Today I Am Grateful For…

A husband who loves me immeasurably and would do anything for his family and our happiness.

A son who is constantly growing and developing and encouraging me to do the same.

Another healthy baby on the way who is bound to change our lives as much as Aiden did in new, exciting, and challenging ways.

The ability to splurge on loved ones at Christmas time.

A lovely and warm home that defines comfort in chaotic times.

Two stable and good jobs in this tough economy.

Consistent health for me and my family.

Two cars that are nearly paid off and run well.

Tons of good food cooked by someone other than me ;)

The diligence, accountability and encouragement I receive to write regularly, both for my own benefit and for others’.

The habit of reading a new book every month.

A kitty that keeps my feet warm and always loves to play.

Family that visits me when we don’t have enough in the budget for travel.

Compliments from my son every night as I sing him to sleep and he strokes my face.

Old friendships that have stood the test of time, distance, and struggles.

The development of new friendships that are proving to be indispensable parts of my life as a young, working mother.

Private childcare from ladies who love my son and train him as one of their own.

The extraordinary luxury of technology (iPhones, the internet, Facebook, Netflix, etc.) that allows us to stay connected to distant and nearby loved ones.

The freedom, thanks to the sacrifices of so many others, to experience all of these things in such abundance!

The truth is, we should all be grateful every day of our lives for our extraordinary blessings, liberties, and abundances. Some of us are better at living a life of gratitude than others, but today is a wonderful reminder to all of us to stop, remember, and appreciate all that we have. Hopefully the effects of such a reminder will linger long through the holidays and into next year. And as we are tempted to grumble or complain or let cynicism get the better of us, we will direct our thoughts in a more positive and grateful direction, recalling these lists that we all tend to create on Thanksgiving or New Years and pledging to live more consistently by them.

I wanted to leave you today with a somewhat non-traditional Thanksgiving recipe. With a house full of family and friends, many of us are so focused on the BIG meal that we often forget that all these beloved bellies need breakfast too. And no one wants to present their family, who came from near and far, with boxes of cereal and a carton of milk. So here’s my easy and delectable breakfast recipe that’s sure to impress:

French Toast Sticks:

In a bowl mix:
3 eggs (or substitute)
Milk to thin
Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and a touch of Vanilla
Whisk till well blended.

In a second bowl mix:
1 Tbsp Cinnamon
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
3 Tbsp of White Sugar
3 Tbsp of Flour (or more as needed)

Cut the crusts off of approximately 1/2 a loaf of wheat bread and cut each slice in half. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil. Dip each strip of bread in the first mixture and coat well with the second mixture. Fry evenly on both sides and pat dry with paper towels. Serve with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, maple syrup, and whipped cream. Voila!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! May your day be blessed and full of happiness!

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Finding the Perfect Gifts for Manly Men

Being someone who very much appreciates a thoughtful and personal gift, one that I know the giver bought out of a sense of love and connection, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to find these types of gifts for others. Especially for those I most care about. I want to find something that doesn’t just say, “I had to get you a gift, so here’s something kind of nice,” but rather, “I’ve been thinking and brainstorming for months to come up with something that I thought would be special to you and here’s what I’ve discovered.” This is why, for many of my holiday gifts, I opt for homemade. Because it is as much about the thought, preparation, and time investment as it is about the thing given. But for my Hubby, I ruminate for ages trying to come up with unique ideas that will speak to him –  things he will enjoy and not just end up as one more item gathering dust in a closet. This year I find myself a bit stumped. The trouble with Jonathan is that his most passionate interests are very specialized and VERY expensive. They are things I could not buy for him even if I could afford them because I don’t know enough about them to get the right thing. And yet they are the things he most wants. So half the time I feel like I ought to just give him the money to go buy his own gifts. But everything about that seems wrong to me. Contrary to the idea and purpose of thoughtful gift giving. So I brainstorm and search and ponder. This year’s searching has left me feeling… baffled. If you Google or Amazon search “gift ideas for men,” you get the most incredibly long list of complete crap.  Most of it associated with smoking, drinking, golf, and dirty, fifth-grade humor. Is this how our society views men? As juvenile, lazy partiers? (You can see this sentiment echoed in many popular sitcoms, where the male is the buffoon, the comic relief, the dufus, always in need of the woman to fix his blunders. What a shame. But this is an entirely separate blog post for a later date.)

All of these "gift ideas for men" were in the top 15 when I ran a search by that name in Amazon!

I don’t know about you all, but my man is worth far more than these types of kitschy, generalized assumptions about ignorant men. And I want him to know it when I hand him his gifts. So while trying to find other sources of inspiration, I decided to email the author of a blog that he follows and admires called The Art of Manlinesswhich reminds men that, even in today’s hyper-sensitive, feminist society, it is OK to be strong and manly and virtuous. I told him in my email that my husband was inspired by what he wrote to be a better man and that I, as well as many of his readers, might appreciate some manly suggestions for gifts this holiday season. He responded the same day with some thoughts and ideas as well as links to the gift lists he published for the last three years. It was very helpful and, I am happy to say, I think I have solved my quandary for my man’s presents this year. Since I appreciated his help so much, I decided to send his suggestions on to you. Hopefully you will find them as helpful as I did.

The Art of Manliness 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

The Art of Manliness 2009 Holiday Gift Guide

The Art of Manliness 2010 Holiday Gift Guide

Close to Home . . .

Having posted a couple of times about my vague admiration for Autumn and it’s effects on the world and my own personal psyche, I decided to share a few specific examples of what Fall looks like in our home – just small glimpses of why it will always hold such a special place in my heart.

Daddy teaching Aiden to cook breakfast. Mmmm, I can still smell it!

The newest addition to our family begining to show him/her-self.

The first fire in our fireplace. Needless to say, Aiden was impressed!

Painting pumpkings! Much more enjoyable for a toddler than trying to carve them.

The end result - Mine on the left, Aiden's on the right (with a little help on the face).

Shhhh! Be vewy, vewy qwiet! I'm hunting wizzards!

A crochet project I'm working on - for the baby if it's a girl, otherwise myself :)

Getting ready for Trick or Treat! Happy Halloween everyone!

The World’s Rosy Complexion

I’m not sure if it is the gradual change of the weather this year, as opposed to the dramatic drop we usually get from 90° one week to 45° the next, or if it is simply the universe smiling at us poor southerners at a time when the stress of life is getting overwhelming, but I was just commenting to my husband that the fall colors seem more vivid this year and remarkably out of character for our little corner of the world. Of course it helps matters that, due to a temporary change of sitters for my son, I have been driving the Natchez Trace to work every day. It is the most beautiful stretch of road in Mississippi and such a refreshing change of scenery to clear my mind as I drive.

A section of the Natchez Trace near Rocky Springs

I must confess that seeing all of this Autumn grandeur does more to make me miss my Yankee upbringing that it does to help me appreciate my current home. It reminds me so much of the Autumns I remember growing up, surrounded by sugar maples, oaks, elms, and other hardwoods that transform themselves annually with a fiery magic that seizes even the most diehard advocates of summer and captures their hearts and imaginations for Fall. The whole world has a golden, rosy complexion and it is hard to not to look at the rest of life through the same colored lenses.

Another section of the Old Natchez Trace, slightly north of here.

And the colors that seem to be spreading like wildfire over the local foliage are accompanied by the most glorious earthy, musky smell of the fallen leaves and the damp earth that lingers in the cool air instead of being baked away by afternoon heat. It is a smell that inspires us to fill our homes with the other smells of Fall: pumpkin spice muffins, squash casserole, roasted pumpkin seeds, cinnamon apple cider, and zucchini bread. It reminds us to kick on the heat, pull out the afghans and find a good book to wile away the rainy afternoons.

Mmmmm, Yummy!

I am so grateful that Autumn has finally arrived and has decided to grace us with its rather picturesque presence this year. I, and I’m sure many others, definitely needed the change of scenery and the renewal of inspiration.

Is it Kitsch or a Catch?

As a pseudo-artist myself, surrounded by a community of artists, I have traditionally found kitsch rather hard to stomach. Especially in large doses. However, yesterday, as I spent the afternoon perusing the many, MANY booths at the Canton Flea Market, I felt a certain solidarity with the community of craftsmen there and the simple, unassuming humanity that was exhibited in even the lowliest of their wares.

Sometimes it was the most ridiculous, the most kitschy of all the displays that made me stop and smile. That brought to mind images of country farmhouses and family gatherings. They were, perhaps, not as justifiably artistic as “real” art, but they were homey and comfortable, silly and nostalgic.

Maybe I am losing my standards in my old age, but I had more fun photographing these amazing examples of Americana surrounded by funnel cake trucks and snow cone stands, than I would have had in a stuffy gallery quietly making judgements about the authenticity of an abstract modern work (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

There was also something amazing about seeing an entire community come together to create something so immense. Every street anywhere near the downtown square was lined with booths and booths of craftsmen selling their wares. Proud of their merchandise because it stood apart from all the Made-in-China, Big-Box stuff we buy everyday and fill our houses with.

Customers and vendors alike partook in the frenzy of people eager to find something to give during the holidays that was not like everything else they already have. Something unique and hand-made. And kitsch or no, it was lovely.

And what did I bring home from this festival of craftsmanship, you may ask? I found three little gems that made me very happy:

Hand-made wooden toys! (And yes, I did buy my 2 1/2-year-old son a gun, and he LOVES it!)

A vegetable peeler hand-made in Switzerland, that I succumbed to buy after a very good salesman gave me a demonstration ;)

And a very long string of freshwater pearls that I could not resist at their $10 price tag.

And on the long walk back to my car, I couldn’t help but take this photo which demonstrated the intense southern-ness of the town in which the market took place. I don’t even know what chitterlings are, but I’m kind of afraid to ask.

Bon appetite and happy shopping!