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!

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.

And the amazing thing was how well it went with my Fiestaware (which I also love) that I already had!


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


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!)


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.


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


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


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.


I love my Wusthof knives. Another Christmas gift.


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


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.


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.


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?


Beauty for Ashes

When Sunshine was in first grade, her school nurse gave her a vision screening and she failed it. We followed up with a professional exam. When it was over, the doctor sent all the kids out into the waiting room, looked me in the eyes and said, “There is a problem…Blah blah… Amblyopia….blah blah… Strabismus… Legally blind in that eye…”

If you are a mother you can understand that I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach and had all the air let out of me.

Visit me at Deep and Wonderful Thoughts to hear “the rest of the story”! It’s part of Lisa’s “Beauty for Ashes” series.

photo (3)


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.


What I Know Now

I’m visiting my friend Kelly at Exceptionalistic and guest posting there!

Ever wish you knew what you know now, way back when? I wrote a letter to my 28-year old self sharing exactly that. Hopefully, if you are a parent with young children and wonder if you’ll ever have an adult conversation; if you will ever have enough money to spare; if the unending discipline and teaching will pay off, this letter is for you.

It will be worth it!


The Birds and the Bees…


Sis and Sunshine, you can start breathing again. I’m talking about REAL birds, and REAL bees. And butterflies, and caterpillars (Sorry Sunshine), and squirrels, and other critters that I love looking at in our yard. We are fortunate to have a large neighborhood lot, with lots of trees and flowers, and God’s handiwork is evident. I love “porching,” as one of our cousins calls it, and enjoying the sights and sounds! If you need a little glimpse of nature, come on!

Our cat, Max. He thinks all this belongs to him.

Bumblebee happily buzzing in a squash flower this spring

Hummers at the back porch feeder

We had lots of these this summer– red admiral, maybe?

I think a pipevine swallowtail– do you know for sure?

Top view of the butterfly in question– beautiful!

We had so many giant swallowtails this year!

This scary looking critter is actually a friend– called a wasp killer!

The doves loved our messy sparrows, because there were lots of seeds on the ground!

Gulf fritillary– we had tons of these this year!

I have no idea who these occasional visitors were– anyone?

I had to zoom a lot on the camera to get close enough, so it’s not as clear as I’d like.. but I couldn’t resist this little guy!

The small birds really like our new feeder.

Beautiful giant swallowtail. Many of these visited, but none was more striking than this one.

My personal favorite. For two days, two of these girls visited.

Just saw this beauty a few times.

I realized that, while my lantana is a nectaring jackpot, parsley is one of the few larval feeders that I had this summer. Next spring I will add lots more!

Geckos for the first time this year! (Especially INSIDE the house)

Do you have skinks where you live? They look like a cross between a lizard and snake, but somehow, I like them anyway! Probably because of their beautiful blue tails.


Actually, It’s Not All About ME, Either.

You might have figured out that Auntie Em is a musician. I can play the piano by ear; I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t.  I remember in kindergarten, being puzzled by the boy who couldn’t beat a triangle in rhythm to the Maypole dance! I thought everybody could play the piano by ear until I started teaching lessons.

I began taking lessons in 4th grade, got in the studio of a college professor that taught privately in our town in 8th grade, and continued with him through high school graduation and beyond. (He also taught Sunshine and Sis all through school, and Sis all the way through a piano performance major in college!)

I love to play. My mother never had to remind me to practice, not once. I taught private lessons for 12 years and I’m presently in my 18th year teaching choir (and playing the piano an awful lot!) I’ve had a “church gig” since I graduated from high school.

As a natural and a trained musician, and as a choir teacher whose job it is to listen critically for what to fix and how to fix it, a lot of music is difficult for me to listen to. I hear wrong notes. Wrong rhythms. Intonation problems. I rarely can listen to music to relax, because I listen very actively… “oh… key change.. ABA form… oh, a reiteration of the original theme”… etc, ad nauseum!

Okay. Got the picture?

Now put all of this in the immature mind of a young woman in her 20’s. My music is a very “out front” kind of gift that draws a lot of attention and the praise of kind people. It was a battle for a long time to fight ego, vanity, and pride.

Through much prayer, some maturity, and the revelation of the grace of God, and the understanding that through Him I can do all things (Phil 4:13), but without Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5), I think I have a handle on it.

I came to realize that God gave me the gift, just like he gave me blue eyes and fair skin. Maybe I always did know this; I just didn’t quite know what to do with it. He put me in a family with the means to provide lessons, in a town where there was an incredible teacher. Yes, I practiced hours and hours, but it was always something I enjoyed. He could just as easily have given that talent and opportunity to someone else, but He chose me.

I had an epiphany when I read CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, and the passage that talked about mature Christians not being tempted by vanity about talent; they appreciated it but would have appreciated it just as much if it were in someone else. (If you know this or can find it, please leave it for me in the comments; Lewis says it far more eloquently!) And I think in the same book, Screwtape was instructing his nephew Wormwood to confuse “the patient” by thinking that humility meant minimizing his talents, when in fact true humility is not “thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

Because I truly have the attitude that my playing at church (particularly the offertory, when that’s all you hear) is not about me, but preparing people for the sermon, I HATE it when people clap after I finish. I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it makes me.

Okay, I said all that to say this! We recently got an audio-visual system installed at our church. We had a guest pianist perform a concert and the cameras were on his hands, and on him as he sang, which I thought was wholly appropriate, and enjoyed it — that’s what he does, and his ministry… But then I thought… Oh no. I don’t want ME on the screen! I’m not there to perform. I talked to our AV men and told them how I felt.

Then one day, the camera man talked about how the congregation loved to watch me play, and how many comments he got about people enjoying it. (Apparently he was careful not to show my face, but did focus on my hands.) I was very uncomfortable. Then I remembered Auntie Em’s Guide, the part that says “Know your rules. Know THE rules. Know the difference.”

UGH… It was like I was watching the thoughts develop in my mind, as I watched helplessly… Just because having my hands on camera feels like attention on me to ME (my rules), it’s not necessarily THE RULES! People can enjoy God’s gift that He happened to give to me, like I enjoy watching as well as listening to nature sounds, and it doesn’t mean that it’s about me. My very attempt at humility was inching toward vanity, not quite getting to this thought, but getting close: “I know better than these people; they should be preparing their hearts to hear God’s word, not admiring me!” (Makes me shudder to write those words.)

So– Auntie Em swallowed her pride once again, and told the cameraman to go ahead and shoot the hands if he wanted to. Even though it still makes me uncomfortable. After all, it’s not all about me!


Always use real butter

Along with the reigning Queen of Butter, the Crown Princess Auntie Em is a believer in real butter!

Not only real butter in the literal sense, but the figurative sense too: You should consider its intended use, and buy the best quality that you can afford. A mattress and your tires come to mind. You use them every day. Your back comfort and your very life depend on them, so don’t pinch pennies there! Mr X used to be a carpenter/contractor, and he taught me this principal that ties nicely into my “Be frugal” rule. Now at first sight, the idea of spending more money might not seem like a frugal thing to do, but Auntie Em says look at the whole picture, not just the price tag. In the case of Mr X, he was making our living with his tools. They had to be dependable and long-lasting, so it was smart to spend the extra money on heavy-duty tools for his everyday jobs.

When I cook, I want it to taste GOOD! Many times you can get good food for less money– store brand milk and canned veggies are normally just as good as name brand– but Velveeta and Little Debbie are the only brands I’ve been happy with for cheesy goodness and snacks, so no off-brand for me there!

For clothes, you can apply this principle by considering how much wear a garment is going to get. One of Sis’s friends said she gives it the $1 rule. She can buy a $50 pair of pants if she will wear them at least 50 times. (I’ve had black pants that I’ve worn at least that many times!) Staples, like solid pants and skirts, especially ones that fit really well and are well-made, are good investment pieces. For trendy pieces and accessories, get them on sale for a little of nothing.

Now shoes are in a category all by themselves! I find that the older I get, the more crucial it is to have comfortable shoes. Gone are the days of buying inexpensive, trendy shoes to match an outfit; I’ve got to have some serious support, so I buy more expensive shoes less often.

If you need something NOW, like a dining table or car, and can’t wait till you can save up your money to buy a higher quality one, I suggest buying the CHEAPEST dependable one you can find. Ask around! Sunshine got a dining table and matching chairs from a friend who works for Bill Clark, when one of his customers was getting a new set and wanted to give away the old one! Or… swallow your pride… and drive the Mawmaw car with 10,000 miles on it but is definitely not cool! Then save your money till you can get exactly what you want.

Where you are willing to cut corners will be determined by you, and everyone might not understand your reasoning. That’s okay. Figure it out for yourself, what’s important to you! As always, I recommend visiting Dave Ramsey’s website and reading his books to help you formulate a financial plan.


A Merry Heart- September 2

A couple of weeks ago, Sis, Sunshine, and I, along with a few other friends, had a girls’ night out and went to see TNT’s 60th anniversary theater showing of “Singin’ in the Rain.” It had been a long time since I watched it all the way through, and of course I had never seen it in a theater– it was wonderful!


One of my favorite numbers is Donald O’Conner in “Make ‘Em Laugh.” As a choir teacher, I have learned that this lesson is very true… audiences love to laugh! So enjoy… make your heart merry!

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Dinnerplate Hibiscus- and a Ridiculously Excited Auntie Em

I know you’re not supposed to play favorites, but I think of all the beautiful flowers in my garden, I love this dinnerplate hibicus best! A friend gave it to me when I was teaching her son, about 10 years ago; it had sprouted up beside hers. She told me that these are very persnickety about propagation and rarely make babies.

So last spring when I saw this little baby peeking up near the big bush, I held my breath and waited…

When it reached about a foot tall, I dug it up, potted it to grow a bigger root system, kept it over the winter, then gave it to Sis this spring for her garden. She kept me updated and we were so excited when it finally bloomed! Here it is:

And another unusual thing happened last summer- Since I will reuse potting soil if a plant “bites the dust” (HA- usually that’s exactly what happens; I don’t water enough and it dies of thirst!), sometimes random plants come up in newly-potted plants. I sometimes recognize what they are; sometimes I debate whether they are weeds or something desirable, and wait it out; and sometimes I have no idea! Last summer I had 2 babies which looked like hibiscus come up in a pot. I posted the picture to Facebook and asked friends what they thought it could be– hibiscus? Watermelon? I hadn’t planted any dinnerplate seeds in a long time… a few years back I had, but they never germinated.

What do you think?

I put them in separate pots and kept them alive all through our horrible drought last summer, then this spring planted them in the ground.

One died. But one thrived. I kept watching, holding my breath, and hoping it would be a dinnerplate… and finally… TADAAA! I was so excited you would have thought I’d have bred a Kentucky Derby winning horse!

Such is the life of a frugal gardener!


Gardening on the Cheap– Passalong Plants

One of Auntie Em’s Guides to Life is to BE FRUGAL. If you love having a beautiful garden it can get expensive, but it doesn’t have to! I like low-maintenance plants… the law of the jungle applies in Auntie Em’s garden– the survival of the fittest. No divas here!

The good thing about passalong plants is that they usually propagate (make new plants) easily. The other fun thing is that then you have a plant with story! I’ll share some that I’ve had success with, and how I did it. Most of the time I cut a tender stem (not a hard woody one) and put it in regular potting soil. Sis usually roots in water; experiment to see what works best! Some really hardy plants can go directly into the ground, especially if you water regularly.

I took a snip off the top of Sunshine’s coleus. I stuck the stem in a pot, but there were some big leaves too. I pulled this one off and tucked it in among a hibiscus, not knowing whether or not it would root that way. It did.

Here is the pot where I put all the little babies. It will grow into a beautiful accent; then I can pinch off more! Coleus is a wonderful, versatile plant that is available in many different colors, and does will in pots or in the ground, in sun or in shade.

This althea (Rose of Sharon, in the mallow family) came from a cutting from my mother-in-law (Granny of Granny’s cornbread). I actually thought it was a hibiscus (They are cousins.) and put it in a pot, and by the time I realized it was althea, it was too late to put it in the ground. I’ll do that this fall after the weather cools off.

This exotic-looking trumpet shaped flower is called  alstromeria, or Peruvian lily. It has a fancy cousin that is often used in cut arrangements, but this is anything but fancy! I got this one from Granny too, and have given away tons of it. If it’s planted in a happy place, it can become invasive, spreading by seed on top and tubers below ground. Be sure to cut the seedpods off to slow it down.

I got this hardy gladiola from a lady that went to our church for much longer than I have. She was there when Granny and PawPaw took Mr X and his brother and sister as children, and she has passed now. But every spring, when these come up again, I remember Miss Freddie and how she shared what she had with whoever needed it!

I got this gorgeous angel wing begonia from my friend Nedra. We’ve shared lots of cuttings and snips over the years. This one actually started life at Granny’s house, then Nedra got a snip, so mine is sort of like a grandchild!

I discovered Persian shield this year, and I LOVE it! I bought 4 overgrown, leggy, 4 inch pots; put 3 in the ground and one in a pot to see where it was happiest. The ones in the ground died quickly. I pinched off several pieces from the one in the pot (here is one; it rooted almost overnight!) and it was a good thing, because I let the pot dry out and it died! Fortunately, I still have the new one. 

The lantana was a seedling from my piano teacher. He always keeps a beautiful, well-manicured lawn, and I love the way the lantana looks like a party! The butterflies love it. Seedlings come up easlity, but they aren’t invasive.

Here are some more that I’ve shared, or that reseed easily and come back year after year. Sometimes, flower colors will change from one year to the next (as with the vinca, which started life 3 generations ago as lavendar) but that’s just part of the fun.

Don’t let frugality keep you from having beautiful flowers!

Portulaca- reseed easily, and root from cuttings.

I wish I knew what this was called. Granny gave me some from a plant from her mother’s funeral. I love it!

Sis got me an Easter lily one year at her church.

Miss Winnie has shared daylillies with many people from our church.

Crinum lillies are old-timey because they are dependable, no-care flowers! Their pink or white blooms come in late summer.

AHHH agapanthas, or Lily of the Nile. A lady at school gave me some.

These are 3rd or 4th generation vinca. I bought a flat one year and have had them every year since. If I were a better gardener, I’d move them to optimum places, but I just let them come up where they will! They began life lavendar, but are usually pink. These white ones are the first I’ve seen!


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