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December 31, 2009

What a Difference A Day Makes

I woke yesterday morning to yet another glorious sunrise. The way the color swept across the sky and rose up over the trees was truly magnificent. Despite the chill in the air on the frosty winter morning, I couldn't help but feel the warmth from the heavens.



Then, just twenty-four hours later, a completely different view from the same vantage point -- equally glorious, but a different sort of warmth. Perhaps a heaven-sent message of purity, grace, hope -- and a gentle reminder to slow down and enjoy life in the coming year.



Best wishes for a healthy, happy and safe New Year.

December 29, 2009

Overwhelmed

In a million years I never anticipated the incredible outpouring of support through SITS! I am positively overwhelmed!

THANK YOU for swinging by my blog yesterday and for all of the kind comments that you left.

I am going to work my way to all of your blogs to say hello and thank you "in person" -- but I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate the time you spent visiting with me yesterday. I'm so grateful to everyone who commented -- especially on some of my older posts, like The Philosophy of Nicholas & Sarah. That was my very first post -- ever -- and one that gave you a peek into my heart. It had gone largely unnoticed until yesterday, and the outpouring of kind and supportive remarks really lifted my spirit.

The day is yours -- choose happy!

December 27, 2009

Unexpected Christmas Gifts!

Dear Santa,
I just wanted to write to say thank you, because once again, WE DID IT!
Another wonderful holiday has come and gone, and I owe it all to you. With your help we decorated, shopped, wrapped, baked (more than 450 cookies), cooked, and this year we even managed to get a holiday card out...EARLY!! I know it was only an e-greeting, but it beat the heck out of no greeting at all! (Thank you Smilebox.com!)



Beyond all of the usual holiday-related tasks, this year you even helped us move our daughter home from college and get her transfer applications out in time, so that she can start second semester at a school closer to home. Yes, we pulled it off...even while I was adjusting to the new job and new commute.

Like every year, I know I couldn't have done it without you!

The only thing I have been bummed about through the holidays, is that I rarely found time to keep up with my blogs. At this time of year there are so many great family traditions, funny stories and special recipes to share -- but with everything that was going on, the time to write escaped me. By the middle of last week I was getting kind of cranky, because I really NEED my writing time – in fact I was just whining to my hubby that after the holidays I was determined to get back into better routine that gave me my "escape" time to write.

Lo and behold, you must have been eavesdropping on our conversation, because the very next day I received a message from Heather at The Secret Is In The Sauce, saying that I was going to be today's featured blogger. That news was just the little shot in the arm that I needed to stay true to my commitment! So....THANK YOU Santa...and my SITS friends...for this wonderful, and very unexpected gift!



Whether today is your first or fiftieth visit to my blog, I just want to Welcome You and Thank You for stopping by today. Please pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and join me ‘Round the Kitchen Table. I'm not exactly sure how I’d describe this place – it’s kind of like everyday life – with a little bit of this, and little bit of that.

If you have time, I hope you’ll check out some of my favorite posts, including The Philosophy of Nicholas and Sarah, which I truly believe holds the secret to life! You can also find some quick and easy recipes -- but I apologize in advance if you stumble upon broken links in my recipes.

Also, if you’re so inclined, I’d love for you to swing by my other blog – Today I Pray. As I try to figure out how I'm going to manage the two blogs in the new year, I’d really love your suggestions about how I could bring the two blogs together somehow.

Thanks again for coming by today. I look forward to getting to know you -- I've met so many great people through SITS, I know this is the beginning of some great new connections!

I know that 2010 is a joy-filled year for you if you remember the secret of life -- just be happy!!

Lauren

December 22, 2009

I Can't Take Credit...

...but I can find joy in sharing this message with you. A version of this message arrived in my email today and I absolutely consider it an early Christmas present -- one I will gladly share with you.

By Regina Brett, The Plain Dealer

September 20, 2007, 2:03PM

Originally published in The Plain Dealer on Sunday, May 28, 2006

To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me.

It is the most-requested column I've ever written. My odometer rolls over to 50 this week, so here's an update:

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.

8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.

12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.

16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.

17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.

18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.

19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: "In five years, will this matter?"

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive everyone everything.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.

35. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.

36. Growing old beats the alternative - dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.

38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.

41. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

42. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.

43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

45. The best is yet to come.

46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

48. If you don't ask, you don't get.

49. Yield.

50. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.


Wishing you a joyful Christmas, and true happiness in the New Year!

Lauren :)

December 18, 2009

November 24, 2009

Apricot Cranberry Chutney

We're busily (read that - frantically) getting ready for Thanksgiving. Looking forward to a house full of loved ones...and already missing the ones who won't be here with us.

The next two days will prove to be crazy ones, as we ready the house, finish the last of the shopping, bake, and cooking, and set the table in preparation. I'm not complaining, it's really my favorite holiday of the year!

Anyhow, later tonight I will be making Apricot/Cranberry Chutney. It's a recipe I found a couple years ago, and is a delicious (and festive) option to traditional cranberry sauce. I thought you might enjoy it as well. I wish I could take credit for it, but I found it originally on allrecipes.com

You'll Need
  • 1/4 cup diced dried apricots
  • 1 (12 ounce) packaged fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
Step-by-Step
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the apricots, cranberries, raisins, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves.
  2. In a medium saucepan, boil water and sugar, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Add the dried fruit mixture and vinegar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  4. Serve immediately, or refrigerate in a covered container.
The last time I made it, I did let it chill, but I tasted it while it was warm, and it was delicious. I bet it would be fabulous poured over cream cheese and served as a spread with crusty bread.

Oh my...my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Enjoy!

November 22, 2009

The Winds of Change

I just sat down at my computer and realized that I haven't turned the page on my daily calendar since November 7th -- and I haven't taken time to write to you since the end of October! Apparently the month of November was consumed as quickly as the bulging bag of candy my children brought home after Halloween.

The truth is, since I last posted, the winds of change have swept through my life and left me feeling a little a little dizzy -- a good dizzy -- but dizzy just the same.


For nearly two years, I had been working out of my home for a consulting firm. The nature of my work allowed me to have a very flexible schedule, and I often started my day just before 7AM, with a cup of coffee and an hour or two dedicated to maintaining my blogs. The flexibility was a gift -- but unfortunately the work that I was doing for the remainder of the day left me feeling somewhat unfulfilled.

Having spent most of my professional career working in higher ed advancement, I had grown very used to working amidst the energy of a college campus, building community among alumni, parents, students and friends of the college, and raising money to help provide the best possible college experience for students. In many cases, the money raised made a college experience possible for students who would otherwise have been unable to afford it. As silly as it may sound, knowing that I somehow played a part in making that experience happen, really helped me sleep well at night.

I was missing that feeling of personal reward from my consulting job. Lo and behold, at the end of October, the winds of good fortune blew my way, and I was invited to return to a college campus as the director of their annual giving program. Needless to say, I quickly tied up the loose ends of the consulting work I was doing, and started the month of November in my new role. I've been loving every minute of it, and feel blessed to be back on a college campus doing work that I love.

Unfortunately though, the time that used to be spent writing in the morning, is now time spent commuting. And by the time I get home at night, have dinner, and spend time with the family, I am hardly in the right frame of mind to start blogging. Needless to say, both 'Round the Kitchen Table and Today I Pray have been shamefully neglected during the month of November -- which is so sad when you consider all the joyful things we could/should be talking about right now -- like gratitude, family, holiday traditions, etc.

So this morning I just want you to know, that as the winds of change are blowing through my life, I haven't forgotten you -- in fact, I miss corresponding with you. There are a couple ideas that are rattling around my mind about how to manage the blogs going forward, so don't be surprised if you see some changes in the very near future.

Thanks for hanging in there while I figure it out -- and during this season of gratitude, I just want to thank you for joining me 'Round the Kitchen Table.

October 28, 2009

I'm Back!

It feels like it has been forever and a day -- but I'm BACK!! My, how I've missed you!

Six weeks ago my blog was disabled by Blogger because an automated "bot" picked up some "spam-like characteristics" on my blog (I'm still not exactly sure what that means -- but whatever it is, I must figure it out so that it doesn't happen again). Since then I've been going through the restoration process to have a human look at my blog to confirm that it's legit, and then restore it. It was definitely a lesson in patience, as there are no humans to actually talk to -- you just need to complete some online forms, post your blog site on a message board, then wait....and wait...and wait for your turn to be reviewed.

You cannot imagine my delight when I logged on to my computer this morning and found this great gift from Blogger -- my blog is back in action!

So friends -- grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and join me 'Round the Kitchen Table -- we have lots to catch up on. It might take me a moment to collect my thoughts and pull my overjoyed self together -- so in the meantime, please, tell me how you've been!

September 13, 2009

Forgot Something

6:00 AM -- A much earlier wake up than I'm accustomed to on a Sunday. I went to the bathroom, then climbed back in bed, hoping to return to the same cozy spot and sweet dreams of just moments before....but that wasn't meant to be. My mind started its morning stretches, and was quickly moving on to "race mode"....so I got up to start my day.

I actually love the early morning when the house is still sleeping. Even the dog lay still as I made my way to the kitchen. The skies were just starting to lighten, so I kept the kitchen lights dim, lit my new "Cozy Home" candle and started a pot of coffee.



As the coffeemaker gurgled and perked, I went about emptying the dishwasher and tidying up the dishes that had been left from last night. A few more morning chores -- feed the dogs, sort through a stack of mail, wipe down the counter -- and I could enjoy some quiet "me time." Just a cup of fresh-brewed coffee and a visit to all my favorite blog sites to catch up with my "blogging friends."

Just before the coffee maker beeped, I grabbed a cup, poured a splash of cream in the cup (my way of saving a step by not having to use a spoon), then waited for beep and that last drop of rich coffee to fall from the filter.

"Beeeeeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep."

I reached for the pot and started to pour, but to my chagrin the nectar of the coffee gods wasn't the rich black-brown that I'm accustomed to...and rather than turning the cream in my cup to a light brown, it turned it to a watery skim milk.


Arghhhhh...in sleepy haze I must have forgotten to add the coffee grinds! So much for my mind doing its morning stretches. Let's try this again.



Ahhhh...much better. Now, let the day begin!

"Forever: The time it takes to brew the first pot of coffee in the
morning." ~Author Unknown

September 10, 2009

A Deal Too Good I Had to Share

This deal from Restaurant.com doesn't happen very often. From now until September 13th, you can save 90% on gift certificates or Dinner of the Month Club purchases. That's right -- $25 gift certificates for only $1 -- there's no beating that one!

Click here and Use code NINETY. Remember the deal ends on September 13, 2009 at 3:01 AM PST at Restaurant.com.

Share this one with your friends -- they'll thank you!

September 2, 2009

Oh Baby!

Yesterday I went to visit my friends where I used to work. It had been a long time since I'd seen many of them, and some had gone through some significant personal changes in their lives -- specifically in their roles as mothers.

As I drove home from my visit, a hundred emotions were going through my head. Having just returned from dropping off my daughter for her first year of college, the emotions of each of the mothers with whom I spoke played upon heart.

It doesn't matter how old your "baby" -- sometimes the emotions of parenthood are just overwhelming. Despite my best efforts to get passed all those maternal feelings this morning, I knew I wouldn't be able to focus until I got these words on paper.

So dear friends...and dear children...this little poem is for you.

Ode to My Baby

I lived a life
I thought complete
But then I met you
Baby sweet

Precious soul
With angel eyes
Innocence
My life’s prize

And just like that
I've come to feel
The heart of a mother
A bond so real

I feel your hurt
I cry your tears
I’d move mountains
To calm your fears

Little love
Who touched my soul
You changed my life
You made me whole

August 21, 2009

More Restaurant.com Savings

I know I always have the codes posted on my blog, but I wanted to share the latest from Restaurants.com. From now until August 24th you can save 70% on your certificate purchases. Just use code PALATE to purchase $25 gift certificates for just $3.

These certificates are great to use for local dining -- but we've also used them to save big and take the guesswork out of our vacation dining.

In addition to savings for your own benefit, have you looked at the Dinner of the Month Club? I just checked it out this morning and am thinking about giving them as going away presents for some college-bound students.

When you give Dinner of the Month Club as a gift, your recipient will automatically receive a $25 Restaurant.com gift certificate each month via email. The certificates are easily redeemable online for an available restaurant-specific gift certificate from one of thousands of restaurants nationwide.

There are 3, 6 & 12 month club packages for $30, $60 and $120 respectively. Plus, you can use the savings codes for additional savings! Use code PALATE, through August 24, 2009 to save and additional 70%. Definitely can't beat the savings!


That's all for now -- Happy Eating! Happy Savings!

August 18, 2009

Difference Makers - Part I

A couple weeks ago I posed the question, "What are you contributing?" I want to thank the handful of people who shared their thoughts and reflections about that post. As silly as it may sound, that post made me stop and think about all the people I've met (and are still meeting) who are making a difference in this world.

There are people like my mom -- the kind of people who make a difference and probably never even stop to consider it. They just live their lives, and their actions and attitudes make other people smile.

There are volunteers and philanthropists who support causes with gifts of time, talent and treasure. Having spent several years working in fundraising for a college, I never ceased to be humbled by donors who supported the college's mission. Every donor, whether their gift was big or small, made a difference -- and these generous people inspired me to really think differently about my own charitable giving. Though I'm not by any means what would be considered a "major donor," I give what I can to the organizations that are nearest and dearest to my heart -- and when I give, I always try to "reach." You see, even when the amounts aren't huge, every time someone "reaches" someone (or maybe more) is impacted by their generosity.

I offer this as an example. Supposing 2000 people committed to giving a college $25 to go towards financial aid. Basic math -- that's $50,000.

As the mother of a college-bound freshman, I can tell you -- for sure -- that even a fraction of that amount would be a burden lifted. For some families, it could be the difference between being able to attend college or not.

Now stop for a moment, and think with me.

What if just half of those 2000 people decided that, above and beyond the $25 gift, they would sacrifice one latte a month for the cause. At $3.50 per month, that would be an additional $42 per person per year per person.

[$25 x 2000 = $50,000] + [$42 X 1000 = $42,000]

= $92,000 for financial aid


WOW -- talk about making a difference....and all because 1000 people sacrificed a latte a month for a year.

But let me take this one step further. No, I'm not going to suggest that 3,000 people made this effort, or that people sacrificed two lattes -- that's just basic math and you could figure it out yourself.

Instead I want to talk about the ripple effect of good deeds. The people you know, and those you may never know, who will be inspired to act because of your actions.

Maybe your good deeds will inspire volunteerism or philanthropy -- or maybe they'll inspire more good deeds...or a positive attitude...or self-love. With all those good deeds going 'round, the good that you put out there couldn't help but come back to you.

Before I wrap up, I want to introduce you to someone who I've gotten to know, who I consider a real difference maker. I've never actually met this woman, I've merely read her words, and listened to her podcasts. With every post Tabitha inspires me to be more present in my life. To give. To share. To laugh. To appreciate. To choose a life of bliss.

Tabitha has a great story of overcoming many challenges in her life -- and turning obstacles into opportunities. Her life is all about doing right by others, and her kindness is positively contagious. She doesn't know it (yet) but she inspired me to sign up with an organization called Spirit Jump. I'll write more about Spirit Jump in Difference Makers - Part II -- but for now, suffice it to say, that Tabitha's inspiration is a great example of the ripple effect of good deeds.

I hope you'll take a moment to visit Tabitha's blog -- and if you have a few minutes, listen to her most recent podcast (there are a total of five podcasts that you can find on her blog, but this one she released today really hit home for me). Not only does Tabitha have a voice that's smooth as silk, but with each podcast she provides food for thought -- and nourishment for the soul.

So how about you -- who or what has inspired you in your lifetime?

Feel free to share links to the organizations that you believe in. You just never know -- your comment may just be the pebble in the pond to start a ripple effect of its own!


August 15, 2009

Graduation Party Recap

Wow -- I can hardly believe that this time last week I was scurrying around with all the last minute details for Amy's graduation party. It was a great day -- tons of fun, lots of food, even more laughs and a great celebration with family and friends!

In all of the preparations I rediscovered my love of party planning -- and cooking! I'm not a crazy gourmet cook but I think we pulled together a pretty good shindig, if I do say so myself! I really struggled with figuring out what to make -- so I hope you don't mind, I'm going to dedicate this post to a party recap, just on the outside chance that you're looking for some party inspiration!

The menu for the day included:

A 6-foot sub from Three Men & a Bagel in Trexlertown. It was 1/2 Italian and 1/2 Turkey and I have to say -- it was fabulous. I didn't make a lot of dips and appetizers for the party, so the sub was perfect -- and what a presentation! We had it out right from the beginning so people took whole and half pieces to hold them over while the hot food was being warmed up. Each slice was loaded with cold cuts...and they sent along all the fixings on the side (mayo, oil & vinegar, pickles, onions...plus a huge container of potato salad!).


If you're a Lehigh Valley local and you're not familiar with Three Men, you have to check them out. Absolutely the best bagel sandwiches going. Boar's Head meats, homemade bagels, everything made fresh for you! YUMMY. (Sorry about that diversion, but my mouth is watering just thinking about it).


Like I said, we kept snack foods pretty simple. I made a couple dips (Absolutely Onion, Dill, and Roasted Red Pepper) -- served with fresh veggies (celery, carrots, and fresh peppers from the garden) pretzels and potato chips. Friends filled in with Spinach Dip as well as a hot Tex-Mex Queso. Yum.

One of the great tips I picked up with all the party-hopping this summer was to use a small inflatable kiddie pool as an ice bath for the dips and "cold" foods. That worked like a charm. I also heard of someone using one of those under-the-bed plastic storage bins to do the same. People are so creative~ I was just happy to be able to borrow the idea (and the kiddie pool....thanks Lisa!!).


The main dishes were pretty simple. The hardest thing for me when I'm planning a party is to figure out how much food to make, so I'm including reference to how much I made, as well as how much was leftover. Hopefully this gauge will help someone down the road -- and if anyone has advice for portion planning, please share in the comments below. I figured on about 75 people (adults & kids) -- and I think that is about how many people were there through the course of the day.

We had:
  • Italian Meatballs in sauce (15 lbs of beef yielded 240 meatballs, we ate about half)

  • Roasted Turkey BBQ (like a pulled turkey in gravy) (I had about 20 lbs of turkey breast only, so very little waste vs. a whole turkey. There were about 5 servings left)

  • Stuffed Shells (4 boxes of shells made -- only a half a pan leftover)

  • Gram's Baked Macaroni & Cheese (5 lbs...only 1 pan leftover)

  • Caesar Salad (one huge bag of romaine lettuce -- zero leftover)
...and lots and lots of rolls. I went WAY overboard on the rolls (10 dozen), thinking that everyone would have at least one, maybe two. Needless to say, we did a lot of creative things with sandwich rolls this week (stay tuned for "100 ways to use a brat roll." Just kidding).
For dessert we had the cake to top all cakes. It was, truly, the largest cake I had ever seen at a home party-- and positively delicious! It was 1/2 chocolate and 1/2 vanilla (with a slight almond flavor)...double layer with icing that was was light as air.
I wish I could direct my Lehigh Valley readers to the bakery that made it -- but the truth is it was made by a local teacher who does cakes as an occasional side business. Feel free to email me if you're in need of a cake, and I'll be happy to see if she can accommodate. I promise you won't be disappointed.


Friends and family rounded out the "dessert table" with a fresh fruit salad, brownies, heavenly chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies, ...and a huge bowl of M&Ms.
For drinks we kept it simple -- beer, wine, Mike's Hard Lemonade, soda...and LOTS of water to combat the summer heat.
As for the highlights of the day --Amy's photo boards capturing 13 years of school and fun were AWESOME. She did a great job (especially considering my photos are in such disarray!). There were horseshoes going all day, as well as wiffle ball, kickball -- and the graduation party favorite -- ladder ball.



You can see one of the two photoboards in the background. Amy found photos of her with almost everyone who was coming. Hopefully two who didn't "make the boards" will be happy to know they "made the blog!!"



Thanks to all the family and friends who made the celebration so special!


Do you have entertaining tips you'd like to share? Post them here in the comments, or submit your best ideas at bhappy100.rtkt@blogger.com and you may just find your ideas in a future post on 'Round the Kitchen Table!

Debbie's Turkey BBQ

This is a definite crowd-pleaser. Melt-in-your mouth turkey that everyone loves -- even the kids!! I wish I could take credit for coming up with this recipe, but this is the specialty of my wonderful friend Debbie. (Thanks for sharing!!)

You'll Need
  • One whole turkey (about 18 lbs)
  • 2 chicken boullion cubes + water
  • 1 can Cambells Cream of Celery Soup
  • 1 jar Heinz Oven Roasted Turkey Gravy
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Step by Step

  1. Roast turkey and let rest.
  2. Save turkey drippings overnight in refrigerator (or if you're pinched for time put in a sealed container in the freezer).
  3. Shred turkey and set aside.
  4. When you're ready to prepare turkey, skim the fat off the drippings. Warm drippings in sauce pan, add remaining ingredients, and then stir in turkey.
  5. Slow cook in crock pot.

NOTE: Catsup & vinegar can be added for more BBQ flavor. Add water/boullion if turkey gets too dry.

Great alone or serve on a crusty rolls for sandwiches.

August 6, 2009

Feeling Guilty

OK --I'm feeling so guilty because I've been neglecting this blog, and my loyal readers. I am really hoping that I'll be able to get back into a better blogging routine next week because -- I MISS YOU!

The long and short of it, is that the past month has been extremely hectic. I've been busy developing a new service line for the consulting firm I work with. It's a whole new vertical for us -- and something very near and dear to my heart, so I'm really excited and busy with that. When I'm not in the office (which practically never happens between work and blogging), I've been enjoying this beautiful summer, working in the garden, and preparing for Amy's graduation party this weekend.






The fruits of our labor. Young plants -- hopefully will be more abundant next year.

I'm very excited (seriously) to spend all day in the kitchen tomorrow, cooking and baking. Not quite as excited about the cleaning that still needs to be done...but hopefully we'll have a good day on Saturday and we can be outside (and away from the dust bunnies). Right now the weather looks a little iffy -- so if you could, please say a prayer that it's a sunny and beautiful!


August 4, 2009

Lessons from Mom

I've learned so much from my mother over the years.
I've learned about smiling through difficult times.
Creating a home that overflows with love.
Giving without expecting anything in return.
Unconditional and unfailling love.

I could go on and on with the list -- or you could read more stories about my Mom if you'd like. The point is -- she is one special lady -- and she has taught me some of the most valuable lessons of life. The one I want to share with you today is about keeping house.

Now before I say another word, I want you to know that my Mom keeps a very orderly house. She's not neurotic about cleaning-- but she is conscientious and she takes very good care of her home. I honestly don't remember a time when I walked into her home and thought it looked out of order.

That said, I also don't remember my mother ever missing out on anything because she needed to stay home and do housework. In fact, growing up there was a magnet on our refrigerator that said, "A clean house is a sign of a life misspent."

That's the lesson my Mom taught me.

My Mom taught me that there were no household chores that were more important than enjoying family and friends -- and life. From Mom I learned that Saturday mornings didn't necessarily have to be spent doing housework -- that could be done at any hour of the day. When it came to Saturday morning cartoons, dance lessons, and high school football games -- we either put down the broom or missed it.
Needless to say, when I received the following verse in an email this morning, I realized how very lucky I am that my Mom taught me this very important lesson before I missed out on too much living!

Dusting...

Author unknown

Remember...a layer of dust protects the wood beneath it.

'A house becomes a home when you can write 'I love you' on the furniture ...'

I used to spend at least 8 hours every weekend making sure things were just perfect -- just in case someone came over

Finally I realized one day that no one came over; they were all out living life and having fun!

Now, when people visit, I don't have to explain the 'condition' of my home. They are more interested in hearing about the things I've been doing while I was away living life and having fun.

If you haven't figured this out yet, please heed this advice. Life is short. Enjoy it!

Dust if you must
but wouldn't it be better
to paint a picture or write a letter,
bake cookies or a cake
and lick the spoon
or plant a seed,
ponder the difference between want and need?!

Dust if you must, but there's not much time . . . .
with wine to drink, rivers to swim and mountains to climb,
music to hear and books to read,
friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must,
but the world's out there with the sun in your eyes,
the wind in your hair, a flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come around, again.

Dust if you must,
but bear in mind, old age will come and it's not kind. . .
And when you go -
and go you must - you, yourself will make more dust!

Mom, I am forever grateful that you taught me this life lesson. I've come to appreciate the dust bunnies (some of them even have names)....and when I see cobwebs strung from the curtains and ceiling I smile and see them as "streamers" that are celebrating LIFE!
As always, thanks for being wonderful YOU.

July 28, 2009

What are you contributing?

The world is full of old adages, musings and cliches that I invariably mull over in my head for days on end. Today I'm stuck on the expression, "You get out of life what you put into it."

I know I have heard this expression all of my life, though it may have taken a slightly different form. Maybe, "You are what you eat," or "What comes around goes around," but the essence of the saying always stayed the same. It was probably about 15 years ago, though, when I was listening to an audio tape series called "Lead The Field" by Earl Nightingale, that the reality of this statement started weighing heavily on my mind.

Nightingale told the story of a woman who was lonely after moving to a new part of the country. The woman complained that the people in this area were cold and unfriendly, and she hadn't made any friends with whom she really connected. The woman's husband was puzzled; he couldn't understand why she described the town that way, when he had found it to be quite the opposite. What they found, after examining their very divergent perspectives on the area, was that he was out talking to people and feeding the community with his upbeat spirit, while she had essentially closed herself off from the world.

Over the years I've thought about this story many times. I've thought about how when I am philanthropic, good things seem to flow back to me. And how after inviting guests into our home, we are often flooded with invitations to join others (sometimes to the point that you think of the old Morton Salt commercial...."when it rains it pours!"). Or after spending one-on-one time with one of my children, they'll come and plunk themselves down in my office just to say hello.

After years of witnessing the truth behind the adage, "You get out of life what you put into it," I am sitting here scratching my head and wondering how I ever get caught up in a spiral of selfishness -- but inevitably I do. And I know I am not alone in that because I see it every day -- people who think first about themselves, then about others.

So, after all this rambling that's really not leading up to any big revelation -- let me ask you --

Do you agree that "You get out of life what you put into it?"

What contributions to this life are you most proud of?

What are the non-negotiables when it comes to contributing (i.e. I may not be big on opening my house for a party, but you can always count on me to welcome a new family to the neighborhood.)

I would love it if you would post your thoughts in the comments section of my blog so that we could create some lively discussion around the idea. How about some good conversation...'Round the Kitchen Table?


Side Note: If you have never read or listened to anything by Earl Nightingale, I strongly recommend that you do. My aunt introduced my husband and I to him many years ago (through the audio tapes), and I have never regretted the time spent listening -- in fact, 'til this day, I'm truly grateful for it. Whether you are trying to be more successful in business, your relationships, or just life in general -- he has some wonderful lessons to share.

July 21, 2009

Ah Ha Moment? Well...Maybe Not

The skies in the Lehigh Valley may be a little gray today, but that didn't stop the lightbulb from going off over my head. Yes, I had another "Ah Ha Moment" which may really be more of a "Well Duh Moment." Not sure why I didn't think of this sooner.

Since I consistently have people thanking me for the latest savings code from Restaurants.com -- and new codes and deals come out every week to ten days, I thought it might make sense for me to dedicate a space on my blog for the latest deal and code, so you always know how to find the best savings when you need it!

I've gotten some great feedback from people who are using the restaurant.com certificates to save on their dining adventures. I know I was really impressed to see how the list of Lehigh Valley restaurants had grown (Pickles, Gregory's, Italiano Delight -- even Shula's Steakhouse!!).
Anyhow, that's my "Ah Ha Moment" for the day...really not very enlightening...but hopefully it will save you a couple bucks down the road!
Oh -- while we're on the subject, here's the latest deal.
ENJOY!!

July 20, 2009

Double Chocolate Mocha Delight

It's been graduation party season lately, so I dug out one of my all-time favorite dessert recipes. It was such a huge hit at the first party (the bowl was practically licked clean), that I made it again for another party so that the people who missed it the first time around could enjoy it as well! This is a classic from my days with Pampered Chef...and no matter what, I never tire of it!

It's called Double Chocolate Mocha Trifle and it's a crowd pleaser. One word of advice -- it's not the prettiest dessert, so I wouldn't recommend making it in a glass bowl. I've adapted the original recipe ever so slightly. Hope you like it.

You'll Need
  • 1 package brownie mix (prepared as directed for cake-like brownies)
  • 1 3/4 cups cold milk
  • 2 packages (3.4 ounces each) white chocolate instant pudding mix (if you can't find white chocolate, substitute either butterscotch or vanilla)
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 4 teaspoons instant coffee granules
  • 2 cups frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 1/3 package Heath Bar crunch bits

Step-by-Step

  1. Prepare brownies as directed for cake-like brownies
  2. Cool completely and cut into 1-inch cubes
  3. Dissolve coffee granules in warm water
  4. Whisk pudding mix and milk until pudding starts to thicken
  5. Add coffee to pudding mixture and mix well
  6. Fold in whipped topping
  7. Layer 1/3 brownies cubes on bottom of medium sized bowl
  8. Top with 1/3 pudding mixture, spread evenly
  9. Sprinkle with toffee bits
  10. Repeat layers ending with toffee
  11. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving
ENJOY!!

NOTE: If you want to pretty this up, buy a second container of whipped topping, thaw it, and put a skim coat of whipped topping over the top. Use a cake decorator to put small rosettes of whipped topping around the edge of the bowl, and large rosette in the center. Garnish with chocolate shavings and/or toffee bits.

Sorry I don't have a picture of this one...but trust me, it is DELICIOUS!!

July 14, 2009

Save Save Save at Restaurants.com

Just wanted to share another great Restaurants.com deal with you.

From now through July 20 -- Pay just $4 per $25 certificate -- a 60% savings -- PLUS get a FREE $10 certificate with every $25 purchase!

Click here and use code KITCHEN - only at Restaurant.com.

July 10, 2009

Just Ask

I know I tell you a lot of stories about my dogs and the lessons I learn from them, and today I had another "Ah ha moment." Yes, another life lesson learned from my pet -- except this time it wasn't a dog, but my cat who was the teacher.

My cat, Tina, is a terrific cat. Don't be upset with me, but after years of trying to keep her as an indoor cat, we stopped fighting her each time she raced to an open door -- and we let her go outside.

We live in an area that's perfect for us (and our pets). We're close to shopping centers and all the conveniences of a well-developed suburb and there are many neighborhoods being built on old farmland -- but our home is on a more rural country road with very few neighbors. Across the street we have a beautiful walking park, and behind our house a cornfield. Needless to say, with a cornfield behind us and so much local development displacing the country mice, the first time Tina experienced the great outdoors, she got a taste of life as a hunter, and she refuses to give it up. She's getting up there in years and slowing down a little, but she still loves to pounce and play -- but more than anything Tina LOVES to snuggle.

So here's the story -- this morning I was sitting at my desk reading my emails, when I heard Tina's meow coming from outside my window. I quickly got up and let her in, then headed back to my office. She's a "talkative" girl, and when I opened the door she greeted me with a "mew," then scurried towards the stairs, presumably to get her breakfast. (Years ago we put her self-feeder upstairs on top of our dryer so that her food would be out of reach of the dogs, and she could eat in peace.)

Anyhow, on occasion Tina won't jump up onto the dryer unless someone is there with her. I'm really not sure why exactly, but when she doesn't want to make the jump alone, she will stand at the top of the stairs and cry until someone comes to be with her. She only wants someone there with her while she jumps up, then she happily goes right to her food, and the "escort" can go back to whatever they were doing. Well this morning when Tina went upstairs, I assumed she needed an escort, because she cried the entire way up the stairs, and I heard her crying as she pattered around upstairs looking for someone to join her at the food bowl. Eventually she returned to the top of the stairs and sat there crying until I headed up.

When I got to the top of the steps, she turned and headed in the direction of the food, but then kept moving past the laundry area and into my bedroom. She stopped at the foot of my bed, sat down, then looked up at me and meowed.

"What do you want?" I asked, fully expecting her to answer me.

Tina looked back at the bed, stood up, walked around my legs then sat back down and meowed again.

"Do you want me to go back to bed?" I asked, tempted by the thought.

"Meow."

'You've got to be kidding me,' I thought.

"Meow," she repeated.

Puzzled by her cry, I laid down on the bed to see how she'd react. Sure enough, Tina jumped right up and walked up to my face and started purring and rubbing her face against mine. She walked back and forth rubbing her nose against mine for about two minutes, then she curled up next to me as if to go to sleep.

'Well I'll be,' I thought. She just wanted some love.

I laid there for a few minutes and pet her, and thought about this very special little furball. She knew what she wanted, she asked for it -- and she got it. Hmmm...now there's a lesson.

How often do we want something, but for whatever reason, we don't ask. Maybe we are afraid, maybe we're too proud, maybe we don't want to appear selfish -- whatever the reason, we sit there quietly, wanting or needing something, and we don't say it.

I've been doing a lot of self-reflection lately, and this is one of the biggest lessons I need to learn. I need to learn to ask for help instead of hoping that someone can read my mind.

I know this is going to sound a little silly -- but I could tell you many stories about times when I have absolutely no doubt that God was speaking to me through my cat. In time, those stories will come -- but just for today, I'm enjoying Tina's version of Matthew 7:7 --

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."
Just so you know...I stayed there with Tina for a few minutes this morning, then headed back downstairs to work. Before I did, I opened the door to the boys' bedroom, and sure enough I heard her jump down from my bed then patter down the hall to their room. I'm sure if I went looking for her now she'd be snuggled up with one of them. I guess she just likes to be close to the ones she loves.

July 3, 2009

Celebrating the Red, White & Blue!

It's another weekend for patriotic celebration so I thought I would share two great "red, white and blue" recipes to move your picnic fare from ordinary to a real celebration.

Want to try something a little different? How about trying a "Red, White and Bleu Burger?"

You'll Need:
  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 lb bacon
  • 1 container crumbled bleu cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Step By Step
  1. Break up ground beef (or turkey) into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Cut up uncooked bacon into small bite-sized pieces and add to bowl
  3. Add full container of bleu cheese crumbles
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste

  5. Mix all ingredients and hand-form burgers

6. Grill immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve
7. Serve on a crusty kaiser or potato roll
NOTE: You will want to grill these over a lower flame to ensure the bacon cooks through, but the burger doesn't char. Cooking to a temperature of 150 degrees makes for a nice medium rare burger and the bacon will be cooked (though not crispy).

A perfect side to really compliment the flavors is a Red, White and Bleu Spinach Salad


Borrowing this image from www.pensieve.me/ because I haven't made the salad yet this weekend....but I will!!
You'll Need

Salad
  • fresh spinach (cleaned and torn)
  • strawberries (sliced)
  • blueberries (whole)
  • crumbled bleu cheese
  • chopped red onion (optional)
  • walnuts or pecans (chopped)
  • Poppyseed dressing (I've included a recipe if you like to make your own, but I've found Brianna's poppyseed dressing to be every bit as good as homemade).
Dressing
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup salad or olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon poppy seeds
Mix ingredients in a jar, cover, shake well and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Step-by-Step
  1. Add all salad ingredients (except dressing) in a large bowl.
  2. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  3. Just before serving toss salad in dressing.
If you still have room for more, don't forget the perfect ending to your Red, White and Blue Celebration
-- a festive fruit pizza!



Of course, if you're on strawberry and blueberry overload there's always the great all-American favorite -- apple pie and ice cream!

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

ENJOY!!

July 1, 2009

Santa Claus, Where Are You?

If you're looking for a posting about phenomenal shopping deals, or starting Christmas shopping in July, you've come to the wrong place. The truth is, if I wrote about Christmas shopping in July it would be a rant -- and I really try to keep my rants to a minimum. No, this post really doesn't have much to do with Christmas. It's actually just another one of those realizations I've had -- an "ah ha moment" -- and now seems the perfect day to share.

Every year I sit back on December 26 and wonder how I managed to get it all done in those few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s not just me though, the whole world seems to go into overdrive at the holidays – buzzing here, buzzing there. We shop, decorate, wrap, cook, send greeting cards, visit family, visit Santa, get our nails done, bake cookies, attend parties, throw parties, volunteer for those less fortunate, attend our kids’ choral concerts….the list goes on and on.

The month of December is truly amazing – and personally, I always give the credit to Santa Claus. I mean, it isn’t humanly possible otherwise, so it must be Santa, right?

But here’s my question, where, exactly, does Santa go from January through November? Why couldn’t he maybe help out a little during the year, instead of leaving me to spin my wheels all day and get nothing done? What’s different about the month of December?

I thought about this question a lot in January, and I realized that for starters, in December I know exactly what I'm working towards and precisely what I need to do to get it done.

Ah ha...goals.

Of course. It makes sense that when we know where we're going, we can figure out how to get there.

Armed with that nugget of wisdom, in January I laid out a master plan for 2009. This was to be a year of personal growth for me. A year when I would find time for my passions. I'd plow through the stacks of books that have piled up on my bookshelf. I'd do more knitting and scrapbooking, I'd really "dig into" my gardening. I'd take time to explore different things that I've been interested in but have never really taken the time to learn. 2009 was to be "my year."

So here it is -- July 1st -- a great day to check in and revisit those personal goals, right?

Well, the good news is that I was able to locate my list. The bad news is, apparently even with a plan, Santa Claus doesn't like to help out (at least not from January to July).

In all seriousness, initially I was kind of disappointed when I reviewed my progress towards my goals. There was very little that I could check off as even "in progress," let alone "complete." But in asking myself the question, "Why haven't I completed more?" I realized that there are so many things that I have accomplished that I never even considered when I wrote my goals.

Nowhere on the list had I considered flexing my creative writing muscles and starting a blog -- yet I'm faithfully maintaining two! Nowhere had I considered working on my photography, or learning new software programs, or making new friends. Yet these are all things that I have done already this year. I am very happy for those accomplishments.

But still I maintain that Santa Claus has been checked out so far this year. I haven't done anything as amazing as what I can do at Christmastime. So once again, I find myself asking the question, what's different about December? And in asking that question, today I had yet another "ah ha moment."

Santa isn't just about goals - he's also about discipline. He's about planning the work, and working the plan. Call it consistency, sticktoitiveness or productivity, call on Nike's "Just do it" campaign. Santa Claus knows what needs to get done, and he makes it happen.

Later today I'll be updating my goals for this year, because truthfully some of the things that seemed so important to me in January, are a little less important to me now. Sure, I love to knit, and I'd like to try to knit something different than the one and only thing I know how to make (a Prayer Shawl), but I also love to write. I love to read the books on my shelf, but I take equal pleasure in reading the incredible blogs written by so many talented friends I've made in the past few months.

Yes, I'll be doing a mid-year adjustment to my goals, and that's a good thing -- after all, that's part of finding my way. But rest assured, before the week is done, I will have nailed down some core disciplines that I want and need to be a part of my life if I want to accomplish my goals.

Oh yes Santa, I will see you before Thanksgiving. How much rest do you need anyway?

June 22, 2009

A Dog's Welcome

I know I write a lot about my dogs -- probably too much -- but I can't help it. I just love those boys -- and it seems like they are always reminding me about the important lessons of life. Today was no exception.

Today was such a gorgeous morning -- sunny with beautiful blue skies and cotton candy clouds (that were actually white instead of the grey that we've been seeing for most of the month of June). My office window was open just enough to let in a nice cool breeze. Truly a perfect morning, and I wanted to take advantage of it. I slipped on my sneakers and headed to the park across the street for a quick walk before the heat of summer overcame the breeze.

I know I should take the dogs with me when I walk, but for many reasons, I don't.

#1 - They've never been trained to walk on leashes, so walking them can only be described as a lesson in weaving, as they dart from side to side until their leashes are a tangled mess.

#2 - We have invisible fence which they are deathly afraid of. In order to get them to come across the street with me, I'd either have to carry them, or put them in the car and drive (which seems to defeat the purpose of using a park that's out our front door).

#3 -- There are two of them and only one of me. I am strong, but let's face it, if we came across another dog, or if a bird or bunny got their interest, I would be flat out on the ground.

#4 -- There are hundreds of trees at the park -- and dogs who walk there every day. I'd never get a good walk for all the trees we'd need to sniff (and mark).

Besides, Bear and Champ have free run of our yard all day and get plenty of exercise. I don't feel too bad about leaving them behind so I can get some exercise myself.

So anyway, off I went this morning. The sun was warm on my face, but the air was still cool -- perfect walking conditions. I didn't pass a soul on the first lap and when I walked by the house there was no sign of the dogs. The second lap was a little different -- several people (some with dogs, some without) had arrived at the park --which meant my dogs would be offering their usual "welcome to the neighborhood" greeting to each person and dog who walked by.


The neighborhood welcoming committee

Sure enough, when I rounded the final bend, about 1/8 of a mile from home, I saw them -- standing at attention on our front step, watching two walkers go by. They stood there, side-by-side, their bodies were still, just scanning the park to see who would be the next passerby. I could tell the moment that Bear saw me because his fluffy tail wagged ever so slightly. Three steps closer to home, and they both saw (and recognized) me and their whole bodies started wagging in excitement. Oh how they carried on, running back and forth across the yard, and jumping up on their hind legs as if to wave to me to make sure I saw them.

From across the park I imagined what was going through their minds:

"There she is! There she is! We've missed you!!"

"Woohoo! She's back! I hope she has TREATS!!"

It didn't matter that there were other dogs walking in front of the house. For that last stretch of my walk home, they saw only me -- and carried on in such a way to make sure I saw them too!

As I crossed the street and walked into the yard, the two of them lept around like fools, running circles around me, and pouncing on each other. If dogs could skip, that's what they were doing. They were SO HAPPY to see me. What a welcome home.

They skipped beside me all the way to the back door, and waited there as I went inside to fill a bowl of water for them. I poured myself a glass of water as well, and watched the two of them lap up what I had given them, then run out to the back yard to chase each other around for a few minutes before returning to their posts in the front yard.

I went back into the house and thought about the way the dogs greeted me versus how I greet the kids or Jeff when they come home after a day of work, school or play. I am embarrassed to say that I don't remember the last time I did anything besides shout out from my office, "Hi Honey! How was your day?"

How sad is that? The people who are nearest and dearest to my heart get a shout out -- when, in fact, they should be getting a hearty dog's welcome. It took my dogs to remind me how good it makes people feel to be greeted warmly, and to be shown how much they're loved.

Oh those little puppies -- they should be counselors or philosophers with all their life lessons. Once again -- dogs just get it.


Bear's generous kisses


Silly Champ loving life!

June 15, 2009

Good Thing He's So Cute

Who would believe that something this cute...



Could make a mess this big?


If I didn't know better I'd think I needed to call in crime scene investigators - but this is just what happens when a high-energy dog comes in the house after playing in the rain for a couple hours and decides to "decorate" the mudroom by shaking off his body.

All that artistic play must have tired him out.



Good thing he's so darn cute.


June 12, 2009

The Deals Keep Getting Better

Oh my word -- this deal takes the cake (and the appetizers too!!)
Last week I emailed my friends & family to tell them about the 50% off savings at Restaurants.com....but the deals keep getting better -- check it out!

I looked at the restaurants near where my daughter is going to college to see if I could buy a couple for her to use when she is a poor college student. Limited choices but still a great little gift to send in a care package....

I wanted to pass it along to my blog buddies. It's the real deal -- just make sure you are aware of the restrictions.

EDITED: This offer goes through June 15 -- the code to get the discount is PRESENT.

Restaurant.com Weekly Promo Offer 300 x 250

An Ah Ha Moment

We all have those times in our lives – those memories that are so vivid you feel like you could just close your eyes and relive the moment. Well I'm convinced that those vivid memories stay with us because our subconscious knows that there is a valuable lesson to be learned from that experience. Sometimes we learn the lesson right as it’s happening (visions of my first accident come rushing to mind) – but other times it takes years until the lightbulb goes off and we finally realize why that memory has lingered for so long. When we’re ready to see it, I call it an “Ah ha moment” -- a realization on life. In the past year, I've had a lot of those realizations -- and today is another one of those days.

In the very truest sense, today is a day that defines me. Today is my birthday. But today, like every birthday since I was 7 years old – my thoughts aren’t about my birthday – they’re about my brother, Jim.

Let me forewarn you, you might not like this story so much – because it’s not necessarily the most uplifting. But it’s reality – and a humbling realization about life. So here we go…

Family History
I am the youngest of five children in my family – the youngest by eight years. These days that age gap isn’t necessarily a big deal…but growing up the gap seemed monumental.

I was a definite whoops. “The best mistake I ever made,” is the way my Dad describes me. Some people cringe when they hear that. I don’t -- in fact, I think it’s pure and sweet. I have never doubted that my parents love me – my Dad is just being honest, and I appreciate that. Anyhow, the point is that with anywhere from eight to eleven years between my siblings and me, even though I am part of a big family, I grew up kind of like an only child. While my brothers and sister were off working, or dating, or doing high school and college stuff – I was going to grade school. So from my little kid perspective, the world pretty much revolved around me.

The Story Goes
So flash back to my seventh birthday -- it was the last day of school, and the first night of the church Carnival. I had spent all day peeking out the classroom windows at the rides that were set up in fields behind the school, and I had convinced myself that I was going to be brave enough to go on the enormous ferris wheel with the “cages” that spun around.

As soon as my Dad got home from work, we would all head down to the Carnival and stay there until way past bedtime. I was beside myself with anticipation. It was the perfect way to spend my birthday!

I remember playing with some dolls on the floor of my bedroom when I heard a car pull into our driveway and start honking its horn like crazy. I jumped up to peer out the window to see what was going on, and I saw my Mom walk out of the house to the car. Seconds later she and my brother, Jim, came racing into the house. I didn’t think much of it at the time and went back to playing with my dolls, but then I heard my Mom’s voice coming from downstairs. She wasn’t yelling – but I could tell she was upset about something.

I made my way downstairs to see what was going on, and though I don’t remember the details exactly, I remember seeing my brother sitting at the table with a blood-stained white towel wrapped around his hand, and my Mom was hustling around the kitchen and putting ice in a bag, yelling at Jim to keep his hand in the air.

She told me I needed to go across the street where my sister, Karen, was babysitting. She had to take Jim to the hospital and I was to stay with Karen until she came home. I had no idea what was happening, and the only words that came out of my 7-year old mouth were, “What about the Carnival?”

“Not tonight,” Mom told me. Jim just looked at me and said, “Sorry Lolly.” In the blink of an eye they were pulling out of the driveway, and I walked across the street with tears in my eyes. I'm embarrassed to say, I wasn’t crying for Jim. I was seven years old, and devastated.

A few hours later Mom called from the hospital to tell us that Jim was going to be ok. He had severed his finger in a freak accident while riding his bike. He had almost lost his finger completely, but fortunately they got there quickly and the doctors were able to restore it perfectly. Mom knew it was still going to be a few hours until they got home, so she told me where I could find my birthday present, and I opened it while I was on the phone with her. It was the “Busy Lizzy” doll that I had been wishing for, and I played with it until it was time for bed.

I don’t know if we ever made it to the Carnival that year, but I remember when we picked Jim up at the hospital a day or two later. He felt so bad for “spoiling my birthday” that he asked my parents to go to the store and get a present that he could give me when we came to get him. It was a diving mask with a snorkel and flippers – and he promised me that he’d teach me how to use the snorkel as soon as he could go in the water. What a good big brother he was (and still is). When I should have been doing stuff for him, there he was thinking of me.

The Lesson
It’s been 37 years since that freak accident, but as sure as the sun rises, Jim is the very first person I think of every year on my birthday. I guess it is just one of those “moments” that is permanently etched in my memory.

But remember how I said that I think we keep the memory in our subconscious until we’re ready to learn the lesson? Well today I think I was ready -- because for the first time since that accident I cried at the memory -- but this time I didn't crying about missed Carnivals. This time I cried for all the times when I've selfishly thought that I was the center of the universe. And for the times when I should have cared more, or done more, or given more to people who had less. And mostly I cried for the people who will never know what it’s like to love and be loved in a family like mine. I am truly blessed.

It may have taken me 37 years to figure it out, but Jim, thanks for giving me the best gift ever -- a gift that no amount of money could ever buy. Now whenever you’re ready to teach me how to snorkel, I'm game.

This has nothing to do with the story...but it's probably the funniest e-card I've ever gotten for my birthday.

June 8, 2009

Garden of Weeding

I spent almost the entire day in my garden last Sunday, diligently pulling weeds and trying to restore some order to my perennial garden.



Despite the story that my pictures tell, I'm really not much of a gardener. In fact, over the years there have been many times when my husband and I have stood there and examined a plant that was growing, trying to decide if it was friend or foe to the garden. Sometimes it can be hard to tell. So hard, in fact, that I have already let full crops of weeds grow for a season, sure that eventually they’d bloom; and in the same season wondered when the daisies were going to sprout, only to realize that I had mistakenly pulled them as weeds early on in the season.

The wild violets that have slowly overtaken my garden are my most recent brown thumb blunder. I had always admired what seemed to be a very delicate violet growing along the side of a friend’s house. When she offered to divide a plant for me a few years ago, I jumped at the chance to add it to my garden. Little did I realize that these violets weren’t so delicate at all. In fact, in just a few short years, they have invaded my garden to the point that they appear to have a strangle hold on peony plants that have bloomed in utter abundance for at least two decades. These stunning peonies were the hub of my garden when we first moved here, but this year they have been reduced to just a handful of blooms. I’d like to believe that they are just tired or that perhaps the soil needs to be enriched – but when I see those little violets flourishing below the peonies, I know the soil is fine – it’s just that the violets are literally strangling the roots of my peonies.

Fortunately, I'm pretty sure that I’ll be able to uproot and transplant the peonies later this season to free them from the grasp of these invaders, and restore them to their full beauty. It will require some intensive care and attention, but I'm hopeful that it can be done. Sadly, it all could have been avoided if I had I only known that the violets were garden bullies.

Anyhow, as I worked that day in the garden, trying to distinguish the weeds from the plants, my mind drifted, and it dawned on me how similar a garden is to life. The soil -- our foundation that needs to be tended to keep it rich and fertile. The plants -- our blessings, our talents, our gifts that grow in the light of day. The water and sun – that which sustains us. And the weeds – the vices that keep us from being our best. It’s scary to realize how quickly (and sometimes unexpectedly) the weeds can invade. Like the violets, sometimes we even plant them ourselves – mistaking them for something that will enhance the garden -- only to find that over time they invade and choke out the good.

These thoughts have been weighing heavily on my mind lately. What are the plants that are essential to my garden? What are the weeds that are invading? Are there plants that need some intensive care and attention?

We all have weeds growing in our garden – heaven knows they’ll never be perfect. Our best hope is that we spot them easily, remove them quickly, and let the flowers bloom in fragrant abundance.

June 4, 2009

Going to the Birds

I work from home, and as I've mentioned before, my office is in the front of my house, overlooking a beautiful walking park across the street. My two furry friends, Bear and Champ, love to sit in the front yard during the day and watch the people (and dogs) walking by.

It's kind of funny to watch them really. When it's just people, they are unfazed. There are also a handful of dogs that they are apparently pretty cool with, because they just sit and watch them go by. But the majority of the time when they see a dog frolicking in the park they carry on like crazy -- running back and forth along the property line and barking their heads off. I'd love to know what it is about the ones that they don't bark at, that makes them so special.

Anyhow, this morning I was trying to concentrate on my work, and they would NOT stop barking. I kept trying to tune it out, but then I realized that it wasn't their typical bark that sounds like they're begging the passerby to come and play with them. No, this was a fierce and protective bark that said, "We're the masters of this property and you are not welcome here."

I got up from my desk to go peer out the window to see what the commotion was all about. A brief wave of panic overcame me as I flashed back to an armed robbery I was involved with a dozen or so years ago (another story for another time), but quickly subsided when I looked out the window and saw the cause for the doggy-hysterics.





An uninvited guest was helping himself to a bag of trash that was awaiting pickup -- and if my dogs couldn't get to the trash, they were not going to let some stranger eat it. No way, not on their watch.

I am still not sure exactly what kind of bird this is -- initially I thought a wild turkey -- but as I got closer I started thinking maybe buzzard, or [gasp] vulture. Whatever it is, it is definitely not going to win any "pretty bird" awards.

I'm sending the photo over to my former Ornithology professor, Dr. Dan Klem, at Muhlenberg College for help in identification.



I look forward to your feedback. In the meantime I'm heading out to clean up the debris that this beast spread around the street...and to calm down the pooches after this "hair-razing" morning!

June 3, 2009

Outsmarted

I poured a cup of coffee for myself twice this morning. Both times when I went to add the milk, I accidentally grabbed the jug of iced tea from the refrigerator door instead. Fortunately I caught myself before pouring it.

After the first pour, I made a mental note that the milk was the 2nd jug in when I opened the door. Obviously my internal post-it note system failed, so after the 2nd pour, I switched the position of the tea and milk in the fridge, to avoid making the same mistake a third time.

Alas, when I poured myself a bowl of cereal, that initial mental note sprang to mind and I reached for jug #2.

Yepper. Who knew iced tea and Total Cranberry Crunch was such a good combo? Yuck.

May 29, 2009

That's Our Girl

"The sweetest thing that you'll ever see in the whole wide world is a happy girl!"
Martina McBride, Happy Girl


Amy - First Day of Kindergarten
(with brothers Matt & Jake)
September, 1996


Last Day of High School
May 29, 2009