Happy New Year!

Yesterday I heard it repeatedly: “Happy New Year!” We’re all getting ready for the annual big crossover. A new year, filled with potential because the days are blanks, so far. We can’t believe 2011 has already come and gone…the months fly by. How is it possible?! I say these things, hear them all around me from others. Not everyone celebrates the same holidays. But everyone is subject to the calendar. The change of year impacts the whole planet.

So beginning tomorrow, I’ll start reminding myself to date my documents with “2012.” I’ll roll over the pages in my calendar and look ahead to the commitments already pencilled in for January. And I’ll be thinking of the changes I want to make this year. New Year’s resolutions are right up my alley. A list maker by nature, and someone who’s always inspired by challenge, it’s easy for me to come up with a plethora of items: “Next year…”

But here’s a twist on the whole resolution thing. What if resolutions were not just about making myself better? What if I use some of the space on my resolution list to include others? I do that already in a non-specific way. But this is a challenge to make it official.

Here’s some inspiration for you, if you’d like to make your resolutions more outwardly focused. Visit Resolution Twelve, a blog that posts and celebrates reaching out to others…groups, individuals, causes, you name it. This blog is not a charity or service that connects volunteers with needs. It is simply a vehicle for sharing goals for the coming year.

Obviously, you don’t have to post your outward-focused plan on this site to make it official or effective. But I think the value in posting somewhere, even on a list that lives at your desk or beside your kitchen sink, is accountability. Statistics say that most new year’s resolutions only last a few weeks. Wouldn’t it be nice if goals to reach out lasted longer? Maybe even changed your life?

Tomorrow I’ll be serving black-eyed peas with our dinner. Southern tradition says these peas bring good luck when you eat them on new year’s day. Not sure about that, but it’s an easy nod to heritage to serve a dish at dinner. As for that other tradition of sharing resolutions…well, there are some that are standard. Watch my weight. Be more productive. Be more organized. Listen more effectively. This year I’ll be adding a few other items, based on some of the suggestions from Resolution Twelve. I doubt that anything I do will make headlines or impact the world. But that’s not the point. The point is to make a difference, and that I can certainly do.

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Last Friday of the year, last day of full time

Well, it’s finally here. If life goes as I’m planning, I’ll be in my office tomorrow for my last day of full time work. Not that I’m retiring…oh no, I’m at that awkward age…too young to retire, but old enough to be ready for a change in my work life. And definitely still in need of income…haven’t won the lottery yet, or made the proverbial fortune.

So I’m launching…I’m not quite sure what, just yet! There are ideas rolling around in my head…possibilities…I’m cushioning the first few weeks with some project work and relief work I had already lined up. But I’m also building in down time. I’ve discovered it is almost impossible to design a next step in life when you’re consumed by the commitments you’ve already made.

Some days I’m brimming with ideas and energy. And some days I’m scared. I haven’t been without income for twenty years, except for a few months here and there when we’ve made a geographical move. I’m also lucky. I have savings, and I have a safety net. Rob is able to keep us afloat while I sort myself out, so this is not going to be an experiment in Ramen noodle recipes.

I’m excited because I get to see what I can do, all on my own. I’m scared because I get to see what I can do, all on my own. If you’ve stepped away from the corporate security blanket, you know what I mean. I keep reading about all the entrepreneurs this economy is producing, and I hope I can soon be part of that group.

I’ve been a great employee, if I do say so myself. I take direction easily and work well with others. How can it be so frightening to take control of my own destiny and be the one in charge? I think it may be a matter of experience. I’ve only known what it is like to work in a corporate structure. The freedom and reward I’ve glimpsed are out there, somewhat obscured by the risk of solo flight.

Well, in a few more hours I’ll know. Or at least I’ll begin to know. Do I have what it takes? Can I transition to a self-starter? Here’s hoping! May the bridges I burn light the way! And may the future be bright!

See you on the other side of the new year! Happy 2012!

Clarabell, the Christmas Cow

For a heartwarming story that has the perfect elements of Christmas…a child, animals, Santa…check out this link to Clarabell, the Christmas Cow.

For many years, my father-in-law read this story at Christmas family gatherings. We are not always with extended family at this stage in our lives. Some years the most we can do is attempt to get together with our kids. So now Rob reads this story for our little group.

If you’ve never heard of Clarabell, take a few minutes and get to know her. She’s quite a character, and more importantly, she has character. This is a story that teaches the meaning of selfless giving, and the reward of doing the right thing.

Happy reading, and Merry Christmas!

Grace and space?

Someone asked me, recently, about the title of my blog. I gave an explanation of “Grace and Space” in my first blog post. But that’s long buried in my archives at this point. So to answer the question of what that phrase really means, here’s the story:

A few years ago, when my son was 21 and we were having difficulties transitioning through some young adult issues, I had an epiphany one day: he needed grace from me, and space to be allowed to work out his issues. And that phrase has continued to have a useful place in my life, as I often feel that I either need these gifts for myself (from others), or I need to extend these gifts. Like most catchy phrases, it’s easy to say, more difficult to do in the grip of the moment, whatever the issue, and whoever the others involved.

The point of this blog is recognizing that there are many grace notes in life…some come from and through others, some just seem to be gifts that come when needed, and bring a smile, comfort, hope…or perhaps understanding. As most people instinctively recognize good things, recording these experiences may seem unnecessary. But I believe that when I consciously mark joys in my life, I increase their power. If the experience is one of personal luxury, I can repeat it when possible. If grace comes from someone or something as a random kindness or event, I can appreciate it more fully by acknowledging and being grateful for the gift I’ve received.

These bring a smile to my face: my family, a good book, a moving quote, a phone call or email from a friend, comfort food, shopping in a favorite store, sunshine…grace is all around us, in many forms. We have only to open our eyes to see, and our spirits to receive.

I’m taking Gingerbread to Seattle

We got home from Prince of Wales (POW) this morning. The little plane…not a float plane, this plane has wheels, and it seats about a dozen people…left the island at 7:00, and by 8:00 we were crossing over on the airport ferry to Ketchikan. After three weeks away it is good to be in our own space again. But no rest for the weary! This is Saturday, and we leave on Monday evening to meet our kids in Seattle, so today has been about catch up.

First we made the rounds for errands. Picked up the mail, bought a few things at Wal-Mart, stopped by the bank, dropped off a couple of things to ship at the mall. We were sidetracked a few times, but eventually made it back home. Good to get comfy, put on Christmas music, turn on our twinkly lights…no tree for us this year as the next two nights will be our only time at home before Christmas. So I miss having the scent of a fresh tree, and feel I’ve let the Boy Scouts down by not giving them my business this year. But it was not to be. (And I have to admit, the bright spot is that I don’t have to put away all the ornaments in a couple of weeks.)

After sorting the mail, I’m adding to my to-do list. I have a few Christmas cards to finish, some work on a project I should complete before we leave on Monday. But the most important thing to do this weekend…more than laundry, online work, or the other chores on my list…the most important thing I have to do is make gingerbread cookies.

We get to see Alex next week, and Stephanie and Matt, and little Riley. I’m excited to spend a few precious days with them, and it is a bonus that these days come at Christmas. We don’t get that every year. This one will be a little different. Last year they were with us in Ketchikan, and it was easy enough to do all the traditional things, have the favorite foods. But not this year.

This year, Stephanie and Alex and Riley are arriving in Seattle only a day ahead of us. Matt is out of the country on business and won’t be home till next Tuesday. Alex flew out to Arizona earlier this week to drive with Stephanie and Riley from Prescott to Seattle so Stephanie didn’t have to face a multi-day drive with an 18-month-old by herself. The nice thing is that he’ll be able to stay over a few days, so we get to see him. He goes back to Atlanta on the 23rd.

We’ll be in a hotel. Matt and Stephanie are literally still in the process of their relocation to Seattle, and as they are hardly settled, this is not the year to be creating home cooked feasts. So, I’m taking the homey touches with me. And the iconic treat for Alex is gingerbread cookies. He loved these as a little guy, and to this day, if I had to name one thing I make that he enjoys most, it would be these cookies.

I know the point is that we’ll be together, and that this holiday will not be about food, at least not the homemade variety. Except for this one thing. And I’ll admit that I’m taking gingerbread as much for myself as for Alex. Not for my taste buds: for my heart. You see, he loves to eat these cookies. But I love to make them for him. This is one of the few ways I can reach out and touch that little boy that used to live at my house. At 24, there isn’t a lot he needs me to do for him. But this is a gift from my heart to his, and he understands that.

To date, we have been able to see Stephanie more often than we see Alex. Part of that was due to his life in the army. Now that’s ended, and he’ll have a bit more flexibility than when he was in the service. But he lives in Georgia, at least for now, where his wife is based at Ft. Benning. Now Stephanie and Matt will be a short flight away from Ketchikan, and I’m already planning frequent visits. Hard to resist Riley’s little face, or pass up an opportunity to connect with my favorite daughter and son-in-law. So I anticipate that we’ll continue to see Stephanie more often than Alex. Maybe he’ll eventually relocate. Or who knows? Maybe we will.

Regardless, for now, when I have a chance to make gingerbread, I’ll do it. I’ll be the one flying down Monday night with a tin of homemade cookies. And no, I’m not the white-haired grandma. I’m the mom, anxious to see the young man who makes me smile, challenges me to watch him play games, sends me funny texts, walks with me down memory lane when we share this treat together. I’m taking gingerbread to Seattle, baked from the heart.

GINGERBREAD
(Recipe from Colonial Williamsburg)

1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup melted butter
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup unsulphered molasses
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
3/4 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
4 cups stone-ground or unbleached flour, unsifted

Combine the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Mix well. Add the melted butter, evaporated milk and molasses. Add the extracts, if using. Mix well. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly. The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to fingers. Knead the dough for a smoother texture. Add up to ½ cup additional flour if necessary to prevent sticking.

When the dough is smooth, roll it out ¼ inch thick on a floured surface and cut it into cookies. Bake on floured or greased cookie sheets in a preheated 375° F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. The gingerbread cookies are done when they spring back when touched.

Easy doughnuts: thanks Mom!

Here’s a quick happy breakfast treat to serve if you want something warm and yummy with your coffee without a lot of prep. For the cutest little doughnut holes you can pop in your mouth, use canned biscuits. My mom used to make these when I was a kid. They were universally popular at sleepovers, and would make a fun holiday morning tradition, just in case you’re looking for a new thing to add to your list of “must-do” in the next week or two.

Grab a can or two of refrigerated biscuits from the dairy case. Be sure you choose the non-layer style. I chose large buttermilk biscuits when I made these recently.

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Remove the biscuits from the can and separate dough. Use a very small cutter, or even a bottle cap, to cut the dough into bite size pieces.

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Heat canola oil in a medium sized sauce pan (fill pan about half full with oil). I don’t have an exact temperature to suggest…you want the oil hot enough to fry the doughnuts quickly…about a medium to medium high heat level should work. The dough will brown quickly in the oil and puff out to a larger bite size. Since I don’t fry often, I usually check my heat level and cooking time with one or two test pieces. Of course, you have to taste your test bites to be sure you’re on target.

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Fry doughnuts in small batches. Turn them once in the oil to brown on all sides. I didn’t time my batches, but the process will be fast, cooking time should be no more than a minute or two for each batch. As the doughnuts turn a light brown, remove to a rack to cool slightly.

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When the doughnuts have cooled slightly, dip in powdered sugar, or a mix of cinnamon and sugar. Or you can coat the doughnuts with a powdered sugar glaze (mix powdered sugar, a little milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla).

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Nothing fancy here…just kid food / fun food from a simple shortcut. Enjoy the yumminess!

Monday morning Cinnamon Rolls

So tomorrow I’m bringing cinnamon rolls to work. These are not from a bakery or out of a refrigerated roll tube. These are homemade, gooey, delicious and oversized. These are the real deal. The recipe follows below.

But first, let me tell you that this isn’t just a bit of holiday festivity for co-workers. No, this is part of my work philosophy. I believe in doing a good job of fulfilling my responsibilities. But there are things that go along with doing a good job. This is what I do try to do:

~ Try to say “yes” more than “no.” Be positive. I call this my “yes policy.” This is not about being a “yes man,” or about letting others dump on me. It is about being willing to try, and being gracious.

~ Be transparent; apologize when necessary; take responsibility!

~ Smile; have an attitude of gratitude. But be sincere; you can’t fake this.

~ Commit to what you’re trying to accomplish; coach it; be it.

~ And last, bring food. I’ve never worked in any setting where good food isn’t appreciated. This isn’t about getting anything in return. This is about now and then sharing a treat, whether homemade or a pickup from the local doughnut shop. I used to buy ice cream fudge bars or ice cream sandwiches in the summer to take in at a past job. It really doesn’t matter what the treat is. Just do it, and do it regularly.

Cinnamon Rolls
(thank you, Ann!)

I’ve never had a failure with this recipe; it was given to me by a dear friend whose skill in the kitchen is legendary! This isn’t a recipe to make if you’re watching your calories. But for those occasions when you want a wonderful breakfast treat, to pull out all the stops, this is a winner. Although the instructions are long, each step is actually quick and easy…don’t let the lengthy instructions intimidate you!

The dough is easier to make if you have a stand mixer (like a Kitchen Aid) so the mixer does the work for you. You do not have to knead the dough by hand, you only need to mix it with the dough hook. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can mix the dough by hand, that’s easy too).

I break this into three steps and it keeps the whole process from being too lengthy. To have warm rolls for breakfast, (this is our standard Christmas morning treat) mix the dough the afternoon or evening before. I usually try to mix the dough early enough in the afternoon so I can let the dough rise six hours and then roll the dough out and slice before going to bed. When the dough is rolled out, sliced, and the rolls are put into the baking pan, I cover the pan with Saran wrap, slide the pan into the fridge, and leave it overnight. In the morning, I put the cold baking dish into a cold oven. (Very important! Never put a cold dish into a hot oven; if the baking dish is glass it might crack.) I put the oven on the lowest temp, about 170 degrees, let the rolls rise about half an hour, or until the rolls have at least doubled in size, then turn up the oven to 350 degrees and bake the rolls for approximately 35 minutes. While the rolls are baking, mix the icing. This only takes a couple of minutes, so the whole process in the morning is just a matter of putting the rolls in the oven and drizzling the icing over the rolls after baking.

An alternative, if you have time, is to allow the rolls come to room temperature and rise till the dough is at least doubled. If your timing allows (perfect if you are serving these at brunch), just take the rolls out of the fridge in the morning and let them sit for at least a couple of hours prior to baking. If they still need a little more rising, you can always speed the process along a bit by putting them into a low-temp oven as described above.

Dough
1 cup softened butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup hot water
2 eggs
2 tsp salt
2 packages of active dry yeast
1 cup warm water, or you can use 1 cup of warm milk instead of water
6 cups of all purpose flour

Combine the butter, sugar and hot water in mixer bowl. Stir until butter is melted. Allow this to cool until just warm (if mixture is too hot, it will kill the yeast). Add eggs and salt to butter mixture when cooled. Combine yeast with 1 cup of warm water (or warm milk if substituting milk for water). Give the yeast a few minutes to proof (it will foam up). Add yeast mixture to butter mixture. Add flour 2 cups at a time and combine using mixer dough hook. When all the flour is added, cover the dough in the mixing bowl and refrigerate for six hours or overnight.

Filling
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
brown or white sugar, 1 1/4 cups (more or less, to taste)
cinnamon (use a lot, these are cinnamon rolls!)

After dough has risen in fridge, (dough should be at least doubled in size) remove from mixing bowl and roll out on floured surface. Roll dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness in rectangular shape. Spread surface of dough with softened butter. Sprinkle buttered surface of dough with granulated or brown sugar, then with cinnamon. Cover the dough liberally with sugar and cinnamon. Roll up jelly roll fashion and slice rolls about 1 inch thick. Arrange slices in baking pan and allow to rise. You can let the rolls rise at room temperature for a couple of hours, or turn the oven on the lowest temperature (about 170 degrees) and let the rolls rise in the oven for about half an hour, as described in notes above.

When rolls have risen (at least double in size) bake at 350 degrees for approximately 35 minutes.

Icing
Combine a couple of tablespoons of melted butter, powdered sugar (I use two or three cups of powdered sugar) and milk (drizzle a little milk in until the icing is the consistency you want. It can be spreadable or pourable). Add a teaspoon of vanilla to icing and spread over warm rolls. If you make too much icing, this will keep in the fridge for several days. You can also use this icing on almost any dessert…handy to keep around for pound cakes, etc. For those who love cream cheese, add 3 or 4 oz of softened cream cheese to the icing and blend to remove any lumps.

Orange Rolls

I stumbled on this option (I was out of cinnamon and discovered my predicament at the last minute when I was making these recently) and it makes a nice citrusy treat.

All the steps for making the dough are the same, through rolling the dough out and spreading with butter and sprinkling the dough with granulated or brown sugar. I use less sugar in this variation, and I don’t measure these amounts, but I cover the dough a little more lightly with sugar than when I am making the cinnamon version. This can be adjusted to personal taste. After spreading the rolled-out dough with butter and sugar, using a jar of orange marmalade, (I use Smuckers marmalade) spread this over the sugar, roll up, and slice rolls to place in baking pan. (The marmalade can be a bit tart, and I use the sugar in the filling to cut the tartness of the orange peel in the marmalade.) Allow rolls to rise and bake as described above.

For the glaze, instead of adding vanilla extract and milk to thin the glaze, I use orange juice and a few drops of orange flavoring, or you could grate a little orange zest in the glaze if you have a fresh orange. Don’t add cream cheese…you just want to punch up the orange flavor.

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December Saturday

Saturday afternoon in Craig is a bit quiet. In a small apartment that is not my own, there isn’t much inspiration or much of a to-do list. I’ve got some writing projects I’m working on, but I can only focus for so long at one stretch.

One of my favorite things to do when I’m ready for a break is to catch up on reading. I read blogs, read email, pull up a book in progress on my Kindle. I sometimes look for new quotes and inspiration for blog posts. Inspiration comes from everywhere…and inspiration is whatever catches my interest, makes me smile, the thing that touches my heart or rouses my curiosity.

This week I saw this (thanks to my friend Doug):

Religion is a guy at church thinking about fishing. Worship is a guy out fishing thinking about God. ~ John Fischer

And I found this:

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I always wonder if the quotes I post resonate with others or if they seem trite or simplistic. But whatever…they speak to me, and if these words don’t speak to you…well, that’s just the difference in people. Not right, not wrong, just different.

Words are powerful; they have the ability to heal and encourage. Words can also be negative. I’m careful about what I allow to lodge in my thoughts. I would rather have a store of sayings and quotes in my head that can add to my support when I need it, whether they sound corny or not. The truth is that just as we are what we eat, we also are (or become) what we think.

I don’t always feel positive. Who does? No one I know. But I’m learning, I’m growing, one phrase at a time, one encouraging story at a time.

Quiet Saturdays…well, with a good book in hand, or with an Internet connection…you can find inspiration. It isn’t geographic, you know. Inspiration is everywhere. Hope you find some in your world, wherever you are.

Community in action

In the last week I saw a community in action…well, it was a small group within the little town of Craig, AK. But these people accomplished a feat. They were able to get a man, virtually homeless and penniless, to the care of physicians at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.

This is the story.

Rob and I came to this clinic to work for three weeks on November 28. During our first few days, there were several conversations among clinic staff about a man who was in dire need of medical attention. He has no insurance, no money, and almost no support structure in Craig. I learned he had come here some time ago to take care of his mother, who died last year. He has some social issues, to put it politely. To put it bluntly, he is dirty, agoraphobic, and has a noticeable odor.

This man became a patient when he’d recently experienced a change in his voice. 50-ish, he has been a long-term smoker. A man in town who befriended him persuaded him to come to the clinic a few weeks ago to get checked out. A large tumor was found to be pressing on his vocal chords and impacting his airway.

The front office staff began to work on getting care lined up. You do not treat cancer in Craig. You leave and travel to a large medical center to get access to the various specialists your condition requires. From this region of Alaska, that resource is most often found in Seattle, WA. But in this situation, sending this man away with no funds and no support wasn’t an option.

It was discovered that there is a brother in North Carolina, living near Duke, one of the largest medical research facilities in the country. A medical referral was made; social workers contacted. The brother there agreed to receive the brother here. Medical costs will be underwritten by Medicaid.

But…Alaska is a looong way from North Carolina. It is expensive to make a trip like that. And this man couldn’t get there on his own. Turns out the brother is in financial difficulties too, so also unable to finance such a trip. Typically Medicaid will cover travel costs, but for some reason, not in this case.

So an application was made to a national organization that provides free air travel for medical emergencies…just like this situation. For a few days there was faxing and phoning back and forth. The office coordinator spent hours of her time working out details, making calls to solidify plans, meeting with the patient to reassure him of progress.

Then three days before the patient had to travel, the flight plans fell through. The organization was willing to cover travel to Seattle or Anchorage, but not to a location so far away, and outside the standard medical destinations for needy Alaskans. The manager was very polite…he wished they could help everyone, but this was clearly outside their policy parameters.

So, back to square one, with the clock ticking.

Someone suggested the local community cancer coalition might help. The office coordinator called, and within half an hour, two ladies representing the coalition were sitting in the clinic, listening to the story. Turns out they provide up to $1500 to cover travel expenses for medical care. You make an application, make the travel arrangements, and apply for reimbursement.

Someone produced a credit card. Airline ticket, ferry ticket to Ketchikan, airport ferry ticket were all purchased. The coalition would reimburse with a check.

The ferry travel to Ketchikan was full price, but when the accountant for the ferry company came in to the clinic for an appointment, the office coordinator mentioned to her that the staff was trying to assist this patient. The ferry accountant immediately offered to get the fare discounted, which she promptly did.

A nurse from Ketchikan with family in North Carolina was already scheduled to fly back and offered to escort the patient through the travel stages. The friend who brought the patient in escorted him to Ketchikan so he had no time on the journey that he was alone or without support.

So, a small town that supports a local cancer coalition, clinic employees, a caring friend, a nurse traveling home, a brother a long way off, social workers and medical providers on the other side of the country all worked together. And they pulled it off.

I don’t know how this story will end. I don’t know if this patient has a chance of surviving. I do he would have had no chance if he had stayed in Craig. Whatever happens, he has the gift of possibility this season. And the gift came from the community, given freely, knowing there would be no payback for the time, money or energy that it took to be successful.

Even more poignant, this man is not from Craig; he is not a pillar of the community; he is barely known here. But they helped anyway. No one will get credit, or special notice, for this effort. But this man will get a chance.

This isn’t a Christmas story of a gift given because of the time of year. Timing had nothing to do with it, except that the need was urgent. But it shows me the best of small town life. Small communities don’t have large medical centers. They don’t have unlimited resources. But when you need to get something done in a hurry, you know who to call. You’re not a faceless application form in someone’s email. And that’s the second part of this story.

Small towns can show off the best of community. And I just had a front row seat.

And the award goes to…

20111002-183918.jpg I recently received a “Versatile Blogger Award,” (well, if you count September 20 as recent) and though I thanked my fellow blogger, Jeff, for this honor at that time, I’m only just now getting around to fulfilling the requirements that come with the award. I know, bad form on my part! But I tend to agonize a bit over this type of thing, and I put this off feeling that I haven’t had time to do this post justice. But enough delay, and on with the passing of the award!

First, thank you to Jeff who writes about his faith and posts a daily Bible study. I’m awed that he is able to be so consistent with his posts. And these are not short and sweet, but well thought out, well developed commentaries on the Bible passage of the day. He obviously makes this a priority in his life. This reminds me that I need to be vigilant about my own daily walk. Jeff nominated me for this award and I am happy to finally pass this award on to some great bloggers, listed here in no particular order. By award rules, I am supposed to choose 15 blogs to highlight.

So, here goes.

~ If you’re looking for creative, you’ll find this fun:
Marilyn Griffin posts at My First Blog of 2011 and I love the way she writes about her personal life and family and often includes a section about the special needs kids she works with, sprinkling images throughout.

~ Mandi is a crafter and teacher of English as a Second Language (ESI). She currently lives in Korea with her husband, but sounds like they will be in the US soon. She is funny and knows how to crochet. Check out Mandi’s posts at Whimsical Witch.

~ For a great photo blog…well, there are words too, but the photos are amazing…visit Meanwhile, back at the ranch. Jessie writes about returning home to a ranch in western North Dakota and the plans she and her husband have for making a home there. She is a modern day pioneer. You’ll be mesmerized by the scenery.

~ My husband actually found this blog and I always enjoy the read. Jenny is an attorney and writes from Atlanta. She is witty, sharp, a devoted wife and mom…well, I’m sure she’s many things, not least of which is a great blogger. Check out Jenny Mac at Let’s have a cocktail.

~ Kate blogs at Joyous Joys. She is an optimist and a bright spark of encouragement, celebrating joy where she finds it as she experiences life in New York.

~ For a fun pet blog, written from pet perspective, visit Rumpydog. You’ll gain some new insight to human life, and see some cute photos too.

~ I link to this site on my page. If you haven’t stopped by The Burning House you should see what people are posting as the items they would save if their house was on fire. Some choices are puzzling and some are inspiring. I don’t know exactly what I would attempt to save from fire, but I’m sure I would be challenged to fit it into one photo.

~ Amy Lee Bell blogs about homeschooling, relationships, faith, and writing at Full Circle Homeschooling. She writes from the heart. Look her up!

~ Tinkerbelle (no relation to Amy Bell, above, I’m quite sure) is a young writer from the UK who seems to pour humor from her keyboard. She’s only 25, so not sure what drew her to my blog. I found her site because she came across mine. I like her self-deprecating style and the window into a completely.different.life.

~ Stop by An attempt at humor for some laugh out loud reading. Some people got an extra funny bone or three in their makeup, and this blogger is one of those lucky writers. She was Freshly Pressed a few months ago, see this for a little relief when it comes to stepping on the scales.

~ Melody Godfred is an attorney and professional writer using her blog to generate work and to post about great writing everywhere. You might find a use for her services, here.

~ I found this site through Freshly Pressed, and have gone to it for writing ideas and guidance. This blog is maintained by a group of writers, so you get a different flavor/voice depending on who is writing on a given day. I think it’s a great resource, and of course, free!

~ Ok, you know I can’t pass up the opportunity to include a recipe blog! Tina Butler shares down home Southern goodness at Mommy’s Kitchen. A mom of three, she posts family and budget friendly recipes with an eye to tradition and comfort. Yum, yum!

~ For adventure, look no further than Lesley Carter. This amazing woman has traveled and experienced all sorts of adventures of a lifetime. You can find inspiration for a fantasy trip and check out her bucket list (I call this a life list!)

~ For a really different reading experience, visit Cider Press. There are some interesting images on this site. I have to admit, some of the writing goes right over my head. Maybe that’s a function of the fact that a lot of my time to read blogs comes at the end of my work day. But you’ll find some thought-provoking entries for sure.

Third in my list of duties for receiving this award is to share seven things about myself…I can’t recall on the spot what I may have revealed along the way as I’ve blogged the past year…so of any of this is a repeat…well, I’ve been known to repeat myself on occasion!

~ In random order…

1. I’m hopelessly sentimental about children, holidays, pets and memories.

2. I’m learning to be unsentimental about stuff.

3. I spent part of my childhood in India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, where my parents were engaged in mission work.

4. I spent two years living in the Arctic of Alaska. Great people, very harsh climate!

5. I used to hand smock for my children, probably the most creative thing I’ve ever done. I am not really artistic by nature…my brother got those genes.

6. I love to cook but don’t really follow recipes except when I bake. Baking requires measuring, in my experience!

7. I’m an accidental adventurer, living in Alaska because I was in quest of an empty nest adventure. But I’m finding ways to make it work for me!

So there you go! Happy reading and exploring, and I’ll be back soon with more great blog picks. I have two more award posts I’m due to write!