Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday Five - New Year's Eve

Today's Friday Five invites us to think about the year we are leaving behind and the year that is yet to come. Not so much in the sense of making resolutions, but rather to consider blessings of the past and hopes for the future.

So let's start off with remembering the blessings of 2010...

Time with Family - I think I have spent more time with my family in the past year than probably in the three to five previous years combined. It's helped to be closer to home and to have a much wider circle of folks that I can call family now, but I wouldn't trade all that time for anything. Those are some fantastic memories that I will cherish forever!

Making new friends - We have gotten to know some of our neighbors, which has been great. I have met some new people that have grown to be more than colleagues, and gotten to know some old acquaintances even better. It's all been absolutely fantastic!

CPE - This has been a blessing in so many ways! The extra income has been great, the educational part is feeding my soul in ways I didn't even know were hungry, and the relationships are more than I could have ever dreamed of at this point!

New Resources - This is also personal and professional. I've found some great new books, wonderful new conversation partners, and a wealth of information that I never even knew I needed or wanted. I love having new places to turn for ideas and inspiration in all aspects of my life!

Taking Risks - I've tried a lot of new things this year. All have had some sort of pay-off, whether it was what I was expecting or thought I wanted or not. Some have resulted in lots of growing pains and "learning experiences", but all have ultimately helped me get to this moment, so they have been blessings in that way!

And my hopes for the coming year...

Continued Creativity - I have recently re-discovered a more creative aspect of my self, and I am looking forward to expressing that more in the year to come!

Intentional Self-Care - the closest thing I'm making to a resolution this year is more of a commitment to myself that I will be intentional about doing at least one thing for myself every single week. It may be a little something or a big something, but I am determined to do this!

More Laughter - Life is serious enough. The work I do is tough. There is pressure everywhere. I need to laugh more often!

Learn to make Key Lime Pie - I'm working on it, but I'm hoping to master it sooner than later!

Finish the House Projects - Yes, we've been here a little over a year now, and I know that really you're never "done" with stuff when you own a home, but I want to get all the furniture to its permanent home (including finding a china cabinet for the dining room!), finish the basement room so we can use it for more than storage, and replace the gosh-awful oven with one that heats consistently and correctly! Anything else (like replacing the windows) would be great, but not essential.

Here's to another great year of life! Happy 2011! Have a safe and enjoyable weekend!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Onboard Experiences

Part of the appeal of cruises are the "fun days" at sea. And there are plenty of things available during those days to keep you entertained. There are shows and classes and pools and water slides and movies and games and all kinds of stuff. Unfortunately, I can't give you a ton of detail about those because I have rarely engaged in any of them. I've checked out some of the games, I've watched the activity around the pool, and I've probably spent far too much time hanging around the buffets and shops.

But those aren't my favorite way to spend sea days. My all-time favorite way to spend a day at sea is to find a nice quiet balcony or window and tuck myself in with a good book. I can watch the ocean, drink my unlimited sodas, and do a whole lot of nothing! To me, that is the best part of taking a cruise!

Now if you are the more active type, there are certainly things to do. But from my perspective, I do plenty of "going" and "doing" during my real life. Vacation is my chance to get away from all that! Don't get me wrong, on my first day I will probably do my fair share of wandering around and exploring and acquainting myself with my options. And every night I will probably study my copy of the little on-board newsletter to find out what is going on the next day. But the chances of my actually doing anything I think about are slim to none.

I am very excited about the spa and the access to that stuff this time around. One thing I would love to do more of is hanging out in the hot tub. I usually spend at least a little bit of time there, but my preference is to be there when there aren't a zillion other people crammed in there with me! I'm thrilled about the stuff in the spa that isn't open to the whole world! I am thinking I may also treat myself to massage, because I have definitely earned that little treat!

This picture is a lot of Jeff's family on the last cruise hanging out on the lido deck. I anticipate spending at least a little time doing just this!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rosemary & Thyme Salt

This is so stinking simple, but it's also absolutely brilliant. I don't know why I didn't think of it on my own, but something somewhere reminded me of the gloriousness of herbed salts, so I thought I'd try making some on my own. It was a great way to use some of my herbs from the garden and I'm sure it will make a lovely gift. Try it on anything grilled or roasted, and it will change your life!

It's so very simple - 2 parts of course sea salt to 1 part of herbs. I used rosemary and thyme because I happen to love that combination. For my test run I only did a 1 cup batch and I did it in our magic bullet. If you have a bigger food processor and wanted to do a big batch, that would probably be even easier. I did throw the herbs in first and let them get kind of chopped up before adding the salt.

As you can see, my salt was not as course as I would have liked starting out so it got pretty pulverized, but it is still very useful and tasty! I threw it into a half pint mason jar I happened to have left from canning this summer, and it made a lovely little container, suitable for gift giving. (This one is all mine though, I'll make more to give away!)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Holiday Re-Cap

Yes, I have been MIA for a while, and I'm sorry about that. I still have a backlog of cute things that I expected to get shared pre-Christmas that I still want to share, so we may be observing a REAL 12 days of Christmas around here!

Let me quickly re-cap the last week:

Saturday (the 18th) Jeff's family from the Huntsville area came down here to celebrate with us. We had more folks than we originally thought we would, but it was great fun and we enjoyed it. I got so caught up in trying to get everything prepped and cooked that I didn't take pictures of anything! But it all went well and when I eventually do it all again, I will certainly share photos!

Sunday (the 19th) some of Jeff's family stayed over and went to church with us to see the choir program. Everyone did a great job (especially my sweet hubby!) We went to lunch at Silvertron Cafe afterwards, which is always good (especially on Sunday brunch!) but I was sick as a dog and couldn't really enjoy it. By that night I was flipping miserable, but had to be on call at the hospital overnight. I didn't sleep at all, not because I was busy, but because I was just so sick. Not a good night.

Monday (the 20th) one of my co-workers carried the on-call pager for my last two hours so I could come home, take medicine, and sleep. And that's exactly what I did. I didn't stop for breakfast, did not pass go, did not collect $200. I just came home and took some Sudafed cold and sinus nighttime stuff and slept for most of the day. When Jeff got home, we went and got our iPhones (which ended up being a long and miserable process in which I seriously considered napping in the floor of the store, I was that pathetic!) I was still kind of feverish and miserable at 9pm when I was ready for bed, so I sent an e-mail to my supervisor at the hospital and took a sick day for Tuesday. No sooner had I hit "send" that we got a phone call telling us Jeff's grandfather had died. We knew it was coming, but it was still hard news to hear. Jeff went over to spend the night with his grandmother.

Tuesday (the 21st) I started in on another day of medicine and sleeping while Jeff helped his family with funeral preparations and all that unfortunately has to be done after someone dies. Then I got a call from my little brother asking me to come home because my dad took a surprising turn that morning and was no longer able to use his legs at all! It was definitely a scary thing for everyone, so I went home to be with them while Jeff was with his family. Jeff came up to see us that night.

Wednesday (the 22nd) was visitation for Jeff's grandfather, so we came back to Birmingham for that. It was definitely sad, but it was nice to get to see the family and meet some of Jeff's family friends that I had heard about for years but never met! We came home and had our Christmas here with just us. I got a SodaStream machine, an immersion blender, and a really nice bath pillow. I got Jeff a dock for his new iPhone that plugs into the tv so we can watch movies (part of the reason we HAD to get them Monday), a vest set to go with his tux, a pipe lighter, a small pocket knife, and a few other odds and ends.

Thursday (the 23rd) was the funeral. It was a nice service, but still very sad. Papa was a mason, so the people from his lodge came and did a ritual which was neat to see. Again, it was nice to see some folks and get to catch up, but I wish it hadn't had to be that way! After we stopped for fried chicken (Jeff's post-funeral ritual) we stopped by and saw folks at his grandmother's, then headed on back to Cullman to begin our grand Christmas tour! Somewhere in here the charger for my laptop completely died. I was not a fan.

Friday (the 24th) we did "Christmas morning" with my family. Jeff's big present was a helicopter he flies with his iPhone (the other reason he had to get it early!) that has some cameras on it so he could check the gutters and whatnot. It's pretty cool. He also got the Star Trek movies and some other little things. I got a bunch of new work clothes and a new stole made by my friend Jacquie from divinity school. Stay tuned for more on that! We left late afternoon so Jeff could take his grandmother to church for the communion service and go to their family Christmas eve party and so that I could go to my church and do the communion service. It was nice. I had intended to stop by his family Christmas Eve party after I got done, but ended up just going to his mother's. We spent the night there and did most of our Christmas that night. I got a new outfit and some little things.

Saturday (the 25th) I got my "big" present from his family, which is a Cricut! I'm very excited about trying it out. Then I had to go to work at the hospital. It was a pretty quiet day, but I did have some stuff to keep me busy. It was a white Christmas! It actually stuck in Remlap and Cullman, so I got to see lots of pictures. Unfortunately, as hard as it was coming down for most of the day, it just didn't stick around the hospital. Still, I took a few free minutes and went to a nice window with a good view on the 9th floor to watch for a while. I got the best gift after I got home, which was sleeping in my very own bed!

Sunday (the 26th) I had to do my regular church service, then we went BACK to Cullman to see my extended family from Montgomery and Ohio. Always fun times when we all get together. We got a beautiful sign that says "The Herren Family: Established 2009", a beautiful, fluffy down blanket (perfect for napping on the couch!), and all kinds of great things from my aunt including gift cards for places at the hospital, candy and treats, and the Stieg Laarson books on CD (so they will eventually make their way to my iPod!)

Today (the 27th) I am home sweet home! I am doing laundry, re-organizing the kitchen, unpacking, and returning the car chargers for our iPhones, and getting a new charger for my laptop. I really need to be writing and working on stuff for work, but that may just have to wait until tomorrow when I'm actually back at work!

So now, tell me about your holiday!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I couldn't help myself...

I got an iPhone. I didn't get one last year because I didn't think I wanted one. I didn't think I would like the touch screen. I didn't think I needed all those apps. I figured my iPod would do me just fine because it had so much storage and I'm almost more interested in the video than the music.

But then I played with an iPod touch. And then I played with an iPhone. And I found out there is a Kindle app that I can't get on my "old" Blackberry. And it's a lot cheaper to download a GPS app than to buy a new GPS. And then there's "Plants vs. Zombies". So I decided I wanted an iPhone.

I'm kind of in love! It's really great and it's definitely easier to use. I thought it would take a lot more getting used to, but now that I know how to check my voicemail, I'm good!

Jeff has wanted one for years. I never realized this. So guess what he got for Christmas?

Merry Christmas to us!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Five - Christmases Past

Today's Friday Five invites us to share five holiday memories we have, so here goes!

My first bike - I was five years old and it was the only year we didn't go to my grandparents' house in Montgomery (because I was getting the bike!) so everyone came to see us! It was really great. That was also the year I got my Angelina Ballerina books and I think I spent more of that Christmas morning with the books than the bike!

The Nutcracker - I loved ballet as a little girl but I only ever got to go see the Nutcracker once. I guess I was about eight when I finally got to go with my mom, my best friend Tyler, and her mom. It was so much fun and I still would love to go see it again sometime!

December 21, 2007 - Jeff and I met on Dec. 26, 2006, so Christmas 2007 was our first together, even though we had been together practically one whole year. He arranged a secret date for me that night so we could celebrate together. We opened presents together, went to a lovely dinner, and went to see the Christmas lights at the zoo. Then he took me up to Vulcan over-looking the city (and where we'd gone on our first date) and he proposed to me with a beautiful Christmas ornament!

Christmas Eve Pizza - My mom always had to work on Christmas Eve, so after we went to the early service at church, we stopped and got pizza on the way home to have for dinner. Then we'd all sit around and watch the Christmas Story marathon on TV!

Christmas lights - I love driving around looking at Christmas lights. Whether it was seeing how many members of the extended family we could cram into our mini-van when I was younger or simply having a "date" night with Jeff, I love them more and more every year!

Monday, December 13, 2010

What Should I Bring?

Or more appropriately - "Reason 52,783 Why Sandy is Completely Nuts!"

In preparing for hosting the Christmas dinner for the Hogues, Jeff and I have been having a pretty consistent back-and-forth argument about the particulars of the party. I guess it's because we came from two very different backgrounds as far as hosting parties and holiday celebrations are concerned. Jeff's family was always potluck and paper plates. Mine was good china and planned menus. Neither are right and neither are wrong, but it makes bringing it together for a single party a bit of a challenge.

When I was growing up, most of the family didn't have to bring anything to dinner. I'm sure a part of this is practicality and the fact that most of us were coming from a little ways off. And really, who wants to worry about cooking and packing and bringing food over when you have kids on Christmas morning? By that same token, if you're going to be close by and I need you to pick up something on your way over or you have a famous something that you can make pretty easily and bring with you, I will gladly accept it. But for the most part, if you are more than 5 miles away and coming over to my house for a meal, if you ask me what to bring, I will tell you "Nothing".

Now, in an effort at full disclosure, I will say that there is a self-serving motivation to this (besides giving me something to plan, research, and prepare) and that is the fact that I am picky, so when I am preparing everything I know what's in it and if I will eat it or not! I am very accommodating of special requests, I just have to know about them!

As we prepared for this blessed event, I was prepared for this question because I knew it was coming. I delegated the ham to my Mother-in-law. That was easy enough. For everyone else, my standard answer was "dessert, bread, or tea" since I figured those were the things we couldn't have enough of!

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I have been thinking about a lot of things lately. Playing with the concepts in my head. Wrestling with the meanings in my life. Shuffling the words like a deck of cards. And I have come away with more questions than answers. With new ideas, but no place to put them. New concepts, but not terms for them. Instead of making up my own words, I'm making up realities for myself (or at the very least, possibilities).

That's what makes this hard. I think well by talking or writing through something. But right now, I simply don't have the words for this. Explanations fall short. Dancing around the edges leaves the center lacking. When I can get right on top of it, something else gets covered and possibly forgotten. The edges are rough and things are still curing and processing and developing.

It's becoming easier to draw a series of pictures or put together some sort of visual response to all of these things. The computer isn't my safe place anymore. The keyboard isn't my release valve. I've always been "the human dictionary" or "the talking encyclopedia", so for me to not have the image and the definition and the explanation is really tough.

In spite of all this, there is one thing that I have found myself using that I had almost forgotten about. I'm singing again! I don't sing well and I am not crazy about doing it in front of folks, but in the car I am rocking out. I am belting with everything I have. And it feels so good! Not just mentally or emotionally, but physically too. Stretching muscles I had forgotten to stretch and use to their fullest potential.

The absence of my own words has made me re-learn how to express myself in different ways. I've started being "crafty" again. I am knitting a scarf and have plans for at least three hats. I made a journal and have a few ideas for what I would like to put in it.

Maybe I should have taken up wrestling a long time ago...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Five - Uplifting

Today's Friday Five invites us to consider "Who or what lifts you up when you're down?" This seems to be a particularly appropriate end to my week. It's been incredibly stressful and difficult, but it's also been a fantastic week. So as I reflect on the week, I am thinking about the things that helped to make it fabulous. In general, these things always help to lift me up, but they have been especially helpful this week.

Hugs - From a friend or a stranger, a person or a pet. I'm a huggy person, so I love getting hugs almost as much as I love giving them.

Singing - What I like to sing changes, but there are a few songs from my "Fun Mix" that are my great sing-along songs. In particular: "Defying Gravity" from the soundtrack of Wicked, "Blessed Be the Name" by LaRue, "Ever Ever After" by Carrie Underwood from the soundtrack of Enchanted, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" by Elton John and Kiki Dee, "Take Me or Leave Me" from the soundtrack of Rent, and "Smell the Color Nine" by Chris Rice

Children's Books - I love love love picture books, with their lovely artwork and simple but profound messages. Pretty much whatever I can get my hands on. Right now I'm loving The Wemmicks, Curious George, and Dr. Seuss.

Chocolate - Especially chocolate covered nuts or mint chocolate things. And chocolate milk or milkshakes.

Therapy - I have a really fantastic therapist who is the perfect fit for me right now and I am so incredibly thankful for that. Even though it's lots of work, it's a wonderful release and when it's over I leave feeling energized and excited about the work that is still to be done, not drained and defeated by it. If you're looking for a good therapist in the Birmingham area, I will happily share the center's information with you!

I have one that was not an integral part of this week, but still always helps, and that's Chicken and Dumplings. That's always been my ultimate comfort food and it never fails to make me feel warm and happy inside (literally and figuratively)

And our bonus question today was around the song "Jingle Bell Rock." I really have no strong feelings about this one. It's not a favorite, but I don't hate it either. After I hear it for a month, like most songs, it gets on my nerves. But I always enjoy it when I hear it each year!

What uplifts you. Do any of these things do it for you or is it something totally different?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Dinner

Every family is different and each have their own traditions. To me, the best part about getting married and starting fresh is getting to create your own traditions and do things exactly the way you want to do them. And I really do love hosting parties! I love making great meals and sharing them, so the holidays are my favorite time of year for that very reason!

Between Jeff and I we have lots of branches on our family tree, so there are lots of opportunities to do stuff. This year we have agreed to host his step-dad's family gathering at our house. Usually we can expect anywhere from 7 to 16 people for this little shindig. When we did it two years ago I decided to change things up and do something different because I figured everyone would be getting tired of the same old stuff over and over. While the meal was good, it wasn't what I had hoped it would be and I decided that from now on, a more traditional approach will probably be more well received.

So this year, this is our menu -

Finger Foods - I have changed the "name" of this a dozen times. It's not exactly antipasti (although I'm giving parts of it a bit of an Italian flair) and it's more than just a relish tray. Right now it'll have homemade pickles and pepper rings, blue cheese stuffed olives, marinated mozzarella, and garlic toasts with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and pesto.
Spiced Nuts

Roasted Turkey Breast - basically the same one I did last year
Ham (this is still iffy) - I think this is my Mother-in-law's contribution to the festivities
Macaroni and Cheese - a new variation on an older recipe. No crock pot.
Dressing and Gravy - Yes, the gravy is coming from a jar. I can only do so much!
Green Bean Casserole - Old faithful
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with assorted toppings - What I hope will be a happy marriage of various traditions
Watergate Salad
Sour Cream Biscuits

I will probably make a peanut butter pie, a caramel pie, and maybe a key lime pie for dessert, plus I know Jeff wants to make some cookies and candies. Stay tuned for the recipes. I'll eventually link to all of them here.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Everyone has "that person" on their Christmas shopping list. The person who has everything and doesn't need or want anything but you still feel compelled to get them something because, well, that's what you do at the holidays! And so there comes the option of some sort of charitable giving in honor of a person. There are lots of great options out there, and if there is a cause particularly close to your heart or the heart of the person you're honoring, by all means go that route. But in case you need some suggestions, these are a few of my favorites.

Heifer International - I really appreciate the mission of Heifer because it's more than simply providing nourishment. It allows neighbors to help neighbors, teaches important skills, and provides some sustainable resources. There are gifts in all price ranges and to all areas of the world. And if you want something to wrap, there are great little cards they will send you.

Simon the Loving Lion - Simon is a ministry of the Pastoral Care department at Children's Hospital. He is a tangible reminder of the presence of God and the love and support of people who you probably haven't and may never meet! This is one of my "pet" causes, in part because I have gotten to share this amazing gift and witness to exactly what it is and what it can do! In addition to the donation of about $20 that covers the cost of the Simon and story book, you also pledge to pray for the child and his/her family, even though you will never know who they are! The pastoral care department has little red rubber bracelets that say "Simon says: 'Pause for Prayer'" or little lapel pins that you can wrap up and give as a representation of your gift.

Friends of Matt Miller - I've said it before and I'll say it again. I am so incredibly blessed to have gotten to know Matt Miller. And I am even more amazed at the way he is continuing to love and serve others through the legacy he has left behind. One thing he was very passionate about was this food pantry, and so this group now exists to continue this work. You can but a T-shirt for $16 (for adult size, youth are cheaper) and all the proceeds go to the food pantry. Or, if your t-shirt drawer is simply full enough, you can donate $25 to donate a box of food to a family in need for the holidays.

UMCOR - For those of you who don't speak Methodist, that is the United Methodist Committee on Relief. They work all over the world wherever there is a need. Whether it's helping folks in the US whose homes and communities have been devastated by natural disasters to providing for healthcare all across the world and everything in between. I can't tell you about everything, but please look at the website and read about their work. I'm sure there is bound to be a project that touches a special place in your heart or in the heart of the person in whose honor you are giving!

Bravery Hearts - This is the one un-gift that is actually a real gift. All the proceeds from the sale of this jewelry goes to support the Bravery Beads program. Bravery beads are a really great program that the kids at UAB who are in the hospital for a while participate in (including our RNICU babies!) For every procedure, test, or experience a new bead is earned. And they get to wear or display these beads however they would like as a symbol of their journey, because no two strings are alike! It's a wonderful program that I love being a part of, and the gifts that support it are pretty stinking beautiful. If anyone shopping for me still needs suggestions, I will gladly take the necklace (see photo above) in the middle size!

Happy un-gifting!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I think the concept of peace is something we take for granted. It's so incredibly powerful! To literally offer someone a blessing of peace is an amazing gift. And when we have it, it's so tempting to ignore it or abuse it. We tend to think of peace as being tied to "quiet" or "sleep", but there is so much more to it than that. And when you are missing the peace part deep down inside, all the quiet or sleep or soothing music in the world simply isn't going to do it for you. My life has been missing a certain element of peace, and I didn't even realize it until it suddenly returned and I was able to say, "Yes, that's it! That's what I've been searching for!" As I have been thinking about peace lately, I have been drawn to the phrase (and thus the image) of "peace like a river." And I've been running over the implications of that in my head. And the more I think about it, the more appropriate it becomes.

It's powerful. Much of its strength is in its depth. Sure, there is some pull in the shallow parts, and some good stuff that can come from that, but there's so much more power the deeper it goes.

It flows with and over and around obstacles. It uses them. It doesn't erase them. The little ones may be carried elsewhere to be encountered again, and the big ones may be covered or may influence the flow and the way other things are carried. All these things that "get in the way" are exactly what make it what it is. The shape it and form it and guide it along the way.

It has the power to shape and to mold. To smooth rough edges and wash away dirt and debris. To carve the surrounding landscape and mold the things around it.

It is always changing. It rarely looks the same way twice. It goes where it wants to go, whether it is wanted or not. It makes its own way. It is different things in different places. Some places it meanders, some it rushes wildly. Some places it's easily accessible and some it is difficult to reach. Some places you can enter gently and others you have no choice but to jump right in!

It is a resource that must be cared for and respected. If not given proper care and concern and if people start trying to interfere too much, it loses some of its power and its majesty. Sure, we can harness it for power or redirect it for our own convenience, but what is lost when this happens?

It can very easily be shared by many at the same time! It is a home to entire communities of beings and a source of life and nourishment to many.

When you think about peace, what do you think about? Do these images support you? How do you experience peace in your life?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bath Junkie

I remember stumbling across a Bath Junkie store somewhere in Birmingham several years ago. It was a neat concept, but never was able to buy anything. I sort of forgot about it when I moved to Nashville and re-discovered it this summer.

The basic idea is that you get to design your own bath products by mixing fragrances and even choosing your own color (or having no color added!) If you don't think you're creative enough to come up with your own scent combination, they have a big book of suggestions. And you get to play with all the combinations you'd like at the "bars". The products are a little pricey, but absolutely worth it.

They have lots of designer imitations, essential oils, and even some masculine fragrances. They also offer a line of products for your home and even something for your pets!

The one down side is that, unless you've been before and know what you want, it's really not something you can order without going into the store. I think most stores will accept phone orders (and possibly even e-mails) but there isn't any online ordering.

My personal favorites are the Silky All-Over hair and body wash and the hydrating mist, although the liquid powder is nice, too. My favorite scent combination is Peach Gardenia & White Tea although if I had to pick a favorite from the "recipe book" it would probably be "Spa by the Sea".

Check out the website to find a store and go play! And if you discover something fantastic, tell me about it!