If you are heading out on a road trip of your own this summer, we hope you have safe and happy travels! Share a picture with us along the way!
I was truly blessed growing up to be a part of a family that traveled. Since my parents were both school teachers, we had plenty of time in the summer to pack up and hit the road! Keep in mind, my parents were school teachers, so these were not glamourous vactations full of ski trips, water parks, restaraunts and hotels. Our road trips consisted of tent camping (thank you K.O.A.), dinners from the cooler (a.k.a. cooler crud) and finding all the cool stops along the way that were free or cheap! While our trips may have been a strain on the family budget, they were full of fun and happy memories (somehow you forget the stressful times when it is over). My brother and I were really lucky to have gotten to see so much of the United States of America!
From Mt. Rushmore, Devil's Tower, and The Grand Canyon, to a tour up the west coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. We visited the world's deepest hand-dug well in Greensburg, Kansas, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, an Indian Pueblo in Taos, New Mexico, and the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado.
Every once in a while, usually in the fall, we got to go to places like Disney World and Sea World!
Of course, as a teenager these trips got a little embarrassing. We were getting the car serviced in California on one of our trips, and I realized that my dad was wearing a tie-dyed tank top, shorts, fanny pack, and Mickey Mouse socks with sandals. We were quite a sight!
Y'all, this blog would be too long if I named all of the fun places my family traveled over the years! We usually landed in Colorado for a week or so somewhere along the way to visit with my grandparents and play in the mountains we all still love so much!
Being able to travel and see so much of our beautiful country did so much to help shape who I am today. I am a southern girl at heart, but I am sure you can tell by touring my home and reading my other posts that my style and personality has been heavily influenced by sights and experiences I was exposed to on our journeys! What a priceless treasure, to have been able to soak up different cultures, styles, people, and landscapes. Thanks to my adventurous parents for being willing to load us up and be away from home for weeks at a time. Your kids are better people for it!
In honor of all of these nostalgic feelings this summer, Tara, Jorj and I thought it would be fun to spread the southern love across the whole country! During the month of July we want to get a new Facebook "like" from at least one person in every state! So, if you are reading this, and you don't already follow us on Facebook, head on over and like our page! If you are a Facebook fan already, we hope you'll tag a friend from a far away place and help us reach our goal!
If you are heading out on a road trip of your own this summer, we hope you have safe and happy travels! Share a picture with us along the way!
I grew up in a small town. Scratch that. I grew up in a rural community outside of a small town. Next door to my grandparents’ farm and within a mile of the county line, I was the first one on the school bus every morning and the last one off every afternoon. Keep in mind, we have one elementary school, while the middle and high schools share a campus, for the entire county!
That summer of 2001 was so eye-opening and the best way we could have started our marriage. We did have a team to work with, and we lived with a young couple and their toddler daughter, but we really only had each other and God to lean on. There were breakdowns and culture shock, all of which brought us closer together.
After that summer, we went back to our normal lives in Atlanta, Chris completing his final classes and working part-time with a civil engineering firm, while I began my first year teaching middle school. Even though this was the life we had always dreamed of, something was still missing. We felt like we had left part of our hearts in Brazil and began to have new dreams of going back. Soon, we were presented with the opportunity to go back to Brazil as full-time missionaries and help create a Globalscope campus ministry. We were so excited!
The following spring (2002), Chris’s family farm was featured on a Food Network show called “Food Finds.” If you’ve read my blog “Muscadines, Grandma, and a Husband,” you’ll know that his family grows muscadine grapes. Chris’s grandfather, father, and uncle were interviewed for the show, which focused on the capsules “Papa Jacob” was making from the seeds of the muscadines and the health benefits they offered. At the time, he was making them by hand in his home office. I remember watching the show in our little apartment with one of our friends from Ocilla who also lived in Atlanta. Afterward, we all just giggled and stared at each other, amazed and bewildered at what we had just seen on TV!
Over the following year, it became more and more evident to us that we were supposed to stay in Irwin County. Serving God was our first priority, but we realized that we didn’t have to leave the country to do that. Looking back now, I can see how God worked through us and the chain-reaction of events that continue as a result of our decision to stay.
That summer, I discovered I was pregnant! Chris and I wanted to share our exciting news with our family in a fun way, so we went to The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry to purchase a frame for our ultrasound picture. Roxie was at the register, so she was technically the first person we told that we were expecting. We had always known Roxie, since we went to high school together, but we weren’t close friends at the time. Little did I know how close we would grow!
Thirteen years ago, we could not have known how our decisions would affect the course of our own lives, much less so many others. Although we always tried to be faithful to what we believed to be God’s will, we haven’t always understood while in the middle of it. So many times, we’ve wondered what life would be like had we gone to Brazil. Our boys think it’s crazy that they would know how to speak Portuguese! We still have a special place in our hearts for the people of Brazil. I used to wonder if we missed God’s will by not going to Brazil. And, while I know that God would have used us there, I feel like our purpose is to be here, in this small town, to encourage this community, and to share it with the rest of the world. I feel like for the last thirteen years, we’ve been on the cusp of something great in so many areas.
The older I get, the more I grow to love Fall! Cooler mornings, turning leaves, the scent of freshly-dug peanuts have all become a few of my favorite things. I love how going back to school puts our family back in a routine after the freedom of summer. I also love celebrating the season at family reunions, fall festivals, really any holiday gathering.
Our family truly enjoys participating in our church’s “Trick-Or-Trunk,” which is our Halloween/Fall Festival type celebration. Since our church is located way out in the country, most children in our church don't get to go trick-or-treating. (Side note: I went trick-or-treating one time when I was a kid. My mama had to call ahead to let folks know we were coming to their house so they would be prepared to pass out candy. I think we drove around for two hours, visited 4-5 houses, and received a handful of candy. I did have an awesome “Bride of Frankenstein” costume, thanks to my crafty mama!) Stories like mine are what inspired “Trick-or-Trunk.” Church members park their cars in a circle, with their trunks facing inside the circle. They open and decorate their trunks, then once it gets dark, pass out candy to the children as they walk around the circle in their cute costumes. For many of these kids, it’s the only chance they have to trick-or-treat. For many of the adults, it’s a fun time to get dressed up, escape reality, and just enjoy themselves for a little while!
Throughout the years, our family has dressed up in various themes, usually in homemade costumes. It’s become a sort of tradition to decide what we’re going to be, then figure out how to make the costumes. Many times we’ve been superheroes and villains, but also movie characters, and this year - a family of trophies! My boys were champion tennis and soccer player trophies, while my husband and I snuck in a bit of adult humor: his plaque read “I Tried (participation award),” and mine read “World’s Okayest Runner!” We just love to have fun together!
This fall, we’ve already had two family reunions, are helping host a church youth retreat, have attended two festivals with more on the calendar, in addition to regular family and church holiday celebrations coming up. Now, you know that here in the South, we enjoy our celebrations, and the fact that they always revolve around food! And, confession time: I, like so many others, love pumpkin-flavored anything - I get positively giddy at my first pumpkin-spiced latte of the season! Since we have so many gatherings, I have a few recipes that I keep in mind to bring to the table. Harvest Cobb Salad is a great one, with sliced apples and pears, toasted pecans, dried cranberries, boiled eggs, and poppy seed dressing. Of course, green bean or hash brown casseroles are traditional, and usually enjoyed by most folks. I always like to bring something a little different, though. This year, I took a bread pudding recipe I’ve made many times and swapped a out a few ingredients to make a yummy Pumpkin Raisin-Bread Pudding! Even my boys, who don’t care much for bread pudding, loved it! It always makes me happy to make something my boys really enjoy!
Be sure to join our Recipe Club to receive a free printable recipe card with my Pumpkin Raisin-Bread Pudding recipe on it. This is a great dish to serve as dessert, but it’s also delicious for brunch!
Confession time: I am not a morning person. Like, NOT. at. all. I move at a sloth-like pace until about 8:30. Always have - you can ask my Mama! Unfortunately, I need to leave the house at 7:30 to get both boys to both schools by 7:50. Since they’re not tardy until 8:00, and my children take after their mother, that means there’s a frenzy of activity about 7:25 that usually lasts until 7:35-7:40 - searching for socks in the dryer, signing papers, yelling “I need money” and “Did you brush your teeth?” and “Let’s go! Get in the car!” Please tell me I’m not the only one here?
So, packing lunches every morning becomes one more thing to remember at the last minute that causes stress and panic. And, of course, I’m trying to raise my boys to be independent men who are comfortable in the kitchen. They have great role models in their Daddy and Papa! So, I thought to myself, “Why can’t they pack their own lunches?” Cue spotlight and angels singing.
After much research (read: way too much time spent on Pinterest), I created a system where they can pack their own lunches. I had everything all set up at the beginning of last school year, and it worked great! For a couple of weeks. Then, my car decided to wrap itself around a tree. Since I had just stocked everything, my system worked well for my husband who suddenly found himself playing the role of “Mr. Mom.” Then, suddenly, the baskets were empty. And, since my loving church family kept bringing food so my family would survive without me in the kitchen, there was no room for baskets in my over-flowing refrigerator! I couldn’t drive or work, so I didn’t have any place to be at any particular time. Because of that, packing lunches didn't stress me out like it once did, and that was one thing I could do to be helpful.
Here we are, a year later, and I’m trying to get my system back into place. Now that my older son is in middle school where there are more options, and all our schools now have free lunch (high-fives all around!), he usually eats in the cafeteria. That helps me tremendously! My younger son tends to be a little more picky. Not like he’ll only eat chicken tenders and french fries, but more like he sometimes wants all fruit in his lunchbox. He usually doesn’t care for his foods to be mixed together, although he loves nachos. And, texture plays a big part in whether or not he likes a food - french fries and oven roasted potatoes are fine, baked or mashed potatoes are not. He has eaten a whole tomato like an apple and entire containers of cherry tomatoes, loves chili and spaghetti, but doesn’t like “cooked” tomatoes. Somehow, all his food preferences make sense to me, but because the school cafeteria that has hundreds of kids to feed every day doesn’t tend to cater to what one child likes, if I don’t want him to go hungry, then we’re packing his lunch.
So, my system is pretty simple. I fix the “entree” of his lunchbox, whether it’s leftover taco soup in a thermos, a turkey bacon ranch wrap, a chef salad, or his all-time favorite, the old standby, PB&J, with Southern Mercantile Jam (any flavor, he loves them all!). Sometimes, on super busy mornings (or when I’m moving especially slowly) he’ll just grab a nachos or pizza Lunchable. Really, I’m just trying to give him something with protein that will fill him up. He also really likes cheese (real cheese, not string cheese) and yogurt, so I encourage him to grab one of those if I think he needs a little more protein or dairy.
Next, I have a basket of fruits and veggies from which he can pick two. I try to prepare ahead of time and have bags of cut-up celery, baby carrots, or grapes ready to go, but there are also apples and clementines..
In the pantry, I have two baskets. He can pick one from each, which usually gives him something sweet and something salty.
It’s so easy to fill a lunchbox with junk because it’s shelf-stable, and I try to go to the grocery store only once a week. I’m trying to teach my boys to make healthier choices, though, which means I have to limit what they eat out of the pantry. That’s one reason I like having the system of baskets. I set the guidelines by deciding what goes in each basket and how many items he can have from them, but he gets to choose what he wants in his lunchbox, so he feels empowered and independent. That’s a win-win for me!
Maybe you have your own system for packing lunches. Or, maybe you have an ingenious system to help with some other daily chore. If you have any tips to share, we’d love to hear them! Share your ideas here on The Southern Mercantile blog or on our Facebook page.
A few years ago, my family began doing something we never thought we’d do - camping! Now, we didn’t want to invest in a camper or RV because we knew we’d feel like we had to use it for every single trip we took, and I still enjoy sleeping in a hotel room for some trips! Instead, we purchased a tent, which claims to sleep 6 people, but in reality has just enough room for the four of us. As our boys grow taller and taller, that tent gets smaller and smaller!
I love going camping in our little tent, though. Not because I’m really that "outdoorsy," although I do appreciate the natural surroundings. I love it because it’s time spent with my family with little to no distractions! When we’re at home, we don’t stop to look for fireflies or build a fire to roast marshmallows. My boys enjoy riding their bikes through the woods so much more than they do at home. Just the simple things like playing cards or eating hot dogs are so much more fun than they would be at home.
On a camping trip, we’re in close quarters with each other, which would be annoying at home. Even when we go on vacation and stay in a hotel room, we have more space. And, since we’re physically closer, I think it also brings us closer together in our relationships with each other. We go on adventures together, doing things we’ve never done and seeing things we’ve never seen before. I love knowing that we are building memories with our boys that they will have for a lifetime.
I’d like to share with you some of our favorite camping spots so far. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve had great experiences at the same locations! Since we’re really just getting started with camping, we’d also love to hear your suggestions for our next camping trip!
1. Tybee Island
This was our first tent camping experience, and it was a great one! We went with my sister’s family, who had actually been tent camping before, which was a big help. Tybee’s beaches are a lot more natural and less "tourist-y" than many beaches, but we liked that. There are lots of cute little shops and our favorite seafood place, "The Crab Shack." Of course, Tybee is also just minutes away from Savannah, so there’s plenty to do!
2. Anastasia Island State Park
Anastasia Island is just across the Bridge of Lions from St. Augustine, with a more natural and less crowded beach. Of course, the trip to St. Augustine is quick, so we enjoyed touring the St. Augustine Pirate Museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Castillo de San Marcos. Of course, my boys’ favorite moment was when they fired the cannons from the fort!
3. Red Top Mountain State Park
We loved Red Top Mountain because our tent site was right on the banks of Lake Allatoona! My boys just slipped right off the rocks and in to the cool water! We visited the Booth Western Art Museum and The Etowah Indian Mounds. Both were fun and informative field trips that even my boys could appreciate.
4. O’Leno State Park
We just visited O’Leno State Park recently, and again, my sister’s family came with us. Located in North Florida, O’Leno is apparently short for "Old Leno," which was once a bustling little town in the late 1800s, until the railroad was diverted around it. We took a short hike from the park area to see where the Santa Fe River actually disappears underground! The river continues underground for three miles before it resurfaces in River Rise Preserve State Park. This time, we didn’t plan much in the way of activities, but we did kayak down the Santa Fe River and saw several springs, including Lilly Springs, where we found "Naked Ed." Yes, he is naked, as my son discovered in attempting to be the first to arrive at the springs! He has a small dock where he sits with a wall to protect your eyes, and he is happy to talk with visitors about his life and family and how he came to be "Naked Ed." It was certainly an experience we’d never have anywhere else!
5. FDR State Park
Our family has made several trips to Callaway Gardens, but hadn’t really taken notice of FDR State Park. Boy, had we been missing out! There were so many places to hike and picnic and just take in the beautiful views! Of course, we saw Callaway Gardens again and enjoyed the Butterfly Center and the Birds of Prey show, but we also visited Warm Springs to see President Roosevelt’s Little White House and learn a little more about his life. And, we drove a little farther to Pine Mountain to the Wild Animal Safari! That was one of the most interesting and fun adventures we’ve had! If you go, rent a van - I promise, it’s worth it!
One thing that has always bothered me when we camp is the amount of trash we accumulate by using paper cups and plates. I don’t really like using plastic (just personal preference) and I certainly don’t trust my packing skills enough to take anything breakable! I’ve found the perfect solution here at The Southern Mercantile - our beautiful enamelware! By investing $36 in a set of four plates and four mugs, I’ll cut down on our trash for years to come, and I’m sure I’ve already spent that much on paper goods in the past!
As the mother of two busy, growing boys, I know how hectic life can be, running from work to sports practices and games, then to art lessons and church. I also know how important having dinner together at home is. According to www.familydinnerproject.org:
“Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.”
Here are my 5 tips for how to make Family Dinner happen, in spite of busy schedules:
1. Plan ahead.
I try to take the time on Sunday evening to look through our family’s schedule for the next week to determine which nights we can eat at home and which nights we’ll have to eat out. I plan my meals based on the amount of time I will have to cook each evening. (This also helps our family budget, which makes my hubby happy!) My family’s favorite meal on a night I don’t have a lot of time is nachos. We each choose our own toppings, from ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. We also love to add sour cream and homemade salsa and guacamole. Make sure you’re signed up for our email list and join our Recipe Club to receive a Recipe Card with our Homemade Salsa and Guacamole recipes!
2. Crockpot meals.
I go through spells of using my crockpot all the time, then not using it for a while. When life gets busy, though, my crockpot is a lifesaver! I use it for lots of soups and stews, but even if you just use it to cook your meat, the rest of the meal comes together pretty easily. There are lots of crockpot cookbooks and recipes out there, especially on Pinterest. My family’s favorite right now is Asian Pork Tenderloin with Ginger Glaze, which you can find here (shoutout to The Food Charlatan!)
3. Plan to pick up takeout or have semi-homemade.
On the nights your schedule just won’t allow you to cook, go ahead and decide what you can pick up and add to at home. Whether it’s a bucket of fried chicken, so all you have to do is cook a box of macaroni and cheese and heat up a can of green beans, or if you order pizza and add a salad, figure out what will take the most time and a way to reduce that amount of time.
4. Have a back-up plan.
Sometimes, even after planning ahead, you still end up with less time than you thought you would have. I try to keep certain items in my freezer and pantry, so that I can throw together my meals rather quickly. Cans of beans and diced tomatoes stay on my pantry shelf, and I know that my microwave can defrost one pound of meat in less than 10 minutes. That means I can throw together a pot of chili or taco soup in half an hour. Filling my pot with hot water before putting it on the stove helps it to boil faster, which means I can have pasta topped with canned spaghetti sauce and meatballs from the freezer within half an hour, too. Also, my kids love breakfast for supper, and they never realize it’s because I ran out of time! Scramble some eggs, boil water for some quick grits, and fry a little bacon (okay, a lot!), and get ready for smiles. Know what meals you can pull together quickly, then make sure you keep those ingredients at the ready.
5. Make the restaurant table your family dinner table.
You’ve tried your best to make family dinner at home work, but there are times when even your backup plan falls through. I know how you feel, but this still does not make you a failure. Instead, accept the fact that you’re going to have to eat dinner out, then have dinner at the restaurant table just as you would have at home: no phones, talk about highs and lows for the day, play word association games, tell stories, etc. Enjoy the service and the meal prepared by someone else, while you enjoy time together with family! You can even make it an event by inviting extended family!
A long time ago, my sister taught me that with family meals - just as in so many other areas of life - we have to choose between good, better, and best. Of course, a home-cooked meal from scratch at a beautifully set table with spouses and children who talk about their day is best, but that’s not always going to happen. Sometimes, you choose what is only good or better, knowing that you have done the best you could do at the time. Cut yourself some slack, and have a PB&J on paper plates, if you have to. Just make sure that as often as you can, your family has the chance to have dinner together.
This year we served the caramel corn in a big jar and provided cute paper bags for people to fill. You can see that it is also very cute served in little paper cones. However you choose to serve it, this caramel corn is sure to be a big hit at your next gathering! It would also make an excellent gift!
Grammy's Caramel Corn
8 quarts popped corn
1 cup butter
1 tsp. butter flavoring
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Divide popped corn into two flat pans. In a saucepan, combine butter, butter flavoring, sugar, and corn syrup. Boil for 5 minutes. Stir in baking soda. Pour mixture over corn and mix well. Bake 1 hour at 250 degrees, stirring every 20 minutes.
**One of Grammy's Tips: Line pans with foil and coat with a nonstick spray to avoid sticking.
Feel free to print and share with friends! Pass along the love of Grammy's Caramel Corn!
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