St. Patrick’s Day 2015

My 1st 4 Leaf Clover of 2015 was found on St. Patrick's Day!!

My 1st 4 Leaf Clover of 2015 was found on St. Patrick’s Day!!

St. Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin, Ireland: June 13, 2011 I’ve always enjoyed all the “wearing of the green” and the leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day. However, it wasn’t until our day in Dublin, Ireland June of 2011, that I felt a “spiritual conncetion” with Saint Patrick.  I had even read several times yet without absorbing much history of Saint Patrick to really know his story.

St. Patrick

He had been taken from  homeland in Wales (Great Britain) to be a slave in Ireland. He was approximately 16, and by his early 20s he had made it back to Wales. He then became a minister and returned to Ireland. He writes that he “baptized thousands of people”. He ordained priests to lead the new Christian communities. He converted wealthy women, some of whom became nuns in the face of family opposition. He also dealt with the sons of kings, converting them too.

Carter, Nana, Haven, & Ammon (admiring the vaulted ceilings)
June 13, 2011: St. Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin, Ireland

My favorite building in Dublin, Ireland was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It had such a warmth and “spirit” about it. It wasn’t like other cathedrals I have been in where it was like a museum instead of a place of worship. St. Patrick’s work was filled with love and giving, and his spirit seems to permeate his cathedral.

Snomageddon 2015 for the Caylor-Browns

Thursday February 26, 2015 Sledding #Snowmageddon

Thursday February 26, 2015 Sledding #Snowmageddon

The Awesome Day began with 8 inches of snow and a jaunt through the yard with my 11 year old Black and Tan Coonhound, Ferd .

The Caylor-Brown's House February 26, 2015 #Snomageddon

The Caylor-Brown’s House February 26, 2015 #Snomageddon

As usual, the barn shines in its contrast from the snowy-gray Grindstone Mountain.

Our Barn, Play Park, & the edge of our upper field at the foot of Grindstone Mountain

Our Barn, Play Park, & the edge of our upper field at the foot of Grindstone Mountain

We had to make our own sled run: How?

Step 1: Find the fall line and “path of least resistance” usually by sledding yourself.

Step 2: Have a person sit on the sled and drag that person to make a slick run.

Step 3: Keep trying to use the same run to over and over. After several runs, you can see and feel the track.

Ammon & Carter make snow angels on Snowmageddon Day = February 26, 2015

Ammon & Carter make snow angels on Snowmageddon Day = February 26, 2015

Thursday February 26, 2015 #Snowmageddon up on Grindstone Mountain

Thursday February 26, 2015 #Snowmageddon up on Grindstone Mountain

After sledding, Ammon and Carter had school: Math, Social Studies, and Handwriting. When lunch was over, Carter, Ammon, & Daddy S went up on the base of Grindstone Mountain while I cut small trees with the chain saw and made sure our tractor was running in the freezing weather.

We finished the day with an awesome Dinner: Baked Honey Ham, Creamed Corn, Baked Beans, Stuffing, and Cranberry Sauce.

Snowmageddon Dinner

Snowmageddon Dinner

Winter’s Full Moon (5 Steps to a Winter, Artistic Masterpiece)

moon3_blog

After an autumn watercolor project turned out so nicely for Ammon and Carter, I decided to try one for winter.

Need (Suggested beginning doses: more paint for darker color OR add more water to lighten it up)

1 Plastic Cup

4 tsp. Water

2 drops Watercolor Paint (Van Gogh #506-Ultramarine)

1 White Oil Pastel Crayon (Holbein Oil Pastel)

Water Color Paper

1 Paintbrush

Step 1: On the Watercolor Paper, Etch out the Winter Scene lightly with a pencil. Carter, Ammon, and I elected to take a perfectly round object to trace our moon. You and yours can draw a moon anyway you wish.

Step 2: Thoroughly color in all objects you want to appear white with the Oil Pastel.

moon_blog

Step 3: Add drops of paint to the water and mix. It doesn’t look like much, but it is PLENTY. Once again if the paint wasn’t dark enough add paint droplets and if it was too dark, add a few drops of water at a time to the glass. Keep a practice Watercolor sheet handy to experiment.

Step 4: Paint! Make sure you saturate the paper. The oil pastel will repel the water (oil doesn’t mix with water).

moon2_blog

Step 5: Find a flat place for your painting to dry.

As you can see from the intro photo, we had them framed. We painted the paintings on the 1st Day of Winter, allowed them to dry, then framed them on December 23 just in time to flank the mantel for Christmas. There they will remain until spring.

Mantel_copy

Quick, Fun, & Delicious Christmas Pretzels to Make with the Family in Minutes

Yep, Guided by their Daddy H, Ammon & Carter make homemade holiday pretzels!

Yep, Guided by their Daddy H, Ammon &
Carter make homemade holiday pretzels!
Pretzel Prep Time (including Baking) = 30 minutes
Decorating with Vanilla Candy Coating & Color Stripes = 30 minutes
Yield = 2 dozen (24) 3 inch Pretzels

(Simple ingredients for a Scrumptious Treat…oh, yes, we we’ve been studying German and Spanish as well)
Pretzel Ingredients

Turn your oven on to 425° F

Pretzel Ingredients
Packet of yeast
1 ½ cups of warm water
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of salt
3 cups of All Purpose Flour

Vanilla Coating = Log House Candiquik

Red & Green stripes = Wilton Candy Melts

To make the Pretzels alone, you probably already had the necessary ingredients in your cupboard/kitchen cabinets. During the Holiday Season, it was quite easy to find the vanilla Candiquik as well as the Wilton Candy Melts. All I had to do was make a quick trip to Walmart. It had everything we needed.

As you stir the mixture (no electric mixer necessary) keep adding All Purpose Flour, ¾ to 1 more cup to make the dough bouncy and not sticky.

No Mixer = Easy-Peasy!

No Mixer = Easy-Peasy!

Keep a squeaky-clean, flour-dusted surface while kneading the dough.Poke the dough with your finger. If it bounds back, it is ready to make a pretzel ribbon.

If the dough bounces back, you're ready for pretzel ribbons. Kneading is fun!

If the dough bounces back, you’re ready for pretzel ribbons. Kneading is fun!

Depending on the size you want your pretzels to be, pinch off dough so as to roll out a ribbon. It took several trial & error pinches of dough balls to figure out what made our length of ribbon. We had it down in less than 5 minutes. Anywhere from 12-18 inches inches (once again, depending on the size you want your pretzels.

A clean surface helps roll out the ribbons smoothly

A clean surface helps roll out the ribbons smoothly

Shape your pretzels into a circle then twist the ends together.
Egg Bath: Beat an egg, pour it into a shallow bowl or pie dish, give the shaped pretzel a nice bath (both sides) and sprinkle with salt. Some people these days keep Sea Salt in their kitchens, or if you all are like us, use simple table salt. This egg bath with salt is a DEFINITE in this household for regular pretzels. If you want to keep your Christmas pretzels “sweet” you may want to skip this process; HOWEVER, if your taste-buds love that “sweet-salty” combination, by all means, SALT AWAY!

Dust your baking pan/pans lightly with flour for baking. Place your pretzels in the pan and bake at 425° for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the oven to broil for 5 minutes (maybe less….watching closely ) to help the tops become brown. Take the pretzels out of the oven and find a good place for them to cool down.

Dipping the Pretzels into Log House's Vanilla Candiquik

Dipping the Pretzels into Log House’s Vanilla Candiquik

After the pretzels have cooled for approximately 15 minutes, start reading your directions on how to melt your Candiquik. If you are adventuresome, use a double boiler. If you are more like us, follow the microwave instructions. Use a sturdy toothpick to turn your pretzels. After they are coated, place them on either butcher paper or wax paper. The coating will be hard in about 5 minutes.

With Daddy H's syringe creation, making green stripes on the Pretzels

With Daddy H’s syringe creation, making green stripes on the Pretzels

Finishing up with some red strips from Wilton's Candy Melts

Finishing up with some red strips from Wilton’s Candy Melts

Follow the directions (back of the packaging) for melting the Candy Melts. I used the large syringes (our collection from years of dispensing liquid, toddler medications) for making thin stripes of red & green on the pretzels. The melted Melts liquid is too thick to suck up in the syringes, so I took a plastic baggie, scooped the warm, melted Melts into it, dotted a whole in one corner and pinched in the liquid through the open stopper end. It flows WONDERFULLY as long as it is dispensed QUICKLY. If you do not have syringes, drizzle with a spoon or perhaps a honey dipper.

Once again, making and baking these pretzels only takes 30 minutes. The decorating takes another 30 minutes. So, 1 hour of fun, family baking and a treasured time for Christmas togetherness.

Gray Christmas

Gray Christmas

From the first moment I hear the song “ White Christmas” between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve it gets my hopes up. Now that we have the Oldies Christmas satellite channel in our vehicle, I hear it even more! Am I dreaming of a white Christmas? Possibly. I love the fantasy of a white Christmas: six inches of snow on the ground, Christmas lights on all the houses and store fronts reflected on the white-blanketed earth. If I stretch my thoughts to the countryside, I can see miles and miles of snow-covered rolling hills, evergreens laden with snow on their branches, and, yes, a one-horse, open sleigh with a family going to grandmother’s house for Christmas dinner a painting right out of Currier and Ives! All that in Southeast Tennessee? No, not on your life. Here in the Southeast we get cheated on our Christmas snow! However, I learned a life lesson several years ago when my children were only six weeks old: be thankful for whatever your situation might be.

For several years I have kept a journal. On January 1, I list hopes and prayers for the coming year. When it comes to the weather for Christmas Eve and the following day, I always include “ 28 degrees, snow on Christmas Eve, and plenty of snow on the ground on Christmas day.”

In 1969 (I was 3 years old so I cannot remember much), it snowed several inches on Christmas. I remember my green Tonka® pick- up truck and farm set with those awesome black and white Holstein milking cows I received from Santa Claus.

I wanted to take those cows out in the snow, and I also took them to my Mamaw’s (a name for a grandmother here in the South) house that afternoon. We had a four- wheel drive jeep, and we took it to see my grandparents who lived some 15 miles away. I remember playing with those cows as we went. Old-timers such as my Nanny (my father’s mother) said the Christmas snow of 1969 was the only real accumulation of snow she had ever seen on Christmas day, and the meteorologist’s archives say the same.

In 1976 on Christmas day, my sister and I played television-tennis on our new Atari (dinosaur predecessor of X-Box® and the Wii®…you people over 40 remember) and watched a light dusting of snow fall in the woods behind our house.

We had wonderful, sliding glass doors, and we could see that precious, coveted, white precipitation fall. We kept hoping that it would accumulate so we could go out and play in the snow…on Christmas day, but it wasn’t meant to be! It was at least 36 degrees, and by 3 p. m., the white dust had melted.

The third and final snow I remember on Christmas was in 1989. It was my first year out of college, and I was teaching Spanish in a North Georgia middle school. We awoke to about an inch of snow on the ground. Our front yard was blanketed in beautiful white snow and huge snowflakes were showering down upon it. I had such high hopes! I looked forward to playing in the snow with my 8 year old niece who had never seen a white Christmas. My niece and her parents would be over for Christmas lunch, and I envisioned snow men, snow angels, and snowball fights. After the outside activities, we would go in to drink some hot chocolate, eat our lunch, and open presents as we gazed out the living room window into the snow-coated front yard with those snow men waving to the passers by’s on the road. But as usual by the afternoon, the snow was all gone. There were no snow angels, no snowmen, nor snowball fights; however, Christmas lunch with my family was delicious.

I really wanted a white Christmas in 2008.  My husband Sean and I had been married for four years. We had our religious wedding on September 3, 2004, and we had our “legal” civil marriage in San Diego, California on August 22, 2008. The following Christmas our children were 6 weeks old. They are kind of twins. They have the same, anonymous, egg-donor mother, but our son, Carter, was fertilized by Sean, and Ammon, our daughter, was fertilized by me. Carter and Ammon each had their own surrogate. Though Dr. David Smotrich the owner of the La Jolla IVF Clinic said we could have one surrogate with both Ammon and Carter being implanted in her, we did not want any twin “complications” in the womb or at birth. Our experiences with both Dr. Smotrich and Extraordinary Conceptions (our Surrogacy/Egg Donor agency) were beautiful blessings. In the end, we recruited two surrogates who delivered two healthy babies one in San Diego, California and the other in Mission Viejo, California. Carter and Ammon were born six days apart.

The new babies came just in time for the Christmas season. Sean and I were adjusting to our new life. Sean is a medical doctor, and I am a doctor of education. I quit my job in the regular classroom, and I began teaching online for a state university here in Tennessee, which turned into a blessing. During the work-week, I had decided that the babies and I would sleep in our living room which is connected to our bedroom. Sean slept in our bed, I slept on our couch, and the babies slept nearby in their bassinets. That way Sean would not be disturbed, and he could wake up fresh for work. We would feed the babies around 10:30 at night, and put them down to sleep. Around 2:30 a.m., one of the two hungry babies would make a peep, and I would dash off of the couch, grab the baby, change it, feed it, rock it back to sleep, get it back in the bassinet, and whether it was awake or not, do the same for the other baby (parenting at this age is all about the routine!) During the day in between feeding babies, changing babies, washing bottles, doing laundry,  and doing other chores, etc., I was able to “work” online with my students. I was so thankful to have job teaching online, so I could dedicate the majority of my time to our children.

Aside from the fact that I had spent the Christmas season as a decently functioning somnambulist, it had been a true blessing and joy. First of all, Sean and I had two, healthy and beautiful children. Second, as a family, we four lit the joy candle on our church’s Advent wreath. As Sean and Carter read the liturgy, Ammon and I lit the candle (I can still see Carter in his red and white argyle sweater, white shirt, and black, corduroy pants, and Ammon in her red and green plaid dress with its red ribbon and red tights….ah, cute little baby clothes). That event had been special because many members of our mainstream, open and affirming, Protestant denomination were so kind and congratulatory of our new family and our special, holiday moment we had experienced. Third, I had done quite a bit of shopping online, but Carter, Ammon, and I had also spent a whole morning and afternoon buying gifts at our local mall. It was the first time we three had been out by ourselves. It was a challenge, but we did it! I was sleepy and had two, six week old babies, but the Christmas season was going nicely; however, I was waiting for my white Christmas.

Wednesday December 24, 2008

On January 1, 2008, I had asked for the 28 degrees and snow on Christmas Eve. It was now December 24th, and it was 45 degrees, gray, humid, and cloudy; typical for a Southeast Tennessee Christmas Eve. Because it was Carter and Ammon’s first Christmas, they needed, nay, deserved a white Christmas!

We were looking forward to the church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, but both of the babies had the sniffles, so we stayed home. Staying at home kept the babies from getting out in the elements, and it gave me time to clean more in the house, wrap my last presents, and prepare some Christmas day foods for the following day when we would be hosting the Christmas lunch for our families.

For several years, Sean and I have jogged in the evenings on a track we keep mowed around our 6 acre field at the base of a low-lying mountain behind our house. We always jogged together, but since the birth of the babies, we had to take turns while one of us attended to them. On this Christmas Eve, Sean jogged first. When he came in, I took my turn. When I jog alone, I plan the rest of the day’s activities, pray, sing, or simply admire my surroundings. This evening wasn’t any different, and as I jogged, I watched the gray clouds roll over the house and the field, and I talked to God about a white Christmas. I joked and smiled that He did not answer my prayer about a white Christmas yet again for another year. At the top of the field, I tried to envision our house, our red barn, the field, and the rolling hills in the distance all blanketed in six inches of snow. I made a huge sigh of disappointment.

I was finishing my last lap, and as I reached the summit of the field where I always go from a jog to a walk, a gust of cool wind surprised me and compelled me to fix myself on our house. It was the gloaming of a cold-steel colored evening, but I could still see everything well. I gazed at our house. Our living room, which is in the back of the house, has two huge windows, and I could see the lights of our Christmas tree. The gloomy disappointment I had experienced a few moments before gave way to an illumination of joy and thanksgiving. Inside that house were my two blessed children and my husband who loves me, and in my heart was Jesus Christ, the real reason for Christmas not snow. It may have been a gray, Tennessee Christmas Eve outside but everything, even the cloud-covered, humid evening was perfect. I didn’t need snow or one-horse open sleighs! I smiled and tears unexpectedly ran down my cheek.   I went down on my knees and thanked God for all my blessings and for a perfect, gray Christmas.

Haven, Ammon, Carter, & Sean “Gray Christmas” 2008

Christmas 2014

Sean, Ammon, Haven, & Carter Christmas 2014

Find Out!

Ammon, Carter, and I are in a book! It’s called Find Out Anything From Anyone, Anytime.

http://www.amazon.com/Find-Anything-From-Anyone-Anytime-ebook/dp/B00HEZF9J6/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

Maryann Karinch and James O. Pyle co-authored this book, and one of Maryann’s chapters is Questioning in your Personal Life. She wanted to incorporate my good questioning techniques that I use with Carter and Ammon. She even references my future book (still unpublished, but written none the less!) and has a transcription of a conversation Ammon, Carter, and I had as we planned our Disney World trip last August.

Maryann sent Carter and Ammon signed copies of her book with a “Thank You.” We are all mentioned in her Acknowledgments, and our part of the book can be found on pages 208-211.

Maryann is a very dedicated author, and I think you all would enjoy reading this book. The “Find Out Anything….” can empower us to:

-Identify and practice good questioning techniques.
-Recognize types of questions to avoid.
-Know the questions required when hearing unconfirmed reports of gossip.
-Practice good listening techniques and exploit all leads.
-Determine when and how to control the conversation.
-Gain real expertise fast.

I enjoyed the book, and I think you all will too.

“Find Out Anything From Anyone, Anytime”

Ammon, Carter, and I are in a book! It’s called Find Out Anything From Anyone, Anytime.

http://www.amazon.com/Find-Anything-From-Anyone-Anytime-ebook/dp/B00HEZF9J6/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

Maryann Karinch and James O. Pyle co-authored this book, and one of Maryann’s chapters is Questioning in your Personal Life. She wanted to incorporate my good questioning techniques that I use with Carter and Ammon. She even references my future book (still unpublished, but written none the less!) and has a transcription of a conversation Ammon, Carter, and I had as we planned our Disney World trip last August.

Maryann sent Carter and Ammon signed copies of her book with a “Thank You.” We are all mentioned in her Acknowledgments, and our part of the book can be found on pages 208-211.

Maryann is an effective author, and I think you all would enjoy reading this book. The “Find Out Anything….” can empower us to:

-Identify and practice good questioning techniques.
-Recognize types of questions to avoid.
-Know the questions required when hearing unconfirmed reports of gossip.
-Practice good listening techniques and exploit all leads.
-Determine when and how to control the conversation.
-Gain real expertise fast.

I enjoyed the book, and I think you all will too.

Peggy, Janie, Kelly, & God…thank you all!

prayer-for-friend

Friends & Family

There was a chain reaction that started with Peggy Lamb (Carter and Ammon’s aunt) helped me get in contact with a local author, Janie Dempsey Watts (You need to read her Moon Over Taylor’s Ridge Moon over Taylor’s Ridge ). Janie gave me the suggestion to head to Barnes & Noble to speak with the manager Kelly Flemmings. I have been so blessed that these wonderful people have helped me to write. I now have 2 books! It took 2 years, but I did it.

 

My parenting/travel/memoir is Parenting Strategies on the Go , and I had a great “kick off” book signing at Barnes and Noble in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

My other book is Christmas Hawk

 

Dual Memorial Day 2012

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Dual Purpose Memorial Day

To our Soldiers Past, Present, and Future:

Words cannot say “Thank you!” enough to our service men and women from the past, present, and future. There have been many of my family members who have fought for the colonies, fought for both the Union and the Confederacy, fought in World War I, and served in World War II, and we have several who have served in peace time as well. Both of these men are dead, but my Granddaddy (Troy Caylor) was drafted into the Army in the spring of 1945, did not do combat (praise the Lord), but helped in the United State’s Japanese occupation from 1945-1946. His brother-in-law, Charles Kirk, was drafted earlier in World War II, entered the Navy, and served on the now famous-floating museum, the Intrepid .

My May 28 Memorial Day

I had mixed emotions on Sunday evening. I could not decide what to write for Memorial Day 2012 because it was a unique day. I chose to write about Memorial Day 2012 the day after the holiday. 

This year’s Memorial Day was May 28. It’s a national holiday. My family and I have another “memorial day” on May 28: The anniversary death of my father. Yesterday, my father died 30 years ago. My goodness, it was 30 years ago! I can still hear him talk, hear him laugh, and call my name. For years, I dreamed about him, and he still appears in my dreams but not as frequently. One positive thing about a parent dying young (he was 42) and unexpectedly is that the parent is always “ageless” and frozen in time. I did not have to see my father become old, suffer from any disease, lose his memory, or lose his physical strength. Until the day I die or lose MY memory, he will be my 42 year old father. As I’ve said before, I don’t feel sad for myself, because I had a wonderful father, and we had a great relationship (NO REGRETS), but I do wish Ammon and Carter could experience his grandfatherly love, sense of humor, Christian love, and love of life. However, I’m glad our Papa Caylor Angel can see us in heaven.