Thursday, October 30, 2008

Coffee Enhances Memory? It's a Good Thing!

Supposedly, drinking coffee has several benefits, one being that it enhances our memory. Well, it's a good thing because I would hate to see what I would be like if I didn't drink coffee! I have been drinking coffee for about 15 years. It all started with a visit to a friend's house in Charleston, S.C. My friend was married to a professional chef and they would grind fresh coffee beans in the morning for their coffee. The smell of the coffee brewing was fabulous. After trying Hazelnut and Vanilla Nut, I was hooked. Of course, I used half coffee, half milk an a little sugar at first, but now I have advanced to drinking in the big leagues and drink only black coffee. I have a coffe bean grinder and a french press but mainly make coffee using Folgers flavored coffee due to always being in a hurry. Since I can't remember where I have parked my car, can't remember the name of movies I have just watched or the names of books I have read, I would probably not be able to remember where I live if it weren't for drinking coffee. I never go to work without a cup of coffee in my hand. I also have coffee stains on lots of my clothes. But I think I'm in good company becasued 82 % of Americans drink coffee and 44 billion cups of coffee are consumed each year worldwide. Since coffee is supposed to increase productivity and ability to focus, I think that could be the reason I feel the need to do three things at once. The sad thing is that I probablyl don't remember what those three things were!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Old Days

It seems that the older I get the more I appreciate the great stories told by my relatives. The stories range from walking to school in the snow, barefooted, uphill both ways to dating on a mule, to getting up at 4:00 AM to milk the cows and collect the eggs before going to school. I used to not really care to hear all of this, thinking that it was boring. Of course, I was probably a teenager at the time and was very easily bored with just about anything having to do with the "old days." But now I love to hear these stories and have a new respect for the lives of my relatives. They talk about life without TV and cars, indoor plumbing, and having to work in the fields, since most of their food came from their gardens. I guess we can tell our grandchildren about our early lives without microwaves, VCR's, DVD's, IPods, Wireless Internet, and cell phones. I'm sure this will be very boring to them and they will find it hard to believe that we grew up so deprived. But that's the way it was in the "old days."

The Best Ever Baked Apples in Pastry!

Katie and Ben went to a cool restaurant for dinner one night and had baked apples wrapped in pastry for dessert. It sounded so good that I decided to try to duplicate it. One apple will easily serve two people. There is an optional syrup that is delicious and can be poured around the apples after baking or before. Here's what I came up with:

Baked Apples Wrapped in Pastry

4 servings

4 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored (don't cut through bottom)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1 egg
1 T. milk

Puff Pastry (thawed)

Optional Syrup :
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/3 cup butter

Place apples in water with lemon juice after they are peeled to prevent browning. Mix the next four ingredients. Remove apples from water and dry. Fill the cavity of each apple with the mixture. Cut puff pastry in 5 inch squares. Whisk milk and egg together and brush over the pastry squares. Place one apple in the center of each pastry square and gently bring pastry up around the apple and smooth into pleats. Bring the corners up to the top of the apple and twist, forming a "stem." Brush the pastry with the egg wash and place each apple in a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until pastry is lightly browned.

Optional Syrup: Mix all ingredients except butter and bring to a boil. Add butter and stir till melted. Pour around apples after baking or about 10 minutes before removing from oven.

Serve with vanilla bean ice cream.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Autism: The Mystery

Almost everyone knows a family affected by autism. Autism occurs in approximately 1 out of every 150 births. This is significant considering that just a few years ago, autism occurred in 1 out of every 10,000 births. The cause of autism is still a mystery although there are several theories. There has been much publicity surrounding the claim that autism is caused by the preservative used to prolong the shelf life of childhood immunizations. Autism changes the lives of the families affected in many ways. These families face many difficulties in seeking a diagnosis, a lack of support, feelings of helplessness and grieving over the future they had dreamed of for their child that would now be very different. Some of the challenges that parents face include dealing with people that can be very judgemental, lack of resources, expensive treatments, maritial stress and negative effects on siblings. Families often have difficulty attending church due to a lack of care for their child, difficulty maintaining friendships due to the behaviors of their child, and difficulty with schools and understanding the special education process. As difficult as autism can be to deal with, there is much to be learned from these children. I personally owe so much to the first student I taught that had autism. I truly believe that I learned more from him than he learned from me. He was such a remarkable young man that was not understand by the average educator. These children have so much to offer and so much going on in their heads. The challenge lies in teaching them to control their negative behavior and to discover their gifts and talents. Children with autism often suffer from depression and anxiety. They realize that they are different, want to fit in but do not have the skills needed to maneuver the social world. I will be attending a workshop tomorrow on autism and managing behaviors. I have a very special interest in helping families that have children with autism and have had a lot of training over the years. One reason I wanted to start this blog was so that I might be able to provide some support and help for families dealing with autism. .I hope to be able to report some interesting new findings after attending the workshop tomorrow. Keep these families in your prayers and pray for increased funding and research to help identify the causes.

Memorable Moments: Packing Them In!

Katie, husband Ben, and Cara were coming home for the weekend. Matt had a Sigma Chi pledge retreat in New Orleans and couldn't come home. This meant planning ahead to have great food, favorite snacks, clean sheets and bath towels, a clean house, candles burning, dogs groomed and sometimes wearing outfits, and a full agenda of activities. We get really excited about the kids coming home. There's nothing better than seeing their headlights turn into the driveway on a Friday night and meeting them at the door. This weekend I had Cream Cheese Chicken Enchiladas, Mexican Rice and Mexican Cornbread waiting on them. For dessert I made roasted apples filled with cinnamon, butter, brown sugar and pecans wrapped in puff pastry and served with ice cream. After dinner we all put on our pajamas/random drawstring pants, etc. and pile into the den for TV, catching up, playing with the pets, and plan our activities for Saturday. Saturday morning comes quickly and we don't hop out of bed as early as we had planned. We decided to skip the big breakfast and head out. Somehow, Katie, Cara and I end up lapsing into extreme silliness and take turns doing the "model walk." This is where we make fun of the girls on the show "How Do I Look?" After we laugh our heads off and finally get out of the door, we go to a great home consignment sale and then to the Renaissance Fair that is held every Fall in the downtown park. The Fair is always interesting and full of very strange looking people. Ben had never been to the Renaissance Fair and was a little shocked at the unusual outfits, which often have nothing to do with the Renaissance era. We walked over to an old sandwich shop downtown for hot dogs and milkshakes, stopped by our awesome public library to check out the books in the used book store and toured the local art center. Then we drove over to the Cane Creek Preserve, an awesome area for hiking, waterfalls and great views. We hiked for a couple of hours, which included getting lost for about 30 minutes and then headed home. We were running short on time because we had to get home in plenty of time to watch the Alabama v. Tennessee game on TV. We stopped by the Olive Garden for lasagna, salad and bread sticks and then to Sam's for cheesecake. Everyone jumps in the shower, I make a couple of appetizers for us to snack on and company comes over to join us for dinner and football. We watch football, play with the pets, play on our laptops, and finally head off to bed.

Sunday morning we head off to church and then back home for the "big breakfast" as we call it. We made Belgium waffles, scambled eggs, bacon and sausage. Cara takes a nap, we read the newspaper, chill out and play with the pets. Then Larry and I head out for the Symphony with our neighbors and say goodbye to the kids again. It doesn't get any better than this!

Monday, October 20, 2008

I'm My Own Worst Enemy

The alarm clock goes off around 6:15 A.M. but I know that it's really 6:00 since I set my clock up 15 minutes fast. It's not as if this tricks me into getting up earlier or even on time. It just means that I get to hit the snooze button about five more times before getting out of bed. I crawl out of bed feeling like I've been run over by a train, swearing that tonight I'll be in bed before 9:00. But that never happens. Right now it's 11:00 P.M. and here I sit goofing off when I know I will pay for it in the morning. I'm even writing about it instead of just going on to bed like a normal person. I just can't stand to think that I could be wasting time sleeping when I could be doing something much more fun. Why do we do things to ourselves knowing we'll pay for it later? Like eating the bowl of ice cream tonight even though I am supposedly on a low carb diet. In the morning I will be standing in my closet calling myself a heifer because my pants are too tight. Well, whose fault is that? I have to get myself under control and follow a more structured routine but until I do I will just put myself in time out until I think I'm ready to go to bed.

Cool Things To Know About

One thing I have learned as I get older is that the more I learn, the more I realize how many things I don't know about. I feel like I'm in a race to pack in as much new information as possible since my pea sized brain will soon not be able to hold new information. I love making new discoveries about things that make life easier and more enjoyable and wanted to include some websites that are pretty cool:

Yahoo! Answers: Gets answers and advice on almost any subject

TripKick: Tells which floors and rooms in over 250 hotels should be avoided Simplifies online invitations and RSVPs

Geni: Geneology website that provides tools for diagramming your family tree

NexTag: Comparative shopping site with product reviews

Omiru:Style for All: Style and shopping guide and fashion trends

http://ThriftyChick: Secrets to savvy shopping & online coupons for name brand stores discounts Tons of tips and checklist on organzing virtually everything Tips on cleaning and do-it-yourself projects

http://StumbleUpon: Tons of links to a huge variety of websites

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trig Palen

Trig Palen has caused quite a stir on the campaign trail. Trig, Sarah Palen's baby boy, has Down's Syndrome and his presence in the media has brought much needed attention to the population with special needs. Families with special needs children have been turning out to support Sarah Palin in droves. A precious young lady with Down's Syndrome was in the news because she was elected as her high school's Homecoming Queen. Familes that have children with special needs often feel as if they are invisible to the public and their needs often ignored. Many times they are viewed as being less important and Trig is helping to change this image. These families need our support and we need full funding to be able to implement No Child Left Behind in our school systems. In my experience working with families with special needs children, I have found that these children teach us more than we teach them. They teach us about unconditional love, patience and about the real priorities in life. Perhaps we all need to be paying more attention to these children and their families. I vote for Trig!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hollywood Material

Since I started this blog, my husband has been offended that I haven't written about him, so I thought I would dedicate this post to him. He has beautiful, thick hair that starting graying in his 20's. At the age that many men are losing their hair, he is getting a lot of attention for his pretty white hair. In fact, he's been told by several women that he should be in Hollywood and that he is "Hollywood Material." We've also been stopped in grocery stores, restaurants, etc. by poeple thinking that he might be Dennis Franchoine or Newt Gingrich. When asked by people if he's in politics and he says he's not, some have asked if he's sure! I guess he should say, "Well, come to think of it I am! I forgot that I was Speaker of the House!" I've been trying to figure out a way to make some income off of his hair. His white hair has come in handy over the years when we are looking for him in a crowd. His hair is so thick that he can get out of the shower and his hair still looks dry. I think it's duck hair. The water just rolls off. I wonder if I could send in his picture to Hollywood and he could be a double for Richard Gere or somebody. That's a thought worth looking into! (See picture of Larry with Katie on her wedding day.)

ENS: Mystery Ailment That Causes Strange Behavior

ENS is a common and not often talked about ailment that occurs mostly in women in their forties and fifties. This ailment can cause unusual and bizarre behavior that is only understood by other women with ENS. ENS or Empty Nest Syndrome, can manifest itself in a wide variety of behaviors. I self-diagnosed myself with ENS when I realized that I was out of control and making irrational decisions. This behavior resulted in the adoption of Clarke, the very old teacup poodle discussed in an earlier blog entry. See picture.

Both of my daughters speculated that I might possibly have a breakdown after little brother, Matt, left for college and the possibility that Prissy, the 14 year-old schnauzer, might die. So, with this train of thought, it might be reasonable to consider adopting a puppy that would be the "transition dog," instead I ended up with a dog that the vet says is older than Prissy. Clarke is pretty much blind, deaf and has no teeth and is too old to be house trained. The perfect pet!

I am actually very fond of Clarke. He has gained weight, looks healty and really looks like a poodle now except for the fact that is tongue hangs out of his mouth. He is obsessed with me, I suppose because I rescued him from a previous terrible life. However, it's hard to justify his adoption as a rational decision. Just ask my husband!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Supper Club

You would think that someone that owns a trillion cookbooks, cuts out recipes from favorite magazines, and searches for recipes on recipe websites, would probably cook all the time and have dinner parties frequently, but actually I am so busy collecting recipes that I don't have time to cook! I love collecting recipes and menus for dinner parties and this past weekend I actually got to try out some of the many recipes I collect since it was my turn to have the neighborhood supper club dinner at my house. The problem was narrowing down hundreds of menus, themes and recipes and choosing the final menu. I considered having a pasta/Italian night, a Halloween party with heavy appetizers, a murder mystery dinner, a casual cookout on the deck, or a traditional beef and potato dinner. Ultimately, I decided on beef tenderloin, potatoes, asparagus, salad and rolls. I also wanted to have a couple of appetizers and a dessert. So.... many more hours of deciding on which recipe to choose from in these categories. I did a few trial runs to test out some new recipes and finally chose the menu that is posted on the sidebar. I had a wonderful time working on the meal and pulling out my china and crystal (that doesn't come out of the china cabinet often) and making a centerpiece for the dining room table.
Many hours later, the supper club dinner was over, my feet were tired and my kitchen was piled up with dishes to be washed, and I loved every minute of it! The bad thing is that I am even more motivated to search for new recipes and menus! Being part of a supper club is a great way to try out new recipes and also a great way to get to know new people. Well, time to look for some new recipes!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bringing the Outdoors In

October, being one of my favorite months, is a great time to bring the outdoors in for decorating. I love using pumpkins, gourds and Mums around the house. The Hydrangea blooms are also at a peak time for drying. Having several Hydrangea bushes in the yard, I have been cutting off long stemmed blooms and putting them into a large bucket of water. The blooms will usually dry to a nice papery texture, just perfect for using in arrangements, as the water evaporates. This method has worked best for me in trying to dry Hydrangeas. I dried some ginormous white Hydrangea's for Katie that I salvaged from one her wedding centerpieces. Small pumpkins work great as candle holders when the top is hollowed out enough for a 3x3 votive. The top can be cut off and the pumpkins hollowed out for holding Mums or Pansies. Grapevine also is an inexpensive item that works great for decorating. The grapevine can be used on the mantel, wrapped around candles or draped over doorways. Hobby Lobby is a good source for buying long grapevines. Gourds can be used in the same way as pumpkins with the top hollowed out for candles or flowers. Fall is here and let the decorating begin!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Transitions in Traditions

Fall is here and the mums and pumpkins are on the front porch, the mantel is decorated with grape vine, small pumpkins and gourds. That's all great and wonderful except for the fact that this is the second year in a row that we haven't carved pumpkins with the kids. Of course I do realize that we were still carving pumpkins up until they left for college! It has been a tradition to go shopping for pumpkins together and let each of the kids pick out their pumpkin. We would cover the kitchen table in newspaper and they would carve their faces and then make fun of each others pumpkins. Halloween parties for the kids has been a tradition at our house for several years until last year, since there were no kids at home! Adjusting to the kids not being at home hasn't been easy but I have decided that if the kids are happy, then I'm happy. I really miss seeing all of their friends and having a house full of kids. The girls loved having parties but Matt really wasn't too excited about having a party. I was always offering to let Matt have a Halloween party but since he didn't want to, Matt's friends would say that they would have a party at our house and that Matt could come if he wanted to. So that's what we did! Matt didn't invite anyone to the party but we had over 100 kids at the last Halloween party.
This year I'm going to have a family Halloween party since I love to have parties. My mother used to have family Halloween parties for the family and I think I should continue the tradition even though she won't be here to enjoy it. Traditions change over the years as our kids grow up and our parents get old and die. But, I think it's very important to continue traditions even though it's easier not to. Traditions are important to children, even if the child that loves Halloween parties is now almost 50 years old! I hope I never grow up.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Animal Menagerie

I have a 14 year old Miniature Schnauzer that can barely see or hear and adopted an elderly (14 years or more according to the vet) teacup poodle, named Clarke, in January. This has been quite an adventure! We adopted Clarke by chance since we had no intentions of getting another pet. I think that God intervened and somehow we found Clarke on an animal website and long story short, we ended up driving and hour and a half to adopt him. He looked like a little, old bat on his profile page! His profile said he had been dropped on the side of a highway in the cold rain and had to have his hair shaved off since he was severely matted and all of his teeth were pulled due to absceses. He looked so pitiful that we couldn't get him off our minds. Katie and I drove to the shelter to get him and when they took him out of the cage we almost passed out! He was so skinny and weak that he could hardly walk. We looked at each other in a way that meant, "WHAT have we done?" He was the saddest looking thing you have ever seen. His tongue hangs out of his mouth since he has no teeth and he is almost completely deaf and blind. However, we love this little fellow and he looks great now! He has gained weight, his hair has grown out, he has been groomed and now looks like a poodle! He sleeps in my bed ( which is unbelievable if you know my husband) and is carried around all the time like a little prince. He and Prissy, the schnauzer, co-exist but don't really acknowledge each other. Priss is definitely the alpha dog and makes sure that Clarke doesn't forget it.
Katie and Ben are here for the weekend and have a beautiful chocolate lab named Pete that is also here. I lost my mind in July and bought a precious little Maltese puppy for Cara ( my youngest daughter) because she was lonely living alone during her first semester in graduate school. I broke the rule we have always had about not having pets while living away in college. This is one of the top five dumbest things I have done lately! Anyway, we love this little guy that is now named Henry and he is absolutely the cutest thing and is extremely hyper! We also have him here this weekend since Cara had to go to an engagement party in Nashville. He comes with his own playpen and diaper bag that includes toys, treats and cucumber melon spray. To make things even more interesting and to add to the top five dumbest things list, we now have a kitten living in our screened in porch! He was stuck under the hood of a car and another long story short, is now living here until I figure out what to do with him or her. Unfortunately, we have also gotten very attached to this cute little thing, too! Katie is checking him out and waiting to see what Pete thinks about him and might just take him home with her and Ben. So, we now have four dogs and one cat here this weekend! Two dogs can't really see or hear and Henry is running around in circles about 90 miles per hour and the lab just stands around wondering what is going on and how to get away from it all. To top it off, we are painting the kitchen and laundry room this weekend. Other than that we really don't have much going on!

Showing My Age

Well, I decided to start a blog with the help of my oldest daughter, Katie. She has recently started a blog with encouragement from one of her best friends as a way for them to stay in touch. Katie is in town to be in the wedding of another friend so we had the opportunity to spend some time together. I realized as I tried to set up my blog that I had become the child and Katie had become the parent in this situation. It is quite obvious that blogging is not something that I have grown up with and that I needed a very patient teacher to get me started. Katie explained the steps of adding a cute background and it sounded pretty easy until after about two hours of trying to add a cute backgound I only ended up adding a cute screensaver and nothing on my blog! Finally, Katie took over and got me straightened out and when I selected my background we realized that it was the exact same background that Katie had on her blog! We are still connected!