Lucky.

That’s the word continually running through my head right now.

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Just before midnight on May 24, 2010 Adam’s parents’ home was destroyed by an EF3 tornado. Their home for 30+ years. The home where he and his brothers were raised.

His parents were asleep when the storm was about to hit. They woke up with only enough time to ride the storm out in the floor between their closet and bed. They escaped with minor scrapes and bruising. It could have been much worse.

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They are lucky they are alive. God was certainly watching over them and I praise him for his mercy.

Lucky they have been able to salvage family photos and other sentimental items.

Lucky they have friends, family and neighbors sacrificing their time to help them however the need it: sorting through the rubble, doing laundry, cutting up trees to get into the 2 hardest hit areas of their house (the kitchen and living room) which are mere crawl spaces now, and showering them with food and supplies.

Lucky their vehicles and farm equipment, for the most part, sustained minor damage and are all still drivable.

Lucky almost all of their clothing has been salvaged. (Including almost all of Adam’s mom shoes)

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Lucky that most (if not all) of the antique turquoise FiestaWare Adam’s mom had hung above the kitchen table survived. Unbroken. (The fate of the table appears positive as well)

Lucky that her KitchenAid mixer is a-okay.

Lucky that their liquor escaped unscathed.

Despite the destruction and scary realization that they must rebuild and start anew, Adam’s parents are incredibly blessed right now. It could have been worse. Much worse. They are alive and that is something for which I thank God.

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Happy Easter!

It’s very rare that I create an Adam approved JibJab video, but it is the season for miracles. Click the picture below for an Easter greeting!

Engagement Pictures

It’s been just over a week since Adam and I met with the fabulous Karen Segrave McCall, owner of KES Weddings, to shoot our engagement pictures. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about how the shoot would go down, because I really wanted the pictures to reflect our personalities without looking posed or fake.

Can I just tell you how lucky we got? Not only was Karen able to capture our personalities flawlessly in the pictures, but she also made sure that we had input on shots every step of the way! It was such fun traipsing about Little Rock with her for two and a half hours to find settings that “fit” with us.

The biggest surprise came to us Sunday morning, less than 24 hours later, when I checked my email and saw that she had already made our proofs available to look through. I immediately opened them up and started swooning. They were full of emotion, laughter, love and joy and we couldn’t be happier!

Karen has been so sweet to allow me to share some of my favorites with you. So, without further ado, I present our engagement pictures.

I can’t recommend Karen highly enough if you are in the market for a wedding photographer. I’m so excited to see what she captures for my bridal portraits and at our wedding!

all images via Karen Segrave McCall|KES Weddings

Our House

Lately I’ve found myself driving around town and making up stories about the inhabitants of random houses.

That craftsman house I pass almost daily: I bet the owners are close to retirement age. They have grown children and are soon expecting their first grandchild. Their home is cheerful, filled to the brim with memories of the life they’ve led. They host bridge once a week, playing around the same table where they helped their children with homework.

That small wood-frame home with a carport: A widow lives there. The same home she built with her husband while raising their children in the 60s. She spends most of her time in 1 room: the kitchen, because that’s where most of her memories took place. She remembers her son’s burnt batch of brownies and the crowded Thanksgiving dinners. She finds herself staring at the same refrigerator where her children’s grades were proudly displayed.

That friendly 2-story brick house in a sub-division I discovered on a random jaunt about town: I’m positive it’s home to a young family with 2 elementary aged children. The interior is modern yet inviting, the refrigerator covered in art projects and A+ homework assignments. The backyard filled with toys.

What I’ve realized in these daydreams is that every family I make up in my head is happy, loving, and supportive. They are warm and welcoming and exude Southern hospitality. Their homes are well-decorated, each piece of furniture placed lovingly in position and each photo on the wall capturing a moment in time that they treasure.

Maybe it’s because I’m newly engaged that I think about these things. Maybe it’s what happens when a bride-to-be starts to dream about her own house and new family. Whatever the reason, it’s given me focus.

Focus to create a home that is welcoming, warm and full of love. A home that is a reflection of the personalities which inhabit it. A family that cherishes memories, laughs together and plays games together.

A family who makes memories in the kitchen.

image via Orange Blossom Society

Promises, Promises

Earlier this week, Adam asked me to make a promise about our impending future together. A promise that spawned from a fear of his.

His fear? That I would turn into a Real Housewife once we were married.

My promise? I won’t become a Real Housewife.

Let me tell you, his fear was very real and written all over his face. Meanwhile, I’m trying to stifle my laughter because he actually believes I might turn into one.

As you probably know, I cannot tear myself away from the Real Housewives franchise. I follow every season, can discuss the episodes ad nauseum with anyone that will listen and have references pop into my head at random times throughout my day-to-day life. Maybe this explains Adam’s fear for the future – our future.

Thankfully, after talking through it with him and getting to a point where he truly believes I won’t become one, we’re now able to joke about it. As further proof that I have no desire to become a Real Housewife, I thought I’d post my Top 10 Reasons here – should Adam ever need to be reminded in the future 🙂

10. I have no desire to have cameras shoved in my face, or my family’s face, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Nor do I have any desire to have my phone tapped, my innermost thoughts broadcast to the world, or my “confessions” spliced, edited, and taken out of context. I prefer my spoken thoughts, as stupid as they may sometimes be, to be unedited and taken at face value.

9. Sure I like pets who wear clothes, gosh they can be so cute! But it doesn’t mean I’m going to drop thousands of dollars on a pure-bred purse dog just because I can. I’ll take shelter dog instead, they’ll be just as cute and loving.

8. I can think of about 1,000 other ways I’d spend 3.5 million dollars instead of on a child’s third birthday party. 2nd home in South Carolina, anyone?

7. I drive a Nissan. Not a Jaguar, not a Mercedes, not a BMW or Hummer. I drive your typical run of the mill 4 door sedan and the most fascinating place it takes me to during the week is work. Plus, I hear working for anyone but yourself or in a family business pretty much disqualifies you from being a Real Housewife.

6. I will never feel comfortable spending $3,000 in a single shopping trip on a pair of jeans, a sweater, and a t-shirt dress for a child who is still growing! That’s why Target was founded.

5. Reunions with my girlfriends won’t involve Andy Cohen asking us to relive the drama and tell him how we feel. Instead they’ll involve drama-free drinks at Happy Hour or the occasional trip to NYC.

Just making sure you’re paying attention.

4. I have no previous connections with the mafia. I have never been a drug dealer – or tried drugs for that matter. I also have no “Big Poppa” relationship.

3. I will never understand why women want frozen, expressionless faces. Plus, facial expressions can be important when effectively conveying sarcasm, which I plan to do a lot of for the rest of my life.

2. I have no desire to become a one-hit wonder singing about parties for which I cannot arrive on time, class for which money cannot buy, or closets from which freaks emerge. The only time I will try to be a recording star is when it required of me on whatever wii game I am playing at the moment.

1. I live in Arkansas. Rarely, if ever, do gay men prance around in high heels and hot pants then come to my house to fix my non-existent wig for a night on the town in the dry county I call home.

Operation: No More Beyonce

Adam and I have been together for 3 years and for the last, oh, year and a half, I’ve taken to humming Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” in the car whenever we have a dull moment. In part because I love the song and its accompanying video, but also because it was about dang time for a ring to show up on MY finger. 🙂

I spent the week after Christmas  in Austin with Adam where we shopped, ate at some of his local favorites, drove around looking for an open cupcakery, watched “Top Gear”, and chilled. Rarely do we have a full week together, but when we do I treasure the time we spend together. Long-distance relationships are hard, especially when said relationship has been long distance for a year and a half.

All week, Adam had mentioned going to the New Year’s Eve fireworks downtown, but after we spent the day downtown shopping and saw how bad the parking and traffic was already getting, we decided to scratch that idea. We got back to his apartment and freshened up a bit so we could go “out on the town” for the night. A bit after 5 Adam said, “Let’s go,” to which I replied, “It’s only 5. We aren’t grandparents.” Then he said he wanted to go catch the last sunset of 2010. Okay then.

The two of us loaded up in his car and he drove us to Mount Bonnell. Mount Bonnell has a gorgeous view of Lake Austin and the amazing houses surrounding it and a view of downtown Austin (complete with an unfortunate view of the Texas Tower), as well as a beautiful pavilion where lots of tourists snap pictures or hangout. After we parked the car we walked up the ridiculously steep stairs to the summit. Mind you, I’m wearing cute pointy-toe ballet flats – because that’s what all experienced hikers wear.

At the top, Adam takes me over to a smaller somewhat private overlook and I notice we arrived at just the perfect time, because the sun has just begun to set and cast a pink hue across the sky. It was breathtaking. We stand there for a good while chatting about how pretty the view was and which houses on the lake I wanted him to buy me.

Hey, a girl can dream right?

Next thing I know Adam is PROPOSING!! TO ME!!! I don’t even remember everything he said leading up to the “Will you marry me” part but I remember being a bit surprised. In a good way. Right then and there I went from girlfriend to fiancée and I was beaming.

He did a good job on the ring too – even if he had a little help from yours truly. 🙂

I ended 2010 as Adam’s fiancée and I’ve spent every day of 2011, thus far, with a huge smile on my face, because I get to MARRY the most amazing guy I know!! Ah!

And yes, in case you were wondering, Adam called this whole proposal preparation “Operation: No More Beyonce”. He’s a funny one 🙂

A Redneck Corkscrew…

…and other Christmas shenanigans.

I’m baaaaaack!! After a 2 week holiday blogging hiatus I’m back at it and ready to see what’s to come in 2011!  Let’s start 2011 with a recap of my holidays, shall we?

Every year, I travel to my tiny hometown of 3606 people in Southwest Arkansas to spend Christmas in my childhood home. This year I spent 3 days having lots of cable and internet free family time around roaring fires. We baked, attended my church’s “candlight” service on Christmas Eve, and exchanged Snoop Dogg jokes while driving around looking at Christmas lights.

On Christmas morning we awoke to the sound of Ottie’s electronic bird noisemaker, which chirps constantly until unplugged. I found it soothing and nostalgic, my sister – on the other hand – described it as cruel and unusual punishment. In either case, I knew that Ottie was looking over us smiling. Eventually, we got out of our warm beds and bounded down the stairs to unwrap our gifts while wearing our traditional Christmas Eve gift of new pajamas. Once we finished unwrapping gifts, my sister asked for three gift bags. Why? So she could wrap our gifts from her – she’s always prepared.

Next was Christmas breakfast, to which my parents thought mimosas would be a nice addition. Being the heavy drinkers they are, mom asked my sister and I to Google mimosas on our phones. Ha! A Google search? My sister and I could mix a mimosa in our sleep.

By the time dinner came around we had spent the day vegging on the couch reading, texting friends, and watching movies. But there was an unopened bottle of Riesling in the fridge that we (ok, my sister and I) wanted to open. Then we realized we had no corkscrew in the house. Being the scrappy folk we are, my dad picked through my mom’s craft cabinet for screws and pliers and my sister grabbed a knife and an ice pick.

We quickly realized that the ice pick wouldn’t work and resorted to screws and pliers for the most effective method of cork removal. The first try revealed that a longer screw would be needed, and after tightening the screw into the cork using a knife…

…my dad used the pliers to pull the cork out. Success!!

Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, and I guess it’s only fitting since we started the Christmas season drinking. 🙂

The Advent Wreath

The season of Advent is upon us.

It’s the time of year when families around the globe, who observe the liturgical calendar, gather in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas.

A time where families gather in church fellowship halls to build their own Wreath, which they will place prominently in their homes and light as a family throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas.

A time for Joy, Peace, Love and Hope.

A time when parents are full of joy because their children are able to light the candles of the Wreath in an environment of love and peace. Or, in the case of my parents, hopeful that their daughters would light the candles in an environment of love and peace.

You see, one year my sister and I weren’t so, um, loving or peaceful during the lighting of the candles. In fact, we had a bit of a tiff over whose turn it was to read the devotional and whose turn it was to light the candles.

And this tiff?

Well, let’s just say that in ended in a – ahem – well lit Advent Wreath.

As in, we set our family’s Advent Wreath on fire.
image via Jer86 on Flickr

Give Thanks!

Turkey-induced comas.

Seconds [and thirds] of a bubbling hashbrown casserole.

Buttery rolls.

Pumpkin Pie.

Pecan Pie.

Apple Pie.

Thanksgiving is upon us and I can’t be happier. Surprising as it may sound, it’s not the food that I look forward to most about Thanksgiving, it’s the time spent with family and friends. The time after the paper plates are put in the trashcan (Don’t judge, we have about half as many dishes to wash compared to you because of this), when everyone is recovering from a meal filled with boisterous laughter and staring in silence at a table covered in shellacked decorative vegetables.

It’s this time when everyone is quiet and together that I value the most. Even though our quiet time together may not last long and there’s still games to be played, it’s at this moment every year when I realize just how lucky I am. I have a family who loves and supports me and friends who laugh with [and at] me. I have a belly full of good home cooking and a smile on my face. I wish we could all be so lucky.

There’s a tradition in my family every Thanksgiving, and I’m sure it’s common among other families, where we go around the table and say what we are thankful for. What great perspective it gives us every year, to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives and just give thanks. It’s magical.

One year [though no one else in my family remembers this, so who knows if it actually happened or if I had a random dream that I confused with reality] someone went above and beyond the typical “I’m thankful for_____” after dinner spiel.

We received a thank you card in the mail. This wasn’t just your run of the mill “Thank you for ____ gift/gesture” card; it was a card thanking us for everything we had done in the last year that had impacted this person. From a smile or hug to a gift and everything in between. Everything they could think of to give thanks that year involving us was meticulously written in the card. I don’t even remember if they sent this card at Thanksgiving or some other time during the year, but it left a lasting impression on a middle school-aged me.

Imagine what the world would be like if we all had time to send a “Thank You” card to our nearest and dearest thanking them for everything they did for us in the last year.

Happy Halloween

Confession: I’m not really a big Halloween fan. Mainly because I absolutely despise scary movies. Take for example the fact that Scream and Scary Movie (the movie that parodies scary movies) scare me. The whole obsession with horrifying ghouls and goblins and paranormal activity and haunted houses is lost on me. So yeah, I’m a wuss.

Since I am a past costume winner at the First United Methodist Church in my hometown [I dressed as a rockstar, complete with metallic Tina Turner-esque hair], I do enjoy the idea of dressing up as someone else. I just prefer that costumes involve cheerleaders, raggedy Anns, clowns, and ballerina princesses – not blood, ghosts, guts, or masks.

I like the Halloween innocence of bobbing for apples and participating in cake walks. I also enjoy pranks, as long as they aren’t played on me or, if they are played on me, don’t prey on my phobia of snakes or give me nightmares.

When you’re raised in a large 100-year old Victorian home it just seems to make Halloween easier to celebrate. The large front porch, the windows that sometimes rattled in the wind, occasional creaks when a door was opened…I’m sure it’s a Halloween enthusiast’s dream. I remember years of my dad putting on scary masks [somehow, when he put them on it wasn’t much different than his normal appearance. I kid. I kid.] and handing out treats while my mom had a spooky Halloween cassette tape playing for added effect. Later, they got even more into it, with jack-o-lanterns on the steps and spider webs stretched over the door frame. But, I think my favorite Halloween memory is the year my dad rigged up a ghost, which my mom had made from a white sheet and newspaper, with fishing line to mysteriously raise up in front of trick-or-treaters when my masked 6’8″ dad opened the spider webbed door.

That year? One kid was so scared he bolted off the front porch, through the yard, and back to his parents’ car. Without getting any candy.

Rotary Phone

E.T. [can’t] Phone Home…

Rotary Phone

When I was 4, I was put in the corner at The Learning Corner for not knowing my home phone number and while I don’t remember the actual events of the evening that followed, you can bet my mom [or maybe my dad] helped me memorize our number so that the next day I could proudly recite it.

Years passed and our  number was written on countless school permission slips, emergency contact forms, doctor’s files, college applications, and summer camp forms. There’s no telling how many times I’ve written my home phone number down. Later, after the advent of “Zack Morris phones”, I received my first cell phone and stored the number simply as “Home”. I placed it at speed dial #5, always knowing Home was just a press away.

My first year at college there were innumerable calls to that number, then as the popularity of cellular devices increased, my parents “joined the bandwagon” and their individual cell numbers became my preferred method of reaching them. I never stopped calling “Home” though, nor did I stop writing it on contact forms. It always stayed one key press away.

In December of 2008, my parents disconnected their landline. To them it was no big thing, but to my sister and me it was huge. Even though we have a home to go back and visit and “Mom” and “Dad” on speed dial, neither one of us can remove “Home” from our phonebook. Because, if we do, we’d be “Home”less.

Isn’t it funny that a number I was once punished for not knowing, is a number that I no longer have to know?

image via splityarn on flickr

Grocery Lessons

See that window? That BIG window at the top of the picture? That’s the window that inspired me today as my mom and I enjoyed a day of shopping.

Growing up my dad owned a grocery store, Taylor’s Grocery, which eventually became Taylor’s Big Star. This grocery store was a part of my family for most of my adolescence. As a kid, it was AWESOME to have the store opened after hours by your dad to run wild in & get everything for “free”. Frozen pizza, popcorn, coke, magazines, comics. That store was my oyster. My sister and I were even the store mascots during the annual Chicken and Egg parade.

(Yep, my hometown’s summer festival celebrated poultry. Laugh. It. Up.) See Exhibit A.

Exhibit A

I learned many things by being the daughter (and mascot) of a grocer:

I learned the importance of properly sacking groceries, a skill that I still value to this day. You want squashed bread about as much as you want soap flavored apples, which is about as much as you want broken eggs, right? Never underestimate the importance of sacking your groceries. Ever.

I learned how to efficiently scan barcodes. Well, when the scanner cooperates. Which also explains why I almost always choose the self-checkout line when the option is available. That line takes me back to a childhood of playing on the scanners after-hours at the family grocery store.

I learned, thankfully not from first-hand experience, that those meat slicers in the deli can be awfully dangerous. I also learned that pricing guns aren’t dangerous and can actually be a lot of fun to use.

(No wonder why my dad always let me price stuff when I asked. Hmm…must’ve been the free labor thing. Though my parents would never encourage free labor. WOULD YOU mom & dad?)

I learned independence, because as a toddler my mom was known to wake up and see me toddling down the driveway to see daddy. Yep, I was an early riser. An early-riser who missed her dad. Thank goodness it was a straight shot, literally, to the grocery store from our house and that I never made it further than the driveway before getting caught.

I learned where to find my dog, Sugar, a Cocker Spaniel, when he wasn’t in his pen. 9 times out of 10 he had jumped the fence and went to visit my dad at the grocery store.

But back to this blog inspiring window…

At the back of the store there was a small window, behind that window was the most fun area of the store. A tiny private “office”, if you will. To get to this office you had to climb up some stairs. Often these stairs were blocked by pallets or boxes, but that never got in our way. My sister and I would go up to this office with a box of Gushers or Fruit Roll-Ups, a few Archie comic books, some crayons and coloring books, and a fruit juice jug of some kind. We would feel like the queens of the store.

(I’m generalizing here. Maddie may not have felt this way, in which case she can clarify her feelings in the comments.)

From that little-bitty window we could see everything. A woman thumbing through magazines, a man picking fruit, every.single.person that walked through the doors.

Unfortunately, we never witnessed some of the more interesting happenings of the store from that window. Like the time a guy decided to steal cigarettes, so he stuffed them down his pants then ran out of the store with the manager following him, leaving a trail of cigarettes along the way. Not to mention losing his pants in the pursuit as well. Or so I’m told.

But I loved everyday that we got to sit up in that “office” watching over the store. From that window we could see exactly what a small town is about. Smiles to strangers, friendships, support, gossip, laughter, family, and eating.

Being the daughter of a grocer taught me so much more than the importance sacking and scanning. It taught me the importance of a community that sticks together through thick and thin.

Karaoke Memories

When I was 2 or 3, my cousin introduced me to Janet Jackson and I danced and sang my way through “Nasty” and “Lately”. My parents further encouraged this behavior by taping it using their VHS Camcorder. They were cool like that.

When I was about 7, I remember receiving my own personal tape player and microphone set-up, perfect for rapping to MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice on my parents’ screened in back porch. I was dope.

When I was about 12, my family started having karaoke nights, despite the fact that none of us could sing…well, we could sing, we just weren’t any good. Our karaoke machine was well loved and our song selection was impressive. We had a binder of CDs from which to choose, but inevitably I always chose “Brick House”. Complete with a little self-choreographed dance.

My adolescence was marked with age inappropriate karaoke.

Then, I went off to college, got my first apartment and realized that I could own karaoke games. Karaoke competitions? In my own home? Count. Me. In. I bought SingStar, Karaoke Revolution, and Get On Da Mic and held karaoke parties with friends. Watching each and every person try to hit a perfect score was entertaining to say the least, but best of all it provided me with 3 karaoke standards, should someone every bribe me to sing karaoke in public.

These standards have proven invaluable already, after an overconfident and unfortunate group effort involving “Scarborough Fair”… [Did you know there are more words to it than “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme”? We didn’t.]

Turn the Beat Around by Gloria Estefan

9 to 5 by Dolly Parton

Wannabe by Spice Girls

image via Cuba Gallery on Flickr

Where I’m From

I am from a two stoplight town, from Flywheel Pies, Sonic and chocolate turtles.

I am from the “big yellow house,” with intricate woodwork, Santa hanging from the front porch, and fireplaces alive with crackling embers.

I am from the fragrant gardenias and tasty honeysuckle, the peaceful fireflies and pesky mosquitoes.

I am from Wards and Owens, Ottie and Grand Merle – storyteller and gardener, Spaghetti maker and Oatmeal Crème Pie giver. Teacher.

I am from stature, grocers, Hog fans, volunteers, and friends.

From the parents who walked 3 miles uphill in the snow – barefoot and the relatives who offered wooden ice cream bars to innocent children [read: me].

I am from hearty Thanksgiving meals after raking leaves in toboggan caps and indelible family karaoke nights.

I am from faithful Methodists, from a sanctuary illuminated by stained glass, the kneeling pads sewn by my grandmother.

I’m from the South, great grand-daughter of Curtis. From Old Mike, El Spotro, Curley Wolves, and county fairs.  From fried chicken and banana pudding.

From women who sew, smock, tat, needlepoint, and crochet, from a Vietnam veteran.

I am from white-bordered photographs, stored in boxes, yellowed with age. The crunch of tires on a dirt driveway and the snap of tree limbs breaking under ice. A daughter shaped by her small southern town and the food she ate.

Cookies

C is for Cookie…

Cookies

…that’s good enough for me!

Tonight I decided to bake dishpan cookies or, as my coworkers and friends refer to them, Crack Cookies. It’s a recipe my mom came up with after taking her favorite ingredients from different recipes to make a brand new one. These cookies are amazing straight out of the oven and even better if you eat them straight out of the freezer (after baking of course). I think it’s the crystallization of the sugar…at least that’s what I tell myself. In fact, when mom makes these at Christmas, she fills up our Santa cookie jar and places the remainder in the freezer. The ones in the freezer always disappear before the ones in the cookie jar.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups corn flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups oats
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 (12 ounce) package chocolate chips
  • 1 cup coconut

Directions:

  1. Cream first 5 ingredients until light and fluffy in large mixing bowl.
  2. Mix dry ingredients in large pan.
  3. Pour creamed mixture over dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Drop by teaspoon on cookie sheet and bake in 350 oven for 8 – 10 minutes.

Note:  Do not overcook. I spray my cookie sheets with non-stick spray before cooking first batch.

Yield: 10 – 12 dozen cookies