Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More Photos from the Black & White Party (by popular demand!)

Attached are some additional photos from the Black & White Party that Sarah and Stephany hosted last week at Sarah's house. (Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Tibbitts!)

You may view a larger image by clicking on the photo of your choice.

LEFT: Julie and Natalie
RIGHT: Molly and Julie (Matthew's junior and senior Prom dates)
ABOVE: Matthew and Stephany

LEFT: Molly, Kelli and Jami with Stephany in background
RIGHT: Guys on the dance floor (aka Sarah's basement) doing their DJ thing
ABOVE: Marissa and Julie

LEFT: Julie and Matthew
RIGHT: Stephany and Molly

Once again, thank you Marissa, Emily, Stephany and Sarah for use of your fun photos!

Hope you enjoy these photos and get ideas for your own Black & White Party....

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Infamous 'Black & White' Party

The beautiful girls you see on the left are Sarah and Stephany, two of my favorite people in the world (yes, I know, I do have lots of favorites!). These two gorgeous girls planned a “Black & White Party” for their extended group of friends. It was held at Sarah’s house recently and it sounds like everyone had a blast! The photos sure support that thought!

More photos...

Here are Sarah, Emily and Julie. Aren't they beautiful??

I snapped a quick photo of Matthew before he left for the party.

Photo above: Here, the group is apparently taking a break from dancing! In the back are Stephany, Trent and Emily. Seated, Matthew and Nick.

Close photo above: Matthew with Stephany and Emily. Four of them often take "family" pictures like these, but someone is MISSING: Maria!! Where were you when this photo was taken?

Below is Trent, stylin' and profilin'!

I suppose it’s obvious, but for a “Black & White Party” the guests must wear – you guessed it – black and white. The decorations and food were also in that color scheme. I wanted to share these ideas with you in case you think it might be something YOU’D like to host sometime!!

So, in Sarah's words.....

"We loved doing the Italian dinner party last year." (On a sidenote, see my blog posting from 8/31/09 for photos from the Italian dinner party, which they hosted at our house.) "Stephany is a huge part of getting the whole thing to work. This summer we talked about organizing something for everyone when we were home from college over Christmas. Steph was the one who suggested black and white. We started talking about foods and decided dessert was the best way to go. We assigned each of the girls a black and white dessert (brownies, marshmallow pies, oreo pudding dessert, chocolate cream pie). Later we decided to add black and white tortillas and sunflower seeds just for something salty."

"The decorations included leftover wall paper from my room (which is black and white polka dots), black and white streamers, and the centerpiece was left over from my graduation party!"

"Steph really wanted to keep it 'classy'. We just wanted a nice way to get together and enjoy each others' company. Plus, we like to dress up!'

Well said, Sarah! It certainly looked classy, Stephany! I think all of you gals did a fabulous job!

I hope you enjoy the pictures of this group of friends. I am sharing them courtesy of Marissa, Emily, Stephany and Sarah. I think this whole gang should be in a Gap ad. Oops! Sorry Emily, I meant to write an American Eagle ad!!

I love you all!!

Unexpected Guests

Sarah, Stephany, Jami and Maria surprised me with a cake they made for me.

I am from the South where it is commonplace to invite people to stop by for a visit anytime. It’s how I grew up and I like to think I welcome unexpected guests.

When you have unexpected visitors stop by your house, how do you react? Do you ignore the bell-ringing and door-knocking? Or, do you cautiously look out the peep hole or even open the door just a smidge? As much as I hate to admit it, how I react is directly related to two things:

1. Since whoever is out there is unexpected, am I comfortable answering the door from a safety standpoint? (I have to confess here - I watch lots of crime shows and sometimes feel a little paranoid.) So…..if it’s after dark and I can’t see who it is, I turn the porch light on in their faces. Not really hospitable, I know, but they are unexpected. If I had been expecting the visit, I’d have the outside lights on already!


2. Am I showered and dressed? Do I look (fairly) presentable?

Often we get late, unannounced visitors in the form of Matthew’s friends. Well, that’s always ok! We love and welcome these kids.
Having said that, there have been a number of times when they have come for a visit – especially the girls – when I look like death warmed over. I remember last Christmas break when four of them surprised me by making me a cake. I was thrilled to see my beautiful girls. I had been sick all day and felt like a dog, but I tried to hide all of that and enjoy the gift of their company - and their chocolate cake! (I’m sure the pajamas and lack of make-up gave nothing away.)

Then, there was the time that an exchange student visited. Come to think of it, I think that was last Christmas, too. He was such a nice kid, from Australia, as I recall. He had family in the area, so he wasn’t a “true” exchange student. Anyway, Matthew’s group of friends really enjoyed his company and he hung out with them and spent a good bit of time here during his visit to the States. He was delightful and so polite! Ken and I enjoyed his company very much, too. And then there was the night that a whole gaggle of friends showed up together with him. I had had a terrible cold for days and was really dragging. Still, praying I wasn’t contagious, I made hot fudge cake for the kids and loved hearing their enjoyment and laughter – by-products of this group of friends being together. Ah, the stuff memories are made of…..

So, what is the moral here? Well, I am learning to welcome those who stop by regardless of what I look like or how I feel. Visitors may be aghast at how I greet them at the door, but I do believe what they will remember later – much later! – is how I welcomed them when they arrive - not how I looked when I opened the door. I hope so, anyway.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Preparing for Overnight Guests: A Detailed Checklist to Help You Prepare

Recently I wrote about how we can have overnight guests and actually ENJOY their visit (IMAGINE THAT!). Although lengthy, I am including Part 2 here. If you truly want to make your guests feel welcome (and special), I hope you’ll take the time to read this. I believe you’ll find some useful ideas here.

As you'll read below, I think it's important to provide good reading light for guests. You can't see it from this photo, but both sides also have clocks. We covered the wood tables with glass from our local glass dealer to protect furniture from drinks and other items. You probably can't see the image in the framed photo, but it is one I cherish taken of myself with 2 of my college roommates.

Our guest room is not very large, so when we purchased furniture for this room, we purposely did not choose a chest of drawers or dresser. Ken and I felt that the drawers in the "bednight" stand and some space in the closet were ample for guest needs.

Note the various reading materials. This last photo shows the bench used for guests' suitcases and a magazine rack filled with various current magazines (the rolled up items you see are brochures of our beloved Orrville!)

It’s true, we can enjoy overnight guests, and I certainly write from experience. We have been blessed with hundreds of overnight visits from family and friends during our 25 years of marriage. At some point (maybe when we downsize), I’d love to have a guest house. I can already envision it and I think it would be wonderful to have for guests to enjoy. Some day maybe that will happen. For now, I am thrilled that we have a dedicated guest room and I try to take full advantage of that space when we have guests.

Sometime early in our marriage I managed to compile a list of items to keep in the guest room. As time has passed and Ken and I have stayed with others and also in many bed and breakfast establishments, I have honed this list even further. Although not conclusive, this list is a great start. And while not every item will make sense to every person, I think you’ll find some useful ideas here. As always, use what works for you and your family and toss the rest.

Ideas for Guest Room

Linens – clean sheets on the bed or pull-out are a must. I love to have freshly washed sheets on the bed when we have overnight guests. If the bed linens are clean but the bed hasn’t been slept in for a while, I rewash the sheets so they are fresh and clean-smelling. Your laundry soap, fabric softener and dryer sheets are important in this process. Linen spray is also a nice addition. A little goes a long way, as you don’t want the fragrance to be overpowering for those with sensitive noses or allergies.

An extra blanket at the foot of the bed or close at hand will be a comfort to those who tend to get chilled easily. Be sure guests know where these items are stored – especially if they are not in the area designated as “their” space.

I'd like to add here, also, that a nice, bright room is always welcoming to guests. At the same time, I like guests to be able to darken the room if they want to nap or sleep in the next morning. (As a sufferer of migraine headaches, I always prefer a room that can be made very dark.) Plus, some guests just sleep better in a dark room. In our Guest Room, guests can opt to leave the blinds open, as our backyard is very private or close the blinds. Additionally, they can 'un-do' the curtains to make the room nice and dark.

A Place for Their Belongings
Space in a closet, if possible, with a few hangers is a sure way to welcome guests. An extra drawer or two is really nice, also – especially for guests who stay longer than a couple of days. As I mentioned before, the readily available over the door hangers are a real plus when space is at a premium.

A stand for suitcases or carrying bags is very nice, too. Many of these fold for easy storage under a bed or in a closet when not in use. In our guest room we use a sturdy wooden bench which I painted to match the furnishings. It gives our guest a place to hold a suitcase or bag so that the contents are more accessible. Having this available also protects other furniture in the room.

Some Important Basics
A clock is also a must, I’ve learned. In the past, I’ve not always remembered to put one in our guest rooms, and inevitably a guest will ask if we have an extra one to use while with us. Friends of mine mentioned that the bed and breakfast where they stayed in Amish Country had clocks on BOTH sides of the bed. They both appreciated the thoughtfulness of the innkeeper. A radio is also a blessing for many. Of course, a clock-radio can kill two birds with one stone. Depending on the guest, sometimes we also put a small CD player in the guest room with a variety of CDs available for use.

A night light is also a must for guests, as it helps someone unfamiliar with the house when they need to be up at night. We have them placed strategically throughout our house so that we can easily maneuver the entire house without turning on overhead lights. A reading light is an addition we light to provide also. Sometimes guests have trouble sleeping in new surroundings and having a light to read by helps them to relax. We always keep a flashlight in the bednight stand, too, just in case… (and yes, you read correctly; I did mean to say “bednight.” When our son, Matthew, was small he instinctively created so many phrases that became part of our family vernacular…we refer to them as “Matthew-isms.” As parents we sometimes referred to a “bedtime” snack or a “night stand,” the small table next to the bed. As a toddler, Matthew combined these and referred to any such thing as a “bednight” whatever – just fill in the blank…!”

Back to overnight guests…. We also have a small bookcase (which I painted to match the sturdy wooden bench) filled with a variety of reading materials. A magazine stand in the room is also supplied with a variety of magazines which I recycle periodically. We keep a Guest Book in our guest room, too, so that people can add messages, if they’d like, and also so that they can read comments of previous guests. It’s fun to look at those entries later and remember our visits with our guests.

Welcome Baskets
I often will put a welcome basket in the guest room, too. In this basket I place fun little items I think the guests would like. For some, it might be a coffee basket, for others snacks or even small trinkets of use.
Some other items to consider:
Paper, pens or pencil
Disposal camera
Ear plugs
Local newspaper, map or other pertinent shopping or event information
Church information and service times

Guest Bathrooms
In the Guest Bathroom (or at least the bathroom being used by guests) should have some basic staples visible and readily available. Some of those items are:
Towels / hand towels / washcloths (I also include bleachable washcloths for make-up removal, for guests, if they choose to use them.)

Soap, shampoo, conditioner and other personal hygiene items are a thoughtful addition to the guest bath. Extra toothbrushes, small tubes of toothpaste, etc. are also a real blessing for the guest who forgot the necessities but may be hesitant to ask for supplies. I always put items in a basket on the bathroom counter in the guest bath and indicate guests are to help themselves. Small samples from hotels, “freebies” in other gifts and items are excellent for this purpose. I also keep other products like mouthwash, lotions, personal sanitary items, etc. available for the same reasons.

If you don’t have small children (or your guests don’t), it’s nice to leave a box of matches in the bathroom to help get rid of unpleasant smells. Many sprays are also available to neutralize odors. I like to keep both on a small tray on the back of the guest toilet. I also have a candle on the tray, should guests wish to use it. (Again, I remove matches when small kids are in the house.)

Some Other Needs
A hair dryer and toilet plunger should also be made available to guests. Of course, all of these items could be included in one linen closet, where a guest is invited to use whatever items within it that he or she needs. An iron and ironing board are also items guest sometimes need to use. At the last Bed and Breakfast we stayed in, the innkeepers kept a lot of these “usual” needs in a hallway bureau. It was convenient there for all guests to use. If you have space, it’s a wonderful convenience to keep items in a central location such as this for your own family as well as guests.

Meal Times
Further, it’s always nice to make guests aware of meal times as well as where quick available snacks are located. Guests will be more comfortable helping themselves if you first point out where snacks and drinks can be found. Sometimes we use a write on white board to list menus and approximate times for meals. It’s just a fun way to communicate these items while letting your guests know you’re looking out for them. This is not to say that we are ‘formal’ about such items. These things seem so obvious it seems silly for me to list them. Yet, I have been a guest many times when such obvious gestures were never extended.

Help! I'm Not a Morning Person, But My Guests Are!
I try to set the coffee pot up the night before for any guests who make it to the kitchen before I do in the mornings. I place cups, spoons, sugars, and a small pitcher for milk on a tray near the coffeepot. Sometimes I’ll include a note for guests to help themselves.

I often also lay out bagels, English muffins and cereal for the light eaters who want to eat as soon as their feet hit the floor in the morning. Lots of times we make big country breakfasts for guests. Usually, though, we don’t do that until about 10 a.m. to give everyone a chance to get up and get moving. Juice, coffee and a bagel, fruit or other snack can help tie them over until we get breakfast made.

Phones, Computers & TVs
Phone usage is not as big an issue as it once was, since nearly everyone has a cell phone these days. However, it’s still very nice to let guests know where phones are located, should they need to place a call.

We've learned that guests often want to check their email or Facebook while visiting. We can accomodate that easily, but not everyone is comfortable with that thought. Remember that you may be able to visit your local library or university campus where your guest can have temporary access.

A television, too, is one of those amenities we take for granted. Although it’s nice to have one in the guest room, watching TV as a ‘family’ can be fun, too. You don’t want your guests to stay in their room ALL THE TIME!

Use of Laudry Facilities
It’s also good to let guests know if they can use your laundry facilities – especially if they are staying a few days or more. If they know where the laundry supplies are kept, they will be more comfortable washing a quick load, if needed.

Prepare for the Kids Who Visit, Too!
Having toys to entertain the younger crowd can be a blessing – to the parents and TO YOU - especially if you are not used to little kids! Just a few toys for various ages will be all you need. You can pick up games, puzzles and past-times at garage sales and just keep a basket in the basement or garage where you can pull it out when needed. (On a side note, the extra alarm clocks, etc. can also be found at great prices at yard sales, clearance bins, etc.)

Over-the-top Hospitality
For truly over-the-top treatment of your guests, there are even more things you can do. For example, you can provide the weather forecast (especially useful for any upcoming outdoor plans). Ken and I have stayed in luxury hotels where the next days’ weather forecast was included with the chocolates on our beautifully turned down beds. Talk about special treatment! Like many upscale hotels, you can also place unisex robes and slippers in the guest room or guest bath. We don’t wear shoes in our home and my husband has often spoken of purchasing some simple unisex slippers for guests to use while at our house. He has often spoken about this after his trip to Japan a few years ago where this is commonplace. We haven’t done that – yet – but I do love the idea!

To really pull out all the stops, you might consider a “Thank you for my quiet time” sign for guests to put on their door to let everyone know they want to sleep in, take a nap or otherwise want to be alone for a little while. A small beverage tray made available to them to take upstairs with them is also a nice touch.

You’ll also want to be sure guests have access to your home in the event you are away. An extra key or the garage door code can be a lifesaver for a busy family when visitors arrive.

And finally, two things I like to do when guests come to visit are probably my favorite. If possible, I like to have a snapshot or photograph framed in the room where guests are to sleep. It truly speaks volumes about how you’ve looked forward to their visit and how you welcome them into your home. I also like to have small gifts, wrapped and at the ready. I might leave them in the room with a note to welcome guests or leave them outside their bedroom door to find in the morning. Fun! I usually shop clearance and sale tables for some fun, timeless gift items for this use.

There are lots of ideas here, and I have used all of them at one time or another. I do not recommed using all of these ideas at once, however! You would probably have guests who questioned your sanity (probably rightfully so), or guests who never wanted to leave! I doubt either of those would be a healthy goal, but if you can take away even one idea to use, it will help your guests to feel comfortable and more welcome in your home. Use the ideas you like and tweak them to fit you, your home and family and your personality. We all have different comfort levels with entertaining and all things surrounding it.

If you have ideas you’d like to share, please leave a comment here or email me at I love hearing from you!

Happy Hospitality!

Please be sure to check out Part 1 of Preparing for Overnight Guests posted on this blog on 12/10/09.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Decorations, 2009

Today my friend, Carolyn, asked to see pictures of the decorating we had done in our home this Christmas season. Although we did not decorate as much as we have in past years, I promised to share some photos with her.I decorate differently each time and I like to have photos to use (for when I do want to duplicate something), so her request reminded me to get snapping. The photos don't really show everything, although if you click on each photo, you can see more. Anyway, as promised, here are the photos, Carolyn! :D

This is our stairway, where we tend to take lots of photos throughout the year.

Below is the dining room.

These 2 photos are the formal living room. Since we always decorate the week of Thanksgiving, our tree is artificial. Ken really outdid himself with lights on our 10 foot tree this year, and they really are beautiful. I wish you could see it better.

Breakfast room.

This is our family room, where we live most of the time. Again, it's hard to see the lights on the mantle as well as the decorations. We haven't hung the stockings yet, either. In fact, about all I see are the dishelved bookshelves because I've been enjoying my cookbooks a lot recently!

I tried to take some outside photos, but they didn't turn out very well. There are outside lights, but they are hard to see. The lights that are visible are from the tree and stairway at the front of the house. Ken usually puts up spotlights outside as well as other lights, but I think we both ran out of energy this year!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tips for Enjoying Overnight Guests, Part 1

I’ve been getting comments about my absence from writing my blog, so I am back at it….thank you for your support of me and my writing!

Today I want to focus on the overnight guests we have in our homes. Through the years we have had LOTS of overnight company – parents, siblings (Ken’s, that is – I’m an only child), cousins, aunts and uncles, neighbors of years past, college roommates and lots of friends. Of course, you know we have kids here a lot overnight. And while we enjoy our kids, they usually crash in the Matt-cave, so some of these things don’t apply to those overnight stays. (Why, oh why, do teenagers want to sleep in the floor and on couches in the Matt-cave when beds are available??) maybe you’ll soon be having company overnight. Maybe it’s your parents, friends from another town, or relatives who have stopped by for the weekend. Overnight guests are a huge stressor for some people. Are you one of the worriers? I mean, do you worry about the house (is it clean enough? where will they sleep?), about the food (what if I make something they hate? what if I really mess up dinner?), and what to do with them (do we entertain them or let them go out on their own?), etc.

The questions go on and on and everyone has some kind of issues, but here are some typical issues we all deal with when having overnight guests.

1. Where will your guests sleep? Do you have a guest room? If you’re like many, a “guest room” may be the family room with a pull-out sofa or even an office or corner of the basement (as I said before, kids and teenagers are especially fond of this one!). And all of these accomodations are fine. Guests don’t expect the Waldorf, just a clean place where they can have some privacy, get some rest and have space for their things. Basically, a few hangers and some space in the closet are all that’s needed. A couple of drawers for anyone staying more than a night or two is really nice, too. If space is at a premium in your house, use one of those over-the-door hangers to create some extra space. If you put a little thought into it and provide some special touches, even that corner in the basement will feel welcoming.

2. If you are concerned about what you will serve, ask early about any food allergies, dislikes or other food-related concerns. Better to know early – preferably before the guests arrive - that your niece has become a vegan this month.

Above all, plan simple meals. Before you even plan on guests, have some dishes that you are comfortable preparing. I’ve read that everyone should have at least one soup they have mastered for just such occasions. I would agree with that and add some additional simple things to master. Why not find an easy casserole or two and some simple desserts, as well? Try new recipes on family first to get an idea of what to expect. Some casseroles and desserts can even be frozen for a month or two. If cooking while guests are in your house stresses you, make the time to prepare as much as you can before they arrive. If your budget allows, you might even treat guests to a local eatery. Sometimes that’s the easiest and most carefree of all meals.

3. If you know in advance that you have overnight company coming, you can plan ahead with cleaning, also. I have found that breaking down big projects into smaller bite-size pieces that I can work on days or even weeks before help me prepare well for company. I break down a huge, overwhelming list into tasks that I can accomplish in chunks of time over a period of days. Knowing that the house is clean and that I just need to touch-up before people come gives me peace of mind.

4. Regarding those last-minute touch-ups:

I believe a clean kitchen is a must. It’s always where everyone gathers in our home and I like it to sparkle. Aside from the kitchen, a quick sweep and vacuum of the rest of the house, dusting if need be, and a good wipe-down of the bathroom with Clorox wipes and Windex and paper towels is usually all that’s needed before guests arrive (if the house is already clean, deep down.).

I keep baskets on hand for quick pick-up of stray items without a current home. Baskets are also a great way to stash newspapers and magazines with a quick sweep of the family room or play room. Kids’ toys, too, can be corralled easily.

Don’t forget the front door (or whatever entrance your guests will use). It’s easily to overlook this area, but the outside is what’s seen first.

5. Of course, what you do with your guests from an entertainment standpoint will vary depending on the personalities of those staying with you. Some want to see all the sights. Fortunately for those of us in northeastern Ohio, there is a lot to see and do. With only being an hour away from Cleveland, we have professional sports teams, theme parks, theatres, museums, lakes and outlet malls. We also have ‘Amish country’ and the Football Hall of Fame, both of which are only half an hour away. There is no shortage of “stuff” to do here for guests on the move!

Other guests just want to visit and relax. For those guests, you might have games and puzzles available, as well as an easily accessible stash of magazines and books. We keep a variety of both in our guest room. A nice quiet place to read the newspaper is what many seem to enjoy most.

These are some of the simple basics to think through when having overnight guests. Probably very little of this is new to you. It’s stuff you already knew, but I think it’s good to know that others sometimes struggle with these issues, too. It’s nice to be reminded that little things are all that’s needed to make your guests’ visits special and memorable - for them and for us.

And more than anything, enjoy your guests. No matter what you did or did not get accomplished on your "to-do" list, try to let it go and visit with your company. They probably won't remember the little things we all stress about, but they will remember how you made them feel. If you're comfortable, your guests will be, too.

I also have a ‘Guest List’ of items I use for overnight guests that I have created over the years and I find it to be very helpful. I will include that list for you soon, as I think you’ll find my list useful for your next overnight company.

Be sure to check out Part 2, The Detailed List for Overnight Guests published on 12/26/09 on this blog. You should also be able to access it via the link below:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fun Activities for the Thanksgiving Dinner Table

Sometimes when my husband, Ken, and I host parties, we have games prepared to make the gathering more enjoyable. In the past some of the most fun events have included Murder Mystery games and The Newlywed Game. We love getting to know our friends better with fun activities like these.

This week I have been researching some fun games for our Thanksgiving dinner table. At I have found useful game guidelines as well as terrific game ideas. Here are suggested guidelines from this website:

“As a host or hostess it's your job to organize the game and make sure everyone's involved. Here are a few tips to make sure everyone gets into the game.


1. Familiarize yourself with the game. If you're not an expert it will be difficult for you to explain it to guests who've never played before.
2. Make sure that everyone can be involved. Don't choose a four person game if you know that there will be five guests. You never want someone to feel left out.
3. If the game is complicated, print out instructions and distribute them during dinner. That way, once the plates are cleared the fun can begin.
4. Go Potluck. Ask each of your guests to bring along suggestions for a favorite game. That way you won't have to bear the burden of leading.
5. Don't force participation. If a guest wants to sit out a round, go with the flow. The important thing is that everyone enjoy themselves.
6. Get outside. If weather permits, it's always nice to use the outdoors. “

Below is a game from this website we plan to use this Thursday.

• Write or print a different phrase on each of several small pieces of paper. Place one card under each of your dinner guests' plates. Make the phrases usable but strange. Ex: "I am a space cowboy," or "Have you tried ostrich eggs?"
• Before dinner, ask everybody to read the card under their plate-- they're not to read it aloud or share its contents with anybody. Instruct your guests to use their phrase or question as naturally as they can in conversation.
• You can decide to make this a race-- whoever manages to use their phrase last loses. Or it can be a competition between guests. The goal is for each guest to figure out when another guest is using an assigned phrase. If they're able to slip it into conversation naturally without anybody noticing, they win.
• You can also choose to assign guests several phrases-- increase them in difficulty as they go along."

Another website I like is: Here is a game from this website we also plan to use on Thanksgiving:


“Summary and Supplies: This is a simple one to play around the dinner table-- but more difficult than it sounds. All you need to play this is a decent memory.
The Game
• One guest is chosen to begin by saying something they "bring to the party" (doesn't have to be true). Example: "I went to a party and brought a bouquet of flowers."
• The next guest must add another item to the previous guest's item. Example: "I went to a party and brought a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of peach schnapps."
• This goes around the table, and each person must list off all the items, then add their own. Players can generally go on for a surprising amount of time.”

We have dear friends coming for dinner and look so forward to our time with them on Thanksgiving! We think these games will enrich our time together and create lots of laughs. We can envision our friends playing this game already!

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

God bless you-

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ken's Hospitality

I’ve always said that the hospitality provided at our house is a joint effort. I simply could not do what I love to do so much from a welcoming standpoint, if it weren’t for my husband, Ken. He never cares how often we entertain or how many we invite when we do. Just as importantly, he helps with shopping, cooking, cleaning, entertaining, and so much more. He’s come a long way since our wedding day 25 years ago. He was a shy, quiet young man. And although he still has those tendencies, he’s come a long way, baby!

When Ken surprised me last summer with a weekend stay at a bed and breakfast, we were given special little plates with the event package he purchased. On these plates were the delicious signature cookies from the bed and breakfast. When we brought those little plates home, we started giving each other ‘treats’ using those plates.

When I made cookies for a friend, I saved Ken a few cookies, place them on the plate and covered it with plastic wrap. I then placed it on “his” table in the family room (the end table closest to where he normally sits when we watch TV or read the newspaper). Likewise, Ken uses my plate to serve me treats when he’s dishing up something for me. My favorite is the when he puts bacon on there after he makes it crisp, just as I like it. Then he serves the bacon to me at the table. It makes me feel so special that he makes something just exactly as I like it and then takes the time to make the presentation memorable!

One day last week, we ordered take-out from Barnstone Cafe, which Ken picked up on his way home from work. He surprised me with a piece of the Reese’s pie they make that I LOVE. Later in the evening we usually have a late-night snack (which I really don’t need!). He got our snack that night. He placed the piece of pie on the special plate and even used decorative icing to decorate the plate. When I saw it, I just melted (see the photo - it even has a heart made from the icing!). He was excited for all the ‘brownie points’ he received. His thoughtfulness and his presentation were priceless!

Of course, this is not unusual. I am so lucky because Ken treats me like a queen every day, and I absolutely love the way he takes care of me. He is so sweet and so good to me. I wanted to share the photo I took of the pie, complete with Ken’s beautiful garnish. Now this is what hospitality is all about!

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's Almost Thanksgiving!!

I am so excited that Thanksgiving week is upon us. In fact, I have recently decided that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Why? Because it’s all the fun of family, without the stress of Christmas. Now, don’t get me wrong: Christmas is near and dear to my heart as the day we celebrate our Savior’s birth. Nothing has more meaning than Christmas, except of course, Easter, the day we celebrate the day He rose again after died for us. Just looking at the days as holidays, though, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Thanksgiving means warmth to me, pure and simple. It’s a warm kitchen with smells of a turkey roasting in the oven, pumpkin pies cooling on the counter and freshly-baked cookies begging to be enjoyed. It’s a fire in the fireplace and laughter in the house. It’s greeting friends at the door and ushering them inside, out of the cold.

Yes, Thanksgiving is warmth and memories and hopes of a fun day and weekend to come. Here are the parts of those days I most anticipate:

1. Our boy will be home! Matthew will be home from college and able to relax at home for a few days. Ken and I have anticipated these moments for months! Yes, Matthew has been home a couple of times since he began college in August. Yes, we’ve gone to visit him to celebrate Family Weekend and then, his birthday, but this time, he’ll be HOME! And he’ll be home for a few days. We can’t wait!

2. We’ll have lots of friends in for Thanksgiving Day. We’ll have a wonderful meal where we all prepare dishes to share and we’ll relax and enjoy each others’ company. I envision football and board games and video games and comments about eating too much and needing a nap. I can’t wait!

3. Our kids will be home! All our kids will be home from college and they’ll pop in to see Matthew and to see us during the week and we’ll love it! They’ll all head to the Matt-Cave and it will be awesome! Laughter will once again be the language of the day coming from the basement family room. Ken and I will love it! We can’t wait!

4. Our boys will be here. Sometime over Thanksgiving weekend, I just know our boys will be here overnight, playing video games all night! Ken and I will make breakfast for sleepy young men and we’ll get to hear stories about what their lives are like now. We will love it! guessed it: we can't wait!

Yes, Thanksgiving is upon us and we are so excited! We pray that all arrive home safely and that the week unfolds as we envision. We are so blessed and thank God for the many blessings we enjoy.

I am so grateful for you and your support. Happy (early) Thanksgiving, friends! I wish you great planning for your own warm and happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Birthday, Matthew!!

On this date in 1990 my husband, Ken, and I had the privilege of welcoming our only child into the world, and our lives have been blessed immensely every day since. We have experienced the depths of every emotion from the time that 9 pound 3 ounce bundle bounced into our hearts and lives!

From his sweet baby laugh to the toddler who had a temper tantrum in the checkout lane at a huge grocery store in Durham, North Carolina, while his flustered, shocked mother looked on, Matthew has always been his own person. He has always had the confidence to be his own man – even as a little boy! Style, fashion and even hairstyles meant nothing to Matthew unless they were of his own choosing.

This child, who had such amazing confidence to face the world, has grown into an incredible young man his father and I have always been proud to call our son. With his sincerity and his convictions, he continues to be the one who expresses himself so well that he could sell ice to an Eskimo. Even as a little boy Matthew would come to us to “present” a case of some sort: the reason he should be allowed to do this, or why we should consider that. He was always so thorough and so well-prepared that we usually said “Yes” because he impressed us so much with his antics!

We are so excited to see what Matthew does in his life. With his God-given abilities and talents, we know it’s going to be wonderful. We want to enjoy each day and not wish our lives away, yet we are excited to see what awaits him in the days ahead.

Matthew entered our lives and our hearts and forever carved a place in the center of our world. God blessed us with a wonderful son – one who has brought immense love, joy, adventure and gratefulness to our lives. Matthew means "gift from God" and he has truly been an incredible gift.

Happy Birthday, Matthew. We love you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Husband-Catching Brownies

After writing about these brownies, I have been getting requests for the recipe, including my own sweet sister-in-law, Judy. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, Stephen, and their beautiful daughters, MyKenzie, Melaney and Maggey. This one's for you, Judy!

This is the recipe that won the heart of my husband, Ken, before we even started dating! It's a cross between a brownie and a cake. So, I jokingly refer to them as 'Husband-Catching Brownies'! Even if you don't need a husband, these brownies are a real treat! I hope you enjoy them.

Honey Bear Brownies

1/3 cup margarine
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey OR 1/4 cup Karo syrup
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup nuts, optional

1. Cream margarine and sugar; blend in honey or syrup and vanilla. Add
eggs, one at a time; beat well after each. Combine dry ingredients. Add to
creamed mixture. Stir in nuts. Spread into greased 9 x 9 inch pan.

2. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. Watch carefully as brownies will get too
brown on bottom.


Mississippi Mud Frosting

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbls. cocoa
2 Tbls. margarine
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbls. white syrup (like Karo)
cup confectioners sugar

1. Combine all ingredients in heavy saucepan EXCEPT confectioners sugar.
Boil for 3 minutes and stir constantly to keep from sticking.

2. Remove from heat and add confectioners sugar. You may use 1/2 to 3/4
cup. The more sugar you add, the quicker the frosting hardens, so work
fast! Spread on cooled brownies.

Comments: Use this as a wonderful frosting for Honey Bear Brownies. Tastes
like fudge!

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Cooking Tips:
1. If possible, use a glass or light-colored baking pan, as I've learned these brownies brown quickly on the bottom in my dark aluminum pans.
2. For best results, do not overbake.
3. May double recipe and bake in a 9 x 13 pan.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

'Honey Bear Brownies' and My Aunt Brenda

(My Aunt Brenda and Uncle Jack with their kids, Randy and Renee. This is an OLD photo - I think it was taken in 1987!)

I love my Aunt Brenda. My mom’s only sister, Brenda was a good bit younger than my mom. She used to babysit for me when I was a little girl. I think she told me I was maybe 4 or 5 at the time. She has told me on different occasions about babysitting for me and telling me it was time to go home from wherever she had taken me (I think she said it was the park), and I’d say, “Ok, Mommy. I mean - Brenda!” She just smiles when she tells me that story, like it’s a sweet memory for her.

And I have so many sweet memories of Brenda! She lives in Virginia, where I (mostly) grew up. I saw her recently, and although I had not seen her for four years (is that even possible?), it was like I had just seen her the previous day. Do you have family and friends like that? No matter how long it’s been since you’ve spoken or seen each other, you truly pick up like you’ve never been apart? It’s always like that with Brenda! We just connect instantly and I love that!

Brenda is so much like my own sweet mother that, in some ways, being with her is like being with my mom. She sounds like my mom (especially on the phone), laughs like my mom and at the same kind of things my mom laughed at... I love that because to me it’s like being given a very special gift. I lost my mother over 16 years ago. It seems like an eternity when I look at the years. Yet, I still feel so close to her, like she’s always with me, experiencing with me what I experience in many ways. So, being with Brenda is an extra special treat; in so many ways it’s like going home.

I was thinking a lot about Brenda yesterday, when I made “Honey Bear Brownies” for Matthew, who came home from college for the weekend. Brenda shared this recipe with me probably 30 years ago. I hadn’t made these brownies for years, yet they hold special memories in my family. You see, it was with these brownies that I snagged my husband, Ken! And while that is another story entirely, suffice it to say that my Aunt Brenda has supplied me with many of the incredible recipes that have become family and friend-favorites. Brenda is a wonderful cook, so any recipe she recommends automatically makes it to the “Save!” file! Even when I go through and discard recipes from my overflowing collections, I never throw away any Brenda shared with me! Some of them I’ve never even tried – well, not yet – but there is no way I could part with them!

I write on this blog about hospitality and my memories of times past. My memories of being at Brenda’s house are very special. Whenever she has known we were going to visit, she made wonderful, home-cooked meals that could stand up against any TV chef! I remember delicious meals with yummy casseroles and fresh garden produce. Brenda cans and freezes hundreds of containers of green beans and other items she and her husband, Jack, grow in their garden every year.

And her desserts?! Wow! Brenda always has a terrific dessert – usually something I’ve never tried. What’s so amazing is that she has no qualms about making a brand new dessert for company. You know, the pros tell you that’s a ‘no-no’. I love it that Brenda tosses caution to the wind and tries something new for guests! No guts, no glory! Well, she always gets lots of praise, because her meals are always worth talking about – and obviously worth writing about, too!

I love you, Brenda! And I miss you. I wish you lived closer and that I could see you more often!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Telling It Like It Is....

(My cousin Lynn and I were photographed Easter Sunday. I suspect this photos was taken about 1967. Lynn, on the left, was about 6, and I was about 5.)

I admire my cousin Lynn. You may remember, she recently lost her husband, Rickey. She now has the sole responsibility of raising their two beautiful children, Seth and Brice. I have to say, Lynn handled the services for Rickey with grace and composure and somehow managed to get through those difficult days. Now, I’m sure she faces many different challenges as a mom and the primary caregiver.

And while I admire all of those things about her, that’s really not the purpose of my writing today. You see, Lynn has an amazing quality, nay, ability, that I sometimes wish I had. Lynn has the ability to say what she thinks. All the time. And…she has told me that she has never regretted anything she has said. See what I mean? I wish I could do that – sometimes.

I am sure that as a middle school principal the ability to tell it like it is comes in especially handy. The stories she tells about what those kids do and say leave me speechless. Not Lynn. Without missing a beat, and in no uncertain terms, she tells them what’s on her mind and then lays down the law!

Lynn and I grew up living close together for many of our growing up years. An only child herself and only 10 months my senior, I guess we were much like sisters and had the love-hate relationships that I’ve heard others talk about. In many ways being from the same extended family, we are similar. Our tastes in decorating, for example, are very similar. On different occasions we have discovered that we actually bought the same items without discussing it until afterwards. I remember buying bath towels and even new handles for kitchen cabinets that were identical. We got a real kick out of that, complimenting each other on our great taste!

But, we’re also very different. I’ve always tried to be tactful, to communicate without offending. I have always been proud of my ability to relate to a variety of people, even playing the role of mediator or peacemaker when needed. Perhaps that’s why I ended up in a career which focuses on public relations and marketing – areas where those qualities are real advantages.

Sometimes though, just sometimes, I’d like to speak my mind to the person who steps up to the store counter out of turn, in front of others who are waiting. In this case more often than not, I say nothing. Lynn would say something or die on the spot! I’d also like to tell our mail carrier in no uncertain terms that she, for the 5th time this month, gave us our neighbor’s mail - yet again. I mean, how difficult is it, for goodness’ sake?! I should say that I have mentioned it to her, just not with the full enthusiasm I’d like. And certainly not in the colorful way I can imagine Lynn addressing the situation….

Similarly, but on a different note, Lynn has a very honest relationship with the gal who does her hair. (Now, I am blessed with a terrific hair dresser who fits me in amazingly fast, no matter when I call. Her name is Deb and she is wonderful. I love her!) Lynn has a different approach. When she needed a hair appointment with a busy stylist a few months ago, she told me the gal asked what her week looked like, so they could try to schedule an appointment a few days out. Lynn said, “Well, I don’t know, but I tell everybody you do my hair.” The stylist replied, “Can you come today?” Too funny!! That’s Lynn for you. She calls it as she sees it!

I could tell you more, like how she stabbed me with a pencil when we were 3 or 4 because I sat in her rocking chair. Sharing was never big on Lynn’s list, and she wanted me to remember that apparently. Although I don’t remember it, she tells with clarity how she stabbed my arm and then pulled the pencil down, breaking skin all the way down my arm. She wanted me to remember not to use her chair, I guess.

There were other times, though, that I do remember, like when I visited her at her grandmother’s house (as I often did…I loved ‘Momaw Mary’ and claimed her as my own). I remember visiting them in that little house on the hill when we were tweeners. Lynn wanted me to know that she was still in control, I guess. I remember her taking a large pin – like a corsage pin or a hat pin, as I recall – and threatening to poke me with it. I told her I’d tell Momaw Mary on her and she said, “I’ll wait until she goes in the other room and I’ll stick you with this. Who do you think Momaw’s going to believe?” Evil, I tell you, pure evil! Well, not really. More like sisters, I suppose??

But, there have been lots of wonderful times, too. I remember literally hundreds and hundreds of long-distance phone calls through the years. She has a quick wit and she’s so funny. She always makes me laugh. Through the years there have been times when we’ve been close and other times, well, not so much. I’ve always said that Lynn is probably as close as a sister as I’ll ever have. Is this the way sisters behave, this love-hate thing?

Please understand: I know Lynn has to have issues with me, too! When we used to shop together on occasion, she would fuss about how long it took me to make a decision about a purchase. Now she was right - I did have to see everything in a 50-mile radius before deciding sometimes. I remember shopping with her when I was looking for a wicker hamper for our bathroom in North Carolina 20 + years ago. She made some comment about me being the only person she knew who took a month to decide on a clothes hamper (in my defense, we used that hamper for years and I think it might still be holding something in storage somewhere in our basement or storage unit!). Ok, so she was right. There, I said it.

I also remember different times when she has called and asked. “How is your life? Wonderful, I suppose?” My 'PR answer' to what’s going on in my life – whether positive or not perhaps – is not something she can relate to. I think that’s why I admire her but I am also fascinated with her. You see, I think Lynn is my alter-ego! That being said, I guess I am her alter ego. Now I can tell you, she would be more frightened by that than I am! Not being the person who tells it like it is - without tact or caution - would hamper her personality. And isn’t her tell-it-the-way-it-is personality the reason why I love her the way she is?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Share Your Memories With Me

I want to hear from YOU!!

Do you know people who have the gift of hospitality? What kinds of things do they do to make you feel welcome, at home, loved? Is it a look, a touch, specific things they do? Why do you feel this person has the gift of hospitality?

How about when you were younger - lots younger, like 8 or 10. Do you have special memories of someone from days gone by? Maybe that person has since passed away or maybe you're fortunate enough that he or she is still in your life. What specifically did that person do that made you feel special?

As you think about this, keep in mind the senses.

See -I suppose it goes without saying, but do you have visual memories that hold a special plate in your heart? Was it a smile or a look from someone?
Taste - this is an obvious one, too, but what tastes do you recall?
Smell - similarly, were there pleasant aromas wafting from a kitchen in your memories?
Touch - do you remember the fabric that covered a couch or the smooth cotton of a handmade quilt on the bed?
Hear - and finally, what sounds do you remember? Was the radio always on (if so, what songs do you remember?), did someone play the piano or other musical instrument?

I'm anxious to hear from you, my readers. You may leave a message here, email me at: or friend me on Facebook.

I will be posting answers in the not-too-distant future. Please share your memories with me!

Family Weekend at Miami University

I know it's been a long time since I posted. It's been a busy time! Here are photos from Family Weekend at Miami, which we just attended.

It was wonderful to see Matthew! Visiting him at Miami on 'his turf' was a real treat! He gave us a tour of the new Farmer's School of Business (Miami's pride and joy!) and other buildings where he has classes. He's obviously comfortable at MU and is adjusting well. Ah, music to parents' ears!!

This photo was taken outside the residence hall where Matthew lives.

We attended the Bill Cosby show at Millet Hall. Ken got us great seats on the floor, just a few rows back from the stage.

Bill Cosby put on a great show. He talked about college life in his own special way and also did his "dentist" routine. Hilarious!

We can't believe how mature Matthew has become. Here he's photographed with President Hodge, Miami University's President. Matthew saw him before the Cosby show started and wanted to go over to introduce himself. Of course, I had to capture the moment with a photo.

We also got to see Trent, our other son who attends Miami. These are Trent's biological parents, Jim and Carol. Of course, we claim him as our own, but we understand he wants to spend time with his other parents, too. We still got to spend time with him, as he attended the Cosby show with us.

Matthew and Trent with 2 new friends. From the left: Trent, Xiang Cheng, David and Matthew. They all live in Tappan, the residence hall for honors students.

These were taken at the Bed & Breakfast, where we stayed in Richmond, Indiana. Miami is really close to the Indiana state line.

It was a wonderful weekend - the most fun I've had - ever, maybe! Thank you, Matthew, for your hospitality and for showing us a great time! Love you!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vanessa's Sweet Tea

You asked for it, so here it is!

I am often asked for the 'recipe' for the sweet tea I serve. Although there is no real recipe, I have found the way we seem to like it best. I first learned to make tea from my mother-in-law, Jane, many years ago. I have tweaked it and changed it through the years and this is the way I make it most of the time.

Vanessa's Sweet Tea
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1 bag Lipton GALLON Size Tea (or 3 Family Size)
2 cups sugar **
1-1/2 qt. water
Additional water to make 1 gallon of liquid

1. Add enough cold water to fill 1-1/2 quart saucepan to within 3/4 inch of
top. Add 1 Gallon-size tea bag (or 3 family-size or equivalent). Bring just to
a boil over high heat. Remove from heat immediately. Steep for 25 minutes.

2. Add sugar to 1 gallon pitcher or container. Using slotted spoon to hold tea bags, add hot liquid to sugar, being sure to drain tea bags. Stir well to mix sugar. Add cold water to saucepan and pour into gallon container, stirring well after each addition of water. Be sure to drain the tea bags with each addition of water, to remove all the tea goodness out of every bag! Continue to fill to 1 gallon measure. Stir well.

3. Refrigerate. Tea may be served immediately, but is better if allowed to
sit 4-6 hours. Keep refrigerated. Serve over ice and garnish with mint, if
desired. I do not like to serve tea that is more than 2 days old, although
that is rarely a problem!

Note: Add flavored bags for a fun variety. I rarely make "plain" tea
anymore, as we prefer raspberry. Peach is also delicious. Garnish with
frozen peach slices!

** Also: I usually do not make "full sugar" tea anymore. Try Splenda or other sweetener to cut calories. If using the Splenda Blend, use 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of Splenda Blend. If using regular Splenda, use 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of Splenda. Or, use 2 cups of Splenda!

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Update from Charlotte

As I write today, I am sitting in a hotel lobby in Charlotte, North Carolina. It seems so strange and unfamiliar to be writing from here, but it's been so long since I've written and I wanted to let you know what's going on....

We left Ohio on Saturday for a family funeral. My cousin, Lynn, lost her husband unexpectedly last week and Ken and I came down for the services. It was a sad time, as Rickey was only 53 (he would have turned 54 tomorrow), and they have two boys, both still at home. Seth is a high school junior and Brice, who's 14, is autistic. Both services were beautiful and we were so glad we could be there with Lynn and her boys, as well as the rest of the family. (We came to Charlotte yesterday. Ken has a conference here.)

It has felt so strange to travel without Matthew. Of course, he's deep into his 5th week at Miami and could not come with us. Friends and family members, unaccustomed to seeing us without him, asked where he was. When we told them he was at school, they looked a little surprised and again asked where he was, as if we could and did just pick him up at our leisure (how I wish!). Ken and I thought it was really kind of comical; it showed how we weren't the only ones at a loss without our boy! Even relatives thought it strange to see us without him and couldn't imagine that we would leave him at college, apparently, while we traveled south.

I especially wish Matthew could be with us now. We are staying at a beautiful hotel within sight of Charlotte Motor Speedway. Ken even had the opportunity to ride around the Nascar track last night (and was especially impressed, it seemed, with the track's "banking," which was evidently all they say it is...) Matthew would have loved that and the golf course we're backed up to.... Funny, isn't it, how even though when our kids get older we still think of the things they love and love to do?

Even though we lived in this area of North Carolina and I sold real estate in Charlotte (as well as in Durham, when we lived there), it's changed so much since we lived here! Of course, that does seem like another lifetime ago... Ken and I are hoping to scout the area this evening, after his meetings are over. I'm not sure how far we'll get, but I have my eyes on a huge IKEA store I saw on the way in....

In the meantime, I am so grateful that hotels now have wireless internet - just like at home! A friend mentioned to me on the phone yesterday that a lot has changed in the last year. She mentioned that a year ago Matthew would have been home, but I would not have been free to travel with Ken like this. Fortunately, Ken doesn't travel much (I say fortunately, because he HATES it!). Writing about it today reminds me of 'Fortunately/Unfortunately,' a game we used to play with Matthew. It goes something like this:

Unfortunately, we had to come to Virginia for a funeral.
Fortunately, we were well enough to travel and were able to visit with family and old friends.
Unfortunately, Matthew was unable to come,
Fortunately, he is at Miami, which he loves.
Unfortunately, Ken had to come to Charlotte afterwards.
Fortunately, I was able to come with him.
Unfortunately, he's in meetings today (which is, after all, why we're here!)
Fortunately, I have a laptop and can travel with him.

If we look hard enough, we can find the fortunate in the unfortunate. Can you find a silver lining in whatever gray clouds hang above you in your 'sky' today? We all have the clouds - the challenge is to find the blessings also hidden there.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hello Friends.

I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch for so long. Some of you have been inquiring, wondering what’s been going on. It’s been a busy time. Here’s what’s new...

Sad news…
We learned last night that my cousin, Lynn, lost her husband, Rickey, yesterday. They had been married 22, maybe 23 years and have two sons, Seth, a high school junior and Brice, a 14 year-old son with autism. Lynn and I grew up together. Both only children, we are only 10 months apart in age and although we used to be very close, we had grown apart in recent years. Recently that’s been changing and I have felt a closeness with her that I have missed. Please pray for Lynn, Seth and Brice during these difficult days ahead.

An update on Janet
Janet is doing great. In fact, she has been moved to an extended care facility. She was finally well enough to have a tracheostomy and is off a ventilator. I understand she is learning to communicate with a trachestomy tube, an exhausting and frustrating process which takes time to master. She is alert and ate a little applesauce recently – her first solid food since being placed in intensive care nearly a month ago. Although she has many months of therapy ahead of her, her spirits are good and she is gaining strength every day. Janet is truly a miracle!

An update on Joyce
Joyce is doing great, too! She and her husband, Chris, were here last weekend and spent the night with us. Joyce had an appointment with her doctor in Dover on Monday. He was very pleased with her progress and after a month of a liquid diet has released her to (soft) solid food. Woo-hoo! Boy, is she excited!

1st Class
My first class was this week. It was a small class and those ladies were hungry for information about hospitality! I hope I was able to provide them with a few ideas that they were able to take home with them and use in their homes with their families and friends. That is certainly my goal. Those sweet gals were my guinea pigs – poor things! Thank you, ladies, for your patience and for your interest! It was fun meeting each one of you. Thank you for sharing your evening with me.

More postings to follow. Thank you all for your support of me and this hospitality blog!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Savannah in August

While flipping channels one day last week, I saw Paula Deen on Oprah. I rarely watch the show, but seeing Paula brought back memories of meeting Paula and visiting Savannah, so I just had to watch for a few minutes. On that particular show (which was rerun highlights), Paula had a mishap with the mixer. That was her first Oprah appearance, they said, but she handled it with the style, grace and humor for which she has become known. I had the privilege of seeing that same grace and humor firsthand when I attended Paula’s cooking class in Savannah. The way I landed in the class was nothing short of amazing, but it is a twist of fate for which I will always be grateful.

We had the opportunity to visit Savannah that first time a few years ago. Ken, Matthew and I were looking for a different vacation destination location that summer. We’d been tossing around various ideas with our small group (Bible study) friends for a month or so. Donna and Harold (who have the lovely pond with the frogs I wrote about before) suggested Savannah on more than one occasion. I must have appeared skeptical, because Donna said, “I think you’d really like it,” Other friends, Dave and Ruth, who’d also visited, told us, “It’s got this really neat City Market with all these little shops and a wonderful historic district.” Well, it did sound appealing, but had I known the attraction I’d feel for Savannah, I’d have wanted to leave that night!

We did go as it turned out, and I should tell you that we went in August. Let me say that again. We went in August. To Savannah. Georgia. And we loved it! Yes, it was hot….meltingly hot (I don’t even know if that’s a word, but it was that hot, and we still loved it!). So that should tell you how smitten we were! Even though Ken and I had lived in South Carolina right after we were first married and also in North Carolina later on, we knew how hot it was that far south late in the summer. Yet, we wanted to try something different and we (amazingly) went to Savannah in August. And yes, we all loved it. It was an experience we will never forget.

First of all, we left for Geogia from Tennessee, where we had already been vacationing, and we had no reservations for our time Savannah. We never do that. We always have reservations, make plans, know roughly what we’re going to do in an unfamiliar area. We actually arrived in Savannah with no reservations. I was a bundle of nerves. WHAT WERE WE THINKING? We drove around Savannah, and we spotted a beautiful hotel on the river. Wow, wouldn’t it be awesome to stay there, we wondered aloud? Ken called, checked availability, and actually made reservations at that moment! In fact, we drove right to the hotel entrance and from within five minutes of the time we spotted the hotel, we were in the lobby, checking in. I remember being amazed at how easy all of that was. (On a side note, the heat of the summer season could misdirect an uninformed soul to think that's why such accommodations were so readily available. However, Savannah's Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau were hard at work because its its Convention Center was fully booked at that time!)

So, with Step 1 to ensure a fun Savannah vacation complete, Ken was on to Step 2: Securing a ticket for me to the Paula Deen cooking class. I should mention that this was when Paula was doing her cooking classes in Savannah in her restaurant. I learned before we left home for Tennessee that the ONLY classes Paula had left to teach that summer were being taught the very days we were in Savannah, but there was NO availability. I was so disappointed! I really wanted to go to one of her classes, and I was heartbroken that her only remaining class that year was full, and had been full, apparently, for quite some time. In fact, that’s why we hadn’t made reservations for Savannah earlier. When we talked with our friends about Savannah, I thought it would be a nice to place to visit, but would I feel the same if I couldn't attend the cooking class? I wasn't so sure. Yet, Ken was convinced we should venture to the southern city to give it a whirl...

So, here we were, in beautiful Savannah, where Ken, my dear, sweet, husband, was determined that I WOULD attend that class. So, with Step 1 in his proverbial rear view mirror, Ken was ready to take on Step 2. At this lovely hotel, with its concierge, surely, Ken thought, they must reserve some tickets for the Paula Deen cooking classes. He contacted the concierge to inquire. No, they were very sorry, but those tickets sold out very early because they were in such high demand. No kidding. However, might they recommend The Lady & Sons Restaurant? They could give the hours where, although they didn't accept reservations, guests could stand in line for a ticket for a time to return for dinner. You’ve got to be kidding? Ken thought. (It’s true, we learned. Twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, a line forms where tickets are given for approximate meal times. These are similar to reservations, but they are not exact times and they do not refer to them as reservations. Sometimes these lines form hours before tickets are disbursed and people wait for these prized tickets in the hot, Savannah sun. Upon returning for the noon or evening meal, however, the wait is generally only 5-10 minutes, and the food is wonderful!)

Ok, back to Step 2....
So, my determined husband who was not easily deterred, called the Lady & Sons Restaurant to inquire if they had any tickets available for Paula’s classes that week. No, they didn't, but he did learn that the following days’ class would be taught at Bubba’s Oyster House at Tybee Island (Bubba is Paula’s brother and this was his new restaurant). That was only a ten minute drive or so from downtown Savannah, they told him.

So, no luck with the Concierge or the Lady & Sons getting tickets to Paula’s class. Yet, my husband was determined that I was going to that class. “But honey, it’s filled,” I said. Needless to say, on the morning of the class, we were off to Bubba’s. The staff at Bubba’s warmly greeted us and when I explained that I had come all the way from Orrville, Ohio they were impressed and then promptly explained that they were very sorry, but unless someone cancelled, they had no openings for the class that day. In fact, they further explained, they were already doing a double class that day due to a bus line scheduling problem the previous day and were completely full (thus the relocation to Bubba's). They told me I was welcome to wait. If someone cancelled, they would love to have me in the class.

Afraid to leave the place I had inside already with all the excited folks waiting to see Paula and attend her cooking class, I used my cell phone to call Ken and Matthew who were waiting outside. (Even though I had no ticket, and no reason to think I'd get inside the class anyway, it was like I thought the enthusiasm of those around me would whisk me inside with them, I guess.) “Just wait there,” Ken assured me. “You’ll get in.” Even though everyone showed up (it was, after all, Paula Deen!), amazingly, I was able to get in. At the last minute, a staff member approached me, smiled, brought me the bag of "goodies" that went with the class, and asked for a credit card to pay for the class fee. I'm not sure if it was the look of determination on my face, the fact that I was willing to sit and wait for an opening, or the sheer will of my husband (and perhaps his prayers on my behalf for a gift he so wanted to give me), but for whatever reason those dear people at the Paula Deen Show let me attend class that day.

And it was the most wonderful gift! It was 3 hours of cooking, sampling and 'dishing' fun (Ken and Matthew made their own fun - golfing maybe. Quite honestly, I don't even remember!) I don’t normally see myself as a starstruck person, but Paula really was wonderful. She made so much effort to make those who attended feel welcome and special. I found her to be warm and genuine. I felt like we were sitting in her kitchen while she cooked for us. She shared a lot of her personal history and if you are familiar with Paula, you know she tends to share a lot of herself. In fact, it could be said that she shared way too much personal information, but she just laughed heartily while doing so, like she didn't have a care in the world. It was really like being with an old friend or like someone I wished was an old friend. She was fun and feisty. She put humor and life in the kitchen where my mother showed me it should always begin. She showed all of us that we can enjoy ourselves while we're in the kitchen. That's a lesson I first learned from my mother and I was thrilled to share it again with Paula in her cooking class.

As far as Savannah....we loved every part of Savannah, with its dozens of beautiful city squares and moss-draped trees and its rich history, not to mention City Market with its lovely shops and River Street, with all its lovely shops. We returned to Savannah a couple of years later and stayed at the Hamilton-Turner Inn, a Bed and Breakfast on one of Savannah’s beautiful squares. It was the first house to have electricity in Savannah. We stayed in one of the beautiful suites on the 4th floor, and even when we made the reservations, we knew there were no elevators. This is a historical mansion and I really wanted to experience what it would be like to stay there. I somehow convinced Ken and Matthew they did, too. And guess what month we went that year? Yep, we went again in August! What were we thinking? And yes, we loved it! And it was so hot! We'd go outside and melt! Amazingly, we did get a little used to the heat after a day or two. I want to vist next time in May, when the magnolias are in full bloom. That sounds like pure heaven on earth! Even though Savannah is like no other place I've ever lived, in many ways I feel like I've gone home when I go to Savannah. I look forward to returning. In May this time. Or August. If it's Savannah, I'll even go in August.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Our Boys Were All Home This Weekend

But no, they weren't dressed like this! This photo was taken at their senior prom. From left to right are Jacob, Cody, Matthew (our biological son :-) and Trent.

I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to hear the garage door open on Friday night and to know that Matthew had arrived home safely from college. Ken and I looked at each other, arose from the couch excitedly and went out to hug and greet our baby boy, uh, I mean our young man. How wonderful it was to see him! And I do believe he grew 2 inches taller in the two weeks since we had last seen him! He's already nearly 6'5". How much more can he grow?!

We had the most amazing weekend! We learned about the classes Matthew is taking and the professors he has this term. They are some very colorful people! He shared some funny stories and some interesting anecdotes about campus life as only Matthew can. He told us about friends he's met and clubs and organizations he's interested in. We listened to him talk and loved every minute of it.

We were also delighted to have Matthew's close group of friends overnight one of the nights, too. They played video games and then crashed in the basement. It was just like so many nights from the recent past. As we made breakfast for them, Ken and I cried because we were so emotional, happy to have our kids all together again. You'd think these grown young men would be embarrased by such a sight or think us silly (and heck, maybe they did), but I have to tell you, what I saw was something way more mature. I saw understanding for our feelings. I saw affection returned and I saw appreciation for the love they sensed coming their way. Our 'boys' may be young men now, but they will always be our boys.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Thoughts on Supper Swapping

(This photo has nothing to do with supper swapping, but these are the gals with whom I supper swapped! Here Linda, Wanda and I are photographed after church one Sunday while on vacation together. At home in Orrville, we all go to different churches. In fact, both their husbands are pastors.)

Have you ever thought about participating in a supper swap? Do you know what I mean by the term 'supper swap'? It’s when you team up with friends, neighbors and/or co-workers to make meal-time easy! Trish Berg, author of The Great American Supper Swap, says “Supper swapping is moms helping moms by sharing the cooking responsibilities for their families. One day a week you cook enough food for everyone in your group, usually 3 -5 families. You keep one meal for your family and deliver the other meals to the families in your group. The rest of the week, they deliver supper to you.” Sounds easy enough, right?

Now that Ken and I are empty-nesters, we don't cook as much as we did and we are not currently participating in a supper swap (which I actually miss a little). However, every fall I always think a lot about supper-swapping since that's the season when we started. I guess that's why it's been on my mind a lot lately and also why I thought you might enjoy reading about the experiences Wanda, Linda and I shared during our supper swapping days.

I first learned of this concept from an article I read in Today’s Christian Woman, one of my favorite women's magazines (by the way, I just learned yesterday, TCW is no longer going to be published. It's going to be strictly an e-magazine). I read the article about three years ago and suggested the idea of supper swapping to Linda and Wanda, two friends who were also willing to give it a try.

Incidentally, I later realized that the author of the article and the aforementioned book, Trish Berg, is a gal who lives in Dalton, a community very close to our town of Orrville, Ohio! What a small world! In fact, after my friends and I met to discuss the idea of doing this, Wanda presented Linda and me each with a copy of Trish’s book, The Great American Supper Swap, after she heard Trish speak locally.

As the book suggested, before beginning the supper swap, the three of us met to discuss how we would approach it. Even though there were just our 3 families, it seemed to be such a huge undertaking at first! Some groups swap with 4 or even 5 families! We thought we'd be flying for 3 of us to do it since we live close together and it would be easy to deliver meals to each other. As it turned out, 3 did turn out to be perfect for us and we opted to leave our supper swap group at that size. (My friend and neighbor, Janeen, later started one with 5 in her group, and they love it!)

We also learned from the book that it's best to begin supper-swapping with families similar in size to your own. That makes sense from a meal prep standpoint. I mean, if there are 4 in your family, it really wouldn't feel normal for you to make dinner for a family of 7 or 8. Both Linda and Wanda have 4 in their families, and although we only had 3 at the time, as Matthew was still at home then, we always planned on at least one extra teenager for dinner, so that worked out great for us, too.

Before commiting to it long-term, we decided we’d try it for a month with each of us cooking once each week for the other families. So we met with calendars in hand and ideas of dishes to prepare. Not knowing how much to make or really where to start, we were still anxious to give it a try. We decided to make one main dish and one side dish each time. So, for example, on my night, I might make baked spaghetti with a salad and bread. Often we would add items, but only the two items would be planned and depended upon. (We figured we could easily add an extra veggie, salad or bread ourselves on our own, if we chose.) We decided our menus in advance so that we didn't plan to prepare chicken for our families when we cooked for ourselves in addition to when we cooked for each other. That all worked out better than we thought. Not knowing exactly how much food we would need, we made more than we needed. That turned out great because we often had leftovers, depending on the meals, which generally meant we had enough meals for the weekday meals. We liked that! That first month went great and we loved it, so we continued to swap.

I loved the 'swapping' part of the day! I looked so forward to packing up the food I had prepared for my friends and carrying it to my car to be delivered! Sometimes Ken or Matthew would help me deliver. Matthew had just gotten his license as I recall, and sometimes he would do the delivery himself! And wow, did I look forward to seeing my friends come in with their delicious food! Yum-my! I love to cook, but I really looked forward to having them deliver our supper! There were some days when we would have extra kids for supper (not unusual for us) and I'd just add some extra stuff to the dinner table. I'd always tell the kids who'd supplied what. I remember telling Trent (one of our boys) one night that Mrs. Pfahler had made something one night, and he responded, "Yeah, I remember when she made that once before!" Like I said, these kids were regulars at our house. Once we had favorite dishes, we would request them monthly. We'd meet at one of our favorite local restaurants for breakfast (a good excuse for a girls' outing!) and start our planning for the next month's meals. It might start out something like... "I don't know if you have anything in mind, but Vanessa, we'd love to have those Chickens Puffs again..."

We tried foods we wouldn’t normally try and we learned to be honest. What we were willing to try once sometimes we wanted to try only once. And we were honest about that. We decided at the beginning that we needed to be upfront about those kinds of things and we were. Wanda, a health-conscious person who liked my (baked) Chicken Puffs, was not so excited about seeing my family's favorite fried foods on the menu. (But I am from the SOUTH! I would jokingly remind her.) So, we worked around those things and honored each others' opinions. It was a wonderful learning experience for all of us. I would not trade that time for anything.

When Wanda decided to take a break from participating for a few months, she told us she really missed not seeing us. It’s amazing how those few minutes a few times a week helped each of us to feel connected to each other.

We prayed for each others’ families in a concerted effort on the days we cooked. I felt really close to my friends’ families, especially on those days. Preparing food is very personal and truly is a labor of love.

We decided to take a hiatus during specific sports seasons because it was difficult to work out schedules. We picked up the swapping at a later time, but Wanda later opted out, telling us that she was "the weakest link." We assured her that was not the case! Her salisbury steak is heavenly and you've already heard me rave about her cinnamon rolls in a previous posting! Yet, for her, the timing had run its course and Linda and I understood.

Linda and I continued swapping on and off, depending on our schedules. Even now, although we don't swap on a regular basis, I am often blessed by a call from Linda when she knows I've had a particularly busy or stressful week, telling me she's bringing over supper. Oh, that is music to my ears! Her chicken pot pie, as they say, is to die for! And I would be remiss if I did not mention her Asian broccoli salad...and her chicken and noodles, oh my goodness! Linda's cooking reminds me so much of my mom's cooking, so to me it's comfort food. I try to reciprocate and help her out with meals sometimes, too. She has a fondness for my chocolate chip cookies. And that reminds me, I'm sure I'm long overdue in making something for her family.

Obviously, I cannot adequately explain all the nuances of supper swapping in such a small space. I just wanted to share some of my personal insights with you and to tell you that supper swapping enriched my life and my friendships and for that I am so grateful. I am happy to answer any questions about my supper swapping experiences anytime. You are welcome to contact me here, by email or on Facebook.

To learn even more about all aspects of this fun endeavor including how to start your own group, the best recipes for supper swapping beginners, cooking/baking container suggestions, how it will save you money, Q & As, and so much more, BUY THE BOOK!!! It's a wonderful resource. Or better yet, visit the library and borrow the book. Also, Trish Berg's website is full of useful free downloads like recipes and calendars. She will even do a free 15 minute chat on the phone with your group to answer questions to help get you started - all more than I could offer! So, if you haven't already, I hope you'll check out Trish Berg's website at:

Incidentally, I've also attended a small group session she held on supper swapping and highly recommend her as a speaker for any function you might have at your organization or church. She fun, funny and down to earth. Again, the book is The Great American Supper Swap by Trish Berg.

If you have even an inkling to try it, find a friend or co-worker with an interest and give it a whirl. You might just be surprised at how fun it can be. It can enrich your life and your friendships more than you can imagine.