I LOVE to wrap presents! After 12 Christmas seasons in retail, you would think that I would be tired of gift wrapping by now! Lovingly wrapping gifts is one of my favorite activities that comes around with the Holidays. Every year and I am scouring the after Christmas sales for cute gift wrap, cards, tags, etc. I was too embarrassed to take a picture of my entire gift wrap collection so I just picked a few of my favorites to show you! I think it is so much fun to dress up my packages and put extra thought into the presentation of the gift. Here, I am sharing with you a few of my tips on creating beautiful and special gifts!
I realized the other day, that since I have a little boy in the house again, I need to get back in the habit of making fun treats for the holidays. Now that Seth and Caleb are teenagers, they are not as easily impressed as they once were. (Although, having a baby brother has made some simple things more entertaining, especially if it makes Perry laugh!) This led me to remember how much fun we had making Moon Pie Turkeys for Thanksgiving each year, so I thought I'd share a repost of that blog I originally wrote in 2015. Hopefully, I can get it all together and make some this year. If you make them, we'd love for you to share your pictures! Post them on Facebook or Instagram and tag us.
I’ve made moon pie turkeys every year since 2007, either for class Thanksgiving parties or our family Thanksgiving meal or both. Moon pie turkeys are easy and fun to make, so be sure to include kids for this treat! It has become a tradition for my boys to get in the kitchen and help me make them each year. In fact, this year when I brought home the boxes of moon pies, Seth excitedly asked, “Is it time for moon pie turkeys?!”
When my older son, Seth, started preschool in 2007, I was put on the Thanksgiving party committee. We had turkey sandwiches (cut into turkeys using cookie cutters), cookie pilgrim hats, apple slices with pumpkin pie dip, and moon pie turkeys. I had decorated moon pies for Halloween after seeing the idea in a magazine (probably Southern Living, All You, or Family Fun, I don’t remember which). I had several moon pies, bags of candy corn, and chocolate almond bark left over, so I got creative and came up with moon pie turkeys!
Now, if you are not from the South, you may not know what a moon pie is, but let me tell you, there is not a more Southern snack than a moon pie with an RC Cola (except maybe peanuts and a glass bottle Coke!). A moon pie is “the perfect combination of marshmallow, graham and chocolate” - just check out the story on www.moonpie.com!
Simply melt chocolate almond bark and place in a piping bag with a small round tip. Insert candy corns point down into the edge of the moon pie to make the turkey’s tail feathers. Pipe the melted chocolate around the top edge of the moon pie. Next pipe a dot of chocolate on the flat side and place a candy corn on it point down again to make the beak. As the chocolate dries, it will hold the candy corns in place. I also like to use orange candi-quik to make the eyes by just piping two dots over the beak. I use mini moon pies when I can find them, just because they are the perfect size for kids to hold on to and eat, and usually there are plenty of other desserts around!
I love having a Thanksgiving tradition that’s fun to make with my kids! I hope you’ll enjoy making your own moon pie turkeys! Do you have any other fun Thanksgiving traditions? We’d love to hear about them! Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
The scent of freshly-dug peanuts in the air, watching my boys play in the marching band, enjoying a pumpkin spice latte or hot apple cider - these are a few of my favorite things! I love driving down the road and seeing the colorful leaves fall to the ground, only to be picked up and tossed around by the wind like confetti. When the weather cools off enough to bring out my scarves, vests, sweaters, and boots, it makes me happy. Even the colors of Fall - red, yellow, orange - have always been my favorites!
I have always enjoyed Halloween, even though as a child I did not get to trick-or-treat very often, thanks to living way out in the country. But, Fall festivals in our little community with apple bobbing, costume contests, and haunted houses made up for it. As a teen, my friends and I created our own haunted house downtown using the house my friend’s parents were renovating. We may have had a little too much fun scaring the children (and their mamas!). Even now, dressing up my family for our church’s Trick-or-Trunk is a project I enjoy. This year, we were a 3-Ring Circus - kind of like every day! You can read more about our costumes in my blog, A Trophy Family with a Winning Recipe.
Soon after Halloween, we get to celebrate Thanksgiving as well. What could be better than gathering with family and friends to eat, play, laugh, reminisce, and rest together? Counting our blessings is something we should certainly do everyday throughout the year, but setting aside a day to do it together makes it even more meaningful. You can learn more about my family's Thanksgiving traditions by reading Thanksgiving at the Cabin.
It seems that Fall is the season for class reunions and family reunions, school homecomings as well as church homecomings. It’s a season of gathering together, whatever the reason to celebrate may be. And, even if you’d rather be watching a football game or sitting in a deer stand, you have to admit that doing those things with your family and friends makes it more fun.
My family of boys and I enjoy camping, especially in the Fall. Although we have graduated from a tent to borrowing my in-laws' camper, you can see some of our favorite camping trips in my blog, 5 Southern Camping Spots. We did not get to go camping this Fall, but we did take a couple of day trips to enjoy the season. We had a blast at the Georgia National Fair in Perry, Georgia. (And, for the record, no, we did not name our youngest son after the Fair or the Livestock Show that also takes place in that city. ;) Purchasing Georgia Grown products like goat soaps, Bourbon Fig Jam, and honey sticks; visiting the Baby Barn to see cows waiting to give birth and petting baby piglets; checking out the arts and crafts competition; and of course, enjoying a funnel cake were the highlights of our day. My boys aren’t big on the rides at the Fair, so we just skipped that area, but we still had a fun-filled day.
We also visited Rutland Farms, which is located near Tifton, Georgia. In the past, we’ve taken our older boys there to pick strawberries. Of course, now our family grows them too, so it’s been a while since we’ve visited. I have to say, their Fall Festival that Saturday was more fun than my older boys thought it would be. They have animals like ostriches, peacocks, a tortoise, a huge pig, cows, and more. There was a pumpkin patch, which was perfect for taking pictures. They had games like skee ball, and a corn chunker, where you could shoot a corn cob at a target in the pond, and of course, a corn maze. A hayride and a barrel train added to the fun.
(My big boys are convinced that Perry is my favorite because I take more pictures of him, but they rarely let me take their pictures! Caleb was a good sport this weekend and posed with Perry a couple of times.)
Fall in the South is elusive and short-lived, coming and going in spurts, but I encourage you to get out and enjoy the season with family and friends! Visit a local farm or winery and see what they grow and sell, or find a coffee shop or bakery that incorporates the tastes of Fall in their treats. Go enjoy a football game, even if you don’t care about the sport. Be sure to watch the band and cheerleaders, too; school spirit can be contagious! Take a camping trip to see the lovely leaves and enjoy cool mountain air. Whatever you do, savor the sights, sounds, and scents of Fall, but even more, take pleasure in the time you have with the people you care about most. Life’s too short not to pause and appreciate where you are and who you’re with.
Lila made her way into this world on July 20th, 2019. It was all a blur, and movie-like almost, as I stood on the sidewalk outside of Longhorn's Steakhouse. My belly was full (in more ways than one), and I was on the phone with my dad when my water broke right then and there for all of the patiently waiting customers to see. I stared at the puddle in surprise and giggled as Phillip yelled at me to get in the car. (I guess he didn't think it was funny.)
I quickly realized how funny it wasn't as the contractions became stronger. I had been reading books and watching documentaries all to prepare me for this moment, and somehow none of it mattered. Lila was on her way, and that was all I could think about!
She arrived at 10:58, a little over two hours after my water broke. What a whirlwind!
She was tiny, dark and beautiful. I couldn't believe I was her mom. As I held her close and stared at her, all I could think about was how miraculous of an experience this all was.
In the beginning, it was as if I had trouble believing that there was really a baby growing inside of me. However, from the very moment I felt her move, that all changed. All of the sudden I was overly aware that she was there, that she was a part of me. As she grew, so did my attachment of her. I started dreaming of who she'd be and what she'd look like. It also became so evident to me that she did not belong to me, she belonged to God.
God gave us this gift of Lila, and she was in His hands. I don't mean to sound morbid, but I had to train my thoughts to acknowledge that truth. It did, in a way, stunt the growth of my attachment to her. But looking back, it was a gift. It was a gift to be able to fully recognize that she belonged to HIM. That HE was allowing me to be her mom--not her creator. From time to time fear would rise up in me--what if something happened to her? What if I lost her? What if I lost her during delivery? But the fear didn't stop there. What if she gets sick after she is born? What if she gets in an accident and dies suddenly as a child? What if?
Then an overwhelming peace came. She belongs to God. He is in control. He will take care of her. And if He decides to call her home, she will come, whether I am ready or not. Acknowledging that truth early on allowed me to fully love her without overwhelming fear. (*I am human, so not completely without fear.) To care for her and raise her with the attitude that she belongs to God. Now, I know she has only been here for 3 months, and the reality is that as time passes and she grows, it will be challenging to remain in this mindset. However, by choosing to raise her in this way, I will take it day by day. Daily I will choose to lift her up to the Lord. Daily I will love her like the miraculous gift she is.
With one placement ending during the 7th month of my pregnancy, Phillip and I decided to take a break from foster care until after Lila was born. We could take up to a six month break before having to redo our training, so that was the plan. Now, we find ourselves at the end of our break, preparing our hearts to open our home again. It is a bittersweet feeling, but it doesn't come without fear.
Like I said, early on in my pregnancy, I was able to train my thoughts and come to grips with the truth that Lila belonged to God. Although Phillip knows this in his mind, it was still sinking into his heart. Phillip became anxious about foster care and its role in our family's life. He was fearful of what could happen to her once we welcomed other children into our home--children who come from a broken past and who have experienced violence and abuse. Through many prayers and discussions, we finally agreed that foster care is the path that our family is called to. That meeting these broken children where they are and loving them like Jesus does is the life we want to live.
As I thought about the fear of what could happen to Lila as we open up our home more and more, I was reminded of Abraham.
" He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” " Genesis 22:2
Take your son, your only son, whom you love...and offer him there as a burnt offering. (If you have never read this story, or it's been a while since you have, read it now! )
Wow. If this story didn't get to me before, it certainly does now that I am a parent. Abraham, being the faithful servant he was, obeyed. He didn't question God. He didn't bargain with God. He was obedient. Was he so full of faith that he knew the Lord would provide a lamb? Or was he acknowledging the truth that Isaac belonged to God? Or both?
I sat, with tear-filled eyes, and thought to myself--I love Lila, but God loves her more.
I want to raise my family in a way that honors The Lord. I want my time on this earth to be about other people--sharing the love of Christ. I want Lila to understand just what Jesus intended our lives to be--full of love and sacrifice.
Lila Monroe Smith is a pure JOY. She is the sweetest-natured baby and loves everyone she meets. She looks just like her daddy, but might have her mama's eyes. She is the best snuggler and loves to chat. She loves being outside and reading books. Lila is the best gift--and we are so excited to be her mom and dad.
Thank you to Dixie Cook Sherrod for the beautiful photos!
Just in case you weren’t aware, every small, southern town has some sort of festival or celebration in which the community gathers together in honor of a (sometimes) quirky theme. The Fire Ant Festival, Pig Jig, Wild Chicken Festival, and Shrimp Festival, just to name a few. Here in Ocilla, we celebrate The Sweet Potato Festival.
Recently, our local high school football coach, Buddy Nobles, was diagnosed with cancer. Over the last several years, he’s led our team to multiple championships, but more importantly, his influence on our community has been incredible. His players are inspired to greatness, not only on the football field, but in the classroom and their daily lives as well. Although my sons do not play football, they march in the band, and even they feel his influence. I can recall when he came to talk to the band during camp and encouraged them to play as loud as they could to pump up the football team and fans!
When word got out about Coach Nobles’s diagnosis, rather than just being devastated, our little town rallied together. Everyone got to work, doing what small southern towns do when there’s a crisis in the community. T-shirts, bracelets, and signs were made and sold, and most importantly, prayers went up. My Facebook feed is constantly bombarded with support for their family - from fundraisers to prayers to pictures of folks wearing red or white (our school colors) all with the hashtags #wegotyourbackbud or #Noblesstrong or #Irwinstrong or #Godisbigger. Our football field now bears Coach Nobles's initials, and the band even put him in the halftime show!
Before the Nobles family came to our little town, they actually spent several years in our rival town in the neighboring county. Usually, there’s a lot of trash talk in the week leading up to the rivalry game. This year, though, the focus was planning a “White-out Cancer” night, where fans of both teams dressed in white to show their support of Coach Nobles. It was a beautiful sight! My friend, Renee Hartley, took some incredible photos that night. You can see just how emotional Coach Nobles is at planting the spear in front of a such a supportive crowd!
Every game we’ve had, our opponents have made signs showing their support for our coach. Players on our team and many others wear Coach Nobles's initials on their helmets. Teams from all over the state we’ve competed against have made t-shirts and even taken up donations to give to the Nobles family!
Y’all, I have to tell you the truth. I enjoy watching a football game, but I’ve never been a diehard football fan. So, I’m not writing all this because I love football. And, although Coach Nobles has been a great influence in our community, I can’t say that I know him all that well. What I am hoping to point out here is the way our community - and communities all across our state! - have come together to show love and support during a crisis. That’s just what we do here in the South. We may have our differences, but when someone is in need, differences are put aside, and we focus on what really matters.
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” Remember that we’re all just a moment away from being in a crisis ourselves. Let’s be kind and supportive, in all situations, no matter what. We’re all in this together.
**Photo credits: most of the pictures in this post came from the Irwin County Indians Facebook page, except those noted from the White-out game, which were taken by Renee Hartley (aka Photogirl).
"Recently, a magazine contacted my husband, Chris, and asked for a recipe using muscadines with apples for a special piece featuring apples in North Georgia. Of course, he turned to me and asked, “Any ideas?” Although this was during our harvest season and fresh muscadines were abundant, I thought how much easier it would be to use one of our products made from muscadines that are available year-round. My favorite muscadine product is Paulk's Pride Muscadine Sauce. Maybe I could even combine it with apples to make a modern version of a muscadine hull pie? "
My Papa was one heck of a man. Honest, trustworthy, dedicated, patient, kind, hardworking, simple, loving...I could go on and on. One of his great loves was fishing. He loved it so much, that he made sure his kids and grandkids had the opportunity to learn and love it too. I remember digging up worms in his worm bed, learning to bait a hook with stuck and bloody fingers, starting off with a cane pole and graduating to a rod and reel, sitting on an upside-down 5 gallon bucket, and getting caught in the trees more times than I'd like to admit. He cultivated a love for the outdoors in me at a young age, and I still enjoy fishing today.
My Nana's parents, who we called Pap and Granny Honey, also loved to fish. They decided to make use of a low spot behind their house and have a small pond dug. This turned out to be perfect for us kids, since Nana and Papa lived right next door! I remember thinking how magical and mysterious this small wooded pond was--never knowing what I'd pull out of that dark water.
From an early age, I remember loving the taste of fried fish. Our family usually gathered over a "fish fry" to celebrate birthdays, holidays and other special occasions. With such a large family to feed, this was one cost-effective way to please the crowd. Papa would fish for weekends, freezing his bounty, saving up for the big day. He and Nana would stand over the bubbling grease, waiting for the hushpuppies to float. Served alongside grits, homemade french fries, and slaw, it was a feast. He would stand in line with us kids, telling us what each piece was and what he thought we might like best. Then my mom or Nana would help us diligently pick it off of the bones to ensure we didn't accidentally swallow one and ruin the night. I'd sit barefoot at the table with my legs crisscrossed feeling like I was in heaven.
There was a period of time that I spent every Friday night with my grandparents. They, along with about 10 other couples, would gather at the cabin to hold a weekly fish fry. The men would spend their week catching as many fish as they could just so they would have an excuse to get together for supper. The women would bring in their specialties, whether it be a side or dessert, as their contribution. I remember sitting at a table, surrounded by "old women" talking about "old men", while the men gathered in the kitchen to chit chat and heat the grease. I didn't care that I was the only kid there--I got to eat my favorite meal and go home with my favorite people.
When my Papa got sick, I reflected on what it was about him that I admire and would miss so much. I decided that if I could marry someone that was half of the man he was, I would be happy. Little did I know that Phillip would come calling, and I would find him, too, honest, trustworthy, dedicated, patient, kind, hardworking, simple, and loving. The funny thing is, Phillip is also a carpenter (like my Papa), and he too loves to fish.
Phillip's family has a deep love for fishing as well, and "fish frys" are a common occurrence around their house. Needless to say, I fit right in.
Fried catfish and bream may seem like a poor man's dinner to some, but let me tell you, it's a feast fit for a king. I love the feeling of nostalgia and flood of memories that hot, greasy fish and homemade french fries bring. You know the old saying, "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime."? It is easy to believe that if I had only eaten a plate of fish at family get-togethers, rather than investing in the experience of fishing as a child, I wouldn't feel the way I do today. Good thing my Papa taught us to fish, because it did more than feed us for a lifetime.
If fried fish is new to you, but you'd like to give it a try, take home the Deep South cookbook! It showcases traditional Southern meals, like fried catfish with hush puppies and tartar sauce. Yum!
And in case you didn't know, lemon pie is a must when fish is on the menu. If you don't have a recipe of your own that you love, try out our Southern Pies cookbook!
Here in the South, we love to call a dish a "salad." Think about it - Watergate Salad, pear salad, chicken salads, congealed salads, frozen salads, ham salad - what really makes a salad a salad? Maybe it just makes us feel better about eating it?
Possibly the most confusing "salad" we serve at our Cafe is a dish called "Hot Chicken Salad," which is really more of a casserole. Adding to the confusion is the fact that we keep these Hot Chicken Salads in the freezer for sale for customers to bake at home!
It may be confusing, but one thing is for sure - it is delicious! Creamy chicken and rice, dotted with celery, boiled eggs, and almonds, all baked together makes for comfort food at its finest. Its ingredient list is simple, making it perfect for a weekday dinner or covered dish supper, but it can also be dressed up for company with a few extra almonds on top. Pair it with a green salad (meaning one made with lettuce, but no judgment if it's a Watergate Salad), or green beans for an easy meal just about anyone will eat!
Since it is a comfort food dish that almost anyone will eat, it's perfect for taking to a church potluck or to someone's house who's just had a baby or death in the family. In fact, the recipe is enough to make two large (9x13) pans, so you can bake one for your family and one to share! Tara's blog post, A Little Food Goes a Long Way, tells just how much sharing food with our neighbors really means!
Last week, we lost my sweet, 91-year-old grandmother. Many of you have heard me mention my grandmother as she and my grandfather had an enormous impact on my life.
I am so blessed to have had a childhood full of so many wonderful memories, especially of time spent with my Grandparents. Though we lived 12 hours away from them, Wayne and Helen Bloomingburg had an unbelievable way of being involved in our lives and making sure we (both me and my younger brother Troy) knew how much we were loved.
Grandma and Grandpa were hard-working folks that always put God and family first, and they raised their children to do the same. It is hard to talk about my grandmother without also talking about my grandfather. They were the most faithful and selfless people I have ever known. Even though we lived so far away, there was never a doubt that grandma and grandpa were in our corner.
The summer before my senior year in high school, I decided to live with my grandparents and get a summer job. My grandmother landed me a great job with a friend who was a real estate attorney. I spent five summers with my grandparents, working in the attorney’s office and exploring the city. (As much as I was allowed to - Grandpa liked to keep me close!) Oh, how I have cherished the time that I was able to spend with them in the summers. Grandma would tell marvelous stories of growing up in Selma, Alabama, what it was like to lose her mother at a young age, and how much she loved her “daddy”. I didn’t fully appreciate these experiences at the time, but I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the summers that I spent with my grandparents.
After her move to Florida, I was so happy to have her close and to be able to spend more time with her. She loved telling everyone in her assisted living village that I was her granddaughter, and she was so proud to have me every time I came. I never got tired of her calling me “sweetie” or telling me what a “doll” I was. Even after her stroke she would love to visit and talk about her childhood and memories of her youth. She never stopped being concerned about me, never stopped being my comforter, and never stopped being my grandma. When the words wouldn’t come, her pretty blue eyes and sweet smile still told me all I needed to know.
And now, as I have lost my last grandparent, it is such a bittersweet feeling of growing older. In a way, I feel like not only have I lost Grandma, but I feel like I have lost Grandpa all over again. I know that Grandma is so much happier now, to be with Jesus and Grandpa and her “mama” and “daddy”. I count myself so lucky to have been so loved by those two special people. I have so many friends that didn’t have that same experience. They don’t have parents and grandparents that will drop anything to do anything for their family. Just last week Grandma's care giver in the nursing home told me she had never known a family like ours, so full of love for each other and so many of us concerned about grandma. I told her that it was all because of “her” as I pointed to my grandmother with tears in my eyes. My family is truly lucky to have been led and loved by Helen and Wayne Bloomingburg, and I am forever grateful for their presence in my life and the legacy they have left behind in their family.
In honor and in memory of my Grandmother, I am reposting two blog posts I wrote about my grandparents in years past. When cleaning out my grandmothers' apartment, we found that she had a folder for each grandchild in her filing cabinet, each one filled with mementos and cards from over the years. My folder, amongst other things, held a copy of each blog post that I had sent her in the mail. On the outside of the papers she had written, “keep forever”. I am so glad that I took the time to share with her how I felt about her while she was living. I already miss her so much it hurts, but am rejoicing that she is at peace and with her Heavenly Father.
I am so blessed to have had a childhood full of so many wonderful memories, especially of time spent with my Grandparents. Though we lived 12 hours away from them, Wayne and Helen Bloomingburg had an unbelievable way of being involved in our lives and making sure we (both me and my younger brother Troy) knew how much we were loved. We were able to make the trip to Arlington, Virginia every summer and every other Christmas to pay them a visit.
My Grandparent's House
I am flooded today with memories of my grandparents’ house. As a kid it was a magical place that we were only lucky enough to visit on summer vacations and every other Christmas. It was not a huge house, a modest Sears and Roebuck home built in 1938, just on the outskirts of Washington D.C. My grandfather and his family moved in to the house when he was 14. In turn, my grandfather later bought the house from his father, and my mother moved into the house when she was 14. The house was a happy home to the same family for its entire life. It saw many a Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Morning and visiting relative. Some of the happiest moments of my childhood were spent there.
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