The Family

The Family

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reading Into the New Year

This year I'm starting off with some words of inspiration. I've already begun two of these books.

Each day I read about one of the heroines of the faith in "50 Women Every Christian Should Know." I guess I'm using it as a devotional of sorts.

I've also begun "Paris to the Pyrenees." It's the story of the author's hike with his wife on the trail of Saint James. He calls himself a skeptic. I'm not far enough in to give a critique or opinion, but I'm interested to see if he ends a skeptic.

"Kisses from Katie" is one I've heard lots about, and I've pre-ordered Sally Clarkson's newest book. Sally is the best source of wisdom I know. Reading her point of view constantly refreshes and renews my tired and weary spirit.

And with the children, Santa brought one of our favorites in "Cranberry Thanksgiving." I found out from the book jacket there are several of the cranberry books: "Cranberry Christmas," "Cranberry Valentine" and "Cranberry Halloween." There's also one by the authors about a blueberry pancake witch. It doesn't appear our local library has any of these, so it looks like I'll be purchasing them. No complaints here though. Money is always well spent when it comes to a good book.

We're also still working our way through Harry Potter. We're on "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth in the seven book series.

Happy reading into the New Year to you and yours!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

This is What Happens When...

1. Amazon doesn't get everything to you in time for Christmas morning:

2. You have a dog, so you must find higher shelter for Santa's cookies and milk:

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2014

To Naples

The title is misleading.

I'm not going to Naples. Nor have I ever been to Naples. In fact, after the series of books I've been reading the past few months, I have no desire to ever go to Naples.

Granted, Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels "My Brilliant Friend," "The Story of a New Name" and "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay" cover a completely different time period, but they don't paint a glowing picture of Naples.

The novels are complicated. Not in the hard-to-read sense. More so the relationship of the protagonist and her so-called best friend. I say so-called because Lila doesn't seem to do much but hurt Elena during the span of their life-long friendship.

I'm not sure the word friend and Lila should be used in the same sentence. It's clear at times that she loves Elena, or Lenu, as she is affectionately called by those in her poor and violent Naples neighborhood. The character of Elena (this isn't supposed to be a biography, but who knows) is brutally honest about her life and choices. She adequately expresses her feelings in each novel. Feelings and emotions that every female has no doubt felt at different points in her life, but rarely has the courage to express or admit.

And even though it is Elena that has the redeeming qualities, it's precisely because of Lila that you keep reading the books. Just as Lila draws everyone in their Naples neighborhood in, so her character draws the reader. She is often so repulsive and vindictive that you want to reach through the pages to slap her. But when she is gone, when it is just Lenu, you can't want to get back to another portion about Lila.

The fourth book is set to be released in September 2015. Though I'd like to think I'll have moved on by that time, I know the desire to find out what happens to the women in later life will have too much of a pull.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Grove Park Inn

The Grove Park Inn is one of my favorite hotels.


There's a Waterfall at the Hotel!!!!

Calling it just a hotel doesn't seem to do it justice. It definitely has a cabin-in-the-woods/lodge type feel. Considering that there are thousands of other guests milling around, that description doesn't quite fit either.

A View of the Main, Original Building from the Back

The best I could do for a front shot was out the car window - too much congestion
The day we checked out, a man who entered the elevator with his family informed us that someone at the front desk had mentioned 900 people were checking out that day.


The best thing about The Grove Park Inn, in my opinion, is that once you arrive you don't have to leave the premises.

The kids pretend drove the sleigh half a dozen times

The spa, which I regret to say I didn't visit on either occassion

In the background is one of the two "newer" structures that house many additional rooms

Christmas Trees are everywhere, and each has its own theme

The massive lobby - sorry about the blur

You could, of course, go elsewhere.

The Grove Park Inn is located in Asheville, NC, and there is plenty to see and do, including a tour of the fabulous Biltmore. Matt and I went that route on our visit 10 years ago.

This time, we stayed entirely at the hotel. There are several restaurants, shops, bars and a golf course on the premises. My in-laws made reservations for us for the Saturday night prime-rib buffet. I filled three plates full of food. Then I went back for a plate of dessert! Yes, I mean an entire plate full!

We went to the same restaurant for breakfast the next morning because our package included a free breakfast buffet for each person.

Oh, and did I mention the two massive hearths flanking the grand lobby. One is a real, wood-burning fire. The other is gas. The rocking chairs by the "real" fire are hard to come by.

The downside is that the hotel is on the expensive side. Hence us staying for only one night this time.

I'd love to say this is going to be an annual trip. I remember thinking that after we left The Grove Park Inn years ago. And then it took us another nine to return.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

In Search of Gingerbread Houses

The pictures posted aren't likely to remind you of the typical gingerbread house.

They're better!

Each year there is a National Gingerbread House Competition sponsored by The Grove Park Inn located in Asheville, NC. Entries come in from all over the country, and after the judging takes place the top entries are put on display throughout the hotel.

The displays include the top 10 adult entries, the top 10 youth entries and the top 10 children's entries.

I don't have pictures of all the houses that were on display, but wanted to share some from each category.

Children's Category:

Goldilocks and the Three Bears: It's hard to see because of the spotlight, but the three bears are outside approaching the house as Goldilocks naps in the blue bed in the top left.

Fairytale Land: Mattie Loved it because it was a castle!

This one is for all the Angry Bird Lovers out there, my son included. Check out the sling shot with the snowman in the front right.

 Youth Category:

I thought I took more pictures for this category, but ended up with only one shot to share. There was a Hobbit/Lord of the Rings related one that I swear I took a picture of, but when I went back through all my photos I couldn't find it.

This was my absolute favorite. Looking at the picture it's hard to tell the intricate detail of this swim meet gingerbread house. Those lines across the bottom meant to be ropes are all made out of smarties. In between each line is the image of a swimmer. The top is adorned with bell-shaped jelly beans. The picture doesn't do a good enough job showing how AWESOME this design is.

Adult Category:

Some serious detail and craftsmanship went into all of these.

The winning entry was on display behind a glass case. It was a rotating chess board with players on each side labeled as Pawn Stars. It was something else.

Your favorite Christmas Rhyme, "The Night Before Christmas" made into a gingerbread house! After seeing this one Jack wanted to know if "The Nightmare Before Christmas" was going to be a gingerbread house on display.

Meant to resemble a horse race, this reindeer race made the kids laugh.

On the left is St. Basil's Cathedral. To the right is the pound. Reindeer pound that is.

One very interesting rule is that except for the base of the structure, everything must be constructed of edible materials.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

When Your Morning Calls for Something Different

Before I became a mother I was a morning person.

I felt most productive in the morning, and I actually didn't mind getting up early to get the day started.

Now, there's often a feeling of dread when I open my eyes.

I know that sounds terrible, but as almost any other mother will tell you, mornings aren't what they used to be.

For one, it seems no matter how much sleep I get I'm still tired. Then there's the running through in your mind of all the things that must happen that day. And you know from the moment you arise you're day will likely not go as planned.

There's also the morning rush - and my children don't even go to school.

There's really no time to think in the morning. It's get up, get everyone to the bathroom, make breakfast, stop some arguing that's already begun, barely speak to a husband as he rushes out the door, make the bed, start a load of clothes, etc., etc., etc.

So this morning when Mattie had the bright idea of going to Panera Bread, I was all about change!

Actually, she demanded that we go to Panera for breakfast. My initial thought was there was no way I should give in to such a demand. The next immediate thought was oh yes, we are going to Panera for breakfast.

After a talk, for the umpteenth time, about asking politely and not demanding things, we quickly dressed and made our way to a quiet table in the back of the restaurant.

One pumpkin muffin, one chocolate chip muffie, two souffles, two juices and one coffee later, we had our morning reading at that back table.

Oh, what a glorious morning it was.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Do You Do With a Bushel of Apples?

Eat them, of course.

But when it's an entire bushel you have to find ways to eat them 1. so you don't get tired of them and 2. before they go bad.

So, let me count the ways for you.

First, there's the traditional way - whole or sliced. Going this route requires an apple a day for every member of the family, especially a husband much in need of fruit in his diet.

Second, there's the all American apple pie, best served with a reading of "How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World" and topped with vanilla ice cream.

Then you could try this harvest casserole, these apple muffins or this apple brickle dip.

Still have some? Just hand a few out to family and neighbors.

Then, when it looks like those remaining are on their last leg and the skin is starting to sag, peel them and cook some fried apples for breakfast.

That's what you do with an entire bushel of apples!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Mt. Cheaha

It's the highest peak in Alabama, and only about 25 minutes from the front door my parents call home.

I was hoping that the leaves might still be in their full color bounty, but to my disappointment most had fallen. The remaining brown ones looked as if they would be coming down within a few days.

I'm not sure why I haven't taken the kids there more. I'm also not sure why we didn't go more when I was a child. I remember spending a night in the lodge there with my Brownie troop once.

My cousin got married there a few years ago. It was mid-July, and the weather at the top of the mountain made it feel like an October evening.

The main reason I wanted to go this past weekend was because I recently saw a Facebook post about the restaurant. Several people commented on the breakfast, but after my experience there, I can't tell you why. To be brutally honest, it was likely the worst breakfast of my life. Later that day a childhood friend confirmed how disappointed she was after she and her husband went to dinner there for their anniversary last year, and she refused to touch her dinner once it was placed on the table.

It wasn't a total bust though.

The view from the restaurant window was spectacular!

And Mattie had fun playing, or should I say pretending to play, checkers with her Pop.

We also took a brief trail walk. The trail itself spans 130 miles. I imagine you'd end up in Georgia if you walked the entire way.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

CSA Wednesday

On Wednesday we head to a local farm to pick up produce as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Here's what we got today:

Collard Greens


I've said it before, but it's worth mentioning again that the kohlrabi reminds me of some crazy sculpture that should be in the movie Bettlejuice. Mattie thought they were spiders. Of all the fall vegetables we get, kohlrabi is my absolute favorite.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Harvest Casserole

A few weeks back I mentioned a sweet potato casserole recipe that isn't the typical sweet potato casserole recipe. I thought I'd share it today.

I made it last week for the first time in about a year, and Matt kept going on and on about how much he liked it. He's not one to get all excited about food, so for him to comment on it more than once must mean he really does like it!

I'll be making it again next week when we have family at our house for Thanksgiving. It won't be the first time I've made it for this holiday, nor will it be the last. This one is a keeper.

5 cups diced sweet potatoes (about 2 large potatoes)
5 cups chopped Granny Smith apples, peeling included (about 3 medium)
1 cup sweetened, dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into teaspoon size pats
1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Vegetable Oil

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees
-In a large bowl combine the potatoes, apples, cranberries
-In a small bowl combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon (I probably add a lot more because I love cinnamon and just add it liberally) and salt, then add to potato mixture, tossing with hands to combine
-Spoon mixture into a baking dish then dot with butter pats
-In a small bowl combine oatmeal, 1 cup brown sugar, flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Stir in the vegetable oil (I just eye this until it mixes all the ingredients well. The recipe actually calls for 1 stick of melted butter, but I found the casserole tends to be too dry with the butter mixture on top. The vegetable oil gives is some much needed moisture.)
-Spoon the mixture on top of the casserole
-Bake, covered, 45 minutes
-Uncover and bake 30 minutes more

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Much Anticipated Meeting

Two months ago their twin cousins were born. Friday was the first day they met them.

The boys were born prematurely and were in the hospital until a week ago. And while Matt and I had been able to see them and even hold them, the hospital's policy, understandably when dealing with babies in the NICU, is only siblings can visit.

Both Jack and Mattie were so happy to be around their cousins. Jack talked non-stop. He was amazed at all the funny faces they made as well as how small their feet are.

The boys are still so tiny that at two months they still don't weigh as much as mine did at birth.

We can't wait to make memories and have adventures with them in the years to come.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

CSA Wednesday

On Wednesday we head to a local farm to pick up produce as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. And because I was too into a book last night to remember to post this, here's what we got yesterday:

Sweet Potatoes



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Gamedays with Matt

It's hard as a parent to try to get in meaningful one-on-one time with each of your children during the course of a week.

Even harder is trying to find time to yourself.

But hardest of all is trying to find time for your spouse.

We often talk in between other conversations. I'm not sure we finish most of the discussions we start.

There are many reasons couples need to spend time alone together in the midst of child rearing, but not many opportunities come along. 

Lucky for us there's college football.

Because we are both HUGE college football fans, this time of year does allow us to have some alone time. Well, that's if you count being with 87,000 other people as alone time.

Matt makes it to every home game. Last year I was able to go to only one with him, but it was the best game of the year!!!

This year I've made more of an effort to get to some games.

Yesterday we even forfeited making the tailgating rounds so that we could get into the stadium early and hang out there to talk before the craziness began.

Even though our team was defeated, and it felt like everything that could have gone wrong in a game did, it was still worth being together doing what Matt likes best.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Breakfast Casserole

I'll be first to admit that the idea of a breakfast casserole is not always appealing to me. I've seen plenty that are runny or gooey, which for something so early in the morning isn't the most appetizing.

A number of years ago my grandmother made a sausage casserole that is not only NOT runny or gooey, but a delicious and filling breakfast.

I get on kicks of cooking this one. I'm on one now.

It does take time to prepare, so a busy morning wouldn't be the best time to try this out.

1 lb. ground breakfast sausage (mild or hot according to your preference)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (the recipe actually calls for 2 cups of mozzarella, but I like to mix the two cheeses - you can add as much or as little cheese as you prefer)
1 8 oz. can of crescent rolls
4 eggs beaten
3/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Cook the sausage in a skillet and drain it once fully cooked
Spray the bottom of a long casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray
Unroll the crescent rolls and line them along the bottom of the dish
Poor sausage on top
Add the cheese
In a bowl mix the beaten eggs, milk, salt and pepper
Pour the mixture on top of the sausage and cheese
Back at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes

This is so filling that no sides are necessary. However, a good fruit salad or a melon mixture would complement this nicely. I love adding Tabasco on those days when my acid reflux isn't acting up. It gives the morning a nice zing!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

CSA Wednesday

On Wednesday we head to a local farm to pick up produce as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Here's what we got today:




While I know kale is all the rage, I must admit I'm not a huge fan. The only way I've found I like it is in a potato and white bean soup recipe.

And today I placed our order for a 15 lb. turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Fall Favorite

On Tuesday I made an Apple Brickle Dip for Jack's clay class reception. As always, the dish was a big hit.

I got the recipe about 12 years ago from someone that can only be described as my second mother. I should also add she's one of the best cooks I know.

A bag of Granny Smith apples (it's important for taste and the color to use these apples)
1 large can of pineapple juice
1 bar of cream cheese
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 package of Heath Bits 'O' Brickle

Slice all the apples and soak them in a pot of the pineapple juice overnight - this keeps the apples from browning and also gives them the most delectable flavor
When you are getting close to serving time, mix the cream cheese, brown sugar and regular sugar
Add the entire pack of the Bit 'O' Brickle and stir until mixed well

Arrange the apples on a platter with the Bit 'O' Brickle dip in the middle. It's a sweet treat that will have everyone raving!

Any leftover apples or dip will keep for several days in the fridge.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

CSA Wednesday

On Wednesday we head to a local farm as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Here's what we got today:

Bok Choy


Sweet Potatoes


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Not Much on the Horizon

I haven't posted much lately because there's not much to tell.

We've been living life here doing the daily things that move us along: work, school, chores and extra curricular activities.

We've also been trying to carve out plenty of time for talks, walks and outdoor adventures.

And because in the span of a year we visited Disney World, North Carolina, Cape Code, New York and DC, we've decided to give our wallet and bank account some much needed time to recuperate.

I was looking at the possibility of Chicago in November for a work conference where the family would tag along, but I decided just yesterday that it would be a better idea to wait until next year's conference in Las Vegas!!!!

We might also be taking a small trip come Thanksgiving, but that one is still up in the air.

Once I finish reading Elena Ferrante's third of her Neapolitan novels (I'm still on the first), I'll be posting about that.

But for now it's likely to be a lot of CSA Wednesday posts interspersed with random thoughts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

CSA Wednesday

On Wednesday we head to a local farm to pick up produce as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Here's what we got today:

More Lettuce

More Butternut Squash

Bok Choy

Bok Choy is an excellent substitute for cabbage in cabbage soup. It's also delicious sauteed in olive oil and garlic. It just shrivels up to next to nothing cooked the latter way.

And for anyone who has followed this blog long you'll notice something quite pertinent has been missing from these posts the last three weeks. I've been incredibly disappointed that no eggs have been included in our pick-ups.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fridays with Jack

With all the activities, school work and life in general, especially now that his sister doesn't want to nap anymore, there's not much time for Jack and me to chat.

Let me rephrase that.

There's not much time for him to talk to me alone and me to be able to give him my full attention.

So about a month ago we started setting aside Friday night as "our time."

We've been to the movies twice!!

Went to Panera Bread one week.

And tonight was the second production of a local play, "Never Cry Wolf," in which many of his friends were part of. We spent the evening there and then enjoyed figuring out as many opposites as we could on our way home (no connection at all to the play!).

Another positive aspect of mommy/son time is that it leaves daddy/daughter time. With Mattie forsaking all naps, Matt doesn't get to see her much during the week because he gets home so late. He spends quality time with Jack during the time period I'm getting her to sleep and then he puts him to bed.

But mommy/son time was beginning to feel impossible until Fridays with Jack began. It's a win-win for us all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

CSA Wednesday

On Wednesday we head to a local farm to pick up produce as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Here's what we got today:

Sweet Potatoes


Butternut Squash

Buttercup Lettuce

I love when all the sweet potatoes come in. It reminds me that fall is the best time for making harvest casserole - complete with sweet potatoes, green apples, cranberries, oatmeal and a whole LOT of butter!!!