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An EF-5 tornado ripped through the town of Moore, Oklahoma on May 20th in the afternoon. Twenty-three people died and hundreds were injured.  Another person died of something related to the tornado.  And as I started writing this, I read in the paper that a 25th person has now died due to injuries related to the tornado.  We are constantly reminded of the tragedies that occurred that day.

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Homes and schools were destroyed. But the town and the courage and resiliency of the people live on. Moore is like so many towns in the Midwest. The people are strong. Nothing will beat them down. I knew this from watching the news and seeing the people helping absolute strangers clear their property that had been destroyed by the tornado.  And I saw it in the eyes of the parents, struggling to comfort their children or the children of others as they awaited news of their own.  It was heart-wrenching.

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Watching the news reports, I felt that I needed to do something.  Yet, who am I?  I am just a single person…no organizations backing what I choose to do.  And I live over 8 hours away in south Texas.  Yet, I still felt I had to DO something.  I didn’t mean donating money.  I always wonder just how much is actually helping those who need help.  And how much is lining the pockets of those running the organizations.  So, I stewed over it and decided there WAS something I could do.  I could donate Pampered Chef products so the families can start making meals again.  Food is comfort.

So I spoke to my mother.  And she said a friend she has in Oklahoma City has a son who lost his home.  And they know other families who’ve lost everything.  I knew then that I was going to send packages to them.  And then it steamrolled!  My mother placed an order and so did I.  The packages arrived at the home of my mother’s friend and they were thrilled to hand over all the goodies inside to those families.  But then I mentioned to other Pampered Chef consultants I know that I was trying to help 3 families.  And they donated extra products they had…cookware, tools, plates, cookbooks…on and on.  And I remembered a full-size afghan I had.  It was thick and plush.  I donated that.  And I found more products in my cabinets.  Suddenly, I realized it was going to cost a fortune to mail all of that.

My sweet husband suggested we drive up on a Saturday and deliver it, spend the night in a hotel and drive back on Sunday.  He gave up his weekend of relaxation to hit the road with me.  We both felt humbled to be able to take all of the wonderful donations my friends had provided and deliver them to Moore.

On July 6th, we left early in the morning and drove all day.  My mother’s friend called us and asked us to come to dinner at her home.  Although I had never met these people, they made us feel so at home, treating us like family.  And after dinner, they took us on a tour of the devastation in Moore.  They showed us the path of the tornado and the freakish destruction.  Houses were demolished on one side of a street and almost fully intact on the other, with just a few shingles missing from the roof.  Businesses were destroyed.  Memorials to the lives lost were everywhere I looked.

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And then we visited the site of the Plaza Towers Elementary School.  My heart broke.

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The memorial grows and grows with each passing day.  And the townspeople of Moore will rebuild.  And their will remains strong.  God bless Moore and the families who were affected in so many ways.  I still feel the need to do more.  And I will.  It makes my heart feel just a tiny bit less broken.

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“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.” – Unknown

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When I think of the things that make me the happiest, it’s always the little things in life.  When I went out to dinner last night with my hubby, we walked past the Baskin Robbins ice cream shop and memories came rushing back from my days in high school.  My dad loved Baskin Robbins Burgundy Cherry.  My mom’s favorite was Daquiri Ice. I still remember them ordering those over 35 years ago.  It wasn’t an expensive treat or that unusual.  But I remember those trips to BR like it was yesterday.  We all had such a good time looking at those 31 (or more) flavors and trying to decide what we would have…only to go back to the tried and true favorites!  We’d get a scoop (or two) and laugh and talk about whatever was on our minds, enjoying the afternoon together.

Today I went to lunch with a friend.  It wasn’t a special lunch…nothing fancy.  But it was one of those little things in life…time with a friend.  Last night, I worked at commencement and had the chance to help hood the master’s candidates.  All I was doing was making sure their hoods were on correctly before they participated in commencement.  They were wonderfully appreciative for the help.  And it felt great!  The little things.

This morning, my little baby kitty (5 year old baby, that is) curled up with me in bed as my alarm was going off, purring and rubbing his nose on mine and then he licked the tip of my nose.  It’s the little things in life…

Tonight, as I was driving home and the sun was shining and my sunroof was open to let the sunbeams in and the fresh breeze blow across my face, I realized how great it feels.  Little things make me smile.

Fourth of July fireworks, a walk on the beach picking up shells, a beautiful sunrise, snuggled up on the couch with a roaring fire and a glass of wine, a drive in the country down a tree-lined lane or a rainy day curled up in bed reading a good book.

“It’s the sweet simple things in life which are the real ones after all.” ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

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All my life, I’ve been enamored of garlic.  If I smell garlic bread, garlic pasta, garlic cloves (even the “faint” aroma that lingers on my hands after cooking), my mouth will water.  In fact, if I was told that I could only use one seasoning (other than salt and pepper) for the rest of my life, it would definitely be garlic.  All this is to explain my upcoming plans. 

I’m in the middle of planning a vacation to California and discovered that I must love garlic even more than I thought.  I’ve figured out a way to detour over to Gilroy, garlic capitol of the world.  Unfortunately, we won’t be there during the Garlic Festival, but it will be close enough that I should be able to get some good garlic ideas anyway. 

My hubby has learned that, in our house, if I’m cooking and you don’t smell garlic, it must be dessert!  (Not really true, but he does think I’m a garlic fiend.)  I’m planning on checking out garlic ice cream (if they have any when the festival isn’t going on).  Then, from now on, he won’t be able to claim that I’m making dessert if there’s no garlic smell!!  🙂  It’s definitely an interesting concept (garlic ice cream), but I’m not sure I’ll enjoy it.  We’ll have to wait and see.  In the meantime, I have planned other activities for the vacation trip, so he doesn’t think I’ve gone completely over the deep end on the garlic love. 

So, what’s your favorite seasoning/flavor and have you ever made a trip somewhere to enjoy it even more? 

“What is food to one man is bitter poison to others.” ~ Lucretius

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I have to say, I’m extremely picky about condiments on my burgers, hot dogs and other sandwiches. There are definite likes and dislikes and I will forego eating something rather than suffer the wrong addition to the item.

Burgers are very specifically designed for ketchup, in my mind. No mayo (or, God forbid, Miracle Whip) and no mustard (especially that horrid, yellow mustard).  Hot dogs, on the other hand, are definitely meant for spicy mustard (or horseradish mustard), and absolutely NO ketchup (flashback to a disgusting incident when I babysat many, many years ago–don’t ask).  Then there are the other requirements…sweet pickle relish (not Hot Dog Relish, though), diced onions and diced tomatoes.  Oh, my tastebuds are dancing!   

As for ham or ham and cheese sandwiches, only mayo.  I have no idea why I don’t like mustard on them.  And even if I did, it wouldn’t be yellow mustard!  And Roast Beef cannot have any condiments…I like the bread, roast beef, maybe some cheese and definitely some lettuce, black pepper and tomato.  That’s it.  Don’t dress it up.  I want that beefy flavor.  And when I eat breaded pork tenderloin sammies, it gets really weird.  I want ketchup on them!  AND mayo.  Nothing else except sliced onion. 

I know that we all have our likes and dislikes.  That’s why the store shelves are filled to capacity with so many options.  I won’t even get into the Hunts vs. Heinz ketchup debate or the Heinz vs. Mt. Olive pickle relish or the French’s vs. Gulden’s….  We all know what we like best and we can agree to disagree.  Or can we? 

My hubby says I’m un-American, because I won’t have French’s yellow mustard on my burgers.  I say, I AM American, because I have the freedom to choose my condiments and stand by my choice.  🙂  Okay, maybe freedom of condiments isn’t in the constitution, but it should be!  So, I guess that makes me pro-choice. 

“Of all earthly creatures, humans alone have the power to choose.” ~ Anonymous

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Orange Slices and Circus Peanuts. All of these make me think of my father. He loved them. There are certain foods that make me think of him. He also loved lemon meringue pie, Lemon Coolers (a kind of cookie) and Chocolate Covered Cherries. Just seeing them takes me back in time, seeing my father enjoying them.

We have so many things in our past that are associated with food. As a population, we use food to celebrate or to create homey, comforting times. After all, who can see turkey without thinking of Thanksgiving? Or ham and scalloped potatoes without thinking of Easter? Well, at least, I can’t.  I cannot eat fried okra without thinking of my grandmother in California.  She was originally from the Ozarks and had spent most of her young life on a farm.  Southern style cooking was a mainstay in her house, but I loved her fried okra!  The fried okra, sitting in that black cast iron skillet, waiting to be plated.  Mmmm!  On the other hand, eating fish makes me think of my grandmother in England.  A little cliché, I know, but she was the first person I can remember feeding me fish (and chips).  

Some foods bring back memories of locations instead of people.  So, when I eat yellow pear tomatoes, I always think of Aberdeen, MD, and when I eat strawberries, California pops into my mind.  Nothing reminds me of England as much as drinking sparkling lemon drink.  My grandmother used to buy it for me when I was a little girl, visiting her there.  I can still see us walking to the corner store and walking back to her house with that bottle in hand.  Although the row houses were torn down years ago, I still see them, picture perfect, in my mind, that narrow, twisting road bordered by a sidewalk and the huge wall on the other side of the street that surrounded the park. 

So, this weekend, while I am thinking of Fourths gone by and enjoying time off work, I’ll be grilling steak and making tomato and cucumber salad, thinking of the fresh tomatoes we used to pick from our garden, the grilling my mother and father did when I was still young and the memories will be as fresh and sweet as they were they day they were made.  Here’s to a great Fourth for all of you, wonderful memories in the making and a chance to look back over past Fourths.  Happy Birthday, America!  And many more to come.    

“What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?” ~Lin Yutang

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I was reading an article in one of my favorite magazines…Taste of Home.  Yep, I love to cook and subscribe to several magazines that have recipes in them.  But Taste of Home beats them all…a magazine dedicated to cooking!  Love it!

This particular article, though, struck another love.  I love our soldiers who give up so much to do their duty.  And they appreciate any little thing.  What makes me sad is that some of our soldiers don’t get much mail…or any mail.  Well, this article in Taste of Home was such an inspiration, that I wanted to spread the word.  There is a woman who blogs about baking (Susan’s blog) and she asked some of her followers to send goodie packages to her cousin who had deployed to Iraq.  She was amazed to find out he didn’t get the 4-5 packages she thought would arrive.  He received SIXTY boxes!  On that day, Operation Baking GALS (Give a Little Support) was born.  She created a new website called bakinggals.com and people can search through the list of soldiers who are waiting for baked goodies.

Please spread the word.  Our soldiers still need our support.  We cannot forget them, because time has passed since the beginning of this war.  Please think of our soldiers and find ways to thank them.  If you can’t bake, find someone who can and help them by donating the packaging and time going to the post office. 

And thanks to Susan for starting such a wonderful thing.

“Look up, and not down; Out and not in; Forward and not back; And lend a hand.” ~ Edward Everett Hale

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I got up early this morning (early for a Saturday, anyway) and baked a sheet cake for a party we’re going to tonight.  Then I got ready and headed out to Macy’s for my make-up makeover…that was fun!  Talk about pampering–to have someone do your make-up for you.  I can see why stars like that kind of treatment.  I think I may try to do that about once every 3 months, to try out the new season’s colors and get some pampering (and new make-up). 

Then my dear hubby took me out to lunch to a cute local diner for the steak special (love ribeyes) and this place is all black and white with red accents.  I love both the interior and exterior.  And the food is always good.  Then we went shopping.  It’s Tax-Free weekend in Texas, so we plan on trying to pick up some bargains while we can.  With so many stores struggling, they are having quite a few sales going on in addition to the tax-free thing.  My hubby needs some new clothes for work (suits, dress slacks, shirts, etc.) and I wouldn’t mind getting some new outfits myself.  Now we’re back home and I’m getting ready to decorate the cake before we get in the car and head out.  Somehow, even though this day has been filled with running around, getting things accomplished and cleaning the kitchen, it is so much more relaxing than a work day that is spent sitting at a computer.   

And I’m looking forward to tomorrow, too.  Oh, if only weekends were longer.

“Your hair may be brushed, but your mind’s untidy. You’ve had about seven hours  sleep since Friday. No wonder you feel that lost sensation. You’re sunk from a riot of relaxation.” ~ Ogden Nash

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