Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Grieving is an interesting thing, especially at the holidays. I generally love Christmas and love the joy that it brings and the message of joy that God gave to all people through the birth of His Son, Jesus. And that is still very true for me this year.

But, there's also the sadness I feel when I think of celebrating this Christmas without my dad here on earth with us. And there's the new empathy and compassion I feel for others around me who have experienced loss this year, or in recent years. Of course, I think of my own family:  my mom, my sister, my brother-in-law, my son, my nieces, my aunts and uncles, who are also grieving in their own ways. Others also come to mind:  the friend and her young son who lost their husband/daddy to cancer this past summer; the friends who also lost older parents this year; friends who are dealing with illness (their own or their parent's); friends who have gone through divorces this year. I find myself wanting to extend love and comfort to these loved ones, as well as seeking comfort for myself.

The Christmas carol, "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" has been coming to mind a lot this year. Or maybe when I hear it now, the words from the refrain ring truer and louder in my ears:
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy!
It was far from a perfect world that Jesus came into as a baby, and it was not a comfortable situation in the Bethlehem stable for his parents. But the reason He came, "to save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray" and the fact that Jesus is our Emmanuel, "God with us," brings me great comfort and joy, even in my grief.

The last stanza of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" encourages us to sing praises and to extend love and brotherhood, while remembering the message of redeeming grace:

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood,
Each other now embrace.
This holy tide of Christmas
Doth bring redeeming grace.

My prayer for my family, my friends and for myself, is that we would press closer to Jesus in our times of sadness and in our times of joy, and in doing so, would know a deeper sense of His presence and comfort.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dessert-of-the-Month: November and December

I've made it to the end of the year with my ambitious gift to my brother-in-law last Christmas! I will admit that the past couple of months, my motivation has not been what it was back at the first of the year, but I was committed to 12 months and I wanted to finish strong! (I did get a "pass" in October, since we had so many distractions.)

For most of the months, I had gotten requests from Russell, so I tried to honor those. For November, he asked for Pecan Pie, but since I knew that his favorite mother-in-law would make him one for Thanksgiving, I decided to go with a slight variation and try a recipe I saw on The Pioneer Woman/Tasty Kitchen blog. I think these Pecan Pie Muffins were a big hit (even though they kind of stuck to the pan).

He's excited . . . really! :-)

For December, I asked Russell what he wanted and he named some suggestions and then I came up with an idea of my own (nice of me, huh?). Seriously, I thought of Seven Layer Bars because they have several ingredients that Russell loves:  chocolate, coconut, caramel (the sweetened condensed milk carmelizes). And I haven't heard any complaints from the recipient on these either!

Cute little helper/model!

If you ever need the gift that keeps on giving and have someone who deserves such a thoughtful gift, you can copy me copying someone else!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Tree Stories

Last week I had high hopes (or plans) to put up our Christmas tree on Saturday. I knew it was a little iffy, with Daniel having his audition for Mid-state Jazz Band and homework. The thought of getting it all out and mostly doing all of the decorating myself started stressing me out. Then I went with my mom and sister to a grief seminar about dealing with the holidays. One of the take-aways I got was that when grieving the loss of a loved one, you can change the way you do things, for one year, or forever. Basically, I took that as a great opportunity to not put up our big Christmas tree this year.

Believe me, I wavered and spent a few days being wishy-washy about it. Daniel told me that he was fine with whatever I wanted to do (although he thought I'd "regret it later" and also had to point out that next year will be his "last Christmas before he graduates"), so I decided that I'd use a small table-top tree that my mom wasn't using and have a scaled-down Christmas this year.

This week, I was telling some friends about my decision and one of them started telling us about an unfortunate incident involving their Christmas tree and some mice who decided to make a nest in the tree while it was in storage. Needless to say, this family was planning to get a new tree this year, although they would rather wait until the after-Christmas deals. I had a sudden "brilliant idea" and offered for my friends to borrow our tree!

During the whole Christmas tree conversation that I had with my friends, we started remembering other Christmas trees that had made "history" for us. One that popped into my head was the year when I was growing up and we convinced my mom to let us get a real tree. My parents always stood their ground together every year when we'd ask to replace our aging artificial tree with a real tree, so this particular year, when my dad went out of town for a conference or something a couple of weeks before Christmas, my sister and I were able to "wear down" our mom's resolve and off to the tree lot we went. We brought some family friends and it turned out to be one of the most fun afternoons ever! We laughed and joked as we searched for the "perfect" tree and once we found it and got it home, we decorated it and got it all ready to surprise my dad when he got home from his trip. I don't really remember his reaction, but I do remember that we continued getting real Christmas trees for several years after that!

My other favorite Christmas tree memory happened the year that Daniel was born. We thought it would be fun to go to a Christmas tree farm to buy a tree, so after church one Sunday, Daniel stayed with my sister, and we went down to Thompson's Station to find a tree. Well, I'm somewhat picky about my trees and I didn't particularly like the type of trees they grew there, so we left without a tree and drove to find a regular tree lot where we could find more of a variety. We ended up at Hillsboro High School in Green Hills and when we walked in, we told a salesperson what our price range was and he led us to one solitary row of trees to look at. We browsed the row and didn't see anything we wanted, so we turned to walk toward the exit. A man who looked like Santa Claus stopped us and asked us where we were going without a tree. We explained that we hadn't found anything in our price range, so he brought us to another section and indicated that we could find whatever tree we wanted in that area and we could have it for the amount we could spend.

We looked a little longer at the larger selection and found what we felt was the "perfect" tree. We lugged it over to the place where they wrapped them and cut off the bottom of the trunk and started the check-out process. The original sales guy (who happened to be the owner of the business) came up and looked at the tree we had picked out and said, "Wait! You can't have that tree! It's a ???-dollar tree." (I can't remember the amount now.) He said that the tree we wanted had been put in the wrong place and it was a mistake. We were disappointed, but we didn't want to pay more than we had originally told him, so we turned and started to walk away again. He had a quick change of heart and called us back and told us we could have the tree for the price we wanted to pay.

We took that tree home to our apartment and it took up a good third of the living room (and I think we had to cut some more off to get it inside). We got it decorated with our growing collection of ornaments and enjoyed having such a beautiful tree for Daniel's first Christmas (he was almost six months old).

Back to this year, I'm planning to still decorate the house with our Nativity sets and am using our Christmas dishes as usual. As another "scaling back" friend said, I'm having a merry "little" Christmas this year! I'm sure that I'll get back to putting up my big tree next year and will hopefully have more "favorite" tree memories in the years to come. It makes me really happy that my tree will get some use this year and love how God worked out all of those little details!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

You can tell Christmas is coming . . .

Happy December! Turning the page on the calendar to the month of December is a sure sign that Christmas is coming soon. So are all the sales ads and craziness that starts way before Black Friday. And the lights that start popping up in neighborhoods as we drive around town.

At our house, these are some ways you can tell that Christmas is coming:

 We put up our Christmas tree. 
(This was taken last year and we hope to get the tree & house decorated this coming weekend.)

They light the tree in Rockefeller Center in New York City (and I clap every year when the lights go on).

Also, as is our long-time Christmas tradition, we start the Advent Jesse Tree devotions. If you'd like to read some posts from the year that I blogged for each day of the devotional, from December 1 until Christmas Day, click here. You'll be able to click through to all of them (either all in one sitting or you can spread it out).

So here's some audience participation:  What are some sure signs for you that Christmas is coming soon?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Persimmons anyone?

On Thanksgiving morning, we were sitting around watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade when the phone rang. It was our Korean friends wanting to drop off a gift for us. The gift turned out to be a fruit basket and some Choco-pies (they've given us these before and they are like a Moon Pie). In the fruit basket were apples, kiwi and some persimmons.

We'd heard of persimmons, but probably nobody in the family (except maybe Grandma) had ever eaten one. In fact, my main association with persimmons was that if they are not ripe, they make you pucker! These were bright orange and looked to be ripe and ready to eat. But none of us knew exactly how to eat one.

Google and YouTube to the rescue! I'm sure we could have found several choices of videos to watch (or articles to read), but somehow we stumbled on this one. Based on the fact that it was an Asian family who brought us the fruit, this instruction video seems appropriate.

We enjoyed tasting this new (to us) fruit and we appreciated the thoughtful gifts that our friends brought to us.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Parade Party

Our entire Thanksgiving weekend was special for our family. We had lots of good times together as a family making memories and remembering Dad. One of the highlights for me was our Thanksgiving Parade Party on Thanksgiving morning.

It all started with Daniel saying that he'd like to stay home and watch the parade in his p.j.'s (instead of he and I going to walk/run the Boulevard Bolt, which has been a Thanksgiving activity for us in the past). I liked his stay-at-home idea this year and decided I'd invite the rest of the family over too. Jeanette got in the spirit by bringing several costume-y things for the girls to dress up in and I bought them each a balloon (what's a Macy's parade without balloons??). We had a great time lounging around watching the parade on TV and being entertained by our own personal parade!

I think this may become a new tradition for our family on the years when we are all together on Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful for thankfulness

I know I've been quiet on this blog lately. I have so many feelings and thoughts, swirling around in my head and heart, and I need to make time to get them down on paper. Some of them will make it to the blog . . . eventually!

Today, on Thanksgiving Day 2011, I am so thankful for the ability, privilege and gift of thankfulness. I am thankful that the Lord has put thankfulness in my heart, mixed in with the sadness and grief, because thankfulness brings joyfulness.

In his letters to the churches, Paul repeatedly told them (and now us) to be thankful in all circumstances. One that has stuck with me through the years is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (NIV)
Today's devotion in Jesus Calling gave perfect insight to this (referring to Ephesians 5:20, "giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."):

"Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity. That is why I have instructed you to give thanks for everything. There is an element of mystery in this transaction:  You give Me thanks (regardless of your feelings), and I give you Joy (regardless of your circumstances). This is a spiritual act of obedience . . . those who obey Me in this way are invariably blessed, even though difficulties may remain. Thankfulness opens your heart to My Presence and your mind to My thoughts. You may still be in the same place, with the same set of circumstances, but it is as if a light has been switched on, enabling you to see from My perspective. It is this Light of My Presence that removes the sting from adversity." (pg. 343)
I am so thankful for Jesus and that because of Him, I can have salvation and joy and thankfulness. Even when my heart is sad and missing my dad (which it is and will be), I can be glad. I can have joy. I can be thankful. And the Lord has done this!

"I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
   it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.
 The LORD is God,
   and he has made his light to shine upon us.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
   you are my God; I will extol you.
 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures forever!"
Psalm 118: 21-24, 27a, 28-29, ESV

Monday, November 14, 2011

If I had a "bucket list"

I guess everyone has at least a mental "bucket list" but if I had one that was written down, I would have "attend a Chris Tomlin concert" on it. And after this past Friday night, I would be able to cross that one off my list. In fact, I think I'll leave it on my unwritten list (or if you want to know a little-known fact about me, I am such a list-maker that if I have just completed something that I had not written down on a list, I'll still add it after the fact, just so I can check it off . . . weird, I know).

Back to the concert, it was a sold-out show, at a large church in Murfreesboro, about 45 minutes away from my house. Of course, it was on a Friday night, and there was traffic, but my friends and I still made it there in plenty of time and even though I was tired after a busy work-day and week, being there energized me and I am so thankful that I got the opportunity to experience a night of worship like that.

This tour was the "And If Our God Is For Us" tour and he opened with "Our God" and then kept us on an upbeat, on-our-feet, hand-clapping, giant screen karaoke worship experience for probably an hour. Then Chris and the band took a break and speaker, Louie Giglio came up and preached for about 30 minutes (awesome) before Chris came back to finish out the night. I wish that I had a set list so that I could remember the order of the songs that they played.

It was fun to get to experience the concert with four friends, two who I've known since college, and two who go to church with me now. I think we were all so glad that we went and for those who are kicking themselves for not getting a ticket, don't worry . . . I'll let you know the next time the opportunity comes around and you can cross it off your "bucket list" too!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Two Sisters and a Cousin

I would be remiss to not show some pictures of my sweet nieces and their awesome big cousin from Halloween earlier this last week. I've also got to share some cute pics from the pumpkin patch (unfortunately, the big cousin wasn't able to come).

Disclaimer:  The reason why this is just being posted today is because I was tripped up by the pictures. I do NOT know why Blogger won't do vertical pictures, but . . . whatever

Have you ever seen an angel drumming? 
So glad she decided to wear her halo and wings (it was a dilemma earlier in the day)

Here is the world's squirmiest flower! :-)

Not sure why the flower is crying, but the angel wasn't tellin'.

Sweet sister moment at the pumpkin patch

Love, love, love these sweet faces!

There was a picture of them from the front, but don't know where it went.

A "90s Kid" with the flower and the angel. Cousins R Great!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Praying down the number

Throughout the past few years, I have had a greater awareness and interest in adoption. I don't have all of the statistics, but I know that there are hundreds of thousands of children all over the world who have lost one or both parents (147 million is a number that has been put out there). I obviously can't "fix" that problem on my own and I don't feel God calling me to adopt a child into my family, but I do feel like there are some things that I (we) can do to help.

I can give financially to support adoption and even though I am limited in what I can give, I have been blessed 100 times more by even having a small part in bringing a child home to an adopting family. Click here to see an amazing story of one family who recently brought home a daughter from Uganda. It's "the rest of the story" from a story I shared earlier this year.

I can also pray for adopting families and children who need to be adopted. Some bloggers are starting a new initiative to help us remember to pray for adoption:  PRAY DOWN THE NUMBER AT 1:47 PM. You can read about it on their blog, but basically, where ever you are at 1:47pm each day, just stop and lift up orphans to the Father - pray for friend's adoptions, pray for the orphan who is hungry, pray the for the orphan that is sick, pray for the families sitting on the fence about adoption, pray for orphan/adoption ministries, pray for those serving orphans, whatever God lays on your heart to pray.

Wouldn't it be cool to be standing in line at a store and hear a bunch of phone alarms going off at 1:47pm as reminders to pray for orphans and adoptions? Or to see someone with a "147" written on her hand. It'll be even more amazing to see what God does in answer to these prayers!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Years gone by

Last year I shared a couple of pictures of me and my sister on Halloween when we were little. This year, I'm reminiscing about Daniel's costumes when he was younger. Oddly enough, after several years of being "too cool" to dress up, he's actually dressing up and going trick-or-treating this year (I stopped trying to figure out a teenager a while ago).

From 1998--and that's Jesse Smeltzer sitting next to him

1999--showing off his Superman muscles

Also 1999, but just had to show Pirate Sean and Batman Taylor

2000--with friend, Joey, who moved to Florida

(after he ditched the bandanna and eye patch,
he looked like Clark Gable)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Favorites: Songs that lift me up

I've been wanting to find a time to write about a song that has been touching me deeply and helping me through this time of my life. Since it's Friday, what better way than a "Friday Favorites" post!

My friend, Barbara, has recently released an album project that has been years in the making. Some other friends from church were a part of it, from writing and producing to designing the cover art. You need to go get this CD for yourself or listen to the songs here.

While I have been enjoying the entire CD, there is a song that I have literally been listening to over and over again as I drive around town. We also sang it at the women's retreat and in church last week, which only reinforced how it has been ministering to me. 

To be able to "Praise Him" in the hard times, as well as the easier times of life is a gift that only God can give. And I'm so thankful that this time of deep sadness and grief has not caught me unprepared. God was not surprised by the timing of my dad's death and has used my life experiences and my relationship with my dad throughout the past 44 years to give me the tools I need to walk through this time with faith and hope.

Thanks, Barbara and Ben for including this song on the CD. And thanks Kristi and Jay for the calming and beautiful design that I just wanted to share and not just cut and paste the lyrics.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

2011 Scripture Memory #20

Paul's Letter to the Colossians has been coming up a lot lately. Several verses from the first chapter were read in our worship service last Sunday, the entire theme of our church women's retreat was "Opening the Letter to the Colossians" and this verse was chosen by my mom to be printed on the cover of the program for my dad's memorial service:
"Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way." Colossians 3:17, The Message
While nobody is perfect, this verse is one of many that exemplifies how my father lived his life. And it is how I desire to live as well. I choose to be thankful to God the Father every step of the way (even the ones that are hard). And I'm thankful to my dad for teaching this to me throughout my life.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Memorializing October

October will always be my Dad's month. His birthday is October 19th, so we've always had a celebration of his life in October. Today, October 13, 2011, is the day he left this earth to live forever with his Savior, so this month will have another remembrance of my dad. I kind of think it's appropriate that we'll always celebrate him and remember his life during this month.

A few years ago on his birthday, I had some time in the afternoon and picked him up to go on a surprise outing to Radnor Lake. We walked and talked and viewed the beautiful changing colors of the leaves. We also shared some Pecan Sandies cookies, which were some of his favorites. I gave him a picture I took of the trees reflecting on the lake and he hung it in his home study.

Yes, October will always be memorable and not only in sad ways, because the happy far outweighs the sad. Even in his death, I can celebrate, because of the hope we have in Christ and because Dad is no longer in pain and is enjoying all things new, including his body.

I love you, Dad!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My father's eyes

There is so much I could write about this experience that we're going through as my dad nears the end of his life on earth, but it's mostly too raw for me right now. Our family has been lifted up and loved on and are getting through this only by the grace of God and the prayers of His people. And we are thankful.

My father has blue eyes and while I didn't get his exact eye color like my sister did (mine fluctuate between dark blue and green), I think my eyes are shaped like his. But more than just the physical characteristics of his eyes, the ways that they looked at me, his daughter, have spoken volumes to me. Nothing but pure love has come across to me through his eyes, even when I made him angry. My father's eyes told me that he loved me and that he thought I was beautiful and that he was one of my biggest fans.

This morning while he was lying in his hospital bed, I went close to his face to tell him "good morning" and that I love him. Many times while he's been so ill, his eyes have not been focusing and I couldn't get a good read on how he was doing through his eyes. But this morning, we had a sweet interaction through our eyes and I will remember it forever.

I looked at his eyes and told him I was there and that I liked the morning. He kind of blinked, so I asked him to blink again. He did it, so I smiled and told him I loved him and that it made my heart happy for him to blink for me. He closed his eyes in a deliberate way and kept them closed a second, and then opened them again. I thanked him for doing that for me.

There's an old Amy Grant song called, "Father's Eyes" which talks about the love of our heavenly Father. All of my life, I knew that my earthly father loved me, either by his words or the loving twinkle in his eyes, and he also taught me about the love of God, the Father, throughout my life. I am so thankful that my dad was able to show me his love through his eyes once again when my heart is so broken over having to say good-bye very soon.

Monday, October 3, 2011

2011 Scripture Memory #19

I recently started a Bible study with a group of women from church and we are studying Romans 8. If you need a good dose of gospel truth any day of the week (or hour of the day), read this chapter. It gives me hope and encouragement every time I read it.

I decided to take some verses from Romans 8 to focus on and hopefully get more ingrained in my brain:

"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace." Romans 8:5-6, ESV

I don't know about you, but for me, every battle and struggle that I face begins in my mind. I can't fight these battles on my own (in my flesh), so my only hope is to set my mind on Christ and on His Spirit. That is where I can find victory and life and peace. More, please!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dessert-of-the-Month: September

I made Russell's dessert for the month a couple of weeks ago, but I am squeaking in here at the end of the month to blog about it. It's still September for two more days, though!

Back when we were brainstorming ideas for the year of desserts, Russell made a sweet request for September, in honor of his wonderful wife, since her birthday falls in that month. He knew that her favorite birthday dessert (usually) is a Strawberry Cake that our mom has made for many years. I ended up making the cake for Jeanette's birthday this year, and oddly enough, she didn't ask for that cake (she wanted a caramel cake)! I waited a week or so after Jeanette's birthday, to spread the cake wealth a bit.

Around the same time that I was planning to make the strawberry cake, I saw this post on a friend's blog (she is the one I "borrowed" the whole dessert-of-the-month idea from in the first place, too). As I compared her recipe for strawberry cake with my mom's the cake parts were basically the same, but the icings were different. Also, she recommended making them as cupcakes, which I thought might be a fun idea (and also allowed me to share some of the cupcakes with some friends). I decided to try the strawberry cream cheese icing recipe and used my mom's recipe for the cake part. They turned out yummy, so I hear!

Here's Mom's recipe and you can find the alternate recipes on the other blog:

Strawberry Cake

1 box white cake mix
1 small box strawberry Jello
3 eggs
1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. chopped strawberries.

Mix first 5 ingredients for 5 minutes on medium. Add strawberries. Put in pan(s) and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes (follow directions on cake mix for using different type pans).

For the icing Mom uses:
1 bag confectioners sugar
1 stick margarine
1/2 c. chopped strawberries

Mix together the ingredients, adding more sugar if needed. It is not a thick icing.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thirteen point one!

I know that if you are my friend on Facebook, you already got the news that I finished my first half marathon this weekend and have seen some of these pictures. But I couldn't ignore my blog and wanted to document this very big event in my life!

I'm not going to lie . . . it was not an easy walk for me. About half way through, maybe a little before that, I noticed that my right hip was hurting, and by mile 8 or so, I was stopping every so often to stretch and definitely had to slow my pace by the last couple of miles. And I wanted to cry and quit a couple of times. But, I persevered (thanks to a well-timed text that simply said, "Press on" and to prayers that I know were being lifted up for me).

I was so thankful for my friends and family who were cheering me on along the way, either in person or via text and prayers. Believe me when I say that I could not have done it without you! I especially want to thank Debbie Cox for being the "snack lady" and cheerleader extraordinaire who met us at mile 5 and mile 10 with some nourishment and enthusiasm. Also, a big thank you to my family for being at mile 12, over by Titans' stadium. It was very fun to see them all at the end of Victory Drive, and get some hugs before turning the corner to ascend the hill onto the Gateway Bridge and finish the last mile and a tenth.

I am still wavering in between "next time" and "never again" but I am really glad that I did a half marathon. I now know that I can do it and it feels good!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Favorites: Nashville

I don't know why I haven't thought of posting about this before, but it will be an appropriate topic for today, the day before the NASHVILLE Women's Half Marathon! I went downtown to the convention center to pick up my race packet last night and am so excited for tomorrow morning to get here. Hopefully I will be able to sleep tonight . . .

So, one of the things I'm excited about with this half marathon is that will take me through some of my favorite parts of the city. I have spent a lot of my time in the downtown area, either working at Lifeway or taking Daniel to school at Hume-Fogg. I'm a city girl, so I love getting to go to downtown Nashville often. The half marathon starts and ends downtown at the Country Music Hall of Fame at 4th Avenue and Demonbreun Avenue.

We'll go down by Centennial Park, where the Parthenon is located (or a replica).
And then we'll go over to Belmont Boulevard and go along that street with wonderful old homes and will swing by my alma mater.

Once we pass Belmont, we'll head down Music Row toward the Roundabout and say hello to the famous "naked statue" called "Musica."

Once we get back into the downtown area, we'll head across the Cumberland River and do a loop around LP Field, where the Tennessee Titans play. When I drove over by there the other day to get a feel for the last couple miles of the course, I got excited without any other people around, so I can imagine (and hope) that with all the spectators and race excitement on Saturday, it will help me to stay motivated to go across the Gateway Bridge and finish the last 1.1 miles of the race.

I have now lived in Nashville longer than I lived anyplace else, so even though I still have my East Coast/Yankee roots, I am proud to call this city my home.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The final countdown

It's the week of the Nashville Women's Half Marathon! Race Day is Saturday! That fact brings many different emotions for me and I thought I'd share a couple of ways that you can support me in this endeavor this week:
  1. Pray for me, and for my friends (Ruth, Sondra, Libby, and Tiffanie) who will be walking or running, as well as the many other people involved in this event. Pray for cool temps and no rain on Saturday. Pray for us to get adequate rest this week (I have a busy week and will need to be purposeful about going to bed on time). Pray for us to not be too nervous as the day approaches. Just think about all the ways that anxiety and nerves can manifest themselves and pray that those won't happen.
  2. Cheer for us on Saturday, either from the actual race course, or in your heart at home. I know it's early to be out and about on a Saturday morning, so I don't have high expectations for seeing people along the way, but if you're so inclined, here's a link to the map of the course. We're going to try to be walking a 15-minute mile, so we hope to finish in about three and a half hours (give or take a few minutes). I won't know until I pick up my race packet what time we'll be starting to walk (they'll start us later than the runners), but if you plan to come out, you can touch base with me on Friday and I can give you a better time estimate.
I mostly feel very excited about this adventure and know that there will be so much going on around us on race day that it will keep me motivated and energized. I'm ready to feel what it's like to cross the finish line and put that 13.1 sticker on my car!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 Scripture Memory #18

It's September 18th (and almost the end of the day) and I have known that I needed to write a post about the next scripture memory verse for three days now, but other things have gotten in my way. Also, I can't honestly say that I remember any of the previous 17 verses, much less the five other points of the gospel from camp. So, I feel defeated and like I shouldn't even post about memorizing scripture because I haven't followed through on it very well. How's that for some honesty???

But, because I know in my heart that the reason for even trying to memorize scripture is so that we can grow in our relationship with God, and because I believe that God uses any effort to know the Word more, I will persevere and I will continue to post the verses. If for no other reason than I am NOT willing to let Satan have a victory here, here's the next verse (#6 in the Six Points of the Gospel from Crossings Camp):

"That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,”
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified,
and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."
Romans 10:9-10, NIV

We are called to trust Jesus as Lord of our lives.

I vividly remember hearing Carolyn Jenkins say these verses at a youth event when I was helping with the youth group at First Baptist Church, Nashville, during college. I had already personally made this confession of Jesus as Lord, but the simplicity of the gospel in those verses stayed with me and give a good word picture to help us remember. And tonight, I am thankful to have this reminder that Jesus is Lord and I will continue to trust Him as Lord of my life.

Monday, September 12, 2011

An old favorite


Over Labor Day weekend, some friends posted on Facebook about a Walton's marathon on television, so I searched through our channels until I found it. It brought back memories of when my family would watch the show when I was growing up and I got caught up in watching several episodes that day. In fact, I also figured out that episodes are shown every weeknight, so I've been getting a "Walton's fix" all week!

Tonight, I was watching one episode while I ate supper after I came back from my walk. I really needed to take a shower, so I looked at the clock and decided to try and get a quick one before the next episode started. As I was drying off, I had to laugh, because I remembered another little tidbit about when we used to watch The Walton's on Thursday nights.

My sister and I would play outside as long as possible in the spring and summer and then would have to rush to get our showers before we could watch TV that night. The ante was upped when we got a bean bag chair (notice I only mentioned one chair). The deal became that whichever one of us girls got finished with our shower first, she could sit in the bean bag chair. I can remember my dad calling up the stairs to tell us that the show was starting and one of us would inevitably still be in the shower. Also, I'm pretty sure my sister was able to take a faster shower than I did most nights (and get to sit in the bean bag chair) because she didn't use soap! Or maybe she was just smaller and it didn't take her as long to soap up and rinse off. Either way, we'd end up in the den together, watching The Walton's.

Good night, John Boy!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering and Believing

Remembering about where I was on 9-11-01 when I first began hearing the news of the attacks:  In the car on the way to my part-time job in Adult Events at Lifeway Christian Resources.

Remembering how I felt throughout that day:  Sickened by the images and the realization of what had taken place, fear of the unknown of what was happening to our country, sadness for those who lost their lives and for those who lost loved ones, protectiveness for my first-grader, gratefulness for the first responders who did what they were called to do to help.

Remembering the places that were familiar to me and remembering the people in my circle of influence who were affected:  The World Trade Center buildings were places I had visited and viewed from across the Hudson River, and there were at least two guys from my hometown who were among those who lost their lives that day. I had not visited the Pentagon or been to the place in Pennsylvania where the other plane crashed, however, the fact that they were on my home country's soil made them part of my history.

Remembering that there are people today who put their lives on the line to help others, either as firefighters or police officers or emergency medical responders. I am thankful for their service to their communities and for the commitment and sacrifices they make each day.

Remembering that for ten years, our country has been sending troops overseas to fight the war on terrorism. There are people serving today, like my cousin, who were still children and teenagers back in 2001, yet are willing to go and serve our country because they understand the importance of the freedoms we have here and want to protect those freedoms for us and for generations to come.

Believing that God was still in control, even when things were chaotic.

Believing that God heard our prayers and was still with us in the midst of the tragedy.

Believing that time would still continue to move forward and that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

On the night of 9-11-01, after spending the day in front of the television and the evening with my family and with fellow parents at a PTO meeting, I was winding down and trying to calm my mind before sleep. I was working through the Bible study, Breaking Free, by Beth Moore, and one of the focal passages in that study is from Isaiah 61:1-4:
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations."
These verses gave me comfort that night ten years ago and I pray that they would continue to give comfort to all of us as we remember and believe.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

World Trade Center (1973-2001)

I asked my father, DeLane Ryals, if I could share an excerpt from an essay he wrote in the days following the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I appreciated the history he gave, as well as his memories of living across the Hudson River from those buildings for many years.

When I came to New York in 1962, the World Trade Center was but an ugly rumor on the drawing boards.  The Village Voice opposed the “urban removal” that would disperse an electronics trading district to clear a corner of lower Manhattan for the WTC.
The next time I noticed, The WTC was a hole in the ground.  Some skeptics wondered whether its tall buildings would fall into New York Harbor from the sheer weight of the new structures.  “No,” engineers assured us, “Manhattan is a slab of stone.  As much weight of soil and stone would be excavated as the weight of the superstructures to be raised on the site.”

In the early 1970s I was living in central NJ and watching the Twin Towers rise across the Hudson.  Curiosity got the best of me, and one weekday morning I walked onto the construction site.  Talk about our “open society”, I boarded an elevator; no one stopped me or questioned the legitimacy of my being there.  A lift delivered me to a sky-lobby about 50 stories up, where passengers would transfer to other elevators rising to the 110th floor(except the 110th floor did not exist).  The towers were constructed simultaneously, but one tower was taller, sooner, so it was possible during construction to look down on the shorter of the two taller.  On completion, Tower One (north) rose to 1368 feet while Tower Two reached 1362 feet.
Beneath the WTC was a terminal for PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) trains from NJ.  This became a commuting route between my house in NJ and my office on Manhattan’s West Side.  A lasting impression of the WTC was of rush hour, as thousands of commuters emerged from the PATH trains and ran up the dozen escalators to jobs and appointments in the Center and the Wall Street financial district.

The garage of the North Tower was bombed on February 26, 1993. The toll: 6 persons died; more than a thousand were injured.  That catastrophe was a dress rehearsal for the terror and devastation wreaked upon the WTC on September 11, 2001.
A young man who had grown up on our block in Glen Ridge, NJ, was killed that day.  Missing were countless sons and daughters, parents, friends and neighbors.  Some of them woke up in New York, Connecticut, or New Jersey and made their way to work in the WTC on that Tuesday morning.  Others caught flights at Boston’s Logan Airport, anticipating about 6 hours of flying time to California. But hatred boarded those flights in the person of those who commandeered the airliners and rammed them into the WTC, while their co-conspirators attacked the Pentagon and Somerset, PA.

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

No condemnation

I love it when God "layers" lessons for me. This happens pretty often and I still am amazed at how purposeful God is in how he teaches and guides me. I'm so thankful that He does it in a loving and gentle way.

One example of this happened on Sunday. I go to the worship service during the first hour and the sermon was on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). I went to my Sunday School class after worship and what do you think the teacher said that the lesson was on that day? You guessed it:  The Prodigal Son from Luke 15. It was so cool to have the background of the sermon so fresh in our minds and the teacher did a great job leading the discussion to build on the whole experience of the morning.

One theme that came out was the truth that in the parable, and in our lives with God, the Father, when we have trusted Jesus as our Savior (are "in Christ"), there is no longer any condemnation for sin. If you know the story from Luke 15, you remember that the father in the parable never had condemnation for his son, but instead showed him abundant grace and compassion. Our teacher even read Romans 12:1-2:
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death."
As a Christian, if you really stop and think about those verses and the truth of them, you can't help but have gratitude and appreciation for God's gift of grace. That means that the only ones left doing the condemning are Satan and ourselves (to ourselves and to others).

I was reminded of these verses from Romans again in my Jesus Calling devotion:
"Enjoy the warmth of My Presence shining upon you. Feel your face tingle as you bask in My Love-Light. I delight in you more than you can imagine. I approve of you continuously, for I see you cloaked in My Light, arrayed in My righteousness. There is no condemnation for those who are clothed in Me!" (p. 262)
And if that wasn't enough, God gave me one more layer through another blog/devotion that I read called "Encouragement for Today." I love how God does that! And I'm pretty sure He'll keep doing it, since He knows me better than I know myself and knows that I need the reinforced lessons. He's good that way (among many!).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Learning to ride shotgun

As a parent these days, I am having to learn to ride in the passenger seat (literally and figuratively). Here are some lessons I'm learning, some requiring repetition:
  • The car only has one gas pedal and brake pedal and they're not on the passenger side of the floorboard. I honestly don't think that I've put my foot on the phantom pedals more than maybe one time, but each time we've been in the car when Daniel is driving, I am getting a lesson in letting go of the controls . . . and that's not easy!
  • My role is increasingly becoming that of a coach and advisor, and it works better if I wait until my advice is asked for before giving it.
  • I have become a real, live, in-car GPS and I don't speak in a British accent.
  • Some people's depth perception is different than other's (I'm just sayin').
  • Other drivers in this town (OK, on any road we've been on) are just plain crazy! I'm definitely more afraid of our safety on the roads because of what other drivers will do more than I am afraid of Daniel's driving abilities.
  • There is going to come a day, very soon, when my son is driving solo (sans parent in the car). That's going to be a hard day for me in some ways, but mostly, I am looking forward to it. He will be ready and will be safe driver. I just hope we go many years before he has to tell me about blue lights coming up behind him or has to call and tell me, "Mom, the important thing is that I'm not hurt."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sister Birthday Wishes

Happy Birthday, dear Sister!!

I love you and your sweet babies!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Memories

Happy Labor Day! I have always loved this holiday, even though I don't think I really understood until I was grown up what the history of it is and that it wasn't originally about cook-outs and getting one last hurrah in before the summer ended.

But for me, Labor Day weekend has always been a time of getting together with friends and family and I have lots of happy memories connected to this holiday.

For one thing, my sister's birthday has always come near or on Labor Day, making it an even more perfect reason to have a celebration. Also, when we were growing up in New Jersey, we didn't start school until the Tuesday after Labor Day, so our family would often go to my grandparent's house in Maryland for the long weekend.

Part of the Labor Day weekends spent in Maryland included our immediate family going on an overnight camping trip to "The Ranch" (a rustic campground owned by two or three couples) with several other families from my mom's home church. Many of these friends were long-time friends of my parents and my mom's family and the event had evolved into a huge camp-out with at least two huge tents, as well as some campers. The adults would sit around and play games and tell stories while the kids ran around playing in the creek and having fun being together. I remember going frog hunting there and having frog legs with our campfire breakfast (tastes like chicken). I also remember getting up in the middle of the night to go to the outhouse (waiting until someone else also had to go, so I didn't have to walk out in the dark woods by myself). I don't remember how many years we went there on the Sunday night and Monday of Labor Day weekend, but those were fond memories.

After I got married, we started meeting up with our friends, Leanne and Doug, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, over Labor Day weekend (half-way point between where they lived in TX and our home in TN). We would rent a condo and meet there on Friday night (late, since it was a six-hour drive). On Saturday, the guys would usually be parked in front of the TV so they could watch all of the college football games and Leanne and I would find things to do like shopping, scrapbooking, and non-stop conversations. We'd go out to eat in Hot Springs for dinner on Saturday, but also enjoyed making meals in the condo. One year, Leanne and I went to experience the historic bath house in Hot Springs, kind of like a spa. It was always a weekend that we looked forward to each year and was a tradition for us for several years in a row (Jeanette and Russell even got to join us one year, and I think we also brought Daniel with us one time, too).

Daniel and I, along with my parents and sister and brother-in-law also spent some Labor Day weekends in Hot Springs with my Uncle Bud and Aunt Vickie (and cousins) and got to have some time on the lake in their boat. Two memorable things from those visits were me trying to get up on a jet ski after falling off (no pictures, thank the Lord) and the time my cousin was driving the boat and sent Daniel and me airborne. We were in some kind of tube thing being towed behind the boat and my cousin would drive fast and then make a quick turn, causing the tube to go flying. Sometimes we'd be able to hang on, but this one particular time, we hit a wave and it tossed me and Daniel up into the air and sent us sailing several feet out into the lake. When I got finished flipping over in the water and came up for air, I realized that my face was hurting. I thought I'd fallen on top of Daniel, but when I looked around, he was a few feet away. We swam back to the boat and climbed up and Daniel said, "Cool! Let's do that again!" I had some different sentiments and only wanted to get back to the dock. The next morning I had a black eye and all we could figure was that the impact of my face hitting the water was what did it. Fun times!

I know that Labor Day weekend traditionally is the end of summer and that is sad for some people. For me, though, I see it as the early beginnings of Fall, which is my favorite season. So bring on the changing leaves, pumpkins and cooler temps. I'm ready for Fall!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Putting one foot in front of the other

This could be subtitled:  "Why I Am Choosing to Walk a Half Marathon"

If you asked me that question on about mile 8 or 9 of a training walk, I'd probably be wondering the answer to that myself. But once I finish the walk and get some nourishment and some cool air blowing on my face, I can give a better answer.

Back in 2001, I think it was, I witnessed my first marathon in person as a volunteer at a water station for the Country Music Marathon. I was completely caught up in the excitement and awe of watching the runners, walkers and wheel-chair racers. At that time I didn't consider it a possibility for myself to complete a race like that, but it was inspiring nonetheless.

A few years later, after volunteering at other marathons and walking a 5K or two, the Country Music Marathon added a half marathon (only 13.1 miles) and more people I knew began to participate. The thought crossed my mind that I might consider doing it myself, but I still wasn't ready to commit the time or money.

Fast-forward to 2011. A friend from church was running the CMM half and I organized a few people to go cheer her on (we missed seeing her, which was a bummer). Being back along the course cheering the racers reminded me of the excitement that surrounds a marathon, and I started thinking more seriously about how I might want to do it someday. The clincher came when the friends I was with (and watching) started all talking about signing up for the Nashville Women's Half Marathon later in the year. Some of the proceeds from that race go to charity, which made it more appealing to me, and there aren't as many people involved as the CMM.

Well, it's now later in the year and I am three weeks away from walking my first half marathon! I have learned a lot during the training process, both practically-speaking and personally about myself.
  1. I had to get to the point where walking a half marathon was something that I wanted to do for myself, to see if I could do it. I had to want to do this bad enough to pay the money and commit to the training.
  2. I have had some fear and anxiety during this process, mainly before I would walk the distances that I had never done before. God has helped me through each of those times and has given me tools (scripture, music and sermons/teaching on my ipod, prayer) to get me through it.
  3. I have discovered that I need short goals to go for as I reach for bigger ones. For example, when I walked my first 10-mile training walk, my route took me from my house to Target and back. When I crested a hill and saw the Target sign, it got me motivated to go all the way to the sign. Then when I turned around, I knew I could get back to the Shell station, and then from there it was just three more miles. I actually said to myself, "I can do this!"
  4. I am more motivated and have more fun when I can walk with someone else, although for most of my training walks, I've been by myself. I look forward to the race day when there will be LOTS of people around me!
  5. I have surprised myself with my perseverence and determination. There have been times when I wanted to quit, but something kept me going and I was so glad!
  6. Hydration and nutrition are ESSENTIAL on long walks. On one of early longer walks, I didn't bring enough water and had not learned the trick of brining a snack, so I wasn't doing so great at the end of that walk!
  7. Good shoes and socks are also a must! I have done some minor damage to my feet by walking in sub-par shoes (they might be fine for shorter walks, but don't "go the distance"). Some of the wear and tear on your feet is unavoidable, but I am looking forward to a good pedicure after this is all over!
  8. I have needed help from others who have done this before and who know more about training than I do (did). I have been able to get through my subsequent longer training walks because I have taken advice from others and have worn the right socks, slathered my feet in vaseline and brought adequate water and snacks. It makes a WORLD of difference and if I hadn't asked for tips, I'd still be back at mile seven!
  9. I am going to need some cheerleaders along the way. Like I said, I've been doing a lot of the training on my own and have done fine, but I will welcome friends to come to different points along the course on race day (Sept. 24) and cheer us on. And at the finish line too!
  10. This is a BIG deal to me. Once I bit the bullet and paid my money, it became real and I was in for the long haul. So getting to the finish line is going to be a big accomplishment in my mind and I can't wait to see what that feels like. And I really want one of those "13.2" stickers for my car!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

2011 Scripture Memory #17

Happy September! I always like this month of the year and am personally glad to see August behind us once again. Bring on the cooler temps! Come on, Fall, we're ready for you!

OK, now that I've gotten that out of my system, here's the verse I'm highlighting this month. It's the fifth verse from the Six Points of the Gospel from Crossings Camp this summer.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast."
Ephesians 2:8-9

Salvation is a free gift by grace.

By grace, through faith. That's such a wonderful truth to ponder any day of the week, every month of the year! Let that sink in a little bit.

And I know that I need a reminder daily that this free gift is nothing of my own doing, so I can just put my pride and boasting away. I'm so thankful that my salvation isn't dependent on my own ability to be good and righteous, because that's just impossible! Thank you, Jesus, for doing for me what I could not do for myself!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Favorites: Mornings

I know that many people will think I'm weird for saying this, but I love mornings! I'm a "morning person" so I wake up in a good mood (sometimes I have to quickly refocus my mind if I wake up anxious). I have energy and am most productive and creative in the morning/daytime hours. It's just how I'm wired. Don't hate me!

I love mornings because of the promise of a fresh start, new mercies (Lam. 3:22-23), yesterday is gone. I love the quiet of morning (because all the "night owls" are sleeping in) and the sweet times I have with the Lord and His Word.

I love morning walks and the coolness of the day and getting to see sunrises (the one below was taken on my walk a couple of weeks ago). I also love sunrises at the beach (second picture) and how the sun blushes through the clouds and brings light after the dark night.

I also love mornings because of breakfast. It could easily be my favorite meal of the day and I don't mind eating breakfast foods for dinner. Some of my favorite breakfasts are ones my mom makes:  poached egg on toast (she knows how to cook it exactly how I like it), pancakes made from scratch, waffles. Yum!

I think another reason I love mornings is because mornings were always family time for us when we were growing up. My dad often had meetings or work that kept him out later in the evenings, so breakfast was a time when we would all be together and would sit down together to start the day. My parents led in daily Bible readings and we read the names of missionaries with birthdays that day and then we'd pray together. I know that the way our family started each day made an impact on how the rest of the day went for us and it helped me to establish my own morning devotion time once I was at college.

One more note, I don't judge others for being not as chipper as I am in the mornings. I can respect the need for a slow wake-up process and the need for caffeine. We're all different. But I do recommend that if you've never been up to see a sunrise, put it on your "bucket list", set your alarm and grab a cup of coffee early one morning (hint: if you wait til later in the year, the sun rises later). You'll be glad you did and you can thank me later!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Happy Birthday to Erica!

We've been celebrating all weekend, but TODAY is the day that Erica is THREE! I love being an aunt to Erica and Mary Lane! It's fun to celebrate birthdays and to spend time with them throughtout the year. I look forward to getting to do some new things with Erica now that she's a little older.

Enjoy this fun little slideshow (more pics are on Facebook).

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

For His Grandma . . .

. . . and Aunt Jeanette, and anyone else who wanted to see Daniel's picture from the first day of school last week. He willingly let me take the traditional picture on the front steps, but I didn't want to "push it" by posting it on Facebook. But since Grandma asked nicely, here it is!

Junior Year!

By the way, click here to see how he looked on his first day of Kindergarten. And you can guarantee that there will be a grand finale next year!

Monday, August 15, 2011

2011 Scripture Memory #16

The verse I'm focusing on this time is the fourth verse/statement in the "Six Points of the Gospel" from Crossings Camp:

"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
John 14:6

Jesus is the only way to salvation.

There has never been any doubt about this in my mind, mainly because I have been taught about Jesus since I was a baby. But I know that there are many people in the world, and in my city, who don't know or believe this truth about Jesus. This month I've been praying specifically for Muslims around the world, who are participating in Ramadan. I pray that God would reveal Himself to them in such a way that they would believe that Jesus is the only way and that they can find true peace and joy and forgiveness in Him.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Blonde moments

Disclaimer: My apologies to people who will read this who have naturally blonde hair. I'm just going with the stereotype here, not picking on specific blondes, most of whom are very smart and not scatter-brained. :-)

Author/speaker, Beth Moore, has used the line, "I was acting blonder than I paid to be" and there have been a couple of instances this weekend that made me able to relate and identify with that statement. Another way to put it is that I've had some "duh" moments this weekend, and I just thought I'd allow others to have the chance to laugh with me.

First, this week I got some new running shoes (to use for walking) and some orthotic inserts. The guy at the store suggested that I alternate between the orthotics and the standard inserts that come with the shoes for a few days to let my feet get used to the differences. So on Friday I wore my shoes with the standard inserts, and then on Saturday before I walk, I replaced them with the orthotics. I walked 7.5 miles and my right foot was giving me problems pretty much the whole way. I was ready to take the shoes and orthotics back to the store and try to find out what was wrong. Well, this morning, I happened to notice that there was only one of the standard inserts on the shelf where I'd put "them" and it dawned on me that I had put the orthotic on top of the standard insert in my right shoe. Duh! No wonder my foot was sore and crowded! I'm so glad I didn't go back to the store and make a fool of myself there!

Secondly, it's school supply time and I had planned to go take advantage of the "fill a bag for 20% off" sale at OfficeMax. So today I took my bag (and even had to go back to the car and get it after I got inside the store), and put all the binders, paper, index cards, etc., in it--pretty much filled that baby up! I got to the check-out counter and put my bag up on the desk and the salesgirl looked at me and said, "Um, did you just want to keep that bag?" I didn't understand why she was saying that, so I told her that I was wanting the discount on everything in the bag, like it said right there on the bag. She said, "Well, that expired yesterday." Duh! Of course it did! I still bought all of the stuff, but I could have saved $13 if I had been paying more attention.

Maybe I better think twice about getting any more blonde highlights in my hair. I think maybe the chemicals are seeping into my brain!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Belmont College, Alma Mater . . .

Twenty-five years ago this month, I moved to Nashville as a freshman at Belmont College. The college hymn back then began with the words, "Belmont College, Alma Mater, proudly we proclaim." Today as we walked around the campus with Daniel on his first official college university visit, I felt that Belmont pride welling up inside me. I had fun giving Daniel a running "backstage" commentary as we went on the tour (and he's probably very glad that I won't be able to do that at every school we visit during his college search process).

Yes, things have changed at the old alma mater and there are many new buildings that weren't there when I was a student (I think my old dorm is now a men's dorm). And the cost per year . . . let's not even talk about it! But what hasn't changed is the sense of community and the commitment to helping students reach for their dreams.

I listened to the presentation during the School of Music Q&A session and remembered hearing my friends talk about taking required piano lessons and music theory classes and singing with the Belmont Chorale. Back when I was a freshman and was meeting other new students, one of the common questions to ask was, "What's your major?" Nine times out of ten, the answer was "Music" or "Music Business." For a Communication Arts major like me, I was definitely in the minority and felt like I was surrounded by talented people who were planning to "make it big" in the music business.

I know that Daniel's experience (if he winds up attending Belmont) will be different and unique, and I don't want him to feel like he is "required" to go there just because his parents did. But now that I have a kid who is dreaming about making it in the music business, it's interesting to see it all from a new perspective. And I can't wait to see how it all turns out!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dessert-of-the-Month: August

For my brother-in-law's August Dessert-of-the-Month, Russell had chosen coconut cake. Even though I'm not a fan of anything coconut, I knew that I had a recipe that would be perfect to use:  Granny's Luscious Coconut Cake. Daniel's great-grandmother used to make this for many family holiday get-togethers and it was always raved about by those who ate it.

Also, since my sister and brother-in-law were celebrating their 9th wedding anniversary last week, I thought it would be fun to let them have a "cake date" at my house one evening while we went to stay with their girls. It worked out for them to have the date on their actual anniversary night and it was fun to set the table with china and some of their wedding photos to make it more festive for the occasion.

In case you're interested, here's the recipe for Granny's Luscious Coconut Cake, as printed in the Bellevue Baptist Church (Owensboro, KY) Cookbook from 1998:

1 pkg. butter cake mix
1 c. sugar
1 (8 oz.) carton sour cream
2 (6 oz.) pkgs. frozen coconut, thawed (I actually used bagged coconut from the baking aisle)
1 (9 oz.) carton whipped topping

Prepare cake mix according to directions, making two 8-inch layers. When cool, split both layers. Combine sugar, sour cream, coconut and whipped topping. Spread between layers, sides and top. Seal cake in airtight container and refrigerate 3 days before serving (I only made it one day ahead and it was fine).

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday Favorites: Summer Salads

One of my favorite things about summer is getting to eat cool, fresh, yummy salads. I usually start with a bag of mixed greens and then build it from there. I honestly have never thought that my salads were anything special, but I often get comments about what a pretty salad I've made, or how delicious it looks. Well, I appreciate the compliments, but really, for me, it's gotta be easy or it doesn't get done in my kitchen (or in the other kitchen I frequent at work).

This salad is Tex-Mex, made with a bean salad that I love to make in the summertime (because it's easy and tasty). I put a pile of greens on the plate, add a half cup (or sometimes more) of the bean salad, grape tomatoes (another staple of a lot of my salads), and guacamole (usually storebought). I sometimes add shredded cheddar, too. It's good to have some tortilla chips on the side, because at the end, you need something to help you get the rest of the bean salad that is still on the plate. Yum!

You're just going to have to ignore the fact that this photo is turned the wrong way and try to focus on my culinary creativity (haha!).

This salad starts with mixed greens and the other ingredients are a *sliced mango (as much as you can slice a mango when all the juices are running down your arm), a pouch of salmon (like canned, but you don't have to drain it), and some goat cheese. I usually spritz this with some vinegarette dressing, but really, the juice of the mango does provide enough moisture to act as dressing. I love the mesh of flavors of the fruit, fish and cheese. And it makes me feel so "Food Network-y"!

I have also made variations of the above salad using tuna and a nectarine and feta cheese, and it is good, too. I think the key is that you just find ingredients that you like and experiment with what tastes good to you. Summer is a great time to have salads, since the ingredients are readily available, but really, these salads can be done any time of the year.

If you have any favorite salad combinations, I'd love to hear your ideas. Happy Friday!

Red and Black Bean Salad

1 can black beans
1 can red beans
1 can Fiesta Corn (has peppers added)
3 T. red wine vinegar
3 T. olive oil
1 t. cumin
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper

Drain the beans and corn and place in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix vinegar, oil and spices. Pour over the bean/corn mixture and stir to coat. Can be served immediately, or refrigerate until ready to serve. This recipe is easily doubled and is also great as a filling for tacos/burritos or with chips as a heavy dip.

*I discovered a handy kitchen gadget that helps to get the pit out of a mango. It doesn't make the slices, but does make it easier to get as much of the mango fruit to then cut up and use in a recipe. The gadget costs about $12 and I've found them at several places that sell kitchen items, even Kroger.