Wednesday, December 26, 2012

For the Love of Baking!

It's hard to believe, but Christmas has come and gone, just like that! All that prep, all the hustle and bustle, and it feels like in the blink of an eye – boom! It's gone!

It's always a chaotic time of year for me, but I thought since I wasn't working outside the home this Christmas, it might be a little easier to manage. I even got a head start on my shopping and thought I'd be totally done and ready at least a week ahead of time. But I wasn't. This year, more than ever, it was pretty stressful.

I won't go into all the gory details of the stress, but I will talk about one of the major causes: my holiday baking. I LOVE to bake, and can't wait until December comes because that's when all caution gets thrown to the wind and the baking begins. But this year, with all the baking I did, there's only ONE thing that actually turned out like I wanted it to. ONE THING! Let me tell you about my baking fiasco.

First, I made kiss cookies. My favorites. Apparently the nuts were stale that I used and put in the batter. So I didn't like the taste of them. Ever tasted a stale walnut? Blech! Then I moved on to the chocolate chip cookies. My friend makes the absolute BEST ones I've ever had, so I asked her for the recipe and she said she follows the Toll house recipe except she uses shortening instead of butter and adds just a little extra flour. So I go ahead and make up the batter, and just when I was placing the cookie batter on the cookie sheet, realized I never used the shortening, I used BUTTER instead! And they didn't turn out like I wanted; I didn't even like them. Blech! Then I made fudge, and as I was cooking it, went looking for my candy thermometer, but couldn't find it. It was nowhere to be found, like so many other kitchen utensils that have somehow joined together and have found a new place to live. So the fudge didn't turn out like I had planned. It tasted ok, but I like it a bit flaky and this was more creamy than flaky. I also made Rice Krispy treats, but I made them for Brooke & Ryan when they came over for our Christmas dinner together. I don't even like Rice Krispy treats. Then I was going to make peanut brittle. I even honey roasted the raw peanuts first. And the brittle came out like glue. If you dared put a piece in your mouth, be prepared for it to suck your teeth right out of your head.

Lastly, I made a cheesecake. I had high hopes for this cheesecake. I've made a gazillion of them. I'm well known for my cheesecake. It's stupendous. Bob calls it “Monster Killer Cheesecake.” It's the real reason he married me. Well, not really, I guess. But then Anyway, I was supposed to bring a cheesecake to Bob's sister's house, which is where we were having our Christmas day dinner. It's tradition. I always bring a cheesecake. After the initial cooking time of 45 minutes, it's supposed to sit out for half an hour, then go back in the oven with a sour cream topping on top at a high temperature for 10 minutes. So when the timer went off telling me it was time to put it back in the oven, I slipped it in and when the 10 minutes were up, went back to take it out and saw the topping STILL SITTING ON THE COUNTER IN A BOWL! AHHHH! Just kill me now! Et tu, CHEESECAKE?? The little evil Christmas elves were working against me, for sure!! Anyway, I took it out, put the topping on, put it back in the oven for 7 minutes, praying the topping would set and the cheesecake would turn out something better than a hard brick that would break your teeth when you bit into it. And guess what? It turned out just fine. It was just a teeny tiny bit drier than it should have been. And Bob said he only noticed because he is the master connoisseur of my cheesecake. Being that he married me because of it and all.

And the one thing that turned out the best? It was the Eggnog muffins with a streusel topping. I made them on Christmas morning. And I think that even the little evil Christmas elves knew I needed a break from the baking disasters, because they turned out delicious. Maybe I will even bake again. Someday.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Girl Time!

I went to a ladies Christmas tea this past weekend; I had been looking forward to it all year long! One of my best friends organizes a tea every year at Christmas for a small group of ladies. Sometimes it's at her beautiful home, and sometimes it's at a tea house. This year we went to Lady Anne's Tea House in Stuart (

The tea isn't just about having tea together; it's a time to fellowship, to eat delicious food, to share presents, and to relax in an atmosphere that is totally filled with Christmas spirit. A time to laugh, share stories, and just catch up. I always come away from this special time together refreshed. I look forward to it every year at this time. We actually already reserved our date for next year at the same place! 

My first bestie, Kathy, 1969
Like I said, it's more about friendship than anything else. You know, I wasn't one of the popular girls during my school years. I was actually the “geeky” one, the one the other kids made fun of. I was painfully shy, pretty smart; had freckles & red hair, wore glasses, and didn't dress in the most stylish of clothing. I wore whatever my mother bought me. I don't have very fond memories of my school days. To say I didn't have many friends is an understatement. But there was one friend I had, who was my neighbor. We met when we were 7 & 8 years old. We were besties. We shared our childhood together until I was 15 and moved away to another state. I thought I would just die at the time. We kept in touch even though we were so far away from each other. We visited occasionally, but led lives now separate from each other. Eventually we both got married, had kids, and we actually lost touch for a few years. She found me again one day, many years later, to tell me of the death of her father. We reconnected again and it felt like we had never lost touch. I am so very glad to have her in my life once again, and now that we're both grandmas we get to share our grandchildren together.

I've a handful of close friends who mean the world to me. I know a lot of people, but the handful of women I call close friends, they're a pretty incredible group of women. They've been there for me through some pretty tough times. Even though there was little they could do for me as my son was on the brink of death on and off for 16 months, I knew I could count on them for whatever I needed. When I was reeling from the divorce from my first husband, my childhood best friend flew down to be with me as I faced my first Christmas alone after being married 12 years with 2 little children to take care of. I couldn't hardly get out of bed in the mornings, and had no desire to celebrate any holiday. But she came to be with me, to hold my hand, to let me cry on her shoulder, and helped me bring a tree home and decorated it with us. And another close friend, whom I met when our children were little, helped get me through the ordeal of my divorce. There were times I could hardly breathe, never mind eat. Most days I would spend with her at her home while she comforted me, cried with me, and even fed me. If I wasn't at her  home, I was on the phone with her. Many years later, it was I who was doing the same for her, as she went through the same ordeal. There are too many stories to tell about all the special times I've shared with the ladies whom I call my closest friends.  These are the women I can count on to be here for me in good times and bad; the ones I belly laugh with over silly stuff like pink lipstick at bedtime and "resoaring my stole"; the ones I cry with, and the women I share life's journeys with. They are true gifts from God and I would do anything for them as well. I hope they each know how very special they are to me. 
I truly hope that you all have friendships to treasure, besties to laugh and cry with and to share your journeys with! There's nothing like "girl time" together!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Real Christmas Spirit

Christmas. A word that can instill fear in the hearts of people. Fear that we haven't gotten our Christmas shopping done yet. Fear there's not enough time left to do all we have to do. For some kids, it may be fear they weren't “good enough” for Santa to bring them all that they want on their list this year. For some adults, it may even be fear of the in-laws. Or even fear of being alone during the holidays. But fear is the last thing we should be experiencing!

I've been watching a lot of hokey Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel. As one is finished, I tape another one to the DVR so I don't miss it. They are ridiculously hokey and, well, just ridiculous. But I can't stop watching them! Because there's always a real message in them; apparently, the Hallmark channel isn't afraid to make a movie with "God" in it. From the singing of the real Christmas carols, to people being in church, from showing a Christmas play about the birth of Jesus, and people even praying over the dinner table. The acting may not be great, and the story a bit hokey as I said, but the messages these movies bring are down-home, real, and make you think. Christmas is not about fear.

Bob & I had a heart-to-heart this year about gift giving. He doesn't understand the “wish list” idea. He says a gift should be one given from the heart, not just picked off a wish list. He grew up in a home where Christmas was always first about the baby Jesus, and family next. Santa was way down the line. They didn't make wish lists; gifts were given by knowing the person you were buying for and giving something from their hearts. It was different for me. It was always about Santa in our house. Santa was the one bringing the gifts. We went to see Santa and gave him our list of things we just had to have. We had to be “good” all year, because if we weren't Santa would know! We didn't get everything we had on our lists, but Santa was always pretty good to us.

One year, while Derek was still so sick and was in and out of the hospital, we had just gotten discharged from the hospital and Christmas was just a week away. There was no money for presents for him & Brooke, and it was all we could do to get a tree in the house. We didn't know how we were even going to get groceries. There certainly wasn't much Christmas spirit in our home either. But guess what happened? There was a knock at the door soon after we got home, and we found someone from the church we were attending standing there, arms filled with boxes of groceries and bags of presents for the kids. There are hardly words to express how much that meant to us. People had given from their hearts, showing the love of Jesus to us. I will never forget this act of kindness, and it still brings tears to my eyes. The best gifts, ever.

This year, amidst all the hustle & bustle, take some time to search your hearts. Ask God where you can be used to help someone feel the love of Jesus this year. And your heart will know the joy of blessing someone who will never forget where the real Christmas spirit truly comes from.

Oh, and watch some hokey Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel this year!

And the angel said to them, “Fear not; for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:10,11

Saturday, December 8, 2012


We did it. We escaped. It's no small feat, you know. To get out of the house to go away. But we did it. We are living in the great outdoors, at least for 3 days.

We love to go camping. We used to camp in a tent, and have a few horror, er, I mean, “bonding” stories to prove it. Like the time we camped in a tent in the Keys in June and a “franken” storm blew in swarms of gigantic mosquitoes from the Everglades. We used three entire cans of bug spray and went home with poisoning from all the Deet our bodies absorbed. That same trip, a small hurricane blew threw the area we were camping in and blew our entire tent down in the middle of the night, soaking us and everything in it with torrential downpour rain. We ended up sitting in our truck for hours in the middle of the night waiting for the storm to pass. Lesson learned: don't camp in Florida in the summer in a tent. I've a few more stories to tell, but maybe some other time.

Now we camp in a pop-up trailer, usually during the winter months when the weather is the absolute best. No more tents for me! We love cool weather camping, when the temps at night dip into the 40's and 50's, and daytime is high 60's to 70's. Perfect camping weather. We like to go north of where we live, about 4-5 hours, which brings us to the Ocala or Gainesville areas. Our pop-up sleeps 5, but it's usually just Bob & I on a quick getaway for a few days out of town.

Like I said earlier, it's no small feat trying to get out of town. First, I need to get Derek taken care of, so I have to confirm that his dad is available to have him during the time we're gone; then I also have to have someone at the house to watch over mom, as she can't be alone any longer. And don't forget about the “crew”, who also needs tending to. This time Brooke & Christian came to stay and take care of the old home front and all who reside there. Then my work begins: I need to leave instructions for how to manage mom and the crew; pack up everything we need for camping; prepare things for mom to have in the house; grocery shop for camping food and a number of other odds & ends that are too numerous to list. It gets a bit overwhelming preparing for just a few days away! But once we were out of the house and on the road, this huge weight gets lifted off my shoulders and I get in my “vacation” mode. FREEDOM!! And let me just say this: without the help of those who stay behind to take care of Derek, mom, the crew, the house....THANK YOU! You are so appreciated!! You make it possible for me to keep my sanity!

Yesterday we took a leisurely bike ride and then we went canoeing down the Silver River. It was so peaceful and beautiful. The campsite wasn't crowded yet, as it was just Thursday and the weekend crowds weren't here yet. As we were canoeing, we saw a small herd of deer in the woods, a few gators swimming lazily down the river, plenty of birds & turtles, lots of huge blue catfish in the crystal clear waters, and then we saw a few monkeys. Yes, monkeys. Apparently back in 1938, the man who started the Silver Springs attraction brought in some monkeys to help lure visitors in. He didn't know the monkeys were going to swim in the river and escape, and they've been living on a little island in the woods in the area ever since. So we even got to see a few of them swinging happily through the trees.

My favorite part of camping has to be the mornings. It's cool, quiet, and with a campfire going while sitting in a chair with my coffee, well, it doesn't get much better than that for me. This is a beautiful park, and the campsites are large and private. Lots of trees & shade. Its so very dark here at night, except for the brilliant stars in the sky. But they don't light up the camping area; as a matter of fact, the first night I was here, I was walking down the road to the bathrooms and I was actually a bit spooked by the blackness of the night. I felt like I was being swallowed up with it! No campsites had any lights on, and there was nothing but pure darkness, blackness, all around me. Spooooky. I could almost hear “Jason, Jason, Jason.....kill, kill, kill...” those whispered words in the horror movie Friday the 13. Which is why I don't watch horror movies any more. And which is why I ran back to my campsite. And why I didn't go alone to the bathroom anymore after dark.

Today is our last full day here. I will be soaking up as much of this atmosphere as I can. If only I could bottle this up for when life gets a bit overwhelming with the all its' craziness, all its' demands. But I'll just have to settle for looking forward to the next time we can escape, and come back to the beauty of nature; God's restorative, beautiful creation.