Friday, February 27, 2015

"A Long Way from Chicago" wrap up...

We had a wonderful time last night at our UCC Ladies' Book Club meeting. We met at the home of Brenda Burgess and had sixteen ladies to attend! Everyone bought their favorite finger foods and I brought a delicious homemade caramel cake. (Homemade by some sweet little lady who sells them at the Piggly Wiggly in Eclectic, thank you very much!) There was one piece left over. I brought it home and, out of guilt, told Gerald about it. He was half asleep when I got home, so I was kinda hoping it might still be around this morning to go with my coffee. No such luck... 


We discussed the book "A Long Way from Chicago" by Richard Peck. This is technically a young adult book that I found while preparing to teach Jewell's book club in homeschool co-cop, but the stories were so good, I had to share this one.  It's a fast read and will definitely keep you entertained. Several ladies have already downloaded the sequels and have either begun or finished them! That's a pretty good endorsement.


As usual, we had some great conversation and a lot of laughs!
Someone (who will remain nameless!) didn't finish the book, but I read this one TWICE!


Brenda's husband, Tommy, is a master fire builder,
and we enjoyed their big, warm fireplace
as we discussed the book.
We avoided all the snow this week down in our area,
but it's still been cold!


Our next meeting will be sometime in May and I will make the book announcement soon.
If you're in the area and would like to join our group, let me know. We'd love to have you!

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I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I HEART...Christian Sisters


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!


Back last Spring, I got a call from Phyllis Richardson from the Regency congregation in Mobile, asking if I would be interested in speaking for their ladies' day in January 2015. Phyllis and I have known about each other for years. Phyllis is from Tallassee, and of course, Gerald and I now call Tallassee home. I wasn't raised here, but my daddy was. Lots of family connections. Phyllis attended Alabama Christian College (now Faulkner University) where she met her husband, who now serves on the board of directors. Of course, we have deep ties to Faulkner as well. Her younger brother, Mark, and I are friends and had done lots of theater together after I got out of college. In fact, she and I are Facebook friends, although I don't think we ever met face to face until Faulkner's benefit dinner back in October, after I had already accepted the speaking engagement.

Besides these connections, when she told me where she worshiped, I said, "I was born in Mobile!" As we talked more, she told me we would actually be having the retreat in Lucedale, Mississippi. Excitedly, I told her I had lived in Lucedale as a baby while my daddy preached at the Rocky Creek congregation. It all seemed to be coming together so nicely that I felt it was just meant to be.

Then she dropped the bombshell - we would be staying at Gulf Coast Bible Camp. Emphasis on camp. Woah! Wait! What?! At that point I had only been to camp once - when I was a toddler - and to that very camp. And I don't particularly remember loving it! I had instinctively avoided camp all through my youth and now I had unwittingly committed myself to it. There were all these connections and it seemed meant to be, right? Ahh, funny how life works.

Well - if I was going, I wasn't going alone. I recruited Jewell and Mama to go with me. And I'm so glad I did.



The theme was "When Life Gives You Scraps". On Friday night, I talked about Joseph and how he remained faithful although life seemed to deal him a bad hand, time after time. God used those scraps to weave together a beautiful tapestry that resulted in not only the saving of Joseph's family but the preservation of the Jewish nation.



During the first session Saturday, I talked about how we are not to conform to the world. We must set ourselves apart. In the second session, we talked about setting an example for the world, and we focused on Titus 2:7-8 which says, "...in all things showing thyself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you."


We enjoyed the most beautiful singing throughout the weekend!



Even though she was the only child tweenager, Jewell did so well! She is always friendly and never meets a stranger. She is just learning to knit so she took it with her and got quite a lot done on our trip.






We met so many wonderful Christian women that weekend. Isn't Christian sisterhood a wonderful bond!?! It's been 45 years since we lived in that area, but Mama remembered so many of these ladies and she really enjoyed reuniting with them. Even those we didn't know had become our friends by the end of the weekend.

I especially enjoyed getting to know my bunk mate, Sister Wanda Bridges. She is a relatively new Christian, but already has an incredible knowledge and command of scripture.  It was such a blessing to wake up to the sound of her thanking the Lord for the good night's rest and asking His blessing on our upcoming day.

I didn't take any pictures of the cabins, although I wish I had. Hurricanes Katrina and Ivan both wreaked havoc on the camp, so it was a totally different place from what it was when I was a child. We had heat and bathrooms in our cabin, so it wasn't that bad after all! 

The weekend was somewhat of a run-through for this summer.  In a moment of weakness (or love - but probably more weakness!) I agreed to go to camp with Jewell this summer. One winter night versus a week during the summer. Humm...What was I thinking?!!




I had a wonderful time meeting all the ladies from Regency, but I have to say that perhaps the best part of the weekend was getting to spend time alone with my two favorite ladies in the entire world. I'm so glad Phyllis called and even more glad I said yes!


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I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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Monday, February 23, 2015

Valentine's Day Craft Brunch

It's been a while since our Miss Manners groups have met, so Nancy and I decided to get things going again with a joint party for both age groups. Valentine's Day seemed like the perfect day for a party, and Nancy had been collecting crafting ideas, so we planned a Valentine's Day Craft Brunch at her home. (Not sure what Miss Manners is all about?  You can read more here.)

Nancy and I work so well together on parties. We both love to host and we know what is involved in throwing a big party, so when one of us hosts the party in our home, the other really helps out. Nancy did most of the planning for this party and all of the decorating. I helped with food and did the lesson.


Nancy has this big, beautiful chalkboard in her formal dining room. It sure comes in handy. (Note to self: Find space for a chalkboard!) Anyway - we decided that Valentine's Day means love, and hearts signify love. And since we always try to have a lesson for the girls at each party, we decided to go with the theme, "Create in me a clean heart, O God," from Psalm 51:10.



She chose soft pinks and browns for her color palette,
and it went beautifully with the Valentine's Day theme!


In order to accommodate all the girls, she decorated her
kitchen table as well as the one in the dining room.
They coordinated perfectly. 


For brunch, we had mini ham and cheese biscuits with grape or apple jelly, fresh strawberry, pineapple and blueberry salad, petite cinnamon rolls and tiny cupcakes for dessert. We also served milk, orange juice and chocolate milk to drink.


These girls always have an appetite at our parties, and I think breakfast is one of everyone's favorites!


After brunch, we met in the living room so Nancy could tell the girls about the different crafts we would be completing. I took that opportunity to clear the tables.  


The girls started by making tags with their names and flowers on them. They then tied these to bags that were at each place setting. As they finished their projects, they were able to slip each one in their own bag to take home at the end of the party. By the way - Nancy used rolls of brown craft paper as the tablecloths. Isn't she smart?



Next, they wrote our "clean heart" theme scripture on a pretty little piece of paper and rolled it up. They then inserted them into a glass bottle and corked it. Jewell has her's on her nightstand.



Nancy had already prepared everything they needed to make pretty cards. All they had to do was arrange the art the way they liked it and glue it all together! Many of the girls took a moment to write a thank you note to Nancy using the card they made and gave it to her before leaving. They're practicing their good manners already!



The last craft for the day was the clean heart station. How do you keep your heart clean? Bubble baths, of course! (Seriously, we did talk about how to keep our hearts pure during our lesson.)


The girls made bath sundaes. The "ice cream" was lavender scented Calgon, while the "whipped cream" was a brightly colored bath pouf! Getting the sundae cups was quite an ordeal. I ordered some off Amazon, but what they sent was not what we were expecting. After numerous calls to Dairy Queen, I guess the sweet little manager felt sorry for us and just donated the cups. Thank you, Ma'am!



Here's what each young lady ending up making and taking home. Sweet, don't ya' think?


Even though we had girls present from 1st-7th grades, everyone ended up having a great time! Nancy and I are privileged to work with these young ladies. We have big plans for them this year!


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I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I HEART...Homemade Maple Syrup



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'm a simple kind of girl.  I grew up eating plain old Log Cabin syrup.  But apparently, that's not good enough for my kids.  The daughter of some of our dear friends is a doctor up north.  She sent us some maple syrup she bought for us in Vermont and Brack was hooked.  He went through what was probably a $20 bottle of syrup in just days.  His newly developed appreciation for the finer things (in syrup) could no longer be satiated with a $3.50 jug of pancake syrup. 

Real maple syrup ain't cheap, y'all.  Especially in Tallassee, Alabama, where the variety and supply is somewhat limited.  Even Great Value brand was $10 a bottle, and like I said, Brack likes it.  I mean, he really likes it.  It soon got to where maple syrup had it's own line in my weekly grocery budget.

Then one night during the Christmas holidays, my 13 year old nephew, Copeland, mentioned that he made homemade maple syrup with his other grandmother, Mama Sue.  I was intrigued to say the least.  When he made it at my mama's house for Christmas Eve dinner, I was sold!

Not only is it waaaay less expensive, it's all natural.  Now before you get all excited thinking it's actually healthy, let me assure you...it's not.  It's basically pure sugar.  But it contains NO high fructose corn syrup!  So there you go.  It's better for you than ol' Aunt Jemima.  

I had a stroke of genius and saved my last empty maple syrup jar - you know, the pretty ones with the maple leaf on it.  (Wish I had thought of that earlier.)  Anyway, I made the syrup and poured it in the jar.  Smart, huh?  I thought so, thank you very much.

Jewell needed a hostess gift to take to her Miss Manners party last weekend, and I had just made a fresh batch of syrup, so I crafted a cute label for the syrup bottle and we were good to go!  Miss Nancy loved it, and it was so simple and inexpensive.



Now that my (one and only) maple syrup jar has a new home, I'm storing our syrup in a mason jar. I'm actually thinking about buying another jar of maple syrup just so I can have the bottle.  Seems like such a waste, though.  We'll see.  Here's the recipe.

Homemade Maple Syrup

Bring one cup of water to a boil on the stovetop.  Add two cups granulated sugar.  Reduce heat and stir until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is clear.  Remove from heat and add 1/2 teaspoon maple extract.  Allow to cool slightly and pour into a jar. Keep refrigerated.  It will thicken as it cools.  

I guarantee it will keep in the fridge a lot longer than it will last, if you know what I mean.  You'll probably find yourself making it weekly, but at least it won't cost you $10 a bottle!

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sweets for my Sweets...

The fact that Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday this year allowed me a little more time than usual to prepare a special meal for my family.  It was nothing fancy and I pulled it all together in a couple of hours.  It was a beautiful spring-like day, and Gerald and the kids spent the afternoon outside.  This left me with all the time I needed to cook supper and decorate the table.  


They were really surprised to walk in and find the table set with a Valentine's Day theme.  

My everyday dishes (Nikko "White Satin") are white, so that's where I started.  (I have never regretted choosing this pattern.  It's a blank slate and I can always build on it no matter what the occasion.)  I used my trusty white linen tablecloth, then layered a smaller pink and white checkered table cloth I had made several years ago for a dinner I helped to host at Faulkner.  I searched through my napkin stash and found some red ones with a white stitch around the edges that I actually bought a few years ago to use at Christmas.  I collect stemware and I found these pink stems on eBay several years ago. The pattern is "Heritage" by Fostoria.

I had picked up a $10 bouquet of flowers that morning from Walmart.  I arranged them in a little glass vase with hearts that we got as a wedding present.  I added some greenery from a camellia bush and some rosemary that grows by my front porch.  I love to add rosemary to all my floral arrangements.  It makes it smell so good! A pair of modern crystal candlesticks and white tapers worked beautifully with my design.


I have quite a lot of these little clear glass stones.  In fact, I have them in several colors.  (Floral aisle at Dollar Tree!) I love to scatter them down the middle of the table.  It fills in the blank spaces and pulls the whole tablescape together.  To finish, I dug through my baking supplies and found a box of Valentine's Day-themed cookie cutters in pink, red and purple.  They were just what I needed to finish the table.


For dinner, we had grilled rib-eye steaks, sour cream potato casserole and pan roasted Brussels sprouts with a balsamic glaze.  

I have to let you in on a little secret.  Before Gerald and I had kids and I was working full-time, we had money.  You know, the disposable income kind.  We lived in Montgomery then and found a little neighborhood butcher shop that sold the best aged steaks. They seasoned them heavily with their house blend and the owner taught us how to cook a good steak.  (Bottom line - don't over cook it.) Those babies went for close to $20 a pound, so they needed to be treated with respect!   Fast forward to now and with two more carnivores at the table, dropping $50 or more on steaks is just not an option.  


A few years ago while I was watching MasterChef, I noticed they used these Premium gold-label steaks from Walmart.  Paid sponsor or not, I decided if Gordon Ramsey could cook and eat a Walmart steak, then I could too.  And you know what?  Seasoned well and cooked carefully, they are really good! I seasoned them heavily with kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and McCormick's Montreal steak seasoning.  Two steaks are all we need (we share with the kids) and as you can see above, together, they were $16.  I know it sounds too good to be true, but they are delicious. Try it and see!


For dessert, we had a simple but decadent peanut butter pie.  As you can see, we now have a heart-shaped napkin, thanks to Jewell!  I wish I had involved her in setting the table for my first picture! This pie was so simple to make and a little goes a long way.  

Peanut Butter Pie

large graham cracker crust
1 block cream cheese, softened
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 (12 oz) container Cool Whip
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
finely chopped peanuts and Hershey's chocolate syrup for garnish

Mix vanilla, cream cheese and peanut butter with a hand mixer until combined.  Add in confectioners sugar and Cool Whip.  Mix until light and fluffy.  Pour into graham cracker crust and freeze at least 30 minutes or until ready to serve.  

There you have it!  Valentine's Day was a busy one for us.  Jewell and I had a Miss Manners party that morning (more on that later this week) and I was tired when I got home.  But a little extra effort was really appreciated by my family.  We had a wonderful meal and although I host a lot of parties, the kids love it when I do something special just for us.  It was definitely worth the effort!

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I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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I wouldn't want you to miss one crazy thing...

  



   
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