Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It's The End of 2013 As We Know It

The year 2013 is drawing to a close, and I, for one, could not be more grateful. This has been, quite possibly, the worst year I've lived through and I'm really glad to see this one go. I've been to more funerals or funeral home visitations in this one year than in my whole life I'm quite sure. I lost track of the number of deaths of close friends, acquaintances and family members, but I do know that I went to a funeral or a funeral home visitation at least once every month of this year and most months it was multiple times.

In addition to people, I also experience the death of my beloved pet and longtime companion The Tide. She is still missed every single day, but I am grateful to have had her in my life.

It was a year that saw my brother fall back into addiction and once again enter a rehab program to get clean. Let's pray that he sticks with it this time because I'm not sure how much more we as his family can take.

Many other things happened in 2013; for example, my shed blew away and then my dad and Buddy built me a better one. I had a few weekends with my little cousin Sydney when she would stay with me on Saturday and go to church with me on Sundays.I went white water rafting with the church group and didn't fall out of the boat. I started working with a personal trainer at the gym and have been able to tell a difference in the way I feel and in my strength. This has been one of the very best decisions I have made this year.

There were some positives this year... I took my first trip to the West Coast, visiting California with my dad in May. I got a promotion at work. My granddad gave me a down payment so that I could purchase a newer vehicle. I took an impromptu trip to Dallas and saw a fabulous Pearl Jam concert. I also saw Dave Matthews and Michael Buble in concert.  I acquired a new puppy and while this isn't always a positive thing, I think she is going to turn out to be a good dog and I'm sure we will have many adventures together.

The year 2013 has been full of ups and downs, and really, more downs. It's been challenging and difficult and often an uphill climb; but, as the saying goes, what doesn't kill us will make us stronger.

Thanks for following along in 2013. Here's hoping that 2014 will be a much more positive and uplifting year for all of us!

Monday, December 30, 2013

This Is What I've Been Doing

Well, I'm alive, in case you were wondering. I've been on vacation from work since December 23 and I've hardly even opened my computer which makes blogging difficult. Also, Pippa makes blogging difficult, and so I've just not blogged, but I guess you a,ready knew that.

I had a nice Christmas; it was nothing over the top or exceedingly spectacular or dramatic. On Christmas Eve, my parents hosted their annual breakfast. That afternoon I baked a cake, and then that evening we upheld our annual tradition of going out and about to look at Christmas lights. Our first stop was Galaxy of Lights thanks to a pass given to me by the lady I teach with at church on Wednesday nights. We then drove around some neighborhoods and ended at the Tinsel Trail in Big Spring Park.

Christmas morning was spent opening presents with my parents and brother after which I returned home to finish up cooking. We met with all of my dad's side of the family (at my parents' house) at 3:00 and ate dinner and opened gifts and played dirty Santa and for a change, people actually stuck around for a while and visited with one another. It was like a Christmas miracle of sorts.

The rest of my time off has been spent napping, clearing out the DVR, and going to the movies. Other than that, I haven't done a whole heck of a lot. I've consumed massive amounts of buttered popcorn to the point where I think I need a break from it for a while. I did manage to hit some after Christmas sales and get some bags and wrapping paper for next year and even managed to make it to the gym; so, it hasn't all been a time of laziness. Although, I will say this break from work was much needed and I hope to feel a little rejuvenated when I return.

I don't think I ever mentioned it, but a few months ago my dad and I bought Sugar Bowl tickets; this was before any of the teams were announced. Our intent was to sell the tickets to turn a little profit; but, alas, not all investments are good ones and we have had zero luck selling our tickets, even after lowering the price and lowering the price again. So, now I'm headed down to New Orleans on Thursday to watch the Sugar Bowl live and in person. I've never been to a Sugar Bowl so I'm hoping it will be a fun trip. I also didn't want to spend this money, but I also don't want the tickets to go to waste and you only live once, or YOLO as the kids say these days.

So, that about sums things up for me. I apologize for the lack of blogging, but I have enjoyed the break of just being away from it all even though that's been in my own house.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Letters to Santa: 2013 Edition

Dear Santa,

Well, it's that time of year again. Soon you'll be making your annual trip around the world stopping off at the homes of all the good boys and girls; so, I guess this is as good a time as any to tell you that I've been good this year.

I'm sure you know, Santa, that this has been a very depressing and difficult year; but, I think I've held my own and haven't gotten too out of line. I've tried to be nice to people and I've tried to do good deeds for others and have a better attitude and a more positive outlook. I haven't always been successful, but at least I have tried and in a difficult year, I think that's saying something.

There's not much I want for Christmas this year and the things I do want you can't really provide (husband, children, a large dining room, the resurrection of The Tide) so I guess I'll just stick with the things that you might be able to bring on your sleigh provided you think I've been good this year.

I would really like a pair of Chacos. I feel like I'm late to the game on this fad, but since I have a trip to Hawaii planned in March I figured these will be good on all manner of terrain and will come in useful and also make me feel cool which is the point I guess. I would also like some firm pillows from the Holiday Inn. Not used ones of course, but I'm pretty sure you can buy these and I always get a good night's rest at the Holiday Inn Express (unless my dad is snoring exceptionally loud and I end up sleeping in the bathtub). I would also like the gift of a massage. My parents "got" me one for my birthday, but I have yet to see it so if you could give me one, that'd be swell. Really, there's not much else I can think of so if you could throw some surprises in, that would be nice too. As you know, Santa, I like to cook so usually anything that goes in the kitchen is a good choice as far as surprises are concerned.

As always, Santa, I'll leave some milk and cookies out for you but I'll understand if you don't eat them since you have to eat at so many other houses. Be careful when you come in because I have a new dog named Pippa (or The Pip) and well, she barks all the time and it is very loud. So, come to think of it some ear plugs might be nice. Anyway, I don't want her to startle you, so consider yourself warned. Oh, and also I don't have a big tree up this year. Instead I have a little tree up and you can just leave the gifts on top of the bureau beside the tree since there is no room underneath.

I hope you have a safe flight around the world and that the weather isn't too bad for you. Thanks for taking the time to read my letter, Santa!

Love, Natasha

Dear Santa,

My name is Pippa (or The Pip as some like to say) and this is my first ever Christmas. I was told that you come around on Christmas Eve night and visit all the good dogs and that I should write you a letter and tell you what I want for Christmas, whatever Christmas is.

I really like treats, Santa. I like treats of all kinds. One of my favorite treats are Himalayan Dog Chews and my mom gives these to me from time to time because I will chew on them for a long time and for some strange reason this seems to be when my mom is the happiest. I also like large balls because they are fun to chase around and I will chase, and chase, and chase and it is so much fun.

I might like a new collar, Santa. I've only had one collar my whole life and it's kind of dirty and even has a tear in one place. My mom has lots of collars hanging in the laundry room but she is weird and won't let me wear those. They belonged to her dog called The Tide and I guess The Tide didn't like to share.

I would like to say I've been good this year because that is what dogs are supposed to tell Santa, but if you ask my mom she probably won't agree. What's wrong with turning over a large pot and playing in the dirt? What's wrong with barking super loud all hours of the night? What's wrong with biting people all the time? What's wrong with pouncing on people? What's wrong with peeing on furniture? I'm just trying to have a little fun, Santa! What's wrong with fun?

Anyway, Santa, I am only six months old so hopefully I will grow up to be what my mom considers a good dog. I sure hope so cause she has a nice warm bed and provides me with lots of treats when I sit and shake. Have I mentioned I like treats?

OK, Santa, thanks for reading my letter. I'll be on the lookout for you on Christmas Eve and I'll be sure and bark as loud as possible when you come in our front door.

Love, Pippa (also known as The Pip)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: The War on Christmas

Recently I was offered an opportunity to review a book titled The War on Christmas: Battles in Faith, Tradition and Religious Expression and after reading the description of the book, I found it intriguing and decided to request my copy and give it a review. Here is the description: "Filled with family get-togethers, office parties, breaks from school, decorating the tree, and more, Christmas is a time of peace and love. So why has so much controversy clouded this sacred holiday? It has become ground zero in an ongoing culture war where Nativity scenes are nixed, Merry Christmas becomes Happy Holidays, and even the word “Christmas” is considered by some as offensive. Find the truth about Christmas and the Christian’s response to a culture that seems to be declaring war."

As a member of the church of Christ, I do not celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas; instead, we are taught that the actual date of Jesus' birth is unknown. I personally, have no issue with those who celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas and it can be a nice time to reflect on the fact that our Lord and Savior came to earth. I do, however, find it ridiculous that people and organizations and companies have gone so far as to stop saying Merry Christmas and instead say "Happy Holidays" and I also believe that Christmas has become way to commercialized and so I wanted to read this book to see what the author had to say.
There are five sections to the book which are as follows: "What About Christmas?" which details events surrounding the birth of Christ, including a timeline surrounding the birth and also information on there the name Christmas originated. "Confusion and Misconception" which provides information regarding such things as the wise men, or were they three kings or magi or is it really just all the same? "It's All Baby Jesus" which provides information on the significance of the name of Jesus. "How Christmas Came to Be" provides information regarding Mary, the Christmas Star and the virgin birth, and finally, "The War on Christmas" which discusses how society has basically rid the holiday, and the world really of anything to do with Jesus.

Again, my personal belief is that the date of the birth of Christ is not known, but still I found this book to have interesting points and information. It's a really easy read and has a lot of illustrations and pictures for those who are keen to that type of book. In general I agree with the premise of the book which is that society is taking Jesus out of the world and in my opinion, this can be contributed to the increase in violence, etc. we see so often today. If you are looking for an interesting read on this topic, you might want to check out The War on Christmas edited by Bodie Hodge.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Decorations for 2013

We've reached the middle of December and I haven't done a post on how I decorated for Christmas this year. Not that it's a requirement, but usually I write a little something about it. I took a few photos early on but have yet to post them so I thought I would take the time to do it today since I did nothing last night but visit the gym. 

I think I had mentioned earlier that I didn't put up my large tree this year and I am ever so thankful that I made that decision after The Pip's wild adventure on Saturday. I cannot even imagine what would have happened if that tree had been up and she had gotten into it. Instead, I bought a small (4 foot) tree at Wal-Mart on Black Friday. It's pre-lit with white lights and was a great price. I placed it on top of the cabinet in my den and put a few of my personalized and most favorite ornaments on it. So far it has been safe and The Pip hasn't knocked it over or pulled it off the table, but there's still plenty of time for that before it is put away until next year.

As for the outside of my house, I did the same old thing I always do - white lights around the porch with two green wreaths with red bows (compliments of my Aunt Linda) on the front columns. I replace the bows every year as I buy them when they go on sale after Christmas. It's a classic look and I love it. The only thing I  would really like to add are C9 lights around the rooftop; but I like the old C9s not the new ones and they don't sell the old ones any more so I don't know if that will ever come to pass. Still, I think it looks good as it is and I'll probably keep the same look for years to come. I did get new lights for the porch this year as some of my lights were not working. The new lights are a lot brighter and look better than the old dim ones.
I also bought a small led tree for my bedroom. It changes colors and is really quite lovely. I didn't put any ornaments on it, but I turn it on at night and love to watch the lights change from red to green to white to blue.

Those are all the decorations at Hacienda Nat this season. I made the decision to not put out my favorite decorations of all - my Lennox Grinch pieces. I did not want to risk having any of the pieces broken by The Pip and I believe it was definitely the right decision. Perhaps next year, or the year after I will be able to put them out again; but, until The Pip settles down, decorating will be minimal.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

We Shut Down Santa's Village

Back at the beginning of the month, one of the local news stations had a deal where you could buy a Santa's Village pass for half price. The pass admitted five people and was $12.50. I bought one and also told Jackie about it and she bought one too. We then decided that Monday, December 16 would be a good night to go. The weekends at Santa's Village are always packed to the brim with people and so we thought that it might be less crowded on a Monday night.Well, as you probably read in my last post, Ashlyn has the flu and so that meant Jackie and the kids would not be able to go on Monday night. So, I asked Erika and Kendra to come along with me and they graciously agreed. 

I had some chili left over from Friday night and so I told the girls to come on over around 6:00 p.m. and we would have chili for dinner before heading out to see Santa. In case you were wondering, yes, I stopped by the store and bought some Saltines before going home to warm up the chili. Erika got stuck with some last minute work and arrived about 6:15 and we then ate dinner. We left the house about 7:15 to go to Santa's Village and found a parking spot very close by which was a good sign that the place wouldn't be too crowded. We walked in with no problem at all and the village was more like a ghost town as there were hardly any people at all there. 

Our first stop was the toy shop where we colored a candy cane ornament and played with wooden toys and had our picture made with Frosty the Snowman. Some children came in after we started playing with the toys so we decided to let them play instead of us, I guess it was the right thing to do. 


Next up we had our picture taken in the snowmen cutouts where we put our heads in the top of the snowmen and then we ventured over to Mrs. Claus' Kitchen where we decorated gingerbread men cookies.
We then got in line to see Santa Claus. The line wasn't too long and seemed to be moving quickly. It was maybe a 15 minute wait and so worth it because we got to have our photo taken with the jolly old fellow and we told him we had been really good this year to which we replied, "You expect me to believe that?" Why yes, Santa, yes we do. 

After visiting with Santa, we peeked in the windows of the Elves' rooms and did the ice maze. We then ran across Mrs. Claus who was reading a story. We then had our photo taken with her and told her we were having such a good time and that we might have a better time if some Egg Nog were to be made available. Sadly, there is no Egg Nog at Santa's Village. 


We walked through the print shop admiring the decorations and then wrote a letter to Santa. We deposited our letters in the mailbox to Santa and then made our way to the blacksmith shop where we watched the smithy make a couple of nails, one of which Erika got to keep since she has a birthday this week. 

Finally we had our picture taken on the sleigh because no trip to Santa's Village is complete without the sleigh photo. 

We stopped off to look at the reindeer and then went by the gift shop where, yes, I ended up buying a few items. At this point it was 9:00 p.m. and Santa's Village was closing up shop for the night; so, we took our leave and headed back home. It was one of the funnest nights I have had in a long time and I'm so glad we were able to do this. Christmas can still be magical for us big kids too!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Weekend - Thank Goodness It's Over

I survived the weekend which is an amazing feat considering if it could have gone wrong, it probably did; and while I wouldn't necessarily say I'm excited to be back at work on Monday, I am glad the weekend is over. 

It all started going wrong at work on Friday afternoon when I was trying to leave early (around 3:30) and everything started falling apart. The result was that I didn't leave until 5:30. While trying to get through those last two unexpected and unwanted hours on Friday, I looked through my Twitter feed only to discover that my pregnant cousin Ashley is having a boy and naming him Ezra, which has been the boy name I've wanted for oh, about 20 years. It was at this moment in the day that my monthly hormones took over and I couldn't stop crying all while trying to wrap up the constant blunders of the work week. Then I got a call from Jackie saying she wouldn't be able to make it over for dinner because Ashlyn was sick. We were hosting some girls from our Bible class for dinner that night and now my emotionally rattled self would have to handle them all alone. (Ashlyn was diagnosed with the flu over the weekend and I'm hoping that sweet child is feeling much better soon.)

Finally, I was able to leave work on Friday and make it home in time to get the chili I had made somewhat warmed up for dinner. In reality it needed to simmer for a couple of more hours, but time was not on my side. I really wanted to cancel the whole thing, but that would be a waste of food so I toughed it out instead. I was also looking forward to scooping large spoonfuls of chili onto my Saltine cracker, but as luck would have it the girl that I asked to bring crackers brought three kinds of crackers, none of which were Saltines and I had no Saltines in my house. I ask you, why would you bring all kinds of crackers but Saltines when the menu is chili? Call me crazy, but Saltines are about the only cracker I enjoy with soups, stews, and chilis. 

The girls finally arrived and we ate dinner and talked and I asked if they would mind if I let Pippa out and they said it would be okay. At that point, I let her out and she immediately jumped on top of a chair and peed on it. I grabbed her up and took her outside and one of the other girls (bless her) cleaned up the pee from the chair. The girls left around 11:00 p.m. and I went straight to bed. 

Saturday morning, I got up and did some cleaning and was actually quite proud of all I got done. I left the house around 10:15 to go to the movies to see the 10:45 showing of The Hobbit. I took some cold medicine before I left because congestion is settling in and I'm trying to head it off. I got my popcorn and had my contraband Diet Coke and found a row to the side that I could have all to myself. I settled in and watched most of the movie. Admittedly, the cold medicine kicked in and there were a few times when I closed my eyes for minutes at a time because I was exhausted and drugged. Overall, the movie was good and I would actually like to see it again when I'm able to stay awake for three hours. 

After the movie, I made a quick run by Wal-Mart and then picked up Kya, my friend Meri's daughter who was going to spend the afternoon and evening with me. Kya and I went to the house and when I opened the door, The Pip was sitting up in the chair by the front door greeting us with tail wagging. The Tide used to sit in this chair and greet me the same way so it took me a moment to realize that this dog was not supposed to be out and about. Pippa had in fact somehow managed to escape the crate and the house was a complete disaster zone. I had not yet wrapped any Christmas presents, but she had gotten into the packages and some gifts were torn, others were out of their packaging, some were just covered in dirt. There were gifts in almost every room of the house. The dirt came from the large pot that once held a peace lily. The peace lily was eaten long ago, but the pot was still in the back bedroom and now turned over on its side with about three or four pounds of potting soil all over the room. Additionally, Pip had taken it upon herself to pee in about three different places. All I can say is that thankfully she didn't eat any furniture or tear up anything really valuable. I only had to throw out one item, a book for my cousin Eden. 

Kya and I cleaned up what we could and then we started wrapping presents - this is why Kya was hanging out with me, to help wrap presents. We wrapped for a couple of hours and then we left to meet my dad to go over to Decatur for the Parade of Lights. Thankfully no one fell into the water while we were there. We found a good spot to watch out on the docks and had a really enjoyable time. After we watched the parade, we came back to Huntsville and drove around downtown and looked at the lights and decorations and then went to grab some dinner at Five Guys and then we parted ways. When we got back to the house, we put in Goonies and I popped Kya some popcorn and then I went to bed. I was done with Saturday. 

Sunday I cooked breakfast for me and Kya and while I was in the shower, Pippa decided it would be a great time to poop in the bedroom floor. Then before we left for church The Pip decided it would be a great time to throw up on the couch. We finally made it out the door to go to church. I grabbed the newspaper from the front yard and went to toss it up on the porch (as I do every week) and the bag busted and paper went everywhere. We got that cleaned up and finally made it to church. 

I attended a teacher's reception at church where we teachers receive a gift of a travel mug that was nice. We were also treated to a lovely array of food and drink. After church I went home for about five minutes to let Pippa out and then met up with Erika and her mom and Kendra. The four of us went to Guntersville to see the play Christmas Belles. They play was good and rather funny at times. Afterwards we ate dinner at Top of the River and then made the journey back to Huntsville. 

Once home, I finished up wrapping the presents and stacked them in a (hopefully) safe place and then called it a night in an effort to get some semblance of rest before the final work week of 2013.It was a trying weekend to say the least.

Friday, December 13, 2013

And The Winner Is...

Thanks to the five folks who entered The Pioneer Woman cookbook giveaway I hosted this week. I really expected more than five people to enter, but hey, what do I know. The winner of the cookbook is commenter number 5, Meri.

Yes, Meri sits by me at work and yes, I made her enter the contest so I guess she has me to thank for winning the cookbook. Meri is a good cook though so I know the book will be put to good use.

Thanks again to the five people that entered, and Merry Christmas to you all!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Second Annual Favorite Things Christmas Party

Monday night I hosted my closest girlfriends for our Christmas party. Since last year's favorite things themed party was such a big hit, we decided to do the same thing this year. In addition to the favorite things, we also decided to wear our tacky Christmas sweaters and that was a big hit as well. As you may recall, last year's party was somewhat of a bust as there were only two attendees (other than myself) for the longest time and then a third joined us. So, this year, I emailed everyone back in the summer and asked them to save the date, circle it on their calendars because I wanted everyone to be there. 

The party was slated for a 6:30 p.m. start and there were to be five of us, including myself, in attendance. I had planned to leave work around 4:30, but it was closer to 5:00 before I managed to make my escape which means I was rushing around like crazy trying to get everything done. In the meantime, I received a text from Jackie saying she would not be able to make it. She was not feeling well and had spent the afternoon at the doctor's office; so, we excused her with sadness. 

Everyone else arrived right on time and I finished things up in the kitchen and we soon began to eat. I made Little Smokies in a Blanket and Buffalo Chicken Dip. Erika brought Chicken Salad. Kendra made chocolate-caramel brownies and pickle roll-ups, and Candy brought Rotel Cheese Dip. All of the food was yummy and we stuffed our bellies until we could eat no more. Isn't party food the best?

We sat around talking about this, that and the other, just enjoying each others company when Candy received a text from her husband about her oldest son. She had told us earlier in the night that she had taken him to the doctor earlier in the day because his stomach had been aching for a few days and the doctor sent her home with basically no medicine and I won't get into all the details because you didn't bargain for all of that when you logged on here today. Long story short, Candy's husband called a second time and her little one had gotten very sick and she left so that she and her husband could take him to the hospital. 

Before Candy left though, we quickly exchanged our gifts. First, I drew a number for the door prize which went to Erika. She received a Downton Abbey Christmas ornament which was very lovely if I do say so myself. As was the case last year, we were asked to spend $5 or less on each person in the group, getting everyone the same thing. Since I love cooking, I gave everyone a set of ceramic measuring spoons, the same ones I gave away on the blog earlier this year. Kendra gave each of us a $5 Starbucks gift card, an excellent choice if I do say so myself. From Erika we received a package of her favorite cotton swabs to use on our faces as well as a little bag filled with all manner of manicure items (file, buffer, polish remover cloths) and a candy cane ink pen. Candy loves Yankee Candles and so she gave us all an adorable Christmas votive with a Yankee candle inside. Believe it or not, no one brought lip balm as their favorite thing!

After we all opened our gifts, Candy left us and our party was once again like it was last year, with the three of us (me, Erika and Kendra) hanging out; maybe one year we will all be able to get together without interruption of sickness. Despite the fact that some of us were absent (but there in spirit) and others had to rush off to their sick babies (who will hopefully be feeling better soon), we still had a fun night. I'm very thankful to have this great group of friends in my life. God has truly blessed me with wonderful friends. 

Because of how crazy the night was, I only managed to get one picture - of Erika with her door prize!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Christmas-y Weekend

Last Friday night I went with Jackie and her family to see Mr. Grumpy's Toy Shoppe. The play was presented by the Academy for Academics and Arts which is where Troy attends school and he was in the play. Every student in the school has a role in the play. Troy is in fifth grade and all the fifth grade students played astronauts and did a singing and dancing number. 

I loved the little children especially - the boys played toy soldiers and the little girls were dollies and they were all so adorable. I guess the play could be considered a musical since there were songs in all of the acts. The most touching moment of the play was when all the special needs children came out dressed in costumes from Mother Goose Land. It was just precious.

The play was fabulous and all of the children did a fantastic job! I love that everyone in the school was included in the play. It was one of the best shows I have seen at Christmas and I really, really enjoyed it!
On Saturday morning, Jackie came over and we gathered up all manner of blanket, chair and Pippa and headed out to the Christmas Parade. The parade didn't receive much publicity this year, but I had looked it up late last month and made plans to attend. We arrived at our spot at around 11:40 and the parade was slated to start at noon. We sat there freezing our tails off and waiting for the excitement to begin. 

Pippa was pretty rambunctious at first (no surprise there) but settled down after the parade started. I don't know if she was scared of the loud noises or just freezing, but The Pip spent the rest of the parade in between mine and Jackie's chairs shivering. 

After sitting out in the cold for about an hour and a half, we moved our frozen bodies to the car and watched some of the parade from the car with the heater on. Pippa was in the backseat with the blankets shivering still. After the Huntsville High Band passed us, I decided to check out the list of parade participants and discovered there were no more bands coming through so we decided to leave. 

The parade was super disappointing this year, and I had really been looking forward to it because the theme was A Charlie Brown Christmas and that is one of my favorite Christmas specials. There were only two high school bands (Huntsville and Lee) and a couple of middle school bands and the rest were just people in cars driving by and waving. It was the worst it has been in a long time. Even the "Rev it Up!" lady wasn't there! I found out later that a lot of bands and other participants cancelled because it was cold. Weird, I know. 

Despite the disappointing turnout, we still had a good time waving at people and listening to the few bands that actually did show up. Here's to hoping next year's parade will be a lot better! 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Giveaway: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays

~~ This Giveaway is Now Closed ~~

Hope everyone had a great weekend! A couple of posts went up over the weekend so be sure and check those out. I spent the weekend doing some Christmas-y things and I'm excited to share those with you in the coming days. Before I do that, however, I want to host a little Christmas giveaway! As you may or may not know, The Pioneer Woman has a new cookbook. The new book is a holiday themed cookbook and it came out in October. I bought an extra copy to giveaway to one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment telling us what your favorite holiday food is... dressing, red velvet cake, cinnamon candy? The contest will be open until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday night, December 12, and I will post the winner on Friday, December 13. Thanks for reading and good luck!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Another Football Title for the Mustangs

Last Thursday was the first day of the finals of the state high school football championships and for the third year in a row, Madison Academy was playing. The game was slated for an 11:00 a.m. start; so, my dad picked my brother up at 6:30 a.m. and then came to my house. My cousin Chris and friend Leah (whose husband is a coach) also came to my house and we finally got on the road at a few minutes before 7:00 a.m.

Chris decided to take his own vehicle since he needed to be back at a certain time and so my dad rode down with him and us "kids" rode in my car. We stopped at the Decatur exit and had breakfast at Hardee's and then got back on the road. The closer we got to Birmingham, the more traffic there was and at some point, I lost sight of Chris' vehicle. So, I had Justin call and tell them to meet us at the rest area past Vance before you get to the Tuscaloosa exits so we could regroup and have a natural break. 

We were at the rest area five or seven minutes before Chris and my dad arrived, but we were able to get out and stretch our legs for a bit which was nice. After our quick break, we got back on the interstate. I always take a back way into Tuscaloosa so as to avoid all the traffic on McFarland Blvd. and when I exited, Chris did not. Apparently he was in the other lane and just kept on driving. We headed on into town and parked at the Publix on the strip and were there for a good 15 or 20 minutes before Chris and my dad arrived. Chris, the consummate rule follower, saw signs that indicated the parking was only an hour there and asked some policemen about it who told him that vehicles would be told if there longer than an hour. So, long story short, we both ended up parking by The Ferg and walking a mile-ish to the stadium.
Once inside, we found seats at the 50 yard line and I made an immediate dash to the concession stand for a stadium dog. I haven't been to a game all season and it was all I had been thinking about for weeks. It was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped. The weather was warm. It was supposed to rain as well, but thankfully the rain held off. The humidity, however was off the charts and I felt like I needed 10 showers as soon as I stepped out of the car. I have always said that Tuscaloosa is the hottest city in the state and I still believe it now. Eventually the sun fell behind the stadium and there was a breeze in the air so the day was actually quite nice.
The first half was closer than some people in our party would have liked, but MA pulled away in the second half and won their second state title in as many years. While I'm thrilled the Mustangs won, it seems like last year's win was more special as it was the first ever not only for the school, but for all of Madison County. This year's we went down expecting to win so it was just like any other victory (kind of) so it had a different feel.
After the game, we regrouped with Leah (she had sat with her father-in-law) and parted ways with Chris (who was headed straight back to Huntsville) and walked back to the car. We made our obligatory stop at The Fish Market on the way home and enjoyed a delicious dinner. There was a lot of traffic in Birmingham when we left the restaurant because people were just getting off work so it took us a little longer than normal to get out of town.We dropped Justin off first since he had to be back at 6:30 p.m. and we got him back with two minutes to spare; then it was back to Five Points for the rest of us.

It was a nice way to spend a day off - with friends and family and a victory for the Mustangs! 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Galaxy of Lights Fun Run 2013

This past Tuesday night was the first annual Galaxy of Lights Fun Run and I am so glad I participated because it was such a fun night! I found out about the Fun Run when I picked up my packed for the Liz Hurley Ribbon Run earlier this year and I registered almost immediately. Last year was the first time the Galaxy of Lights 5K was held and the response was so overwhelming that they added the Fun Run this year which was a shorter course for those who might prefer to walk, stroll, skip or jog... in other words, people like me!

The run took place at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens at was slated for a 6:30 p.m. start. They had pictures with Santa at 5:30 p.m. and a tacky holiday sweater contest at 6:00 p.m. I had planned to go to the gardens right after work and in my rush that morning I forgot to grab mine. So, Meri was kind enough to grab one from her mom that afternoon and bring it to me. It was a sweater vest that was very festive, but sadly, not festive enough as I did not win a prize for my tacky sweater. 

We lined up at the start a few minutes before 6:30 p.m. and then the run was underway. There were four spots along the route where you could stop and sing and be entered for a door prize and so I stopped at each of these spots and did a little singing. I have never walked the Galaxy of Lights before and I must say it was so much better than just driving through. I had planned to walk the trail at dog night the week before with Jackie and the kids, but it was cold and raining and so we elected to stay in the warmth of my home instead. There was music playing all throughout the course and it was such a fun environment and it was really nice to be able to enjoy the lights while walking rather than just seeing them as we zip past in a car.

I finished the 1.7 miles in about 35 minutes, stopping along to sing and take a few photos. After I crossed the finish line, I snagged some free pizza, chocolate milk and an ice cream sandwich  because the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was fix dinner. I also wanted to stick around for the door prize drawings which began at 7:15 p.m. There were 70 door prizes so I had my fingers crossed. 

First they announced the winners of the tacky sweater contest which I already mentioned I did not win and then they began the door prize drawings. As luck would have it, my number and name was the first one they pulled out of the box! I won dinner and a movie for two at the Monaco! I was so excited (and still am) because there are a lot of great movies coming out in the next few weeks and I do enjoy going to the movies, especially for free! I stayed for the remainder of the general door prizes and also for the prizes for the singers, all of which were great. The prizes included movies, dinners, and spa treatments. I don't know if the 5K race has door prizes as well, but the prizes at the Fun Run were fabulous! 

It was a fun, fun night and I'm so glad I participated. I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year! 

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Heritage Ringers Holiday Concert 2013

It's been a busy week at work and socially as well and I am way behind on the blogging. Hopefully I can write up some posts over the weekend so I won't be so far behind. I started this post on Tuesday and am just now getting around to finishing and posting it. 

One of my favorite events of the holiday season is the Heritage Bell Ringers Christmas concert which takes place the first Monday of December at Trinity Methodist Church. I circled the date on my calendar this year because I missed it last year and as luck would have it, the day of the concert was also my co-worker and friend Meri's birthday. So, I treated her to a free concert - what can I say, my generosity knows no bounds. I also took her out to dinner though so I'm not a total cheapskate.
The concert started at 7:00 p.m. and we met for dinner at Newk's at 5:45p.m. We were enjoying visiting with each other outside of work so much that we had each eaten about half of our salad before realizing we had the other person's. I had ordered Blue Cheese dressing and Meri had ordered Ranch and when we realized the mistake, we just switched salads and went on eating.
We had planned on arriving at the church at 6:30 p.m. so that we would be able to get a good seat. Our co-worker Maria was meeting us there as well. We all arrived at the same time and quickly found a seat towards the front. Meri and I were close to the youngest ones there, especially considering various assisted living facilities were bringing people in by the busloads.

The three of us talked amongst ourselves prior to the start of the concert and at one point I laughed so loudly that it echoed throughout the sanctuary. The concert began a couple of minutes after 7:00 p.m. and it was a really enjoyable show. Sadly, they did not play Sleigh Bells this year which is always my favorite at this show. They did, however, play a medley of songs from Charlie Brown Christmas and those were my favorite this time around.

The show lasted about and hour and 15 minutes and was very enjoyable. It was attended by a nice number of people as the sanctuary was quite full. Meri, Maria and I all enjoyed it. Next year, if you live in Huntsville,  mark your calendar for the first Monday in December and enjoy the wonders of the handbell concert. It will not disappoint!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving Weekend 2013 Recap

Happy December everyone! Can you believe we have reached the last month of the year and that there are only 28 days left in the year as I type this? It doesn't seem possible, but it is. 

I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving. Mine was rather low-key and uneventful which was nice. I was in charge of making the dressing, rolls and coleslaw and also made a dessert. I believe that this year's dressing was my best ever. It's never the same twice, but this year's was top notch. Hopefully I can duplicate it at Christmas time because last year's Christmas dressing might have been my worst ever. 

We ate at 1:00 and after about an hour, half the guests had parted ways and gone to their next destination. My grandmother and another lady cleaned up the kitchen and I helped only marginally. I really don't even know if you could consider it helping. I left about 3:45 and took some food over to my Aunt Linda who did not get out because she had eye surgery earlier in the week. When I got there, my cousins Chris, Amy and Bennett were also there and we all got sucked into watching Family Feud. So, after about two hours of the Feud, I headed home to deal with my wild as a buck dog and the messy kitchen. 

On Black Friday, my dad and I got out for a little while. We have been hitting the Black Friday sales since I was in college and used to wake early in the morning to score gift cards and giveaways. Now that the sales start on Thursday (ridiculous) we miss out on what few freebies there are and so this year we got our latest start ever at around 9:00 a.m.

Our first stop was Wal-Mart and we got a front parking spot which would have been unheard of two years ago. I bought myself a small Christmas tree for my den and an even smaller on for my bedroom. The trees were not expensive and were an additional 30% that Friday, so I got both for $27.50 - not bad. I got these because I decided that with Pippa around a regular sized tree would not be a good idea. Instead I put the small tree on top of the chest in my den so that she (in theory) wouldn't be able to reach it. I am also not putting out my favorite Grinch pieces because I don't want them to end up broken. Hopefully next year they can make a return appearance. 

After our Wal-Mart stop, we went to Dick's Sporting Goods because my dad likes to load up on the $5 golf gloves and golf balls. I bought some socks because the majority of my athletic socks are worn thin or have holes n them and I am way overdue for some new ones. We then went by Belk where we were lucky to find a parking spot. I had bought myself a new purse a few weeks ago and when my grandma saw it on Thanksgiving she asked if she could have it. So, I went and bought her the exact same one. They only had one left so it was a lucky find. 

We left Belk and went to another Wal-Mart and then went back to the first Wal-Mart we had been to that morning and finally my dad decided on a TV for my mom. This is not a surprise as he delivered it to her upon our return. The rest of Friday was spent doing a whole lot of nothing - just TV watching and laundry and a little cleaning. 

Saturday morning I took Pip to the vet to get her weighed and buy a heartworm pill for the month. She weighed 32.6 pounds, which is only eight pounds more than she weighed in October. I'm beginning to wonder if she might not turn out as big as I had originally thought. I guess time will tell. That afternoon was the now infamous Iron Bowl which I watched at my Aunt Linda's with Chris and Bennett and Amy (for the last quarter or so). Alabama played terrible so I wasn't really surprised they lost. I guess that's why they play the game. 

I went home afterwards and watched a movie and did some laundry and then called it a night. Sunday was more of the same - church and being lazy and church again and then Monday I returned to work. 

Hope you enjoyed a happy Thanksgiving with those you love and that your plates and hearts were full.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Book Review: NIV Ragamuffin Bible

Today's post is a review of the "NIV Ragamuffin Bible"  by none other than my best friend Jackie. It's a great review and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

A couple of weeks ago I was at Natasha’s house letting her dog out when I noticed she had a Bible I had never seen before in her kitchen. I picked it up glanced at it, put it back down and made a mental note to ask her about it. The Bible was called, “NIV Ragamuffin Bible” with a quote at the bottom that read, “Meditations For The Bedraggled, Beat-Up & Brokenhearted”.

Here’s a little back store on me...about 3 years ago I was introduced to a book called, “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning. This book changed my spiritual life in a way no other book has. It rocked my existence in my perceived Christianity on a level I didn’t know existed. This book I speak of wasn’t written for the “super spiritual or “muscular Christians” it was written for the “bedraggled, beat-up & burnt out” which is exactly what I was and to this day still am but on a slightly different level. You see I found a book that mainly focused on God’s grace and love and that didn’t scare the life out of me. Brennan Manning was as fallible as a person could be but even through his abandonment of the priesthood and his constant struggle with alcoholism, he strived to show the world God’s LOVE. This man is conservative by no means. In fact I feel like most people in the conservative church would argue most of his points viciously. Most of you reading this also know that I have a soft spot for addicts and those who can’t fend for themselves. This book was my brother Kenny’s favorite book. I am SO grateful that I was able to read this book while he was still alive so we could have numerous conversations about it. 

Now back to the book I am supposed to be doing the review on (sorry I am long winded). When I asked Natasha about the NIV Bible she said she was supposed to review it and then she got to keep it. She later asked if I would read through it and review it for her so here we are. I basically skipped through the Bible and pulled out different passages that have hit me for specific reasons either in a good way or bad. First of all this reads just like an NIV but each book and chapter have an excerpt from one of Brennan Manning’s books. Me being me I started in Revelation and worked backwards because I am weird and I rarely ever do anything normal. 

Revelation 21 1:4
The Apostle John is describing basically the end of days. He is describing the “New Jerusalem”  coming down out of heaven and God’s dwelling place being amongst his people. Verse 4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”. This is something as a Christian I long for. Brennan’s excerpt about this is, “The deeper we grow in the Spirit of Jesus Christ , the poorer we become – the more we realize that everything in life is a gift. The tenor of our lives becomes one of humble and joyful thanksgiving. Awareness of our poverty and ineptitude causes us to rejoice in the gift of being called out of darkness into the wondrous light”. 

John 13:1-17
Jesus washes his Disciples feet. This in my opinion is one of the most powerful stories in the Bible.  It is Jesus’ way of teaching his Disciples to be humble and recognize we are all equal, that no one person is greater than the next. What is so powerful to me is he does this knowing he is about to be crucified and he sets that reality on the shelf to have a teaching moment with his Disciples.

Brennan, “What a shocking reversal of our culture’s priorities and values! To prefer to be the servant rather than the lord of the household, to merrily taunt the gods of power, prestige, honor and recognition, to refuse to take oneself seriously, to live without gloom by the lackey’s agenda; these are the attitudes and actions that bear the stamp of authentic discipleship. In effect, Jesus said: Blessed are you if you love to be unknown and regarded as nothing. All things being equal, to prefer contempt to honor, to prefer ridicule to praise, to prefer humiliation to glory – those are formulas of greatness in the new Israel of God.”

Jeremiah 29:1-13
My favorite Bible verses of all time is verse 11. “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” While this is my favorite verse I have a love hate relationship with this verse because when times are hard you look at this and think, what is going on?!?!

Brennan, “In most of our lives we have the impression the world has done us considerable harm and comparatively little good. Yet if the Abba of Jesus loves us, if he pursues us as a tremendous Lover who is dying (in his Son) to be with us, then we are committed to the notion that his world, the work of his hands, is out to do us good. 

Let me reiterate this is a normal everyday New International Version of the Bible. It does however have some very humbling and yet at times very in your face excerpts from the many different books written by Brennan Manning. IF you are an extremely conservative Christian this is probably not the Bible for you. IF you are the type of Christian who Jesus himself would probably come sit with at the dinner table because you are pathetically broken and humbly seeking some sort of guidance and peace this Bible is for YOU!! 

Thank you for taking your time to read this. Natasha, thanks for the opportunity to review this and also thank you for letting me keep it!