Thursday, December 29, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 30 - My Lifetime Partner

Yeah! (insert jazz hands here, I did it!) I pulled off 30 days in a row of blog posts. I know for some this is nothing and you may be shaking your heads and rolling your eyes. But for me, this is HUGE! Taking time everyday to find a topic, write a thoughtful post, take/find appropriate photos, and get it posted before midnight was quite a feat. Which leads me to what the hardest part of this whole project (adventure!) was for me. Everyday that I wrote a post stating what I was grateful for, I had to strategically figure out a way to not include my wonderful husband, for everyday he gives me reasons to be grateful. **Disclaimer Alert **This is where it's about to get super sticky sweet and mushy so you have my permission to bail now if your not into that kind of stuff.

24 years ago tonight, I kissed this sweet, geeky, long-haired friend of mine at a New Years Eve party. He was my drinking buddy back then and my go-to guy friend on who's shoulder I could cry on about my other boyfriends or hang out and have fun with when I was bored. (I know, sounds kind of mean and selfish, right) It was, in fact, that kiss that changed my life forever. The moment I kissed him, he went from being that "guy friend" to something more. Something, at the time, I had no idea I would appreciate until the years and the stories unfolded. If you know us, then you know that I am not talking smack when I say he is my best friend. He is all those funny love stories rolled up in a cheesy taco. That whole "he completes me" stuff, he is that, too, but for reasons that are different to me. When he vowed to take care of me through sickness and health I don't think he knew exactly what he was getting into. We started our family as a surprise after being told my chances for pregnancy were slim. In fact, we were only married a few months when we found out I was expecting - so much for the first year get to know each other! He jumped into fatherhood with the typical excitement, fear and determination to be a great Dad and he has succeeded far beyond those goals. At one point in our marriage, I asked him if we could take my Grandmother in to live with us (thinking it would be short term). Many other young men (rightfully so) would have said that was too much of a burden, but not this guy. He said yes without hesitation and that short term plan became 3 1/2 years of taking care of her. He is gentle but not to be mistaken as a pushover for he is one of the strongest men I know. He supports each of us in this family with our goals, desires, and crazy ideas. He has never raised his voice to me ONCE! Do you know anyone like that? Believe me, I am not an easy person to live with at times and I have given him more than enough reasons to shake his head and want to run for the hills, however, he continues to love me daily with no conditions.

At this point he is probably smiling because here is the part a lot of people don't know. He is also my editor. Yep, every single blog post that I write, he does a check on to make sure my spelling and punctuation is legit. (Hey Hun feel free to add any thoughts in here because the cats out of the bag now and they know you're my editor.) Editor's note: thanks for the extended shout-out, but just because I'm "editing" doesn't mean I'm not making mistakes too... and for the record, I think you're giving me far too much credit... jus' sayin'!

When I took on this project I had to seriously ask him if he could be there every night to edit and put those cute little frames around all those photos (something I vow to learn in 2012). As you guessed it, he said "of course I will" and "you can do this Hun." Gosh, I could not get mad at this guy if I tried, not to mention that I absolutely never get tired of looking into his eyes (oops, sorry! Got side tracked just thinking about him). He works from home - I can't tell you how many times I get asked "doesn't it drive you crazy with him being home all the time?" They are shocked when I say "I love it!" He is upstairs in his own world and never bothers me with my daily duties, yet on the flip side, if J or I need to talk to him about something urgent he stops whatever he is doing and gives us that time. I'm sure as he is reading this, he is wanting to wish he could delete 90% of this because he is humble like that and truly doesn't believe it's true. He is quiet and observes, he does not put people down, he is sarcastic and fun with his closest friends and family members. He will not be the guy that stands out with the bold obnoxious laugh at a party but he is that guy that loves to have a good time and loves hanging out with friends. He sees our roles as equal, but is always a gentleman. He is respected in his workplace, with his friends, and within our family. He is an accidental writer, a tequila lover, a gardener, and a great listener. Most of all, on those days where I am going completely stir crazy, he can always, always make me laugh! And yes, to end this yucky, sticky sweet stuff, 24 years later we do actually finish each other's thoughts, and I am forever grateful to have a partner in life that I can do that with... I'm jus' sayin'!

30 Days of Gratitude Day 29 - The Grateful Heart Project

As I come to the end of my 30 days of gratitude posts, I am taking stock in what being a part of this project has meant to me. To be sure, it has made me stop and appreciate some of the little things that I may normally take for granted and for that, tonight I am thankful for not only being a part of this project, but also for two specific people.

First, thank you to Jote of the Bless Her Heart blog. She is the local blogger behind "The Grateful Heart Project". This little adventure seems to have taken off and gotten lots of other local bloggers inspired enough to take part in writing about something they were grateful for everyday for 30 days. I'd recommend visiting her site to see the blogroll of wonderful writers taking part. When I had first heard of the project through the AFBA, I was skeptical, but only because the thought of posting everyday for 30 days during one of the busiest times of the year was borderline insane for me. Then, one of my new and quite lovely food blogger friends talked me into it. So second, thank you to Maggie of the From Maggie's Farm blog for helping me see that this project was doable. In my humble opinion, she is the queen of combining different themes into her daily posts and was a true inspiration. Check out her wonderful blog post and see for yourself how talented she really is.

For the project itself, I first thought I would tackle it by jotting down a list of themes or ideas that I was thankful for. Somehow, that list got shuffled away on my desk and probably eventually ended up in the trash. No worries though, as that was something I am also grateful for. Without that list, I was able (forced?) to think daily about my gratitude and write what came to me in the moment. Being that I generally blog about food, my second concern was "Do I write about food that I am grateful for?" Or, "How will I be able to incorporate food into the things I am grateful for?" How about photos? I have never posted without including photos. Clearly, I was making this far more difficult than I think Jote had originally intended. I realize I do that more often than not, making things harder on myself instead of just breathing more, being a little more flexible, and taking a more relaxed approach. So that's what I started doing - breathing more and letting the things that I was thankful for just happen. Looking back now, I know that I learned some valuable lessons with this project. Yes, It is possible to post everyday. Yes, it is OK not to expect your readers to read every post. It's just as important for me to write what I feel and get it out there without worrying if anyone is actually reading it. Yes, it's ok to not write about food all the time. And most importantly, how cool was it that I, along with a handful of others, were taking time out everyday to really think about what we are thankful for... I'm jus' sayin'!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

30 Days Of Gratitude Day 28 - Mom's Help

I know I've already used a "ghost writer" on Day 22 but tonight, can I just be honest? I am so very exhausted and, frankly, the only thing I can be grateful for at this very minute would be my fluffy pillow.

At dinner tonight I was talking to my Mom and telling her how tired I was when I thought to myself "Why not ask her to write a post?" She is one of my biggest fans and she actually has poetry that has been published. This would make the "30 Days" project a three-generation thing since I had my daughter write last week and now my Mom tonight. I am honored to have her write (and happy that she is bailing me out so that I don't miss a day). So without further adieu, I would like to introduce my mom, Marlene... Enjoy! Who knows, maybe she might like this and I can give her a future gig doing a "Mondays with Marlene" column... I'm jus' sayin'!

Grateful for The Elderly & Music

As I am getting older myself, I have found how important it is for the elderly to enjoy good piano music and singing! I am in several retirement homes every week and others once a month. To see the joy on their faces as we start to sing or play is such a blessing to me! I have about two dozen singers at the Heritage in Austin with many disabilities from arthritis to dementia, and yet they know all the words to the familiar songs. One lady doesn't even know what page we are on, but if it's a song she knows her eyes light up and a certain radiance comes from her being! I'm convinced music keeps us young! We did caroling in the hallways last week and everyone said it was so much FUN! Of course, we had to rumble along slowly to allow for their walkers. But once in place they sang with gusto! People came out or their apartments and either joined in or clapped lustily when we were through. We give a concert about every 6 weeks and will be working on Love Songs next. We'll have to include "You Make Me Feel So Young!" More and more people are moving into this age group, and I am so grateful God has me able to entertain and work with them!


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 27 - Catching Up

I bet you thought I was referring to catching up with housework, yard work, that pile of laundry, or re-organizing the Christmas decorations, right? Although those are all wonderful things to catch up on (insert sarcasm here) that's not what I'm grateful for tonight. Rather, I am grateful for the chance to catch up with a friend I have not seen in awhile. A sweet friend of mine came over this morning. This is a friend that I used to see a lot of, especially when she lived with us for a short time, but with her busy job and our sometimes chaotic schedules we don't get to hang out as often.

Today she spent the whole day here at the house. You might think we would take the opportunity and go to lunch, go shopping, or even get manicures but no, we did something even better. We sat around doing nothing but catch up on each other's lives. We enjoyed leftover Christmas prime rib made into sandwiches for lunch, Manhattan cocktails in the afternoon, and delicious BBQ for dinner. We laughed at life and enjoyed watching a great documentary. I am so very grateful that our schedules allowed us this day because catching up with good friends beats catching up on the laundry anyday... I'm jus' sayin'!

"Yes’m, old friends is always best, ‘less you can catch a new one that’s fit to make an old one out of."
~ Sarah Orne Jewett

"To keep a new friend, never break with the old."
~ Russian Proverb

"Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend — or a meaningful day."
~ Dalai Lama


2 oz Bourbon (I used Knob Creek)
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes of aromatic bitters

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with 2-3 ice cubes. Stir gently with a cocktail spoon. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry. (We also included a blood orange twist)

Monday, December 26, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 26 - Useful Gifts

It's just amazing what a little light can do. My wonderful husband has been a huge supporter in all the crazy things I've tried over the years. Whether jumping out of an airplane, glass blowing, or starting a hundred craft ideas only to keep finding out that crafting is really not my specialty. Every time I come to him with a new idea or desire he listens to me and asks me questions and then next thing I know he is figuring out a way to get me started.

One thing I do love and have always tried to learn more about is food. Whether it's cooking, prepping, catering or teaching, I love all aspects of it. A few years ago after working on a television set, I told my husband that I thought I wanted to try taking my food styling skills to a higher level. That meant getting a new DLSR camera and I fully expected him to say "Hun, we just can't afford that right now." Luckily for me, this conversation took place right before receiving our tax refund as well as his annual company bonus. He must have felt I was worth investing some money in a good camera because we bought one not long after. Since then, I have taken more photos than I had in my entire lifetime, trying to learn what works and what doesn't while trying to get the picture I wanted. Without any photography classes - something I still need to invest in - I have fumbled my way through and gotten a couple great shots along the way. More importantly, I feel confident that my photos are getting better and not worse.

One thing that I have started to get tired of is having to wait to take my photos during the day because taking them outside is the only way I can really ensure good lighting. This is where my gratitude comes in. As part of being a huge supporter of my ambitions and ALWAYS pushing me to do better, my husband also tries to get me the tools needed to do the job right. For Christmas this last week, he got me a soft-box lighting kit and some lens filters. Now I can start working on my shots indoors while waiting to take that photography class. And if it's dark and rainy outside or super late at night, well, now I don't have to worry about waiting for that morning light... i'm jus' sayin'!

And if you don't believe me, the photos below are ones I just took and while I still have a lot to learn, I can already see the difference. The photos on the top are without the soft-box and filters and the ones on the bottom are with them...

"Photograph: a picture painted by the sun without instruction in art."
~ Ambrose Bierce

"You don't take a photograph. You ask, quietly, to borrow it."
~ Author Unknown

"The camera can photograph thought."
~ Dirk Bogarde

Sunday, December 25, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 25 - Leftovers

I don't know about you but I am blessed to have not only a fridge full of leftovers but also a ton of cookies, candy, and assorted breads from neighbors that should last me well beyond the New Year. I'm estimating that I won't have to go to the grocer once this week and that's including produce. I know some folks are not big on leftovers but I have a different approach. I really enjoy remaking them into new dishes. I just look at those leftovers and pretend they are in a picnic basket on "Chopped" and start pulling things together. This is a trick I use because my husband was never a big fan of leftovers, so I'm always up for a challenge and making them into a different dish is fun. This week is a "catch-up" and relaxing week before school and work start up in the New Year. So having a fridge full of leftovers will be a welcome addition to menu planning and a blessing to our food bill... I'm jus' sayin'!

"Leftovers in their less visible form are called memories. Stored in the refrigerator of the mind and the cupboard of the heart."
~ Thomas Fuller

"The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found."
~ Calvin Trillin

"My favorite time of day is to get up and eat leftovers from dinner, especially spicy food."
~ David Byrne

Here's my list of some leftovers...

Prime Rib
Potatoes au gratin
Yorkshire Puddings
Apple Salad
Brussel Sprouts
Apple Sauce
Creme Brulee
Shrimp Scampi

Here are some of the dishes I'm making using the above...

Mini Wellingtons using prime rib, mushrooms, paté and some puff-pastry from the freezer.
Mini-gingerbread trifles using the ginger loaf and creme brulee with some candied tangerines.
Spicy shrimp chowder for lunch using potatoes, leeks and shrimp.
Granola parfaits for breakfast, layering apple salad and granola in mason jars.
Apple french toast bake using cut up Yorkshire puddings, eggs, vanilla sugar and applesauce, baked in a casserole.

Take the left-over challenge in your fridge and see what you can come up with and let me know.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 24- Being Full!

I'm going to make this as quick as possible because that phrase "Put a fork in me, I'm done," is pretty much where I'm at right now. Yes, I'm tired but my fatigue comes with gratitude. My stomach is full and I am so incredibly thankful for all the food that I was able to cook for my family today when so many go without. My legs are tired from standing all day in the kitchen but so very thankful that I have a kitchen and that I have food to cook for my family. I am physically tired from getting to bed late and then getting up early for family events, yet I am so very thankful for my family and being able to share these times with them. Yes my plate is full. Full of blessings. Full of Hope. Full of Love. Full of food. And most of all, full of gratitude... I'm jus' sayin'!

Say good night GirlGoneGrits! (Good Night GirlGoneGrits!)

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
~ William Arthur

"When you are grateful fear disappears and abundance appears.
~ Anthony Robbins

"Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
~ Author Unknown

Friday, December 23, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 23 - Silent Nights

Silent nights don't come every night, so when we have them we relish them. I remember the first time I recognized a "silent night" - our first born slept through the night for the first time and it was such a blessing. Now I am feeling the emptiness of our first silent Christmas Eve without him here. It's bittersweet but certainly something to be grateful for as he begins to make his own way in the world.

So many silent things to be grateful for this year that my list would run on forever if I let it. When we were little my Mom would tell us the story of the birth of baby Jesus and then she would play Silent Night on the piano. I would pretend that the angels created that song when our Savior was born. Now amongst all of the commercialism of the holidays it's hard to find silence. Always the optimist, I believe it's out there - you just have to look a little harder these days to find it. It might be the silent smile you see in a child's eyes when they see a tree light up for the first time. Maybe the grateful silent sigh from the homeless man you just gave a hot cup of coffee and a couple dollars to. Perhaps it's the silent thank you on that person's face that you just let go ahead of you at the stop light. These are all kind-hearted gestures that cause us to pause and silently reflect upon.

Tonight at 11:00 o'clock, I will go with my family to the Christmas Eve candlelight service at church where I will again be reminded of that Savior when we sing Silent Night and that hush comes across the congregation when we blow out the candles. I'll come home with my family and before the last light is turned off, I will relish with my husband the silence of this night. I will lean in to kiss him goodnight and I will say a prayer of gratitude for all the silent blessings that the Savior has given us this year... I'm jus' sayin'!

"Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth "

~ Joseph Mohr

Thursday, December 22, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 22 - Ghost Writers

Sometimes we get really hurried and forget our commitments. Today was one of those days. I was so busy running errands and getting last minute things together that I totally forgot about my blog. We had a wonderful dinner with our neighbors next door and then when we came home I realized that I had forgotten my blog. I was kind of tired but did not want to break my commitment to carry on my posts for the 30 Days of Gratitude. That's when my lovely daughter piped up and said "How about letting me write it tonight?" How could I refuse an offer like that? So tonight I am grateful for my ghost writer, my sweet girl.

I am grateful for my wonderful neighbors. I love when families can come together and have a nice dinner and talk. I also love when the family is so nice and have awesome children. The greatest time is when the parents can have a conversation and the children can just play and play and play. Something really cool about my neighbors house is the secret passage in their coat closet that leads to a fun club room and the parents let them write and paint on all those walls. Today, when I went over for dinner, I was given the chance to name that area, which I called "Sala" (which is a combination of the two girls names) . I also enjoyed having a delicious dinner, even though my father antagonized me on how I should have the steak instead of the vegetarian dishes. After dinner the neighbor came over to our house for a bit. We talked some more and he told me how I was a huge impact in their children's lives and what a great family we have. It makes me grateful that other's see what I already know about my family I am jus' sayin'!

"In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony.
~ Eva Burrows

The best inheritance a parent can give to his children is a few minutes of their time each day.
~ M. Grundler

Of course if you like your kids, if you love them from the moment they begin, you yourself begin all over again, in them, with them, and so there is something more to the world again.
~ William Saroyan

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 21 - Helping Hands

Sometimes all we need is a helping hand. Today I experienced a lot of helping hands. The first thing this morning my daughter got up and started helping me with the house-cleaning. She dusted, vacuumed and mopped the floors for me. This was such a huge help and it gave me a moment to work on the baking for the day. She also went grocery shopping with me. When we were finished and I was leaving the parking lot, traffic was heavy enough that I had to wait for what seemed like forever for someone to let me in. That friendly wave from a stranger telling me to go in front of them was such a welcome relief. When we went to pick up lunch someone gave up there spot in line to open the door for us. Because I had so much help today I noticed I was able to really slow down and not feel so rushed with my "to do" list. I had time to watch a movie with my daughter, took time to watch her create a gingerbread house and dinner was not rushed. It's amazing how much you can get done when you're in the right frame of mind. Being grateful for helping hands seems to be something I tend to take for granted. I got so much done for others today because of those helping hands early on. When I was thinking about what to write tonight I realized It was earlier than usual for me to be sitting down behind the computer. Seems like all those helping hands today really gave me time to use my hands and type this up early... I'm jus' sayin'!

"In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.
~ Flora Edwards

"The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm.
~ Swedish Proverb

“Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up.”
~Jesse Jackson

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 20 - Friends with Lemons

Every year at Christmas we start preparing for the making of our annual batch of Limoncello. Unfortunately, our beloved Meyer lemon tree that usually provides us with more than enough lemons did not fair well from a couple of winter freezes this year. That cold snap kept our tree from producing a crop this year but I have no doubt it will be stock full of blossoms again next spring. For now, though, we have to think outside of the box. One year, we had a limited crop and my lovely brother shipped us some of his Meyers from his tree in California. We were not exactly sure how we were going to do it this year. The price of these precious lemons can be ridiculous at local stores - especially when we are used to picking them from our own tree. This is where my gratitude comes in. Earlier today I noticed my friend Kate the very talented author behind "The Hip Girls Guide To Homemaking" post on facebook that she was excited to have gotten her Meyer lemons from her local farm. Curious, I asked her where the farm was. Not only did she tell me, but she offered me some of her beautiful organic stash. So tonight we drove over (with J singing carols and observing all the lovely lights along the way) to her lovely little casa. With a ton of thanks and gratitude to Kate, we will be making our limoncello this year and bottling it for our annual SXSW party. Funny how thinking outside of the box led us to a friend's box... I'm jus' sayin'!

"I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"A friend in need is a friend indeed."
~ Latin Proverb

"I get by with a little help from my friends."
~ John Lennon

Monday, December 19, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 19 - Dates

On any given night out, my husband and I normally love having our darling little teenage daughter tag along with us. She is fun to hang out with and the plus side is that she loves our friends and they love her so it's never a burden on either end. However, once in a while, we get the opportunity to just be adults and go out alone. We get to go have adult conversations and even see movies that don't include talking animals or vampires (not that I don't have Team Jacob spirit!). Tonight was one of those nights. J is off with her friends and Grandma and we get the night to ourselves. I am thankful for these moments to catch up with the one I love without having to use a filter. Dates have always been important to us and I am thankful that we have collectively agreed on this for over 22 years. We, or should I say I, don't have the stamina to stay out as late as I used to and curling up by the fire to watch a movie has almost the same appeal on a "date night" as a night out on the town. So tonight I have gratitude for Grandma (hanging out with J) as well as for that handsome guy who still wants to hang out with me... I'm jus' sayin'!

"Always do something that requires you and your date to talk."
~ Steven Hill

"I would say that the surest measure of a man's or a woman's maturity is the harmony, style, joy, and dignity he creates in his marriage, and the pleasure and inspiration he provides for his spouse."
~ Benjamin McLane Spock

"When a wife has a good husband it is easily seen in her face."
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sunday, December 18, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 18 - Food Swaps

I know I have mentioned this before but one of the coolest food events that I attend roughly once a month is the ATXSwappers food swap. I've met some really good friends through this group and always, always come home with a basket of unique and delicious homemade goods. It's because of this that I jumped at the opportunity this past November to be a part of a super-cool food blogger swap set up by Jodi Bart of Tasty Touring, a friend and fellow Austin-based food blogger. She asked members of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance if they were interested in swapping with local Boston food bloggers. She then set those of us that were interested up with a swap partner in Boston. I could not have been set up with a cooler, hipper blogger. Pam from Cave Cibum has good taste and this is how I know – she is a regular shopper at Trader Joe's, something I used to do weekly in California ten-plus years ago and now only get occasionally when my husband goes on business trips. She loves to read and in fact, she actually has three blogs and works in a book store. You can check out her reading blog here. It's funny, between the two of us and only exchanging a couple of e-mails, we somehow basically put the same types of items in our swap boxes. She sent local honey, I sent local honey. She sent local chocolate, I sent local chocolate. She sent a copy of Edible Boston and I sent a copy of Edible Austin. I swear, neither of us knew what we were putting in each other's package. I think this is just how food lovers think. We only need to know preferences and allergies and we can pretty much take off with the task from there. So tonight, as I am continuing to munch on some of the local Boston goodies from Pam, I am grateful for the opportunity to trade food and to meet new friends. Or maybe I should instead simply say I'm grateful for a food blogger's version of a pen pal, the food pal... I'm jus' sayin'!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 17 - Lazy Sunday's

Not a whole lot to say about this one. You just can't beat coming home from a beautiful church service of Christmas lessons and carols, a little light clean-up around the house to be ready and organized for the upcoming week, something delicious simmering on the stove, and finally a fire to keep us warm on a chilly Sunday in December. The relaxed look on my precious family's faces as we curl up together to watch a movie or take a lazy afternoon nap. Yep, I can't be any more thankful then this. I feel like the richest lady in town... I'm jus' sayin'!

"Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.
~ Etty Hilsum

"One can enjoy a wood fire worthily only when he warms his thoughts by it as well as his hands and feet."
~ Odell Shepherd

"After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.
~ Oscar Wilde

"Families are the compass that guide us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter."
~ Brad Henry

Friday, December 16, 2011

30 days of Gratitude Day 16 - Christmas Cards

I know it seems like many of the things that I am grateful for are related to the holidays. Well, it's true and I just can't help it! Tonight I am going through my mail and reading about friends and family near and far. I look forward to these annual letters and cards because it's the one time of the year when I get the chance to catch up on family business, if you will. I find out about new births, graduations, passing of loved ones and pets. I get to hear how one has made the "team" or that our youngest has just left for college. Some letters are bittersweet while others filled with joy. But all of them bring me a smile because it's the one constant I get every year. I remember when I was younger, my Mom would get so many of these Christmas letters and cards and I would think "Why does she get so excited over these long, drawn out letters, I mean do we really care that their kids got straight "A's" or that so and so started a new job?". As I got older – and especially since I moved to Texas – I can't tell you how much I look forward to those pictures and that information just as my Mom used to. Being able to sit down with a cup of tea and read about those report cards and announcements of new jobs makes me feel just a little bit closer, even if it is only once a year... I'm jus' sayin'!

Here is a link that will give you some great tips on writing that letter in case you might just want to give it a try.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 15 - Ornaments

I just finished putting the last ornament up on our family's formal Christmas tree. Yes, I said "formal" Christmas tree because I also have a funky Austin tree in my kitchen and each person in my house has their own personal table top tree. (No, I'm not Martha and it's really not as elaborate as it may sound.) As I was taking out each ornament it occurred to me that I have so many memories wrapped up in this tree. I'm so thankful that I can look at each one and be reminded of a special moment in our lives.

I am reminded of my honeymoon with the sweet little Canadian Mountie ornament and so thankful for the years we have had together...

Or our beginning years, when we did not have money for fancy ornaments, I took photos and hung them (we still have them)...

The year my sweet little girl gave up her pacifer to the angels - it hangs every year to remind her that she is secure in herself without material items...

I have my sons first walking shoes hanging on a limb - it makes me thankful just knowing he is healthy, as well as a great reminder we sometimes need to take baby steps to succeed!

I have precious hand painted ornaments from friends given over the years, as I hang them I am reminded of their love...

I have ornaments from other countries that remind me of special visitors we have had...

I have those sweet little handcrafted ornaments that the kids made over the years in school - a reminder of how thankful I am for their education...

I have special ornaments from students that make me thankful for having those years of teaching.

I have an old pipe ornament that is an exact replica of the one my Daddy smoked - I'm so thankful that I can remember that cherry cavendash scent of tobacco...

Each ornament, whether made with popsicle sticks or hand blown glass, carry a price higher than gold for they are heavily ladened with love and memories which to me is the very heart of Christmas... I'm jus' sayin'!

"The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity.
~ Aristotle

"He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.
~ Roy L. Smith

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 14 - Good News!

Today I got some good news! I actually jumped for joy! I think we get good news everyday – it's just some days we don't always perceive it as "Good". I remember not long ago when a close friend told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer. I remember how sad I felt when I first heard the news. But It was not the sadness that I remember so much as the spirit and tone she had. I remember her saying she was going to "kick this cancer's butt" and remain positive, even on the worst days of treatment. I was so taken by that. Her faithfulness paid off and she remained true to her vow. It didn't matter how sore her throat was, how isolated she had to be from her loved ones, or how nasty her stomach felt, she persevered and gave it all up to God. So today, she got the call from the doctor with the news that they had indeed "kicked its butt" and it was gone! Tears of joy cannot come close to showing how happy I am over this news. On that same note, I know that there are many others suffering from cancer and other illnesses right now. I don't know what God's plan for them is. I have several on my immediate prayer list now that I pray daily for and hope that comfort will come to them soon with good news. It's sometimes hard hearing news, whether it be good or not so good. I struggle just like the rest of the human race to come up with words that make sense of it all. Being able to say the right thing at the right moment is hard. Sometimes it's not even words. Sometimes it's just a friendly ear to listen and a warm hug, a hot meal, or simply a smile that says I'm here waiting to hear that good news right along side of you. I am grateful today that I am surrounded by such amazing people that I can share in whatever news they have and I can shout for joy or cry along side of them. Most importantly, however, I can be there when they share the news... I'm jus' sayin'!

"Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don't know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!"
~ Anne Frank

"If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up, or fight like hell."
~ Lance Armstrong

"Some days there won't be a song in your heart. Sing anyway."
~ Emory Austin

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

30 Days Of Gratitude Day 12 - Prayer!

For as long as I can remember, prayer has been a part of my daily routine. It's the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before I close my eyes at night. This is how I was raised. My Mother taught us at a very young age to just talk to God and in doing so, remember that it doesn't have to be complicated because it should be like talking to a good friend that you trust.

I've never been one to preach and nothing scares me more than someone that relentlessly tries to convert you. Like I said in yesterday's post – if you show your light, others will follow. However, with that said, I can honestly say for myself that I am sincerely grateful for being taught so young how to give all of my worries and concerns to a higher source. I take prayer very seriously and when a friend reaches out and asks me to pray for them, I do! I don't just casually say "Your in my prayers". No, with me, it's the real deal. Being able to cast my cares and concerns up to a higher power has proven every time to lighten my load.

The next time someone comes to you with a heavy heart or your having one of those less than stellar days where one more thing will send you over the deep end, take a moment, close your eyes and have a quiet chat with the One who brings you inner peace. You never know - you might just find more to be thankful for in your surrounding circumstances than you realized - I'm jus' sayin'!

"A simple grateful thought turned heavenwards is the most perfect prayer."
~ Doris Lessing

"Action is the normal completion of the act of will which begins as prayer. That action is not always external, but it is always some kind of effective energy."
~ Dean Inge

"Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden."
~ Corrie Ten Boom

30 Days of Gratitude Day 13 - Music

Being the daughter of a classical pianist, I'm often asked if I play too. I wish! Unfortunately, the music gene stopped with me. It's not that I didn't try – I took piano lessons but for whatever reason it just would not stick (the notes that is). I grew up in a family of artists and musicians you would have thought I'd have gotten some of that, or at least learned something along the way. Alas, I seemed quite content being the page turner for my Mom when she needed it. Music was all around us and not just classical. I could recite show tunes and love ballads and country music and even some rock n roll. No genre of music was off limits in our house. I have to say that even with all that music we would listen to on the record player, nothing beats hearing it live and I cannot tell you how much appreciation I have for the musician who can pick up an instrument and just play effortlessly. I have respected musicians my whole life. No surprise that I even married one. What musicians give when they play is a pure gift.

One of the most wonderful treats growing up was that most nights my Mom would play the piano as we were going to bed so I actually had my own personal music box to send me into dream land. Tonight I find myself truly thankful as I watch my daughter play violin for her 3rd year now at her school's winter concert. I am thankful for her teacher and for the time and love that she has given her these past 3 years. I am thankful for the Christmas Carols they play that give me goosebumps and that warm feeling of the season. I am also thankful for my Mom for raising me to appreciate all of life's music. Tonight, as I sit back and listen to the music, it makes me realize that even if I can't play a keyboard, violin, guitar or drums, all I have to do is stop and listen to the music that is all around us. I'm jus' sayin'!

"Everywhere in the world, music enhances a hall, with one exception: Carnegie Hall enhances the music."
~ Isaac Stern

"He has Van Gogh's ear for music."
~ Billy Wilder

"I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music."
~ Billy Joel

Monday, December 12, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 11 - Lights!

Lights, lights, lights! They are all around us this time of year. The lights on houses and buildings. That light in the eyes of children when they see Santa. That very important light that was shinning in the sky one cold evening a long time ago that led three wise men to the King of kings. That light that shines in the window for the loved one that is serving overseas. That light that burns in your heart for that very special someone. The beacon in a lighthouse that lets sailors know they are almost home. Yes, tonight I am grateful for all of these lights and more! One of my favorite traditions is the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. We are all handed a candle when we enter the church and at the end of the service, when we all sing "Silent Night", we turn to the person next to us and light our candle off of theirs. It's so spiritual and stunning to see hundreds of candles illuminating God's house.

"Don't try and put out the darkness; Just turn on your light." This quote is written on an index card right under my calendar and was given to me by my Mother, who has reminded me for years to "be the light". What a wonderful thing to be grateful for because when you think about it - it does not cost you anything and it draws others too you. Sounds like a bright idea to me, I'm jus' sayin'!

"A great attitude does much more than turn on the lights in our worlds; it seems to magically connect us to all sorts of serendipitous opportunities that were somehow absent before the change."
~ Earl Nightingale

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1-2

"If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it."
~ Margaret Fuller

Sunday, December 11, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 10 - Neighbors

I think it goes without saying that I have some amazing neighbors. When we first moved here almost 11 years ago we really did not know anyone. I was desperate to meet people because I had left all my family and friends behind in California. It's hard when you have grown up in the same neighborhood your whole life. My brothers and their families lived no more than 15 minutes from us. Everyone I knew was suddenly gone. I was also very skeptical of trusting strangers. After only a few months in our new house I was needed back in California due to a death of a friend's daughter. The kids had started school and my husband had work and I remember bravely going next door and asking my neighbor if she could take my son to school with her son (they were the same age and attending the same school). I told her there was a unexpected death in the family and I was needed right away. She did not even bat an eye - she quickly told me that of course she would take my son and she would be happy to watch my daughter as well and if I needed meals for Bob she would be on that, too. I'm sure my stunned face with tears welling up shocked her. All I could think was, "Why is this lady being so nice?" Later, when I shared with her why I looked so shocked, she just gave me a hug and said "Hun, that's just how we are in the South. Neighbors just do that for each other". Since then, the Cove has gone through a few changes as some neighbors have moved on and new ones moved in to take their places. Our lives are constantly changing and neighbors come and go. Over the years and regardless of those changes, we have always enjoyed parties, happy hours, births, graduations, weddings and holidays with each other.

I am also thankful tonight that the recent changes in the Cove make me think that this will continue, too. WIthin a span of two months this past summer, the beloved neighbors on either side of us had put their homes on the market and moved away. One of those homes has since been filled with an adorable family and we are having such fun learning more about them. I learned today that the other house is under contract to a young couple and it's quite possible they'll be moved in by Christmas. I'm always excited at the prospect of new life and energy in the Cove and who knows, I may just get to return the favor one day and show one of them just how it's done in the South... I'm jus' sayin'!

"Nothing makes you more tolerant of a neighbor's noisy party than being there."
~ Franklin P. Jones

"We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbor."
~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

"When strangers start acting like neighbors... communities are reinvigorated."
~ Ralph Nader

Saturday, December 10, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 9 - My food Community

If I had to sit down and list all the amazing food people I have met either on-line or here in Austin, this post would go on forever. The food community in Austin has been my saving grace on more occasions then I can shake a stick at. This unique community of people has opened their arms and embraced me and my passion for exploring cultures and food on a daily basis. I have formed some amazing friendships with these people. I am humbled every time I reach out to them with questions or ask them to help in a cause because they don't hesitate to respond. You know when you meet people that just "get" your passion? Well, that is it in a nutshell for me - from the very first food blogger potluck that I attended a couple of summers ago to the anniversary food swap I went to last night. I have to say I am more than blessed by this community. Thanks to Facebook, I have also met cookbook writers and food fanatics and enjoyed conversations with them about food and cultures without ever meeting them face-to-face. Food people are creative, loving, inspirational and generally amazing! A person who has a true passion for food will not keep their secrets bottled up. They want to share with you and encourage you to be as passionate about food as they are. It's more than just feeding your body, it's about feeding your soul too. Whenever I get a new cookbook, the first thing I do is go straight to the forward because I want to know as much as I can about the author. It's the same way when I meet a food blogger, chef, or even that terrific home cook that lives across the street. They all share the same passion for exploring food and I am forever grateful for that. So next time you are invited to someone's house for dinner and they serve this amazing dish, don't just say "Wow! This is delish!" Instread, take a moment and ask about the dish and how they got the recipe because chances are you will probably walk away with a new recipe, the spark of passion to recreate it yourself, and a little more gratitude in your stomach I'm jus' sayin'!

"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating."
~ Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti

"We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are."
~ Adelle Davis

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."
~ Virginia Woolf

"Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all."
~ Harriet Van Horne

Thursday, December 8, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 8 - My Brothers

Today, maybe because I was thinking of family or perhaps feeling a little homesick, I was thinking of my two brothers. Both of my brothers, one older and one younger, are unique. We always had a running joke in our family about whether or not "I was the rose between two thorns" or "the thorn between two roses." I'm sure more of the latter as I was quite a pistol to them growing up. We were not what you would call super close when we were little. I'm pretty sure that if you asked my brothers they would tell you in their own words what an absolute pain I was. With that said and knowing that we could fight like cats and dogs, if anyone else ever tried to mess with one of us the other two would ALWAYS have each others back.

My older brother Kevin is an accomplished designer and owns his own construction business. He has my Dad's gift with design and an eye for artistic home improvement. I remember when he built me a real "Barbie dream house" (4 stories high) out of leftover bits and pieces of stuff from my Dad's construction sites. He and my little brother even hand carved Barbie beds with intricate design on the headboards for me. I'm not lying when I say that I had the coolest Barbie house on the block. The year our Aunt from Texas sent my brothers an Erector Set was the best. They created spin art machines with that set as well as roller coasters and all kinds of robotic creatures.

My little brother Kirk (who coincidently likes to be referred to as my "younger" brother instead of "little" brother) leans more towards my Mom's side of the family. He, too, is equally talented. Always an artist at heart, he has been drawing and painting and creating fantastic pieces of art since he first learned how to hold a pencil. It's no surprise that he now owns his own graphic design company and though his talent pays the bills, and his work is mostly computer generated, his creativity still comes from the soul. One thing that binds us together is our work ethic and our passion to our individual families. It was our Daddy who taught us to always do a good day's work and always try to do better tomorrow than you did today. Writing this makes me realize that I don't tell them enough how important they are too me. How much I admire them as fathers and providers for their families. They both love their wives and children with such passion and they also know how to laugh (which, as I think I remember telling you a few days ago, is a real gift). Yep, my wonderful brothers mean the world to me and even if I don't tell them frequently, I hope they know in their own hearts just how thankful I am to have them as my very own thorns... err.. I mean roses. i'm jus' sayin'!

"To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other's hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time."
~ Clara Ortega

30 Days of Gratitude Day 7 - My Hands

When I think about it, I realize I take many things for granted. One of them is the ability to use my hands. The other night I looked at my mother's hands and saw how arthritis has slowly crept up and taken over her hands. She is a pianist and has relied on her hands to "pay the bills" and entertain people her whole life. It got me thinking how incredible my hands are. They are useful in the kitchen. With them I am able to bake and cook beautiful gifts from the heart. When I need to fix something or create a craft project, they are the first to help me get it done. When I garden my hands help me get up close with the earth. In the hotter than Hades Texas summers, my hands can wipe the sweat off my forehead while simutanously swatting a mosquito. I can hold the hands of my loved ones and create a sense of security. I can take up a pen and write my intermost secrets in my journal. I need only to look at a special gift as a reminder of the special place hands hold to me. One year when I was teaching, my room parent created a beautiful piece of art that hangs in my house. She was able to get handprints of all my students and collage them in such a creative way while using these words.

"I can change the world
With my own two hands
Make it a better place
With my own two hands
Make it a kinder place
With my own two hands"

It's funny... I know that we don't really see how much we use something until that ability is gone. Maybe that is why I am loving this 30 Days of Gratitude so much – sometimes it's not the material things I have gratitude for but rather the everyday useful things. I'm jus' sayin'!

"We hold in our hands, the most precious gift of all: Freedom. The freedom to express our art. Our love. The freedom to be who we want to be. We are not going to give that freedom away and no one shall take it from us!"
~ Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, Northern Exposure, Cicely, 1992

"Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain."
~ Carl Jung

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 6 - My Computer

Yep, without my computer I would not have the ability to creatively store my thoughts in writing and share them with all of you. I would not have access to the internet that allows me to explore the world and reach out to family members that live far away. My computer is my morning "newspaper". While drinking my coffee I check my email, my Pinterest boards, my Facebook pages and my Twitter feed. When I am in a hurry to find a recipe, I am forever grateful for "google" so that the recipe is literely at my finger tips. A quick phone number or map to a place yep you got it right there on the screen ready to print. I worked for years on an old hand-me-down computer of my husband's that had the keys all worn out and might have needed duct tape if I had tried to travel with it. Still, I was blessed to have it. A year ago he surprised me with my very own, brand new laptop and I am forever loving it. Would my life still be blessed with out it? Absolutely! But I love all the extra blessings having one gives me. I'm jus' sayin'!

"Computers are magnificent tools for the realization of our dreams, but no machine can replace the human spark of spirit, compassion, love, and understanding."
~ Louis Gerstner

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."
~ Pablo Picasso

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 5 - Coffee

I'm thankful for coffee because of the memories attached to it. I have great memories of watching my Dad make his pot of coffee every morning and pour it into his silver thermos before leaving for work. I can still hear him telling me how "Coffee is the fuel that starts his engine." I laugh about that now because I really thought he was only speaking about waking up. He would take a thermos of coffee to work with him and then at night or on the weekends, when the pot was empty, I would make him a cup of instant coffee. I distinctly remember him showing me how to make the perfect "instant cup". "Not too much and not too little and you have to know the size of your cup," he would say. In the two years before he passed, he came over to my house every morning for his "morning cup" and we would talk about what was on the plan for the day. I have no doubt that he drank his first cup of the day at home with my Mom but it always made me feel special that I was included as part of his morning ritual. I still miss him everyday and especially our "coffee talks".

When I was younger and had my first child I would jump at any chance to run over to my girlfriend's house. She always had freshly brewed coffee and while our kiddos played we would enjoy some much needed "adult conversation". Thank you Karen! I'm not sure I ever told you how important those coffee times were. My husband was never a coffee drinker and I'm not sure when it was that I converted him. I am very thankful that he shares in my morning coffee now. I am also thankful when he preps the coffee the night before. I know this sounds silly but one of the sweetest pleasures of being on vacation is when I get to have someone else pour me a cup of coffee. Now that there are coffee houses on every corner, it is almost too easy to have those cups by yourself. I also know that there is a bunch of concern about how coffee effects one's health, ranging from it being a death drug to having a cup a day keeping the doctor away. As much as I would hate to, I know if I ever had to I could quit drinking it in a minute. Until then, every time I lift that steaming cup to my mouth I am not only inhaling the sweet aromas of Juan Valdez, but I am also taking in sweet memories as well. I'm jus' sayin'!

"But I love New York. I used to set my alarm clock when I was there, and get up at 4am and get a coffee, just because I could."
~ Gail Porter

"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons."
~ T. S. Eliot

How to brew the perfect cup of coffee!

Monday, December 5, 2011

30 Days of Gratitude Day 4 - Laughter

Laughter and a sense of humor. My parents handed it down to me and I am super grateful that I have it. It is a proven fact that laughter will fight stress, lower blood pressure and increase energy levels, so why in the world would you not want to go for one of those deep belly laughs? Laughter and humor has gotten me through some of the most awkward of situations. It continues to be my husband's go-to medicine when I start to stress over ridiculous situations I have no control over. I have seen some of the most angry individuals shattered in the midst of laughter. So tell a silly joke, crack a silly face and just roll with it If anything, it will make others curious! i'm jus' sayin'!

“The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”
~ Mark Twain

“A laugh is a smile that bursts.”
~ Mary H. Waldrip

"A sense of humor... is needed armor. Joy in one's heart and some laughter on one's lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life."
~Hugh Sidey