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.”