The Family Dinner Project: Inject food, fun and conversation about things that matter.

The #familydinnerforward project

This post represents a compensated partnership with The Family Dinner Project. All opinions are my own.

Family dinners are sacred in our home. I know it all sounds like a bunch of hokum, but in this chaotic thing we call life, sitting down together around the table is how my family comes back together after a crazy day to reconnect and just be. I grew up in two opposing viewpoints of the family dinner — not having them with my mother and father, but sitting down for every meal with my grandparents after my parents divorced. (We lived with my Grandparents.)

I prefer the family dinner. It’s a time to discuss what’s going on in our lives, share anecdotes of our day and connect. This connection, to me, is the lifeblood of our family and what keeps us strong at the core. The conversations are irreplaceable and we learn more from each other, and about each other, than we would at any other time during our hectic days.

The Family Dinner Project

The purpose behind the Family Dinner Project is to inject food, fun and conversation about things that matter. I know, that during the difficult time after my parents’ divorce, the family meal with my Grandparents is what held me together most days and helped shape me into the woman I am today

Over the past 15 years, research has shown what parents have known for a long time: Sharing a fun family meal is good for the spirit, brain and health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family meals with the kinds of behaviors that parents want for their children: higher grade-point averages, resilience and self-esteem. Additionally, family meals are linked to lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, eating disorders and depression.

With a mission to inspire families to enjoy food, fun, and conversation together, The Family Dinner Project is honoring Giving Tuesday (December 2) and the holiday season by inspiring dinner-oriented acts of giving.

My own family discusses giving back quite a bit, and my own son, inspired by these conversations over the years, now donates 20% of any birthday and Christmas monies he’s gifted to help feed those in need. It’s his own personal philanthropy, one that was shaped around the family dinner table.

The Family Dinner Project -- Discuss giving with your family around the dinner table with these helpful tips.

This year you’re invited to kick off the #FamilyDinnerForward initiative by participating in a fun contest. Simply snap a dinner/giving-related photo and share it via Twitter or Instagram between December 2-16 using the hashtag #FamilyDinnerForward. Use it to inspire families to give — within your family or to those outside your own nucleus.

The #familydinnerforward project

Here are some examples of dinner-oriented acts of giving to help get you started:

Cook (or buy) a meal for a neighbor or someone in need. For me, this was ingrained from birth. I grew up in the South and we feed people. It’s our way of saying “I love you” or “I’m here for you.”

Invite someone for family dinner. We have people over for dinner and our holiday meals are known for being filled with people that would otherwise be alone. Yes, friends, that’s how we have Thanksgiving and Christmas with 100+.

Collect and donate food items to a food pantry. This is something we started at an early stage with our son and it’s something he continues to do by donating part of his birthday and Christmas monies.

Cook a meal together at home, where everyone has a job. This is a gift to the person who primarily does the cooking! But seriously, we all pitch in and help, especially on busy weeknights. It takes all of the pressure off of one person and results in some good natured ribbing and joking.

Give the gift of meaningful conversation. Check out the conversation starters at

Giving Tuesday is just around the corner. So join in on the giving and receiving! To participate in #familydinnerforward, simply snap a dinner/giving-related photo and share it via Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #familydinnerforward. Share as many photos as you like and all photos tagged on Twitter or Instagram with #familydinnerforward between December 2-16 will be entered to win prizes from Lenox! Two winners will be drawn at random and will receive four 4-piece plate settings of the Lenox Entertain 365 pattern of their choice (estimated value of $344-400 depending on pattern chosen)! US entrants only.



Muddy River Distillery — Handmade in North Carolina

Handmade in North Carolina

Just a few miles from my house is the Muddy River Rum Distillery, located in Belmont, North Carolina. As I was perusing my local ABC store one day, I happened to run across their product the Carolina Rum and got a quick history from the employees there. It was enough to convince me to buy a bottle and ever since, I’ve kept Muddy River Distillery’s Carolina Rum stocked in my liquor cabinet.

Muddy River Distillery launched their first product in September, 2012, seven months after owner Robbie Delaney received all of his licensing from the state, local and federal permits required to distill rum. When they were asked how they make rum, the folks at Muddy River Distillery respond with “By staring at a ‘fancy’ water fountain for 12 hours.”

Using their house built stills, Liberty and Democracy, Muddy River Distillery pumps a custom mash made of premium South Carolina molasses and sugar, along with a special yeast they’ve selected to give their Carolina Silver Rum it’s unique flavor.

Freedom and Democracy at the Muddy River Distillery in Belmont, North Carolina

How do I drink my Muddy River Distillery Carolina Rum? There’s a few ways, actually. I like to sip it neat, mix it into a Manhattan, or a Twelve Mile Limit. What is that last one? I’ve shared the recipe below — just take it easy on them.

Looking for Muddy River Distillery Carolina Rum? You can find it in 300 different stores across North Carolina.

Rum Distillation Process at Muddy River Distillery, Belmont, North Carolina -- Handmade in North Carolina

Carolina Rum Recipes:

For recipes using their small batch Queen Charlotte’s Reserve (always great for gift giving):

Twelve Mile Limit
Prep time
Total time
A forgotten cocktail from the era of Prohibition, the Twelve Mile Limit is one of the booziest cocktails you'll ever drink.
Recipe type: Cocktail
Cuisine: Cocktail
Serves: 1
  • 1 ounce white rum
  • ½ ounce rye whiskey
  • ½ ounce brandy
  • ½ ounce grenadine
  • ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice, from 1 lemon
  • Garnish: lemon twist
  1. Add rum, rye, brandy, grenadine, and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake until well chilled.
  3. Strain into a cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with a lemon twist and serve.

Looking for more “Handmade in North Carolina?” Head over to Dirt and Noise and see what Ilina is serving up today.

Welcome to Handmade in North Carolina

Handmade in North Carolina

I love North Carolina. I’m native born and bred from Western part of the state, now living in the Piedmont. I’ve traveled all over North Carolina and every time I do, I discover something new. This love of products Handmade in North Carolina, as well as my friendship with Ilina Ewen, means we’re going to be sharing our favorite finds every week that is either indigenous to North Carolina or made by a native North Carolinian.

Ilina will be focusing on the Eastern part of North Carolina over on her blog Dirt and Noise, while I’ll be handling the other half of the state. However if we find things we love and adore while traveling throughout our beloved home, we’ll be sharing those with you as well.

Welcome to Handmade in North Carolina. Where you’ll find the things we love with links to the proprietors (if available) and what we love about what they’re doing. This just isn’t arts and crafts, no, no, no. We’ll be featuring authors, books, historical sites, distilleries, restaurants, farms, recipes, movies, musicians, you name it, we’re going to talk about it.

Why don’t you pull up at a chair and sit a spell. Because we’re going to help you get to know where you’re from.

Handmade in North Carolina

The Mast General Store — Step Back Into History

Come and sit a spell at the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, NC

Located in the small town of Valle Crucis in the North Carolina mountains, the Mast General Store is a little hidden piece of history. I’ve been visiting since I was a little girl. Originally opened in 1883, the store keepers kept everything on hand the community needed, including caskets. As the years have passed, the Mast General Store has not only strived to serve the local community of Valle Crucis, but the many visitors who pass over it’s threshold daily, serving up Southern charm and coffee at 5 cents a cup (paid on the honor system.)

Come and sit a spell on the back porch at the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, NC.

Many don’t realize the integral piece the Mast General Store plays in the Valle Crucis community, and to the rural history of the United States. General stores used to dot the landscape of the US and were the hub where you picked up your mail, caught up on what was going on in town, and sold goods you could easily purchase, often on credit or via the barter system, without a multi-day trip to larger cities. I grew up in a town with a general store that was out of business by the time I was born, but you could still look through the windows and see the caskets waiting on their future owners until just a few years ago.

PotBellied Stove Mast General Store, Valle Crucis, NC

I was there during a recent trip to Boone, NC, and as it was a chilly, sunny day, popped in to pick up snacks for my road trip and to warm myself by the potbellied stove located in the center of the store. It was nice to sit in the rocking chairs, play a quick game of checkers, and sip on an RC Cola.

Come and sit a spell at the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, NC

During my visit, I pulled out my camera and took the time to shoot a few images of the store, but not too many so as not to get in the way of the number of locals who were there picking up their mail (yes, the Mast General Store still has a working post office.) One of the young ladies who lives in the community, no more than 10 years old, watched me as I shot photos and then showed me her family’s mailbox. She comes in every Friday with her Mom and little sister to get the mail and a maple sugar sucker. It reminded me of a the simpler times of when I was a little girl and I’m pretty sure that’s the appeal the Mast General Store holds for so many.

Mailboxes at the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, NC

Working Post Office, Mast General Store, Valle Crucis, NC


Mast General Store

While visiting the Mast General Store, you can pick up snacks for the road, preserved and pickled canned goods (I always buy the Okra), shoes, outerwear, cast iron cookware, home decor, skin care, the list goes on and on. It’s still truly a working store that serves the community at large and the thousands of visitors who wander in to experience a time gone by.

Dry Goods at the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, NC Dry Goods at the Mast General Store, Valle Crucis, NC

For the history of the Mast General Store, visit their website:

Visiting the Mast General Store? Check out the community calendar of events and activities:

Local Love: The 60th Annual Singing Christmas Tree

Singing Christmas Tree, Charlotte, NC

Just in time for the holiday season, the Carolina Voices MainStage Choir will be presenting the 60th anniversary of The Singing Christmas Tree. One of Charlotte’s grandest holiday traditions, led by Artistic Director Peter Leo, The Singing Christmas Tree will offer a glittering performance of music, song, dance, puppetry, and comedy. NPR’s Mike Collins, will join the cast as emcee this year, taking the audience on a rousing trip through past and present traditions while celebrating the joy of Christmas in the Carolinas.

Singing Christmas Tree, Charlotte, NC

Making the rounds again are some of the audience’s favorite special guests, including The Grey Seal Puppets, Eddie Mabry Dancers, Caroline Keller and more. Guaranteed to lift your holiday spirits – this concert is one to share with family and friends!

This years theme is “traditions.” Audiences can expect to be taken on a rousing trip through past and present holiday customs that reflect the joy of Christmas in the Carolinas. Attendees can look forward to listening to their favorite Christmas carols, such as Joy to the World, Carol of the Bells, Little Drummer Boy, and The First Noel; as well as popular holiday tunes, such as We Ned A Little Christmas, All I Want for Christmas Is You and more. Silent Night will be the closing song, continuing a beloved 60 year tradition.

The Singing Christmas Tree, Charlotte, NC

About The Singing Christmas Tree:

The Singing Christmas Tree was first produced in 1954 by Charlote Choral Society (later renamed Carolina Voices) on the steps of the Harry and Bryant funeral home on Providence Road. With Alice Berman directing, the singers sang outdoors on the steps of the building lined up in the shape of a Christmas tree. The performance was so popular, that the organization moved the production inside to Ovens Auditorium in 1995 and purchased a tree structure for the singers. Today, the 32’ twinkling tree structure holds 90+ volunteer singers of Carolina Voices’ MainStage Choir.

The original metal tree was replaced in 2004 with a more flexible and sturdier version for singers to stand on. Volunteer members from Carolina Voices put up the tree each year, attaching its branches and lights before the performances.  Tom Griesmer, a long-time singer, has been overseeing the tree’s construction for more than 30 years.

The 60th Annual Singing Christmas Tree will be held December 13 and December 14. Check the box office for available times and tickets.

The Singing Christmas Tree for KIDS

Saturday, December 13 at 11am and 3pm at Ovens Auditorium

MainStage Choir
Peter Leo, Artistic Director

Starring The Grey Seal Puppets
Grab a seat on the Polar Express as we get into the spirit of the season at this family-friendly show that includes rousing sing-a-longs, favorite kids holiday tunes, magical puppets, amazing dancers and, of course, a visit from Santa Claus. At just one hour in length, the show is perfect for children age 3 to 10 and offers parents a wonderful way to introduce young children to the arts!

Buy tickets:

Adult Tickets:  $21 – $35

Youth 14 and under: 1/2 price


Phone:  704-372-1000

or at

Phone: 800-745-3000

Contact Carolina Voices 

Phone:  704.374.1564

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