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Scissor Sins

Posted by on Jan 31, 2013 in Featured, Home on the Range | 1 comment

Scissor Sins

I saw my best friend Debbie’s brother maybe twice in my life. He was nearly 15 years older, and away at college.

But I did notice that one of his eyes seemed different than the other, and I remarked on it to my mother.

“Don’t say anything about it,” my mother said. “It’s a glass eye. When he was little, he was running and accidentally put his eye out with scissors.”

So, HE was the guy!

All this time I thought the kid who ran with scissors was a fictional character created to throw a scare into kids (like the thought of having a pair of scissors stuck in your eye wasn’t enough). Not only was he real, he was my best friend’s brother!

Personally, I couldn’t remember ever having had the urge to run while holding a pair of scissors aimed at my face, but if I ever had, it was certainly gone now.

My mother had a commandment regarding scissors that didn’t have anything to do with running. It was “Thou shalt not cut paper with good scissors.”

That poking scissors in your eyes wasn’t a good thing, anybody could understand, but not cutting paper with scissors?  Wasn’t paper the very thing we needed the scissors for in the first place? How could cutting paper be bad for scissors?

“Your grandfather used to sharpen scissors for people,” Mother would start out. “He always said that cutting paper with scissors was one of the worst things in the world to make scissors go dull!”

We generally had four pairs of scissors in the house – the “good” scissors, and the pinking shears, which Mother used for sewing, the barber scissors, which were permanently off limits, and a pair of crummy, paper-cutting scissors.

Naturally, the crummy scissors were never around when you needed them, not that they would have been of much use. They were so dull they wouldn’t cut butter — they just kind of pinched the paper between the blades, folding it over. You’d really have to work to find a spot on the blade that was sharp enough to cut. Actually, chewing the paper would have been easier.

Besides, the sharp scissors were always in the sewing machine, and surely Mother wouldn’t be able to tell her scissors had been used to cut paper. Not just this once. And after all, wasn’t paper made from fiber? Cotton fiber, wood fiber, cardboard … it’s practically the same thing.

And surely cutting fabric would dull the scissors eventually anyway. How could she possibly tell they were dull from having cut paper instead of corduroy?

Frankly, I didn’t think she could. And then … I turned into a grownup.

I took up sewing after my daughter was born. Cutting out fabric with crummy scissors, I discovered, was just as frustrating as cutting out paper dolls with crummy scissors — only more expensive.

So, I bought a pair from the fabric store – $50 — and they weren’t even the best ones.  The first time I had them sharpened, I was in for another shock. It cost $20 and would take two weeks!

I became fiercely protective of my scissors. I kept them in the protective sheath, hidden away from children, lest they be tempted to use them to cut paper, or even worse, duct tape!  After all, I knew what kids were capable of doing to scissors. Hadn’t I broken my mother’s paper-cutting commandment over and over again by cutting notebook paper, construction paper, and corrugated cardboard for Pete’s sake?

I became so good at hiding my scissors, that even I couldn’t find them. I looked for weeks, returning again and again to the usual hiding spots. Nothing. I gave up, and bought another pair.

I found them a week later, in a drawer that I had opened and rifled through at least three times. My sister’s church was gathering materials for poor women in Belize who hoped to earn a living by sewing. I gave them the scissors.

I figured that was the least I could do to make up for the paper-cutting thing.

Rock, Paper, Scissors Cookies

Drop cookies with raisins and pecans.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  •  3/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Mix first 3 ingredients in bowl. Whisk sugar and butter in large bowl, 1 minute. Whisk in egg and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients, then raisins and nuts. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonful onto sheets. (Do not flatten, they are supposed to look like rocks.) Bake about 12 minutes.

You’re Not From Around Here Are You?

Posted by on Jan 25, 2013 in Home on the Range | 3 comments

According to the Dixie vs. Yankee accent test on, I’m 92 percent Dixie.

My daughter sent me the test, saying she had scored 86 percent despite, as she said, “her foray into Yankeeville.” A reference to her having lived in Baltimore for a year. I hated to tell her this, but Maryland is, in fact, a Southern state.

The first time I took it, I scored 86 percent as well, but in going over the answers, I realized that I do, in fact, pronounce the word “aunt” as “aint,” but only every now and then — usually when I’m around my family.

I was a little surprised my score was that high, being as how I hadn’t lived in my native East Texas for some 20 years. Plus, I’d been married to a “Northerner” the entire length of time.

He always contended that he was a Southerner, because he had been born in Alabama and had lived his entire life in the South. While that was true, his entire family was from up north — Detroit —  and as the saying goes, if a cat has kittens in an oven, that don’t make them biscuits.

My family had a lot of sayings — common among us Southern folk — that he’d never heard, and some of which defied explanation, but everybody knew what you meant.

Sayings like “Now don’t that just take the rag off the bush?” Or “The only thing Santa’s going to put in your stocking is a bunch of switches.” Or “I’ll be on you like a duck on a June bug.” Stuff like that.

I once mentioned switches during a conversation at a Christmas party, just after moving to Chicago. Asked how I liked living up North, I said I had experienced several things I’d never seen before at Christmastime. Snow, roasted chestnuts, below-zero temperatures.

However, I had yet to see any coal, which I understood was what Santa put in the stockings of naughty Northern children.

He asked what it was that naughty Southern children received in their stockings.

I told him they got a bunch of switches. He looked perplexed. He thought I meant switches as in a device used to turn electricity on and off.

I had to explain that in the South, switches were also slender branches pulled from a bush, stripped of leaves, then used to produce a stinging sensation, traditionally on the back of the legs of a naughty child. In the case of extremely naughty behavior, the child was told to go pick out the switch personally. The trick there was that the child would usually pick the thinnest branch, which actually stung worse than a thicker one. Sure, it may have been a little cruel, but it was also effective. There were hardly any repeat offenders under the switch program.

I could tell he was appalled. Whatever. If he’d asked me, I’d have said that the city of Chicago would have been a whole lot better off if Al Capone’s mother had taken a switch to the back of his legs.

Oh, and those roasted chestnuts? They’re nothing but big chinquapins.

But I didn’t say any of that, because my mama brought me up to have better manners.

Actually, I was quite popular in Chicago — or I should say, my quaint accent and East Texas colloquialisms were.

I was carrying on a conversation at a restaurant when a woman at the next table leaned over and said, “Excuse me, but are you from the South?”

Apparently she was quite taken with my accent, as were store clerks, friends and neighbors.

People everywhere were fascinated with my accent, as I was with theirs, although the funny thing was, they didn’t think they had one.

Darlene, for example, had a strong Wisconsin accent, as did my neighbor Maryann. In fact, Maryann’s accent was such that, I sometimes had a hard time understanding her. She offered me something to drink one day, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was that she was offering.

It sounded like “tea,” but there was a “b” sound on the end of it. Mentally, I sounded out the word. “Teeee-ahb.” “Teeee-ahb.” “TAB!”

“No! Thanks! I’ll have water,” I finally blurted out. I hate diet drinks, and I had almost agreed to drink one. What would I have said? “Oh, wait. This is Tab. I thought you were offering me iced tea — they sound so much alike.”

No, I couldn’t have said that. I’d have had to drink it, to be polite.

But when a grocery checker commented on my accent, then asked if I thought she had one, I didn’t think I was being impolite when I said yes, she did. She was surprised, and then she asked me what it sounded like, and I didn’t know how to describe it, so I didn’t.

I could have said, honestly, “Some of y’all talk just like those gangsters on “The Untouchables,” but I didn’t think that would be polite.

Which is really the truest test of being a Southerner.

Jeff Davis Pie

Jeff Davis Pie

  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. half and half

Cream butter and sugar together. Add flour and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat until creamy, then add cream. Pour into an unbaked pie shell and bake at 350 degrees.

I Would’ve Finished It Too, If It Weren’t For Those Meddling Kids

Posted by on Dec 9, 2012 in Featured, Holiday, Home on the Range | 1 comment

I Would’ve Finished It Too, If It Weren’t For Those Meddling Kids

It just shouldn’t be this hard.

But somehow, it always is.

I try to enjoy decorating the Christmas tree, I really do.

After all, it’s really important to the kids. They love gathering around the tree, carefully placing heirloom ornaments on the tree while Christmas music plays in the background, a cup of hot cocoa waiting in the kitchen.

In my dreams.

That’s the only place that scene has ever existed. I realized this a few days ago when I attempted to engage my children in the family tradition of putting up ye olde Christmas tree.

The first order of business — getting the tree. Oh, what fun. In my dreams, the kids would clap with delight as I exclaimed “Hey, let’s go get the Christmas tree!”

My son Tony would eagerly hunt down an axe from the garage, while his sister and I grabbed our coats and mufflers. Then we’d go tramping merrily through the forest in search of a perfectly formed cedar, as a light sprinkling of snow began to fall.

In reality, it required three or four threats throughout the course of three or four days, to get the tree from the garage into the living room. The first was to my son’s Internet connection, then to his computer and finally, to his X-Box.

“Gee Mom, you don’t have to be so mean,” he said slouching toward the garage.

Oh, yes I do.

“When your sister and I get back from shopping, that tree had better be sitting in the living room,” I warned. “And it better be put together!”

Despite the lack of enthusiasm on his part — and his sister’s as well — I felt I was pretty well ahead of the game.

I had the tree all ready, bought last year. I had even managed to find strings of white Christmas lights, on white wires. The tree was white. Lights on green wires simply would not do. Only someone failed to notify the Christmas light manufacturers and retailers that white trees were “in” and white trees require lights with white wires.

I had to make do with icicle lights, which were designed to hang outdoors, from the eaves of a roof. It was totally ridiculous.

But this year, I had found white ones, in early November. Even more amazing was the fact that I had bought them right then, instead of doing what I usually do, which was wait until the day I put up the tree, at which time they would no longer be available.

Not this year. This year I had a tree. I had the lights, and I had a fresh package of ornament hooks for the ornaments that I had carefully organized last year. And I  knew where all of them were.

So all that was left was to introduce the lights and ornaments to the tree, which would be assembled, in the living room when I got back — or that high-speed Internet connection would be ripped right out of the wall!

It was in the room all right. The bottom half was toppled over, the middle part was strewn all over the room and the top part was huddled in the corner.

There was a visible footprint on the bottom branch.

What tha? Dang blasted kids!

Of course, he professed to have no knowledge of what had happened. He said he had fully assembled the tree.

“Something must have happened to it!”

“Does this look assembled to you? Well, does it?”

As it turns out, he had assembled it, but the tree had unassembled itself when the base cracked and one of the legs broke off. I suspected the footprint was vital evidence as to how that had happened, but for now I was too upset.

My beautiful tree, ruined!

“Uh, Mom, isn’t that the tree you paid, like, $20 for at the dollar store last year?” my daughter asked.

That wasn’t the point. The point was, this wasn’t supposed to happen. It was a perfectly good tree, and I had lights with white strings!

So she said she could tape it together and it would be perfectly fine. Even though I know it won’t be, she does it anyway, and it does work. At least, it worked long enough for me to spend 20 minutes straightening out the branches until it fell over, smushing them all together again and dislodging several branches in the process.

So I drove to Wal-Mart to see if I could find another cheap, I mean, reasonably priced, white Christmas tree, that wasn’t pre-lit. There was none, of course. I was about to consider gluing, which I knew would only lead to more heartache, when I spied, wonder, of wonders, replacement artificial tree stands! And they were a measly $5.

Merry Christmas to me!

So I got home, Amanda tore herself away from a rerun of “Shrek” long enough to help me get the tree into the stand. I fluffed out the branches, put on the lights, and realized that there aren’t enough. The top of the tree didn’t have any. We needed more.

I asked Amanda to go get them.

“Why can’t Tony go?” she whined. “He broke the tree. Make him go.”

Fine. I make him go. Dang blasted kids.

There still weren’t enough lights.

Now it was Amanda’s turn to go, except by the time we finished the discussion of why we’re putting up a Christmas tree when none of us want to do it, established that Christmas trees of every shape and form are stupid, that Christmas lights are equally stupid and obviously the work of the Devil, and agree that we all would have been better off watching Shrek, the store was closed.

Dang blasted kids!

So, you’re going to go tomorrow and get the lights and put them on the tree, right?

“Yes Mommy.”

Now see how easy that was?


Laura Bush’s Hot Chocolate

  • 6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
  • 6 Tbsp sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla (or more)
  • Pinch of Cinnamon Powder (optional)
  • Whipped Cream
  • Orange Zest

Mix cocoa, salt, and sugar. Add milk. Heat to dissolve. Add light cream, cinnamon, vanilla. Heat to just under boiling. Mix very well and pour into warm mug. Top with whipped cream, cocoa powder, and fine orange zest.

For Better or Worse, Every Christmas is Memorable

Posted by on Dec 6, 2012 in Featured, Holiday, Home on the Range | 0 comments

For Better or Worse, Every Christmas is Memorable

I was asked to share my most memorable Christmas a few weeks ago — a gift or a memory — and I just couldn’t do it.

I just couldn’t narrow it down. When did I realize that Santa Claus wasn’t real? It was at age two if you believe my mother, and I do.

She had spent money that my parents really didn’t have to buy a Santa suit so my dad could provide their firstborn with a private audience with St. Nick. Although technically, Santa would visit my sister Marla, too. At four-months old, I doubt they anticipated that a visit from Santa would generate much of a response from her, beyond a burp.

I doubt they had anticipated my response upon seeing Santa for the first time, either, which was … “Daddy!”

They had the suit, the beard and even the wig (it was Sears-Roebuck’s deluxe model). What they didn’t have was white eyebrows to cover up my dad’s thick black ones.

Even a two-year-old knows Santa’s eyebrows are white.

I did try to believe, but honestly, I never did. I liked the idea, but I knew all along that my parents were buying me the gifts, and I was fine with it.

Same with the tooth fairy. As long as a 50 cent piece showed up under my pillow sometime during the night, I didn’t much care who made the delivery. Tooth fairy, tooth troll, FedEx, whatever.

The best gift I ever received? I can’t narrow it down to the top 10. A set of children’s encyclopedias and a book case. A pair of plastic high-heels and a dress-up dress. A set of dishes, a play stove and refrigerator. An Easy Bake Oven. A sno-cone maker. A wood-burning kit. A portable record-player, a set of albums and a membership in the Columbia House record-of-the-month club.

Who could eliminate any of those?

A sentimental favorite, of course, was anything from my grandmother, even if it were a handkerchief or a pair of socks (which it always was) because it meant so much for her to be able to give us anything.

Christmas memories? My mother making divinity candy, which none of us even liked. Plus, it messed up the television.

In the “good old days,” electric mixers scrambled television signals as efficiently as egg whites. And as divinity candy required the sustained beating of egg whites on high speed, it put a damper on our television viewing pleasure.

There was nothing worse than watching an episode of “The Fugitive,” while Mother was making divinity. Why she didn’t make it during the day, while we were at school instead of waiting until Dr. Richard Kimble was about to catch up with the mysterious one-armed man, I never knew. And it didn’t do any good to complain, either, or let out a disgusted sigh.

Her response was always “I don’t want to hear a word out of you!”

No, she didn’t care if an innocent man, a doctor no less, had spent years eluding Lt. Gerard and was now about to win his freedom!

That there was no Santa, I figured out at age 2. That there was never a chance that Richard Kimble would ever really catch the one-armed man or be imprisoned until the last episode of the last season, took a while longer.

Another Christmas tradition was “picture day.” My mother would spend the day fixing our hair — a tedious and extremely uncomfortable process, especially if she decided to give us a fresh perm.

I received my first Toni home permanent before the age of 2, if you believe my mother, and I do. She admits now that she can’t decide which was more remarkable — that she gave an 18-month-old child a permanent or that an 18-month old child sat there and let her do it.

We can prove it happened. We’ve got the pictures.

And then there was the year I played Mary in the Nativity scene at Oakland Methodist Church. I was chosen to play the part over my arch-enemy. I had brown hair, and she didn’t.  Plus, my mother made all the costumes. My most vivid memory of that night was my little sister Sharla stealing the limelight by pulling pieces of hay out of the manger and chewing on it, like a little hick cherub.

There was also the Christmas my mother decided that we needed a fireplace. She ordered one from Montgomery-Ward’s catalog. It was made from cardboard, as was the “fire.” A wheel of tin, set in motion by the heat of a light bulb, provided the “flames.” I thought it was really, really, tacky, although I did enjoy sitting in the dark after everyone else had gone to bed, watching the “fire.”

Sitting in the glow of a Christmas tree, enjoying the solitude. Getting up in the wee hours, stumbling into the living room to see what Santa brought — for me and my sisters or for my kids. Listening to my mother and her sisters laugh as they sat at my grandmother’s kitchen table and now listening to my mother and sisters laugh as we sit around hers.

Every Christmas is a memorable one for me, even if it isn’t perfect. Or maybe especially so.


Double Divinity

  • 2 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Combine sugar, syrup, water and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Cook ver medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. If sugar crystals from on sides of pan, wipe them off. Reduce heat and cook, without stirring, until temperature reaches the firm ball stage (248 degrees.)

Just before mixture reaches 248 degrees, beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Slowly pour about half of the hot mixture over the egg whites beating constantly with electric mixer at medium speed. Continue to cook remaining syrup to a soft crack stage (272 degrees). Beating constantly, pour hot mixture, a tablespoon at a time, over egg whites, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until mixture begins to lose its gloss and a small amount dropped from a spoon holds soft peaks. Mix in vanilla. Drop by teaspoonful onto waxed paper. Food coloring can be added with vanilla, as can 1 1/2 cup chopped nuts.

Zen And The Art of Gift Wrap

Posted by on Dec 2, 2012 in Holiday, Home on the Range | 0 comments

Zen And The Art of Gift Wrap

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a gift gabber. A present pronouncer. A what’s-in-the-box? A blabbermouth.

Or at least, I used to be. I haven’t given away anyone’s big Christmas gift in at least … well, let’s just say it’s been a really long time.

Not that anyone in my family would ever let me forget it. Sure, some people could look at it as ruining the surprise, but honestly, Darla was very excited and happy when I asked her if she liked her contacts. In fact, she started screaming and clapping with joy, “I’m getting contacts? I’m getting contacts?”

How was I supposed to know she hadn’t opened them yet? We had been opening presents for hours… hours! And I had to take a bathroom break. So when Darla headed into the bathroom, all excited and thrilled about some gift she had opened, I just naturally assumed it was the contacts, and she wanted to put them in. Anybody would have thought the same thing.

Of course, it would have been better, if the year before, I hadn’t given away the fact that she was getting a stereo for her room. Or the year before that, I hadn’t told Sharla that she was getting a stereo for her car.

It’s not as if being surprised by Christmas gifts was that big of a deal to them anyway. Sharla and Marla routinely unwrapped every gift under the tree. One year, they skated in the house in Sharla’s roller skates, played with Darla’s Barbie, and broke it then wrapped them back up.

At least I didn’t break Darla’s contacts before I gave away the surprise. And she was surprised.

Very. And in a good way, I might add. Not surprised, as in “My Barbie doll’s neck is broken!”

In fact, unwrapping and re-wrapping the Christmas gifts got to be such a family tradition among three of the Whitehead girls that they were in big demand at Christmas, in the gift-wrapping department at the local men’s store. For them, crime really did pay, as they honed their skills with paper, tape and ribbon with years of disassembling gifts of every size. And we’re talking gifts wrapped in cheap paper, too, not the heavy foil kind that the tape doesn’t stick to all that well.

Not that I know anything about the surreptitious unwrapping of Christmas gifts.

Not me. I was never hired on at Bradbury and Graner’s. I toiled for years trying to make a Christmas bow. If it hadn’t been for the invention of wired ribbon, my gifts would still be sporting those cheap stick-on bows – which, in my family, are akin to wearing a clip-on tie. It just isn’t done.

I’ve seen the looks, the sympathy in their voices when they tell me how nice my gifts look. I knew they were pitiful.

I can’t help it if I didn’t inherit the gift – and didn’t make a career of unwrapping my Christmas presents.

Marla doesn’t even need to measure paper. She can still wrap a gift using exactly three pieces of tape. Darla doesn’t even need tape. She can just origami a gift. I swear she could wrap a Big Wheel and make it look like a whooping crane.

Sharla was a little like me, but then Marla taught her everything she knew. That’s practically like being Merlin’s apprentice.

Not me. It’s taken years of practice and dedication to the craft to get to the point where my gifts don’t look as if they’ve accidentally tumbled from Santa’s bag. From about 5,000 feet. Through a dense forest.

Fortunately, modern technology has made magic unnecessary, and provided me with a more level playing field.

It’s called…the gift bag.


Marla’s Cherry Cheesecake Surprise

  • 1 graham cracker crust
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 can cherry pie filling, chilled

In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in the sweetened condensed milk gradually, until smooth. Add lemon juice and vanilla. Pour into prepared crust. Chill for three hours, or until set. Serve, topped with pie filling.

Note: The recipe calls for cherry pie filling, not maraschino cherries, as Marla mistakenly read, the first time she made it. Surprise!

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Elf…

Posted by on Nov 28, 2012 in Holiday, Home on the Range | 0 comments

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Elf…

The Christmas plan e-mail came yesterday from my sister Marla, the organizational elf.

 “We need to pin down our Christmas plans. We had tentatively set Saturday, December 23rd as the date of our family get-together at the Farm and it would be for dinner that night, with people arriving shortly after lunch or whenever you wanted to get there.

 This year we want to make it easier so we don’t have to spend all our free time cooking … we thought about getting something like a variety of ribs, chopped beef, beans, potato salad … we can supplement with whatever we’d like to add to that.”

 “Since most of the kids are not kids anymore, we’re inviting them to bring a ‘white elephant’ and we’ll have one big exchange. Maybe this year will be more fun with more people. The last few years have not generated enough stealing…

 Please send Mother the list of items you and your spouse and kids may want. Be specific — and if a gift card is better — include that too. Send your lists to me and I will forward them to her.

 I need your input before we finalize these plans and if you have any conflicts let me know ASAP.

 — Marla

Reading this, you’d think that our family Christmases hum along merrily, proceeding along a well-defined and smoothly run course.

You’d think that, but you’d be wrong.

Our family is a great one for plans. In fact, we generally start making plans for Christmas a year in advance — typically before the leftovers of that year’s celebration have begun to cool.

The conversation generally focuses on what went wrong and how to avoid it next year. It’s a common theme. Too much food, too many gifts, too much work.

We have agreed, every year for the past 30 years, that beginning next year we are going to keep it simple.

Of course, keeping it simple involves very elaborate and long-range planning on our part. We’ve been studying this problem for decades without once ever having achieved the goal of celebrating Christmas without each one of us, at some point thinking, “I wish I could run out of here screaming.”

I know I have.

Despite Marla’s well thought out plans and our pledge to follow them, the truth is, very few of us stick to the script.

Except, I should say, for me.

There was the year we drew names, and we were only to buy a gift for that person. No extra gift buying allowed. Which I did. I followed the plan.

But of course, Marla and Darla just had to bring “a couple of little things.” “A couple” as in a couple dozen. For everybody.

So did Sharla. I could usually count on her, being just as shopping-challenged as I was. But no, she was flaunting the rules just as brazenly as Marla and Darla.

So I’m sitting there, Karla Scrooge, a stack of gifts piling up to my knees while they murmur … “it’s nothing” … “just a little something” … “I bought this a long time ago.”

Which was really so not the point. The point was …we had a plan, and I was the only one sticking to it!

The year we were keeping it simple at the farmhouse, one of us brought a set of Christmas china from home, complete with silver, because paper plates were tacky.

The year we were “keeping it healthy” because three of our number were on strict diets, we had to open an annex for the dessert room.

You’d think I would have learned my lesson, but again, you’d be wrong.

It has taken several years for me to realize that no matter how elaborate the plan or how much allegiance we all swear to “cutting back,” it is just not going to happen. There will always be a loophole.

Here’s the loophole in this year’s plan — “We can supplement with whatever we’d like to add,” which could mean anything from organizing a live Nativity (complete with camel), to roasting an entire pig on a spit.

We’re going to have too many gifts, too much food and most of all, too many opinions, to have a calm, quiet Christmas. The truth is, we like our Christmases merry and bright, bright, bright!

Even if it does set off an occasional flash fire.


Fruit Cake Cookies

  • 2 lbs. chopped dates
  • 1/2 lb. candied cherries
  • 1/2 lb. candied pineapple
  • 1 lb. chopped pecans
  • 2 1/2 c. sifted flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 c. butter
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs

Cut fruit into large pieces. Sift flour, soda, salt and cinnamon. Scatter about a cupful over fruit and nuts. Cream butter. Add sugar gradually, creaming until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. To creamed mixture, add fruits and nuts and remaining sifted dry ingredients; mix well. Drop from teaspoons onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven. Cool slightly. Makes about 25 cookies.


The Magical Mystical World of Jane (Or How to Beat Martha Stewart)

Posted by on Nov 18, 2012 in Holiday, Home on the Range | 1 comment

The Magical Mystical World of Jane (Or How to Beat Martha Stewart)

I love Martha Stewart. I really do. Really.

I read her magazine, buy her books, and watch her television show. I order things from her catalog.

But no matter how much I read, watch or spend, I know that I will never be her. Never.

It isn’t for the lack of trying. She makes being perfect look so easy. Of course, Ginger Rogers made dancing with Fred Astaire look easy too, but I never, ever once imagined that I ever could pull that off. That was fantasy, and I knew it.

But not with Martha.

I’ve been watching Martha and her friends prepare for Thanksgiving all week. They’ve stuffed, boned, blackened and garnished — almost makes me think I could do it.

And that’s the trouble with Martha. She seems so real.

The only way you can tell that she isn’t, is when she stands next to a real person. Like her friend Jane.

I like Jane. She only cooks twice a year. She uses disposable pans. She knows that food comes from cans.

I (who used to tape every episode of Martha’s show) loved the segment when Jane showed Martha how to make a canned ham. Her secret ingredient was a can of Coke poured over the top.

Jane is the only person I’ve ever seen who can actually stump Martha Stewart when it comes to food.

Jane is preparing her recipe for blackened turkey when she tells Martha to hand her the ginger. Martha hands her a tiny antique bowl containing a choppy, translucent, amber substance.

“What’s this?” Jane asks.

“It’s ginger,” Martha says. “Chopped candied ginger. It has such a nice crystallized texture.”

Jane eyes it suspiciously, but uses it anyway, since it’s obvious that’s all Martha has on hand, but avows that the ginger she always uses is a powder that comes out of a jar.

Martha is perplexed. “Where would you find something like that?”

“Well, it isn’t that hard to find,” Jane says. “You go to the spice aisle at the grocery store and look under the letter ‘g’ for ginger.”

Martha is stumped. Grocery store? Spice aisle?

Now, if Jane had told her she bought powdered ginger directly from caravans as they arrived from the Orient, and the trick was to get there early, before the camels had a been given a chance to get a drink, Martha would have nodded and said. “Right.”

And in next month’s issue, “Visit spice caravan — early.” Would be there on Martha’s calendar, along with “Count canaries” and “Inspect beehives.” And I am not making this up. About the canaries I mean.

The incredible thing is that when I read these things, I never think to myself. “Count canaries? Do canaries multiply so quickly that you can’t keep track of them from one month to the next?”

Could it be that you would go in to feed your canaries and find that they’ve invited all their freeloading relatives to stay for the winter?

No. I would just think to myself, “I see Martha’s counting her canaries today. Must be so she’ll know how many she had before she leaves for Japan tomorrow. Probably going to bring them back some special organic birdseed. You know, I need a canary. I’ll bet there’s a really neat birdcage in Martha by Mail…”

Jane would never do that. Jane has Martha Stewart kryptonite.

Jane takes the turkey out of the oven, and just as she said, its spice coating had turned it black as coal.

Martha asks her what she uses to garnish. Jane hesitates, and then says sometimes she uses parsley, but you get the idea that maybe Jane doesn’t even garnish the turkey before she puts it on the table!

Not Martha. She has a platter of oak leaves and pomegranates on the counter, which she deftly arranges around the turkey. Jane looks on, amused. She tells Martha she’ll have to hunt around for some oak leaves.

But after Martha gets that black turkey on the platter and surrounds it with oak leaves and pomegranates, I find myself thinking. “I can do that!”

Wal-Mart sells pomegranates. I’ve got an oak tree right in my back yard, and I am absolutely sure I can cook a turkey until it turns black – spices or no spices.

And if I finish my canary-counting early, I can probably make it to caravan before they sell out of ginger!


Let’s see if we can stump Martha with this recipe.


Strawberry Salad


  • 1 can of strawberry pie filling (Why yes, Martha, pie filling does come in cans.)
  • 1 large container of Cool Whip (No need to strain your whisking arm.)
  • 1 small can crushed pineapple (Requires a special utensil we call a can opener.)
  • 1 can Eagle Brand milk (I bet even Martha would use it.)
  • Chopped pecans (optional)

Mix everything together and chill well.

Garnish with oak leaves, if desired.

Thanks for the Free Parking

Posted by on Nov 15, 2012 in Featured, Home on the Range | 0 comments

Thanks for the Free Parking

I used to love Monopoly.

My sister Marla and I would play all day and half the night. We weren’t just addicts. Monopoly fiends, that’s what we were.

We fought over a lot of things, but we never fought over who would be banker, who would count out the money, who would put the game up, who would get the game out from under the bed. We were professionals.

I’m not sure that a $500 bill exists in real life, but if we had ever been asked to break one down, it wouldn’t have taken us 30 seconds to count it out — and to include bills from every denomination down to $1.

But we did have our little quirks. Marla, aka, “the Quitter” would get “tired” whenever it became apparent that she was going to get strummed.

Sharla, better known as “Aggravation,” had the irritating habit of buying just one property, and then she would refuse to trade or sell her worthless property so you could complete your set, even though it was a much, much better deal for her.

Not only that, we doing her a huge favor just by letting her play, the little baby. But would she listen to us? No.

Darla was too little. Unless she threatened to tell Mother that we wouldn’t let her play, and then she was “Tattletale.”

Of course, I, as the oldest, didn’t have a nickname. Well, not for a long, long time.

I dropped out of the Monopoly club when the words “Milton” and “Bradley” stirred interest only when it was the answer to the question such as “Who are those cute guys sitting in the Camaro at the Sonic?”

And so I left the world of empire building and bankruptcy to my little sisters.

Years went by. We went to college. We got married. We became friends.

We called each other constantly, wrote letters, spent the weekends shopping, staying up late, telling and retelling old stories, laughing…

Until the weekend we decided to play Monopoly.

Now, I’ll admit, I was probably a little emotional, no doubt due to the hormonal changes brought on by being pregnant for the first time. But ever since I left home, it was common knowledge that Marla had been “buddying up” with Sharla.

Of course, they denied it, but I knew it was true. We had gone shopping earlier in the day, and every time I saw something cute, I would say “Look at this (whatever)…” but when I looked up, they were always off somewhere else, looking at something else and leaving me out!

The nerve! As many hours as I had wasted on those ingrates, waiting on them because they were too little or too slow, or because they would tell on me if I didn’t, and they had the gall to run off and leave me?

Of course, I was much too gracious to point that out. (Actually, I did point it out, but they denied it like they always did, so a fat lot of good it did.)

But then came the Monopoly incident.

We were playing by our standard rules, which were the ones on the box with one exception —all money collected for fines went in the middle, and if you landed on “Free Parking” the money was yours.

So, we’re playing, Marla lands on one of my hotel-bearing properties, and before I could tell her how much rent she owed me, Sharla snatches up and throws the dice. Then Marla says that means she doesn’t owe me anything, because I didn’t say the words “You owe me” before Sharla threw the dice.

And then Sharla backs her up!

If that wasn’t “buddying up,” I don’t know what was.

But they both insisted that “everyone” knew the rule. Snatching dice. Saying “You owe me,” which they said like “Y’o me.”

I wasn’t going to say it. It was stupid.

“This isn’t a game of ‘Spoons’,” I insisted. “There isn’t any snatching in Monopoly. Y’all just made that up!”

Furthermore, I added, they had been buddying up all day, and this was all the proof I needed. They were in cahoots, making up stupid rules just to cheat a respected hotelier like me out of my hard-earned rent.

And then I started to cry.

I knew I was going to be somebody’s mother in a few months. I knew they were going to call me “Cry Baby” and I’d hear about this story for the rest of my life. I knew I was 27 years old. I didn’t care.

They were being mean.


Cherry Dump Cake


  • 1 large can crushed pineapple
  • 2 cups cherry pie filling
  • 1 white cake mix
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 stick melted butter


Spread pineapple in a large baking pan (ungreased). Spread pie filling over pineapple. Sprinkle cake mix over pie filling; sprinkle oats, and pecans over cake mix. Pour melted butter over the top. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour.

If I were a mean sister, say, the kind that made up silly rules and made expectant mothers cry, I could say that even though one of my sisters put her name on this recipe in our family cookbook, I don’t think she ever made it in her life. I hope it turns out OK. But if it doesn’t, don’t blame me. I might cry.

Grandmother Leopard

Posted by on Nov 15, 2012 in Featured, Home on the Range | 0 comments

Grandmother Leopard

Families have a tendency to cast each other in roles. When I was a kid, I was generally my sisters’ cheerer-upper.

If my sisters were crying for any reason, it was generally thought that I, as the oldest, was somehow involved. Even if I weren’t involved, I “should have known better” than to let happen whatever it was that had happened.

Crying meant something bad had happened, so I felt it was in my best interest to cheer up and make my little sisters quit crying in times of trouble. At least while my parents were around.

But to be honest, we were a family who could stand trouble, but not sadness.  The epitaph on my Grandmother Leopard’s headstone reads “She was always laughing,” and she was.

A lot of people might have said she didn’t have much to laugh about. Grandmother Leopard was “crippled.”  She hadn’t been born that way, so it must have been polio that caused her leg to wither, but nobody knew for sure.  She learned to walk with a crutch her older brother John made from a sapling.

If there was one thing she wasn’t, it was “handicapped.”  She even learned to climb a tree. Grandmother Leopard was picking blackberries one spring, never realizing there was a bull in the field. When she saw the bull, and it saw her, she didn’t think she could make it to the fence before the bull did. She didn’t know whether she could make it up a nearby tree, either, but she did.

She made it through a lot of things. She lived through the Depression, raised 10 children, picked cotton, grew vegetables, cooked, cleaned, sewed and worked hard all her life.

Some of her sons went to war, and luckily, returned alive. But she outlived her husband and more than half of her children, so she knew about death.

She was in her late 80s when she got her crutches tangled up in her quilt frame, and fell, breaking her hip. She did what she usually did — laughed at her clumsiness then mopped the kitchen floor from a wheelchair.

Grandmother Leopard loved to laugh at herself — about the time she wrapped up the finger that wasn’t sore when she went to milk the cow, or the time she looked up from a praying at a funeral and saw that she had forgot to cut the price tag off her hat.

Most of the time, she was laughing so hard, she couldn’t finish the story, but it didn’t matter. We always knew how it ended.

Her worries, to me, didn’t seem like worries at all. If we didn’t make at least a quilt a year, she said, we’d freeze to death. If we didn’t know how to grow a garden and preserve everything that grew in it, we’d starve.

She tried to teach me how to card cotton, to make the batting for the quilt tops she and my grandmother and great-aunts spent piecing by hand whenever they sat down to rest from some other work.

Her fears were more basic than mine — hunger and cold — things that were only temporary inconveniences to me.

Things I was scared of — chickens, nuclear bombs and dying — they didn’t seem to bother her at all.

At our elementary school, we had bomb drills. In the event Khrushchev carried through on his threat to bury us, we were to get on our knees, under our desks and put our hands over our heads in order to survive a nuclear blast.

Some people had bomb shelters. We had a bomb bathroom. In case of a nuclear attack, the six of us were going to take shelter for who knew how long, in our tiny bathroom, the only room that didn’t have a window.

Every time I got a towel out of the linen closet, I saw the candles, the two jugs of water and the “canned goods,” that were supposed to tide us over until the radioactivity died down. I thought a lot about what it would be like to live in that bathroom.

I don’t think Grandmother Leopard believed in nuclear bombs. I guess a woman who had sent sons to war and had outlived more than half her children didn’t fear things like dying. To her, death it was just something that was.

Maybe she figured a person would be just as dead from being trampled by a bull.


Grandmother Leopard’s Tea Cakes

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 6 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg, well beaten

Cream butter with sugar. Mix salt, flour and baking powder and work together with milk and egg. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and cut out. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. Best served with strong, sweet tea and lots of laughter.


Posted by on Nov 15, 2012 in Featured, Home on the Range | 0 comments


I never thought that I had much in common with my dad.

As one of four girls, we did not have much interaction with Daddy growing up.

To be honest, we didn’t have much interaction after we’d grown up, either.

In fact, I estimate that were I to take a trip listening to a recording of every conversation I’ve ever had with Daddy, I wouldn’t make it past Houston. Or possibly Cleveland.

A 10-minute conversation could be excruciating. A 45-minute conversation? Unthinkable.

What did we have to talk about? We just didn’t have that much in common.

I was a journalist. He was a mechanic.

I had a college degree. He had no interest in college.

I had lived most of my life in the city and had traveled all over the country. He lived most of his life in his hometown, and had never wanted to leave.

He loved shopping for bargains, garage sales and junk. If I could afford it, I’d pay someone to shop for me and gladly pay full price. Garage sales make me tired.

My dad and I shared opposite viewpoints on just about everything. I thought we had very little in common.

I was wrong.

I discovered this while sitting at his funeral, listening to someone else’s description of Daddy.

My sister Marla had written the eulogy, describing some of Daddy’s character traits.

He always thought he could fix things. He thought he could fix anything and keep it running — cars, lawnmowers, bicycles, his health.

He didn’t like accepting help or having to admit that he needed any.

He was particular about just about everything.

As I sat there, I thought of his other character traits.

He didn’t suffer fools lightly.

The water was backing up in the pipes, and he was explaining the situation to a friend, who made the mistake of commenting that the sewer line would have to be dug up.

“I know it’s got to be dug up,” he said scornfully. “I ain’t stupid.”

Of course not.

He was bluntly honest, and he was honest when it would have been much better for him to have just kept his mouth shut.

“How are the chicken enchiladas?” (That I spent hours making at your request.)

“Well, they aren’t as good as the last ones you made. The jalapenos aren’t hot enough.”

He wasn’t particularly sentimental.

He had a phenomenal memory.

He also forgave easily. It was very difficult for him to hold onto a grudge, sometimes to the point of allowing people to take advantage of him.

He never hesitated to stand up for what he thought was right, and would not be dissuaded from it, no matter what the consequence.

He was practical.

He could assess any situation, immediately spot the flaw, and identify what needed to be done to correct it.

Most of the time it took a lot to make him angry, but when he was angry, it was a fearsome sight.

When I think about it, I’d say most of these character traits have served me well as a human being, and as a journalist.

And like him, I can see where it wouldn’t hurt me to be a little less bluntly honest, and to be little more patient and a little less critical with the ones I love.

There are worse things than being honest, forthright and stubbornly dedicated to standing up for what is right, no matter what.

Garage sales, for example.


Quick Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas

  • 2 pkgs. pre-cooked, diced chicken
  • 1 16 oz. carton sour cream
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Monterey jack cheese
  • Tortilla chips
  • Jalapeno slices

Mix soup and sour cream, thin with about 1/4 cup water or milk. Mix chicken, onion and 1 cup of cheese. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish. Place about 1/2 cup soup mixture on bottom, add thick layer of tortilla chips, top with chicken/cheese mixture, cover with half of remaining soup mixture. Repeat chips/chicken/soup layering once more. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until bubbly. Top with remaining of cheese and jalapeno slices.