Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I HEART...Dead People


Everybody loves Wednesday, right?
The week's half over.  The weekend is on the way.
What's not to love?
Each Wednesday, I want to share something with you
that I absolutely love and can't live without! 
 
I'll bet today's title really caught your attention!  Don't worry.  It's not nearly as macabre as it sounds.  Just wanted to get your attention!  Actually, I  HEART...Genealogy.  But all my ancestors are dead.  Thus the term, ancestors.  See how I tied that all together?
 
I have always been interested in history - especially that of my own family!  I love to hear older relatives tell stories.  I have sat for hours and hours with my greatgrandmother looking at old pictures, listening to the names of those who lived long ago, but not so far away.  And I think I've been in every cemetery in Lowndes County, Georgia!  Why?  Because each of those people had a story, and I want to know it.
 
A few years ago, I bought a membership to ancestry.com and I have been hard at work trying to document my family history.  Luckily, I am standing on the shoulders of some wonderful people who have already done a lot of the work for me, but with today's technology, I am able to gather a lot of the documentation that they have so far been unable to get due to location or availability.  It's a fascinating hobby...if you're into it.  Gerald, bless his heart (you Southerners know what I mean when I use this phrase!), has listened patiently (or at least quietly) as I go on for hours about my elusive greatgreatgrandmother, Mollie Moore Wall. 
 


Here is Mollie standing outside the family home in Eclectic, AL (just minutes from where I live) around 1910 with her son, James Alver Wall (my ggf - he's in the hat on the left)
and her soon-to-be ex-husband, William Wall (my 2ggf in the middle).
She's holding the family Bible and they brought a lamp and table outside.
Fascinating!  See what I mean?   
 
As I began entering information about Gerald's family, I found out his 7th greatgrandfather, Godfrey Ragsdale, survived the 1644 Jamestown massacre as an infant.  Somehow, his parents were able to hide him.  They were killed, but he was found by neighbors (John Cookney and his wife) and adopted by this childless couple.  BTW - did you know this raid was perpetrated by Openchancanough, the uncle of Pocahontas?  (Try writing a movie about that, Disney!)  Recently, we passed through Jamestown on our way to Williamsburg.  Gerald "indulged" me as we stopped to pay tribute to his ancestors!
 

 
I decided that during the month of November, the kids and I are going to do a little genealogical research and work our way back to my 12th greatgrandfather, Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins, who came over on the Mayflower.  I am missing a couple of vital pieces of "proof" and I thought it might be fun for me and the kids to do some digging as we study about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving.  Who knows where it'll lead.
 

 
If you ever decide you want to climb your family tree, I honestly recommend ancestry.com.  It's worth every penny!  You never know what you'll find when you trace your roots.  I have found famous relatives and infamous ones.  You take the good, you take the bad, you take 'em both and there you have...your Family Tree!  But beware - it's an addictive hobby.  I'm just saying. 

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Becoming a Thinker

Gerald and I got up early Saturday morning, fixed a cup of coffee, turned on the fire (ahh, the joys of a gas fireplace) and watched a special I had recorded Friday night on Fox News Channel about Charles Krauthammer.  I have always liked the man.  He seems level-headed and cool when others on the panel are yelling and running on emotions.  I like his style of oral commentary as well as his writing, so I thought I'd watch a nice little documentary about a man I already knew.  I ended up learning two things. 

When he was in college, he dove into a pool at Harvard one hot, July day, hit his head (as he put it) in a "sweet spot", and almost didn't make it back up.  It ended up severing his spinal cord and he lay motionless at the bottom of the pool.  Luckily, he was rescued.  He has been in a wheelchair ever since.  The interviewer asked him when he knew that this was a life-altering accident.  "Immediately," he responded.  But he said he decided at that moment that while he would probably be in a wheel-chair the rest of his life, he would continue living.  He ended up completing Harvard med school and went on to be a psychiatrist.  Who knew.  But that wasn't the most amazing thing I learned about him.

After working a few short years in a government job as an advisor in the psychiatric field, he saw an ad one day looking for a writer for a political opinion magazine in DC called The New Republic.  Krauthammer had studied political theory as an undergrad and while he was not a writer, he had a lot to say about politics.  Despite the fact he had no portfolio, he got the job.  So what's so surprising about this?  Well, The New Republic is a liberal publication.  It took a few rewinds of the old DVR and another cup of coffee to make sure I had heard right.  But I had.  Now Krauthammer is considered by most to be a conservative.  At least on foreign policy and economics.  After doing a little more research this weekend, I have found that we don't see eye-to-eye on issues like abortion and the death-penalty.  But the point is, he was a liberal intellectual who over the years has come to see the error of his ways.  (Just kidding.  Kinda.  This piece isn't about issues as much as how we think about issues.)

So where am I going with all this?  I kept reflecting on his story all day Saturday, trying to figure out how he got from there to here.  Then I wondered how some people get from here to there.  I guess it all just boils down to our thinking.  Or lack thereof.  You know the old joke.  There are three kinds of people - the kind who get math and the kind who don't.  Well, I have decided that there are three kinds of thinkers.  Those who think, those who don't think and those who think they think.  Think about it.  (Pun intended.  In fact, go ahead and get ready for several...)
 

Some folks are perfectly content to go through life without thinking.  They are willing to be told what to think.  What to do.  That's just fine with them.  They don't have the time, energy or maybe even the desire to think for themselves.  These people are relatively easy to spot after you've been around them a while.  They nod and smile a lot.  They take both sides of an argument...without realizing it.  They're nice enough people.  They don't mean any harm.  They just don't (ahem) think about what they're doing.  I have been one of these people.  At times, I still can be.

Then there are those who think they think.  I mean they have an answer for everything whether they've ever thought about it or not.  Or they hear what others think and if it sounds pretty good to them, they parrot it.  In fact, they might even live by it.  And in a lot of cases, do all right by it.  They always have an opinion and they're quick to share it.  You can pick out "think-thinkers" pretty easily, too.  And yes, I am often found in this category as well.  (I am still trying to live down the year or so I drove around with a Greenpeace sticker on the back of my car.  Uncle Greg (the Great) will probably never let me live that one down.  Nor should he.  I also voted for Ross Perot.  Again, evidence of a person who thinks she's a thinker.  But less we digress to a political conversation, I'll move along!)

But last we have the true thinkers.  That's what I want to be and what I think Krauthammer is.  In the interview, Bret Baier asked him simply - what happened?  How'd you change your mind?  His answer?  In a nutshell, he said he just started thinking about things.  He read, he listened.  He gathered info, and the "empirical evidence" (remember - he's a doctor) just didn't support his previous thinking.  That really stuck with me.  Obviously, he is a smart man.  I mean he made it through Harvard.  But I think sometimes it's more about common sense and not "overthinking" it.  But wait, maybe it's not thinking enough.  I'm not sure which.  I'm still thinking about it.

But my point is this.  I want to be a thinker.  I'm not saying I am looking to have my mind changed.  Or my political viewpoint.  Or my religious beliefs.  But I want to think about what I believe.  I want to own my opinions and beliefs.  I want to understand them.  I want to be able to express them in an organized and thoughtful manner.  Not just an emotional spew.  In order to do this, I've got to talk less, listen more.  Then let the thinking begin.  Never at a loss for words, this will be somewhat of a challenge for me!

This whole "thinking thing" is all still in the planning stages, so to speak.  I'm still thinking about how to become a thinker.  But I think (I know!  But hold on, the end's in sight!) the big takeaway is this.  Thinkers are willing to...are you ready for this?  Think.  They are not threatened by opposing opinions.  They are not rattled by questions on their beliefs.  They've thought it out already, and if need be, they'll think some more.  And one more thing.  They are not afraid to admit that maybe what they thought was wrong.  Talk to any person who is truly wise and I'll bet they will tell you that they are not the same person that they were a year ago.  Or a decade ago.  They are changing.  Evolving.  Maybe not as radically as Krauthammer did.  Perhaps they've come to a deeper understanding of the issues. Or maybe they've just deepened their own roots.  One way or another, they've grown, because they thought about it. 

Let me just end by saying that I think that there's a lot more to thinking than people really think.  I think it will take a lot of practice, but it think it's worth it in the end.  What do you think? 

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Raising Snake Hunters

When we moved to the country nearly eight years ago, one of the first calls I made was to the local community hospital to make sure that they could handle snake bites.  Their response didn't immediately set me at ease.  I mean it did, but well, here's what they said: "Yes, Ma'am.  We just took care of a little girl last week that got bit on the playground."  The playground, really?  We just built a house in the middle of a pasture.  I had no "yard" yet, let alone a "playground" for the kids.  Then they finished with, "If you should experience a snake bite, just be sure to identify the snake so we we'll know what anti-venom to use."  Oh sure.  No problem.
 
Jewell was 3 1/2 and Brack was 10 months when we moved in, so I really didn't worry about them getting snake bit back then.  Gerald and me - now that's a different story.  We were still "taming the wilds" putting in flower beds and clearing out woods near the house.  (Yes, Mama, I know.  We still have a lot to do.  We'll get right on that!)  I was raised "in the country", but I will admit it - I didn't go outside.  Not if I could help it.  (I hear my brothers laughing.)  But this is MY house.  My yard.  My flower beds.  Until we hit the lotto and I can hire a gardener, it's all us.  And Gerald will tell you, I get out there now and work him us to death.
 
As the kids grew up, we began to talk about what to do if they ever saw a snake.  In one word - RUN!  Forget trying to look at the shape of his head.  Forget "red on black, pat him on the back.  Red on yellow - now that'll kill a fellow".  (BTW - I suggest you research that.  Don't take my word for it!)  We have told our kids over and over, ALL snakes are bad.  Stay away from all snakes.  I know some people will argue with me on that, but when you live somewhere that has a very high probability that you will encounter a snake, I don't think you take chances.
 
We have seen a few on our place.  One cottonmouth was wrapped around the base of the hydrangea bush I was crouched down next to pruning.  Gerald had poked around it with the shovel before I started, and, luckily, he was still standing there when it moved.  I think he actually grabbed me by the hair to get me out of the way.  There was a non-poisonous one in the flower bed a couple of weeks ago.  (Doesn't matter.  Heart-attack factor is the same.)  And then there was the one that the dogs pinned down in the front shade bed one night.  When Gerald shined his light on a big pile of coiled-up snake, he didn't hesitate to blow it away.  We later learned it was a red-bellied tree snake (non-poisonous) that are known to lie across the branches in trees at the edge of the water and drop down on you in a boat.  For that reason alone, it deserved to die!
 

Last Sunday afternoon, Gerald and the kids went over to some land my dad leases that the kids love to "adventure" on.  Gerald had the passing thought that it was still too warm, but the kids persuaded him to go.  The kids were doing whatever they do over there, and suddenly Brack said, "Dad, I think that's a dead snake over there on those leaves."  Well - he was half right.  It was a cottonmouth.  Live cottonmouth.  Brack excitedly asked if he could shoot it.  Gerald proudly handed him the shotgun.  (Their grandmothers had minor heart attacks when they heard this story, like good grandmothers should.)  Jewell also volunteered to kill it if Brack didn't want to.  I would say "that's my girl", but no, in this case, she is definitely her father's daughter.


Good thing Brack was wearing his spinjitzu shirt.
After all - killin' snakes is a very ninja-y thing to do.

I am glad to report there is now one less snake in Elmore County.  I am also glad to report that all in all - the kids did what we have trained them to do.  They were cautious and aware of their surroundings.  They involved their Daddy when they needed to.  It all turned out with a happy ending.
 
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Proverbs 22:6
 
And isn't that our goal as parents?  To train our children.  To equip them with the knowledge they need to make good, safe decisions.  Both in life, and well, in LIFE. 

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."
Psalms 119:105 
 

It is so important that we give our kids the tools they need to get the job done.  Gerald believes in flashlights.  We have big ones and small ones.  We have them in the cars, and next to the beds.  We have oil lanterns and wind-up flashlights.  And he loves using his headlamp when he takes the trash down to the road.  He believes in being prepared, and he is passing that along to our kids.  They didn't need a flashlight last Sunday afternoon, but thank goodness, they were watching their path and they remembered what we had taught them.
 
 
"Teach them to your children,
talking about them when you sit at home
and when you walk along the road,
when you lie down and when you get up."
Deuteronomy 11:19
 
Just because the kids handled this snake run-in with flying colors...it doesn't mean that we will no longer warn them about snakes when they go out to play.  We will remind them because they may not always have their .410 shotgun with them.  Or their Daddy.  Nor will we rely on past conversations and instructions to keep them safe from The Serpent who lies in wait for them as they grow and mature as children of the King.  We will continue to tell them of the dangers that are out there.  We will continue to prepare them for whatever life may throw at them.  It's our job as parents.  It's what you do when you are raising snake hunters.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I HEART...Friendly Village


Everybody loves Wednesday, right?
The week's half over.  The weekend is on the way.
What's not to love?
Each Wednesday, I want to share something with you
that I absolutely love and can't live without! 
Today's post could have been called I HEART...Fall.
or
I HEART...Traditions.
or
I HEART...China.
(Dishes, not the country - although I am partial to their General Tso's chicken.)
or
I HEART...A Good Deal.
But I settled on I HEART...Friendly Village 'cause it pretty much includes all of those.
(And I guess I could use them to serve Chinese takeout.)
  
Here's the deal.  I collect china.  Gerald would probably use the word "hoard".  Tomato, Tomato.  Let's just say I have a lot.  A year or so after we got married, my MIL and I were hitting the day after Christmas sales.  Now, I rarely do this.  In fact, I can only think of one other time.  It was a Sunday and I was newly engaged.  My two sisters-in-law and I snuck out of church early to hit Dillard's Home Store.  My Christmas pattern (Fitz and Floyd's "Winter Holiday") was half price.  HALF PRICE people.  I stood at the register and Clancy and Allison literally threw me boxed serving pieces.  I think Clancy threw a couple of elbows, too, but you gotta do what you gotta do.  It was ugly, y'all.  Imagine a bra sale on steroids.  Anyway - I snagged some great stuff that I'll show you soon when I decorate for Christmas.  But back to the story at hand.  Luckily for me (and my sweet, petite, little mother-in-law, Moppie), Waccamaw was a lot calmer and I happened to stumble upon a bargain... 

 "Friendly Village" by Johnson Brothers.
Production began on this pattern in 1953 and is still one of their best sellers.
When collecting, look for dishes made in England, not China.
They are more valuable.  (Well, duh.)
Apparently, since there is snow in the scene, they considered this Christmas-ware, and it was thusly marked 75% off.  That came out to $5 a place setting.  Yep, you heard me right, a place setting.  After calmly walking to the register and asking for a price check (I think I left Moppie to guard the selection), I returned and began quickly and quietly loading my cart(s) with box after box of place settings.  I decided that 16 was a nice round number for me (remember, they were $5 each) and I generously bought my MIL eight settings as a "late Christmas/very early birthday/thanks for helping me push these heavy carts around" gift.  I even called my mother and asked if she wanted some.  For some reason she said no, and still kicks herself every time she hears me sharing this story with someone who admires my collection.  Anyway - my heart was racing as we left the store with our haul.  I can't remember if I even bought anything else that day.  Doesn't really matter!  I do remember thinking for a day or two that I wish I had bought more, but then felt a little guilty.  Man, if I could do that one over again...
As you can see above, I love my collection and keep it on display throughout the year.  For several years, my family would give me serving pieces for birthdays and holidays, and I collected 12 extra place settings off ebay, for a grand total of 28.  Gerald and I now host Thanksgiving at our place, and this is what we use.  A few years ago, my brother, Jon, oversaw the building of our country home.  (To be honest, I say "country home" because it's, well, way out in the country, not because it is the home to which we retreat each weekend from our city home.  But it sure sounds fancy, doesn't it?)  As a thank you, he got some kind of shotgun for turkeys or something.  I don't really remember.  That was Gerald's pick.  His wife, Clancy, has always loved my "Friendly Village" dishes, so we bought her eight place settings as a thank you for "loaning" us Jon to build the house when I'm sure she would have rather had him at home!  Anyway - with her 8 and my 28, we are covered at Thanksgiving!



A while back, Gerald had the idea that we should take out the "Friendly Village" at the beginning of October and use it until it was time to unpack the Christmas dishes.  (A whole 'nother story!)  So while we see these old-timey dishes on display throughout the year, actually bringing them out to use is a fall tradition.  We love to eat soup and chili from these, and they are so perfect for Thanksgiving.  And Gerald's response to my having so much "Friendly Village"?  "A Friendly Village beats a hostile village any day!" he says.  Ain't it the truth.  

So - what traditions do you have that help to mark the beginning of Fall?  And come on now - which of you out there are secret china junkies?  Stand up and be counted.  There's strength in numbers!
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I HEART...Buckeye Brownies

  
Everybody loves Wednesday, right?
The week's half over.  The weekend is on the way.
What's not to love?
Each Wednesday, I want to share something with you
that I absolutely love and can't live without! 
 
 I have to be honest and say that sweets are not my weakness.  Thank goodness!  I would much rather eat a (whole) loaf of warm, fresh-baked bread with butter.  Or pasta.  Oh, pasta.  Wherefore art thou pasta?!  That being said, there are a couple of desserts that really ring my bell, and this is one of them!
 
 
Buckeye Brownies
 Makes one 13″ x 9″ pan, cut into 16 squares
 
Fudge brownie mix
 
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2½ cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp milk or heavy whipping cream
1 pinch of salt
 
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 tbsp butter
 
Make brownies according to package directions.  Do not overcook.  Let cool completely. 
 
Mix butter, peanut butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt in a mixer.  Add 1-2 tbsp milk or cream to desired consistency.  The peanut butter mixture should be creamy and smooth, able to be spread, but not wet.  If you add too much milk, add a little more powdered sugar.
 
When brownies are cool, spread peanut butter mixture on top and refrigerate for about an hour. 
 
Melt chocolate chips and butter in the microwave or in a double-boiler, being sure not to burn it.  Pour over peanut butter mixture and refrigerate again until top layer has set.
 
These can be stored in the fridge for several days.  They will get gooey if left out, so keep cool until ready to serve.
 
This recipe has a few steps that take a little time, but it's not hard, and it is DEFINITELY worth it.  They make a mean breakfast!  Umm...  I mean - I'm sure they would be delightful in the morning with a nice steaming cup of coffee.  I guarantee these will rock your world!  Enjoy!
 
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Monday, October 14, 2013

Field Trip Fiesta!

Last week was a busy one at Jones Family Academy!  We are scheduled to co-op every first and third Friday, so I try to schedule a field trip on the second and fourth Fridays.  Well, this week was super fun, 'cause we had two trips on the books...Coke and Blue Bell.  Does it get any better than that?  I don't think so!

We had the opportunity to join a group from our cover school (Ezekiel Academy) and visit the Montgomery Coca Cola Bottling Plant on Thursday.  We started our tour by enjoying an ice-cold soft drink as we learned a little about the history of Coke. 
 
 
Then we divided up into two groups and took our plant tour.  (No cameras allowed during the actual tour.)  Here's a few neat facts we learned.

Coke has more trucks in their fleet than UPS.

No one person really knows the "recipe" for Coke.
It is locked in a vault in Atlanta.
The plants just follow a formula for mixing the various "parts".
 
Coke is a big supporter of the polar bear.  (So apparently they don't just use them in their holiday commercials 'cause they're just so stinkin' cute throwing snowballs and sledding down hills!)
 
Our local plant works 24/7 and can produce over 45,000 cases of canned product per day.
 
Here's a group shot from the end of the tour:
 

 
On Friday, we met Moppie, Pop and Aunt Linda (a.k.a. my in-laws and Gerald's aunt) in Sylacauga for lunch and a tour of the happiest place on earth.  Wait - that's Disneyworld.  OK - a tour of where the happiest employees in Alabama work...Blue Bell! 
 
 
(By the way - do you like Brack's new glasses?  Both kids recently got them for reading and computer work, but Brack decided to wear his for the pic, too.  Isn't he handsome?) 
 
Pictures were only allowed in the ice cream parlor, so I can't show you what we saw.  Let's just say it was a beautiful sight.  Tons of ice cream being squeezed out into giant containers.  It was something to see!  I knew my mother-in-law was excited about being there.  Moppie has been known to serve dessert first just in case you aren't all that hungry afterward!  Our tour guide told us that employees can eat as much ice cream as they want each day, so their old slogan "we eat what we want and sell the rest" is actually pretty accurate!  When Brack heard this, he decided that he wanted to work at Blue Bell when he grew up.  Considering he eats a bowl of it every night before bed, it might save me some moolah in the long run!  (Get it?  Moo-Lah?  Cows moo, and give milk for ice cream...)
 
After the tour, we were able to sample our favorite flavors in their old-fashioned ice cream parlor.
 


That sure looks like mint chocolate chip on Jewell's nose!


 
Pop worked at a dairy for over 25 years so he sure looked natural in the hat!
 
Gerald's parents only live about an hour and a half away and we see them at least every other month or so, but it sure was nice to slip in an extra visit with them and Aunt Linda.  (BTW - Aunt Linda runs the airport in Sylacauga and Uncle Ray is an airplane mechanic.  Sounds like another great field trip if you ask me!)
 
Saturday was busy as well - so we had to divide and conquer.  Brack had a soccer game and so he and Gerald took off for Montgomery.  Jewell's dance team had a performance at the Cotton Festival, so she and I headed to the big city of Eclectic!
 

 

  


Jewell is in her eighth year of dance at Heart of Dance in Tallassee.  She LOVES performing and is quite a good little dancer!
 
As soon as she finished her performance, we jumped in the car and headed to Montgomery with my parents and nieces (Mary Reagan and Ann Welch) where we met up with Brack.  Faulkner was hosting the 2013 Montgomery Area Buddy Walk for Downs Syndrome on our football field.  My dad welcomed everyone to the campus, and then he, four of his grandkids, Big Mo' (the mascot for the Montgomery Biscuits) and nearly 1000 participants made two laps around the field.  It was a beautiful day, the kids had a lot of fun, and it was for a great cause.
 


 
The kids spent the night with my parents on Saturday night, so Gerald and I actually had a date night!  It is very seldom that we go places without the kids, so it was nice to have a quiet dinner together. 
 
We headed to Lake Martin (about 15 minutes from the house) and had dinner at the newly re-opened Kowaliga Restaurant.  We sat on the deck and had a great time!  As you can see below, it has a breathtaking view.  Even at night we could still enjoy the stars and the lights of the boats that were still out on the water.  My parents keep a boat on the lake and we spend a lot of time there in the summer with my brothers and their families.  We plan on packing a picnic and going for one last ride to enjoy the changing leaves before the boat gets put away for the winter.  I'll be sure to post when we do! 

 
For those of you who may not know the back story, Hank Williams owned a cabin nearby and often came there to write.  "Kaw-Liga" was on the flipside of "Your Cheatin' Heart".  It's about an old dime-store wooden Indian who falls in love with an Indian maiden at an antique store.  She waits for him to express his feelings (which he can't do since his heart is made of knotty pine!), but she is sold and taken away before he makes his move.  Poor old Kaw-Liga is so sad that he wishes he was still an old pine tree!
 

 
There's a new Kaw-Liga statue and lots of Hank memorabilia at the restaurant.
 
If you've never heard the song (or it's been a while), here's a link.  It's a great old song!
 
We had a great discussion in Sunday school about a Christian's attitude toward and obligation to our government.  (The teacher is pretty good (Gerald), but I like to give him a hard time!)  Our preacher, Randy Medlin, gave a wonderful sermon on "All you need is love".  We stopped at our favorite Chinese place on the way home for lunch.  (Believe it or not, it's the kids' favorite, too!)  Finally, we got a lot of yard work done yesterday afternoon in preparation for our big Halloween party in a few weeks. 
 
Whew!  Well - that's what went on last weekend in our neck of the woods!  Glad to have a holiday today to relax a little before jumping back in with both feet!
 
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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I HEART...Scuppernongs!




Everybody loves Wednesday, right?
The week's half over.  The weekend is on the way.
What's not to love?
Each Wednesday, I want to share something with you
that I absolutely love and can't live without! 
Fall.  Some people say it starts with the changing of the leaves.  Some believe it's the cooler nights.  Some actually have to wait for the autumnal equinox.  No "ifs, ands, or buts" for them.  But for our family, the first sign of fall is muscadines and scuppernongs.  I see some of you raising your eyebrows out there.  Maybe you don't believe me.  Maybe you just don't know what I'm talking about.  But it's true.  Fall means wild grapes!

Aren't they beautiful?!!
I remember my PawPaw bringing them to us when we were little.  He was always outside hunting or taking care of his cows.  He knew where to find the wild ones - vines just crawling up trees, hugging them for support under the weight of their golden treasure.  Those were usually smaller, but they had such a good, sweet taste.
Gerald absolutely loves them and looks forward to them almost as much as the start of the Alabama football season.  Luckily, they come pretty close together.  He tells me to start looking for them in the stores right after Labor Day.  Even if you can find them then, they're not ready.  He knows that, but he's like a kid in a candy shop.  The growers really know it's too soon too, but they want to be the first to get them out there for people to buy.  And we do.  We buy them and fuss about how under-ripe they are...as we polish off each and every one.  Maybe the next ones will be better.  (Not that these are really bad!)
Since moving to the country, we have spent a good deal of time and money building arbors and planting our own vines.  Not a lot of success yet.  We really have them too far from the house to keep them watered well.  But we have hope that one day we'll have our own luscious fruit to pick.  In the meantime, Gerald growls each time I have him pull wild vines out of the trees.  They take over if you're not careful, you know.  He hates to do it.  Not sure if it's because he hates the work or if it's that the wild vines are mocking him...reminding him that they are prolific while his "store-bought" plants are struggling just to stay alive.  He actually got some fruit off these wild vines this year.  Not a lot, but enough to scratch the itch until we got sacks of the good stuff from friends and co-workers whose "single plant just took off against the side of the storage shed" in their backyard in the city.  A student even brought him some muscadine jelly that his grandmother made him.  If I make him biscuits, he might share a spoonful with me.

We had dinner guests last year who were from California and Ohio.  They had never heard of our native grapes.  Needless to say, they loved them.  We gave them the requisite instruction on how to eat them.  It can be a little precarious if you're new to it.  Just in case you yourself are a little unsure - here's a quick primer.  Muscadines are a native grape.  Muscadine is the general name for the fruit and what most people call any variety that is purple or red in color.  Scuppernong is the golden variety, but still a muscadine.  And they are my personal favorite!  You pick the grape (no need to wash it - Mother Nature doesn't use dangerous pesticides!), pop it in your mouth and bite down.  Wait for it...that delicious burst of juice!  Savor it.  Work it around a little on your tongue and then fish the seeds out of the middle, along with the tough skin.  Spit those out, then chew the inside up and swallow!  (Some people even eat the skins, but they can be tough.  Guess it depends on what you grew up doing.)  Now don't worry too much about manners.  Southern belles have been enjoying these for centuries - it can be done and still be a lady!
As I mentioned, they are native to the South, growing wild in the trees or planted by Southern gents in their well-tended arbors.  Our friends, Chad and Amy Ledbetter, have acres and acres planted and have made it their family business.  Here is a picture of their beautiful vineyard in Notasulga. 

You might still be able to find a few on the vine, although they're probably starting to go to sugar.  They'd still make good jelly, though!  Mummm, a delicious little bite of fall...
P.S. - I saw them in Publix yesterday, so I know they're still out there.  Get 'em while you can, y'all!
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Monday, October 7, 2013

"The Half-Stitched Amish Quilt Club" by Wanda E. Brunstetter

A few years ago, my friend Melissa Lester started a ladies' book club at University church.  I offered to help her decorate for the first meeting, and the rest is history!  For the last two or three years, we have planned our quarterly ladies book club together.  Melissa and I agree that the setting, food and decorations definitely enhance the reading experience, so we always approached choosing a book from the angle of "what will our table-scapes look like?".  In a way, theme was more important to us than content!  We got lucky that the books we chose happened to be great reads as well!  You laugh, but I'm serious.  Well, at least kinda.
 
We usually spent the better part of a Thursday afternoon unloading our best china and crystal into the fellowship hall and then transformed it into wherever the author and characters were taking us that evening!  Different settings included the dangerous, yet romantic frontier, an upscale restaurant in the French Quarter, and even a sumptuous feast set in the first century.  Melissa and I would provide the decorations, appetizer and often dessert.  The other ladies brought dishes inspired by the book.  On many occasions, Melissa had the author call in and talk to us about her inspiration for the particular book we were discussing.  We always ended with a few door prizes including a copy of the selection for the next quarter's meeting.  Besides the opportunity to read good literature and discuss it with others, we wanted these ladies to enjoy their evening out...to really feel special.  You can read about many of our book club dinners on her blog, A Little Loveliness, here.  

Well - Melissa took a job last spring as the associate editor of Victoria magazine in Birmingham, and so my partner in crime moved away!  Nancy Itson (my Little Miss Manners and Sewing School buddy) had helped us in the past and she has volunteered to work with me as we go forward.  We are planning to make a few changes.  Not that it can or needed to be improved upon in Melissa's absence.  We just thought we'd use the transition to mix it up a little.  Our last meeting was held at Nancy's home where we discussed A Lasting Impression by Tamara Alexander.  

I am excited to announce that our next selection is The Half-Stitched Amish Quilt Club by Wanda E. Brunstetter.  Nancy Foster, one of our club members, chose the book and will be hosting the meeting at her home in Ft. Deposit on Sunday afternoon, November 17th at 2:00.  We will meet at UCC and ride together.

 
Anyone who can make it is invited to join us.  Just please let me know if you will be attending.  The mix of ladies in our group is what makes the club so much fun.  We have ladies ranging in age from 25-70 and from many different backgrounds.  We always have a wonderful time of fellowship, and you know what they say...the more the merrier!
 
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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sleepover at Camp Jewell

It's hard to believe, but our sweet girl turned eleven last week!  We take parties pretty seriously around here, so planning actually started in early summer.  We kicked around a few possible themes - but I came up with the winner...Camp Jewell!  (This is a big deal coming from someone who considers roughing it a four-cup coffee maker at Holiday Inn Express!)  Jewell loves camping, so this was right up her alley.

I found the perfect invitation on Etsy.  I printed them myself on cardstock.  I think they look precious! 
 
 


I used to plan party activities down to the minute, but I have learned that kids just like to be kids!  So we had a few things in mind, but let it develop on it's on.  When there was a lull in the action (not very often!), I'd have something ready to go.

The girls arrived around 5:00.  It was still pretty warm, so they hung out in the house - mostly Jewell's room or the playroom.  (You can imagine what my house looks like right now!) 
 

We ate around 6:30.  One of Jewell's favorite things in the world is a Costco hotdog, and I have to say, I agree.  (Can I get a What-What!?  I mean where can you fill up on a buck fifty these days, and actually enjoy it?  Betcha' end up getting one next time you stop in to pick up your 83-roll pack of TP...)  You can buy their all-beef wieners on the refrigerated meats aisle and I even talked the deli lady into selling me a couple of packs of their yummy hotdog rolls.  Believe me - it makes all the difference.  I also had chili, onions and cheese for the toppings.  I made my famous baked beans and opened a couple of bags of chips and dip.  I made lots of lemonade to go along with it.  I know this was a girls' party, but it wasn't a "girl-y" party!  We chowed down on some dogs!

Jewell opened gifts after dinner.  Someone had the idea to play "telephone" as she opened the gifts.  The gift-giver whispered her gift to the person to her left and passed the gift.  As the un-opened gift made it's way around the circle, so did a description of what it was.  By the time it made it to Jewell, everyone had squealed and laughed, and Jewell just about couldn't wait to open it!  It took a little while, but it was fun.

After dinner and gifts, the sun was down and it began to cool off.  The girls headed out to play while I cleaned the kitchen.  I found them outside playing games like Duck, Duck, Goose! and Red Rover.  It made me smile to see these girls acting like, well, sweet young girls!  Not concerned with boys, or clothes, or TV...Just having FUN! 


 Jewell didn't want cake or cupcakes this year.  (Did I ever tell you that I took ALL THREE Wilton cake decorating classes when she was a baby?  I also bought so much of their decorating supplies that I single-handedly put them in the next tax bracket in 2003.  Seriously, if anyone wants to buy a character cake pan at a deep discount, I've got you covered.  From Dora to Disney Princesses to a John Deere tractor, I've got 'em all!  And here's the kicker - neither of my kids even like cake or cupcakes.  Oh well...)  Anyway - we roasted marshmallows and made S'Mores instead! 


The girls told ghost stories while we ate.  I'm not sure if Gerald really scared them every time he jumped out from behind the tree or if that was just the standard 11 year old girl response to scream each and every time! 



We also played Chubby Bunny where you stuff mini marshmallows in the sides of your mouth and say "Chubby Bunny" three times.  Whoever can get the most in and not have them fall out while saying the magic words (and laughing) wins!  We had three standouts.  Madison and Emily both got in about 40 marshmallows before losing it, but Anna cheeked an amazing 50 plus marshmallows!  (I know their mothers are SO proud!)


 

The girls also played a game that was new to me called "Little Sally Walker".  They sang and danced and played it for over 30 minutes.  I.Can.Not.Get.It.Out.Of.My.Head!  Ask your daughter to teach you to play.  Share my joy!  ;)



They ran around, played on the swings, climbed up in the tree house and made more noise than would be allowed in the city limits!  



About 10:30, we started to settle down in the tents.  (Note: I said "started" and "settle down".  Never did you hear me use the words "quiet", or especially "sleep"!)  The coyotes were really active that night and while the girls were a little unnerved, I think it added to the excitement of the evening!  I finally fell asleep around midnight, and since I didn't wake back up, I assume so did they!
 

 
Jewell absolutely loved having all her favorite girls with her for the night!  All her old ACA friends were there, as well as her cousin, her Tallassee BFF and her homeschool best-ie.  A good time was definitely had by all!
 
(Just in case you're wondering - poor Brack was banished from Camp Jewell.  No boys allowed!  He spent the night with my parents along with his cousin (and BFF) Ann Welch.  They actually roasted marshmallows and made S'Mores on the grill with Mimi and PaPaw!  Pretty creative Mimi!) 
 


 
Probably the most amazing part of the evening was that I, your humble correspondent, slept in a tent.  Yes, I have successfully avoided the experience for 44 years now, but it finally caught up with me!  Gerald and I had our own tent (someone called it the honeymoon suite, but the only action going on in there was me yelling for the girls to quit prank calling boys and go to sleep!) and I can actually say that I enjoyed it.  I even suggested that we sleep out there Saturday night since the tents were up but I was vetoed.  Can't say I didn't offer! 
 
Well - another party is in the books.  Jewell had a ball, and so did her guests.  Jewell's friends are such good girls, and I am so glad she has them in her life.  I feel so blessed to be able to watch these precious girls as they are on their journey to becoming young ladies.  It sometimes seems like they grow and mature in the blink of an eye.  I was so glad to see them be little girls this weekend.  They giggled and told secrets.  They played tag and got their feet dirty.  They piled up - all twelve of them - in one tent and laughed and laughed until they couldn't hold their eyes open.  They made wonderful memories, and so did I.
 
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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I HEART...My Precious Jewell!




Everybody loves Wednesday, right?
The week's half over.  The weekend is on the way.
What's not to love?
Each Wednesday, I want to share something with you
that I absolutely love and can't live without! 
Today is Wednesday, and you know what that means.  Time to tell you what I love and can't do without.  Well, I had absolutely no problem choosing what I would share with you today.  So without further ado...

I HEART...Jewell!
Today is Jewell's 11th birthday.
I cant believe how quickly she is growing up!

Here is Jewell a couple of weeks ago at the Capitol Building in Washington DC.


At the lake... (about 6 years old)
With her sweet Smudgie... (age 8)

Last year as the Mayor of Munchkinville...


Learning to cook this past summer...
As you can see, she is a very pretty young lady.  But she is just as beautiful on the inside!  Her infectious smile is ever present, and those blue eyes just melt your heart.  We are so blessed to have such a wonderful daughter!
My prayer for her each and every day is that she will grow up with a deep and abiding love for our Father, and that she will always have the same sweet spirit that she has today...ever ready to encourage others with a smile or kind word.
The past 11 years seem like mere minutes at times!  I wish I could freeze time and keep her at this sweet stage forever, but I know God has wonderful things in store for my baby and I can't wait to see what they are!
Happy Birthday, Sweet Girl!  We love you! 







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