These past few weeks …

have wreaked havoc on my eating habits.  I’ve succumbed to sweets, snacks, company to-do’s, Thanksgiving, patient gifts and a myriad of other “very bad for me” things.

My digestive system is in an uproar.

My body is screaming “$@:#+”.

It has been a bad few weeks.

But it’s just that … a bad few weeks.

My inability to “say no” to temptation falls on my own laziness.

I was lazy; so were you.

Make your excuses, plead your case, make your point.

You were, as I was, lazy.

That being said, we can do better.

I refuse to go back to what I was because I think I don’t have the power to be what I am.

I’m more than I thought I could be and so can you.

One day at a time.

My family has been asking …

what I want for Christmas?

It isn’t an easy question to answer for most people, but for me, it is simple … I want socks, soap and candles.

That has been my go-to answer for years because I don’t really need anything specific and although I don’t want to sound rude, I don’t entrust my camera and electronic equipment into the hands of my family and friends.

This year’s answers were pretty much the same as all the others until a unexpected event occurred.

I didn’t expect, when I was making my Christmas wish, that Gatlinburg, TN would be so torn by wildfires that threatened to destroy them.

It changed my Christmas list.  I no longer wanted soap, socks and candles for myself, but wanted them for those who had suffered from the fires that raged through the Smoky Mountains for days.

I now ask for Christmas that anything my family and friends were preparing to give to me, they divert and send their gifts to those in need in the Gatlinburg community.

They have need of everything I’ve asked for and I would love for anything that was meant for me to go to them.

I bought way more than my nieces need or want, and know that with their their network, they will get more than they know what to do with, so, excepting for a few gifts, I’ve decided to divert my haul to Gatlinburg so that those who have lost everything will have something.

I don’t have bundles of money to give, but I can give what I have and I can give my time.  I’m not particularly great at anything, but I’m adequate in many things.

It is my hope that I can help those trying to rebuild in my own inadequate way.

Send my socks, my soap, my candles and any other thing my family or friends may have bought me for Christmas to people who can use it more than I can.

I’m going to go to the Gatlinburg area the first chance I get to help in any way I can.  I don’t always swing a hammer straight, but I can swing one.

I could photograph the damage and catastrophe, but that’s been done.  I have other talents and am willing to break my back to help my neighbors.

I have need of nothing, can not think of anything I can’t live without, but those who lost everything, and the Smoky Mountains that I love so dearly, and cry so hard for, have lost everything.

It isn’t just the people who lost something, the mountains lost something, too.  They lost so much, but there is nothing that I can do to replace the loss of wilderness and wildlife.

My heart breaks thinking about it and I’ve cried myself dry over the loss of the mountains.

I want to give back, not to be noticed by anyone, but to know that I was there when these people needed me.

Give my gifts to the shelters who are accepting them and know that there could be no greater Christmas for me than to know that my family and friends cared as deeply about the people in need as myself.

I am in need of nothing.  They are in need of everything.

No gift wrapping required.

 

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My name is Baxter …

and I’m in trouble.

First off, let me say that it wasn’t my fault; not entirely, anyway.

I am eight months old and am pretty big for my age.  I came to live with these great people on this big farm with lots of space to run, other dogs to play with, or sometimes run from, depending on their mood, and a bunch of other people coming in and out at all hours.

Oh, and goats.

And a pond.

It’s a really great place to live and I’m learning things like how to sit when I’m told and to stay when I’m told. I bark at leaves and wind and really get excited when that big brown truck full of boxes comes around.

I really like it here.

Apparently this time of year is special because lots of people have come by with very loud sticks that they take into the woods and them come back out, sometimes with only the loud stick, but sometimes with a thing I’ve heard them call a “deer” or a “buck”.  They talk about “bagging one” but so far, I haven’t seen any bags, although I don’t know what a bag is or what it looks like.

The things that came out of whatever they bagged are what got me in trouble, but I reiterate that it wasn’t entirely my fault.

I distinctly heard one of my favorites of my new people tell the ones who appear to be the Alphas of the place that I was a thinker and problem solver.  I don’t think they believed her.

As it happens, I am both of those things and because of it, I found myself in a unique situation.

There is a lot of work that goes into doing whatever they do to the things that are bagged without bags and it seems that some parts are more important than others.

I, along with my new dog pals Moe, Molly and Blue (he’s the one that scares me a bit, but he doesn’t know how big I’ll grow, hehehe), sometimes get to take part in the ritual that follows the bagging by being thrown pieces of what they take out of it.

It’s pretty good stuff, I’ll have to say.  I have not been disappointed, though I did get some red stuff on me and my favorite person fussed over me like I was hurt or something.  I don’t know what all that was about, but I loved the attention and the delicious cookies she gave me after.

I’ve gotten a little off point of talking about my trouble, but here is the thing … those reddish looking pieces of something were just hanging there in what the baggers with the loud sticks called the shed and they smelled really good.

I have a keen nose and was, naturally, quite interested.

They were pretty high up, too high for me to reach even standing on my hind legs and stretching; and I can stretch a long way.  I noticed a contraption of some kind under them and as I looked at it and looked at the hanging things, I began to formulate a plan.

Since some stuff the humans took in the house and other stuff they threw to me and my pals, I figured that whatever was hanging out of our reach must be pretty darn good.

I paced a bit, back and forth around the shed and kept coming back to the contraption that I’d seen them ride in.

After a bit of consideration, I realized that I was big enough and strong enough to climb into the back of that contraption which would make me much taller than my already fairly tall self.

So I went for it.  After getting in the back of the contraption, I was able to rare up and get my powerful jaws around one of those things hanging in the shed.

It was like nothing I’d ever tasted.  I was so excited that I went back and ate them all.

As it turned out, I learned a bit later, they were “deer hams” and something the humans prize very highly when they bag one of those critters with their noisy sticks.

They were pretty angry.  I learned that word that day.  I also learned “unhappy”, “bad dog”, “for the love of God”, and some others I can’t pronounce and judging from the faces that the words came from, I probably shouldn’t repeat them anyway.

I can’t promise that I won’t do it again because they were

SO.

VERY.

GOOD.

I’m hoping they will hang more of them, but my fear is that they have learned a valuable lesson about my prowess, intelligence and problem solving super powers.

See, as it turns out, it wasn’t even remotely my fault because number one, I can’t drive and didn’t park that contraption under the prized parts and number two, at the time I didn’t know any better.

I know better now, but boy howdy, those things were delicious and hope springs eternal.

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Today …

is my birthday.  My forty-ninth birthday to be exact.

A day that begins a journey to the big five-0.

I started the day feeling, for reasons that escape me, sad and melancholic.  After all, what, in nearly fifty years have I done.

I wanted to be somebody, do something, see somewhere, make a difference in someone’s life.

I was certain I had failed, but then today happened.

I was minding my own business, doing my job when I heard a voice saying to me, you need to do something.

Do what?  I’m a nurse, I check folks in, take their vitals and get them ready for the provider to see them.

But that voice would not be quieted.

It continued to speak as I continued to do my day job.

Unbeknownst me, my day job was the target and the voice didn’t give me the opportunity to dismiss it as there was something I had to do.

So I did it.

The person I  was drawn to was sad, helpless, feeling betrayed and telling me that they loved Jesus as they listed their worries.

I know Jesus and He knows me.  Worries are not things that effect His people and He reminded me of this as I was being sucked into the worries of someone He was trying to help.

I opened my mouth.  I asked them what good could come from the worry they spoke of if they truly loved and believed in Jesus Christ.

“My family says, my boyfriend says, my friends say that I’m not worthy.  They say I’m nothing without them”

Tears.

I ignored the tears and asked them why they let people tell them they they are worthless when they have professed their love for Jesus?

Tears and excuses that convince them they are worthless and unworthy.

I hold my own tears at bay because I, too, have felt unworthy, worthless and ashamed.

I ask them if they are are ashamed?

More tears, this time wracking sobs that answer the question more clearly than words.

I ask them why they are ashamed and when there is no answer I ask them if they are ashamed because they denied Jesus as their savior and succumbed to the opinions of the world?

The sobs became unbearable and I, too, began to weep.

I can’t help it.  You cry, I cry.

They were being tormented on every side, encouraged to do things that they were not comfortable with by people who declared Christ to them.

I took a moment to compose myself and called upon the name of the Jesus to help me discern what He was saying and what blasphemers were saying in His name.

This person was t0ld they were useless and unfit; unable to care for for themselves, much less anyone else.

I called “Jesus” on them.

I prayed with them and called a spade a spade.

More tears, mine and theirs … more mine than theirs because I was spiritually hurting for them.

The tears I cried weren’t only my own, but also those of Jesus.

His tears make me cry even harder.

I hope the tears the three of us cried will help this person speak the name of Jesus when they feel hopeless and defenseless.

I had two other conversations today that mirrored the first.

The evil one will willingly and gleefully use family and friends to turn people away from Jesus and he wants, most of all, for them to forget that his evil cannot stand in the name of Jesus.

The one thing I made clear to the ones I counseled today was to speak the name of Jesus, either out loud or in their mind.

It doesn’t matter where or how the name of Jesus is spoken, evil must flee; must run away, must cower, must make themselves scarce.

Don’t worry, don’t despair, don’t wonder what to do next.

Say or think the name of Jesus.

After that, you are free to make any choice you like.

If you choose Jesus, He will protect you, however, if you don’t choose Jesus, He will never forsake you, but wait until you are strong enough to choose Him.

The downside of this “win-win” plan is that if Jesus comes while you are still “deciding”, He will not recognize you when you call to Him.

Choose now or take your chances.

I know my name is in the book.

I suppose my question to everyone reading my post is is … do you?

Do you know your name is in the book and at the day of reckoning , will Jesus look at you, as and say “that one is mine, let them pass”, or will  He say “I’ve never known that person, cast them away”.

Choices.

Not to be taken lightly.

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After work today …

I stopped at Food City to pick up a few last minute items for Thanksgiving dinner.

It was pandemonium, with people in every isle, looking, seeking, picking through the sale items and bumping buggies with one another. 

A few people smiled back at me and I even saw a couple of people I knew.

It wasn’t the Food City experience, though, that made my day, it was the coming home to find a big white dog wagging his tail and making me feel loved that made my day.

He followed me as I backed into my driveway.

He watched me bring in my groceries and was riveted by the fact that the back of Serenity opened up giving enough room for him to jump inside.

He thought about it, but decided to wait for another time.

I invited him inside but he only put his front paws inside the front door.  Such a gentleman, that beautiful boy.

I haven’t been welcomed home that way in many years.

He was as happy to see me as I was him.

I brought my groceries inside then spent some time telling him what a sweet, good boy he is.

He sat when I commanded him to and I gave him a treat for being obedient.

This Thanksgiving, besides being thankful for my family and friends,  I’m thankful for a big white pup who will become a gigantic white dog that will greet me before I go to work and welcome me back when I come home.

It doesn’t really matter what his name is, he is precious to me and I think he knows it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, your family, your friends and your pets.

Enjoy and be thankful for every moment.

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving …

is one of my favorite times of the year.

It is a time when my family gathers, as do so many others, to give thanks for the blessings we have been given and to engage in fellowship with one another.  This is a tradition my family has taken part in for as long as I remember.

But that isn’t all I remember.

I remember being told that Thanksgiving is a time to remember those who have nothing to be thankful for and inviting them to be part of of our celebration.

I remember having more food than the dozens of us could eat and fixing plates for neighbors and friends.

I remember hearing my Mamaw say she’d “rather have a truckload too much than a teaspoon too little”.

I remember Granny welcoming anyone who would come to her door and offering to feed, and if necessary, clothe them.

I remember praying together, thanking Jesus for our bounty before we ever placed a morsel of anything on our plates.

I remember the men eating first, the women fixing plates for the children in the next room and then the women eating together at the big table, sharing stories and laughing.

As a child, I wanted to be part of the women’s table, laughing and having fellowship with them as they enjoyed the fruits of their labor while the men congregated together and talked of all manner of things because the TV only got one channel and nobody wanted to watch it.

I remember my dad coming in before dinner, smelling of the woods he’d been hunting in and loving the way he smelled and knowing that, no matter what, He would protect us all.

These are memories from days gone by.  My dad doesn’t hunt anymore, my grandmothers have gone to be with Jesus and it would be easy to dismiss Thanksgiving altogether; but we don’t.

Come Thanksgiving Day, my Mom, my Sister, my Aunts, my Cousins and myself will be joyfully cooking to feed anyone who cares to join our table for dinner.  To us, Thanksgiving has just as much meaning today as it did four decades ago.  Little has changed, excepting the people that gather around our table.

We will still cook and fill the table with delicious things for those who chose to spend this special day with us.

We will still thank God for His bounty and Jesus for His salvation and protection to each and every one who comes to celebrate with us.

Our door will still be open to anyone needing a hot meal, a bit of companionship and a dose of encouragement.

We will worship Jesus and know that nothing we could ever hope to have would be possible without Him.

I hope everyone I’ve invited to join my family for Thanksgiving Dinner decides to come because this is a safe place, an encouraging place and place to find people who will love and cherish them.

I am blessed beyond measure and my hope is to extend that to those who feel alone.

Nobody should be alone on Thanksgiving.

Extend your invitation to someone, anyone, and find yourself blessed.

I don’t know if my invitation will be accepted, but I’ve already been blessed by extending it and I have every hope that there will be a new face at our Thanksgiving table this year.

If we think only of ourselves, we have very little to think about, but if we put others before ourselves, Jesus will take control and that is when the explosion of blessings will start.

Hoping to see some new faces at the Thanksgiving table next week.

Godspeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gina’s Stuffed Mushrooms

      
        One garlic clove, minced
       1/2 yellow onion, minced
       4 ounces ground Italian                                                     sausage
       6 ounces water
       8-10 button mushrooms with insides scraped (I use a melon baller, but be gentle)
       Stems of mushrooms diced with scrapings
       1/2 Roma (or small) tomato, diced
       1/4 cup shredded mozzarella
       3 tbsp cilantro
       1/4 cup ricotta cheese
       2 tbsp Olive oil
       1/2 cup crushed pretzels
Preheat oven to 375°
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in heavy saucepan
Sauteed onion and garlic until onion is clear (about 5 minutes), stirring frequently

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Add Italian sausage, stirring and chopping until fine and brown.

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Add water, cover, turn heat to medium high until mixture comes to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low for 20 minutes.

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Chop mushroom stems and scrapings and add to bowl with tomato, ricotta cheese and half of mozzarella.

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Remove cover from sausage, increase heat to medium high and cook, stirring very frequently, until all water has evaporated.

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Add remaining ingredients save cilantro, pretzels and half of mozzarella.
Cook until cheese is melted and tomatoes soft (5-8 minutes).

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Add cilantro.  Cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

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Transfer mixture to bowl and add crushed pretzels.  Mix thoroughly.

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Fill hollowed out mushroom with mixture, pressing firmly and exceeding top of cap.

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Sprinkle remaining cheese over stuffed mushrooms.

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Bake, uncovered, in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until cheese is Brown.

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Enjoy!

These freeze beautifully, so pack your lunch and freeze remaining mushrooms, once cool, in freezer safe container.

Freeze remaining stuffing mixture to us in lasagna, spaghetti or manicotti.

Impress your friends with this easy recipe from A Photographer’s Heart, aka Gina’s Culinary Adventures.