Welcoming 2012 With Good Food And Family "Southern Style"!

My family spent most of the week after Christmas until New Year's at our lake house.  We packed up games, rented movies, bought food and fireworks and basically had a BIG, FAT, LOUD ringing in of the New Year!

There's no better place to unwind and enjoy being with family after the hectic holiday season.  And we did just that this past week...

Once everybody began to make their way to the lake, the eating and game playing began...

From Monopoly to Phase 10, Mexican Train Domino's and Smart Ass, the newest addition to our game collection, we played games with a competitive spirit unheard of by most people!

And eating is always part of our family celebrations...This is some toasted brie and almonds, served with sliced green apples and toasted bagels!

And this delicious dip recipe that I borrowed from a friend years ago, is an addictive favorite:
"Raspberry Jezebel"
1 cup mayonnaise
2 cups mild shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp. red pepper
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
Mix this all together, form into a ball and chill in the refrigerator.
After removing from the refrigerator, top with chopped pecans and raspberry preserves.
Serve with corn chips...and ENJOY!

Then, of, course, the evening went out with a bang, as our guys entertained us with a fireworks show of their own...

While some stayed up into the wee hours of 2012 playing games, others retired on the first "official" day of the New Year.

By morning, Robby and I began preparing our annual "Southern New Year's Day Lunch" of cabbage and black-eyed peas (for money and prosperity in the New Year...). 

And home made cinnamon rolls and coffee greeted all of the late morning risers...

It is said that whatever one does on New Year's Day, they will be doing all year long.  Good food and conversation with family?...I'll take that any old day of the year!



The Baking Project...Focaccia Bread

Once Christmas was over, I decided that we should ring in the New Year at our lake house.  So, we loaded up and eventually everybody showed up for some relaxation, game playing and good old home cooking.  As we ran through the grocery store purchasing ingredients for dips, snacking and even a gumbo, I decided to whip up some home made focaccia bread.

Focaccia bread is one of the few breads that can be made and eaten in the same day; that is only one of the reasons I enjoy making it.  It is also one of my favorite breads to make hot sandwiches out of.  I grabbed my ingredients (which are also few...) and began my heavenly smelling creation!

It all begins with putting 1 cup of warm water in a bowl with 1/2 Tablespoon of honey added and then 1/2 Tablespoon of active dry yeast sprinkled on top, left sitting for about 5 minutes.  While that is sitting, saute 2 cloves of garlic and 1/4 cup of diced onion together in a bit of olive oil.  Once that is done, set it aside while you add 1/2 Tablespoon of kosher salt and 1/2 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil into your wet mixture. 

Begin stirring  2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour into the wet mixture a little at a time (you will end up using your hands as the mixture becomes thicker); then add your sauteed onions and garlic.

Then, my favorite part begins...the KNEADING!  Sprinkle a little flour out onto the counter and take your dough out of the bowl and begin to knead the bread for about 5 minutes.

Once the kneading is complete, set your dough aside in a plastic or glass bowl, rubbing a little olive oil on it and cover it with a damp cloth.  The dough should then rise until it is has about doubled in size (approximately 20 minutes)

After the dough has risen, oil a flat cookie sheet and begin to stretch the dough out to fit on it.  Take your finger and make little indentations in it and drizzle 3 Tablespoons of olive oil over the top of it.  Next, chop 1 Tablespoon of fresh rosemary up and sprinkle over the top of the dough.  Add 2-3 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or any other desired toppings like kalamata olives, tomato slices, oregano, basil, etc.).  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and then set aside to rise again for about 10 minutes.

Finally, it is time to bake this delicious bread for about 20-25 minutes.  And believe me...the smell of this baking bread will have your mouth watering in anticipation for the first taste!

This is a delicious, simple bread that ANYONE can make.  Eat it alone, with soups or slice it to make wonderful hot sandwiches!



My Thyroid Apparently Doesn't Like Me...And I'm Not Fond Of It Either Right Now!

Does it bother you as much as it does me when your own body decides to turn against you?  It frustrates me to no end to know that such a thing can happen.  I knew that there was the possibility that my thyroid would not start working properly, but I suppose I just chose not to think about it (my "Scarlett Syndrome" rearing its head again...) until the final results were in.  Well...they are in and I am NONE too happy about them!

It had been six week and was time for my next blood test to determine if my biodentical hormones were beginning to work.  Physically, I could tell that something was changing.  But, at the same time I was placed on the hormones, my doctor also found that my thyroid was struggling to work properly.  He thought that perhaps it was just an iodine deficiency and started me on Kelp.  I was very optimistic that the Kelp would work; I didn't want to be put on thyroid medication.

I am just not one of those people who like to take any type of medication (if there is even such a person...), so even the thought of having to be placed on a medication that I would have to take every day for the rest of my life was pretty depressing.  Therefore, I put all my hope in banking on the Kelp to work.  When my blood work came back, it showed that the hormones were beginning to work but that my TSH numbers for my thyroid had not come down enough for the doctor to be convinced that it was an iodine deficiency...Well, CRAP!  I knew what THAT meant; the next step would be to place me on some sort of thyroid medication (ugh!!!).  To make matters worse, my husband began his "google search" on my condition, while my two medical student sons began referring to my newly diagnosed problem as a "disease", "disorder" and using all sort of language that I didn't even understand.  YEP!  There is a distinct advantage/disadvantage to having children in the medical profession.

When my actual physician phoned, I realized that there is a reason I like this newest health professional of mine so much.  He "personally" called me to discuss all of my blood work and thoroughly explained what I had already extensively researched myself about the thyroid in general.  The thyroid controls all other hormones in the body and when it is out of whack, basically your entire body is going to go haywire.  I knew these things...realized that it really WAS best for me to be on medication...and yet, I couldn't help but feel a little disturbed by the fact that my thyroid had apparently turned on me.  I explained all of this to my doctor, who listened to how I was feeling and didn't judge me; I really appreciated that.  It was as though I was in therapy, but before the therapist could tell me what I should be doing, I was telling myself!  He explained that he would be starting me on a drug called, Armour Thyroid, which is not a synthetic medication and I suppose that made me feel a bit more comfortable.  He also said that within 2 weeks, I should begin to feel the effects.  I was then instructed to call him (he gave me his cell number!...unheard of, I know) at that point so he could see how I was feeling.  At one month, I will go back for another blood test to see if my numbers have fallen.

Well, I cannot say that I am very happy about this diagnosis (who would be?!), but what's a girl to do?  I started on my new medication about one week ago and I must admit that I have already begun to notice a few subtle changes.  OK...so, I've decided that I suppose it could be much worse.  If this medication works and makes me feel really good and full of energy once again then it is worth it.  I'm not sure WHY my thyroid decided to turn against me, but I'm just not settling for letting it win!  I've never liked anyone telling me what to do...and that goes for my "Dysfunctional Thyroid" too!


Getting Showered With Ornaments...

It was the 22nd of December, but we put all Christmas planning on hold for a few hours.  That evening would be Caitlin's first wedding shower...A "Christmas Ornament Shower".

When one of Caitlin's friends, Kat, got married, some of my friends gave her a "Christmas Ornament Shower" in December, preceding her summer wedding.  I absolutely LOVED the idea of having an "Ornament Shower"!  What a GREAT idea for the bride-to-be; she would have enough beautiful ornaments to cover her first Christmas tree once married.  So, when those same women approached Caitlin and me about hosting the same type of shower for her, we were thrilled.

December 22nd is pretty close to Christmas, so I wasn't sure how many would be in attendance.  All of these girls were still in their final year of college and just completing finals, so it was the only time available to have it.  The place that the event would be help would be our local cupcake shop, "Little Cakes".

When we arrived, the shop window was so festively decorated with a white Christmas tree and when we opened the door, the continuation of festivity continued through more twinkling lights and the smell of delicious, freshly baked cupcakes.  Before long, a large group of girls and women began to arrive and I was relieved that so many had shown up for this evening to celebrate Caitlin's first bridal shower.

After filling our plates with food, we had a little surprise in store before the gift opening began.  Everyone was given a plain cupcake to decorate!  Red, green, chocolate and white icings were prepared in piping tubes, along with Christmas sprinkles.

And then the presents were opened.  Each person had to get up and give Caitlin their ornament and tell how they knew her.

We all had so much fun reconnecting with old friends and family!

Caitlin with some of her old high school friends.

Caitlin with high school, college and church friends.

Caitlin with both of her grandmothers.

Caitlin with my sister.

Bride and Mother of the Bride.

Many thanks go out to the ladies and their daughters who hosted this wonderfully unique "Christmas Shower" for Caitlin!


The Baking Project...Home Made CINNAMON ROLLS

Well, with the wedding planning and Christmas shopping on my plate, there hasn't been much time for "The Baking Project".  However, this past week, I decided to just MAKE some time for a recipe that I came upon the weekend before Christmas.

I was having a cup of coffee before church last Sunday morning when I turned the television to the Food Network Channel.  A program came on that I had never seen before, but it immediately captured my attention.  The program was called, "The Pioneer Woman".  She was preparing her holiday meal and included in that episode was her preparation of Home Made Cinnamon Rolls, that she annually gives to friends around town as gifts.  I thought the whole thing was a GREAT idea and settled down to see what the difficulty of the recipe was; perhaps I could borrow her idea and use it myself!

It seems that the recipe was her mother's that was passed down to her, along with the tradition of making the Cinnamon Rolls as gifts.  As I watched her prepare them, I decided that they were no more difficult to make than the breads I am so fond of making.  And so, a plan was devised...

I decided to make the Cinnamon Rolls in the same manner as I do my bread baking; unrushed and at my leisure.  I set aside DAY 1 as my preparation day.  I prepared all of the dough and then covered and set it aside in the refrigerator to be rolled out the next day.

On DAY 2, it was time for the rolling out and baking...

After rolling out the dough, a cup of butter, 1/8 cup cinnamon and 1 cup of sugar was poured on top...

I rolled it up in a log to slice into 1/2 inch rolls...

Popped them into buttered pans to bake for about 17 minutes...

Then iced them to eat hot or take to friends and family for a DELICIOUS gift!

My family and I found that these Cinnamon Rolls tasted WONDERFUL and I found that they were very easy to make.  Go to www.foodnetwork.com and check out The Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Roll Recipe...You won't be disappointed!



The Christmas List...

At the beginning of December, I usually send out an e-mail asking my children to make a list of items they might want for Christmas.  There is, however, another list that my entire family receives each year that is much more important and one that we all consider to be a blessing to all of us and reminds us of the "True Meaning of Christmas".

My family is one that truly believes, "It is more blessed to GIVE than receive".  That is precisely why each year, we contact our church to participate in the Christmas Ministries Program.  There are many people out there who are down and out and experiencing many situations that cause them much stress and anxiety, especially during the Christmas season.  That stress is not necessarily because of "them", but because of the children in their homes whom they desperately want to give a "Merry Christmas" to.

Our church asks needy families within the church to write letters to the woman who oversees the ministry and then she forwards them to individuals interested in providing for those families for Christmas.  You can either chose to purchase items from their list and have someone from the church deliver them or you can deliver them yourselves.  My family always chooses to deliver them.

It is a humbling experience from the moment the letter arrives.  Our church is quite large, so most times it is possible that our paths have never crossed, but the person in charge of the ministry gives a little background information on the family's situation, along with their "Christmas List".  After reading the letter, Robby and I cannot resist deciding to purchase everything we can find on the children's lists.  And it is NOT all about the gifts, but about living in the Spirit of the True Meaning of Christmas.  Once we have made phone contact with the parents to let them know that their childrens' "Santa Claus" has been taken care of for the year, you can hear gratitude, relief and a bit of disbelief in their voices.  THAT is what makes the Christmas season complete for us.

This year the family chosen for us was one where several woes had befallen them.  There was the young mother, father and three children; the youngest with Down's Syndrome.  The father had lost his job this year and was currently training for a new one.  The mother, because of caring for a special needs child, did not work.  The entire family had moved in with the grandparents because of their situation.  We loaded up and all that were in town traveled to deliver the presents that would be snuck under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.

As we arrived and began loading our arms with gifts, the young mother and father met us outside with smiles on their faces.  As we sat everything down in the hall to be hidden in the attic, I saw tears rolling down the mother's face.  She said, "I told myself I was going to try not to cry, but I just can't help it."  I reached over and gave her a big hug as she expressed her gratitude to me and my family.  I cannot begin to imagine being in this young family's situation.  Life is overwhelming for them and I realize that it is only by the grace of God that we aren't in that same situation.  However, HE has made it possible for my family to be able to provide a small bit of "Christmas Magic" for someone else.  I hope that we will always be able to share God's love in this manner during this blessed season that we call Christmas.

                                                                   MERRY CHRISTMAS!

It truly IS more blessed to GIVE than to receive...

The "MYSTERY" Of Christmas...And WHY I will ALWAYS Say "Merry Christmas" NOT "Happy Holidays"

Last week, I received a call to attend a Christmas school play that my great niece, Brittney, had the lead role in.  Of course, I would attend!  Not only do events like this make the Christmas season complete, but the school she attends is very special to me; it is the very one that all four of my children attended.

Whenever Robby and I began thinking of schools for our children to attend, I was very decisive regarding which one would be my first choice.  At the time, it was a new, much smaller Christian school, sponsored by a Presbyterian church in town.  I placed Justin on the waiting list long before he would begin first grade.  I didn't think I had much hope of getting to the top of that list, however, when I did receive the call telling me that he had been accepted, I immediately jumped for joy, said to include us on the roster and it was only AFTER I had hung up the phone that I began to worry about HOW I planned on paying for the monthly tuition.  Well, I took on quite a few more piano students and thankfully everything worked out over the years so that all four of our children were able to attend this school.  I believe that, for us, this was the "perfect" school.  It daily reinforced the core values of our family, therefore, all of the sacrifices that were made to educate our children there were well worth it.

When I entered the sanctuary, where the play was to be presented, many fond memories came flooding back.  As the children began to file in, I even noticed quite a few familiar faces.  But when the play actually began, my heart was filled with the true spirit of Christmas and I was so glad that I had come!

The story began with Brittney, "Jane Blonde" as an investigative reporter, attempting to find out about the "Mystery of Christmas".  She was very doubtful about the whole Christmas story; a star, a manger and the Christ child.  The rest of the children answered her doubts in uplifting song.  I believe that EVERYONE should attend a children's Christmas play.  The innocence of the Christmas story being presented by children reminded me of WHY I will always say, "MERRY CHRISTMAS" and NOT "Happy Holidays".  The TRUE meaning of Christmas IS the birth of the Christ child.  Put aside all of the running around and shopping and Santa and parties and just remember the simplicity of a child...in a manger...sent to save the world.  I will ALWAYS say "MERRY CHRISTMAS", because indeed it IS "Merry" to think that "God so loved us..."

"And a little child shall lead them..."

Celebrate the JOY of the "Baby" who was sent to SAVE THE WORLD

                                                         MERRY CHRISTMAS!

OK...So, I REALLY Like Tim Tebow!

Who would ever believe that I would be writing about ANYTHING relating to sports?  I did not grow up with a father or brothers and actually knew very little about sports or sporting events of any kind growing up.  THEN...I got married and my first three children where BOYS.  That fact alone changed my entire way of life.

My husband is a huge sports enthusiast, having not only played basketball, men's softball and golf, but in our early years of marriage he refereed to pick up extra money.  Once we began having children...and the first three were boys...he had them in all sorts of sports.  And me?...I learned about these different sports; how they were played and most importantly what it meant to be  part of a team.  My induction into the world of sports late in life, however, is only a small part of the reason I like Tim Tebow so much.

Now, I realize that by writing this post and in turn my opinions and ideas regarding Tim Tebow, I am just asking for some "Negative Nellies" to reply with opinions of their own.  My only request is to remember one thing:  We all have opinions, so please be respectful of mine and also keep in mind that everybody has an opinion and opinions cannot be right or wrong; they are just personal.  So, in saying all of that, I will now let you in on "Why I REALLY Like Tim Tebow".

When this year's football season began and it was clear that Tim Tebow was going to be thrown into the job of quarterback for the Denver Broncos, I must admit that I didn't think much about it.  However, very soon, he was "making waves" by his team actually winning some games.  And as the wins continued, so did the talk about Tim Tebow.  And as the sports commentators continued to talk a bit negatively regarding his abilities as a quarterback, his team continued to win even more games.  This captured my attention a little more and my youngest son (who is Tebow's age...) and I began to root for him and the Denver Broncos.  Then, finally it happened...the talk turned to Tim Tebow's Christianity; and THAT did it...we were now full out cheering for Tebow and the Broncos every week!

I REALLY like Tim Tebow...and here is why.  I love the story about his conception and birth.  It came out on a pro-life commercial last year.  His mother could have chosen abortion but instead chose to continue the pregnancy.  She had faith that God would see her through whatever was to come with the birth of her unborn child.  Not only did He see her through the pregnancy, He apparently also had some pretty special plans for Tim Tebow.  Even if you are not a Christian, you have to admit that Tim Tebow appears to not only to be a very talented athlete, but also very blessed. I like the fact that he and his family are Christian and cannot understand why this fact alone would bother some people to the point of almost perscecuting him specifically for those beliefs in the media. Do we not all have the right to our own personal beliefs?  Do you see anyone else out there being persecuted openly for their beliefs?  So, one must ask the question:  "Why does this get under some people's skin so badly?"

Having been very successful throughout his life in the athletic arena, many people are just in awe of Tim Tebow's accomplishments.  However, lately, I have been more that disappointed at the media; I have been disturbed by the many negative comments made toward him.  Call it being a mom and thinking about how I would feel if it were my child that they were talking about or the fact that I am also a Christian; I am just appalled at how ugly people can be toward someone they aren't even personally aquainted with.  For some reason, there are individulas who have become absolutely enraged at Tebow's success since he is a Christian.  Now, that really bothers me.  Have you ever seen this young man on the field with his team mates?  How about on the side lines?  Or even at an after game press conference?  I have taken notice of him and his behavior in all of these places and have been extremely impressed with him.  I find him to be humble, never bragging about "his" abilities, but giving his team mates credit for their abilities.  I also find him to be respectful not only to those interviewing him, but also to those who make fun of him because of his Christian beliefs.  And what I REALLY am impressed with, is the fact that he never appears to let the "negative" talk surrounding him affect his "positive" attitude.  I suppose all of these things combined make it very confusing and difficult for me to understand exactly "why" some people continue to harass him for who he is.

I believe that we, in this country, have perhaps forgotten why it was founded in the first place.  One of the main reasons was "religious freedom".  Tim Tebow is not out there trying to push his religion or beliefs on anyone else.  Just because he may stop and say thank-you to God when he makes a good play is no reason for people to become angry.  Why, over the years, I have seen MANY players do the same thing without one word being said about it.  Is openly being a Christian now fair game for persecusion?  Does he seem like a bad person or has he done bad things that make him worthy of all the criticism he is under daily?  Hmmm...As I think about these questions, I have another I would like to pose:  If you are so offended by this young man's integrity, then what must you be feeling about those who are also in the public eye and broken the law...or sing songs with curse words in them for our young people to hear...or wear inapporpriate attire for the world to see and our children to immitate...or abuse their spouses or innocent children?  Where is the  immense criticism for these individuals?  There is something terribly wrong with our society when a polite, genuinely kind, respectful and unselfish person is treated more harshly than the individual who clearly has no regard for anyone but themself.  Is one person's belief in God so truly offensive that it must be addressed openly and publicly on a regular basis?  I REALLY like Tim Tebow.  Not just because his religious beliefs are are the same as mine, but because he appears to be such a genuinely all around nice guy who is also a very talented athlete...AND he can continue to smile and keep his wonderfully positive attitude even through the nastiness of many people across the country.  Ever wonder how he does that?...And could you do the same if it were you or your child?

RELATIONSHIPS 101: You Are NOT Changing Them!

After almost 30 years of marriage (in May...), I have come about a bit of "wisdom" that I believe is worth passing along to anyone who is in a relationship or contemplating getting into a relationship.  This "wisdom" is not anything new; most of you have even heard it before.  However, just like the parents of Tee Ballers, you "hear what I'm, saying", but you don't think it applies to YOUR kid.

I had a lifelong friend who divorced while we were back in college during our 30's.  After the divorce, she began dating and with each guy she would tell me about, I would ask her one simple question:  "What is his fatal character flaw?"  We laughed about this question a good bit, but I made no bones about it...Go out with him a few times and I guarantee that you will find it.  It wasn't long before she began regularly reporting back to me about all of the "character flaws" she had discovered.  I don't like to gloat (well, maybe sometimes...), but if there is one thing I know, it is this fact:  YOU CANNOT CHANGE A PERSON.  If they indeed have flaws (and they all do...), those are things they will always have and no matter how you try, you will never really be able to change those things.

The advice that I have given to my own children upon dating, getting engaged or ultimately getting married is to look closely at the person you are in a relationship with.  Get to know them (and their family...) well.  Be honest with yourself, because in the end, honestly WILL catch up with you.  So, look at that person realistically and see what  little (or big...) things bug you about them.  OH...you think there are "perfect" marriages out there?!  HA!  That is an oxymoron; using the words "perfect" and "marriage" in the same sentence.  A union (or relationship...) between two imperfect individuals does NOT perfection make.

The problem with entering a relationship with lots of folks these days is the fact that they become enamoured with all of the planning and expectations of life to be a fairy tale.  Well, just remember this:  "All fairy tales have witches, dark forests and wild animals".  Now, I must admit that after almost 30 years of marriage, we must be doing something right.  And one of those things is being able to admit our faults and accept the things we cannot change about one another.  I am the first to admit that I have faults...and believe me; they are plenty!  Now, don't get me wrong; there are definitely some "deal breakers".  I do NOT believe that abuse of any kind or infidelity is excusable.  However, "little" things often times must be overlooked unless you want to fight every day of your lives.  What sort of things am I talking about?  Well, I will just give you a few examples:  How about picking up your mate's dirty clothes and throwing them in the laundry with yours?  Or maybe not saying anything about the fact that they leave their coffee cup sitting on the floor beside their recliner?  Oh...and this is the one that REALLY gets me that young girls often do; how about letting your mate dress themselves!  SERIOUSLY...Is it necessary to dress another adult?!  Poor guys, I feel sorry for them when "wifey" makes them go back in and change their clothes...to match THEIRS!

I realize that some of these things may seem a little silly, but I have seen entire relationships crumble because people harp on "little" things that really do not matter.  HEY!  You knew that person before you decided to get into a relationship with them.  You knew what their faults were.  And I know what you were thinking..."I can change that about them.  I can mold them into what I would like for them be."  But I'm here to let you in on a bit of "wisdom"...YOU ARE NOT EVER GOING TO CHANGE THEM; WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET!  After all, I find that it is easier to overlook "little" things when there is LOVE involved.  You may think this to be somewhat "corny" (but who has been happily married for 30 years here?...), but "TRUE LOVE" overlooks the small stuff and allows one to enjoy life to the fullest. 

                                                    BE YOURSELF AND BE HAPPY!


Books I Am Reading Or Have Read..."The Hunger Games"

Are you "hungry" for a good read?  If so, look no further; "The Hunger Games" are here!

Back in the summer, a cousin of mine read the entire "Hunger Games Trilogy" and recommended it to me.  I did what I usually do...Downloaded a sample to my Kindle so I wouldn't forget about it.  I have so many books that I have done the same with, I just sort of move them up and down on my list according to the "reading mood" I am in at the time.  I decided to move "The Hunger Games" up on my list when I was recently at the movie theatre a few weeks ago and noticed that it would be made into a movie by the spring.  So, actually knowing nothing about the book, I settled down into my overstuffed chair to begin reading...and once I did, I simply could not put the book down.

This book captured my attention from the very first page.  It is an extremely quick and easy read and so fast paced that I found it difficult to set aside.  The only way I know how to adequately describe what type of book "The Hunger Games" is, would be to say that it is a "survival book".  You see, the country is divided into 12 districts; no one is able to visit or communicate between them.  At some point in time, there were uprisings and the government (The Capitol...) decided to take control back by creating an annual event called "The Hunger Games".  The premise of "The Hunger Games" is that a male and female adolescent name from each district is drawn to participate in the annual contest.  They are taken to The Capitol, where they are prepared for the opening ceremonies at the games.  Each contestant is given a team of personal assistants, who in a sense attempt to "market" their contestant to potential sponsors.  Sound familiar?...Like our Olympic ceremonies?  Well, not quite.  For you see, although only one winner will emerge from "The Hunger Games", the others will not merely lose a contest; they will also lose their lives.

From the very onset, contestants are thrust into survival mode, relying on their individual skills to bring them through the contest alive.  Conditions can change in a second due to the fact that the Game Makers ( the people in charge of and in control of the games...) can alter conditions that keep the action moving and entertaining should things become boring for them and the audience.  Oh...Did I fail to mention that the entire "games" are broadcast throughout the country...live?  Yes, it is a form of "Reality T.V." like no one can begin to imagine.

This book series has captured my interest quickly and for many reasons.  First, it is very fast paced and easy to read and keep up with.  Second, the characters are quite creative and unforgettable.  And third, the underlying notion that a government could have such complete control over a country is strangely disturbing.  There are cameras everywhere, thus the lack of privacy.  The inhabitants of each district are separated in order to keep them from banding together in overtaking the government.  And the "Hunger Games" are a constant reminder to the people of what the consequences are of attempting to become independent and in control of their own lives.  This book series is very intriguing and I am simply lost within its pages; so much so that as I turned the last page of "The Hunger Games", I immediately opened the first page of the second book in the series, "Catching Fire"!  I definitely recommend this book series...You will NOT be disappointed!

                                                                    HAPPY READING!!!

My Beautiful "REAL TREE" Is NOT Making Me Sick!

OK...So my "REAL TREE" is sitting pretty and FINALLY decorated.  It is every bit as BEAUTIFUL as I imagined it to be when I saw it sitting under that tent the day before Thanksgiving.  Although "some" people thought it was perhaps a bad idea for me to get it (due to my allergies...), I was placed under its magical spell and there was NO stopping me from getting that "REAL TREE" this year.

My "REAL TREE" sat there for a week with only half of the lights on it.  You see, Robby thought that the new LED Christmas lights would be a great idea.  He explained that EVERYTHING was going that way with the "Going Green Movement".  OK...So, I wasn't really opposed to the idea of using LED lights on my "Beautiful Real Tree"...That is UNTIL I saw what they looked like! (ugh...).  As Robby began to string those lights on my tree, I noticed that they just had this dull hue to them; they didn't "Sparkle" like the ones I had decorated my front door and mantles with.  I didn't want to hurt his feelings or anything, but those lights were just NOT doing my "REAL TREE" justice.  I attempted to broach the subject in the nicest  possible way, but in the end it just didn't come out the way I intended.  He took his LED lights off of the tree and told me I could buy the "Sparkly Lights" I wanted AND put them on the tree myself.  Hmmm...OK!  That was better than having my "Beautiful Real Tree" not shine in the manner I knew it should.  I went down to the store and bought my sparkly lights (sorry, Going Green People...), however, I didn't realize how many it would take for my tree so I ran short a couple of strands.  Promising to get some more asap, I just turned those lights on and gleamed as I saw my tree begin to sparkle and shine!

After my Beautiful "REAL TREE" had been sitting there with only sparkly lights for an entire week, Robby asked me if I was ever going to put the ornaments on it.  I told him that I was, but had not had time to do so leisurely yet.  Apparently, he was anxious for those ornaments to get on there (or thought I may never get around to it...), because after I got out of the shower one evening, I came into the room to see him decorating the tree.  WOW!  Now, that was something I hadn't seen for many years; generally, I decorate the tree by myself.  I joined in with the decorating, making sure not to place any breakable ornaments on the low branches, due to having a baby in the house this year.  After we were finished, I stood back and thought how BEAUTIFUL this "REAL TREE" indeed was.

It was only about a day later that the sneezing began.  I told myself that it was only a result of the dropping temperatures outside and after all, didn't I always get the sniffles around this time of year?  As it turned out, I had a check-up with my allergy specialist the next week.  I was really feeling pretty good, what with having a "REAL TREE" sitting in my living room and all.  I was also a little proud of myself for being such a compliant patient( for a change...) as I entered his office.  I wondered if I should even disclose that I had actually chosen a "REAL TREE" for Christmas this year.  Well, I sort of mentioned it but was quick to throw in that it wasn't really causing any problems for me and after all...it would only be in my house for a month.  I must admit that he is very tolerant of me (and most of my ideas...), so handing me a Brown Bag Christmas gift,  (inhalers...), he gave me a clean bill of health and sent me on my way.

The very next day the sneezing was joined by a runny nose and slightly scratchy throat.  I was SURE this sort of thing was just going around this time of year.  I grabbed the bottle of Benadryl and jar of Vick's Vapor Rub before hitting the bed that night.  The next day a stuffy head joined in, however, I was still not about to blame my "BEAUTIFUL REAL TREE".   As I looked at the "sparkly" lights,  I decided there was NO WAY "IT"  could be causing all of these symptoms (sniffle, sniffle, cough, cough...AH CHEW!!!)

                                                           MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!


Living With The "Father Of The Bride"...Funnier On FILM Than In REAL LIFE!

One of my favorite movies is, "Father of the Bride".  It doesn't matter how many times I have watched that movie; it always makes me laugh.  Whenever Caitlin announced that she was engaged and we began the wedding planning, I suddenly found myself living with THE FATHER OF THE BRIDE!  I was no longer laughing at that movie...I was LIVING it.

I must admit that watching someone else go through the pains of wedding planning on television is a whole lot more amusing that actually going through it oneself.  As I was sitting here the other day, in the midst of yet another tumultuous wedding conversation (with the "Father of the Bride"...), I was reminded of the scene where George Banks began furiously tearing open the package of hot dog buns and saying that he was NOT going to pay for a full bag of buns because it was all a big scam since the number of buns in a bag did not coordinate with the number of hot dogs in a package.  Hmmm...THAT's when I began referring to my husband as "Mr. Banks"!

You see, Robby is a businessman.  Need I say more?  A wedding to a businessman is nothing more than a business deal.  And by "deal", I mean...He feels like he must GET a "deal"...On what?  OH, just EVERYTHING!  We actually call him the "Human Calculator".  Now, he is not cheap, he just enjoys bartering for everything he purchases in life.  Me, on the other hand...I'm the creative one.  I like to peruse magazines and web sites to get "neat ideas" for everything I do.  We could not be more opposite.  Up until now, this has worked perfectly well for us.  However, when bartering meets creativity while planning a wedding, things can go a bit awry.

Last week, the wedding topic of discussion for the week was wedding invitations.  Caitlin and I had discussed some "creative" ideas we had for a very unique invitation.  We both paint and are very artistic, therefore, we thought that having another artist friend of ours watercolor a design and then having the printer add the text and print the invitations was a GREAT idea.  George Banks?...Hmph!  He asked, "Now, WHY would we want to PAY someone EXTRA to paint an invitation for us?  Do you KNOW how much that will cost?  AND...besides, no one even remembers what the invitation looks like anyway."  Well, That did it for me!  "REALLY?!", I said.  Well, if THAT'S the case, then I guess we could just hand write them then.  He watched in amazement as I snatched open a drawer, took out a pen and piece of scratch paper.  I proceeded to hold the pen in my fist like a five year old would hold a Big Chief Pencil and wrote in the same type of handwriting:  WE'RE GETTING MARRIED.  COME TO OUR WEDDING.  Then explaining that since no one really noticed the invitation, why even fold it or put it in an envelope for that matter; I crumpled it up in a ball and threw it across the table.  OK...I will admit that I took things a bit far with my example, but I (like Dianne Keaton/Nina Banks...) had HAD ENOUGH!  Robby sat there simply watching as I eventually completed my "Mother of the Bride" tirade.  To his credit (and continuation of life...) I only caught a glimpse of him slightly snickering once.  When all was quiet once again, we were both just left just staring at one another; he with that silly smirk on his face and me with my hands on my hips and "I'll wipe that smirk off of your face" look.  We had reached a stalemate.

After quite a bit of discussion about our different visions (my word...) concerning this wedding, we came to a conclusion.  "Father of the Bride" realized that it was NOT my intention to to "Break the Bank"; just entertain some "creative options".  After all, I was not wanting to remodel the house and have swans walking around the lawn.  And I understood that he was not not attempting to cheapen our daughter's wedding by constantly questioning our purchases; he was merely trying to keep us within a reasonable budget for the wedding.  Did we ever make a decision regarding the invitations?  Well, we took the "Scarlet O'Hara Approach" to that little task by deciding to "Think about that after the holidays".  Yes, art DOES imitate life, however, it is much more amusing to watch  these events unfold before our eyes on the Big Screen instead of in our living rooms!


There's No Better Time Than The PRESENT...

I really had a MILLION things to do; a house to clean, clothes to fold and Christmas presents to wrap.  I was also babysitting Parker Ann.  I'm wasn't sure I could put another thing on my plate for the day, when I suddenly heard my own voice telling my mother that I would be coming out to her house today to make her "Homemade Chex Party Mix'...with a baby in tow!

I call my mother often, but I also try to either go visit her or pick her up for lunch or perhaps a manicure every now and then.  She is 83 years old, does not drive any more and relies on others to visit her.  I realize that she gets lonely, therefore, I try to get out there when I can.  And if I can also bring Parker Ann with me, it is an added bonus that brings a smile to her face; today was one of those days.

My mother makes the absolute BEST "Homemade Chex Party Mix" in the world!  It is one of my favorite things she always makes for the holidays.  Actually, it is a very old recipe that she got years ago from a friend of hers...AND the recipe does NOT call it "Chex Mix"; instead it is called, "Nuts, Bolts and Screws".  I told mother to make sure she had all of the ingredients and we would be out there early to make the mix, eat a little lunch and visit with her for the day.
When we arrived, all of the ingredients were laid out on the table, ready to be mixed up...
Of course, Parker Ann wanted to help too!

So, she and Mam-Maw opened up all the ingredients...
And poured them in the pan
We stirred it up real good and poured the yummy liquid over it...
And popped it in the oven to bake!
While we were waiting for our "Nuts, Bolts and Screws" to finish baking, Mam-Maw decided the birds needed to eat too.  Parker Ann LOVES to go "outside" any chance she gets, therefore she was all for it!

It wasn't long before our yummy treat was ready to take out of the oven...

In all of our busyness, sometimes we just have to take a day off and let everything go.  Leave the beds unmade, the dishes unwashed and all of the errands unrun.  Those things will still be there waiting to be done the next day.  Time to spend with our loved ones, however, may not be there.  Take time out and do something special with someone special...I guarantee you will NOT regret it.  After all...There is NO TIME like the "Present" to give yourself and someone else a "Priceless Present"!

"Nuts, Bolt and Screw" Recipe

2 sticks butter
2 Tbsp Bacon Drippings
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp. onion salt
1 tsp. celery salt
1 Tbsp. garlic salt
***Melt these ingredients together in a sauce pan***
1 box Wheat or Rice Chex
1 box slim pretzels
1 box Cheerios
1 lb. pecans
***Pour dry ingredients into a large roasting pan***
***Mix ingredients together with a wooden spoon.  Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients.  Stir, mixing well.  Bake slow in 250 degrees oven, stirring every 10-15 minutes for an hour***



Books I Am Reading Or Have Read: "Sisterhood Everlasting"

I read all of the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" books, so I could not let the final one in the saga slip away from me unread.  I love reading book "series" because I become very invested in the characters.  It is as though they are old friends that I am revisiting.  Therefore, a long time ago, I downloaded "Sisterhood Everlasting" on my Kindle with hopes of reading it soon.

It took me a while to get around to reading the last book in the "Traveling Pants" series, but I finally opened it up and began to read.  The girls were now all approaching their 30th birthday, having pretty much gone their separate ways since college.  Oh, they were still friends, but not the same way that they had been in the past.  Then suddenly, one of the "sisters" decided that they should all go back to Greece for a reunion.  Tibby, who was now living in Australia, sent everyone plane tickets and they were all to meet at what was previously Lena's grandparents' house there.  Since I had read all of the previous books, I remembered their first trip to Greece fondly.  I had just finished reading a more serious book and determined that this book would be the perfect "light read" for me to delve into next.

As I began to read, I realized very quickly that the girls' lives had changed quite a bit but their same old personalities were at play.  The book was sort of a reality check concerning what often times happens with old friends from childhood.  These people are integral parts of our lives; we cannot imagine living without them.  I recall someone telling me once in high school that if I had two or three really good friends later in life, I could consider myself lucky.  I scoffed at the idea of that; I had a "group" of friends and nothing would ever separate us or our friendships.  How wise that person was.  In this book, the girls find out exactly what I found out; life moves on and things change.  Yes, when you see those faces from the past occasionally, you embrace the memories you had with them fondly.  However, most times, one's circle of friends changes over time.  Old high school friends are left within the halls of the school and old college roommates in the dorm rooms.  These are the things that the girls in this book are finding out about life; it moves on and at a very fast pace.

Just as I began to settle into the new lives the girls had made for themselves, something tragic happened; something that shook all of their worlds.  Honestly, I could not even believe it.  This was supposed to be my "happy, relaxing book" to read and here I was suddenly captured between the pages of another serious storyline.  I asked Caitlin if she was planning to read it (I wanted to talk to someone about the book...) and as soon as she told me "no", I began to spill the beans about what was going on.  She was as shocked as I was and every time we spoke, she asked for an update of what had transpired next.

Although this final book in the "Sisterhood" series was not what I had expected it to be, I would definitely recommend reading it if you have read all of the other books.  It represents an honest look at life; the way things really turn out sometimes and how we deal with those circumstances.  There are, of course, situations in the book that are dealt with and resolved in the end, but one gets to experience the thought process that is involved in those decisions.  This book does not look at life through "rose-colored glasses"; it takes a long, hard look at the way life truly turns out sometimes.  READ THE BOOK...and don't put it down without finishing the last page!

                                                       HAPPY READING!!!

The Lost Art Of Communication...

Communication is key to any relationship.  Couples must keep an open line of communication in order for their relationship to thrive.  Parents and children must have good communication skills in order to understand one another.  Communication is even vital for sibling and friend relationships.  I have personally never had much of a problem communicating with my family members or anyone else for that matter.  However, as I observe the upcoming generation around me, I find that communication skills are somewhat lacking...OK, pretty much nonexistent. 

Robby and I headed off to New Orleans this past weekend for a little fun and relaxation during this busy holiday (and wedding planning...) season.  Actually, Robby noticed that I was getting a bit strung out from all of the demands around here and he suggested that we just get away for a few days.  Now, generally, I have to think about what I have going and "if" I can even get away; this time, I just packed my bags and jumped into the car with him.  As we were rolling out of town for our three hour road trip, I instantly began to relax.  I was looking forward to just a little "us time".

We talked all the way there and after checking into our hotel, set out to eat dinner.  We were staying fairly close to the River Walk so we just chose to enjoy the mild evening temperatures while strolling over there.  It was nice to not have anything to do but focus on one another.  Hey!..."Empty Nesting" wasn't so bad; it was sort of like when we were young and dating.  As we were waiting for our dinner to arrive and visiting with one another, however, my eyes began to wander around the room.  I'm a "people watcher" and I like to see what all is going on around me while I'm out.  One thing stuck out in my mind as my gaze quickly swept across the room; those darn cell phones are bound to be the ruin of many relationships!

Now, Robby is usually the one whose "pet peeve" is the cell phone.  Well, actually let me change that to texting; he abhors texting!  Up until recently, I have just sort of chose to overlook this cell phone business, but once it was brought to my attention (sort of like a tapping pencil against a desk long enough...), I simply could no longer ignore what I believe to be a very big problem.  Now, just think about this...You are in New Orleans (or anywhere else for that matter...), with someone you love (or at least like...).  The waiter is setting the stage for what could prove to be an intimate exchange between individuals and there is an "uninvited entity" at the table...You've got it; the CELLPHONE!  As I watched,  this "uninvited entity" made its way to the center of attention.  The person who became enamoured with it (more so than the individual sitting before them...), simply could not take their eyes off of it for even a moment.  The "real" person sitting across from them was left out of any potential conversation and sat there sipping their drink, while looking around the room.  I watched on and off for quite a while, curious as to how long that inanimate object could possibly take over a dinner date and found that even when put down for a moment, it remained right there on the table, within reach of the person so attached to it.  I must admit, at this point, I was beginning to feel a little sorry for the other person who sat there ignored by the intrusion of this piece of technology.  Robby and I continued to enjoy our meal (and conversation...) when suddenly the couple with the "third wheel cell phone intruder" got ready to leave the restaurant and what I saw really seemed to bring it home and put the icing on the cake for me.  They got up from the table to make their way to the door and the person was STILL glued to the screen of the device;;;so much so that they could not walk and perform their electronic task at the same time.  This being the case, they suddenly STOPPED right by our table in the middle of the room (where busy waiters, busboys and patrons were swirling around them...).  I desperately wanted to reach up and knock that phone out of the person's hand...I know, that sort of thing is only a good idea in one's head (or in a movie...).  And so at this point, Robby also noticed what I had been observing all evening long.  He questioned what type of person would just be so focused on a cell phone that they simply stood in the middle of a restaurant to fidget on it.  I didn't answer that question; I knew it was rhetorical.

My husband has been up on his soap box for the past few years regarding these cell phones and how consumed some individuals in our society have become with them.  Why, there have even been commercials made about entire families sitting around the dinner table texting instead of communicating.  I knew it was "somewhat " of a problem, however, upon observing the number of people this past weekend who could not just enjoy the simplicity of being with someone and focusing solely on them, I decided there is to be a new rule around my house.  I intend to make a sign that will be placed on the outside of my door:  PLEASE CHECK YOUR CELL PHONES AT THE DOOR!  I realize that this may offend some people, buy HEY!  You are offending ME by not joining in the conversation around you.  Put the phones away when you are around others.  Sit and TALK to someone.  Laugh...make a relationship...FIND that "Lost Art Of Communication" somewhere amidst the pile of technology out there.  PEOPLE make relationships, THINGS do not.


HEAUX, HEAUX, HEAUX!!! Here Comes Papa Noel...

Here in Louisiana, we have Papa Noel.  OK, so he is our Santa Claus...who drives a sleigh through the swamps and that sleigh is led by a team of alligators instead of reindeer!  It is quite the "Cajun Legend" that is fun and unique to our area.  On some lawns,  Papa Noel can be found with his team of reindeer set up during the Christmas season.  I got a surprise a couple of days ago for this "Papa Noel Season" that I'm so exited about.

Rarely do Robby and I get to make it down to New Orleans during the Papa Noel Season; we just seem to be so busy, that we don't make time to get away.  However, this year, things have worked out a little differently and I find myself getting ready today to leave for a Papa Noel Weekend in the BIG EASY!

We have season tickets to Broadway Across America in New Orleans and I originally thought that we would not use our December tickets.  The show being performed is, "South Pacific".  I love that show; it is such a classic.  So, imagine my surprise when Robby announced that he had booked a room for us for a long weekend to New Orleans!  Most of the hotels around the area offer special rates during the Papa Noel season and we were going to take advantage of that and spend a little bit of our holiday season tasting the flavors of a Cajun Christmas.

We will head out today and on Saturday afternoon we will attend the show.  I just love seeing live performances; there is nothing like it, they are so magical.  After that, we intend to do a little Christmas shopping and, of course, eat out at one of the fabulous restaurants that evening (I don't know where yet; that part is still a surprise..).  On Sunday morning, I'm sure we will enjoy a leisurely breakfast or brunch down in the French Quarters somewhere and THEN...Here's the biggest part of my Papa Noel Surprise:  Robby got tickets to the Saints game!  It had been a really long time since I have gotten to go to a Saints game and I am so excited about this.  I'm busy right now packing all of my black and gold that I will wear for that event; EVERYONE in New Orleans (and pretty much all of Louisiana...) is a SAINTS FAN, therefore, it is "required" that one dress for the game.  OH...and "anything goes"; I will be wearing a new black and gold sequined top with my jeans, specifically for the sporting event!

I'm not sure what YOUR plans are for this first weekend in December, but I hope that you will take advantage of the season and do something FUN, yourselves.  As for me and my guy...We're about to be heading down to the BIG EASY for a few days to celebrate this season we call PAPA NOEL!

                                              HEAUX, HEAUX, HEAUX...MERRY CHRISTMAS!

These Are A Few Of My FAVORITE (Christmas) THINGS...

I just LOVE Christmas and EVERYTHING about it.  Well, I will take that back.  I do NOT like the over commercialization of the holiday.  I believe that people put WAY too much emphasis on "things".  Instead, this should be a time of reflection and good cheer and making memories with family and friends.  I always look forward to taking out all of the Christmas decorations that I have collected over the years; some date back to Robby and my first Christmas together.  One thing that I have come to collect over the years that can be considered one of my "FAVORITE THINGS" are...CHRISTMAS PILLOWS!

Although I don't usually buy a lot of Christmas decorations any more, I do enjoy looking at them in the shops around town.  However, one of the items that I will indulge myself with are Christmas pillows.  OK, I will admit that I wait until they go on sale to buy them too because...HEY!  Pillows are pretty expensive.  And so, over the years, I have collected quite a few that I would like to share with you...Along with some "Other Favorite Christmas Things" too!

Frosty and Santa pillows are a MUST!

And WHAT Louisiana home wouldn't have a Christmas Fleur de Lis pillow?

I saw these at Marshall's, fell in LOVE with them and HAD to have them!

My collection of "Vintage Elves" is one of my FAVORITE THINGS to put out for the season...

And the Family Stocking hung on the hall tree...even the doxies have one!

And each new family member gets their very own stocking too...

As souvenirs to each vacation we've taken, I purchase a Christmas ornament to remind me of not only the location but all of the fun memories made there with my family; This past year we visited San Diego...
And Key West...
And who could forget Hawaii?
Or New York?
And on my tree hangs an ornament from each of my 4 children's First Christmases
I try to buy a new "Family Ornament" each year too...I'm not sure how many more people we can get on one!
And what tree in Louisiana would be complete without some LSU ornaments?  GEAUX TIGERS!
But HERE is the REAL "Reason for the Season" and MY MOST FAVORITE THING!

I hope that you all enjoyed taking a walk with me through a "Few Of My Favorite CHRISTMAS Things" and will also enjoy taking all of YOUR memories out of dusty boxes in the attic too!