February 18, 2019

Family Cabin

I just started reading Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir and only a few pages in, I know I'm gonna love it. Karr wrote The Liar's Club which I used to own but never actually got around to reading, and now wish I had. It's definitely going back on the list "to-read."

In The Art of Memoir, she says "a good writer can conjure a landscape and its peoples to live inside you, and the best writers make you feel they've disclosed their soft underbellies. Seeing someone naked thrills us a little."

Last weekend my family gathered for what I jokingly dubbed "family cabin." When I offhandedly mentioned to a pal that I would be out of town for the weekend at "family cabin," he said "family cabin? Sounds like it could be the title of a horror movie."

When I was young, my mom's extended family began an annual tradition of going away for the weekend in January or February. We'd all pile into our cars and travel, convoy style, to a cabin in the woods.

We didn't always go to the same location or to the same cabin, but there were certain recurring themes woven through these trips.

The cabin would be big, but not quite big enough for everybody to have their own room or even a bed. And the cabins rarely had a bathroom with walls you couldn't hear through.

If the cabin had a fireplace, my grandpa would always light a fire. No matter how unseasonably warm it might have been outside. And without meaning to, there would always be a moment where he'd have flue issues, and accidentally smoke us all out. When it happened this weekend, I felt a sense of "all is right with the world."

Another theme of "family cabin" has always been food. Way too much food. Industrial cases of frozen sausage patties for breakfast. Bags and bags of potato chips. Multiple Crock-Pot slow cookers filled with numerous varieties of melted cheese-based dips. We pretty much eat ourselves silly, which is fine with me.

This past weekend, my grandpa (who I promise I'm not trying to pick on) said he wasn't even hungry by the time dinner rolled around, but was still going to force down a plate of steak, baked potato and salad. Afterward, he had to take a teaspoon of yellow mustard for his indigestion (this totally works if you need a good home remedy).

Something else that has been a theme of "family cabin" falls into a category I'll call crafts/games/activities. In various years, we've painted tablecloths, turned wooden spoons into angels, ice skated, made gingerbread houses, decorated cookies (I know, that one finds its home in the food category too), and even pulled all the sheets and blankets off the beds for costumes so we could re-enact the Nativity pageant (which we filmed, naturally).

We've stayed in log cabins, cinder block bunkers, stone houses, and cottages on the lake.

"Family cabin" has seen its share of spouses, partners, boyfriends and girlfriends. From year to year, we've had unexpected guests, random extras and friends who are like family.

And we've seen some of the littlest ones of the group grow up and have little ones of their own.

This year, we even saw a naked man! Well, I didn't see him....but some of us did. Apparently the cabin that backed up to ours had a well-placed (or you could say poorly-placed) window in the bathroom, and no curtains. This is actually what inspired me to write about "family cabin."

I was reading Mary Karr's words about being a good writer and how it means disclosing private things, secret things we don't want to share. When I read her line about how "seeing someone naked thrills us a little," I knew I had to put this out there. It's not really the nudity that thrills, but more the idea of seeing or learning something that is usually kept private. Good writers tell their stories, even the ones that are tough to share or don't look all that great.

I want to be a good writer. Except I am often afraid to write about certain things or tell certain stories. I worry about how things will be received or how it will make other people feel. In fact, this fear holds me back quite a bit. So that's what led me to read Karr's book for a bit of inspiration, and boy did I get some.

I'm going to work on this. Pinky promise.

To some people, the idea of spending an entire weekend crammed into a cabin with your extended family might sound like a horror movie. And I'm sure there were some years that I went with a less-than-great attitude, maybe a bit out of obligation, with all my teen and 20-something angst. It wasn't anything personal against my family....just my own feelings about life and myself that I was trying to work through.

But "Family Cabin 2019" was a true gift. In fact, this was the first year in several years that we carried out this tradition. A few years back, we just couldn't make it work. This was a fluke, but then we didn't go the next year and eventually we just got out of the habit. I hope this is a tradition we will pick back up and continue.

On the last morning, in the midst of trying to eat up the leftovers and get 24ish people packed up to check out on time, my grandma looked at me and said the following:

"I hope you will make sure that this tradition continues even after we're gone"--gesturing to my grandpa--"It would mean a lot to me if you all kept doing this."  

On the drive home, I was already looking at VRBO, trying to find a place for next year that could accommodate us all, including our dogs. Then today, I got a message from my cousin with a link to a cabin she had found. Looks like the tradition will continue, Me-me. But I hope you're going to be here for many more of them.

And to the man who some of my family saw naked, I apologize. They were thrilled at your expense.

February 13, 2019

Last Minute Valentine's Day Ideas for Your Sweetie

So Valentine's Day snuck up on me this year, but no worries....these simple ideas are sure to impress my sweetie, and yours too!

DIY Bruschetta Bar


Who says you have to spend a ton of money or be a gourmet chef to whip up a memorable Valentine's Day meal? The secret to creating a special eating experience is to incorporate unique flavors and choose products that feel special or out of the ordinary. I hit up my local Trader Joe's and looked for ingredients and products I don't normally buy....things like goat cheese, pesto, and other nibbles.

Ya know, stuff you'd expect to enjoy at a fancy wine tasting, art gallery opening or symphony reception.

Then I'm going to use it all to create a lovely spread, a charcuterie tray of sorts, but focused on DIY bruschetta. Different toppings, different garnishes, and lots of deliciousness.

There are many pros to this kind of Valentine's Day meal. One, it's easy to whip up without a lot of prep time. Two, it doesn't require your entire evening to be spent in the kitchen and clean-up is a breeze. Three, if your sweetie is treating you to a lovely meal out to a restaurant, this can serve as your appetizer course. Although between you and me, going to a restaurant on Valentine's Day tends to be something of a let down.

And be sure to serve this on a wooden cutting board or some type of fancy tray if you have one. Presentation goes a long way!

Here are some other ideas for things to add to your DIY Charcuterie/Bruschetta tray:

  • Assorted cheeses (some hard, some soft)
  • Assorted meats (prosciutto, capicola, and salamis)
  • Assorted olives & pickles 
  • Crusty bread slices or store-bought bruschetta toasts 
  • Assorted jams, jellies, honeys, and spreads (hummus, pesto, dips, etc) 
  • Assorted fruits like berries, plus slices/sections of apples, pears, and oranges 

Create a Rosé Wine Station


Champagne is popular for creating a DIY mimosa bar, but what about creating a rosé station for your Valentine's Day celebration? Rosé mixes well with some of the common mixers, such as lemonade, limeade and orange juice. You can also add some sparkling water like LaCroix in a variety of flavors, depending on your preference. 

And finally, because it's not Valentine's Day without a little something sweet.....

Cupid's Trail Mix 

Again, y'all know I love a simple recipe and this one certainly qualifies. I was inspired by this Chex Mix, but I've adapted it a bit for the holiday. 

The only ingredients the basic recipe calls for are: 

  • 8 cups Rice Chex™ or Corn Chex™ cereal
  • 2 bags (12 oz each) white vanilla baking chips (4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons pink cookie/cupcake sprinkles 

I'm adding some pink marshmallows, a few red, pink and white candies (whatever you like) and pretzels to give it some salty crunch. Oh and popcorn....gotta have popcorn. 

I hope your heart is filled with love, no matter how you are spending the day! XOXO y'all! 

February 8, 2019

The Unbroken Heart

I was in high school when my mom introduced me to the soundtrack to the Broadway show The Fantasticks. I listened to it (on a cassette tape, I think) from start to finish, but having never seen the show, it was a little bit hard to know exactly what was happening in the story.

The first time I heard "Try to Remember" I knew it would be a song I'd love forever. Especially when I heard the following line:

"Without a hurt, the heart is hollow." 

You might be wondering what I, a sheltered teen from a small southern town knew about hurt. Looking back at that sweet, but silly girl, I would say definitely not much. But then, I thought I was such an expert. I thought the struggle was real all the way back when. Definitely before there were memes to poke fun at the concept. 

So that line in the song really resonated with me. Maybe it was because it somehow took the idea of pain and made it a good thing. As if our hearts are just hollow chocolate Easter rabbits until we get some broken experiences to clink and clatter around in there. Could be.  


I have a friend. Let's call her Rosie. We've known each other for a couple of years, but only in the past six months or so have we gotten to be really close. She has some challenges in her life and a few times, I have tried to pitch in and lend a hand where I thought she needed one. 

I was lamenting to another friend about how it can be tough to know when to help and when to mind one's own beeswax. My friend said, "I know you love Rosie and you want to help, but I'm just afraid of seeing you get your heart broken." 

And I know my friend meant this with all love and compassion for me. But what I didn't realize when she said it was that it's too late. My heart has already been broken. Maybe yours has been, too. 

Broken by a situation you didn't ask to be brought into. And even though you were/are loved, there's tough stuff too. 

Broken by feeling just a bit (or a whole lot) different from the rest, and like nothing you do will really make you fit. 

Broken by the disappointment that washes over you each and every time you let yourself believe things will be different and then they aren't. 

Broken by having to straddle the fence between two worlds....wanting so badly to exist completely in one or the other, but feeling like you really don't belong in either one. 

Broken by the consequences of the decisions of others, decisions that impact you wholly and yet those you have no control over. 

Broken by expectations you'll never live up to or maybe broken by the ways you hold yourself back to protect others who can't bear to see you soar. 

Broken by feelings that lurk around the corner and creep in when you are most vulnerable and least able to defend against them. 

Broken by the lies you've been told, even possibly by your very own self, and especially if you believed them. And are still believing them. 

There are so many things that break our hearts. And sometimes we don't even realize it while it's happening. Just like the stock market and how nobody really knows if it's a bear or bull until it's over. 

I can't actually remember what it was like when my heart was pristine. Hollow. These days, there are enough broken pieces clinking and clattering around in there for a lifetime. And same for my friend Rosie. 

Our hearts were broken ages ago. Before we even knew it. I'm not sure if she knows it still.

The funny (or maybe not funny) thing is my broken heart is the reason I love my friend Rosie so much. Maybe I see a little of myself in her. Or maybe I see her in me. My heart may be broken, but nevertheless, it loves so good.