Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

What Do We Need?

Question Marks by Dan Moyer via Flickr

In “No Vacuum!” I mentioned that our marriage (and probably many others) would have been healthier if we had compromised between realistic expectations and what we needed from one another. This is a big kettle of fish that whole books could be written about, and probably have! But I’ll just put in my 2 little cents, and pray that it will give you some new insight.

What do you need? What does your spouse need?

Those 2 little questions look deceptively simple. In the first place, it’s sometimes difficult to articulate what you need; you just know that something is missing. Then if you DO figure it out, it’s often difficult to communicate that need to your spouse. Sometimes you think it might hurt their feelings, and you don’t want to do that. You might be hurt or angry that they aren’t doing something you need, and resentful that you would have to say anything about it. (Have you ever said to yourself, “If he loved me, he would just know to do it!”) You might be afraid to say anything, for fear of what your spouse might think. (“She’s so NEEDY!” or “He’s a sex maniac!” come to mind.)

Here’s some of our story:

I felt like I lived many years mostly underwater, barely able to catch a breath. A “full-time” job, especially when you are just beginning it, is exhausting. And being a homemaker and mom is another full-time job. Consequently, I never felt like I did that well at either one. This guilt and perceived failure took up lots of brain space. Remember, to a perfectionist, what she DOESN’T do is much weightier than what she DOES do. What I didn’t/couldn’t do was always  heavy on my mind. Were my kids neglected? No. Did I do a good enough job as a teacher? Yes. Does reality matter to a perfectionist? NO! Guilt and condemnation make themselves right at home anyway.

Mr X was not one to talk about his feelings, even if he could have figured them out, and there was no internet or even books (that I was aware of) teaching about sex in marriage from a Christian perspective. I just knew that he wanted more than I felt I had to give; I thought that he should be satisfied with all the other stuff I did (work full time, mother 3 young children, and run a household). Then I’d feel guilty because, in yet another area, I wasn’t good enough, then resentful that he wanted more from me. I had absolutely no clue how important lovemaking is to a man; the emotional part of it and how it affects his feelings about himself and for his wife. (Once more, I refer you to Sheila Gregoire’s very insightful post here.)

When Mr X began school full-time, after several years of going to night classes 2 or 3 nights a week– a very difficult period for this stay-at-home mom of 3– he scheduled his classes on 2 or 3 days and his work on the other days. He drove the kids to school and was able to be “Room Dad” and chaperone often. He did the grocery shopping. Once he began to take up some of the slack with the kids and at home, it helped me feel lots better. I don’t think he realized how much of a load those few things took off my MIND, but it really did make a huge difference.

Then at some point a friend recommended The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura Schlesinger. It opened my eyes! In a nutshell, she said when we say NO to our husbands’ sexual advances, they perceive us as saying NO to THEM, as men. It’s like their saying NO to our conversations with them.

These 2 things– neither of which we can really take credit for– helped us get a little further down the road to a good, healthy marriage.

What does your spouse need? Do you know? I challenge you to have that conversation!

Up next: setting realistic expections of ourselves and our spouses.

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Lessons on Marriage from Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey
Are you hooked on Downton Abbey? Like many, I’m smitten! I’ve always loved costume dramas, especially ones where the actors speak with British accents. I’m a lifelong Anglophile and this series feeds my love for England, beautiful homes, and history all in a moving family saga. Well you know Auntie Em– of course I had to look and find examples I could apply to marriage, and find them I did!
(Disclaimer regarding plot spoilers and details– I’ve watched all of Season 1; 3 episodes of Season 2 on DVD; and all 5 episodes of Season 3. I don’t have them recorded so I might misquote something but I’ll get the general idea. ALSO– I do realize it’s only a TV show!)
Downton Abbey Cora and Robert

1. Fight for your marriage.

When we attended the Weekend to Remember marriage conference, the presenter urged the men not to give in to their tendency to be passive at home. Many husbands will fight all kinds of battles at work; identify and solve problems proactively and face issues head on; but at home they withdraw when faced with problems they don’t know the immediate solution for. I used to see this in my marriage. My armchair diagnosis (corroborated by Mr X) says that many men don’t have the relational skill to figure out a solution on their own, and that makes them feel inadequate– and that’s the worst thing a man can feel. There is also the feeling that, bad as things might be now, if you confront them, they might get worse.

FAIL: After Sybil dies, Cora blames Robert. He gives in to her request that he move out of their bedroom and when he tells Mary how much he misses Sybil, she begs him to “tell Mama.” He says, “She doesn’t want to hear it.” Don’t give up without a fight, Robert! In the end, it’s his mother that fights for his marriage. (In Robert’s defense, he has also lost his beloved child. Sometimes you just don’t have the strength to fight!)
PASS: Anna searches tirelessly for evidence that will exonerate Mr. Bates. She moves way outside her comfort zone, involving “the master” and a lawyer, as well as spending some amount of her money to pay the unsavory witness for speaking to her. Her efforts pay off, finally! Lesson to learn: It might take a long time; it might stretch you; it might seem hopeless, but hold out and keep fighting. Your marriage is worth it.
Downton Abbey Matthew and Mary
2. Your primary loyalty is for your spouse, not your parent.
 This is nothing new for regular Auntie Em readers. (Leave and Cleave was one of the most-read posts.) Mary’s love and loyalty to her father are undisputed and a recurring theme.
PASS: As Matthew tries to budge Robert on new ideas about operating the Estate, he needs Mary’s support. “I love my father,” she counters. “Of course you do. But cheer for me.” And later he feels sure he can make his plans work, “Now that you are on my team.”
3. Encourage your spouse to be their best, what God would have them to be.
PASS with an A PLUS: Anna told Mr. Bates she would leave everything and “live in sin” with him if his estranged, conniving wife wouldn’t agree to divorce him. He gently told her, “That’s not the path for you.” I loved him for that!
Downton Abbey Anna and Bates
4. Be honest– Don’t keep secrets.
FAIL: Back in season 1, Robert and Carson got proof that Thomas was a thief. He resigned and so they didn’t have to face the unpleasantness of firing him. But they decided it would be better if Cora didn’t know– so later on, when she arranges for Thomas to return in a position of some authority, it’s rather too late for them to object.

FAIL: Also, when Mary must have a “small operation” to correct a female problem, she doesn’t tell Matthew until it’s over and healed. “That’s why I was putting you off.” Matthew’s response, “I thought you’d gone off me,” is probably what most men think when their wives stop being intimate with them. This could have led to much more serious problems.
I’m sure you can find more examples of passing and failing. If you haven’t watched the series, season 1 is on Netflix instant viewing and Season 2 is on Netflix DVD. They are also all available for purchase. Pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy!
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These are a Few of My Favorite Things

And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:20

Over the Christmas holidays I caught up on LOTS of blog reading– I saw several who were taking part in Ann Voscamp’s 1000 Gifts Joy Dare and thought what a good idea that would be. I ultimately decided that I could so easily become obsessed with “keeping up” that it might do me more harm than good, so instead of counting, I’m working hard on keeping a thankful heart all the time. One evening I looked around my kitchen and took some pictures of some of the things I’m really thankful for, so many gifts that I could spin around and see without taking a step. I am blessed beyond measure.

If you’d like to get in the mood, listen to Julie Andrews sing “My Favorite Things” while you read! From when my kids were tiny, I’d sing this when something bad was happening– shots, sickness, broken hearts, pets dying…

I love dishes and kitchenware! Sis got me this new bowl for Christmas.
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And the amazing thing was how well it went with my Fiestaware (which I also love) that I already had!

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I love a hot cup of Constant Comment tea when I get home from school in the afternoon.

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I love my KitchenAid stand mixer. Mr X got it for me for Christmas about 20 years ago. (Some women don’t like kitchen tools as gifts– not me!)

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I love this dipper. Granny just gave it to us over the holidays. It belonged to Mr X’s great-grandmother and she kept it on a nail by her sink, and everyone who needed a drink of water used it. (People were tougher back then, and viruses were weaker!) He drinks out of it now.

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I love my pantry. After Hurricane Rita we replaced out cabinets and put this in. Thank you Home Depot!

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We also added a built-in buffet and this display cabinet. I have lots of glassware that belonged to my grandmother.

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I love my Lenox Holiday china. For several Christmases Mr X had gotten me a serving piece, then after Christmas in 2007, he bought several dinner and salad plates, plus a platter and vegetable dish, to give me the next year. (on the sly, and at half-price!) In September of 2008 Hurricane Ike hit, and as I was preparing to evacuate (he has to stay since he works for the electric company) and was sinking fast, thinking it was going to be like Rita again, he brought out my Christmas present early to cheer me up. Sis and her husband spent the night with us so we could leave together the next morning, and we ate on it in case our house got smashed.

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I love my Wusthof knives. Another Christmas gift.

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I love coffee in the morning. Mr X fixes it the night before, and sets out my cup and Splenda for me.

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I love our refrigerator memory gallery. That’s my (and the girls’) piano teacher in the upper left with Sis and me, and my mother on the lower left. We get magnets from places we visit.

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I love our little stray cat that adopted us. We call him “Bullet” because he runs around like crazy. He is marked a lot like our black and white cat, Max. I love the way Mr X is such a cat person! Knowing him, you wouldn’t expect it, but he’s a big softie about those cats.

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I love the fact that my girls are crafty. Sunshine made this cake for a baby shower.

sunshine's cake

Sis made these cupcakes for the  birthday party of a friend’s little girl.

And my friends, I love the fact that YOU are reading my blog! I pray for you. I pray that God will give me words to speak, to meet needs.

Look around. See what you love. We have been extravagantly gifted. What are you thankful for today?

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A Sweet and Powerful Thing

Back at the end of November, after Mr X had his wreck and I asked for prayers, I posted on my Auntie Em Facebook page, “Thank you so much for prayers from ALL OVER THE U.S. AND THE WORLD!! The fellowship of Believers is a sweet and powerful thing!” The more I thought about that phrase, the more I realized that it is so very true! In this situation alone we have seen it. I have readers from many countries, some who leave comments regularly telling me they are praying, and I’m sure for every one who leaves a comment there are dozens who don’t but still pray. I fully believe Mr X’s deliverance from very serious injury (even death) and quick recovery were due to the prayers of brother and sister Believers.

The past couple of months have been hard for me. After the accident (November 24) I missed 3 days of school the week before our Christmas concert (December 6), and an important audition for my kids. Our Middle school concert was December 4, and I began to get sick December 5. The normal progression is scratchy throat, throat-on-fire, laryngitis, blown up sinuses and bronchitis. It stayed true to form! I was praying that laryngitis would hold off till after the high school concert since I was singing Soprano 1 in an ensemble with my Area choir qualifiers. (Thank You Jesus; it did.) There were five more performance events the following week, and the sinus infection just kept its claws in me.

I eventually went to the doctor and began a 10-day course of antibiotics and Prednisone, followed by another round of different antibiotic. I’m actually still coughing and am not sure I’m entirely well! I didn’t decorate for Christmas beyond the few large things I could get from my Christmas closet without digging, and a tabletop fiber optic tree. (Sunshine calls it my white-trash tree!) I didn’t send Christmas cards. I didn’t finish my shopping and we ended up giving our kids money hidden inside giveaway flashlights. I didn’t cook for our get together–Sis brought gumbo leftover from her Christmas party.

The holidays were wonderful– we had planned a short trip, but neither of us was up to it, so we stayed home and rested, which is just perfect for me. They were over way too fast! And now we’ve had rain, rain, and more rain, and I am fighting off the blues, holding my breath and praying that it is not my old companion, wintertime depression knocking at my door.

I’m telling you all this not to complain and wallow in self-pity, but to be honest and share my heart with you, so that when I tell you about how the fellowship of Believers has uplifted us, you will have a context for understanding.

The day of the accident, my in-laws drove me to Lufkin, where Mr X was in the ER, about a 2-hour drive. We found out later that people stopped immediately to help. Somebody called 911 when they saw the wreck; one lady was a nurse who told Mr X he needed to be still because he was hurt, and another lady knelt down and prayed with him. His riding buddy who was also injured but was checked and released, and his wife came and prayed with us before they went home.  Our daughters and their husbands dropped everything to drive to our house, pack my suitcase, pick me up from Lufkin, and get me to Houston to the hospital where they transferred him.

As soon as I heard and was waiting to leave for Lufkin, I texted a few friends to pray, as I didn’t know the extent of his injuries, and they prayed. As word spread, so did the circle of prayers. (When he was released from the hospital and went to follow up with his doctor, he saw the PA, whom he had not seen before, and he said something about Sunshine– a light came on in the PA’s face and she said, “We prayed for you Saturday!” Turns out she has known Sunshine for years through the Emmaus/Chrysalis community, but she knows her married name, so this prayer had just been offered up for “Sunshine’s dad.”)

Our coworkers picked up whatever needed doing and said, “Don’t even think about work. We’ll take care of it.” And we didn’t, because they truly meant what they said, and took care of everything. My sweet (band director) supervisor offered to go to our choir auditions and do whatever he could, and my middle school director took over my classes and my spot in the auditions. Another coworker gave us firewood since Mr X couldn’t cut and split wood this year. Friends let us borrow medical equipment that we needed till his mobility was restored.

A high school friend of Mr X’s works in Houston and came by the hospital and prayed with us. When we got home, many friends brought food and sent cards. Our church prayed. Our children and their friends prayed. Our friends and their churches prayed. Our coworkers prayed. My Facebook friends, and Auntie Em’s friends and their churches prayed. I was so humbled and thankful.

The amazing thing about the fellowship of Believers is that we don’t have to know one another at all to have care and concern– because of our relationship to our Father, we have an automatic brotherhood and sisterhood. We don’t have to know the details of the need, or even the names of the people because God knows all that. All we have to do is come before Him and lift our needs and those that we know about.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I have a new understanding of this one– although His power is shown through us when we are weak, His power is also seen through others when they minister to us in our weakness.

Thank you for your prayers.

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Armor Up your Marriage

armor up your marriageIn my last post I wrote about my husband’s motorcycle accident at the end of November, and how his riding gear– a full face helmet, riding gloves and boots, and an armored jacket– saved his skin, and I believe, his life. (Read “Armor Up!” if you missed it.)  I got to thinking how God provides protective armor for us spiritually, and also in our marriages.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms… Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:11-12, 14-17

Stand against the devil’s schemes

It’s important to remember that God created and ordained marriage, and it is meant to be an earthly representation of the relationship between Christ and His church. Marriages that follow God’s rules are the foundation of healthy families, which in turn build a Godly society. And our enemy hates everything about marriage. Humans can do plenty of wrong, selfish things on our own, but remember when your spouse has stepped on your last nerve that the devil is scheming against your marriage. Your spouse is not your enemy– Satan is, and all the authorities and powers of this dark world. The armor that protects our spirits can also protect our marriages.

The belt of truth

The other day a salesman counseled Mr X to buy something that was more than he wanted to spend by saying, “Well just buy it and don’t tell your wife!” (He not only didn’t buy it, but told the man that he has too much respect for his wife to do that. WOW!) I remember before I started teaching school, a close friend my mother’s age advised me to write a check for groceries a little over the amount and hold that money aside as “my” money. Telling “little white lies” to your spouse is NOT okay. Neither is neglecting to tell them something you don’t want them to know, or doing something you know they don’t want you to do and hoping they don’t find out. You’re MARRIED. You are ONE FLESH. Don’t keep secrets. Nothing about you is not their business. Deception is like a little tree that grows up between the cracks in a sidewalk; it gets bigger and bigger and eventually breaks the sidewalk to pieces.

The breastplate of righteousness

In addition to general instructions on the Christian way of life, the Bible gives Christians very detailed instructions on how to behave in marriage. (Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7 to name a few) In a nutshell: Husbands are to love their wives with Christlike love. Wives are to respect their husbands. They actually submit to one another, loving with servant love, but somebody has to have controlling interest. That’s how I see Biblical submission of wives. The husband has the ultimate authority because his is the ultimate responsibility. I rarely watch TV and one of the big reasons is that I can’t stand the way husbands and dads are belittled and made fun of. Ladies, if you badmouth your husband that is wrong. Men, if you put your own needs ahead of your wife’s, that is wrong. If we want our marriages to be protected by God’s armor, we have to operate by His rule book.

The Gospel of peace

A Christian home should be a place of safety and peace, an oasis in a dry and dusty land!

  • Husbands,  love your wives and never treat them harshly. (Ephesians 3:19)
  • Wives, remember It’s better to live alone in the desert than with a quarrelsome, complaining wife. (Proverbs 21:19) Beware of husband-bashing parties that sometimes develop when a group of girlfriends get together.

The shield of faith

I know this Scripture is talking about faith in God, but faith in your spouse is an important thing, too. Don’t assume the worst when they say something wrong; look for a different explanation. (Maybe he’s not a self-centered pig; maybe he had a really bad day at work. Maybe she isn’t totally selfish and insensitive to your needs; maybe SHE had a really bad day at work!) Often we put on a happy face out in the world, then really let our hair down at home, with the one we trust the most. Be careful not to take that trust for granted. Give a warning ahead of time if you are “out of sorts” as we say in Texas.

The helmet of salvation

I can’t stretch this one to apply to anything but God. But to put it in a marital context, if you are both believers, you are not only husband and wife, you are brother and sister in Christ. You share a common relationship with your heavenly Father. Everything that Christ exemplified and is written about relationships — selflessness, kindness, forgiveness, longsuffering, etc— also applies in marriages.

Marriages in our world today are subjected to all kinds of hazards, from sick children to leaking dishwashers to lost jobs to infidelity. The protective armor of God can deflect many of these “flaming arrows” and can give us strength to fight the battles that will come. Armor up!

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Auntie Em’s Crockpot Onion-Ranch Chicken

Auntie Em's Crockpot onion-ranch chickenI got creative in the kitchen today– an unusual occurrence for me! But I was inspired by all the Pinterest recipes I’ve been pinning lately and decided to be brave. It was delicious and got 2 thumbs up from Mr X!

1. Start with a large package of bone-in chicken breasts. (They will be juicier and more flavorful than boneless.) Cut the skin and fat off, and place the breasts in a large crock pot, bone side down.

2. Mix together 2 packages of ranch dressing mix, 2 packages of Lipton Cup-a-soup cream of chicken soup mix, and 1 package of Lipton Recipe Secrets onion-mushroom soup mix.

3. Sprinkle the mix thickly on the breasts and pat in. I cracked some pepper over the top too.

4. Add a bit of water to the leftover soup mixes, to make a thick but pourable sauce. Pour it in the bottom of the pot. I didn’t want to wash off the dry mix, so I was careful not to pour the wet mixture over the top.

5. Cook on low heat 6 hours.

6. Serve! The juice makes a great sauce so you could easily serve this over rice or pasta.

You could also cook this in the oven. I wouldn’t pour the wet mix in the pan at first though; I’d bake at 400 about 30 minutes (till it forms a good crust) then add the wet mix, cover, and cook the rest of the way. These were large breasts and would probably take 45-60 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Just be sure and check with a thermometer. You want it to reach 180, but not be overcooked.

This seasoning mix would work equally well on pork or beef!

If you try it, be sure and let me know how it goes over for you!

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12 Days (of Encouraging Your Spouse) of Christmas Part 2

12 Days of Christmas,animals,birds,characters,songs,fruits,nature,trees,pears,plants,special occasions

Have you gotten some ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas? On Monday we talked about the first six, (if you missed them, check them out here.) and today we have the last six.

6. Give a gift that keeps on giving. Sort of like the “jelly of the month” club that Clark Griswold was so disappointed to get!

However if you make it something he likes, like a pie of his choice, or a child-free date, or a “no-guilt” guys’ night, or ironing his shirts, or whatever, he will be happy. His birthdate and your anniversary date are good times to plan monthly events.

7. Take interest in something he likes but has never really lit your fire. Like college football. Or fishing.

8. Give him a full-body massage. (You can include hanky-panky if you want, but even a HP-free massage would be much appreciated!) If you’ve never had a massage, you need to schedule one so you will know how to do it! Be sure to get some kind of massage oil– dry hands just don’t work. Coconut oil works well, and I’ve heard that olive oil does too, but you might start craving spaghetti!

9. Do something just for him.  Mr X likes to listen to me play the piano. I play at church, and I play at work, so I rarely play at home for fun. Every time I do, though, he says how much he likes hearing me play. (I’ll be including this one!)

10. Go all out with an “event” plan, something that he will enjoy. Plan a movie night. Let him choose; get popcorn and movie candy. A picnic with blanket, food, dessert, and outdoor activities. Visit someplace close to you that is a tourist attraction– many times there are really neat things close to home but we’ve never seen them!

11. Wear something he likes. Very often, when we are going somewhere together, I ask what Mr X would like me to wear. He likes that; it’s a small thing that tells him I value his opinion and HE is my “audience.”

12. Plan a dream date or special weekend, centered on everything HE likes. On our half-anniversary last July, I grilled filet mignons, made a blueberry cheesecake like one he had admired in a catalog, got out the china and candles, and a new dress. I sent him texts throughout the day telling him what I was doing and sending pictures– build it up! (The whipped cream on top actually was camouflage for big cracks!)

blueberry cheesecake

Then later on in the summer, I planned an overnight to Houston, with surprise visits and photo-ops that I talked about in Three Little Changes.

Your husband (or wife, if you are a man reading this) just wants to know that he is important to you, and that he has a significant place in your plans and schedule. It’s very easy to push spouses down toward the bottom of our to-do list because of the permanence of the relationship. But, like a fire that is not tended, the fire in a marriage can slowly die away and be gone before you realize it. A little care, some priority time and effort, are small prices to pay for a huge dividend.

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12 Days (of Encouraging your Spouse) of Christmas

12 Days of Christmas,animals,birds,characters,songs,fruits,nature,trees,pears,plants,special occasionsRecently I had a request for a post sharing concrete tips for how to encourage our husbands. This idea has been floating around since then, and I was trying to come up with a “12 days of Christmas” post, and finally they came together! Now you can be historically accurate and put this into practice on December 25- January 5, or go with the more Americanized (commercialized) calendar and use the days leading up to Christmas, and so begin on December 14. (If you want to read all about it, visit this Wikipedia article.)

The idea is simple: instead of random acts of kindness, do intentional ones. We should constantly be listening to our spouses, studying them, to figure out what they want and need. My husband, Mr X is hard to buy for, because he doesn’t really want much, and when he does, he buys it! But there are things I can to show him I love him and I’m thinking about him. And for him, thinking about him and taking time out of my day to do something just for him is what means the most to him.

These ideas are meant to be a springboard to get you thinking and get your creativity going. You can take any of the ideas and do that one for 12 days– for instance, if his love language is gifts, get him a gift for 12 days. Acts of service? Make his lunch for 12 days. Or you can do different ones every day, or any combination, but do SOMETHING extra for all 12 days.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Pray for him. And let him know. Send him a text or leave a note telling him how you prayed for him. (If there is a particular challenge happening in his life, if he’s traveling, if he’s been sick, etc.) Find a Scripture that you claim for him and pray for him. I like Psalm 1: 1-3.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

2. Give gifts. They can be as simple as bringing home his favorite candy when you go to the grocery store, but make a gift of it– put it in a gift bag; wrap it up; hide it in the glove box in his car and give clues. A classic movie on DVD… If he likes clothes, you have a few more choices. A mug or insulated glass from his favorite sports team. You don’t have to break the bank.

3. Leave him notes. If affirming words are his love language, he will absolutely love this idea, and even if they are not, he will still enjoy sweet words from his sweetheart. Say WHY you love him, WHAT you love and appreciate about him, HOW he makes you love him. Stash them around where he will find them gradually- in his bathroom drawer, in the pockets of clothes, in a book he’s reading, etc. If you have little ones, they can write encouraging notes for dad too. Mr X still has notes and bookmarks that our kids made him years ago. Those things are special!

4. Give him coupons. For anything from taking over one of his chores to making his favorite food to … *wink*wink*  Go all out and create some drama here– call it a Night of Dreams or something; build it up for several days, talking about it, sending text or email hints; arrange for the kiddos to go away; get something new to wear; eat a romantic meal; set the mood with music and candles. You will have one happy man who feels like a king.

5. Do something he likes. Stay off the computer– watch the fights with him– invite his friends over– Mr X likes me to play the piano.

6. Initiate intimacy. Don’t wait for him to start. Even for long-married couples, the risk of rejection is a scary thing for a man; he really does want you for more than just sex; and when his beloved wants to be intimate with him, he feels like the king of the castle. Besides the chemical rush that creates bonding between the two of you, he feels more confident to take on any challenge that come his way at work.

Okay– that’s enough to get you started. We’ll do the next 6 on Wednesday. Are you getting some ideas? Let’s share them and make our husbands feel really loved this Christmas!

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Auntie Em’s Grandma Ballard’s Caramel Pie

You might wonder why I’m tagging marriage in this recipe post. It’s because “Speak your husband’s language” is one of Auntie Em’s rules. One of Mr X’s love languages is acts of service. And when I serve him by cooking, he has always been very appreciative. When I make his favorite pie, which is pretty easy to make now, but at first was time-consuming and complicated, it spells L-O-V-E to him! Be a student of your husband; find out how to speak his language, then speak often!

Now– on to the pie. It’s not as simple as some– It uses FOUR dishes besides the pie pan! But it’s worth it. You’ll love it! Grandma Ballard's Caramel Pie recipe

(You can see lots of trial and error here. One of my first times to make it was when we were visiting my brother- and sister-in-law; I made it without the recipe. He spent most of the night sick, and the whole family jokes about my bad pie…. however, when the truth came out, he ate most of it in one sitting, and I think THAT is why he was sick !)

PREPARE:

  • Preheat your oven to 400 so you can bake the meringue when you’re all done.
  • Get out your food you’ll need: Flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, eggs, cream of tartar, a cooked pie shell
  • Get out your dishes you’ll need: A heavy pan for mixing the dry ingredients and cooking the custard, a heavy skillet for caramelizing the sugar; a bowl for mixing the eggs and milk, and a bowl for beating the egg whites. Plus a whisk for stirring the custard, a knife to cut the butter, measuring spoons and cups, and a spatula for applying the meringue.

Start with a baked pie shell. (Video instructions for a homemade one are here. It’s not as hard as you think!)

homemade pie crust cooked separate eggs

Now mix your wet ingredients together and your dry ingredients together

  • 2 3/4 C milk and 4 egg yolks. You’ll have to separate your eggs; put the whites in another bowl so you can beat them.
  • 1 C sugar and 1/2 C flour.  The recipe says “4 heaping TBS but I hate the vagueness of “heaping,” so I measured. (Believe it or not.)   I mix this in the pan I cook the custard in. Mix together well so you won’t get blobs of flour. (So says the voice of experience)

Now stir the milk and egg mixture into the dry mixture in the heavy pan. Mix together with a whisk till it’s smooth. This is the custard mixture. Heat it over medium heat. You can take a shortcut and heat it on higher heat till it begins to get warm, but watch and stir! It can burn and curdle quickly.

Then put 1 C of sugar into a heavy skillet; shake it to spread it around evenly. Heat over medium heat. Same as with the custard, you can start the heat higher but turn it down for more control.

sugar and flour mixture caramelizing sugar in skillet

Now you wait. And stir the custard. And stir the custard. And wait. Don’t stir the sugar. Just wait. After 10 minutes it looked like this, just barely beginning to melt.

sugar beginning to melt caramelizing sugar

After another 10 it looked like this. All this time I’ve been stirring the custard. If it has thickened or begun to bubble, I turn down the heat until the sugar is melted.  (At this point you can add the vanilla and butter and use this custard for a wonderful banana pudding! No jello pudding at our house!) Granny says never stir the sugar, just shake it around, so that’s what I do.

melting sugar caramelizing sugar

Once all the sugar melts it’s time to be really careful. The custard has to be VERT hot, or else the caramelized sugar will cool and harden instead of blend in. When you pour it in, it will bubble up violently. Stir, stir, stir!

caramelized sugar caramelized sugar poured into custard

Till it looks like this.

caramel pie filling

At this point, remove it from the heat and stir in 1-2 TBS butter and 1 tsp vanilla till it’s all smooth.

Pour into your cooked pie shell. You’re almost done!

Now you have to make the meringue topping. A Kitchenaid stand mixer makes quick work! Add 1/2 tsp cream of tartar and mix the 4 egg whites on high. When “frothy” like the first picture, add 4-6 TBS sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Beat till stiff peaks form– that means when you lift the beater it sticks and the mixture in the bowl keeps its shape, like in the second picture.

frothy egg whites stiff peaks egg whites meringue

Now gently place blobs of meringue onto the hot pie filling. You don’t want to do a lot of stirring because that will get the filling all over the meringue plus get the air out of the meringue, which will cause it to deflate. That’s bad. Gently connect the blobs to form a solid surface, and press to the sides of the pie crust to seal.

meringe on pie meringue on pie

Now, cook the meringue till it’s as brown as you like, at 400 degrees. This was about 4 minutes.

Auntie Em's caramel pie with meringe topping

Here’s what was left: (It will be a hit at your house or church too!)

leftover pie

Auntie Em's holiday cooking Collage

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Auntie Em’s Cornbread Dressing

This is actually Granny’s/Grandma Ballard’s cornbread dressing, but I have Granny’s seal of approval ; ) I bet you will like it too! We had our annual Thanksgiving feast at our church last night and I made turkey and dressing with gravy (just a bit left), Auntie Em’s famous macaroni and cheese (nothing left), Grandma Ballard’s caramel pie (licked clean), and green beans (a bit left; who wants green beans when you have macaroni and cheese, and marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes lol!?)

Grandma's recipe for Cornbread dressing

I made a double batch of this dressing, except I neglected to read it ahead of time and and made only ONE double batch of Granny’s cornbread. It was still fine! Since I was cooking so much, I made it a 2-day affair. Granny fusses about making the cornbread the day ahead, but she liked it anyway!

THE DAY BEFORE:

1. Boil a hen in a large, heavy stockpot. Add salt and pepper, plus the skins and tops of your onions, garlic, and celery to flavor the broth. This will take a LONG TIME. After the water came to a boil, I turned down the heat and covered, cooked her for an hour and she was still tough. I probably could have cooked her another hour and the meat would have come off the bones a lot easier.

Be sure you get a HEN, not just a chicken. You get richer broth and your meat is firmer. Good for gumbo too!

I cut the root ends of the onion and celery off and tossed them; they just looked dirty. But I put all the rest of the scraps in the pot!

hen for boiling onion and celery

onion and celery scraps for stockpot Boiling hen in the stockpot

Here she is with everything ready to cook. I would have added garlic if I’d had any; I had to use garlic powder.

I just thought this was a funny picture. Reminded me of Achilles!

boiling hen

Here’s what she looks like after her swim: Let her cool, then pull off and chop the meat. You are going to put the little pieces in the dressing, and lay the breast slices on top. Strain the broth and put in a large container to use to moisten the dressing and make the gravy. Save the skin and bones for boiling, to get more good broth! Put them in a freezer bag and freeze them if you don’t want to do it now.

Boiled hen

Now for the bread– you can use regular, cheap, store-brand biscuits, or bigger, butter-flecked ones. I used the cheap-o ones this time. It should have been TWO double batches of cornbread, but I used just one. Minus a slice. (Somebody, whose initials are MX got to it!)

Granny's cornbread biscuits for dressing

Pull apart in 1-2 inch pieces and put in a jumbo ziplock bag or large covered bowl if you are making the day ahead. (Don’t tell Granny.)

Preparing cornbread dressing

Chop your onion and celery. I had a huge onion and it made almost 4 cups. I was very worried , fearing that it would be too much, but it was GOOD! And my 3 cups of chopped celery was the amount the recipe called for. (dumb luck) This time, instead of sautéing in a stick of butter, I used broth (DIET cornbread dressing!) and it worked out fine. Painless ways to cut calories are the way to go.

sautee celery and onion

Wait to combine everything until just before you are ready to cook it. First put the biscuit and cornbread pieces in a large pan. Add salt, pepper, sage, plus basil, rosemary, sage, and parsley. Start with a tablespoon or so of each, depending on your taste. Toss around to mix, then gently mix in chopped hen meat and chopped boiled eggs. Finally, add broth from the hen you boiled. Pour gently over the whole pan.  Start with 4-5 cups, and stir gently. All this “stir gently” is to make sure you don’t end up with cornbread dressing mush. And be careful to spread it around evenly but don’t smash it down.  Add enough broth to have just a bit standing in the bottom of the pan when you move the bread aside. I used almost 7 cups. Bake at 375 till browned, probably 30-45 minutes. During the last 10-15 minute you can add sliced meat in the top if you like.

toss biscuits and cornbread to mix egg slicer egg slicer

Ready to go! Recipe below. Gravy tomorrow!

Cornbread dressing

Not much was left!

empty pot luck

Auntie Em’s Grandma Ballard’s Hen and Dressing

1– 5 pound hen; boiled and deboned (True confessions: I’ve used canned chicken and broth before. Add some bouillon cubes and butter to make it richer.)

Bake and tear into 1″ pieces

  • 1 double recipe Granny’s cornbread
  • 2 cans biscuits

Sautee

  • 1 cup butter or broth
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion (Auntie Em uses 1.5 to 2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped celery

Seasonings

  • 1 TBS salt and pepper
  • 1 TBS parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme*

2-3 boiled eggs, chopped

Mix all together and gently add 2-4 cups broth .

Bake at 375 for 25-40 minutes, till brown.

*SING while you add it lol!!! (I can never resist a musical pun!)

Auntie Em's holiday cooking Collage

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