Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Dinner Hacks

 Dinner Hacks

I learned early in my adult life that when the dinner bell rings everyone is suddenly hungry. Okay, no…I do not have a dinner bell. However, the same flurry of activity and the anticipation of food arrives nearly the same time every day. 

There is often the “What’s for dinner?” question thrown around. I have learned answering that question with, “I don’t know…what did you cook?” is not met with the humor intended. Well, the sarcastic humor intended, anyway.

I grew up in a time when women did most of the cooking in the household. That isn’t necessarily true anymore. For example, my son-in-law, David is a great cook and Mike, though more comfortable at the grill, is willing to pitch in if I need him. 

Actually, I enjoy cooking. Most of the time.

Grandma always said,
"Set the table first."


There are times however, I get busy writing or completing some project and don’t enjoy the pressure of having to come up with something. On some of those occasions, Mike is also willing to pullout his favorite “recipe” called Door Dash. Just sayin’. Not Knocking it. It works for me. On occasion. Of course, too much going out or ordering in is costly as well as loaded with stuff that isn’t particularly good for you.

That said, here are a few hacks to keep your Hungry Harrys at bay:

1)        As a young bride, my grandmother told me always set the table first. When your family heads toward the kitchen and sees the table is set, they figure dinner is nearly ready and so they go about their business until the proverbial dinner bell rings. I’ve used this one many times.

2)        Craft a list of menu items so when you’re tired you don’t have to “come up with something.” I always keep pasta sauce and a variety of pastas in my pantry. Usually, you’ll find string cheese (great to stuff manicotti) or frozen meatballs in the freezer. Those meals can be ready in minutes.

3)        Give yourself a few “I don’t have to think about dinner tonight” days. For example, when the weather is good, Mike always grills burgers on Fridays. I don’t need to even think about dinner on Fridays except to heat a can of baked beans and open a bag of chips. I know families who have “Taco Tuesdays.” That is a great “no think” cooking day.

Those are a few ideas. I’m sure you have more. Keep a frozen pizza around? Canned chicken for quick chicken salad? 

Of course, when I was a young bride and on a strict budget, the menu included “dinner and mom and dad’s or dinner at grandma’s. Hey, sometimes you do what you have to do, right?


Tuesday, July 16, 2024


Home is Where You Cut the Grass

Is it possible to be in two places at the same time? No. And yes. 

Physically we cannot be in two places at the same time. Yet as Mike and I visited family in Ohio this week, I realized we recognize our Ohio house as our "home” as we do our Florida house.

Since, for the present we spend most of our time in Florida, we have a young man who comes to mow the lawn in Ohio regularly. Mow. Nothing more. When we arrived on the scene, we could see clearly our “visit” would include workdays. The flowerbeds needed weeding and we had honeysuckle growing up places we didn’t want it. 

Actually, I don’t want honeysuckle anywhere. (I’ll leave a link at the bottom for an earlier post on the invasive weed with the beautiful name.)

Mike visited his favorite store (Ace Hardware) and purchased what he described as a “MacDaddy Weed Eater.” He put a blade on it instead of string-trimmer line. Mike chopped, pulled, and dug up everything he could. The pile was growing. In fact, all three piles grew high. Too high for the firepit. Too much to load up in bags for the recycle truck. He cut and pulled and piled at least a full day and a half. Then he sprayed the roots so they shouldn’t come back. At least not those specific weeds.

(Looks Like a Beaver Dam to Me.)

I helped.

A little.

I did bring him cold water and pointed when he missed a root or something. Most of all, I stayed out of the way as he asked. 

In that way I was very helpful.

When we leave this home to go home, it will be in good shape. By that time, we’ll be rested. We’ll hit the road early and arrive in Florida late.


We’ll fall into bed and say, “It’s good to be home.” And, in all likelihood, we’ll get up the next morning, look out over the lawn toward the lake and say, “Hmmm… we need to mow. And weed. And spray.”

Maybe home isn’t where the heart is after all. Maybe home is where the lawn tools are stored.

CLICK HERE to read a post I called "Death by Honeysuckle."


Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Secret

The Secret 

My mother always told me the secret to being a good hostess is to treat your family like company and your company like family. 

In fact, I shared a story about that in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book titled “The Best Advice I Ever Heard.” They not only published it they did a podcast about it. Cool, huh?

It is good advice.

Mike and I recently hosted a couple from church for dinner. Those words rang in my ears as I prepared our house and planned the menu.

“Treat your family like company and your company like family.”

A couple of weeks later, Mike and I traveled to Ohio for a family visit. On the way we stopped at our favorite gas station, Buc-ee’s.

I first heard of Buc-ee’s while heading to South Carolina several years ago with my oldest daughter. Allision suggested we stop there for gas and maybe get something for breakfast. I don’t know about you, but I’m not generally keen on “gas station food.” Still, I figured there might be a McDonald’s or something nearby, so we watched for the signs with the big toothy beaver on them as we traveled the interstate. 

We pulled in and I was, at the very least, overwhelmed. Buc-ee’s is HUGE. I have never seen so many gas pumps. And the store inside? Crazy big…with the cleanest bathrooms I had ever experienced while traveling. And I have travelled a lot!

When Mike and I started dating, I told him about Buc-ee’s. I tried to describe it. I’m pretty sure the low gas prices caught his attention. But once he stopped there, he couldn’t help but take a long look at some of the large firepits they had for sale. The sandwich he bought was both a bargain and delicious and the number of gas pumps impressed him as it did me. 

(As a note on the side: On Christmas day last year, Mike and I saw families in their Christmas pajamas taking selfies at Buc-ee’s. Whole families. Seriously.)

Understand, this is not a commercial for the place, but an observation. 

Buc-ee’s is not a “gas station.” It isn’t a “restaurant,” either. Buc-ee’s is more of what I would call “an experience.” It may be because it is big. Make that… over the top. It could be the low gas prices or the good food. 

There is a possibility it is simply unique. At least I’ve never seen anyplace like it. The closest was the old Stuckey’s stores when I was a child. 

But I’m pretty sure there is more to it than the enormity of the place or the store or food or gas. The workers are smiling as if they are all genuinely happy to see customers walk through the doors. 

I’m thinking…perhaps…just maybe…my momma shared with them that one simple truth: “Treat your family like company and your company like family.”


Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Alligator Annie

 Alligator Annie

I learned long ago alligators are part of the Florida landscape. I know they live in any and every body of water around. You may not see them, but they are there. I respect them, but I don’t fear them. Understand…I don’t necessarily like them either. They’re sort of…I don’t know…prehistoric looking.

Am I going to knowingly swim alongside a five-foot gator? No. Will I still swim in a lake or river or spring where they may or may not be? Sure. I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me. Most “alligator incidents” happen when people don’t respect them or go places they ought not be going.

That said, this past week, Mike and I were outside. I was on the dock and had a piece of rope in my hand, the end of which was dangling in the water. A small alligator…really small…swam over and, intrigued by my dangling rope, opened his mouth and took a big bite. Well, not exactly a bite. He sunk his teeth into the knot on the end of the rope.


I squealed and Mike came running.

Mike is very brave.


Mike is very brave. As I held the rope, my sweet husband reached over and grabbed the little guy right behind his head. (I started to say “around his neck,” but I’m not sure on an alligator where the neck starts or if there actually is a neck. It’s more like one long scaly critter from snout to tail.)

I digress.


The gator let go of the knot. I ran to the house for the boat key and my phone. Yeah, well, I had to get a picture or two, right?

Mike bravely let the boat down with his free hand, eased it out into the lake, and steered it with his left hand. All the while, he held the small creature safely beside him.


Me? I sat facing them. Like I said, I’m not afraid of alligators…much. I simply figured it was prudent to not turn my back on him. And besides…what if Mike needed me suddenly to… steer the boat or call for help, or something?


As I look back on it…I was being very brave, too. And I will admit it was kind of exciting. 

We didn’t go far, but there is a grassy area in our lake near a small island with trees. Mike let the little guy down into the water and he swam away. I think he will be much happier in those wetlands away from our house.

I thanked Mike over and over and told him how proud I am of his heroic actions. “Hey,” he said, “you caught him.

And truth be told, now that the gator was nowhere to be seen, I felt much braver. 

It was a sort of Crocodile Dundee moment. So I pulled out my middle name and now call myself “Alligator Annie.”



Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Failure to Launch

 Failure to Launch

Back in April you may remember I shared that our sweet dog, Roxy, was going to live with her “daddy.” She was, after all, Shawn’s dog. If you missed that post, you can read it by clicking HERE.

After dropping the two dogs and the cat off at Shawn’s house, Mike and I went on down to the Florida Keys for our anniversary. We had a great time and Shawn enjoyed having the critters around. He was ready for them. It was a little disappointing, however, that the cat learned how to use the doggy door he installed before Roxy did.

These animals love Shawn. They’ve known him all of their lives. And Shawn loves them. He offers loving care. Even when he was away at work, he could see what they were doing via a camera he installed and could talk to them. 

As they say at NASA, all systems were “go.”

When Mike and I returned the following week, we stopped at Shawn’s house to pick up Honeybee and Tiki-Kitty. We knew they enjoyed the visit but were happy to head home as well. 

We were barely on the interstate when Shawn called. Roxy was going nuts. I think she felt left out. Mike calmly told Shawn to give her a little time. 

Shawn did. He brought her back to us the next day.

Sometimes Life is Tough

Don’t misunderstand. Shawn loves that dog. He wants her to be happy. Being with the rest of her animal family makes Roxy happy. 

You see, Roxy is a very responsible member of the family. It didn’t’ take her long to realize Shawn’s house was functioning smoothly and would continue to do so without her. You could see the worry lines on her face when she thought of the calamity that might befall our household without her. 

You Can see the Worry Lines 
On Her Sweet Face

Roxy feels a deep obligation to be here and care for Honeybee. She is committed to keeping Tiki on her toes. Roxy was concerned, I think, that without her patrolling our yard, those pesky squirrels might wreak havoc. And I’m sure the main reason she drools on the floor is to remind me to mop it. Dirt and stuff doesn’t always show up on that wood grain.

At NASA they would call this little experiment a “Failure to Launch.” But for us it is…well, it’s merely a family reunion and All Systems Are Go.


Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Tending to Self- Inflicted Wounds

Have you ever read a book that was terrible? A book where the writing was so awful YOU wish YOU HAD NEVER WRITTEN IT? 

That’s right. I recently read a book I wrote a few years ago. I was sure it was pretty good... but might need a little work. 

A little? I know what I had in mind…except I was probably a little out of my mind when it came to putting the story on paper. 

The truth is...this was a book I had just started writing the week Tom died. That was in October of 2014. Nearly ten years ago. It was always hanging over me like a half painted living room ceiling. I “finished” the book in 2021 and sent it to a publisher. The editors who read it were kind but honest. 

Brutally honest. But that’s what I needed.

They basically said the book has potential…with a lot of work. I put it away. Out of sight. Out of mind. In the meantime, I had a few “fits and starts” for a couple of other books, but lacked the motivation to make them happen.

As most of my readers know, I remarried in 2023. Mike is a good man. He encourages me in my writing. I know that is a blessing. I find myself interested in crafting more than my blog now. 

I recently took inventory. I have three novels at various stages of development. In that dark time of my life I would have an idea, scratch out forty or fifty thousand words, become distracted, and abandon the project all together. 

Now? Anything is possible.

With that confidence, I printed the novel I pitched to those publishers in 2021 and started reading it again, cutting it apart (literally), and trying to make sense of it. 

A Cut, Toss, and Paste
Novel...of sorts.
This is how some of us write!

I re-read the email the editor sent me. She offered a few options I could try. She never mentioned the fact there were entire portions missing valuable information and some of the text simply didn’t make sense. 

I suppose she figured those issues would be resolved in a rewrite anyway and didn’t want to overwhelm me. 

Not to worry. I was already overwhelmed. Simply getting the book off my plate was a relief. When it came back with a rejection, I set it aside.  Until now.

Now I am ready. Now I am reading the comments the editor offered with new appreciation. 

The book may take a totally different turn. I don’t know. What I do know is that I am writing again and it feels good.

P.S. I talked with that editor from Mt. Zion Ridge Press before publishing this. I apologized for sending her such a goofy manuscript. She gets it...and she knew that was a tender time in my life. Armed with her words of confidence in what the book could be, I am tackling the story from a different angle. And I am reminding myself we are all on this journey together. 



Tuesday, June 11, 2024

There's No Place Like...Family

"There's No Place Like...Family"

Since Mike and I married, I don’t get to see my side of the family that often. My mom, children and grands are at least an airplane ride away. But this past week was an exception. My oldest daughter and oldest grandson drove from Ohio to Florida for a short visit…With My Mama! The visit was brief, but a wonderful experience for this girl. 

They had all heard us describe our Florida home and looked at the pictures on the internet when it was on the market in 2023. We’ve changed nearly everything in the house since then. Roof to floors. Inside and out. But the big draw for us…and them? The outdoor space. The lake. You can go to Lowes or Home Depot all you like, but you can’t improve that view.

We took the boat out on the lake, marveled at the wildlife, fed some fish and watched the glow of the sunset dissolve into night. 

My Mom and Grandson
With Mike at the Helm

We took the boat to one of our favorite restaurants, The Cove. Delicious and fun.

We connected with family. Mike’s son and younger sister got to meet Allison and Joshua for the for the first time. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law on the Waters side came for dinner on Sunday after our visit to the Stable Faith Cowboy Church. 

Three days doesn’t sound like much, but we made the most of it. Allison had to get back to work. Joshua had to get back to college. 

We tried to coax Mom into staying a bit longer, but no. She also “needed to get back.”

I love my family. Mike and I are carving out a new life and new routine. It includes our lake life here in Florida and trips to Ohio. 

I was fearful I might feel empty when that car pulled out of the driveway taking members of my family back north, but I didn’t. I feel full. Complete. Happy. 

It isn’t proximity to our family and friends that makes us happy. It is love. 

There is a passage in the Bible many call “the love chapter.” You can read the entire passage in I Corinthians, chapter 13. It’s online, if you don’t have a Bible.

Part of that chapter basically says, “Love doesn’t insist on having its own way…and…Love never ends.”

Yep, I have lived in many places. I have lived with my family and apart from my family. But God is right (again…still…). “Love never ends.”

No matter where I live.