Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Gift to Yourself This Season

It's only natural that children are selfish. We come into this world expecting our demands to be met, and for the most part, they are. But as we become responsible adults, that selfishness quickly diminishes simply because there are other demands to be met besides our own.

Now, I know what you're thinking. We're all acquainted with those exceptions who never seem to grow up, and will be selfish until the day they die. This isn't about them. It's about the people like you and me who seem to always be doing something for someone else. And while that is honorable, it doesn't allow us the time of taking a break from it all.

This time last year, like most Christmas seasons, I was wearing myself out. My resistance was falling because of lack of sleep and I was headed down the predictable path of getting sick with a cold. But this year, I'm turning it around. Just for the few weeks before Christmas, I'm saying "no" to a few things. Before thinking  you've stumbled upon the female version of Scrooge, let me explain.

Last Christmas my decorating was outlandish. Everything had to be perfect because we were having not one, but several parties in our home. This year, I've cut the decorating in half, leaving a large part of the decorations boxed up. And this year, with the exception of having our family in on Christmas day, there are no parties on the calendar.

Last year I was going nonstop with baking cookies to be sweetly decorated by our grandchildren and gifts from the kitchen to be enjoyed by all. Not this year. The cookies weren't baked, but purchased from the grocer deli, and those kitchen gifts will perhaps be a kitchen gadget so someone else can enjoy getting in there and whipping something up.

My point is, be kinder to yourself. You don't have to carry it to the extreme and spend the day floating in a tub full of bubbles, or order all your food for entertaining from a caterer, but when it comes to pushing yourself too far, take a moment and think about it. Does it really matter if one more plate of sweets are on the table? Do you really have to spice the cider just so, or really, even have cider? And if the star on top of your tree is crooked, which mine is, what's it going to matter in six months? Actually, right now my mindset is that crooked star is rather endearing.

So, my gift to you is a gift to yourself this season. Smile, take more deep breaths, and leave your credit card in your wallet when passing by the tempting item which will be that "just one more thing to make it perfect". Find your stopping point and stick with it.  Not only will you feel better about your budget at the start of a new year, you'll feel better about yourself. And that, is the greatest gift you can receive from you.

God bless you and yours.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Rudolph Club

Now, I'm not one much for scheduled anything, especially task. But I have to say, this thing works! Well, at least that's what everyone in the club says.

I had it up and ready last year around this time.  However,  when Christmas was over, I didn't even want to see a decorated cookie!  So, I tucked it back in bookmarks w/the intention of pulling it out in January and getting started. Didn't happen. A friend of mine and myself were going to plan our church Advent Fair by following the 'Organized Christmas' part of The Rudolph Club. We have finally decided our personalities are way too much alike to do that. In other words, if it weren't for the last minute, neither of us would get a thing done!

That's the good thing about resolutions and new beginnings. We get to start all over again and get up off our good intentions one more time with gusto. This year I've made The Rudolph Club my browser's homepage. That way, every time I open it, ol' Rudolph pops up and I just can't help but read all the good ideas they have.

Each month they give you ways to organize for Christmas next time it rolls around. For instance, in January they tell you how to get rid of "The Ghost of Christmas Past". Most of us have put away all decorations, but some stragglers like napkins and mugs still seem to haunt the kitchen area simply because you want to use up everything. Box it up. Next year you'll be glad you did.

When it's time to organize your holiday recipes, they even give you a free printable recipe planner.  (click on link)  

Some of it seems a little overwhelming to a gal like me whose low on the totem pole of organizers. But I'm willing to give this one part of my life a chance. If I make it fun, maybe it'll work.  And if you're interested, you can find it here at The Rudolph Club. (click on link)
Hope to see you there!


Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Best Holiday Snack Yet!

You may have heard of these before, but I haven't. Somewhere in my surfing I found the recipe for Creole Fried Bow-Ties. Copeland's in New Orleans serves these and as I hear, they're a hit! So, I decided to give it a try.

The recipe I found is probably as close to Copeland's as any, but I found them to be rather bland. I'm not one to leave a good recipe by the wayside, so I decided to improvise. To the cornmeal mixture I added garlic powder and onion powder. Then, after the bow ties had fried I drained them and then sprinkled with more cajun seasoning, light salt, and Parmesan cheese. My hubby, who is my favorite taste tester, said they were "addictive". So much so, he set aside the Chex mix to indulge! Now that's saying something!

Here's the recipe:

Creole Fried Bow Ties

8 ounces bow-tie pasta
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons spicy Creole seasoning
Oil for frying

1. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain well, and blot pasta dry with paper towels.
2. Combine cornmeal and Creole seasoning in a large bowl. Toss pasta, a handful at a time, in cornmeal mixture to coat; shake off excess.
3. Pour oil to a depth of 2" in a Dutch oven; heat over medium-high heat to 375°. Fry pasta, in batches, 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Store pasta snacks up to a week in an airtight container. 

Special note to Southerners!....The only way these babies will stay crunchy is to make sure they stay in that airtight container. Otherwise, our humidity will make them tough as leather!



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thanksgiving Revisited

Tradition is a wonderful thing. Especially when you can look back on your own childhood and know where some of the favorite ones started.

At first it was a joke that my father and us kids would lug a huge turkey home from the grocery store to bake for the special day. "What did you do?", Mother would say, "find the biggest turkey in Meridian!?" We'd all laugh as she'd try to lift the huge bird, fussing because more stuffing would be needed for it's size. Tradition begins. Every year from then on we'd go from store to store to find the biggest turkey out there. If memory serves me right, the largest one we ever found was close to forty pounds.

Mother soon learned to make doubled amounts of cornbread and bread for an extra- large amount of stuffing. I should explain, the cornmeal was to make cornbread for the 'Southern stuffing' at one end of the turkey, and the bread was for 'Yankee stuffing' which was stuffed at the other end. The breaking up and seasoning of the breads was done the day before Thanksgiving because Mother's plan was always to get the turkey in the oven before bedtime. Being it was so large,
she allowed it to cook all night getting up each hour to baste the bird and make sure it was 'just so'. There isn't a time I smell a turkey baking that I don't reminisce over that wonderful aroma which permeated the entire house as we awoke on Thanksgiving morn.

After breakfast we'd start chopping, slicing, dicing, and getting things going for the noon feast. All the while my father would be glued to the TV in the next room telling us to come quickly so as not to miss a most glorious float in one of many Thanksgiving Day parades. Mother would fuss while we'd all run to see it, after awhile realizing just how long we were away from our cooking. Those parades were as much a part of our Thanksgiving day as that giant bird gracing our table.

Being my father was a Yankee, and my mother a Southern Belle, our household usually consisted of both cultures. As ingrained as some of the Yankee culture was to us kids, the ol' Southern charm won out when it came to that cornbread stuffing w/ freshly made cranberry sauce. I remember the sound of those cranberries popping, announcing the sauce was ready to chill alongside those wonderful pickled peaches and midget sweet pickles.

Then there was the Ambrosia. And I don't mean Ambrosia purchased from the deli as in nowadays. Mother made sure to get the freshest of oranges to peel and chop along with coconuts to 'smash', separate, and grate. No need for sugar. It was sweet enough on it's own. Once prepared, the Ambrosia was chilled and placed in our special but mismatched crystal cups our Nana sent us from New York. Added to the traditional menu was the wonderful Fruit Salad which had oranges, apples, bananas, maraschino cherries, and marshmallows we cut up w/scissors before the minis were around. All that mixed w/chopped
pecans from our own backyard. A touch of mayonnaise tinted with the cherry juice gave it a delightful pink color. This fruited dish truly was "nectar for the gods".

The rest of the meal consisted of fresh mashed potatoes thick with butter and gravy poured over, baked Butternut Squash sweet with brown sugar, and a steaming big bowl of broccoli on the side. Finally, the dessert of either a slice of four layer coconut cake mounded high with sweet meringue, hot pumpkin pie topped with ice cream or a small piece of mincemeat pie.
My father always said the mincemeat was way too rich to have a bigger piece for us kids, but I suspect that was because he wanted to make certain there was enough for him to come back and get more later.

After we had stuffed ourselves silly, we headed to Highland Park with paper grocery bags and my father's famous wooden plank with the rope attached. Back then, the park was loaded with pecan trees and the pecans would fall like rain on a windy day. Daddy would tell us all to "back up!" as he'd swing that plank toward heaven. It would attach itself to the limbs he aimed for and the annual shaking of the branches would begin.
All of the pecans that were barely hanging on would fall and we'd squeal with laughter to get out of their way. Then, we'd run back in to collect all those plump nuts ready to crack while Daddy tried to figure out how to maneuver the plank out of the limbs. Tree after tree would be shaken until Mother would finally say, "Enough!". After all, she would be the self-delegated one to crack all those pecans and pick the meat out. Even though we'd want to help, she'd feel like our impatience would miss the best parts. I so love thinking about those days that we'd stay in the park all afternoon without thought of going home.

By the time we did get home, we were hungry again and ready for more feasting. I'm not sure what's better, the Thanksgiving meal first presented or tearing into those wonderful leftovers. Afterwards, the cold would be setting in for the November evening and we'd start winding down from a very busy and full day. Thanksgiving was a wonderful time of togetherness we as children will always remember, and hopefully pass on to our own families. I hope you too have memories close to those
I've shared with you. If not, perhaps it's time to start your own so that one day, your children can reminisce of how a family tradition was begun and enjoyed by all.

Happy Thanksgiving and God bless.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Summer Love Affair

I have to admit, I didn't plan for this to happen. Nor did I plan on it turning into an obsession. It was supposed to be a summer fling like so many others before. But this time, it was different.  And while it lasted, I was completely overcome with the pleasure it brought me.

Before I go any further, let me put your mind at rest and tell you.....I'm talking about my garden. My thirty by fifty foot garden that my wonderful husband lovingly tilled several times over so that I would have soil finely sifted just so. He even made beautiful rows to surprise me. Now, how could I ever cheat on a man like that? He also had the patience all summer to know that when I disappeared, I would likely be hidden away for, at the very least, a couple of hours.

This was the first time I'd started seeds indoors. My plan was not only to save money, but have a winter project that would hopefully be fruitful in the months to come. Perhaps that's why it meant so much to me. When you pack those little seeds into their spagnum moss mounds, water and cover them to create a little world of their own, and then see sprouts in a few days, you just can't help but grin from ear to ear knowing there's hope in your plan.

And so it went. The rows were beautifully spaced and the plants were in their new homes for the summer. That's when the 'love affair' really started. The rest had just been flirting around with the idea that something might actually happen. When each plant started responding to my every touch, I knew there was a connection. Silly, you say? Maybe so. But I have a feeling it was very close to the feeling God had when He touched creation and it responded to His command. So often I would think of Dorothy Frances Gurney's poem, 'God's Garden' as a verse reads:

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

Some people admit to talking to their plants occasionally. I must confess, I did that on a daily basis. Walking down into that little piece of heaven and loudly proclaiming, "Good morning, Garden. You look gorgeous today!", I'd venture to say I quickly became our neighbors annoying substitute for an alarm clock. As the blossoms started appearing and the bees starting buzzing with excitement, it was evident I had started something that had begun to have life. Even the wasp knew they were welcomed companions along with the lady bugs. When you grow an organic garden, you learn very quickly what to respect and leave alone to do their job, and what advesaries to get rid of. In other words, the difference between 'the good guys' and 'the bad guys'.

The summer months passed as the harvest was gathered daily. My bones were weary and my skin was tanned, but my heart was as proud as proud could be. I've minced, diced, sliced, canned, and frozen every piece of produce that grew and I've loved every minute of it. I knew I had done my best and was being rewarded for it. The fact it was pesticide-free was not only beneficial to my family, but to the environment as a whole. And for that, I am very pleased.

There is still some gatherings from those unrelenting vines which will hang on until frost. But for the most part, it's time to put an end to this summer love affair. At least until January. I hope my husband understands when I tell him how much I'd love for it to be an extra six feet on each end. He'll give a dramatic sigh, but then smile. I think he likes the results.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Remembering "that" Day

Katrina~August 29, 2005

I'll never forget that sound. A sound like the footsteps of a giant beast trudging through the near distance. Standing in the distance watching the storm blow the rain sideways I knew as I listened that Meridian was losing pieces of history one by one.

The gigantic oaks and elms that lined Poplar Springs Drive were falling like toothpicks in the midst of Katrina's fury. The trees that had watched us grow up and walk to school under the
cool shade of their limbs were now gone. Each one hitting the ground with a sickening "thud".

Then there were those we heard hit homes in the area while they splintered themselves over cars and telephone/cable lines. The sound of the storm seemed to go on for hours. Watching
the sky opening where trees had been and were still falling is something I'll never forget.

We were, of course, without power after that. The curfew kept us from going out to investigate too far but we walked around the corner to see what damage had been done. Fortunetly for us
our home wasn't effected. As we neared half a block we stopped in horror. Where we were standing we could see six huge trees down with their roots standing up like the grotesque limbs of fallen mastadons. Our hearts were sick with the knowledge there must be worse out there.

The power outage lasted a week for us so we moved everything to the shade of our front porch and camped out. We had always spoken to our neighbors and knew them on a 'friendly' basis
but now we had a common ground. We all faced the same dilemma of needing the basics. We had been prepared but not for something lke this. Quickly the men grouped together and
ventured out to get supplies for those who needed it the most. Ice was essential and was first handed out to those with small children and the elderly. When you have this kind of neighbor,
you know everything will be alright.

More days passed. By that time restlessness had set in. We had been listening to WMOX radio day and night as they tirelessly brought us each and every update. It was said the Red Cross needed help. Driving the short distance we decided by the confused state of affairs that maybe we could lend a hand. They put us to work immediately and we fell into place like we had always been there. It was amazing how everyone worked together to get the job done. This wasn't a time for complaining about not being comfortable or doing something 'not suitable' for your taste. Everyone knew there was purpose of task along with many needs to be met. I'll always be proud to have been a part of something that mattered so much.

For the most part things returned to normal. After the week of neighborhood power outage everyone was pulling their lives back inside where they could once again find the solitude of
familiarity. Neighbors smiling and waving with new meaning and a closeness that wasn't there before the storm. I often wish we could go back to that time for a day and feel the comradery
that pulled us all together.

Walks down Poplar Springs Drive are different now. It's lost a lot of it's shade and history. Sometimes feeling a bit melancholy I reflect on those days that the friendly giants were there as
I had known them most of my life. They have been replaced however with something valuable. A feeling of having 'gone through the storm' together will be with this generation for a very long time.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chambers of the Heart

I'm convinced that our heart has emotional chambers  we know nothing about. That is, until it's time to open them.  Life is full of events, good and bad, which hold individual keys to the doors of these chambers.  In time, we all open them and walk through. What awaits us is the absolute unknown. 

In life, we've all observed others as their time comes to experience profound joy or devastating grief. We find ourselves in the midst of celebrating with them or bringing comfort to their sorrow. But, unless we have experienced it for ourselves, unless we've walked through that door and into that chamber, do we really know how they feel?  I think not.

I remember when each of my children were born. Both of them held their own key to place in the keyhole of each door.  Inside was beauty, newness of life, love I had never experienced before, and most of all, a wonderful miracle.  With each child, I knew I'd never be the same, nor did I ever want to leave the peacefulness only a mother knows of a child in her arms.  The doors remained opened throughout their childhoods until it came time for them to have that certain look in their eyes. The one that tells you the door will soon be pushed to. Not closed. Not locked. Just gently pushed to. And somehow you know, that's ok.

Then there was the heavy, cold key I was handed the day my father died.  I knew I didn't want to, but I had to unlock that door and step over the threshold.  The darkness was overwhelming as I stood in front of it not wanting to accept the fact my father was gone from us.  It seemed I stood there forever resisting what had to be.  We all imagine how it will feel when this day comes, but nothing prepares one for the moment.  Finally, through the strength of God, I opened the door and stepped inside. It remained black with darkness, but the longer I stood there, a warmth seemed to comfort me.  I felt myself walking over to a corner of that chamber, only to sit and curl up in the darkness.  Nothing could have felt worse as I waited for the healing to begin.  The room remains dark, black even, but I've left it.  I know it will always be as is and slightly opened, but that too, is ok.

So now, there are new chambers to discover. Five of them to be exact.  There is absolutely nothing on this earth like the key you are given when you have a grandchild.  The two babies that each handed me their own key have now born these beautiful little beings who hold their very own key. And I truly do think they are the most valuable keys of all.  They represent the journey you've taken through life and give you yet another chance to see the miracle all over again.  Only this time, through eyes which are older and far more appreciative of what life holds, one can cherish each moment from an entirely different perspective. 

As I see it, life is holding keys for all of us. It's just a matter of time before we are given yet another one.  I hope and pray whatever your next door is, you will be able to celebrate to the fullest or face the darkness. There is healing in these chambers of the heart if only we allow it.  And if we do, that too, will be ok.