Tag Archives: Mississippi


I have been trying to post an entry on my forgotten blog for at least two weeks now. Everything thing that I write is boring or disconnected or just plain terrible. I am sitting here with little Boo next to me typing away, but nothing comes out. Remember the episode of “Friends” where Ross is flirting with his cousin and he can’t say anything. He shouts at himself, “SAY SOMETHING, ANYTHING!” I have felt like Ross with my blog recently.

I haven’t paid any attention to my blog; I am sure the blog police will take my blogging license away. To catch up with my blogging, I have listed my top five blogs I didn’t post but should have. Maybe this will help me get back on track with posting more often.

Prepping for the Space Camp Hall of Fame – In 2007 Space Camp started a Hall of Fame to recognize their brightest stars in conjunction with their 25th Anniversary. The HOF dinner was emceed by William Shatner. To me, this seemed like an over kill, but the HOF was a success and has continued. This year, it is the event that all space geeks and Space Camp alumni have dreamed of. This year, we have an awesome event lined up. Our emcee will be Stephanie Abrams, Space Camp alumnus and Weather Channel Meteorologist. Our after dinner entertainment will be Max-Q, the all astronaut band. The inductees are a great group of chaperones, former staff members, and campers. “It’s shake’n bake and I helped!”

Hanging with the Teachers – This summer I started my tenure as the Director of Education for Space Camp & Aviation Challenge. During the summer months I get to hang with some of the world’s coolest teachers and most of them are staff! Teacher camp staff members come from all around the U.S. My long time buddy Rhonda comes down to help. On top of the teachers and staff, we have special guests who visit and speak with the teachers. Grace Corrigan, Christa McAuliffe’s mom, visits each year during International Space Camp. She is the sweetest lady you will ever meet. She is kind and loves inspiring educators. The week she visited, International Space Camp week, I felt déjà vu, but it really wasn’t déjà vu because I had been through lots of ISC camps. My life seems to have come full circle.

12 Day Camp – Aviation Challenge is a very special place to me. I spent six summers there on the management team. Getting to work with some of the best campers was a great privilege. The special thing about both 12 Day Camp (Space & AC) is the way the kids grow during a seemingly short period of time. The guys and gals that attend 12 Day are either super space geeks or supersonic nerds but they learn leadership, communication, and how to work as a team/family. I trained them in incident command structure which they used in their final event, a table top simulation of a mass casualty disaster. Seeing them grow from the first day to the table top event is amazing. I miss those little kiddies!

Canoeing Trip – The Second Annual AC Family Canoe Trip was better than last year. Fireball, Mr. Fireball, Baywatch, Cornbread, Nemo, Snapper and Chris traveled down the Elk River in Tennessee. Because of our experience and the smaller group, it should have been a piece of cake getting down the river.  WRONG!  The first adventure for me was the red headed canoe. I shared a canoe with none other than Fireball and Snapper. What was I thinking? I was thinking it would be tons of fun! Fireball and Snapper kept me rolling with all the stories and giggles. What happens when you have three redheads in a boat, it gets flipped twice.  The second adventure was the rain! A summer thunderstorm hit us in the middle of the afternoon. My survival skills kicked in as we made a small shelter out of our canoe and kayak. No matter what, it was a great day of bonding and relaxation? It was a stress free zone on the river!

4th of July – For the first time in many years I was at home in Mississippi for 4th of July. This was so special to me. Growing up, the 4th of July was the best day of the year next to Thanksgiving. My family always grills, barbeques, or smokes something. Food and family have always been very special to me. The thing which made this summer’s 4th of July so special was my niece and nephews. Seeing the kids grow up and have fun almost, but not quite, makes me want to have kids of my own. The whole trip was a needed break from Huntsville, Alabama at the best possible time. All in all this was the best part of the summer.

So now you know what I didn’t blog about this summer. If you would like to hear more about one of these topics, please shoot me a comment on graphitefree or Facebook. I will write about that topic. If you don’t want to hear anything else about these topics, that is fine as well. Stay tuned for my vacation to New York City and the Space Camp Hall of Fame. I am sure there will be a flaming hooker or something exciting in the next few weeks.

Wedding Gown

I visited Camp of the Rising Son this week. It was wonderful visiting briefly with the camp staff and experiencing all the sights and sounds of camp again. I am truly amazed at how that place has shaped who I am today. Looking back, there are a few crystal clear moments that I remember impacting my life. Others are concepts and values that have become the backbone of my leadership and management philosophy.

One of the first things I learned is there must always be someone in charge. During my first three summers working at CRS, I served the campers as an Assistant Counselor or AC. The role of AC was to help serve the campers at meal times, help the Counselor in the cabin, and teach activities throughout the day. Waiting the table at meal times was the most daunting, especially when you are in Cheyenne cabin at the end of the dining hall. The Counselor’s job was to lead the group of campers and the AC through all the cabin’s activities. It was compared to the role of a family. The father is the leader and the mother helps and cares for all the needs of the family. I know, old fashion sounding, but it worked. This idea of service was so deeply-rooted in my camping philosophy when I became a Counselor, I would serve one meal each day. I wanted to serve my AC, April Gunn Duval, to show her how much I appreciated her. “Service before self” was the motto I learned quickly at CRS.

I have discussed the motto “camp is for the camper” a few times. I guess it is crazy to think that in putting others first you will be getting more out of the experience than if you put yourself first. So often the leadership at CRS would remind the young teenage and twenty-something staff that we were there to build relationships with the campers not each other. However, camp staff relationships would spring up without even knowing. There is a dynamic at camp that makes people want to open up and share life experiences. I think, because you share so much of your time with 12 kids and 50 staff members doing the same thing, eating the same food, living and working on the same schedule you simply bond.

Some of my best friends have come from CRS, Twin Lakes, Space Camp, and Aviation Challenge. Why? Because you share this dynamic, sometimes life changing, experience with another individual, and you want to stay in touch. You want to keep living on the mountain top that is camp! But everyone comes down from the mountain top. Each summer for years, I have experienced this blue phase. Call it a mini depression or just a slump, the point is I am sad when summer is over and all my new friends are at their homes and I am left behind. This all started at CRS. I remember telling my mom I missed having snack time at 830 each night before bed time when I returned home from camp.

The last thing I learned from CRS is to give all I have to camp. Give my heart, my soul, and even my earthly position to camp. At CRS there was a program closet with lots of costumes and props. In that dusty moth ball laden closet was a wedding gown. It wasn’t mine, I wasn’t married yet. It was Chief Margie’s. Chief Margie and her husband built CRS and she gave so much to that camp. She poured her heart into it each day.

My wedding gown is in the attic of my in-laws house. I don’t think Space Camp needs my wedding gown. The example of making your job fun and personal was instilled in me at a young age. However, recently I have been made to feel like a job is just a job, but it is so much more to me. If camp is for the camper then my job isn’t just a J-O-B. It is something more; it is something deeper and more dynamic.

In a day and age where weddings are the most precious thing in a woman’s life, I feel like the gift of a wedding gown to a program closet is the ultimate symbol of “camp is for the camper.” The camper experience is one of dynamic friendships and life changing days under the watchful eyes of the camp staff. If you pour yourself into your job and you give service to others, you will be rewarded by all the friendships you will make along the way. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Why No Post?

I haven’t been blogging recently; maybe I am just blocking the whole output of emotional or creative flow. My life has changed so much in the last three weeks. I have learned the one thing that can make Red Bull cry. I have started grad school. I have visited family and friends. And, I have limited my time at the Barn. I write a lot about my personal life, dreams, and feelings and I guess I have avoided that by not blogging. (WOW, I have been watching too much Glee! Drama isn’t my strong suit.)

We lost my brother, Will, in 1985. He was my best friend. True, he was my brother and that is not always the case with siblings, but Will was a special little kid. In 1992, I ventured to Camp Garawya in Clinton, Mississippi for an Acteen’s weekend. God did one of those “God things” in my life that weekend. He showed me a tiny, little part of his plan for my life. That part was sticky, hot and humid summer camp! More over, I saw the over arching theme of working with kids in my future.

Before then, I had shallow dreams of being an astronaut or maybe an architect. In 1994, I decided at Camp of the Rising Son that I would be an educator, for two reasons, the first being summers off. The second and most important reason, I get to work with kids. I don’t know why I have a gift with kids, but I do! Being a teacher at St. Paul and Discovery Middle was awesome; I got to see how kids matured over 10 months not just a week. I got to try new ways to present materials. At Delta State, I had a college professor tell me I would never make a good teacher because I have issues with spelling and writing. My message to her is, sit on a tack or in her case a rake.

I learned it really doesn’t matter if you can spell if you want to inspire people to grow and learn. Teach kids to dream big dreams. That has been my motto for a while. Working at the Barn has allowed me to work with kids at times, heck Cameron Drape and her Turkey Plates exercised my mad ninja kid skills once or twice. Leaving the Barn tonight, Manhattan Chair pointed out something that is important for me to remember. Kids are important to me. I love teaching and inspiring kids to mature and discover the world around them.

Why do you think that is? I go back to my best buddy, little Will. He loved learning; he wanted to be everything from a cowboy to a cook, from a doctor to a dozer driver. I love working with kids, because it reminds me of my little brother. He is my inspiration. It isn’t about working at a camp or in a classroom. So tonight when I started saying goodbye to the Barn, I was also saying good bye to something else. Working with kids is important to who I am. Yes, I am bigger and deeper than this blog could ever describe, but this is my inspiration. I have struggled for a few weeks on how to express this feeling in my heart, but now I found the right words.

Pom Pom

Grandparents are priceless! They are the people who spoil you when you are already rotten. One of the coolest things about grandparents is that you have two sets of them. Grandparents teach how to bake cookies, make Kool-Aid, and instant grits. My grandmother, Pom Pom, passed away last night. She was my father’s mother and my final grandparent.

Pom Pom lived just down the hill from my home. We could walk there in just a few minutes. I always walked with my German Sheppard Maggie or one of the Dobermans. I remember crazy things about walking down to Pom Pom’s house. Once I found a tick in my ear. My mother knew I had to have gotten the tick from walking thought the tall grass to Pom Pom’s house. One Sunday afternoon, Will and I were walking to her house, and Walter was riding on the three-wheeler. Will got excited and ran after Walt. It didn’t end very pretty but I have a lasting image in my head of Will telling me and Walt to hush up and stop crying after Walt hit him with the three-wheeler.

I remember watching Scooby Doo and the Andy Griffith Show. At some point in the 80s there was a United States Marine Corps Colonel on every afternoon for days. His name was Oliver North. I don’t know why I remember that, but I do and I only remember it at Pom Pom’s house. While watching copious amounts of television, she would let my brothers and me do pretty much whatever we wanted to do. We would make kamikazes with Kool-Aid and soda. We really just made large messes. Pom Pom had a red apple cookie jar which she kept stocked with butter chocolate chip cookies, the kind that had a hole in the middle and looking similar to a flower. We would stack these cookies on our pinky fingers and eat them like cookie kabobs.

Pom Pom was always around to take care of people. She was a constant spirit in our church. As long as there was fuel in her tan Nova, she was at church. She visited her little old lady friends on a regular basis. If she couldn’t get out visiting she would call. Our church really had a great foundation of strong women… old women.

Her faith was strong, just as strong as her will. Before I was even a thought in my parents mind, she worked in a shirt factory and kept the dairy farm going. She made sure everyone had what they needed. Some of my first memories of her were working in the garden. That lady could work hard. She had an iron will. In 2005, she had a major surgery to remove an abscessed colon. She was resigned to dying then. She was at peace with it and knew where she was headed. The morning of her surgery we visited and I read to her from Romans and Psalms. We all had wrestled with the fact she may die during the surgery. She woke up in the recovery room madder than a rooster with his tail on fire.

I guess when you hope to wake up face to face with the Lord and all the loved ones who’ve passed away before you; a nurse taking your blood pressure is a disparaging sight. I didn’t know my grandmother could say words like that. She was pissed. Well last night just before 11 o’clock she got what she had hoped for five years ago. This afternoon, she is chatting with all the little old ladies. Will has hugged her neck and welcomed her home. She is with all her loved ones that have gone before her and she isn’t pissed off anymore!

Welcome to 2010

Survival TrainingI started this grand and glorious year with my brother and nephews at Pilot/Co-Pilot camp, a program of Aviation Challenge. It was so much fun! Whoever runs that place is a redheaded mastermind of fun! It was great hanging out with my family at AC for the weekend! It didn’t matter that Reece, call sign Pigskin, looked like a homeless Vietnam War vet. God love the little man, but he doesn’t care how he looks. Rhett, call sign Yankee, was concerned with shooting Alvin down. We all wanted to seek revenge on someone. We are a very competitive family! Shot down everyone in the sims and won the Flag Award. We had our fire built before Cornbread came back to the Boy Scout Area with matches.

Great weekend. I think Walt and I will be remembered as the college football people (Ole Miss and Florida played in Bowl games), because everyone knows I have to keep up with Urban Meyer and his boy! Ole Miss, I was hoping, would get wrangled by the OSU Cowboys. Great weekend only leads me to believe this will be a great year!

I am looking forward to training the newbies, presenting at SEEC and Honeywell Leadership Academy, the Star Wars exhibit, another AC 12 Day camp, and who knows, maybe another trip to Prescott for Oak Creek Nut Brown Ale and a PBC Wedge, or maybe, just maybe a winning season for MSU football! This year I started a really cool five year journal. Every day for five years I will add a paragraph about the day. Quick thoughts, maybe the quote of the day or something like that. Sounds like fun!

With the new journal, I am going to make a few changes this New Year. And they are as follows:

  1. Wear more pink, “Pink is my signature color!”
  2. Watch more reality TV. I want to create a new show, “Real Housewives of the Barn.”
  3. Be more huggie! Being affectionate is the true sign of a great leader!
  4. Stop using Dixon Ticonderoga pencils. Truly, you can’t tell a difference in Dixons and the Staple’s brand.
  5. Finally, break up with Peyton; I think I am more interested in younger men now. Tim Tebow is a hottie!

Good luck and God Bless in 2010!

2009 Year In Review

Last year I had a lot of fun with my year in review blog. Therefore, I made an executive decision to continue the tradition this year. The year 2009 was a great year for me and my hubby Chris. We spent most of the time sleeping under the same roof which was a drastic change from the previous four years in our marriage. During the year I took an exploratory outlook on life. I returned to the Barn after a ten month break and began blogging about the misadventures of the Barn. It was a year of great highs and a few lows, but overall it was a wonderful year! Here are my top ten moments of 2009!!!

Green Bay Pre-Game10. Trip to Wisconsin: Visiting Lambeau Field would have been great if I had seen just any game. However, our visit to Lambeau field was for the Packers vs. Vikings game; the game where Brett Favre returned to the Frozen Tundra, his former home. The best part of the road trip was sharing the adventure with my mom, dad, and Chris. The part that sucked was throwing up in the back seat of my mom’s Lincoln Navigator. All is well in the world, and Brett Favre was victorious!

9. Arizona Traffic School: This doesn’t sound like it should be a highlight of my year’s adventures. However, the recruiting trip to Prescott, Arizona is one of my favorite work assignments. During the fall, Snapper and I made our way back to Embry Riddle for the third time. On the trip into Prescott, a traffic camera caught me speeding. I am well versed in what to say to an officer when they pull me over. I was left speechless when I received a speeding ticket in the mail. One Saturday morning in December I played Mariah Carey music while I completed my online traffic school. The only thing that would have made Arizona traffic school better would have been a PBC Wedge from the Prescott Brewing Company.

8. The Plumber App: With a Twisted Taco cup in one hand and a crescent wrench in the other hand I attempted to fix my tub’s broken facet. I am not a plumber nor should I ever become one. In this attempt I broke my Motorola Razor and made way for my darling husband to purchase me, at long last, an iPhone with Plumber App. Looking back at this mini adventure and all the laughs it was well worth the mess I made in my bathroom.

7. Flaming Hookers: I am not going to tell the whole story, but the night of the Space Camp Hall of Fame a few friends and I continued the party at a local watering hole (ATO). This is where I was introduced to a Flaming Hooker. No, it isn’t a lady of the night who is being cremated. It is a drink made popular to space geeks in the book Riding Rockets. This story really isn’t the highlight but gives a great example of the fun I have had socializing with friends, astronauts, and space geeks. The top memory for me wasn’t the night of the hall of fame, but happened a few weeks later when I visited with a few members of STS-125 and Hoot Gibson. It was great sharing Story stories with Michael Massimino. Now I know how the bolt on Hubble was over torqued.

Jack Daniels (Dec 2009)6. Becoming a Squire: Last year while standing in line at Jack Daniel’s, waiting in the bitter cold to have bottles signed, Divot and I made a commitment to visit Lynchburg on a regular basis until one or both of us were Squires. In April of 2009, I received my deed to land at Jack Daniel’s making me a Tennessee Squire. Divot and I continued to visit the distillery and go to bottle signings. Visiting Lynchburg is fun, and being a Squire is a big deal to me!

5. Houston in February: Right after training dozens of new Space Camp counselors, I get away from my job by flying to Houston Texas to attended SEEC. Yes, it is a vacation to me! Learning more about space may make me a space geek, but hanging out with teachers from all over the U.S. is fun to me. Hanging out with my friend Rhonda is a plus! Last year we took a break from the conference to watch Pat Summitt win her 1,000th game as a head coach. I think Urban Meyer can learn a few things from Pat Summitt. She has 8 NCAA Championships over 35 years of coaching. Meyer has two BCS Titles in his young career. Coach Summitt, Rhonda, and NASA are all pretty dang cool!

4. Bourbon Trail: In late August I took a road trip to Kentucky. I was all by myself on this excursion. I visited Mammoth Cave and five bourbon distilleries. Along the way I learned a lot about Kentucky’s history, how to make bourbon, and why Jack Daniel’s is the best whiskey. True, you may think I am a traitor for visiting Jack competitors, but I wanted to see for myself what the difference was between Kentucky Straight Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey. If you decide to visit the Bourbon Trail, make sure you visit Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve. By far, those two distilleries have the best tours and a better product than the other bourbons.

Lucy's First Egg Bowl3. Lucy’s Bell: What do you get when you mix family with Mississippi State tailgating? The answer is, the best Egg Bowl ever! It was Lucy’s first Egg Bowl so she got a brand new pink bell from the Barns & Noble at State. Mississippi State gave Lucy and all their adoring fans lots of reasons to ring their cowbells this year in Starkville. Once State took the lead in the third quarter they didn’t give it up again as they pounced on Ole Miss 41-24! I know there have been bigger wins in MSU history, but for me this was the best one ever! My whole family was there for the game as we joined my aunts and uncles for pre and post game refreshments. Days and games like the Egg Bowl can show everyone outside of the South why SEC football is so near and dear to its followers!

2. Epic Return to the Barn: I left work at the Barn in the spring of 2008 just shy of five years with the store. I didn’t think I would return, but in March of this year I did. I was surprised after returning that I love working at the Barn more now than ever before! There is something about it. It is like when I left I was simply a Barnyard Hand in Training. Now, I feel like a Barn Ninja. And on top of all the fun I have working at the Barn, when I get home I can write about working at the Barn. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Working with characters (boy, are they characters) such as Hudson, Manhattan, Josephine Bedding and all the others is fun and enjoyable. Isn’t that what we should want in any job?

Red Bull stew1. Chief Reunion: In late July Chris and I visited Camp of the Rising Son for its 30 year reunion. Wow, CRS has been around for 30 years! I enjoyed visiting the camp that gave me my start as a camper and my first job as a camp counselor. It was wonderful visiting with old friends, I mean Chiefs. The whole process was a blessing as I reconnected with so many people. One of the highlights for me was my team winning the Camp Stew Cook Off! The secret is in the bacon! Unfortunately for me, some stories of the past did surface. I would like to tell everyone reading, I am truly sorry for tossing a bucket of water on a past Chief. And yes, the bucket had a few frogs in it. As a camp manager, I have learned that pranks are bad for camp.

Camp is my life! It has molded me into who I am today. I am a rambunctious, redhead who isn’t afraid of adventure. I love my family more than camp, but it is good going to a job you love every single day. My job has given me a lot of the experience listed above. I am lucky to have a great life surrounded by people I love, and who I think love me, or at least they don’t dislike me. So I am looking forward to the adventures of next year, and the next decade. I wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Great Deep South World Tour

Tour MapEach Christmas Chris and I venture across the state line several times to visit family. Chris calls this journey the Great Deep South World Tour 2009! I call it crisscrossing the Southeast in hopes to find sanity at the end of the trip, or somewhere in between. Don’t get me wrong, I love it! However, it is a little crazy if you break it down. Try and follow along.

Wednesday 5:05pm I complete a shift at the Barn. Chris, Boo and I drive feverishly to Winona, Mississippi 4.5 hours away. We unload the vehicle share a few stories and off to bed. We wake up at my parent’s house and prepare for a day of celebrating my father’s and sister-in-law’s birthday along with our Oliver family Christmas. Mom is not feeling well so we placed her on injured reserve for the day. Walter and Christy led the food prep team as Chris entertained the little ones and helped out where needed.

After we finished a wonderful meal of meats and carbohydrates, Daddy read Luke 2 from an English Standard Version of the Bible. He threw in a few thee’s, thou’s, and a goeth here and there to be reminiscent of the King James Version. Unfortunately, there was a Bible misplaced during set up for the day. No worries, we made it through the day! We made out like a bandits with Mississippi State Cheese, silverware, and a really cool flash light; all useful gifts. The night ended early because Santa was nearing North America in record speed. Did you know that you can track Santa on Google Maps? Very useful in getting kids to go to bed!

Boo the Traveling Dog!Christmas morning started at 5:30am with several, “I don’t want to get up” and a few “really do I have to?” Chris and I did have enough time to empty our stockings Santa had left for us before we hit the road heading for Hoover, Alabama and the Land of Houndstooth! We stopped by my brother’s house to check out the damage Santa and the reindeer caused to the roof of their house. By the way things looked under the tree, Santa landed well over his weigh limit, dislodging a few shingles in the process. We were back on US 82 at 7:20am an in Hoover, Alabama by 10:03am.

There is a great contrast between Chris’ family and my family. Chris would describe my family as loud and I would describe his family as quiet, reserved, almost boring. His family’s house feels like a very sterile place. His family has moved all over the US following their father’s career in the coal mining industry. So their home doesn’t really have the same lived in feel that the farm has. My parents still live in the home they built just before I was born. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when the new grandparents placed plastic under the 10 month old granddaughter’s high chair. This is the best comparison I can give. I am sure there are still hidden green beans in my childhood room from when I was stubborn and wouldn’t eat them; meanwhile Chris’ parents are a little worried about macaroni and cheese on their Persian rug.

We exchanged gifts at his parent’s, which is contrasting from Christmas on the farm. In Hoover, we all unwrap gifts at the same time. If we chose this method with my parent’s we would lose track of who gave what to whom. Did I mention we are loud on the farm? I got bath gear and Chris received three or four flash lights. I am not sure what message this sends, but useful gifts, so bonus points for both families this year. Great gifts given to me by my quiet mother-in-law… a THONG! Yes, thong! However, it wasn’t what you would think; it was a “Book Thong” bookmark. Why name it a book thong? I don’t know, but it is funny!

We left Hoover at 1:34pm headed north to Huntsville, Alabama and back home for Christmas on the creek! Chris and I chose to exchange gifts at home; this hopefully starting a new tradition for us. We enjoyed leftovers and hanging out in the peace and comfort of our own home. But wait; the weekend is still not over! I worked at the Barn the day after Christmas to find out that everyone visiting the Barn wanted items we didn’t have. We were out things which we had been sold out of weeks ago. I ended my Barn session at 8:00pm on Saturday.

Christmas Game of TossThe last leg of our journey was back to Mississippi to visit my mom’s side of the family. The Land clan gathered in Ridgeland, Mississippi to visit and share gifts. My cousins and my brother reminisced about epic backyard football games of our childhood as we tossed the football back and forth with the next generation. Things like that make zig-zagging across Mississippi and Alabama all worth it!

We ended our trip at 10:09pm Sunday night (just a few minutes ago) traveling 1,290 miles visit all of our families. We stopped for gas five times along the way. Boo peed on seventeen trees and lost tons of hair during the stressful trip (most of which seems to have landed in the vehicle). We passed Tuscaloosa’s Chipotle twice, stopping to eat only once. We crossed the state line four times and traveled through four area codes. However you slice it or dice it, Chris and I love our families and we enjoy visiting them. We shared homemade Kahlua with the reserved Key family. This would be the play of the entire tour! The combined trip time of nineteen hours in the TEV was worth the time spent with family! Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!


The Messy KitchenRemember the Friends episode with Phoebe’s cookies? Monica wanted Phoebe’s grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe as an engagement present. After realizing Phoebe had lost the only copy of the recipe, they slaved in the kitchen for hours trying different combinations (“Don’t try batch 16”) of egg, sugar, butter, and flour to recreate the recipe. At the end of the episode we learn that Phoebe’s grandmother’s cookie recipe was actually the recipe found on the back of Nestle Toll House chocolate chips. There is nothing wrong with handing down a family recipe which was found on the packaging of a baking product.

Last night with my friend Taunya, we dusted off the recipe for my Gran’s cookies and made what seemed like one hundred cookies. The recipe isn’t really a secret, but I am a believer that the way my grandmother prepared the cookies is the secret. I don’t know how many times I helped Gran make cookies, but each time seemed special as I watched her hands move carefully through the ingredients. She would pull up a stool for me to stand on and dress me in a hand made apron. Gran had this ceramic bowl with blue and pink stripes on it. I was often unwilling to wait while the butter softened, so she put me to work setting out the cooling racks, or lining the cookie sheets with aluminum foil.

The “secret” recipe came off a box of Arm & Hammer baking soda. I think I remember Gran telling me when I was a kid that my great grandmother discovered the recipe. Gran probably made thousands upon thousands of the buttery cookies, especially since she made cookies with all of her grandchildren. Making them as well as eating them is a family tradition. A few years back, well maybe it was a decade or two; my Aunt Wanda collected all the family recipes and compiled them into a handy dandy cook book. In “Family Jewels” my aunt tells brief stories about each recipe. The cookie recipe is my favorite; let me share it with you… You can find it on Arm & Hammer’s website. It is neat that this recipe is still being published.

Have ingredients at room temperature
Sift together

  • 2 ½ cups of plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

Cream the following until fluffy

  • ½ cup butter or Oleo (don’t know if anyone still uses Oleo)
  • ½ cup Crisco or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir in dry ingredients and till mixture is smooth
Blend in 2 tablespoons of milk
Drop by teaspoon onto greased baking sheet. Flatten with bottom of a glass dipped in oil and then sugar.
Bake at 400°F for 10 – 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.
(I only needed 6 minutes)
Makes about 5 ½ dozen 2 inch cookies
You can mix chocolate chips, raisins, coconut, or nuts. You can also top the cookies with whole pecans, sprinkles, or my favorite cinnamon.

Yummy!This recipe is very special to me. I am sure there are thousands of people who use this recipe each day. It may not be a gourmet recipe, but it is special to me and my family. In an effort to connect with my mother-in-law I gave her this recipe at Christmas. She didn’t get it. I guess most people don’t get it. Just like most people don’t get Christmas. We live in a rush, rush world. An easy bake, slice and serve culture. However, it doesn’t matter if it is Nestle Toll House or the break and bake cookies from the freezer section of your local grocery store, as long you are cooking with the ones you love. That is what is important.

I enjoyed baking with Taunya. The cookies are delicate and sweet and my husband thinks that anything is good with butter. He wants to create a new butter marketing slogan, WWPDD – What Would Paula Deen Do? She uses lots of butter! Use this recipe or another, buy some butter, and find a kid and make thousand of cookies tonight!

Bucking Tradition

Manger Growing up Christmas was so special. You learn about the birth of Christ in the nativity play. You witness the compassion and giving through family gatherings on Christmas day. Santa is a larger than life figure in a child’s development. The magic he represents and the belief that anything is possible can impact a child to dream big dreams. For me Christmas was all those things, but now I am just like all other adults I have stopped believing in Christmas.

My father laid a foundation of Christian beliefs before the belief of Santa and his elves. Each year before opening presents he would read the nativity story from Luke 2. He would always remind us that Christmas was more about our Lord giving his Son to us than it was about gifts and treats. I remember enjoying being in the Christmas play and sign carols at church. I loved Christmas.

One year in the late 80s my father and I heard a story about a cross being removed from hill side public land during the Christmas season. To answer this action, my dad build a ninety foot cross with PVC pipe and strands of Christmas lights. Drivers could see the cross from US 51 and sometime Interstate 55. I remember playing outside in the glow of that cross. It was comforting and somewhat protective. No one could change the culture on our hill in Carroll County.

As a thirty-three year old kid I don’t enjoy Christmas as much. I have seen the world and all its marketing executives hijack the meaning of Christmas. I work in a retail job where I see people flood into our store and the mall just to find stuff for people who do not need stuff. Most of the time what these people really need is love, hope, peace, or grace. So often in our modern, on the go, culture we forget the simple things. I have grown to hate Christmas as an adult. I know that is some strong words. However, we creep ever closer to forgetting what love really means.

For example, advertisements for jewelry stories trying to convince consumers that diamonds are the sign and seal of “True Love!” That if anyone wants to tell their significant other how much he or she really means to them they should buy a diamond and give it to them in a driving thunderstorm or at 2 AM beside the Christmas tree. What is love any how? Isn’t it patient, kind, protective, trusting, and true? And the only one who I think can pull off that kind of love is the exact person Christmas is supposes to honor and glorify, not Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, Saint Nick or any bearded old man in a red suit.

If you have been reading my blog since the start, this may all sound a little familiar. In my second blog entry, Traditions and Symbols, I talked about creating a new Christmas tradition of using a “feed trough” rather than a Christmas tree in my home. Pottery Barn didn’t catch the trend, but my father made me a darn nice manger. This year my gifts are wrapped in brown paper packages and tied up with string laying gently in a manger, just like baby Jesus thousands of years ago. Having my manger has melted just little of my Christmas hostility.

So I encourage everyone to finds something about Christmas they love. Latch on to some old traditions, break some rules, be nice to everyone, and create your own tradition. Our lives are not going to be as perfect as the Zales commercial might lead us to think they should be. However, if we put our faith in Christ and follow his example for life our next life will be perfect!

More Cowbell

Reece and BullyTwo years ago Chris and I joined my brother and his boys in the upper deck of Davis Wade Stadium to watch Mississippi State play Ole Miss, the in-state rivalry known as the Egg Bowl. State trailed late in the game until mounting a fourth quarter comeback. This was the point where my husband, the Alabama alumni, started his cowbell ringing career. There was a loud mouth Rebel fan in front of us during that game. He made our lives miserable the whole time State trailed; however, we had our sweet and noisy revenge when state took the lead and the golden egg home!

I am sure if you are not a Bulldog fan you probably will never like the sound of cowbells. But to a kid who grew up going to State games it is sweet music. Chris learned two years ago how much fun it is to ring that bell! Two years ago we had fewer cowbells than people in our group. We were forced to share. Unlike then, this year we came to the game packing a whole lot of bell! Lucy had a small pink cowbell, Chris had a houndstooth cowbell, Walt had an extra-large cowbell, and the boys and I had our cowbells from two years ago. The great thing about today was we had a lot to cheer about!

We started our game day off with some tailgating at the cheese store on campus. There was almost enough family at the game today to have our annual gathering and pass out Christmas presents. My mom had two of her four sisters present. There were five out of six cousins and their spouses. Finally, we had what all good family reunions have, a whole lot of food. Tailgating has evolved into an overgrown potluck social extravaganza. There is not a lot of tail in tailgating anymore; our truck was parked almost a mile away. The boys played a little football, while everyone was shared stories and caught up.

My mom’s family is mostly State people and my daddy is alumni of the cow college. I didn’t go to school there, but my brother did. We do have a few Ole Miss alums in the family, but we love them anyway. I am sure you can pick them out from the group photo. After a few photos we headed to the game. Unlike the cowbell clanging walk to the stadium, standing in the cue line to enter the game is very quiet. You don’t see a cowbell or hear any clanging (they’re technically not allowed). It isn’t until you emerge from the ramp and see the field that you start to see bells coming out of purses, out from under coats, and from the backs of blue jeans. But don’t tell the SEC or NCAA my secret hiding spot.

Who could it be?The first and second quarter seemed like typical Egg Bowl football, emotional but sloppy play. My whole family sat together in the shadow of the jumbo-tron. Lucy seemed sleepy and the boys just wanted to know who would win the game. Every five seconds Reece would pull on my pants leg, “Who’s going to win, will it be Mississippi State?” Mom and Dad left at the half to join the family back at the tailgate. They enjoyed drinking coffee and watching the game on TV with family. After the game, we all thanked my Dad for leaving. State plays awful when Daddy is watching. I remember one Thanksgiving where Mississippi State was beating Eli Who? (the guy who doesn’t have his own website). We had to stay quiet and at times mute the TV to keep from waking my Daddy. We all knew State would loose if we woke Daddy up!

I have heard that there was a clock in State’s locker room. It was counting down from some point this spring until today. Dan Mullen said that he looked forward to Thanksgiving weekend. He looked forward to the sound of those cowbells ringing in celebration of a victory. Mississippi State has had one of the toughest schedules in the nation. The Bulldogs played six ranked opponents at home this year. They faced #1 Florida and #2 Alabama and lost. Even so, Mississippi State could remember this season as a success if they won the Egg Bowl. All the hard work and planning paid off for Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs!

Dawg Fans UniteThey gave us so much to ring our bells and there were many cowbells that lost their clappers. My dad tells a story about ringing his cowbell so much the clapper fell out. I have never experienced this phenomenon until today. Early in the third quarter when things started going States way, I noticed a wounded clapper under the stadium seats. Later Chris’s clapper went flying through the sky. The girl a few rows above us lost her clapper. Then finally at the end of the game something hit me in the shoulder. Guess what it was another cowbell clapper. Either they don’t make cowbells the way they once did or there was just that much ringing in the stands today! When you ask for more cowbell, make sure it is built well!

It was only fitting that I saw my good buddy Jennifer D. Davis after the game. We have shared digital cheers on Twitter and Facebook this whole season. Today, we got to enjoy the win face to face. It was a great day for State and a great day for my family. I was able to visit with family and friends! Leaving the stadium ringing my cowbell was so much fun! Now, we have to rebuild Chris’s cowbell!

Blogging for Blog Sake

Lots of GraphiteLast year on November 27th I posted my first blog on Blogger, and I have enjoyed every minute of the adventure. I am not blogging to make money, market a product, give cooking tips, or improve your golf game. I am not a mommy blogger or topical blogger. I am blogging to improve my writing skills. Yes, you read that correctly, I am blogging just for the heck of it. I am not hoping to get a book deal or have fifty-two minutes of fame. I am simply doing it to grow as a person and as a writer.

Growing up I struggled with the English language, and yes, being from the south there is a wise crack there somewhere. I couldn’t spell, didn’t know how to diagram a sentence, nor could I tell you the difference between a preposition and a participle. Despite my struggles I graduated high school and college. In fifth grade I was evaluated for a learning disability. My parents and I learned that I don’t decode words the same way most people do. I see the shape and my brain breaks words down like it would art or a geometry problem. I see shapes not sounds. The examiner told me that a typewriter was in my future. Wow, he couldn’t tell the future but was close, because I got a laptop!

My freshman year at Delta State I had one of the toughest English composition professors, Dr. Sarcone. I was scared to death of her. She kicked my butt, however I didn’t give up. She would tear my papers to shreds and then stomp on them. If only she had used a Dixon Ticonderoga correction pencil I could have found some positive in the class. There was one paper I wrote about living in a small town that she liked. As shocking as that was, I still couldn’t spell and I didn’t read so well, but this small bit of encouragement fueled me not to give up on school.

I sometimes feel like my blog is very “me” centered, like I want to draw attention to myself. This is not my intention, but I do want feedback. I want people to tell me if I have typos or misspelled words in a blog. I would like to know if I make sense to the general public. Looking back on my year of blogging I asked people on Facebook what their favorite blogs were. Facebook is where most people read my digital ramblings. There was no clear cut best blog and it seemed like all I was doing was drawing more attention to myself and butchering the English language. I have narrowed the list down to ten of my favorite blogs. Before I give you my top ten blogs, here are a few fast facts about my year in blogging…

  • I have written 83 blogs. Combine them all together, they account for more writing than I did in all four years of college at Delta State.  Sad, but true.
  • I started blogging on Google’s Blogger, but recently I have switched to WordPress.org using a personal server. I have some regrets to the switch, but the editing flexibility is worth it.
  • I have divided my blogs into seven categories and my favorite category to write about is the Barn. I get to use more creative license with Barn blogs than any other.
  • Facebook pushed more people to my site than any other referral site, almost as much as direct links to graphitefree.com. If you are considering blogging, make sure you have a great network of friends on Facebook.

After those few facts, I am sure you will not be interested in my best blogs to date; however, I will tell you anyhow. You can stop reading; we do still live in a free country! In no particular order here is a few of my favorite ramblings.

Boo in Sleeping BagHouse Guest: I loved writing this sentimental blog, but I knew that I was hooked on my new hobby of blogging when in the middle of the night Salem the cat used me as a pillow. I thought to myself, “This would make a great blog”. I was addicted and I didn’t even know it at the time.

Plumber App: Plumber App was a great way for me to poke fun at my awkwardly ironic life. It was short and to the point, but funny. And it was fun to write.

Barn Gone Wild: I enjoy writing Barn blogs more than any other topic. I started writing my twist on my retail experience in June. I have to be creative with my Barn banter to help protect the identity of those who shop and work at the Barn. And those who know what I am talking about seem to think it is funny stuff.

Dead Bird: This blog give a great description of why my job is one of the coolest jobs on earth. I can walk down a sidewalk, get distracted and meet a moonwalker. Or I can hang out with space shuttle commanders at Otters giving a new meaning to ATO!

Raptor (1997)Piggly Wiggly Flu: A very deep topic, I almost didn’t post it because it may be too heavy for readers, especially on Facebook. I was wrong. A lot of people enjoyed it and was pleased that I wrote it. Keep washing those hands and taking vitamin C!

Ode to the Raptor: I write about camp, a lot! Since I was young all I ever wanted to do was work at a summer camp. From Camp Garaywa, to CRS, and now at Aviation Challenge I love the dynamic educational environment around camps. This blog represents the best in the camp spirit. I love my AC family and that includes the Raptor.

A Jack Daniels Still Bourbon Trail Blogs: I love my adventure blogs, because my first journal was a travel journal. Lookin’ for Adventure, Joe and Jim, Who is Elmer T. Lee? and White Dog were the blogs I wrote while on my Kentucky adventure. I can’t just pick one because I like them all. While I was gone I realize that if I don’t make it with my real job or working at the Barn, I could write for travel magazine.

Benefits to Jack Daniels: Chris made a contact with his current employer while sharing a meal with strangers at Miss Mary Bobo’s in Lynchburg, Tennessee. His move from PwC to Booz Allen Hamilton has forced us to be married… first time in five year of marriage.

Good Okra Hunting: I love my college. Sharing my love for Delta State and the Mississippi Delta is so enjoyable to me. I wrote this blog after a recruiting trip to DSU with Amazon. I got to find new places to eat and catch up with a few professors and friends.

I Think I May Lose My Job: My blog is about my random rambling about my life. When Bill Belichick went for it on fourth down against the Colts I knew I wouldn’t get much done at work the next day. I love Peyton Manning and I love went Boston teams loose!

Turkey Day

Everyone has their favorite holiday or day of the year. My favorite season is fall, favorite month is November, and favorite day is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the last great holiday left. The once great Christmas has been taken over by the high end retail firms and the big box stores. Easter should really be the greatest of all holidays, but my mom always made me wear a pastel frock. In my book, Halloween was never even in the top five. Nope, there just isn’t a holiday as great as Thanksgiving.

Traditionally Thanksgiving is a time to rest and give thanks after the harvest season. Here in the United States we trace the origin of Thanksgiving back to 1621 and the feast shared by the colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts and Wampanoag Indians. Turkey was not on the menu. The Indians supplied many dried meats and grains. The colonist prepared fowl, deer, fish, and lobster for the feast. Turkey didn’t come to the party until much later. Just after the Battle of Saratoga, the Continental Congress asked all colonies to celebrate a day of thanksgiving for the victory over the British army.

Early in our nation’s history, our forefathers and mothers instilled in us the importance of stopping to thank our Creator for his grace, mercy and bountiful kindness. Abraham Lincoln, with a little encouragement from a magazine editor, signed into law the last Thursday in November to be observed as a national holiday. Lincoln was hopeful that this holiday would help the nation on the brink of war. The legislation didn’t bring peace to a nation divided, but has government ever solved a problem? Thanksgiving would lead to millions of families celebrating with Butterball turkey on their plates and a TV remote in their hands watching either Detroit or Dallas.

At my house on a farm in Mississippi we celebrate with the best of traditions. My mom cooks a twenty-plus pounds turkey overnight. The morning of Thanksgiving, as Macy’s Thanksgiving parade is on NBC, she prepares cornbread dressing with the drippings from the roasted turkey. We always have the same menu and way too much of everything. Coming together as family is really the best part of the holiday. However, I don’t think I would understand the greatness of Thanksgiving if I didn’t come from a farming family. The farm’s harvest is the best visual or teaching tool to show God’s sovereign power over the universe. God takes care of every detail, the rain, the temperature, the bugs and critters, and the farmer.

One of the most memorable Thanksgivings on the farm was while I was in college. I was home helping mom cook while Walter and Daddy had to work Thanksgiving morning picking cotton. It had been a rough harvest season with rain keeping them out of the field and forcing the crops to stay. The last cotton was picked that morning and my dad in his Ford pickup truck lead a line of John Deere cotton pickers and tractors home. It was the coolest Thanksgiving Day parade ever. My mom still cooked the same meal that day, but we did have a contingency plan to eat in the field if they didn’t get done.

The joy of Thanksgiving is being with family and praising the Master of all things. And when it comes to football, when and if Mississippi State beats Ole Miss we will be extra thankful! I hope everyone has a wonderful Turkey Day! Thanks for your friendship and for reading my random blog! I hope your turkey is filling, your team wins, and your afternoon nap is restful!