Dad’s Holiday Baking Challenge (2014)


As the holidays rolled around this year, I was very excited about getting the mixer gift out in the hopes of wowing my dad. My mom and I have always joked about how he compliments someone’s cooking. He has always said, “It’s fair,” when tasting someone’s food. It had to be spectacular food to get a “pretty good” or even a “good”. Considering this, I use the word “wowing” loosely. I was really only hoping for something just beyond “fair”.

I started scouring online recipes in late October. My dad had already requested the prune and pecan cookies from last year, so I knew those were in stone. However, I wanted something that he wouldn’t imagine me baking – something that he loved but would never assume I would or could try. Fruitcake! Now, I’m not talking about your traditional, candied-fruit, super-sweet, rock-hard, use-as-a-weapon fruitcake. I wanted a fruit cake that was moist and had real fruit in it. I wanted a fruitcake that looked and tasted so delicious that even the most critical fruitcake scoffers would try it.

Then I found it – the recipe that spoke to me! It was Free Range Fruitcake by Alton Brown from Food Network. My husband is a huge fan, and we love the show Good Eats. Alton Brown approaches cooking like a scientist – research, test, research, test. If he posts a recipe, then it’s because he’s perfected it. I knew in my heart that this had to be a good fruitcake.

I read the very long list of ingredients and decided to omit the over-powering spices. My family and I are not fans of what I like to call “fall spices” – allspice, clove, nutmeg, ginger. We use cinnamon, and that’s the extent of it. I made my grocery list and hoped I could find all of the dried fruit at one store – golden raisins, currants, dried cherries, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, and dried apricots. I couldn’t find currants or dried blueberries. Therefore, I added more of the other dried ingredients and also added prunes. I had them and knew my dad obviously liked them (e.g. – prune and pecan cookies).

I followed the recipe as closely as I could since I decided to omit certain ingredients. Due to time constraints, I chose to macerate my fruit in the microwave per his instructions instead of overnight. Everything mixed up well, and the batter looked really good.

Fruitcake Batter

Fruitcake Batter

The instructions didn’t say to line my pan with wax paper, but I was using a 10-inch stoneware pan and didn’t want to chance it not sticking to the bottom. I cooked it for the required 60 minutes, but the cake was still gooey in the middle when I tested it. I ended up cooking it an additional 27 minutes – or until my tester came out clean. I was terrified it would be dry; however, it turned out to be a very pretty cake.



My dad was pleasantly surprised by the fruitcake. He hadn’t eaten fruitcake in a very long time, and he’d never eaten one without candied fruit. I was excited and extremely nervous for him to try it. I knew he would smell it first. He smells everything before he eats it if it’s something new. He said, “Smells good.” Then he took a bite and looked at me and asked, “Have you tried it yet?” (I laughed a little. He had just watched me slice it for the first time in front of him.) “Well, no,” I said. He said, “Here,” as he broke off a corner of his piece and handed it too me. He said, “It’s pretty good.” I was elated! After a few more bites, he said, “It’s actually really good.” My mom was standing nearby and said, “Wow! I’ve been married to him for 34 years and don’t think I’ve ever gotten a ‘really good.'” I’m sure she was just trying to make me feel good because she’s actually an excellent cook and the person who stirred my love for food and cooking. It didn’t matter though. I knew how rarely he offered “really good” compliments, so I was already basking in his praise.

My cookies were also a success. My mom and dad played dominos at their friends’ home and took the cookies with them. I’m not sure he took the fruitcake though. I think it stayed at the house for him to eat. It’s pretty cool that my parents are handing out my baked goods like business cards. “Denise made these cookies. Try one.” I have three degrees, and I doubt my parents could tell anyone what they are in or what I do for a living; but I can bake according them. And to think that it all started with that mixer gift from my dad last year.

prune and pecan cookies

Prune and Pecan Cookies

cranberry oatmeal cookies

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

limeade cookie

Limeade Cookies



The Colors of Memories


I’ve seen my share of sunrises and sunsets. As a kid, I was usually at the barn with Papa before the sun was up; but it would always appear before we were finished with morning chores. When the sun was setting, we were usually in the garden or in the chicken coop gathering eggs or at the hog pen feeding the hogs. Regardless, we were always ready to witness the rising and setting of the sun.

Those were beautiful, too! There was nothing like watching the sun dip below the tree line of our pasture or watching it appear over the tree line of our neighbors’ property. If we were in the barn, the rays of sun would stream through the cracks between the boards of the barn walls. I remember being in the loft one morning during a sunrise, and my papa opened the loft door so that we could watch it together. He always made sure he took a minute or two out of his busy day just to appreciate the majesty of the sun. Of course, he would always have some witty comment to make, too. “It sure is pretty, but now it’s gonna get hot.” He always had a way of putting things in perspective. I miss his humor and wisdom daily!

Now, I live in the “biggest” city in Arkansas; and I still see several sunrises and sunsets. I drive into each of them going to and coming from work every weekday. Some would probably be more beautiful if it weren’t for all of the buildings, billboards, and power lines obscuring my sight. Occasionally though, you can see a beautiful reflection of the sun and clouds in a few of the downtown skyscrapers with mirrored windows. I’m sure the people working on the top floors of those buildings probably have spectacular morning and evening views. I hope they’re not missing the opportunity of their great vantage points.

On October 23, 2014, there was a spectacular sunrise on my way to work – so spectacular, the buildings didn’t matter. I actually left the house a little earlier than usual and was just in awe of the colors sprayed across the sky. I’m a firm believer is not using my phone while driving, but this sunrise was too awesome to pass up. Pictures were necessary! My drive is approximately 20 minutes – depending on the traffic. Before I ever reached my destination, the deep, rich colors had faded into a “regular sky”. It was such a blessing to witness.

Sunrise 3, 10/23/14

Sunrise – just beginning my drive to work

Sunrise 4, 10/23/14

Sunrise – almost ten minutes into drive

Sunrise 6, 10/23/14

Sunrise – colors changing quickly

Sunrise 8, 10/23/14

Sunrise – colors almost gone – very near the office

Forgotten Pages


I recently had a doctor’s appointment and was amazed at what I saw. I’ve seen this doctor for several years but have never noticed this occurring at previous visits. The waiting room is quite large with approximately 30 chairs against the walls, circling the room and two, very comfy sofas in the center. Randomly, in between the chairs are small tables holding a variety of magazines – all with women, parent, and kid-related topics.

I always choose a seat against the far wall so that I can see everyone who comes and goes. I always like seeing the pregnant women coming in with their baby daddies. It’s fun to see how nervous the men are. As I sat down in my regular seat, I made my usual room scan to check out the other waiting patients. As I did this, I noticed that no one – NO ONE – was looking at any of the magazines. They were all looking at their smart phones. Their phones were up, in their faces – thumbs scrolling whatever page they were viewing. From what I could tell, most everyone was looking at Facebook or some other social media site.

I’m sure I am just as guilty at times as the folks I’m describing. However, I love magazines! I love everything about them – the colorful pages, the way they feel in my hands, the smell of the paper; but I also feel that way about books. I just hate to think that people are so caught up in the lives of others that they would neglect reading even a simple magazine article. I’m not sure it really matters what Betsy Jo had for dinner or what TV show someone’s grandma recorded. What I find terribly ironic is the app Goodreads. It’s an app that ties to your Facebook account that allows you to post what books you’re currently reading and how you rate them. So your Facebook friends can literally read about what books you’re actually reading – electronically of course, but still reading.

Even though I do have some electronic books, I still like to consider myself old fashioned when it comes to books and reading. Yes, I am currently writing this blog post, which I guess makes me a contributor to the some of the issue. However, I’d like to place blogs in a different category far away from minute-by-minute coverage of social media feeds. At least people who read blogs are actually reading content that equals more than 140 characters. I actually like to feel the book in my hand and the pages beneath my fingers. I desperately want to hear the sound of each page turning.

My summers as a kid on a farm were spent with my nose in a book after all of my chores were done. And after my papa quit farming and gardening, that’s all I ever did – READ. I read anything I could get my hands on. I would completely zone out when I was reading. If my mother was trying to get my attention, she would usually have to physically take the book out of my hand to get me to recognize her. As a child, I read every Nancy Drew mystery book published. Later, while in high school, I was sucked into the “Blossom Valley High” teen romance novels. You could find them at the Walmart in the next town, and my friends and I made sure we would buy different books so we could share and save money. I’m sure some would think we wasted time reading such dribble, but is time reading ever wasted?

Corrie's daughter's books

Our niece found this stack of books in her daughter’s bed. Her mother is proud of her love for reading. However, the young girl was reading until 2:00 am and was grumpy all the next day. I’m sure it was a tough decision but a good one in this instance.

As Michael and I consider all of our “house rules” for the children in our pending adoption, we have decided to enact “Mute Mondays”. It’s one night each week where TV and electronic devices are prohibited. We either read, do puzzles, or craft something. Whatever we choose to do, we must be in the same room having a conversation while we’re doing our activities. We don’t have children in the house yet, but we’ve already started the practice; and I believe it’s going quite well. It’s very relaxing, and I seem to sleep better on those nights.

Therefore, I’m going to challenge each of you to choose some time out of your crazy weeks to put down your electronic devices and to pick up something to read or to make something. Be creative! Try to imagine your lives unplugged and relaxed.

A Bird in the Hand and a Dream from Long Ago


Walking into work this morning, I found a little bird standing on the sidewalk, just swaying in the cool breeze. It seemed dazed, so I decided to check on it. I eased up on it, expecting it to fly away; but it didn’t even twitch. I thought the little thing had surely died standing up. So I reached down and picked it up. It was definitely alive and even alert, and it promptly moved around in my hand so it could wrap its feet around one of my fingers. It almost seemed pet-like – not afraid of me at all. Its little head was covered with cobwebs, so I determined that it may have gotten caught in a web somewhere and fought its way free or may have smacked one of my building’s dirty windows.

Once I realized it was alive, I set it down next to a tree trunk and walked into my building. I set my things down at my desk and got settled but couldn’t stop thinking about the little thing and how helpless it seemed. People walk their dogs in this area, and I couldn’t stand the thought of this little creature being a pet’s snack. So I decided to go check on it once again. There it was – still standing beside the tree trunk where I set it several minutes earlier. Its eyes were closed, and it was swaying in the breeze once again. I reached down to pick it up, and it assumed the position on my finger as it had earlier. It was very alert and kept looking at me but made no attempt to fly off. It was so very sweet!

bird   bird 2

Down in the River Market area in Little Rock, there are huge planters full of a variety of flowers along the sidewalks. The tops of the planters are waist-high, so I decided that under all of that foliage would be a safe place for my new little friend to hide. I thought if it needed to rest that would be the best place. Before setting it down, I scratched its little head and chest for a few minutes and watched it close its eyes. It really had no fear whatsoever – or was too exhausted to care. After a few minutes, I tried setting it down on the dirt in the planter. I expected it to jump off of my hand when close to the dirt, but it never did. So I picked it up with my other hand and set it down. It gave a little hop once it was close this time and made its way under the greenery of the pink flowers. I felt like it was safe and went back inside.

I decided to go check on it again during my lunch break but could not find the little thing, so I am hopeful it is now flying high somewhere after resting most of the morning. As I held the little bird this morning, I remembered being four years old and telling my papa that I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up. I grew up on a farm with lots of animals; and our veterinarian, Dr. Gray, was at our home regularly. He was a large-breed vet, so he would come to care for our cattle, goats, and hogs. If I was out of school, I would always accompany him and my papa out in the pasture to make sure everything was done well. 😉 He would always explain everything he was doing and had more patience with me than he should have. We had one of the biggest bulls I’d ever seen, and Dr. Gray was not afraid of him at all. That bull would roll over and let Dr. Gray trim his hooves and horns. It was a sight to behold! I would also take short road trips with my papa to pick up medicine at Dr. Gray’s office that was in a neighboring town. I remember sitting on his counter and visiting with him regularly. I sincerely thought Dr. Gray had the coolest job on the planet – “playing” with animals all day.

I’ve been in my profession in one way or another for over 20 years now. I developed an affinity for writing when I was in junior high school and always dreamed of authoring. However, I think about those childhood dreams of being a veterinarian often, especially on days like today. As I grew older, I realized that Dr. Gray really wasn’t playing with those animals at all and that sometimes he had to make difficult decisions about ending their lives. Knowing that, I just didn’t think that profession was for me. I determined my career field when was young, and my dreams of veterinary medicine took second place to pen and paper. I often wonder if my papa had continued to farm if I would have changed my mind. I guess I will never know.

Apparently, Country Comes with a Price


My husband and I recently signed up to hear a timeshare pitch at the Wilderness Club at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri with Bluegreen Vacations & Outdoor Traveler. This package was offered to us at the new Bass Pro Shops in Little Rock. We had never sat through a timeshare presentation, but we have friends who do it regularly just to get all of the free stuff. This particular package offered us Bass Pro gift cards, so we gladly signed up.

The timeshare presentation wasn’t as high-pressured as I expected. Our assigned sales guy was extremely nice and not like a typical salesman at all. A different person gave the main presentation to a group of us, and he was quite entertaining – very funny. We then went with our assigned salesman and toured the Wilderness Club property, which included anything from a studio to a cabin – all of which were lovely.

After our tour, we were offered the base of 12,000 points for a whopping $28,800. Gulp! As if the price wasn’t bad enough, you get 10 years to pay for it at 16.99%, but they required 20% that day. Once we said our initial “NO”, the “finance guy” came in the room to discuss “other options”. They presented three different plans at that time – 10,000 points, a different 12,000, and a 15,000 points – all at reduced amounts per point – so reduced that the original 12,000 point offer was now $20,000. This made me sad for those folks who said yes immediately.

Needless to say, we did not walk away with a timeshare property that day. It’s just not something we would spend our hard-earned money on. The timeshare pitchman kept trying to remind us of all of the memories we have with our families while on vacation. I suppose that’s true, but my favorite family memories come from laughter in spontaneous, goofy moments – not from an out-of-town itinerary. Vacations always make me tired and homesick.

After our presentation, we finished our trip by spending four days in Branson. It was nice only because we weren’t at work, but that’s about all we can honestly say about it. The theatrical shows were too expensive in our thrifty opinions. I’d rather spend $120 on a decorative something for our home that reminds us of the trip than $120 for two tickets to a show that may or may not be worth watching. The flea markets didn’t really seem all that flea ridden either. Most items in them were brand new. The sign above one item actually read, “Antique Looking Door”. It wasn’t an antique door – just painted to look that way. We have a few old doors in our fruit house (where we stored our home-canned veggies) that are older than I am. I could dust one of those off, paint it, and actually have an antique door for the price of a can of paint. Their door was almost $200!

My husband attended school at College of the Ozarks in Branson. Of course, that was more than 20 years ago; but he was really surprised at how touristy and pricey Branson had become in that amount of time. He was really disappointed. It seemed so strange to pay such high prices for things that are so common to us. I just refuse to pay $7+ for a pint jar of jelly, jam, or preserves. The same can be said for “homemade” quilts. We don’t own a quilt that’s not homemade by either my step-grandmother or my mother. I have the knowledge, recipes, and patterns to do all of this stuff; so paying money for it just seems odd to me.

However, there were people from other states who were cooing over some of the same items we scoffed at. I suppose it’s all about perspective. People were buying quilts, jelly, fudge, etc. It honestly made me want to set up shop somewhere and start selling my family’s wares. Who knew that being country was so chic now? However, I still believe folks should be cautious of buying such things at tourist traps. Just because it’s sold in the Ozarks doesn’t mean it’s authentically country. On the way to your tourist trap destination, find a small town where the locals sell such things. I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the quality and the price.

The Hope of the Unknown


My husband Michael and I have been extremely busy since March 17th. That’s the night we attended an informational meeting about becoming adoptive parents in Arkansas. Please understand that this blog isn’t about adoption; however, I am feeling compelled to explain a little bit of the process thus far. This will also explain why I haven’t posted anything new in over a month.

Michael’s Background:

My husband is adopted. He was placed in foster care in Arkansas at the age of six, traumatically bounced around homes of extended family members for a year, and then went to live with some wonderful foster parents for one year. He went to live with his adoptive family when he was eight and was adopted when he was ten. He and his sister were adopted by parents of 14 biological children, so he is technically one of 16 children in the same family. We have 57 nieces and nephews and, as of this week, 76 great nieces and nephews. Don’t worry; they don’t “do” Christmas together – only Thanksgiving. There were approximately 85 at the 2013 Thanksgiving Dinner.

Denise’s Background:

I am an only child. I could stop there, but it just seems too simple. My parents separated when I was five. My father threatened to take me out of school and leave for Texas, so the school administration thought it was best that I drop out of kindergarten for my own safety. My parents’ divorce was final in May 1976 after I turned six, and my father was remarried to a 19-year-old girl by June – one of his Sunday School students. Yes, the irony is apparent. I’m tempted to write a book about it, but I actually like her now. She was just naive and wanted out of our little, podunk town; and my 31-year-old father offered her the opportunity. He ended up leaving her with two girls instead of just one. So I have two half-sisters by his second marriage. We won’t go into his third, fourth, or fifth marriages. At least there are no offspring associated with any of those – to my knowledge.

Our Background:

Michael and I have been married for six years. I’ve never been wired like most women. I’ve never “craved” to give birth, and I’ve joked repeatedly about my clock not having batteries. I love kids, but I’ve never been one to coo over a baby. While dating, we discussed adoption a lot and had always had a plan to do so when the time was right for us.

Well, in 2009, we found out we were pregnant. At 10 1/2 weeks in November of that year, I miscarried and thought my world had ended. It was a traumatic experience for me; and unless you’ve been through one, you will not understand it. My husband was sad over the loss, but it wasn’t the same emotion that I experienced. We tried to conceive again but never could. We then returned to our initial adoption plan.

Current Process:

Since the informational meeting in March, we have already completed our foster/adoption training, our initial home visit, and a ton of paper work including FBI and Child Maltreatment background checks and fingerprints. We are scheduled for a required CPR course next week and will submit our final “red packet” the next day – hopefully. We then go into Home Study mode, where a third-party contractor crawls into our family’s past, present, and future to determine if we will make acceptable parents for children currently in foster care in Arkansas. We have chosen not to foster – only adopt. Therefore, we will only be considered for children whose parents have had their parental rights terminated by an Arkansas court.

We are excited, scared, nervous, hopeful, etc. It’s a much more emotional experience than we originally anticipated. The Home Study is supposed to take 30 days or less; so feasibly, we could be looking at placement of a child in our home by the end of June. He/She/They has/have to live with us for six months, then Arkansas finalizes the adoption to make him/her/them our child/children. That’s right! We also don’t know if we’re getting one, two, or three. We’re open to whatever God has planned for us.

After finishing our 30 hours of training, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to Branson, Missouri, this past weekend. We enjoyed ourselves, but we really missed our home and our pets. Honestly, we couldn’t wait to come back home.

Now, we are just waiting for our CPR course and still trying to prepare the house for kids. It would be easier to do if we knew what age we were getting. We have no clue as to what kind of bedroom furniture to buy. A crib? A toddler bed? A twin bed? Bunk beds? All of the above? We know that June will provide more answers for us, but the unknown is still a little scary. However, we are excited about being able to make a better life for a child or children and to pour love onto him/her/them. Our prayer is for the right child/children to come into our life at the right time. That gives us hope…

Smelling Memories


I sincerely believe that smell is one of the most powerful senses we possess. Smells can trigger memories for us that instantly transport us to another place in time – either happy or sad. The smells in the country are some of the things I miss the most. The city offers its own smells, but not all of them are worth mentioning. A city usually provides more auditory stimulation than olfactory stimulation, but I suppose that depends on where in the city you’re living.

I was recently transported to my childhood by a smell that was wafting through our neighborhood. The other evening around dusk, I let our dog Brodie out in the backyard. He’s gotten a little clingy in the almost five years we’ve had him, so sometimes he needs someone to go outside with him to hold his paw. As I stepped onto our deck, I was immediately overcome with the sensation of being in my grandparents’ yard as a kid, being on my rope swing. It was the smell of fresh, wild garlic; and the sensation was instantaneous.

My grandparents had wild garlic growing all over their property. As a kid, I would grab handfuls of garlic blades just a few days after they started to sprout. They were pungent, juicy, and almost hot when I ate them. But they smelled so very good! When my grandpa would mow the front and backyards, that’s all you could smell – garlic.

In the city, some of our neighbors faunch at the bit all winter for their grass to grow; so a few have already started mowing. And that’s what I was smelling – freshly mowed, garlic blades. We’ve lived in the city for almost six years now, and I don’t recall smelling it since we’ve moved in. However, in that instant, I was a kid again, swinging on my rope swing while Papa mowed. (Gosh, I really miss him!)

The smells of fall can almost always take me back to my childhood. I grew up with a wood-burning stove; so when people burn real wood in their fireplaces here, I’m always transported to my grandparents’ home. However, I was “allergic” to wood smoke as a child; so while the smell is familiar and homey, I have traumatic memories of almost coughing up a lung on more than one occasion.

I love visiting my parents throughout the year. During spring and fall, I enjoy driving with my windows down once I reach the final road to their home. You can always smell freshly cut hay, which again reminds me of my papa and a lot of work during our summers. Hauling hay is a dirty, nasty job; but it took all of us to get it done. The local cattle farmers also fertilize their fields with chicken manure from local chicken houses once a year, and that’s a smell you never forget.

The city surprises me from time to time. That night on my deck brought back sweet, childhood memories; but I also know that my husband and I are making memories of our own right here in Little Rock. Since my parents still live in the country, I have the best of both worlds. I just hope that one day I will be able to pass on all of the things I love about country living to our future children.