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I grew up in a household where food was plentiful and tasty.  Chicken was almost always fried, potatoes were served with gravy and I had to beg my mom to buy me rice-a-roni.  She couldn’t figure out why in the world I would want to eat that packaged junk.  When I became an adult and started cooking for myself I had a lot of food related realizations.  I’ll share some with you today.

Chicken doesn’t have to be tough as leather in order for it to be safe to eat.   My mother had a fear of salmonella or something.  I remember her putting chicken in the frying pan and leaving it there for a REALLY long time.  When we sat down to eat it, we would wear our jaws out chewing it up.  I don’t remember it tasting bad at all, it was good.  It was just so TOUGH.  You can be sure it was cooked thru, though.   The first few times I made chicken for myself I was shocked at how little time the recipes would say to cook it.  Shockingly, it was always done and even moist and tender!

Baking is not that difficult of an undertaking.  In our house, almost everything was home-made.  The exceptions were most baked goods and bread. (especially cakes, some cookies and pie crusts)  The closest to home-made bread my mom got was using the refrigerated bread dough rolls.  For some reason, my mom just did not have the patience or desire to try whipping up a yeast dough.  Honestly, I don’t even know if she ever attempted it.  In the past year I have made several yeast dough projects and they have always turned out at least decent.   As far as baked goods go, she always bought the mixes for cakes and cookies, too.  I’ve come to really not like boxed cake mixes.  I don’t like the chemically taste.  As far as cookies go, I LOVE to make home-made chocolate chip cookies and find that even the cookie logs you can buy are gross to me now.

There is such a thing as “too sweet.”  My mom’s claim to fame was her sweet tooth.  This woman would start the day with a Diet Coke and Hostess Snow Balls.  No joke.  I don’t think she put salt in anything.  She would double the amount of sugar in recipes!  I found this out by helping her make a pie one time.  That explained why her pies never set up properly.   I’m not saying that I don’t have an affinity for sweets because I will be the first to stuff a Twinkie in my face but I have learned that good flavors are all about balance.  I don’t like cheesecake unless it’s served with a side of tart cherry topping.  Sweet is good, but sweet and salty or sweet and tart is tens times better.

Not everyone is raised in a household where the food is delicious and home-made.  I vividly remember my mom saying “most people don’t know what good food is.”  I found that to be a cryptic statement.  Good food is good food, right?  I get it now.  Now, that I have been around different families, co-workers and friends. It’s all relative.   It seems that some folks are totally happy with the orange mac and cheese and cookies made from a log.  I know a lot of it is how we are raised.  If orange mac and cheese is what your mom made you when you were sick, then that will be your comfort food when you are in your twenties and thirties.  I feel so very lucky that I know the taste of home-made sausage gravy and pudding made the old-fashioned way with eggs and flour.

What food epiphanies have you had in your life?

1.  Snow Cones -  This summer we have totally rediscovered snow cones.  They are cheap, light and refreshing.  My favorite flavor so far this summer is orange creamsicle.  Orange and vanilla heaven. Yum.

2. The sound of locusts – Nothing says summer to me like the hum of locusts on a hot afternoon.  It makes me think of laying out in the backyard and swimming in friends pools.  That sound is so calming to me.  LOVE IT

3.  Horrible, guilty pleasure shows like Big Brother and Jersey Shore – a terrible, awesome time waster.

4.  Summer rain storms – We are having one of these as I type this.  The hot air has been replaced by not so hot air and moisture.  The smell of rain is delicious.

5.  Flip Flops – I have to admit that I am guilty of wearing flip-flops nearly year round.  When the temps start to go under the sixties I do put them away but I can be spotted wearing flops well into fall.

6.  Berries, watermelon, and summer squash – I am craving some fried summer squash.  Also, fried okra! Is there anything better? I still haven’t bought a watermelon this year but really need to.  There is nothing like a cold watermelon to cool you down and quench your thirst.

7.  Sleeping with my little, tiny plastic fan on -  The sound of it kind of lulls me to sleep at night.

8.  Early summer mornings – The temps are still bearable and the sun is not as blinding.

9.  Cute summer dresses – Perfect for wearing with flip-flops and so cool!  Great for when the thought of getting into heavy denim jeans makes you break out into a sweat!

10.  Homemade ice cream – My family hasn’t quite perfected the recipe and although the texture is off, the banana variety that I have grown up eating is still as yummy to me as it was when I was a kid.

Perspective

Last night, we were on our way to a dinner obligation when we got into a little fender bender. I don’t even think fender bender is the correct term.  It was more like a fender chipper/door smasher.  I’m not going to go into details, but I feel pretty strongly that it wasn’t our fault.  Unfortunately, the other party may disagree with me.  We’ll see what happens.

The first time I was ever in a car accident it definitely was not my fault.  I was idling in a long line of cars at a stop light.  All of a sudden there was a huge impact and my car slammed into the rear of the car in front of me.  That car crashed into the car in front of it and so on and so forth.  It ended up being a five car pile up caused by a teenager who didn’t stop and hit the car behind me.  Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.  I remember making it to work later in the day and being so upset.  It was so unfair! I was just sitting there minding my own business and then suddenly my car was damaged beyond repair. I was out time at work, my car was gone and I was totally innocent.

A few hours later I was thinking about the accident and something occurred to me.  What about all of the people whose loved ones are taken away from them in senseless, unfair crashes.  How must they feel?  Immediately, I had perspective.  Losing a car was nothing.  Yes, it was a hassle and a nuisance but I could deal with that.  A car could easily be replaced.

That first crash was about seven years ago.  Since then I have had some major life changes, and I try to always remind myself that life isn’t fair and doesn’t always go the way we think it should but sometimes I forget and have to be reminded.

Last night, the accident was all I could think about.  I felt wronged, damaged and unjustly punished.  We JUST bought the car a few months ago.  How could that happen? I blamed it on about twenty different people.   I went to sleep still feeling angry.

This morning the first thing I saw when I turned on the news was the story about the man who lost his life going for a baseball at a game.   How must his family feel? My heart broke for them and is still breaking for them.

I then thought about another friend of mine whose father is going thru and very serious cancer battle right at this moment.

The truth is, I should know better than to be upset about a stupid car.

Just three years ago, it was my family who was watching as my late mother battled the disease.  Talk about perspective.  I can remember at the time being so mad at co-workers and friends who would complain about things that seemed so pointless to me.  Work problems, money problems,minor  health issues and of course, PETTY LITTLE CAR CRASHES.

It’s amazing how soon after having seen actual tragedy and loss, we become immune and callous to others who are going thru the same thing.  I know it’s happened to me.

My prayer is that I will always have perspective and that I will never forget what it feels like to have your heart truly broken by actual loss.  I don’t ever want to be unaffected by someone else’s suffering and I never want to be so self-absorbed that I think that losing something without eternal value matters.

Disclaimer – I forgot to take a picture of the cake after we cut it! ARGH!  It was beautiful, though, with lots of delicious layers!

I made my own birthday cake this year! Several years ago we had an ice cream cake from Marble Slab Creamery for my birthday and it was delicous.  My favorite flavor of theirs is sweet cream so we had a sweet cream and raspberry cake made.  Even my picky family raved about that cake.   I have been thinking about the cake lately, so I decided that I would try to make one for myself.  I used a recipe from Food Network for a guide, changing it just a little.

Here are most of the ingredients I used.  Vanilla ice cream, chocolate cake, chocolate sandwich cookies, magic shell, raspberries and whipped cream.  I didn’t even use the chocolate ice cream.  My husband and I ate that after the cake was gone.  Shame, shame on us!

The first thing I did was make a chocolate cake using a cake mix.  I followed the directions on the package, except I used leftover coffee instead of water.  I think it adds a little deeper flavor.  I made the cake in a round cake pan.  It needs to be set aside to COMPLETELY COOL! If you try to put the ice cream cake together without cooling the cake you will be in trouble!

While the cake cooled, I crunched up the cookies.  A big plastic ziploc bag and a rolling pin work great for this step.

When the cake has completely cooled you can assemble the ice cream cake.  Also, you will need a springform pan.  I guess you could make it in a different pan, but the springform worked so well for getting the cake out when it was totally frozen.   First mix about half of the cookie crumbles with about half of the chocolate shell.  Stir it around until its mixed in together.  Now is a good time to use the spoon or fork to crunch up the cookies more if you have big chunks of cookies.

The magic shell stuff is very liquidy! I didn’t expect that and I did make a mess of it when I poured it into my crumbs.  Woops!   The step is making the bottom layer which is the r/shell crust.   Press the moistened crumbs into the springform pan.  Make sure you press them tightly to get a good base for the rest of your cake.

The next thing I did was put some frozen raspberries on the cookie crumb layer.  I did quite a few because I love the floral flavor of raspberries!  I think this cake would be much too sweet if you didn’t have a nice tartness from some form of fruit.

Then, it was time for the first layer of ice cream.   The ice cream will be much easier to spread if it’s thawed out quite a bit.   I found that it worked well to put big dollops onto the cake and then spread them all around.  Really pack it down.  The flatter you can get it the better, in my opinion.

After this, it was time to put the cake into the freezer and let it freeze up for a while.   I made sure to cover it with plastic wrap so that it wouldn’t absorb any funky freezer smells. At this point, I went out to meet one of my best friends for lunch.  We had fried green beans at one of my favorite places.  I LOVE friend green beans!

Later, after I had returned from lunch, I finished the assembly part of the cake.  I pulled it out of the freezer and put the chocolate cake I had made earlier on top of the ice cream layer.   I had to cut my cake layer in half because it would have been too thick otherwise. It’s okay if it looks crooked and uneven. You’re going to cover it up anyway.

I really had to smash the cake down to make sure that I would have room for more layers.  Next, I added another layer of cookie crumbs and chocolate shell. Just mix up the rest of your shell and crumbs and then smash it down on top of the cake.  I followed that with more raspberries.

Finally, another ice cream layer.  See how I totally ran out of room on the top?  So many layers of goodness!  More plastic wrap and then it’s back into the freezer.  I would let it freeze for at least two to three hours.  Overnight would probably be best.  Don’t be like me, and try to make it on the same day you are serving it!  Too stressful!

After it has frozen together well and at least two hours or so before you need to serve it, you can make your whipped cream frosting.  I used about half of a large cream container and whipped it up with the hand beater.  It made plenty of whipped cream.  Oh yes, I also sweetened the cream with a little splenda because I didn’t have any sugar.  I popped the cake out of the springform pan and spread the whipped cream all over the sides and top, smoothing it as much as I could.  Then, I used a large bag with a hole cut on one side to pip large dollops around the top.

The final touch was adding some colorful sprinkles.  Then, I popped the cake back into the freezer to allow the cream to set for about fifteen or twenty minutes.  When the cream was hard, I draped the cake in plastic wrap and put it back into the freezer for about an hour or two.

This was right before we cut into it.  My family really enjoyed it.  It was really sweet and over the top!  This is one of those recipes that you could make so interesting by changing up the cake, cookies and ice cream.  I’m thinking a peanut butter, chocolate, devil’s food combo would be awesome. You could chop up peanut butter cup candies and make a crust with Nutter Butters or pretzels.  Yum!

Every few months or so the husband and I get down on ourselves and decide that we need to buckle down with our finances.  To be honest with you, we are very blessed and have so much to be thankful for.  We try to live not just below our means, but well below our means.  We started listening to Dave Ramsey shortly after we got married and we have made every effort to follow his sound financial advice.   As he says, it’s nothing complicated, just advice that your grandma would give you.

This doesn’t mean that we are perfect, though.  We are far from it.   We both like to shop and we both like nice things.  We love to eat out, drink fancy coffee and download lots of ninety-nine cent songs.  Oh, and we really love our smart phones and hi-tech gaming systems.

I’m sure most everyone has noticed that their grocery bills have creeped up recently.  I have definitely noticed that I am spending more and more at Wal-Mart every week.   Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends posted a picture of a bunch of items that she got from Walgreens for what seemed like a low price.  I decided to check out my circulars from the Sunday newspaper to see if I could find any good deals.

Now, I have never watched the show about couponing.  I am assuming that they combine store deals with coupons to get the most bang for their buck.  My strategy for my first couponing session was to just find the best deals from either Wal-Mart, CVS or Walgreens and go to those stores to get the deals.

My first stop was CVS where I planned to buy two bottles of Pantene Pro-V and combine their store offer with a coupon from the paper.  Alas, I was too late.  The shelf had already been emptied of the specific bottles that the coupon was for.  (should I have asked if they would honor coupon anyway or for a rain check?)  The other deal that I wanted at CVS was seventy-nine cent two liter cokes.  That was a very good deal.  I bought five bottles.  I usually pay around a buck twenty-five or more for Diet Pepsi.   I also picked up two boxes of Kashi cereal for six dollars and then got an extra care buck from CVS, making the cereal only two-fifty each.  My total bill was about ten bucks.

I then went to Wal-Mart.  There, I got my meat, veggies, milk and the bulk of my shopping list.  Shockingly, I only spent fifty-six dollars.  My normal bill there is over one hundred most weeks.  My last stop was Walgreens.  Their flyer from yesterday had good coupons on eggs, tuna, tomato sauce, and foil. Also, they were running a sale on Starbucks coffee and Right Guard deodorant.  My big score there was buy one, get one free on their store brand Zyrtec.  Total bill there was about thirty dollars.  So, total I spent about one hundred dollars this morning but I am sure that I got more than I normally would have.

Also, this morning I spent some time online researching coupon sites and blogs and also asked a friend how she does the coupon game.  She said it’s kind of a pain at first but once you get the hang of it and your coupon pile starts getting bigger things start paying off.  Here are a few links that I found helpful.  Please share if you have any more advice!

forthemommas

iheartCVS

http://www.smartmoney.com/spend/family-money/5-best-coupon-clipping-web-sites-23634/

My birthday is right around Father’s day so every few years it falls on the actual Father’s day holiday.  Growing up, it was kind of neat though.  On the years that it was the same we would celebrate both and I never felt like my birthday was upstaged or forgotten or anything like that.

For the past several years Father’s day has been completely different, though.  It’s now a very confusing day, one where I reflect on past events and have a hard time picking the right card or saying the right things.

I remember reading a story about Jennifer Anniston in a magazine once, and the article mentioned that she was estranged from her mother.  I thought to myself, how can anyone not talk to their parent at all?   The whole concept of estrangement was so foreign to me.  Until it happened in my family.

My parents were married for forty years when my dad up and left.  Just moved out one day and in with another woman.  It was shocking.   My parents had always had a strained marriage, we kids knew that their relationship wasn’t what we wanted for ourselves when we married one day.  They would go days without talking and he did even leave for about a week once when I was in junior high.  He came back though, and my mom never questioned why he had left, she just took him right back.

We seemed to have the perfect family from the outside, and we did in a lot of ways.  We genuinely loved each other and I knew that my dad would do anything for us kids.  He was involved in sports, church and spoiled us with material things.  I never doubted his love for us.  I think because everything else in our lives was so good, we kind of pretended that the spirit of unhappiness my dad seemed to have, didn’t exist.

I am the youngest child and as I got older, I could see that things seemed to be deteriorating between my parents.   I lived at home while in college so I had a front row seat to the impending train wreck. Dad had always worked a lot but now he would get up super early and stay away until late at night.  When he was home, conversation was strained or non-existent.   I remember going on a weekend trip and when I returned that Sunday afternoon, it was obvious something had happened.  Mom could barely talk, she was so upset, and there was a new car in the driveway. (to this day, I don’t know what happened) The tension in the air was suffocating.

That was pretty much the last straw for me, I had to get out of that house.  At this point, I was done with college and had a good job.  I went out and found an apartment that week and moved out.  I think in my heart of hearts I knew that once I left things could fall apart.  I decided that I had to leave, regardless.  It wasn’t my responsibility to be the glue that held the family together.

It was about a year later that he left.  He didn’t even have the nerve to tell my mom to her face.  He went to my older sister and told her.  She had to be the one to tell my mom what was going on.  Although my mom was absolutely heartbroken, I don’t think she was surprised.  I think she had been praying for years that it wouldn’t happen like this.   Within a week or two of him leaving, we found out that there was another woman involved.  She had been married also, and had left her husband and three young girls for my dad.

My siblings and I were angry beyond belief.  We knew that things weren’t right between my parents but the lying and adultery was totally shocking.  It went against everything he had instilled in us growing up.   As the months went on, we found out that he had led two lives for years.  We immediately took our mother’s side.  I wanted nothing to do with him.  I was so mad I couldn’t even talk to him.

As the months went by, he and the woman holed up in a condo he had bought on the sly.  His booming business fell apart, mostly because the whole town thought he was a lying scum bag.  His sometimes aloof and flaky behavior was no longer tolerated for my sweet mother’s sake.  People actually said to me “I always thought your dad was a big jerk.” I’m not sure if they meant to make me feel better, but it always made me feel worse.

The months dragged by and before I knew it, it has been about 2 years since I had spoken to him.  He had tried maybe three times to get in touch.  A random birthday card or a phone message at Thanksgiving.  It was like he had decided that the previous forty years had been all of the time he was putting into us and now he was clocking out.

The foundations of my world were rocked even further when my mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer.  For a year and a half we shuttled to and from doctors appointments and treatments.   During this time I did not have the energy to even think about my dad.  I was emotionally drained.  Caring for my mother and dealing with the grief that we all knew was coming was overwhelming.  She passed away after eighteen months of fighting the disease.  Three months before she died I gave birth to my daughter.  Someone asked me if I was going to call my dad to tell him.  I didn’t have the desire or energy and didn’t feel the slightest bit obligated to call.

Estrangement from my dad was a really weird feeling.  I kind of knew that I would talk to him again eventually, and I’m glad that God gave me the chance to.  It would have been devastating if something would have happened to him while we weren’t communicating.   Forgiving dad was the key to getting past our estrangement.  When you are hurt that bad, it’s hard to forgive.   I wish I would have forgiven dad sooner.  Even though he and my mom had such a messy divorce, he would have been supportive when my mom died.  There is no doubt in my mind about that.  Our estrangement robbed him of the opportunity to bless us and redeem himself a bit in our time of despair.

When my daughter was about eight months old, my sister decided to make peace with dad.  I think in her mind it was better to have one parent, rather than none at all.  Both of us decided that it would be better if we did it as a group.  We met dad for lunch one day.  It was awkward but pleasant.  None of us made reference to the past four years.  A few months later we even went to his house for a birthday dinner for my grandmother.

It’s been two years since we reconciled.  Things haven’t always been great.  One of my siblings still has major issues with dad and that has made it a little hard.   I try to meet him for lunch every month or so and it’s not nearly as awkward as that first meeting.  My little girl is always excited to see him and he seems genuinely happy to spend time with her.   He’s not the perfect dad, but for a lot of years he was really close and I’ve decided that has to count for something.

I told you that my birthday is coming up soon so sunday afternoon my husband and I went and picked up my early birthday present – a Barnes and Noble Nook Color.  I’ve only had it for two days now and so far I love it.  At first, the only problem I found was that I couldn’t decide what to download and read first.  Actually the first thing I downloaded was a magazine.  Barnes and Noble let you try out magazines and newspapers for free for fourteen days.  You have to go online and cancel them or you will get charged.  I tried out a cooking magazine.  It’s pretty cool, it’s just like reading a paper magazine, ads and all.

The next thing I bought was a mystery novel, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.  The price was right (under five bucks) and after reading the sample I went for it.  I’m not finished reading it yet, but so far so good.  Yesterday afternoon I decided to figure out how to borrow ebooks from my local library and put them on my Nook.  I went to the library website and read through the instructions.  I downloaded free Adobe software and had it on my computer within minutes. Then, I looked through the downloadable library.  Most of the hot titles had a waiting list so I put titles on hold that I want to read and then found a couple of titles that were available right away.  I downloaded them and had them on my Nook within a minute or two.  The only thing that confused me at first was that the books didn’t show up on my library. I looked online and saw that they would be in my documents folder on my Nook.  I looked and that was where I found them.

Another cool thing about the Nook is the Read to Me feature.   I showed my little girl the book The Elephant’s Child on the Nook and she loved it.  I’m trying not to let her look at it too much because I don’t want her to think it’s hers, plus I like reading to her myself. I think it’s going to be really good for special treats and for distractions when we need it.

Last night, I read about half of the The Accidental Billionaires for free from the library.  I have 14 days to finish it before it gets returned to the library.  All of this from the comfort of my couch.   I’m sure there is more to the Nook that I haven’t even seen, but so far I think it’s been one of the best gifts I’ve received.  Thank you, sweet husband!

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