment, you are going to have to BE HONEST about how you are feeling. Angry, sad, frustrated, excited, happy, depressed, confused, busy – embrace your honest feelings and let yourself feel them. This has been for me the TICKET TO SLOW LIVING and the ticket to really enjoying the seasons of my life.

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That’s my heart for 2018, to FEEL my life when I’m in it. One day when I’m old, doing puzzles and eating mint chocolate chip ice cream every night (that’s the plan) I hope I don’t say, “Wow, my life flew by.” Instead, that I would have felt the days, weeks, seasons, and years of my life.

Hello, Deco Scent Lab

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It was a Sunday afternoon, with champagne among strangers, gleaming sun, and a charming heart who brought us all together. Susan Verekar of Deco Scent Lab has a special art that I got to experience and now get to share with you.

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This new friend moved here from Portland, Oregon last year and he has a heart, smile, and business that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I love when you meet a stranger who feels like a friend right away. It’s magic, if you ask me.

The story behind her business is pretty special so let me set the scene for you! Susan studied music performance in college, playing the flute. She then had a business career for 12 years doing litigation counseling for large firms. Tired of the daily grind, she began seeking a creative outlet. Her search went well, because she found TWO.

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First, wanting to do something with her hands and fashion, she began crafting elegant handbags. It turned into a business and you can still buy them today! I love her outlook on this craft because she said, “Many mentors tell me the next step is wholesale, but I don’t want to mass produce. That ruins what I want the brand to be. When you get to the point where you have to make a bag to fill so many orders, you lose the artfulness and magic of what makes it special. I will just make a few bags a month, and focus on perfume the rest of time.” It’s so refreshing to have an outlet where you don’t feel the pressure of further success, but success can look like what it is right now. So much admiration for you, friend!

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Susan’s second business of hosting perfume workshops began with … A TRIP TO PARIS! She took an adventurous trip abroad, by herself. (I wish we weren’t all jealous right now, but hello, could we reverse time and join her???) My brave friend shared, “I adopted this philosophy in college, figure out whatever it is that scares you and then do that. That is how you grow, experience new things, and then you find amazing things that you love. That’s how I discovered perfume. I went to Paris, walked around, and found a workshop to join!”

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In a Parisian apartment on a street that overlooked the Eiffel Tower, she learned the art of perfume. The smells, the memories they bring, the creativity of crafting a scent, and the art of telling the story – she had an experience that opened a door to a whole new passion and business.  “I loved it so much, having a finished product that no one else has – its unique to me, my signature scent,” she remembered. “I had this big studio space in Portland and thought this would be the perfect complement to handbags to have people in the studio for fragrance workshops!”

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So, this is her special business that she has now brought to Knoxville. It’s called Deco Scent Lab, an ode to her love affair with Art Deco style and architecture. You can join her for a group workshop at the Hive in February or in the future around Knoxville and Maryville. You can also book private workshops with her for all kinds of occasions, such as bridal parties, birthdays, girls’ nights, and eeeeeven work parties (throwing that out there in case my boss reads this!).

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One of her favorite groups she hosted was for a girl who had her mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother in town. She told me, “Watching the 3 generations bond over something and getting to see them all walk away with something they loved was really special.” Susan has actually never had someone not make something they didn’t like, although it can be intimidating for people at first. Trust me, it was for me. There are over 100 premium perfume oils to smell – coconut, plumeria, sandalwood, patchouli, grapefruit, rose, and the list goes on. You get tester bottles and you have a guide with different base, middle, and top note suggestions. Once you start smelling, your unique preferences, memories, and creativity takes over, and it is a one-of-a-kind experience!

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These sweet Knoxville girls and I got together per Susan’s organizing: Whitney Jade (@whitneyjadephotography), Brandi Kuch (@smittenwiththree_blog), Anna Moss (@rosemossfleurs), and Jan Allen (@mommajanellen). We were beaming and although champagne tends to have that effect on me, it was the fun task at hand making us giddy. Honestly, it felt like we were getting together (strangers might I add) and getting to PLAY with the same spirit and merriment as little girls coloring or playing dress-up.

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If I haven’t convinced you already to look up Deco Scent Lab, I wanted to end by sharing with you an insider’s perspective on perfume that I found fascinating. Susan shared, “Commercial perfume is made to appeal to the masses, so when you are trying to reach as broad an audience as possible, you lose some of the intricacies and complexities of really interesting perfumes. The old school way is to start with a concept, for example a fashion house would employ a perfumer. They would say create a perfume that smells like a silk fuschia scarf around the neck of a brunette sipping coffee on a street in Paris. They would make a scent that smells exactly like that. It’s really artful – you are telling a story in a scent.”

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You can do this artful storytelling in her workshop and guess what – you get to tell the story of YOU! With your distinct palette, memories, and creativity, your crafted perfume reflects how you are one-of-a-kind. How beautiful is that? I’ve been learning lately how easy it is to neglect celebrating your own spread of traits and abilities, how second-nature it is to admire others before ourselves, but oh man YOU AND I are so worthy of celebration. Whether you can book a perfume workshop with Deco Scent Lab or not, I hope you adopt the spirit of Susan’s business – to celebrate and experience your special uniqueness.

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Follow Susan on Instagram, @decoscentlab, and check out her website:  https://www.decoscentlab.com/. Thanks for listening, friends, and I hope you get to sit down soon with Deco Scent Lab and make something that smells as lovely and marvelous as you are!

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Sign up for Susan’s next workshop here: http://www.thehiveknox.com/calendar/2/6/perfume-class

A big THANK YOU to WHITNEY JADE PHOTOGRAPHY for all these lovely images. Follow her at @whitneyjadephotography.

Hello, Chef Kendale

This guy is killing it in Knoxville, one pop-up brunch at a time, and I’m pumped to tell you about who he is and what he’s got cooking for you in the future.  

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Chef Kendale of Simpl Food, Arts, & Catering grew up in Newport with a grandpa who was the master chef of the neighborhood. Watching good ol’ Lloyd craft southern classics every Sunday for the people he loved, Kendale experienced how art could happen in the kitchen. Years later, my friend is doing the same thing for our city (every Sunday).

I don’t think there is time to tell you about every step Kendale has taken in life that has led him to where he is today. It’s a story of many jobs, many lessons, and many seasons. His previous career though was selling cars. He was making all the moohlah he could want and beating sales records, but got to a breaking point, “Here I was, working 60 hours a week and making Ted Russell millions of dollars, but I wanted to do something for me, for my name.” ENTER, CHEF KENDALE!!!

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Because he was mesmerized by the kitchen growing up, Kendale began to seriously consider culinary school. He started pursuing this dream by cooking for his friends. A chef in the making, he began getting creative with foods and loved watching people enjoy what he made. The day Kendale knew there was no turning back was when Chef Scott Conant from Chopped agreed to meet him via twitter at his New York restaurant. Kendale shared that he had always wanted to be a chef and Scott’s response was simple yet the right amount of empowerment he needed – “Well, then make it happen, Chef.”

“Making it happen” is exactly what Chef Kendale has done in the past year. He enrolled in the UT Culinary Institute AND no big deal started HIS OWN BUSINESS 6 months ago called Simpl Food, Arts, & Catering! It’s so cool the momentum people have when they know their purpose, right?

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If you don’t follow @simpl_food_arts on Instagram, check it out because you can find out what Chef Kendale is doing every week. Bank on him having a pop-up brunch most Sundays at Honeybee Coffee South. On Fridays, at Awaken Coffee, you can get his homemade baklava. Throughout the month, he has private dinners, catering events, and is even putting on his own special experiences like whiskey and bourbon pairing nights. What he is doing could really go anywhere – maybe a future food-truck, large event caterer, restaurant owner, who knows!? His goals right now are to continue growing as a chef, building his business, and taking the next step when it is time.

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His next step is already here!!!  Simpl Food, Arts, & Catering will be the official in-house food service of Pour Taproom. Beginning September 28th, Chef Kendale will be serving his pork sliders, possibly beer cheese nachos, and other features every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Old City! YAHS! 

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Let’s talk FOOD already! The name Simpl represents Chef’s approach to food – keep it simple, fresh ingredients and good cooking. He also likes to push the envelope on what you might expect in a dish. I made a deal with Chef Kendale that my hubby and I would bring the wine and dessert if he would make the magic in the kitchen … a private dinner at his place!!! It was so cool to watch a chef create right in front of you. He prepared for us a delicious avocado bruschetta for an appetizer. Then, for the main course – beef tenderloin over a carrot puree with barley and radishes. We got to watch and learn about the sous-vide cooking style he used for the meat. Translating to “under-vacuum” in French, the style uses vacuum sealed bags in heated water at a precise temperature, resulting in literally a perfect piece of meat. This colorful dish reminded me of an elevated “steak and potatoes” – filling, seasoned to perfection, and honestly one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had.

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What was special about this meal and Chef’s cooking is the daring and forward-thinking approach that pushes him forward. He is not scared to try new things. He takes risks with interesting combinations and in result makes something that surprises people. I’ve never had carrot puree, but Chef Kendale’s got me dreaming about carrots in blenders! At his brunches, some of my favorites are fried chicken and waffles with an apple slaw and maple cayenne syrup OR delicious shrimp and grits with pickled red onions. It’s not often that I eat in Knoxville and truly feel surprised by something on my plate. So, this new chef is a rare gem if you ask me.

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If you meet Chef Kendale in person, you will see for yourself, he is one of a kind – not just as a chef, but also as a friend and husband. He and his sweet wife, Courtney, have two great danes and live downtown. He loves to travel, be outdoors, is obsessed with minimalism, admittedly OCD, and loves creating vegan dishes for the challenge. Friends, eat his food AND get to know him – you won’t regret either!

So, there you have it, a little introduction to one of Knoxville’s upcoming chefs. He is pretty special and unique and I know that his future is going to be just that as well. What I have loved most about hearing his story, is being inspired by the choice he made, to follow a new path for himself. A lot of people stay stuck in one sucky job or one career or one way of thinking about themselves, but he took the risk to pursue something new. He told me, “I’m not positive where I will end up, but I know that I am building a future for myself.” It’s pretty inspiring. I hope it gives you some kind of encouragement, maybe to keep pursuing your craft, maybe to take the risk you’ve been running from, or maybe just to know that we are all watching our stories unfold. How cool is it that years, jobs, and seasons later, Kendale is responding to the purpose he saw and felt as a child and now years later is creating meals for his community just like his grandpa did?!?

Ahoy, Sail Knoxville

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“We just want to share something we love with our city.” This was the quote from the founders of Sail Knoxville when I asked them what their vision was. They have such a simple and humble spirit. I think a lot of times, entrepreneurs get caught up in creating something successful that they lose this type of honest intention. Sure Sail Knoxville wants to be a great business, who doesn’t, but their true spirit is one of really sharing, serving, and enjoying their boat with people in their community. The founders of this local company made a HUMONGOUS impression on me and my gal pals and I am thrilled to tell you about it!

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I brought along my 5 social media friends, the 2 Emilies of New2Knox, the talented artist of Nancy Ann Music, the journalist Katie Bahr, and our new friend who runs ScruffyKnox, Elizabeth. We started in the Sail Knoxville International Headquarters where Amy and Captain Dan went over all the details and rules. Amy said, “Now, I am the Captain’s Mate and my job is to serve YOU. Whatever you need, let me fetch it for you. From drinks, to jackets, to wine-openers, I am your girl to call.” When someone has such a beautiful and gracious heart to serve, well you just let them. Watching her bee-bop around the boat all night with so much energy and joy was adorable. Also, as a guest, this service really does let you enter even more into the moment that the sunset invites you into.

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We made our way to the yacht club to find the incredible boat that Captain Dan had purchased while still a bachelor. The boat is called, wait for it, … The Knoxville Girl. She is a 26’ cat rigged sailboat and is the perfect ride for the intimate groups of 6 that they take out. The types of groups and possibilities are ENDLESS. From bachelorette parties, double-dates, anniversaries, even engagements, work celebrations, client experiences, reunions, etc. etc. My favorite feature of Sail Knoxville’s excursion options is to purchase a single ticket on a sunset or sunrise cruise. You will join other people, strangers, and get to bond over something special. If you are new to Knoxville, what a cool way to find community? You can also participate in one of their specialty cruises –  a “Wine and Dine” with a private chef on board, a “Massage Sail” with a professional 1 hr massage in the cabin, and even an upcoming “Solar Eclipse Sail.”

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Let me tell you what being on one of these sails is like from my experience. From a gorgeous yacht club on Loudoun Lake, you climb aboard, help raise the sail if you choose, and find a cozy spot to sit at the front of the boat. As the sun begins to set, you watch the glowing water and goodness enjoy such a great moment to breathe and be present. Amy described the effect you get from being out on the water as something she also experiences in her yoga practice – “It’s a type of mindfulness, where you quiet all the background noise in your head, and really enter into the present moment.” We were able to experience exactly that and I think everyone does when on the water – you stop thinking and tap into the moment, experiencing what it really means to be a human being (not doing).

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Aside from a moment for your soul to breathe while on the water, Sail Knoxville also creates a place of community and we experienced just that as we headed back to the marina after the sun finished its show. With the stars coming out and fireworks going off in the distance, us girls opened a bottle of wine, and asked Amy to tell us her story.

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Amy went through a tough battle with cancer and a divorce. Feeling lost, she was in counseling and was told to pick something up from her past that she loved doing. This fighter’s answer was yoga – so she took a class (despite many hesitations). That class turned into a remarkable journey of healing and she ended up becoming a licensed yoga instructor and massage therapist. Her new boyfriend at the time, Captain Dan, was actually the one who encouraged her to move forward into teaching, “You’ve been through so much and there are struggling people who need to hear your story.” These two eyed each other at church for a long time before they finally became the pair we know now. They say “The Day that Everything Changed” in their relationship was when he showed Amy his sailboat. He shared his dream with her for Sail Knoxville and she realized that being on the boat was the same release for him that yoga was for her. They began to make dreams together that day for their future and one year later were married at sunrise aboard The Knoxville Girl.

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Hearing her talk and watching my friends open their hearts while all cozied up together in the back of the sailboat was borderline MAGICAL, and definitely unforgettable! Imagining you, my Knoxville readers, out doing the same thing gives me chills because we all need community. We all need to connect with people. We all need to quiet the noise in our heads and enjoy the moment. So, get a ticket on one of Sail Knoxville’s excursions and find those needs sweetly met. Captain Dan and Amy are ready to share this experience with you and officially launch their business on August 14th. Check out their website at www.sailknoxville.com and make plans to join them aboard!

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AHOY, mateys!

P.s. all the photos were taken by Nancy Ann Wilson of @nancyannmusic – she is incredible. Check her and the other girls out on social media – @scruffyknox, @new2knox, @emfinke, and @katiebahr.

Hello, Pour Taproom

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4 Friends. A Unique Approach to Craft Beer. A Franchise Family. And the Perfect Place. We have something special coming our way this month to Knoxville and I am so excited to celebrate it.

Set to open as early as THIS WEEKEND in Old City’s Jackson Terminal, Pour Taproom will be a tasting room of local craft beer, ciders, mead, craft soda, and wine. The set-up is self-serve with a check-in system as you enter and a very techie wristband that controls your tab, as you have free reign to pour as much and as many tastes as you want.

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The story behind the new opening begins with Joel McLead who has been in food service his whole life. He grew a passion for beer (who can blame him), went to school for fermentation science, and ended up working in some of the best breweries in Asheville including Highland Brewing and Oskar Blues. His long-term goal became to sell the finished product and open a place of his own. Now, the atmosphere and concept of Pour Taproom in Asheville really tugged at him. So, he reached out to the founder, Nate Tomforde, via Facebook for tips (and yes via Facebook started one of his most important relationships – the internet is magical these days). Nate was actually hoping to start his 4th location in a different city and as magic would have it, Joel went from just searching for tips to being welcomed into a franchise family.

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I say franchise family because the people behind Pour Taproom are more than just entrepreneurs. They are people who do life together, who know how to have fun, who support each other, and put that community first before the dollar signs that have inevitability followed. Nate began his first Pour Taproom in Santa Cruz, having many people from his church become his CEO and leaders. Then, his family and HIS PRIEST moved out to Asheville to start another (how awesome is that – his priest is a hard liquor man by the way in case you were curious and is the artist behind the tree paintings). A start-up in Chicago and now here in Knoxville have followed.

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With Joel being welcomed into this family, his wife Mariah and two friends, Sam Natour and Caitlin Riley, joined him as partners. If I might say these 4 make an awesome team – with so many different strengths represented in the group and with a background of doing life together over beers. They are the perfect type of people to open a tasting room and the perfect down to earth friends waiting to show you around their new place.

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What these 4 masterminds and the founder Nate have prepared for you is what they call a “Beer Festival Everyday!” There are 68 taps, with each local brewery having at least 1 tap, a few ciders, 8 wines, a craft soda, and a mead. The wristband you get will allow you to be your own bartender where you can pour as little or as much as you like. “This is the only place where you can try 15 beers and still be able to drive home,” well-said by Joel. The customer scans the wristband at the tap’s screen and the tab builds automatically based on how much is poured – again the magic of wireless technology.

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He and Caitlin also explained that one of their main goals is to be a place that promotes all the local breweries. “People can come in here and let’s say they try Last Days of Autumn Brown Ale and really like it. I can say, their brewery is a few blocks away – go try out their other brews.” How awesome! As the queen of guilty sampling at a bar, I can already get behind the self-serve concept as an answer to my problems, but I can really stand behind their vision to build community in Knoxville. From promoting local breweries, bringing in food trucks, hosting events, and just bringing people together every day over beer, this place is going to be another incredible addition to Knoxville’s growing culture.

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So, this month if you are a local, then you can expect a “Beer Festival Everyday” open for you in the Old City. Remember how excited we were years ago when fro-yo was invented – this is even better – the fro-yo experience with beer! When you come in, you will also get to enjoy the gorgeous historic location with the original train terminal beams, river wood top bars from Loudon Lake, the boardwalk patio, and don’t worry if you get hungry – they will be serving FOOD including dips, appetizers, salads, and cheesy paninis.

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Thanks for listening and celebrating Pour Taproom with me. I hope you go check it out this summer and say hi to Joel and the team. If you aren’t a Knoxville local, then I hope you go support a local brewery or bar in your own city. Cheers!

P.S. The site will be soft-opening this Saturday July 1st and the Grand Opening is set to be July 14th at 2pm. I will see you there!

Hello, Rain

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It’s been sprinkling here.

There’s a lot of transition in the air around me. It’s hard to spell it out, but a bunch of small things are about to change in my life. I find myself arranging dates in my head, talking myself through decisions, and mentally juggling the things on my plate now and the new things coming.

I wouldn’t say I’m tired. I don’t know, in this busy time though, I’ve been asking myself, do I need to drop something? The easiest thing that comes to my mind is this, dropping this blog that still feels bizarre. So, amuse me as I disorderly hash out my desires for my own sake and maybe you can relate or just get to know an honest heart more.

All I want in life is to express what’s inside me, live simply from the heart, and learn how to be my true self.

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Lou in Knox is something tiny to me, valuable but small. Sometimes, I feel the urgency of the social media world to get followers and become something and my heart totally puts its fists up and says, “No!” Last week, I went on a week-long field trip and never looked at my blog, my Instagram maybe twice, and hardly thought about Lou in Knox. To my surprise, it didn’t phase me. I spent the whole week getting wrapped up in being a friend to my students and embracing their entertaining middle-school personalities. When I got back, I expected myself to feel behind with my account, but felt the opposite. I didn’t even care. Writing and being creative will always be waiting for me when I am ready. I’m learning that while this blog is public and I am putting myself out there with something my generation would urge me to make successful, I just don’t care to worry about that. I love the freedom of writing when I am inspired, of posting when I want to, and not really caring how consistent or dependable that is. I understand that is no path to money or success. However, I do think it is the path to something else that is just as special – freedom to create, to make beautiful things from the heart, and to let it be for my joy. So, friends I don’t find myself as a hustler; I still feel consistently that expression of what is inside doesn’t need a timeline, doesn’t need followers, doesn’t need success. It’s just beautiful as is.

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“To live simply” – God’s leading me into this desire. With everything I first described, I’ve been doing life with a very preoccupied mind. On my way home from work, God said, “Laura, I have you.” I wish I could describe what hearing the voice of God is like. It reminds me of an unexpected downpour on a dry baseball field. The busy game stops. The pros rest. The field gets covered and all the fans wait and watch the sky’s show in silence. “I have you.” My head and heart are completely interrupted and met with a strong, impressionable, presence. “I have you.” That is a strong I. That is a dependable I. That is an I who knows me so deep that I loose understanding. That is an I who has sustained me and brought so many parts of me to life. When that I says He has me, I believe Him and I mysteriously unravel to nothing, yet everything. All dates, task lists, and next steps, seem like a part of tomorrow’s mental journey. BUT now, like Ray Lamontagne’s song, is just for being here, simply with no agenda. To live simply like this, letting my HEAD function when it needs to and my HEART able to be present in the moment is what I want on this side of heaven.

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Last, is learning how to be my true self. I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking that “being myself” meant being some epic version of a girl. I’m learning that it’s completely different. This is challenging to hash out because I AM STILL IN PROCESS over this. So, to be continued.

The time of transition sure does have me thinking over here. Goodness, what a ramble. If you are still reading, go you, and thanks for listening to me hash out my desires during this busy time. I hope you go take another moment for yourself to be quiet and still and maybe wait for a rainfall of your own.

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Photo Credit: Tasha Grabowski (amazing Knoxville photographer – check her out on Instagram – @tashagrabowski)

Hello, Breadshed

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A Knoxville gem that deserves more recognition, this place is literally like no other in the city. I will say though, if you have ever been to a hole in the wall deli or bakery in New York, then it will feel familiar to you. A little corner in North Knox, Breadshed will make you feel like you have stepped back in time, before businesses opened to be trendy or become rich by shortcuts, and into true authenticity.

I’m so excited to celebrate this special place and tell you about the menu items, the dedication to real ingredients, and the owner who has officially become my favorite acquaintance in Knoxville.

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First, let’s talk about the menu, served up Monday-Saturday 7am to 4pm. The breakfast and lunch items offered here appeal to both your healthy and naughty sides. They’ve got your gluten-free and vegan options AND your gluten-full warm honey pecan sticky buns. My favorite thing to get are the warm savory strudels which come in many creative flavors like turkey pesto or chorizo pear with fig. Some of the other tempting breakfast options include a fresh quiche every morning, omelets, egg sandwiches, brioche french toast, waffles, goodness gracious bacon and egg stuffed donuts, and the owner’s famous banana nut bread.

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For lunch, you can get a delicious homemade soup like Potato-Leek or Kickin Maple Chicken Noodle. You can also get a huge variety of sandwiches and salads. I saw the Reuben being made here with melt in your mouth corn beef, Swiss, dill sauerkraut, poppy seed and papaya dressing all toasted on Swedish limpa rye bread. Damn.

Last, but certainly not least, are the pastries – orange spice tea cakes, classic brownies, cannolis, scones, and every type of bread you could want. Creative twists are taken with traditional pastries like cardamom-cinnamon roll bread pudding with rum glaze or the jalapeno cheddar bread pictured below. The recipe for one of the most popular items originates from Basque, Spain and is filled with a special rum pastry cream that melts in your mouth. This delectable Basque tea cake even brought one Spanish customer to tears. I could keep going tell you more about the items, but I’ve already made us too hungry. I will just finish by saying that the menu at Breadshed really does offer the perfect combination of classic recipes and creative flair!

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Now, when you go and taste something from this kitchen, you will quickly notice that something is different. Something is very, very different about the way this place does food. The owner/chef does clean, honest food, so fresh, so good, and doesn’t cut any corners in the purchasing or preparing. Everything is sourced locally as the owner described to me, “I don’t do organic – there’s so few inspectors to really check that people are doing it correctly. I do local – because I have relationships with the farmers. We break bread together. We hang out together. I know each one, what they use, how they do it, the ones who are growing stuff all year round, the hard core ones who don’t and lose half their crop, and the one’s who sit there with soap and run it over all of their leaves with their kids helping. To me that’s where I can get my stuff from and be confident in the quality.” With those fresh ingredients, the owner of course wakes up at the crack of dawn to prep in her open kitchen where she is the true artisan, preparing everything by hand, straight from scratch, and in responsibly small batches. You can see why so many people who are gluten-sensitive can eat her normal bread – because things are simply done differently at Breadshed. It’s this dedication to real ingredients and honest preparation that makes all the difference and is why I am obsessed with this place.

Let me finally introduce you to the person behind these wonders, Kymberle Kaser. Oh gosh, this talented sister embodies the “You can do it” woman and instantly makes you feel at ease with her contagious laugh. The story of her and Breadshed began when her dad said should open a bakery to sell her banana bread and she laughed. Overtime, though among many other jobs and wild pursuits like being a master bungee jumper or working as a coffee roaster in Haiti for a year, a bakery of her own actually materialized. Kymberle and her dad opened Sweet Delights in Walland, TN and had a huge following – she was often on live at 5 at 4 when it really was at 5. Then, when she found out her Dad had cancer, they closed and she actually went into healthcare to help. About 5 years ago, Kymberle got back into doing the Farmer’s Market which she says is her true love. Then, she found this spot in North Knox. The risk-taker had just enough money to get everything started, with just $200 to her name after. “Well, it had to happen. It wasn’t an option. I am literally what mom and pops are. So many people want to have their own business, but think they have to investors or partners or a husband or man to help, but this was my way of showing that if you have a really good product, you can do it. Yeah it was scary as shit, but what’s the worse that can happen – you fail? Well, you failed by not doing it.” Her boldness and audacity paid off because here she is 2 years later, going strong!

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I wish I could package Kymberle up in words and make you feel like you know her because honestly she could run a comedy show or an advice stand like in Charlie Brown. I guarantee, you would still give her your money. Just saying, my favorite quote from our chat should be put on a t-shirt, “I don’t sugar-coat shit, just my pastries!” She is real, unfiltered goodness and by golly refreshing. A place like Breadshed is special and unique because of the high quality food and the honest ingredients, but also because of the person behind it. Without her probably noticing, this hilarious lady makes you feel like you are getting breakfast from someone who is your friend. Aaaaand she is a friend who is crazy enough for you to be up at 4 in the morning making fresh bread so that you can remember how good, real flour, fresh eggs, and the right ratio, can make you feel.

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Simple as that, go to Breadshed and partake in just that, a real home-cooked, straight from scratch meal that will remind you how good food really can be. If you aren’t a Knoxville local, go find a mom and pop shop like her’s in your city and support the people like Kymberle who dedicate themselves to real ingredients and honest cooking.

Thanks for listening, friends!