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We got back very late Sunday night from a delightful Thanksgiving spent with family in Kansas. It was an adventure that involved a ticket (me) and buying a new-to-us car (Mr. Official.) Yeah, we really bought a car en route from Kansas to Tennessee. We don’t just take the road less traveled, we blaze a trail where no one else would ever think of going.

As soon as we pulled in the driveway, Swimmer Girl threw her bags in her Jeep, gave me a quick hug and a promise to call when she got back to school, and off she went. We unloaded luggage, shoved two HUGE grocery bags filled with frozen green chilies in my already stuffed deep freeze, and laid down our weary heads. My eyes didn’t close until I got a call from Swimmer Girl that assured me she had made it over Monteagle Mountain in the dead of a cold, rainy night and was safely ensconced in her warm dorm suite. (And you think a colicky baby can keep you awake.)

As I waited for her call, I mentally planned out my Monday: pick up the dogs from the kennel, get caught up on laundry (blissfully light thanks to doing a few loads courtesy of my mom’s washer and dryer before we returned home); plan dinner, call to schedule a plumber at our old house and a visit from the heat and air guys out here; and try to squeeze in a workout this evening.

The thought of that overstuffed and very frosty freezer kept nagging at me, and I knew before I dived into the holidays, I really needed to dethaw it (a perfectly acceptable term in Southern parlance). And the freezer in the kitchen was a frozen mess of this-n-that, too. It was high time to pull everything out, toss the frostbitten stuff, take a serious inventory and organize the contents of both freezers.

At first I told myself I would wait for a “good” time to tackle this thankless task. I looked at the extended forecast, hoping against hope a really cold day was on tap for this week, which does make it easier to keep the contents cold while I defrost the big freezer. No such luck. And honestly, do you ever find a GOOD time to defrost and clean out your freezer? Yeah, me either. So today’s overcast and cool day was as good as any other.

I didn’t get pictures of the messy “before” but here’s the afters…because it’s good to gloat I mean inspire others. One of these days, I’ll make good on my thread to hit the Container Store and get proper freezer bins. But for now…IMG_4549
IMG_4550
my herbs and bread baking supplies are reunited and handy.

IMG_4551
IMG_4552and I have a pretty good idea how much chicken and fish I need to use up sooner than later.

Out in the deep freezer, things improved as well.
IMG_4553
My baking chips, nuts and dried fruit get top billing (yes, I really have an entire bin full of baking chips and another full of nuts and fruit) and all the cuts of pork and beef and cheese are handy.

IMG_4555I can even send Middle Son out to fetch frozen vegetables without sketching a diagram to follow.

IMG_4554My containers of homemade broth and those gotta-have quick-fix foods are fairly accessible (and you don’t need an ice pick to dislodge them.)

Defrosting a freezer, or even just organizing all those frozen foods is never a fun or fast job, but I’m pretty sure my efforts will reduce our grocery bills over the next several weeks as I use up items I had forgotten I had. And it will be much more pleasant to dive into either freezer and pull out whatever item I happen to need. Time to let the cooking and baking frenzy begin, starting with some bolognese sauce and spaghetti tonight.

Happy Monday,
Terry

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I will go on record saying that I positively, absolutely, 100% ADORE Thanksgiving.

It is my favorite holiday for several reasons, namely because the retailers have never figured out how to commercialize it, and because we travel to my parents for the holiday, so my mom orchestrates the culinary extravaganza, and I simply work under her direction. This year, I managed to drag a croupy cough and cold along with me, so I steered clear of food prep and volunteered for more dish duty than usual. Her efforts yielded a fantastic Thanksgiving feast, and many delicious meals before and after, most notably an Apple Pancake I’m going to post this week.

We traveled home yesterday, and as is our custom, the driver gets to choose the radio station.  Me?  I break out the holiday songs.  I’m always surprised that “Spirit of Christmas” doesn’t get more (any?) airplay, even though it was featured in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  Here’s it is if you need a memory jog.

Now that another Thanksgiving is in the books, it’s time to set my sights on Christmas.  As usual, I feel I’m starting out at a disadvantage. Unlike my friends who put up their tree last weekend, and those super-organized women who already have their cards addressed, I feel like I should be scrambling to get “caught up.”   I am a conscientious objector to the bedlam we call “Black Friday,” but I did manage to buy a few gifts over the weekend. But I am not among the warriors who declare their shopping complete.

But after some consideration, I think I’m going to take things a bit slower this year – after all, we have an “extra” week because of the early Thanksgiving. This week I’ll get the trees out, buy the cards, and select my Christmas cookie and candy recipes (some new, some old.)  We’ll get the holiday lights up soon…although not on the level of Clark Griswold.

During the upcoming weeks, I’ll post my progress and the holiday recipes that make the cut.  So let’s stay calm and head for Christmas at a leisurely pace. And I hope you do the same.

Happy Monday,
Terry

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Black Friday? Bah, humbug!

I guess I led a sheltered childhood.  Living in a rural, remote area in Colorado, we were 80 miles from the nearest mall.  So all the hoopla about “Black Friday” never really made its way onto my family’s radar screen.

When we were still newlyweds, I worked as a secretary for a small chain of bed-and-bath stores while Mr. Official finished up his degree.  I remember being surprised and dismayed to hear that I would not enjoy a long holiday weekend with my in-laws, but instead we would have to return to Knoxville on Thanksgiving night so I could be at work bright and early on Friday morning.  My introduction to Black Friday was a shock to my sensibilities, to say the least.  And maybe that’s why I feel the way I do about this dark day.

To be blunt, I resent the demands it places on retail employees, even more so now that stores are opening on Thanksgiving day or at midnight.  Those employees are giving up their holiday for you, Black Friday shoppers.

And I question the hype and hysteria retailers have created among the rest of us, although arguably, no one has to buy into this madness.  Shoppers are giving up family time, too – and in exchange for what?  To rush around trying to outwit, out-maneuver, or simply out-push the throng of other avaricious bargain hunters?

It is not our finest hour as mankind.   (Maybe calling it “Black Friday” is appropriate after all.)

If you came away from Black Friday patting yourself on the back for the deals you snagged, even after factoring in the stressful hours you stood in line or jostled for a parking spot, I hope you’ll consider how many employees were present in each store you visited and the hours they gave up with family just so you could shop on Thanksgiving or some dreadful hour on Friday.

It is my hope that we can step back and ask ourselves if this frenzy really makes sense, or if there’s a saner alternative – like having the stores open at their regular time- or even opening late – on Friday.

*Employees could enjoy the entire Thanksgiving day and evening with their families.
*The sales and deals would be exactly the same.
*The crowd would be exactly the same – if you’re a Black Friday shopper, you’ll be there when the doors open, whether it’s midnight or noon.

As with my feelings toward a Sunday day of rest, I’m not advocating any laws or government interference with private companies – they should be able to open their doors when they choose.

But as consumers, we can vote with our wallets and feet. Let’s sustain and reward small businesses with our purchases – and not just on Black Friday.  If enough people refused to patronize the stores during these ungodly hours, they would return to a more sensible opening hour – they are in the business of making money, and they won’t do something if it isn’t profitable.

As for me, I’ll leave the ruthless bargain-hunting, parking space fights and crowded stores to those who are willing to put themselves through the ordeal.  And I extend my sympathies to the retail employees who are forced to participate in order to have their jobs.

Happy (?) shopping,

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“Thanksgiving” by Norman Rockwell

I wrapped up my Thankful Thursdays series last week.  I’ll let you decide if it was intentional or a miscalculation.  (Before you decide, remember I do hold degrees in accounting and finance.  On the other hand, I’d rather balance a buzzing chainsaw than our checkbook.)

Anyhoo.


The six-week countdown was a good reminder of just how much of my life falls under the blanket heading of “blessings.”  But they are/were pretty general in nature, and occasionally I suspect God likes to hear some specific thank-you’s from me.  So here’s just the tip of the iceberg of detailed things I’m grateful for, from A to Z. Some of these are more profound than others, but really – shouldn’t we be grateful for everything we have been given, whether it’s inconsequential or completely essential to our life?

A is for Anthony Shea.  Oldest son, owner of Sadie, my beloved grandpuppy.  He was our parenting guinea pig, and seems to have survived his childhood with a fairly well-adjusted outlook on life, and has become a confident, fun and capable young man.

B is for books.  Starting with the Bible and winding my way through cookbooks, Dr. Seuss, my beloved literary giants, even frothy fiction on the beach.  Books are one of life’s greatest and simplest pleasures.  The smell of bookstores and books, new or old, the way the spine creaks when you open a book for the first time.  And the way a well-crafted story draws you into it, and makes you feel and think differently when you’ve finished reading it.

C is for chocolate.  It is and will always be my favorite flavor in the whole wide world.  Creamy milk or smooth and dark – it’s all good.

D is for David Brice.  Younger son, and the child everyone would vote as most like his mama in so many ways.  He too somehow survived his “wonder years” under our parentage and has a way of looking at things that is uniquely his own.  Life with Brice will never, ever be dull.

E is for Eden:  my birth family.  My grandparents, aunts, uncles and my parents and brother all bear this name and they surround me with love, and I love ’em back.  Without them, I wouldn’t be!

F is for football.  It took me a long time to be able to say I love the game, but recently on a trip home (after another frustrating defeat), the car was filled with football talk about the game and upcoming high school matchups that would lead up to the state final championship. And I realized I was in my element.

G is for gardening.  There is something about watching seeds become seedlings and the smell of fresh-turned dirt in the spring that brings me in tune with the One who created me and everything I see when I’m down on hands and knees, tending to things of this earth.

H is for Highland Heights Church of Christ. My spiritual family.  May God bless every one of my brothers and sisters.  It’s not about the place, it’s about the people and the faith and hope we share.

I is for ice cream.  Homemade is best.  A hot fudge sundae can cure almost anything, and an offer to slip out for some ice cream can make an ordinary evening rather extraordinary.

J is for Jesus.  He is my savior, my king, my teacher, my brother.  Everything I need to know about living in this world, I can learn from His example and teachings.  Without Him, I would have no hope for anything beyond this life.

K is for kisses from the dogs.  Puppy kisses are wet and sloppy and their doggy breath is stinky.  But they love me and  never tire of letting me know they do.  The trust and unconditional love of a dog is a treasured gift.

L is for Lea.  Many years ago, my husband’s family opened their hearts and shared their name with me. My mother-in-law is an amazing and precious woman, my brothers- and sister-in-law are as close as blood.  You don’t marry your spouse’s family, but I think I got a pretty good deal when I married into this one.

M is for marshmallows. Roasted and toasted, or all soft and gooey floating on hot, hot chocolate.  Everyone’s life should include some puffy goodness every now and again.

N is for needlework.  From the time I was a child, the women in my life taught me to use my hands to sew, embroider, crochet and knit.  Admittedly, I am not an artistic person by nature, but with a needle in hand, I can create something useful, soft to touch, and pretty to look at.  I’m grateful to those who taught me, and I’ve enjoyed teaching others.  It’s a pass-along gift from one generation to the next.

O is for the Olympics. For thousands of years, humans have pushed their bodies in order to compete against each other.  Watching Olympic athletes is both inspiring and deluding – they make it look so effortless we sometimes forget how much blood, sweat, pain and tears it took them to reach the place where they are.  But it’s a marvelous tradition that has stood the test of time, and continues to challenge us to be better tomorrow than we are today.

P is for polish.  I have a plethora of polishing and cleaning concoctions.  The smell of furniture polish says the house is clean.  Squeaky shiny mirrors and doors let light sparkle and glow.  The simple act of buffing and polishing something from dull and dirty to a soft sheen or high polish reminds me of how God works to remove my rough edges and and dirty spots.  Not to mention, a fresh coat of polish on my toes can make me happy from head to toe.

Q is for Q-tips.  Pure genius.  So small, so soft, and yet so totally useful. And cheap.  Really.  Just try to imagine life without them and then you’ll be thankful for them, too.

R is for rainy days.  There is something healing and soothing in hearing rain drop to earth.  It’s a cool respite in the middle of summer, a gentle noise that can lull us to sleep.  Naps on a rainy day?  Pure, simple pleasure.

S is for Shelby. Our youngest child and only daughter.  Swimmer girl is a beautiful creature inside and out.  I am humbled by her faith, and awed by her capacity to love and understand others, and her love of God and life. Sooner than I care to think about, she will be ready to strike out on her own, and I can’t wait to see how her life turns out.

T is for Tony.  Aka Mr. Official.  And truly, my better half.  God must have thought a lot of me to put this man in my life.  There’s so much more I could say, but if you know him, you know why I love him with my whole heart.

U is for uniforms, especially those worn by men and women who defend and protect us.  Since ancient times, soldiers have worn clothing that sets them apart from civilians, and I am always proud and humbled when I find myself standing next to a member of our military, whether they are in their dress blues or whites, or fatigues.  They have stepped up to the line and set themselves apart by their actions and their attire, and they have my undying admiration and respect.

V is for vacations. In my life, I’ve been privileged to visit from sea to shining sea and quite a few of the places in between.  The thrill of packing in anticipation of a trip, experiencing new vistas and foods, finding just the right keepsake to bring home, and finally returning to our own beds after some time away gives us memories that last a lifetime, and sometimes a new-found perspective.

W is for water.  It’s not only what we’re largely made of, but it replenishes us when we drink it, invigorates us when we jump in, cleanses and calms children (and adults) before bedtime, and reminds us of God’s power and presence when we see his handiwork in thundering waterfalls, mirror-like lakes and pounding ocean waves.

X is for Xerox and X-rays, and all the other marvels of the technological age we live in, where we can replicate anything at the touch of a button, and peer inside our bodies and see babies growing, pinpoint cancerous tumors to remove, and see broken bones that can be made good as new.  We live in a truly amazing era.  And what we know now simply points out how much more we don’t know.

Y is for yoga.  It is part physical, creating flexibility, strength and balance.  It’s also part mental, soothing and calming with steady breathing and focused attention.  An hour of yoga is an hour well spent.

Z is for the zillions of blessings I haven’t begun to list here.  Try to count your blessings, I dare you. They are infinite and they just keep coming, so keep enjoying the life you have and thank God for the the good things He sends your way.  As Harriet Beecher Stowe so eloquently put it,

“Give this one day to thanks, to joy, to gratitude.”

Today is the big day.  It starts with the Macy’s Day Parade (shout out to Evan O’Neal, who will be marching in it!) and turkey and all the trimmings. I pray for safe travels for all of us going “over the river and through the woods,” and an edifying and peaceful day of giving thanks for all we have.

Happy Thanksgiving,

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Confession: as my blog name bears witness, I am a dilettante:  a dabbler in many things domestic, but flighty, flitty, fun, and even a little flaky.  If you were looking for that super-focused, relentlessly driven to pursue perfection blogger’s blog, you’re in the wrong place.  I can be over-organized one minute, and a disaster-looking-to-happen the next.  I can be crafty some days, but if the project doesn’t get finished while the wind is in my sails, it might stay unfinished for a long time.  Maybe even forever.  I’m more like Tigger than Pooh.  My interests vary widely and my attention span is shorter than I am (and that’s saying something.)

Which may explain why I’m suddenly thinking about Christmas before my best and favorite holiday (Thanksgiving) has come and gone.

I agree with the turkey.  No trees, no red-and-green until next week!

But this isn’t just a case of me jumping the gun, or getting my holidays out of sequence.

Last year, Mr. Official did a 3-day stint in the hospital right before Christmas and it taught me a hard lesson about procrastinating on important aspects of the holidays – like um, shopping for gifts.   This year, we’re headed down to the Florida Keys mid-December, so I’m even more motivated to get my ducks in a row early, even though this early bird stuff makes me feel like a duck out of water.  Yeah, I’m wearing out the hunting metaphors.

So now I’m going to let the cat out of the bag.

Spill the beans.

And give myself a pat on the back.

Because for the first time in a long time (oh, heck, let’s be honest:  first time EVER, maybe????), my Christmas shopping is nearly completed (I have 4 or 5 items left to purchase) and it’s not even Thanksgiving.  I started knocking it out with online purchases several weeks ago, and on Saturday, I declared open season on the outlet malls in Gatlinburg.  Unlike most of the rest of the world, I don’t do Black Friday shopping (for a plethora of reasons), and by the time we return home from our Thanksgiving trip, we’re knee deep into December and I feel I’m way behind before I even start. 

Anyway, the tagged-and-bagged gifts are cooling their jets in the back of my closet, and I can now resume our regular Thanksgiving programming.  In case you’re wondering, my idea of a perfect “Black Friday” is a late, leisurely breakfast and then a few hours of ambling through some local stores and antique malls.  I’ll think warmly of all of you trying to outgun each other from store to store.  As for me, I won’t be enduring crushing crowds or interminable lines to stand in – I might snag a few good bargains or just enjoy browsing.

Starting next Monday, I’ll share my weekly plans and ideas I’m using to save Christmas – and my sanity – in the hopes I can help you keep yours, too.

I adore this season with my whole heart, and I believe we can pull it off with our own individual style, grace and aplomb, without setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves.  Some realistic prioritizing and a little ingenuity can give us the sweet rewards of a joyful low-stress holiday that we actually remember with fondness.

If you haven’t done your Christmas shopping yet, here’s a sanity-saving tip I found helpful this year. I carried along a pack of big, bright Post-it notes and a marker, along with my trusty list of recipients and gift ideas.  As each purchase was completed, I slapped a sticky note with the recipient’s name on the gift receipt (be sure to ask for those if there’s any chance a return is in order), and tucked them both in the bag with the gift.   When we got home, everything was consolidated and everyone has one bag with all their stuff.  I don’t know about you, but we have several family members with similar tastes, styles and sizes; the intended recipient can get a little fuzzy when we start the gift-wrapping frenzy.


Looking for something to get you in the true spirit of the holidays?  I heartily recommend Grisham’s 2001 novel “Skipping Christmas” as a timely read this time of year.

The book is far better than the movie “Christmas with the Kranks”  and it articulates what many of us have felt about the approaching holiday season.  I don’t advocate skipping Christmas, but I do want to enjoy it it the way it was meant to be celebrated, instead of dreading it.  So how do YOU save – and savor – the holidays?

Happy Monday,

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A few weeks ago, I started a weekly countdown of six things I am most thankful for, each of which begin with the letters of the word “THANKS”.   So far, I’ve covered:

Today
Health
Abode
Necessities and niceties
Kith and kin

This week, I am thankful for one final thing I’m thankful for, and that is the…

season
I’m thankful for each of the four seasons that distinctively divide our lives each year, each one segueing gracefully to the next just like clockwork.  But I’m especially grateful for this season, when we can take time to reflect on the blessings we enjoy, and to be grateful for them.

The word itself is ancient, rooted in the idea of having a time of year for sowing, followed by the natural ripening and aging process, which creates sweetness and delicious and complex flavors in foods.  Which is probably why it is also intertwined with a second meaning in modern usage; to flavor food with seasonings.  The onset of the cool months are when we welcome the flavors and aromas of many delicious spices and herbs:  cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom play important roles in desserts and other sweet foods, while thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano and  peppers are indelibly linked to many savory foods we associate with this time of year.

Solomon was a truly wise man, and in Ecclesiastes he gave us timeless words of advice for putting everything in our lives into proper perspective:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted”

This is the season of harvests and thankfulness and graciousness. I wish it lasted all year ’round, but maybe because it only comes once a year, it makes us appreciate it more.

nearby cotton field in late October

‘Tis the season.  Not for giving gifts and decorating trees and cookies – not yet.  But it is the season for welcoming friends and family, and sharing with them the customs, traditions and foods that have been passed down from past generations to us, and from us to our children.

In this and every season, may we all enjoy the day while it is called today, our own measure of health, our abodes, our many material blessings, and the rich blessings of friends and families.

Happy and blessed thanks-giving,
 
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A few weeks ago, I started a weekly countdown of six things I am most thankful for, each of which begin with the letters of the word “THANKS”.   So far, I’ve covered:

Today
Health
Abode
Necessities and niceties

This week, I am once again thankful for two more things.  For one thing, it’s hard to limit myself to just one idea per week, and second, these words always sound good together, (especially when Chevy Chase lisps them, “The most enduring traditions of the season are best enjoyed in the warm embrace of kith and kin. Thith tree is a thymbol of the the thspirit of the Grithwold family Chrithmath.“) Yes, today I’m thankful for …

kith and kin
Or better known in modern English as friends and family.  We choose our friends, but fate has a hand in things, determining our pool of potential acquaintances based on where we live, go to school, work, work out, worship, etc.

We have even less say about who’s in our family:  we’re all born into one, and many of us marry into another.  We get what we get (and they get us, too.)

No matter how we wind up with them, friends and family provide the stuffing that makes our lives full and rich:  love, laughter, tears, even heartache, pain…and the hope of reconciliation.  The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 shows us the enduring and fierce love of family, which is only a mere reflection of God’s love for us, and I especially love imagining the scene where a humbled, broken son returns to find his father was always waiting and watching for him:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him...”
Norman Rockwell never met the Griswolds.

Friends and family can and will disappoint and aggravate us to the breaking point.  But our family members also put up with our quirks  and eccentricities, and they (usually) forgive us of our transgressions.

Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of this particular Christmas movie: it shows the best and worst of holiday togetherness, and in the end, love for family trumps  everything else.

Because no matter what, the bonds of family and friends are the ties that bind us until we are loosed from this earth.

Have you hugged or called a friend or family member today?  Whatcha waiting for?  Only two weeks left before the tryptophan hits and you’ll be too tired to do more than slouch on the couch and dream of pie!

Happy thanks-giving,
 
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