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!

Lessons on Marriage from the Garden

We had a very mild winter here in Southeast Texas, and Spring is creeping in. Lots of early blooms are out– and the weeds are beginning to wake up too. Our neighborhood is called “Enchanted Forest” and before Hurricane Rita, our yard was full of beautiful, mature oak trees. (Now we have a few tall skinny ones left.) Part of having a “forested” yard is that very hardy vines grow alongside those trees, and when you plant shrubs, the vines continue to grow up among them. They are not vulnerable to Round-Up and most foliar weed killers- you have to dig them out, and many times the bulb is WAAAAAYY down deep.

Cross vine is one of our worst invasive vines. When you let it go too long, it will completely strangle a poor azalea bush.


When I finally got around to rescuing this pitiful bush, look at all that came up: there was lots more growing underground that you couldn’t see. Bigger than the bush it had covered up.


Can you guess where this is headed?

This is what a single little crossvine sprig looks like: Innocent enough, right?


But look what’s lurking below: Look very closely to see the leaves and visible growth: Most of it is below ground.


Kelly’s post at Exceptionalistic immediately came to mind when I pulled this rampant weed up by the roots.

Here’s the deal: Lots of time, I counsel you to overlook things. After all, “Love covers a multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8) and “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7). However, you must also LET THEM GO. (Think of hanging the toilet paper the wrong way, or not at all, kicking the sheets out, procrastinating, etc…) If the issue so serious that you can’t let it go, and it interferes with your feelings for your spouse, it needs to be dealt with. Maybe it’s the symptom of a deeper problem- you resent his golf days with his friends not because you don’t want him to spend time with his friends, but you feel neglected. Or maybe there is a lack of transparency in the relationship that shows itself in tiny, unimportant little ways. In these days of separate Facebook accounts, telephones, the all-important “confidentiality” that the medical and insurance worlds insist on, and the blatant “porn mode” internet browsers, it would be very easy to begin to hide things from your spouse.

There are many issues in a marriage that will grow underground, like the roots of my crossvine. Left on their own, they can overtake your whole marriage and choke the life out. You must pull them up by the roots and dig out the bulb. Is it hard? Yep. Painful, tedious? You bet. Will it leave scars? Oh yes.

But our God is the God of comfort, healing, and rejuvenation. He not only gets rid of the problem; he replaces it with something better than it was before!

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners
 … to comfort all who mourn,
  and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1-3


Auntie Em’s Garden-Fresh Broccoli

Springtime is very near here in Southeast Texas!



tulip trees,


and narcissus are blooming,


and hyacinths and even a few brave azaleas are peeking out.

Last spring I planted a few broccoli plants and was amazed at how prolific they were! I didn’t think broccoli would thrive in our hot weather. I did give out by June but had made tons before that. So this year, I got a dozen plants and we have had an abundance! I used it to make my broccoli salad at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for you veggie purists, this week I made it plain. May I just say how much better broccoli is when it’s fresh from the garden?

Cut your broccoli when the buds are tight. I let some of these go too far– there were even a couple of flowers! If more flowerets are forming, be sure to leave them there. 20130205-063716.jpg

There will be one large head– I’ve already cut this one– then the plant will continue to produce side shoots,


unless you let it go to seed. I let this one go too long so decided to sacrifice it for next year’s seed. Notice there are no side shoots because the energy is being used in seed production.


Wash it good. I haven’t used pesticides but we do have animals that run loose in our neighborhood!


Chop it as much as you like. I like fairly big chunks, so I cut the florets off but don’t chop them.


When you cut the broccoli when it’s young, the stems are plenty tender. I used all of this.


I put it in a small glass bowl, added about a tablespoon of water, and covered. Microwave 1 minute and stir. Depending on the amount, you might need to cook another minute. Then, go ahead and add a tablespoon of butter! MMM…. delicious…. and so good for you!


Auntie Em’s Garden-Fresh Broccoli

1 large or several small broccoli florets, chopped

1 TBS water

1 TBS butter, salt and pepper to taste

Combine in microwave-safe bowl. Cover and cook on high 1 or 2 minutes.


Speech is Not Free

“Speech is not free, and can never be fully refunded.”

(Care to tweet that line?)

free speech

One of my (favorite) former students posted this on her Facebook status recently, and it got me to thinking. How very true it is! Once more, I was reminded that, though we live in America and are so fortunate to have many rights, with those rights come responsibility. John Adams, our second President, said it this way:

…this country will be the most miserable habitation in the  New World; because we have no government armed with power  capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality  and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale  goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a  moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the  government of any other… (See the full text here.)

Our Constitution does not control us unduly, because it’s understood that we will exercise SELF-control. I sometimes get depressed and discouraged, listening to the news and hearing about selfish people demanding their “rights”, regardless of how those “rights” affect other people. I suppose those thugs who demonstrate and spew hate at military funerals have the “right” to do so, but it is still WRONG for them to do it. There is a legal battle going on now in my neighboring town of Kountze, where the high school cheerleaders began painting encouraging Scriptures on the run-through signs (instead of things like “Kill the bears!”) and ONE PERSON got offended and wants it stopped. My two cents says my freedom of religion doesn’t mean you can’t practice your freedom of religion. We are right smack in the Bible belt here in Southeast Texas, and the vast majority of people who attend the games are very supportive of the girls (even before it became such a hot issue). If I were in a predominantly Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim community, and the children held up signs with teachings from their Sacred Books, I would not be offended and insist they take them down, or add Christian messages!

But I thing my student was really just talking about zipping her lips. Sometimes we all say things that maybe are right, but are not necessary. What’s the acronym? TRUTH? Is it true? Is it right? Is it ___??? Is it helpful? (I can’t remember or find them all! Help me!) Or as the Bible says in Philippians 4:8, Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things. I don’t think we would be defiling Scripture if we would say SPEAK these things.

So thank God for your rights and freedoms. But don’t take advantage of them and hurt others. Speech is not free.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.

James 1:26


Auntie Em’s Famous Gumbo

Cooler weather is finally hitting Southeast Texas, and that means GUMBO! Gumbo is a Cajun food, which you should always try if you get a chance! (In case you don’t know, Cajuns are the people of French from South Louisiana, chere, who are known for their good food and joie de vivre!)

I’ll print easy, all-in-one-place directions at the bottom.


Start with chicken pieces or, if you really want to be authentic, boil a hen. Hens are richer and the meat will hold its flavor. It’s more trouble of course, because you have the skin and bones to remove, but if you’ve got the time, it’s worth it! However, I used breasts and thighs. I boiled half, so I could get broth, and roasted the others, to hold on to more flavor. I had boiled the chicken the night before so I had it chopped and had the broth in a pitcher.

To boil, cover chicken completely with water in a tall stock pot. Salt and pepper liberally!

gumbo, chicken broth

To roast chicken, line a jelly roll pan (a cookie sheet with tall edges) with parchment or foil for easy cleanup. Spray the roasting rack with Pam. If you don’t have one of these gizmos, get one ASAP! They are great for roasting meat and veggies!

how to roast chicken, gumbo

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces, then roast at 400 35-50 minutes. Use a meat thermometer and make sure the meat gets to 180 degrees. Boneless meat like these thighs will cook faster than bone-in parts like the breasts. If you don’t have a meat thermometer either, you need to get to the store!

chopping onion, gumbo

Next chop a large onion and 4 or 5 stalks of celery. My son the chef introduced me to a chef’s knife like the one above. I was a little scared to use one, till he brought his and gave me an inservice. Now I love it! You keep your fingers well out of the way- just rock it up and down and keep your hand on top. Along with a meat thermometer and roasting pan with rack, a good knife is a MUST in the kitchen! Go ahead and invest in a Wusthof or something comparable. It might run $100, but it will last forever. Keep it sharp. It’ll change your life.

chopping onion, gumbo

You can see, you need a lot of onion!

chopping celery, gumbo

You can chop a lot of celery with a big knife!

While you’re chopping the veggies, melt a stick of butter on medium-low heat in a heavy skillet, then add the veggies. saute onion and celery, gumbo

After the onion and celery cook a bit, add some garlic. Lay your knife on top of the clove and smash it! Then mince it.

saute garlic, saute onion, saute celery, mince garlic, gumbo

You want to cook the veggies till they are soft and transparent– this will give you an idea: saute garlic, saute onion, saute celery, mince garlic, gumbo

While the veggies are cooking down, begin chopping up the meat. We like ours in fairly small bite sizes; cut them like your family likes. Again, with a big, sharp knife, you can make quick work of the chicken and sausage! This gumbo was a 3-night- affair, so most of my chicken was already cooked and chopped. I just had to debone and chop the roasted breasts. Here’s a handy hint: If you boil your chicken ahead of time, refrigerate the broth; the fat will solidify on the top and you can remove most of it easily.

roast chicken, gumbo

Now I think the roux is what scares people about making gumbo. I’ve made traditional roux, roux with browned flour only, and jarred roux mix, and I promise, I like the jar as well as any other, and it’s much less time-consuming! There is a trick though, you must get your broth to a FULL, ROLLING boil when you add the mix, or it will never dissolve. Follow the directions for the amount to use. If you like thicker broth, add more; for thinner add less. Then stir, stir, stir! This is the color to expect when it’s blended: I’ve heard it described as a melted Hershey bar.

how to make roux, gumbohow to make roux, gumbo

Once your roux is smooth, add the veggies and the meat, then let it simmer a bit.

Serve it up over rice, and if you are really feeling Cajun, plop some potato salad into your bowl! (I’ve talked to my Cajun friend Peggy and she says it’s so you can get your gumbo and potato salad, but have a free hand for your dessert!)

chicken gumbo

MMM! C’est si bon!

Auntie Em’s Famous Gumbo (serves at least 12– great for freezer meals!)


Boil 1/2 large pkg chicken breasts and 1/2 large pkg chicken thighs.

Roast the rest of the chicken at 400 degrees.

Chop all cooked chicken into desired size.


Chop 1 large onion, 4-5 large stalks celery. Sautee with 1 stick butter in heavy skillet. Add a large clove of minced garlic. Cook till soft and transparent.


Bring chicken broth to a full, rolling boil. Add roux mix. (I use Savoie’s or Tony Chachere’s.)


When roux is smooth, add meats and veggies. Simmer, covered as long as you can stand it.

Serve over rice, and add potato salad for a Cajun experience! Find a Cajun music channel on Pandora and l’aissez les bon temps roulez, chere!

Today I’m linking with The Shabby Creek Cottage and The Lady Behind the Curtain– go visit and see what other goodies you can find!
shabby creek cottage
Cast Party Wednesday


Living with Mr. Safety

Around our house, we sometimes call Mr X “Mr Safety.” He works for a large electric utility company, as a service rep for large industrial customers, many of them oil refineries that are so prevalent here in Southeast Texas. Safety is serious business in all these places! He also teaches the Smith driving system to people in his company. He puts safety cones behind his truck when he parks, and has red and white reflective tape on the back of the truck!

We were driving to Houston the other day and I spouted off some safety rule–   “See, I’ve been listening!” So I proceeded to revisit the safety lessons I’ve learned.

  • If you see a potential “trip hazard” in the aisle at the grocery store, pick it up! (a pencil, a piece of paper, etc)
  • If you drive through standing water (which you don’t do at all unless you KNOW how deep it is! Watch the cars ahead of you for this.), use your brakes before you need them, to dry them out and make sure they work efficiently.
  • While driving in rain or other low visibility, increase your following distance.
  • For Heaven’s sake, never text while driving. He also says don’t talk on your phone. (GUILTY. This is a hard one, but I’m careful about the driving conditions where I talk. Never in heavy traffic.)

This year we’ve implemented an important safety standard in our house that should have been there all along: reading Scripture and praying together daily. We have the Youversion Bible app on our iPad and phones, and keep 2 devotion plans going. We’ve gone through several so far, with Joyce Meyer there all the time- she has lots of devotions and they are all good! Sharing needs and concerns, then praying for one another and for friends and loved ones is a very intimate thing to do, and it’s hard to be mad at somebody while you’re praying. You know you will have to swallow your pride and work it out. If your husband is reluctant to lead out in this area, one way you might encourage him is to ask him specific ways you can pray for him, and ask him to pray for you in specific ways. It will at least get the conversation started, and not in a pushy way. And then you pray!


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