Project stirs up sour-happy memories

I’m an ambassador for my friend Sarah’s Project STIR, in which she’s telling families’ stories through their beloved recipes. See the description at the bottom of this post.

PickleQuotePamPickleJars1My Nanny’s homemade pickles were so sought-after, she limited her grandkids to one quart jar of them a day.

I’m talking about the grandkids who lived on either side of her: Keith, Judy, Dan, Mike and Penny. Not me, not my brother (we lived in California), not most of Nanny’s 15 grandkids – just the lucky five who lived on either side of her and Papa in their little rock house on Hilltop Road in Cave City, Arkansas.

PapaNannyWedding1927
Clay and Ila (Brewer) Taylor on their wedding day in Cave City, Arkansas, 1927.

The rest of us lived in other towns (or states) and only got the pickles during visits. I imagine we ate more than a quart when the herd converged on Nanny’s kitchen, though. (Would she have been able to stop us?)

Nanny looks a little surprised to be photographed in her kitchen in 1955. The picture was taken before most of her grandkids were born, but this is where most of us remember her.

My grandparents squeezed a lot of kids (seven), grandkids, spouses and great-grands into their little kitchen/dining room – on Sunday afternoons, on special holidays … heck, just any time we were able to get together. It was a loud, delicious holy mess of people and homemade food. Somehow, we all found a place to sit and eat: at the dining table, in the living room, on the back porch, on the front porch swing or the steps. In the hot months, we’d be out in the yard, especially when watermelons were in season (someday I’ll tell you about Cave City watermelons.)

NineOfNannyPapasGrandkids1968
Eating Cave City watermelons at Nanny and Papa’s, summer 1968. Clockwise from front left: Pam Taylor Hill, Billy Taylor, Mike Mullen, Kathy Taylor Skinner, Judy Mullen Walling, Penny Mullen Snyder, Danny Watson, Jimmy (“JT”) Taylor (my brother), Robin Taylor Vanness. Not pictured: Keith Watson, Suzy Taylor Oakley and the four cousins yet to be born (Teri Taylor, Chris Taylor, Tanya Taylor Harmon and April Taylor Burton).

Only recently, when my cousin Penny created a Facebook page in honor of our grandparents, did I find out just how special it was living year-round next to Clay and Ila Taylor.

My brother and I visited every summer with our parents, until we moved to Arkansas, and then we were there most Sunday afternoons. We have a cousin who’s still in Arizona, and most of the rest have been scattered around Arkansas all their lives.

But those five … those five lived the country life that harried urbanites only dream of nowadays.

Specific to the pickles, though … here’s what Judy said:

“Nanny would can pickles in quart Mason jars every summer. Dan, Mike, Penny and I would start begging for them before the jars would even seal. Then, after we wore her down and so we would have pickles through the winter and next spring, she would limit us to eating only 1 quart a day! She must have canned 100 quarts or more each summer! We had to help can them, too, but it was really not much work for us kids.”

Her sister Penny’s story is slightly different:

“Picking the cucumbers was not fun because they were down on the ground under the leaves. We had to wake up by 7 to pick the garden, but then we could go back to bed. Worst part was the dew was still on the plants and it made you so itchy. Nanny had two giant galvanized tubs and we washed all the veggies in one tub and transferred to the second tub for final wash. Of course the tubs were filled with that awesome water they had [from their well].

“We sat up the washing stations out beside the pump house under the big trees. Nanny always handled the cutting of them because we couldn’t even touch her knives. No matter what veggie she was working on, Nanny would tape up her right thumb with white medical tape to prevent cuts.”

PickleJarsKettle
“Nanny always kept a tea kettle of water hot on the stove,” Penny said. “This is one of her kettles and some of the canning jars. Notice the lines in the glass on the sides and the jars are squared on the corners. Nanny’s jars are probably 65 years old. I have some ball jars about 25 years old that were my canning jars. They have the lines but the corners are rounded.”

Nanny had been canning food for so long (“She never wasted anything,” my mom said) that she had developed a system. Penny still remembers some of those rituals:

“Nanny was really particular about her jars. She sterilized them in the big white wash pans on the stove. I still have some of her old jars. I can always tell them from others because they have lines going down the side. …

“I can just picture Nanny right now wiping down the tops of the jars with her rags that were bleached the whitest of white. She wanted all the salt and alum off the top so the flat and ring would seal properly. Then the entire jar was wiped down with a different rag.

“The cucumbers were always cut, only by Nanny, in one quarter spears or [halves].”

I certainly loved those pickles, but I didn’t know until recently just how many of us salivated – and puckered – over them.

“I still feel my jaws pull a little at the mention of those salty sour pickles,” cousin Pam said.

I know the feeling.

I don’t remember Pam ever drinking the juice, although she apparently did when I wasn’t looking: “Who didn’t love drinking pickle juice!?! Still pucker at the thought.” (Apparently one cousin did not get the pickle-loving gene: Teri said she would rather eat a spider.) But Pam’s sister, Robin, and I would practically race each other to the jar to see who could drain it first.

Pam and Robin’s mom also made awesome pickles, even though she once said hers weren’t as good as Nanny’s. I beg to differ. It’s been a lot of years since I had one of Aunt Donna’s pickles, but I remember that they were really, really good.

Sure, they weren’t Nanny’s legendary pickles. But they were good.

My mom must have been intimidated because, even though she has Nanny’s recipe, which looks well-loved on the sheet of lavender notebook paper below, neither of us can recall her ever making them. (It’s probably a good thing: Her handwritten version is missing an ingredient: alum.)

NannysPickleRecipeMom
Mom has a lot of recipes without titles, but we know this one for sure.

Nanny’s great-grandson David had no such qualms about the recipe. He thought everyone should be able to make his Nanny Taylor’s pickles. He loved them so much he shared them in the church cookbook one year.

His mom, Penny, said:

“Mount View ladies auxiliary decided to make a cookbook and sell them to raise money. Everyone in the church was asked to submit their favorite recipes. I asked the kids about it, and David chose as his favorite ‘Nanny’s Pickles.’ He was so proud! I have always loved church cookbooks because they contain ‘tried and true’ recipes usually handed down. Nanny’s pickle recipe sure has been passed down and has stood the test of time.”

NannysPicklesMtViewCookbookI was thinking about trying to make Nanny’s pickles, but then Penny’s next comment intimidated me a little bit:

“My kids always loved any kind of pickle, especially David. Our mother was able to replicate Nanny’s recipe so the grandkids could eat ‘Nanny’s pickles’ they heard about all their lives. After Nanny had her illness and was in [the nursing home], she would come to Mother’s house most weekends. One time I got the bright idea to make the pickles recipe. Of course Nanny told me every step. These pickles weren’t even half as good as Nanny’s or Mother’s. But the kids loved them and drank the juice like it was soda.”

And then there were Aunt Bee’s pickles. Remember, no one had the guts to tell her they were awful. 🙂

But Project STIR is all about family memories and heirloom recipes. Maybe it’s time my mom and I got over our pickle-making phobia and got together for a batch.

Pass the Mason jars, please.

ProjectSTIR-websiteABOUT SARAH’S PROJECT:

Project STIR is a series of documentary films launched on Kickstarter. The films will follow Abuelitas, Nans and Mamaws passing down heirloom recipes in kitchens around the globe, including countries such as Panama, New Zealand, Turkey, Croatia and England – and United States, of course. Click here to learn more about how to be involved, or simply follow along on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

And I can’t let you leave without mentioning that Sarah has partnered with The Pack Shack, a very worthy organization that feeds those in need (with the help of folks like you and me). Click here to see what I wrote about The Pack Shack recently. (It includes a fun video.)

Follow me on Twitter @OakleySuzyT.

Share this post:
Share

Preserving family memories through Project STIR

ProjectSTIR-websiteI was going to use this video (below) in Monday’s post, but as I got to thinking about it, I realized that it’s just too wonderful to force it to share space with my own family’s story. I also want to honor my family by spotlighting it solo. Hence, separate posts.

Maybe I’ve just grown super-sentimental as the years have gone by, but my friend Sarah’s new Project STIR has really served to stir things up for me emotionally. It has helped me connect in new ways with my cousins (online) and to reconnect with some of the memories of my family through recipes and food stories.

As an ambassador for Sarah’s project, I get to tell my own story, but before that I want you to watch her first video, which she has been using to promote her project. Then Monday I’ll share with you my Nanny’s pickle recipe, some photos and some of my family’s happy memories. (I sure wish I had a video of my Nanny that I could share with you, and I can assure you that if she were alive today, I would totally have her on camera making her strawberry cake … or her white beans … or her pickles.)

Please watch Sarah’s four-minute video, read the Project STIR description below and come back Monday for my story. (My post will go live at midnight tonight. If you subscribe to Suzy & Spice updates, you will receive an email whenever there’s a new post. See sidebar at right.)

ABOUT SARAH’S PROJECT:

Project STIR is a series of documentary films launched on Kickstarter. The films will follow Abuelitas, Nans and Mamaws passing down heirloom recipes in kitchens around the globe, including countries such as Panama, New Zealand, Turkey, Croatia and England. Click here to learn more about how to be involved. 

Share this post:
Share

Dort’s Vegetable Beef Soup

vegetable beef soup
Slow cooker, can you hurry it up??? We’re hungry!

One of the great things about my mom is that she has always gone out of her way to give her kids everything we needed and much of what we wanted (within reason). (I guess that’s a mom’s job, right?)

One of those ways is with food. Of course she baked whatever birthday dinner and cake we asked for. When I was younger, she always made spaghetti for my birthday, with her own special twist — she added a package of chili seasoning and made it spicy and Mexicany. For many years, I thought that was how spaghetti was supposed to taste!

And she always makes me a chocolate cake — from scratch, not from a boxed mix.

Love you, Mom!

Mom practicing her supermodel pose. (Coalinga, Calif., June 2006)

She’s older now and doesn’t cook as much since Dad died, and I don’t eat so much pasta, so we haven’t done the birthday spaghetti in a while. Also, my day falls on or near Thanksgiving, so my birthday dinner is likely to include turkey leftovers and apple or pecan pie. (I can totally deal with a pecan pie as a chocolate cake replacement!)

Let me just give you the bottom line: Everything my mom cooks is delicious.

Probably because the main ingredient is love. (Sorry, I’m not trying to be corny; it’s just true. She’s my mom!)

And because she doesn’t cook as often as she used to, when she does it’s something special.

Recently I got a hankerin’ for her vegetable soup, and her version is always better than mine. So, what did she do? She made a big ol’ pot of it for me. (Yes, for Bruce, too. I shared.)

Until a couple of years ago, I hadn’t realized that the reason I like her version so much is that she uses tomato juice as the liquid base, whereas I’ve always used broth (chicken, beef or veggie). Also, when I shop for the ingredients, I buy generic tomato juice with as little added sugar as I can find. Not mom. She insists on Campbell’s (no, I’m not paid to say that).

“I’m telling you, it’s the best tomato juice,” Mom says. 🙂

She may insist on a particular brand of tomato juice, but the vegetables are adaptable to your preferences and what’s in season. The last time she made it, Mom used all fresh veggies (from our local farmers market) except for the frozen corn. She often uses the frozen mix that has broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, but not this time. She also forgot to buy potatoes, so the most recent pot didn’t include them. We decided we like it just fine without those, though. In fact, I think this was the best pot of veggie soup she’s ever made.

Play with the ingredients until you and your family like it, or, if you crave variety, make it a different way every time! If you’re vegetarian, I suppose you could use beans or tofu instead of the beef, but we’ve never made it that way. (Sorry, we’re carnivores.)

Some notes:

  • This isn’t seasoned a lot (just salt, garlic powder and a bit of black pepper), so if you’re expecting something exotic (like Mexican spaghetti), you won’t get it here. This is plain ol’ comfort food, and it’s delicious just the way it is. Bonus: It’s nutritious!
  • Amounts are approximate. This isn’t so much a recipe as it is an ingredient list.
  • My mom’s name is Dorothy, and her nickname is Dort. Hence the recipe’s name.
  • I’m trying a new recipe plugin that gives you a printer-friendly option. Please let me know how you like it or if you’d like to see more info; I’m not using all its features here.

All right, your mouth must be watering by now, so let’s get this recipe rolling.

Dort’s Vegetable Beef Soup

This recipe will feed a bunch of hungry people. If you live alone or have a small family and don't like a lot of leftovers, it's perfect for freezing for another day when you don't feel like cooking.

Ingredients

  • • 2 pounds ground round
  • • 1 large onion, chopped
  • • 1½ quarts tomato juice
  • • 3-4 medium yellow squash, sliced
  • • ½ pound okra, sliced
  • • 16-ounce bag frozen whole-kernel corn
  • • 1 small head cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • • Garlic powder, to taste
  • • Salt, to taste
  • • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS:
  • • Red potatoes, cubed
  • • Frozen vegetable medley (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots)
  • • Green beans

Instructions

  1. Crumble ground round in skillet. Add onion, and cook until meat is browned. Drain, then add garlic powder, salt and pepper.
  2. Transfer to large soup pot, and add tomato juice and vegetables.
  3. Cover and cook on low heat 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.
Recipe Management Powered by Zip Recipes Plugin

Share this post:
Share

Reflection and direction

MessyCloset071815
This chick has a lot of running shoes, no? (But you should see her husband’s collection!)

Today I want to share a couple of neat things that have been happening and a couple of teasers about things to come, all mooshed in together.

I almost called this the Weekly Wrap-up, but I don’t think it would be fair to you because the info is mostly about what I’m going to do coming up.

Here are the highlights:

LET’S GET ORGANIZED

As I wrote last week on my other blog, To Well With You, I read an awesome book that’s the kick in the fanny I’ve been needing to get to work in earnest, with laser focus, on the clutter in my house. It was one of those “10 things you need to know about me” revelations that I don’t like to admit. I’ll write a book review this weekend — I promise — that will include before-and-after pictures, but the one above is a teaser. It’s my pitiful closet exactly seven days ago. By the end of that day, my closet was awesome and I’ll share that photo with you when I review the book.

In the spirit of reflection and direction, though, I’ll say that the book has caused me to think about why I can’t seem to get rid of stuff, and it has sent me on the path to permanent change in that area — a very positive direction that’s long overdue.

But why am I telling you this now? I have to save some of it for the book review, right?

Besides, it’s time to go tackle my dresser and the two bookcases that flank it. They are piled with stuff, mostly books and magazines. That’s today’s laser-focus project.

FARMERS MARKET SERIES

The farmers market series I put on hold seems to be back on.

It turns out, through a miscommunication, the Batesville-area farmers never received my questionnaire, and thus I didn’t have enough information to write about each of them. But now we’re getting the momentum back; next Saturday you’ll get to meet Garden Girl, and we’ll go from there.

A RECIPE YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS

I’m going to share my mom’s totally awesome vegetable soup, which she cooks up for us occasionally, but first I want to shop for a good blog plug-in that will allow for printer-friendly recipes. I tend not to print anything I don’t have to (saving trees and ink), but I do like to save online recipes in a printer-friendly format so that they’re easy to follow from my laptop or iPad.

I’ll keep you posted. You won’t want to miss this recipe; the ingredients can be adapted to your particular tastes and whatever veggies are seasonal. (But the most delicious ingredient? My mom makes it for me whenever I ask, just because she loves me. 🙂 )

Until next time, here’s hoping you have an awesome weekend!

Share this post:
Share

Suzy’s Coffee Protein Smoothie

 When we lived in North Little Rock, I used to indulge occasionally in a delicious coffee drink from a tiny little smoothie hut less than a mile from my house.

CoffeeQuoteLetterman

The first time I drove up to the window, I looked at the overwhelmingly large menu and asked for a recommendation. The clerk said his favorite was Java the Nut.

Clever name, so I asked him to elaborate.

Coffee, frozen yogurt, banana, peanut butter and (wait for it) nonfat milk.

Well, there you go. Can’t be all bad if it contains nonfat milk, right?

Let’s talk about fat for a moment. I’ve been doing research for about 18 months on fat (the good kinds) and sugar (pretty bad).

The right kind of fat is actually good for us — our bodies need it. Sugar, in every instance I can think of, is bad. Sugar = inflammation, blood-sugar spikes, cravings, carb addiction, conversion to body fat, weight gain … not good.

I could give you a list of books and other resources, but I’ll save that for later, except for this post from one of my faves, Dietitian Cassie. (And, yes, I put butter in my coffee.)

Today’s post is not about winning you over to fat or getting you to eliminate sugar from your diet … except that if I could get you to start thinking about all the processed foods with added sugar — and just maybe get you to make a few small changes (natural peanut butter, for instance) — I would consider that a small victory for today.

For right now, I’m going to give you a recipe that I’ve modified from one at The Lean Green Bean, which offers a version with regular milk or even a nondairy beverage.

Their version contains three ingredients: coffee, milk and protein powder.

Here’s my variation, which I made up after my run this morning. (Did you know that eating protein within 30 minutes of exercise is good for your muscles?)

I’m giving it to you straight — the way I prepared mine this morning (with a nod to Tropical Smoothie’s Java the Nut) — but you can vary it to your tastes and comfort level with fat. 🙂

Suzy’s Coffee Protein Smoothie

(Click here for a printable version.)

  • 5-10 ounces brewed coffee, cold (or 5-10 coffee ice cubes)
  • 8 ounces heavy whipping cream or full-fat milk
  • 1 scoop of high-quality whey protein powder*
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 tablespoon natural, organic peanut butter (no sugar added)
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. I used my Magic Bullet and whizzed the liquids and the protein powder first, then I tasted it before adding the banana and the peanut butter. (I kept having to add more coffee so it would actually taste like a coffee drink.)
  2. Once the protein powder was well incorporated, I sliced the banana into the container, added the peanut butter and processed until smooth, probably about 30 seconds.
NOTES:

The Lean Green Bean version, referred to as a “shake,” calls for coffee ice cubes, but I keep my brewed coffee in the fridge (I hate to waste), so I simply used my ice-cold coffee rather than going to the trouble to make (and wait for) ice cubes.

I used Dr. Mercola’s Pure Whey Protein in vanilla, but it also comes in chocoate, banana and strawberry. Wouldn’t it be extra-yummy if you used chocolate?

So … make it and tell me what you think!

Do you have a favorite smoothie recipe? Please share in the comments.

Share this post:
Share

Restaurant review: Elizabeth’s Restaurant and Catering

Elizabeth'sFront
Elizabeth’s Restaurant and Catering, 231 E. Main St., will celebrate its 15th anniversary in July.

My HometownLogoI live in a small town and, while that sometimes seems to equal “deprivation” (no Target store here, my friends), it definitely has its compensations.

While Batesville, Ark. (population 10,490), is not exactly Mayberry, we have our own set of characters, our familiar faces around town, our own quaint people, places and things … and a surprising number of places to fill up on delicious food.

Among the handful of restaurants that aren’t fast-food chains, we have Elizabeth’s Restaurant and Catering on Main Street – a place I always feel at home.

What’s so special about Elizabeth’s?

Could it be those famous homemade yeast rolls with honey butter that everyone craves? The Thursday evening all-you-can-eat spaghetti (garlic bread, anyone)? Or maybe it’s the friendly waitress who exchanges silly small-talk with us and has been known to serenade her patrons. (On a recent Thursday night it was “That’s Amore,” which always makes me think of Dean Martin and pizza.)

Elizabeth'sRollsAndButter
Someone may have taken a bite out of one of the rolls before she remembered to take a picture. But her dining companion may have already wolfed down an entire roll by this point.

Oh, wait. I know: It’s the aroma coming from the kitchen. I’m fairly certain they have a big blower that pushes those irresistible smells across the dining room and out the front door every time it opens.

On one recent visit – for spaghetti night with Bruce (he may be skinny, but he has a hollow leg and he loves all-you-can-eat deals) – the second we walked through the door, we were assaulted (and I mean that in a good way) with one of my favorite smells: garlic bread.

Elizabeth'sHappyBruce
A girl never has to work too hard to get this guy to take her to all-you-can-eat night.

Elizabeth'sSpaghettiAndTableThey made me wait for my garlic bread, though. (I hate waiting.)

But, to compensate, they brought us our drinks and yummy salads right away (side salad and bread sticks are included in the price). And theirs aren’t those wimpy salads with a few chunks of lettuce, a couple of carrot shreds and maybe, if you’re lucky, a bit of tomato or onion.

No, sir. It is a good salad – one I might have made for myself at home if I weren’t so lazy.

Elizabeth'sEmptySaladPlate
Yes, the salad came before the spaghetti and garlic bread, but this is where it worked out in my story. You’re lucky you even got a “salad” picture before I finished off the last few bites.

The dressings are homemade and delish, too. Bruce always orders the blue cheese, and I go through phases. For a while I always got the house dressing (sunflower-seed vinaigrette), and now I seem to be stuck on the thousand island. The ranch is good, too, but you can get decent ranch in a plastic bottle at Kroger. (Note to self: Try Elizabeth’s homemade ranch dressing next time.)

And here’s a thing that’s very important to me: The waitress keeps my glass full of iced tea. And, unlike at some restaurants, I don’t have to keep reminding her that I ordered it unsweetened. She just remembers, like she’s supposed to.

My family has been to Elizabeth’s countless times for birthday celebrations, and Bruce and I have attended a few wedding receptions, a class reunion and other events at Elizabeth’s.

Owner Diane White and her family and staff have worked hard to make Elizabeth’s welcoming, cozy and beautiful. Now, don’t expect brand-new, perfectly polished hardwoods and gold-plated sconces. What you’ll get is a …

… well, I asked Diane to describe the décor.

She smiled.

Elizabeth’s, while elegant yet comfy and casual (see, I asked her because I couldn’t put my finger on it), has an ever-changing motif, depending on the occasion.

Elizabeth'sFrontCounterWant your wedding reception there? They’ll let you decorate the place to your preference. Brides have even been known to take Elizabeth’s photos off the walls and replace them with their own artwork. That’s OK, Diane says.

This is what makes it so hometown-y. The folks who hold their events there are your neighbors, and Diane treats them like that – like neighbors.

When you go there, you feel like family.

Elizabeth’s offers a plate lunch special, or you can choose from a wide menu of casseroles, specialty salads, sandwiches and wraps. (My mom is a fan of the quiche.) The evening menu offers steaks, seafood and chicken dishes.

Elizabeth’s caters, too, and we’ve taken advantage of that fact lately. People fight for their green bean bundles (beans wrapped in bacon) and swoon for the rolls and honey butter. They’ll make you a big ol’ casserole or three, and I know from personal experience (when we had to feed about 100 hungry runners for a Christmas party) that they’re willing to work with you on customizing the menu.

Here is some of the daily goodness you can expect at Elizabeth’s:

Elizabeth's menu 2015The portions are not only delicious but generous. If you leave Elizabeth’s hungry, it’s your own darned fault.

Elizabeth’s Restaurant and Catering
231 E. Main St.
Batesville, AR 72501
(870) 698-0903
Hours:
Sunday buffet: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Closed Mondays.
Tuesday through Saturday: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., and on Thursdays and Fridays they reopen for dinner, 5-8 p.m.
Find Elizabeth’s on Facebook.

Share this post:
Share

Blogging from A-Z – Wes and the MorningSide gang

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “W.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

________________________________

DaveBarryQuote2I tried every way I could think of to fit MorningSide Coffee House into my A-Z Challenge, and W was the only appropriate letter that was going to work. (This was in early April – I had most of my A-Z calendar planned by then.) I already had my C, J and M posts scheduled (or published), so coffee, java, MorningSide and mocha were out. I took another look at my blog calendar. … W was taken, but it was the only thing I could bump without messing up my plan.

MorningSideCoffeeHouse_logoWes Obrigewitsch to the rescue!

Hey, no one said the letter match-ups had to be scientific.

In fact, right after I signed up for the challenge, one observer – come to think of it, the guy in front of me at MorningSide – told me that The Joy of X didn’t start with an X. I told him it didn’t matter; the book title contains an X, the pickings for X are slim, and this math book is way more exciting to me than xylophones or xenophobia. (He’s a math teacher, so maybe he’ll read the book and feel the love, too.)

Wes and the gang at MorningSide are sort of like the gang at Cheers (“where everybody knows your name … and they’re always glad you came”), although there’s no Norm sitting at the bar. Come to think of it, there’s no bar, exactly. But there are plenty of comfy chairs and sofas, and even outdoor seating where you can enjoy a little piece of sunshine while you sip and eat. (Haven’t we all needed some sunshine lately?)

No sarcastic barmaids, either, and for that I’m grateful. (I don’t think I could handle Carla Tortelli at 7:45 on a Monday morning.)

Oh, wait. There is a Carla!

Except MorningSide Carla is nice, doesn’t yell at the customers and doesn’t insult the boss (at least not that I’m aware of).

And, while there’s no gang calling out “NORM!” when the door opens, sometimes Wes calls out a cheery “Hi, Suzy!” when I barge through the door.

Yep. He knows my name.

I try to drop by MorningSide once a week or so, just to support my local coffeehouse, if not my coffee habit (and maybe my ego). I don’t need to pay someone to make my coffee; I simply like – no, I absolutely love – the idea of small businesses, small-business owners, entrepreneurship and community spirit.

MorningSide represents those things to me.

I don’t know the names of half of the people I see at MorningSide (hence, it’s only sort of like Cheers), but they always seem to be glad I came. 🙂 In fact, one morning Wes seemed to be in such a cheer-y mood that he gave me a hug! (TGIF, maybe?)

All right, not everyone seems to be glad I came. I occasionally get a funny look from someone in line who seems to be wondering, “Do I know her? Why is she looking directly at me as she speaks?” (Obviously, these are not “morning people” and MorningSide is doing them a great service by pouring them very strong coffee upon request. In fact, it helps that Wes and his peeps know some customers’ regular orders without those folks’ even having to make intelligible sounds. Because, frankly, it would just be too difficult to speak these things out loud. Or so it seems. They NEED MorningSide. These are the folks Dave Barry would categorize as medically needy. These are the folks who are ME occasionally – especially if it’s close to Friday.)

The conversations at MSCH range from coffee (duh) to sports to charitable causes to painting.

SONY DSC
If you can afford a cup of coffee and a scone at MorningSide, you can afford to help a poor soul trying to eke out a living somewhere across the world, no? (The person may not even be that far away from you and me.)

At MorningSide, I learn things. I make friends. I get inspired by people. I sign up for classes (Paint Night at the art gallery!). I buy items I don’t need (hello, hand-stitched keychain, little coin purse, little what-nots) because the proceeds help those less fortunate.

I chat up people in line in front of me, not always successfully (see above).

I learn things about coffee. Wes always has some story, and sometimes the people in line tell me how they like their coffee – usually because I ask them. (One lady puts a couple of bay leaves in hers at home … interesting.)

I meet lots of hardworking young people, who work for Wes because they need part-time jobs while they’re in school. The young women are sweet and cheery (a prerequisite, right?), the young men are mostly quiet (haven’t had their own caffeine infusions yet, perhaps?), and everyone is helpful and friendly.

Alton Brown, aka Waffle Man
Everyone’s favorite Waffle Man, Alton Brown of Food Network

Jolts of java aren’t the only menu items at MorningSide Coffee House. Smoothies (hooray!), sandwiches, veggie bar thingies (I can never think of what they call ’em, but they’re delish), banana bread, fig bars (oh. my. goodness!), cranberry scones … you get the idea. A weight-conscious girl could get her butt pulled over by the carb police. But who cares? Who needs caffeine to get her buzz on when there are those fig bar things? (Well. I do.)

And Wes is always trying new ways to draw folks in. He is an awesome cook, and his most recent addition is … WAFFLES!

I will not waste a lot of time here explaining how yummy these homemade waffles with fresh fruit are. (I like the strawberry; Bruce prefers blueberry; it’s all good.)

Because, hello? I would spend the rest of the day talking about waffles. So I will simply tell you this:

GET OVER THERE AND EAT YOU SOME WAFFLES.

They’ll be glad you came.

 

MORNINGSIDE COFFEEHOUSE
616 Harrison St.
Batesville, AR 72501
Phone: (870) 793-3335
Hours: 7:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. weekdays and 8:00 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays.
MorningSide on Facebook

________________________________

Tomorrow: Hey, guess what! It’s The Joy of X!

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

Share this post:
Share

Gluten talk and beyond

“ ‘Eating is an agricultural act,’ as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world – and what is to become of it.”

– Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Any time a bunch of women gets together who are passionate, interested or even just a bit curious about a topic I’m interested in, I get excited.

And just such a thing happened this morning.

During first service, a dozen or so women from my church met for an hour of gluten talk. At least that was the original topic when the class was announced, but by the time we had the meeting, it had become more of a “food group.” We talked about more than just gluten intolerance. Other food allergies and sensitivities were on the menu.

Those who led the group this morning (and, in case you’re interested, will again next Sunday – same time, same place) are:

  • Anita Swanson, who shared her story of wheat intolerance, breastfeeding, children with allergies and her journey to figuring out how to keep her family healthy. Anita is married to our pastor, Brent, and they have three precious little boys who are a big part of Anita’s “food story.”
  • Valerie Gunter, whose story is similar to Anita’s because of birthing babies, breastfeeding and having to figure out some food sensitivities and intolerances she didn’t realize she had – all because of her kiddos’ health problems. Valerie is married to Matt, a local veterinarian.
  • Sandee Steiner, local farmer, real estate mogul and mom. She and her husband, Max, host the church’s annual fall festival on their farm, where the kids get to run around until they’re silly, hang out with cows and other critters, have hayrides and generally get themselves giddy in the autumn sunshine (yeah, some of the adults do, too). Sandee, an engineer, is concerned with all the crap (sorry, Mom) that American cattle farmers and chicken producers feed to and inject into their animals. Sandee offers kefir starter to anyone who would like to make her own kefir (Anita made us delicious banana and blueberry smoothies with kefir, and the ladies also let us sample two other homemade, gluten-free foods). Sandee also offered to teach us how to make our own cottage cheese.

And then there’s me. No, I wasn’t a host of the meeting – I’m just a loudmouth who’s always interested in learning something and passing along the “insights” I’ve gained. Yeah, I can be obnoxious about it, especially if you’re not at all into what I’m talking about.

I’ve been on my own “journey to fitness” for the past three or four years, and it has taken me until recently to get serious about what goes into my mouth and that of my husband (a Crohn’s sufferer).

Sure, I’ve lost about 50 pounds (and gained a few back), but it hasn’t always been with the healthiest, wholest, least-processed foods you can buy. That, however, has been changing, ever so gradually.

I’ve been getting rid of processed sugars, artificial sweeteners, wheat and other grains in the past several weeks and increasing my consumption of “good fats” and eggs. But that’s a story I’ll tell you another day. Another story for a later day: I’m training to be a certified wellness coach (online classes, plus a trip to Colorado next month for on-site training). And … all this food and research talk has gotten me to thinking about becoming a registered dietician (I waver between the nutrition part of fitness and the physical-fitness part – I got certified as a running coach in August and definitely want to do some continuing education – maybe a second bachelor’s degree? – in some area of fitness).

But let’s talk about some of the resources discussed this morning. The ladies in charge handed us a packet of resources (including recipes, not included here), and the ladies listening wanted some of those put together online somewhere. One even requested a dedicated Facebook page for the group. Until they’re able to make that happen, I’ll collect the list of resources here, updating this particular post as I have time to add them (I’ll send updates to the church’s Facebook page). And if you’d like to suggest your own resources or tell your story, please click the comment link at the bottom of this post.

Also, I was taking notes furiously for a friend who couldn’t make the meeting because she was cheering on her daughter at the Little Rock Marathon (go, Mary!), so I didn’t get to look at all the books on the table. So, for now, I’m going to hit the high points with the promise to add to it later.

Disclaimer: Not everyone agrees with every word or claim made in each one of these resources. They are simply offered as a starting point for more information.

BOOKS

Wheat Belly and Wheat Belly Cookbook by cardiologist William Davis. I’m reading these books (with apologies to the county library, which sent me past-due notices on them last week. I promise I’ll return them tomorrow, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy my own copies). Some in the medical field have criticized Wheat Belly, calling Davis’ admonitions about wheat and carbs “scare tactics,” but I find it interesting that a lot of these critics DON’T EAT WHEAT. One reviewer, a psychiatrist, takes issue with his “sloppy” work in some of his medical stories and analogies. I understand her point, but at times she seems to be nitpicking.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. This one is on my to-be-read list. I read Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto a few years ago. He has good things to say. His catch phrase: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I suppose I need to move Omnivore up on my list.

The Virgin Diet by J.J. Virgin. Don’t let the word “diet” scare you away from some of the good things the author has to say – this, according to Valerie Gunter, who recommended the book. (She had to give it a catchy name, didn’t she?) Virgin guides the reader through an elimination diet to help determine whether there’s an intolerance to certain foods.

MOVIES AND VIDEOS

Food Inc., a documentary that takes “an unflattering look inside America’s corporate controlled food industry,” according to the Internet Movie Database. We didn’t have time to talk about this movie today – just a brief mention.

“Unblind My Mind,” a TEDxYouth Talk by Dr. Katherine Reid (16 minutes; also search for “unblind my mind” on YouTube). I mentioned the video at this morning’s meeting, and I had a request to post the link. Reid, a biochemist and mom of five, started researching food additives and eliminating particular foods from her autistic daughter’s diet. Within a few weeks, she noticed a marked improvement in the girl’s behavior. The culprits for Brooke: free glutamate (think MSG) – which goes by at least 50 names – and casein, a milk protein. In the video, Reid talks about the gluten/casein connection with excess glutamate. She started a nonprofit organization, Unblind My Mind, to more fully explore the topic of food’s effects on our health.

WEBSITES

Salad in a Jar. This is my own recommendation, although I didn’t have time to mention it at the meeting. On a Facebook group I’m a member of, I had complained about having to cut up one salad for work each evening (rather than a bunch of it days in advance) because of brown lettuce, and someone pointed me to Salad in a Jar. The site’s founder (who’s not selling anything) shows how to chop your salad greens ahead of time, vacuum seal them in mason jars and prolong the (refrigerator) shelf-life for several days. This not only saves time but money, as it helps cut down on food waste. (I bought a vacuum sealer, and I love it; if you’d like to borrow it, let me know.)

That’s it for now, folks. It’s past my bedtime, so I’m stopping. Later I’ll add info on some of the places, local and otherwise, where you can buy some of the natural, organic, gluten-free or other foods talked about this morning.

If you or a family member is experiencing health problems that can’t be explained, cured or eased with traditional remedies or modern medicine – or if you’re simply interested in exploring new ways to be healthy by changing your diet – talk to Anita, Valerie or Sandee at church, or post a comment here and I’ll put you in touch. I’ll also be happy to share what I’m learning as I research healthful eating and foods. And if you’d like to tell your story at Suzy & Spice, let me know – I’d love to have you as a guest writer. I’ve already recruited Anita to write a post!

Share this post:
Share

Seen, heard and liked (or loved)

December has been a month of busyness, but not of the Christmas variety, exactly.

Last weekend we shot the commercial for Baptist Health. That took several hours Friday and most of Saturday. We froze our frannies off in the windy 30s on Saturday by the White River. But it was SO MUCH FUN, and I do plan to write more about it. (Didn’t get much in the way of photos, though.) We had several wardrobe changes because they plan to run the campaign throughout the next two years (starting with the Super Bowl), so even though it was shot in December, it is supposed to depict several seasons.

This weekend was our alternate date for the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay. Sure, it happens at Christmastime, but it’s more indirectly related to Christmas than the typical holiday festivities – shopping, cookie baking, gift-giving – unless you consider that our half-marathon elves (race co-founder Sara and her helper elf, Becky) shop for the families that benefit from the race proceeds. And then the gifts are given to families chosen by a tenderhearted woman at a local agency.

We postponed the race on its original date (Dec. 7) because of ice storms. Makeup date: Dec. 21. Again, dangerous weather intervened. We got up this morning and decided that the threat of lightning and the flash flood warnings made it too risky – so we called, texted, emailed and Facebooked all those who had preregistered, telling them we would try again next year.

It was a huge disappointment, but we raised a good amount of money for needy families (entry to the race is free, but we encourage donations and most people do give).

Disappointing, but also, for the Oakleys, a day of much-needed rest. After we had contacted everyone and Bruce put a sign on the church door for any potential race-day registrants, it was under the electric blanket for Pepper and me and onto the sofa for Bruce and Salsa. After rest time we went to Mom’s to watch Hallmark Christmas movies (even Bruce likes them), and we veg’d for several hours.

Back home again, and I want to write about deep and thought-provoking topics, but the best I can come up with tonight is a roundup of some of the things I’ve been reading and listening to in the past week or so. I’ve been planning to do this regularly – these favorite-pick posts – but we’ve been half-marathoning and Christmas-partying and otherwise running ourselves ragged for several weeks. (Can I tell you I skipped a free yoga class Thursday night at our church because of race planning? That’s some kind of irony.)

So, without further delay, here are some randomly ordered but thoughtfully collected links for you to ponder:

First up, you’ll be thankful that I condensed what was going to be an entire post about the pitfalls of Christmas spending (I tend to get preachy) to a mere reference to some wise words from my favorite debt-proof-living guru, Mary Hunt. Read about Mr. Diderot and His Red Robe – good advice for any time of year.

And while we’re getting introspective about our habits and thought processes, here’s a little C.S. Lewis to get you thinking. From a letter on “the slow process of being more in Christ; and on doing one’s duty, especially the duty to enjoy.”

I get an email each morning with a C.S. Lewis reading excerpted from his books, letters, essays and other writings. To subscribe, visit Bible Gateway by clicking here.

I have long loved the books and sermons of Chuck Swindoll. So when my friend and fellow runner Betsy forwarded this link to me with a reference to Olympian Wilma Rudolph, I took notice. (When I was in high school, I wrote a book report on Ms. Rudolph. I wasn’t a runner then, so all I can remember about the book was that her story was inspirational.) As soon as I listened to the sermon, “What’s Necessary for Victory?” I logged onto the Independence County Library’s website and looked up the books on this woman; I plan to check one out soon. The entire sermon on Christian victory is good, but if you want to skip ahead to Wilma’s story, start at 9:30 minutes.

Next up – because it’s the perfect season for recipes and inspiring food stories – a couple of shout-outs to my friends.

I’ve linked to Alison’s blog a few times over the years, but today I was catching up and read a reposted story about her sister’s new-ish restaurant outside Chicago. I’ve long known that Anna was an awesome baker and cook, but now she is celebrating a year as a restaurateur with her husband, Bob. They opened in December 2012, and you’ll have to read Alison’s description of the cafe and her sister. And if I’m ever in Glen Ellyn, Ill., I’m making a point to stop in at Blackberry Market.

One more food-related link: A friend tagged me in a Facebook post this morning, and I clicked through to discover a conversation about a food blog, and then a reference to my childhood friend Liz’s very own food blog – a site I immediately clicked to and which I love! Light and fresh recipes made from the heart – who could resist? (Plus, I’m a little jealous of how great it looks, especially the food photos, which I’m terrible at.) I love food blogs, but the bonus here is that this one is by someone I know; that makes it extra-special. So come delight with me at Elsie’s Kitchen 101 (read the About section to find out where it got its name).

This list barely scratches the surface of the interesting things I’ve been reading, listening to and watching, but I think it’s enough for now. Except this one last link.

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to leave you with a schedule of the aforementioned Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (they’re showing all December long!). Go ahead and watch a few. I won’t tell.

Share this post:
Share

A simple Christmas

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10, NASB

Christmases in the Oakley house are pretty simple. I would characterize them as more sentimental than material, and for that I’m grateful. Being “poor” in worldly wealth (but not in spirit) has its advantages!

These are some of the things that have allowed me to feel abundantly blessed this Christmas:

SHOPPING

Heavenly Treasures global market at our church. I bought gifts for all the women on the Taylor side of our family (immediately family, that is). All the proceeds go to small-business owners (which may simply mean one artisan struggling to feed her family somewhere in Cambodia, Vietnam or another area where poverty is the norm). Blessings: 1) We bought these gifts for a fraction of what we would have paid in stores; 2) they are handcrafted; 3) most of all, we helped someone who’s hurting in another part of the world.

I also took advantage of a clearance sale online and bought seven copies of a book I read years ago – a book I wish I could give to every woman I know: $5 apiece, one for each woman in the Taylor-Oakley clan.

My stepson, Courtney, who lives in Oklahoma, was blessed recently with a promotion and a good raise, and because one of my main missions in life is to help people be good stewards of their God-given blessings, instead of buying him a gift he doesn’t necessarily need, or writing him a check like we often do at Christmastime, we put money into his savings account at the bank where I work.

When I turned 50 last month, Bruce pooled his money with birthday money from my mom, and he took me to the jewelry store. (This is the type of splurge I rarely indulge in, but I figured a half-century was a special enough occasion.) He helped me pick out a beautiful opal ring. I’ve always loved opal, and this ring is so special to me.

So because we splurged at birthday time, we kept it simple for Christmas, although keeping it simple has always been our norm. We have such abundant blessings throughout the year, we don’t buy much for each other at Christmastime. We also have our anniversary coming up next week, so Bruce suggested we combine the occasions and buy a house gift for ourselves. We really don’t know what that might be, but while we were shopping Saturday for my brother and his stepson, we ran across a DVD copy of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” (Bruce is a mixture of realist and sentimentalist, and often the sentimental side wins – he loves the idealism of this movie, and so do I, although I fall closer to the realist side of the fence. And we both love old movies and the great Jimmy Stewart.) So here’s a recap of our conversation in the store when I picked up the movie:

Me: “Do we have this on DVD?”
Bruce: “I don’t think we have it on DVD or anything else.”
Me: “Household gift. Ten dollars.”
Bruce: “Great.”

End of conversation. End of Christmas shopping for Bruzy. Simple.

This type of Christmas spirit allows me to breathe during the holidays, because I hate shopping. It’s a little easier at Christmas because then I’m shopping for others, but I still would rather sit near a sunny window with a good book than fight the crowds at the shopping center.

MUSIC

I could listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. Oh, what am I saying – I do listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. You might hear “Tennessee Christmas,” “Breath of Heaven” or “Welcome to our World” in my car during the blazing heat of July. To me, these songs and albums are timeless and always a breath of fresh air. Each album is better than the last, and she includes some incredibly beautiful pieces in the mix. The last album, “A Christmas to Remember,” is especially full of pieces that cause me to stop what I’m doing (unless I’m driving), close my eyes and savor every note. I also tend to wear out my Christmas albums by: Collin Raye, Andrea Bocelli, The Carpenters, and John Denver & the Muppets. Heck, even the classically trained Bocelli sings with Miss Piggy on his album. My favorite Christmas song? “Oh Holy Night,” especially Martina McBride’s beautiful rendition. Bruce’s favorite? “Silent Night” – and John and the Muppets do a pretty good job of that, singing it first in German (the language it was written in), then English. Bocelli sings it in three languages.

MOVIES/TV SPECIALS

Since we canceled our satellite service in August, I didn’t get to watch wall-to-wall Food Network like I love to do between October and December, and I didn’t get to OD on the sappy movies on Hallmark Channel, but we still have the good ol’ standbys on VHS (taped from TV in the mid-1980s) and a few on DVD. Another challenge this year: Bruce and I had about four weeks to pull together the White River Christmas Half-Marathon & Relay (long story), and my only Christmas-special “viewing” would fall more into the category of background noise. Nevertheless, I got to listen to these as I did my half-marathon work or cooked for family: Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown (I love Linus’ soliloquy on “what Christmas is all about”), and my favorite, the Grinch (another lesson on the true meaning of Christmas, plus it rhymes!). I also had these movies in the VCR: “Christmas in Connecticut” (my favorite Christmas movie, but only the Barbara Stanwyck version) and “White Christmas” – “snow, snow, snow, snow!” I think I even listened to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” early in the season. Oh, I almost forgot: I did get to sit and watch an entire movie, start to finish, when Bruce and I spent Dec. 23 with Mom watching the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” (The 1994 version isn’t quite as good as the original, but the cute little girl and the beautiful scenery [and wardrobe] make up for it.) Movies I didn’t get to watch: “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story.” (There’s still time, right?)

FAMILY (FURRY AND FOUR-LEGGED)

Our two fur-babies are … well, my babies. I have a stepson, but I never gave birth to children of my own, and Salsa and Pepper warm my heart every day, even 30 seconds after they’ve infuriated me by wetting the carpet, barking incessantly or begging for snacks. We call our girls The Spice Dogs, and when I created this blog in 2007, they were part of the inspiration for the name (I was also baking spice cookies that evening). They’re good help around the kitchen, too: When I drop a bit of food while chopping, mincing or mixing, they rush to help me clean it up.

FAMILY (HUMAN)

I’m writing this on Christmas morning, 10 a.m. (savoring a steamy and wonderful cup of coffee with my favorite flavored creamer). We’ve spoken to some family members by phone today but haven’t gathered for the big celebration yet. We’ll go to Mom’s later for a feast of food and fellowship (more on the food below). I look forward to seeing those I rarely see throughout the year because of busyness, physical distance or, dare I say, apathy (on my part as much as anyone’s).

Bruce has been sick the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been trying to figure out why this cold/sinus junk has caused me more worry than other recent minor ailments. And why I might have seemed to overreact yesterday when he wanted to run a longer distance than I thought he should. Could it be that we’re “overdue” for a Crohn’s flare-up? The average for Crohn’s patients is 5 years, and his latest flare-up started in 2007 (and I did not marry an “average” guy!). I realize that it’s insane to worry – God has us covered. I suppose it’s just an opportunity to flex my trust muscles; after all, He is the Great Physician.

On Christmas Eve, Bruce got an opportunity to be the social guy that he is. We started with an afternoon run with some dear friends, the Tuckers; a family member, Bill, from out of town whom we had never had the opportunity to run with before; an awesome running buddy, Rita – who is growing to be a great running partner for me because, even though she’s a lot faster, she is sweetly willing to hang back with me, the slow one. She and I have had some great conversations, and she’s really fun (yesterday, we conspired to pretend we ran up a crazy hill when we saw Bruce and Shane – and I swear it was her idea! Unfortunately, we topped the hill and the guys hadn’t paid a bit of attention to us!).

I should have a separate category called Family (Running), because our running family is really precious to us. No space today to count all the ways, but in the spirit of Christmas, I’ll mention the great run last Tuesday night before our Roadrunners club Christmas party. Again, the speedsters took off without Slow Suzy, but Rita stayed behind with me. (She has a good heart.) On another note, I loved being able to attend a Christmas party in my sweaty leggings, running shirt and sports watch. (That’s just the way we roll!) This was only three days after my work Christmas party, which was beautiful and wonderful (except for the slightly inebriated Santa), but for which I made a most unfortunate choice of shoes, one of which had to come off before the party was over because my left foot was killing me!

But back to the main topic: Family (Human). After our run, I rushed to get clean and start the pecan pies, which needed to be out of the oven by 4:45 so we could attend the Christmas Eve service at Mom’s church. This church service has become a bit of a tradition for Bruce and me, starting even before we moved here in 2010. West Baptist always has a beautiful Christmas Eve service (which could also fall under the Music category). As I was whipping up the filling for the pies, I realized that someone had put the vanilla extract bottle into the cupboard with about three drops of extract remaining. (Seriously, who would do that?) Mom – on speed dial – to the rescue. Fortunately she’s less than a mile away. I sent Bruce over there, told him not to stop by our church to make sure the bathrooms were clean (part of his job), not to pass Go, not to collect $200. Just get back here with the vanilla. And he did.

The pies? Well, let’s just say the jury’s still out. I had to leave them in the oven (turned off) and put them back on to bake after all the evening’s festivities. I’m still not sure they’re quite right. But I’m also pretty sure no one will leave the table hungry this afternoon, pecan pies or no.

But wait! There’s more! (Isn’t there always?)

After the service at West, we went to my Aunt Pat’s across the street from our house. Her son-in-law, the aforementioned Bill (running buddy from out of town), had requested a family get-together in the spirit of the old days (the old days of our family, that is). Aunt Pat’s relatives from both sides gathered in her kitchen, which is only cramped when lots of relatives visit. Strange, she noted, we have all this space in the rest of the house, but everyone congregates in the kitchen and dining room. Not strange to me at all – Aunt Pat makes some of the best holiday treats west of the Mississippi. Can you say peanut butter fudge?

And then … we left that party to go to our church, Fellowship Bible Church in the old Landers Theater on Main Street. Whereas the West Baptist celebration was bright, colorful and upbeat, the Fellowship service was quiet, candlelit and reverent. Both services were full of beautiful music, and each was unique and meaningful in its own way. Each service fed my spirit and focused light on the One whose birth we celebrate, and whose Light takes away the darkness.

The Oakleys ended the evening together quietly – mama in her kerchief (OK, a red plaid flannel PJ shirt) and papa in his cap (his ubiquitous hooded sweatshirt), with one of the fur-children nestled under her bed down the hall and the other one begging for belly rubs. Both two-legged Oakleys spent the next hour reading, growing sleepy and sipping … okay, people, I’m not gonna lie. I wasn’t sipping a picture-perfect mug of steamy hot chocolate. I was indulging in a 10 p.m. glass of diet Coke, which I rarely drink after 3 p.m. And Bruce was sipping apple juice or water or something.

Now back to our fantasy.

FOOD

Three things I almost insist on having at Thanksgiving and Christmas are pecan pie, Cranberry Salad (made with red gelatin, apples, oranges, pineapple and pecans) and Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes. (As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t have an Aunt Pearl and have no idea who she is, but we loooove her hash-brown casserole!) And because I’m the one who has a strong need for these three dishes, I’ve become the designated maker of them. How else am I going to be sure it happens? The pies … we’ll see. (Dec. 29 update: Let’s just call them “pie soup” and be done with it.) The cranberry stuff is ready, and the potatoes will go into the oven soon.

I also have a year-round craving to bake, but my schedule doesn’t allow it very often anymore, so the holidays are when I get to indulge in that. Even when I’m tired, baking sweet treats, breads, even pizza dough, makes me very, very happy.

And then there are the dirty dishes. But since this is a post about counting blessings, being with family and remembering our Savior’s birth, we’ll skip over that part.

Post-script: leftovers (lots of them)

Have you ever eaten mashed potatoes for breakfast? Yeah, me, too.

REMEMBRANCES

My dad died 15 years ago this week. Every Dec. 23, I think about the day he died. That was a day full of pain and sadness, but knowing that my dad knew Jesus makes it so much easier. Even on that day, we had a measure of indescribable peace knowing he was no longer in pain (the pain my brother and I had known him to have our entire lives) and he is with Jesus now. Dad had told a relative just that morning that he was ready to go and was not afraid to die. None of us knew then that this would be his last day on earth. But we have the hope that surpasses all human ability to understand, and that’s because we know the Savior he rests with now.

Dad died 11 days before my wedding. In the ICU, when we weren’t sure whether he could hear us or not, as I held his hand I told him he needed to stick around and give me away next week, that I wasn’t ready to let go of him. But the Father had other plans, and Dad was gone within a couple of hours. That’s OK. My plans aren’t necessarily God’s plans, and His ways are not always my ways. He is sovereign, He is wise and He is, above all, GOOD. He takes care of us, even when we don’t always like how He goes about it. But even amid the not-liking, we had blessings: My Uncle Charles and Aunt Pat, who had just arrived at their daughter Kathy’s house in South Carolina when they got the news of Dad’s death in the evening, turned right around the next morning and drove back to Arkansas. They were here in time for his funeral. Now, that’s family.

God has blessed me with good family, good friends, a good job, an abundance of physical comforts (too much sometimes) and an ever-increasing awareness of just how good He really is. I thank Him for everyone He has put into my life, whether it’s to teach me, to reach me or just to bless me with caring and warmth.

As we celebrate His incarnate presence on the earth, may each of you feel His love, remember His sacrifice and give your life to Him.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6, NKJV

Share this post:
Share