Mar 29, 2010

Just another manic Monday in a mad March

What a month March has been: we pulled off two dinner parties, got new Fiesta Ware, spent a week sick, then nursing other family members back to health, (hopefully that was an extremely isolated incident); had a fabulous spring break trip to South Carolina, and Bruce Pearl got our boys all the way to the Elite Eight for the first time ever, and within two points of being in the Final Four. Next year, baby.

Not to mention the mad, mad weather patterns that plagued us this winter, even into March - who knew we could get snowed out of our annual ski trip??? Friday is supposed to hit 80. I'm sooo ready for it.

So now I'm looking ahead at April (if only I could see my desk calendar, I'm sure April is next), and I'm setting some goals for my non-working hours:

1) Clean off my desk before April 1 so I can change the calendar.
2) Clean out my car (I think we hauled home a half-ton of beach sand.)
3) Finish two different newsletters this week and start the next issue of a third newsletter, due out May 1.
4) Paint the hall and den before Bunco on 4/12.
5) Update the mantel with pictures and stuff from our beach trip.
6) Sand and stain the low dresser that's been sitting in the garage since last April.
7) Pressure wash everything - deck, sidewalk, gutters, shutters...everything.
8) Trip to Rita's in Jackson to buy spring flowers - bring home and plant them
9) Get the vegetable garden planted with peas, shallots, and lettuce, then tomatoes and peppers after the last frost.

Nine goals, four weeks: no sweat. I'll save the sweating for the gym; after this morning's tepid performance - barely 3 miles - I need to put in some early morning hours there.

Mar 27, 2010

South Carolina, you had me at the shrimp & grits

Since my first visit a long time ago, New Orleans - specifically the French Quarter and Garden District - has been my favorite place to go. Forget Bourbon Street - give me a beignet and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, then let me amble around Jackson Square, buy some remoulade sauce at a Central Market, slip into some out-of-the-way courtyard eateries, browse through some antique stores and funky art galleries, and I am in a state of bliss. Before Katrina, a ride on the trolley all the way to the end of the Garden District and back was a wonderful (and cheap!) way to see the stately (and not-so-stately) homes, schools and other sites along the route. Our last visit required taking a city bus to get us back to the French Quarter, to gather our luggage just in time to catch our flight. The bus ride was not as magical as the trolley, and a painful reminder of the blight that Katrina left on this city.

No matter how seldom I actually visit NOLA, I have my favorite spots burned into my mind and heart, and I can find them with my eyes closed. Well, maybe not quite that intimately - but definitely without a map or a moment's hesitation. Every visit feels like I'm going home.

My first visit to NYC was a business trip, pre-Giuliani's cleanup efforts; I was pregnant and taking no chances with the subway or the streets. I saw little of the city, and had zero desire to ever return. But a second visit to NYC a few years ago mesmerized me much like NOLA, but for decidedly different reasons. Manhattan practically hums with energy, and you tingle when you step out on the street. Seeing Rockefeller Plaza lit up with Christmas splendor, standing outside the NYSE on Wall Street, meditating near the site of the WTC towers, enjoying the lush beauty of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taking a stroll through Central Park, an afternoon of Monet and Manet at MONA, a Knicks game at Madison Square Gardens, and of course, a real Broadway play combine to spell magic. In a future trip, I'm sure I'll be ferreting out my favorite places, and finding new favorites in a New York minute, no pun intended.

And now South Carolina - especially Murrells Inlet and Charleston - has joined NOLA and NYC on my short list of absolute favorite places to visit.

Sleepy little Murrells Inlet is part salt marsh, part fishing village, and a gorgeous, pristine state park/beach (Huntington), where the dolphins came out to play a few yards from where we were standing, and the starfish threw themselves on the beach (we took pictures and threw them back.) Walt Disney cannot hold a candle to that sort of magic, try as they might. The seafood of this area is legendary, the people are friendly - as small town southerners are - and the pace is definitely laid back. And if that's not enough, it's ridiculously convenient: only a few minutes from Myrtle Beach's shopping, and a couple hours to Charleston, on the sweetgrass basket highway. (Yes, of course we stopped ;o)

Charleston - like NOLA - boasts dreamy architecture in town, magnificent plantations all around the city, great shopping, and utterly amazing food. I'm sure it sees its share of revelers and party-goers, but the atmosphere is decidedly more family-friendly than NOLA.

I've fallen hard for South Carolina's charms. I just hope my husband REALLY loves all the golf courses there, since I think I might be wheedling a repeat visit (or two or three) in the near future. For now, I'm content to put a sticker on my car window - a palmetto tree and crescent moon. Of course, mine is orange.

Mar 18, 2010

What a week!

Okay, so we went from on-top-of-the-world weekend to toilet-hugging Monday, all in the span of a few hours. Either I'm getting older or this thing was rougher than most, but it stayed longer than the typical 24-hour-bug. Now it's hopefully run its course through our whole family, except the child who lives away and was smart/lucky enough to STAY away this week. Clorox and Lysol, here I come. This was an exceptionally lousy time to get sick - spring break is approaching at breakneck speed. My menu for this week is virtually untouched; guess it'll do for a do-over in April.

Thankfully I was nearing a full recovery by Wednesday morning and able to keep my Dinner A'Fare appointment today, so the freezer is well-stocked for when we return home. Here were my choices from their March entrees:

shrimp 'n grits with a bourbon red-eye gravy
chicken balsamico
south-of-the-border tenderloin
flank steak with gorgonzola and walnut butter sauce
five-spices chicken with cilantro cream
horseradish-encrusted burgers

I tossed in a breakfast entree for good measure (heuvos rancheros - let's see how THEY fix 'em.) And next month's menu looks even more enticing. Hmmm.

Tonight the Vols play San Diego State University (the NCAA basketball playoffs begin today.) Go Big Orange!!! It's a late-starting game, and given our weakened constitutions (*snicker*) we might have to watch it from the bedroom TV. But then it won't be in high-def. Decisions, decisions. speaking of which, I guess I better go decide what to start for dinner. A few days out of my normal routine, and I've completely forgotten how to plan and cook dinner.

Mar 14, 2010

What a weekend

This weekend started off with a bang when two families joined us for dinner on Friday night. Children edged out the adults (7 to 6, I think), and the dog had a blast being chased around by squealing kids. As soon as the guests left, the pooch was sacked out; we joined her in slumber not long after. Other than a slightly sticky kitchen floor (thanks to overly large disposable plates and a too-narrow trashcan - my bad) the house came through practically unscathed. Which meant Saturday was pretty typical: piano lesson, a trip to Sonic, and some afternoon shopping (I am merely the financier on those excursions.)

Saturday night was our annual newcomer's dinner at Highland Heights - always a lot of fun getting to meet our newest members and learning some interesting trivia about one another. A huge thanks to all those who put it together each year!

Then daylight saving time arrived this morning. Now, for the record, I love, love, love longer days. I love the imminent arrival of spring. But oh what a price we pay to get there. Whew. I think I'd give up the extra hour in the fall if we didn't have to torture ourselves every spring. In case that wasn't enough to seriously mess with my Circadian rhythm, we'll be headed into Eastern Time in a few days, so we'll lose another hour of precious morning snooze time. Double ugh.

I am happy to report I ran 11.25 miles last week. (No, not all at once...unlike my marathon-training friends.) My short term goal is to run 4 miles a day (at least 3 times a week) over the next few weeks, then start aiming for 5 miles at a stretch. I have been told (by my all-wise BIL) that if I can break the 5-mile barrier, I'll be ready to start preparing for a long run (i.e., half or full marathon.) I'm not sure I really want or need to do that, but since my original comment last April was, "I wonder how long it would take me to train for a half-marathon?" I guess I'll keep pushing and see where it takes me.

Mar 11, 2010

Me and my notebooks

I have developed a fondness (fetish is much too strong a term) for 3-ring binders. Pretty ones, with nifty, colorful graphics. It started out innocently enough; last spring I found myself diving headfirst into our children's education program at Highland Heights, and I needed a way to organize my meeting notes, ideas and training materials.

So I bought a binder. And totally out of character for me, I passed over the sensible, plain white binders when my eyes landed on a pretty notebook. It had circles, and it spoke to me. I bought it. (Concerned friends pointed out it matched the pattern on a Thirty-One skirt purse I was carrying at the time...I assured them it was total coincidence. I'm not that kind of girl. "Coordinated" is not a word that comes to mind when you think of me.)

Then we launched our first annual school supply drive at Highland. It was a 6-week whirlwind of activity. To keep track of all the emails, correspondence, sign-up sheets, etc., I needed...another notebook. This one had squares. (No matching purse this time.)

Now we're getting ready to turn VBS on its head (literally and figuratively: it's now SBV, which stands for Summer Bible Vacation, and it will last all summer long. And yes, it puts me in mind of National Lampoon's Vacation (but minus the less family-friendly parts.) And this means...I need another notebook. So this one is striped.

See? Aren't they adorable? But I'm not sure what this holds for my future. I mean, let's say I just happen to find another really awesome binder. Will I need to take on another project so I can justify buying it? And on the flip side, what happens if I suddenly can't find any other cute and distinctive patterned notebooks? Would that mean I'll have to decline any other projects? Surely not...

Mar 10, 2010

Is any habit a good habit?

I woke up this morning when my husband returned from the YMCA. (Yes, he's much more diligent about working out than I am. However, I am committed to getting in 10-12 miles of running each week, no matter what.)

As I scurried to get his breakfast and to-go lunch ready, I mused about my morning routine and ritual. Mine varies from day to day: if I work out, my day starts around 5:20. The entire routine involves running, followed by coffee, popping into work for a few minutes, cooking (or heating up) some breakfast and packing a lunch for my commuter counterpart, and grabbing a shower. Most of the year, I'm showered, dressed and ready to hit the carpool circuit by 8:00. Summers are a little less structured, but there's still a definite routine (and it definitely involves coffee.)

Now, if I don't work out, my day starts at 6:30, and by 8:00 I'm caffeinated, showered, dressed and ready...hmmm. A creature of habit? Definitely.

It made me wonder: are habits good? Or bad? Obviously, some habits are nasty (juvenile nosepicking, for instance) and some are risky and injurious to your health. So there are indeed "bad" habits.

Are there good habits? We often encourage our fellow Christians to "get in the habit" of attending worship, reading the Bible, praying, meditating, etc. And without a doubt, those activities exercise our spiritual muscles, and are good for us to do on a very regular basis. But...should attending worship be a habit? Something I do mechanically, without thinking twice about it? Don't get me wrong - I don't ever want to wrestle with the decision on whether or not to serve God this day or any other.

But I'm not sure it's healthy to allow our spiritual life to become a matter of mindless routine (aka a "habit"). I want it to always be a conscious - and joyful - choice to put God first in my life, to look for ways to serve Him and others as I go about my day, to communicate with Him frequently in study, prayer and meditation. And most of all to to worship Him with my whole heart, mind, body, and soul. I don't want that to become a ritual or a habit - I want to experience it fully every time. I think I'll ask God to make me less a creature of habit. (Although the coffee is pretty important, maybe even non-negotiable.)

Mar 6, 2010

It's like riding a bike

Hospitality, that is. You can go a long time without having dinner guests, but as soon as you host a few meals for extended family and/or friends, you remember the routine: how much food to make, and what needs to be done in advance, and in what order.

And you quickly begin to remember how little effort it takes to have a lot of fun (also a lot like riding a bike.)

Last night, we had a house full of hungry men and women. Two big pans of lasagna disappeared in a flash, as did bread, salad and dessert: a big, yummy birthday cake from Driver's (now Clayborn Cakes) in Lebanon. They have - hands down - the best coconut cake anywhere. But I digress.

It was really fun to have family sitting around the table, sharing stories and giving each other a hard time about politics. (We're not all exactly on the same page, but that's okay.)

And in case that wasn't enough gratification, now I have a reasonably tidy house to enjoy this weekend, and get next week started off right. A good thing since tomorrow's afternoon is booked solid with meetings, sandwiched in between worship services.

Next Friday will be another fun adventure in hospitality, with my fellow co-teachers and their families coming over for dinner. We finished our 6-month study of Acts and last week the class had a celebration. Now it's the teachers' turn to enjoy our accomplishment.

After that, I'll be turning my attention to getting us ready to head off on spring break. Murrells Inlet (and Myrtle Beach - where all the fun is), here we come!

Mar 1, 2010

Hey, sweetheart! Guess what you're getting for your birthday?

On this day, I stop and sing the praises of my mother-in-law for bringing her son (and now my husband) into the world. Thank you for all you did to raise him into the wonderful husband and father he is. You done good, memaw!

And to celebrate his special day, I'm ecstatic to announce that MY NEW FIESTA PLATES ARRIVED!!!! Woohoo! It's almost as good as the year we bought a pitchfork for my birthday. (I picked it out, but still...) I'm doin' the happy dance and waiting on them to finish a quick spin in the dishwasher so I can put them in the cabinet and admire them every time I walk into my kitchen.

Since my sister-in-law's birthday is also this week, we're planning a Friday night get-together, so we can celebrate properly, with a big pan (or two) of lasagna, salad and bread, plus a couple scrumptious desserts just for the birthday sibs.

My tomato and pepper seeds are probably tired of me hovering over them. If they would just grow, I wouldn't have to hover, now would I??? Weather-wise, we are warming up. (Hmmm. I think I should say that with my best Elmer Fudd voice.) By the week's end we might be up to 60 (aka "normal.") Hooray! We weren't able to till the garden last weekend (too wet, and just too cold to be outside for long), so this weekend *might* work. Unless he gets talked into taking the boat out on the lake to see what's biting...

Tonight is the next-to-last Bible Bowl challenge for the 2009/2010 season. Go Highland Heights team: I hope we know the story of Joseph really well!

P.S. to my awesome husband...well, maybe you'll get more than Fiesta plates for your (just-one-year-away-from-the-big-5-0) birthday. XOXOXO