Learning to Let Go

Happy New Year!

OK, yes, I know it is February.

Yes, I also know that I’ve posted very little the last two months.

And yes, I missed writing.

My focus was just elsewhere.

Life has a way of throwing chaos into our perfectly arranged schedules; car accidents, changes in college plans, early graduation, holiday travel, and this momma beginning a new full-time job….  If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably seen a glimpse of what’s happening in our life including many of the above mentioned things. While these little changes weren’t drastic, there is one more.

After five years here in South Carolina, we are moving.

While I have known this was a possibility for months (my Audley has been very unhappy with his job for about 8 months now), reality hit in December when after countless leads, interviews, glimmers of hope, disappointments and a flat-out “no”, what we were praying for  and least expected was offered to us.

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Honestly, it is not the ideal time with graduation, a wedding, and other big events in the near future, but apparently God felt it was the right time and it is actually a really good thing for us.  It’s also been good for my own spiritual life, something I really needed.

My prayer life has always been weak.  Growing up in a Christian home, I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve been told to “just give it all to God”.  It sounds so simple, but my version of giving it to God has always been “here you go” and then proceed to tell Him how to do His job.  It’s so difficult to relinquish control.

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I guess we are all like that from time to time.  As a mother I think it’s only natural to fix things, but I couldn’t fix my husbands disappointments with work.  The one thing I could do is continue to support, encourage, and build him up as I have done for nearly twenty-two years now.  As Audley’s frustrations began to grow, our prayer life actually grew stronger with them, which is the opposite of how we normally deal with stresses in our lives.  We found ourselves praying together more, and for the first time in my life I found myself giving my stresses, anguish and questions to God and not telling Him what to do!  I didn’t want the mess anymore!

Let me tell you, it’s a liberating feeling to finally completely surrender control!

It’s funny when I look back on my youth and think of the things I prayed for: to make Georgia state honor band, an “A” on a test I didn’t study for, make the softball team, a later curfew, or to wear makeup like my girlfriends… These things were trivial, but I wasn’t afraid to pray for them.  As adults it’s easy to forget the trivial and think only the big things matter like sickness, protection, forgiveness.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve rehearsed a standard prayer and can’t deviate from it because that is what an adult would do!

Oh to have that childlike faith of saying whatever is on my mind again!

The crazy thing is, we can have it, we just have to humble ourselves like we did years ago!

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So those precious moments when my son prayed for a dog or to get a hit in a baseball game as a little boy and the time his 16-year-old self recently thanked God for “letting his dad live to be so old” (Audley is 45…) and to let his sister not kill him with her driving on the way to school are the same way we should be willing to open up and pray as adults!

After experiencing the results of letting God take control, it’s something I plan to continue pursuing.

So, where will move number 14 take us?

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We will be in the suburbs of Atlanta.  Two hours from MacKenzie when she marries in June, just under two hours from Madeline when she heads to Point University to play lacrosse in the fall and Just over two hours from our oldest, Samantha and her hubby, as well as my parents in Tennessee.  Perfectly centered to be more available for all of our family!

Bradley has asked that we make the move as soon as possible so that he can jump in and get involved to finish his junior year, making his senior year much easier to begin.  He’s even been researching school districts on his on.

I’d say that boy of mine has been doing his own praying and has complete faith God will guide him through this as well.

Have a fabulous weekend my friends!

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Christmas Eve Hot Chocolate

There is something about having hot chocolate on Christmas Eve that has become such a special tradition for us, even if it is nearly 70° in certain parts of the south!

While it is so easy to rip open a pack of Swiss Miss, I love the rich, creamy deliciousness of this homemade hot chocolate.

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Christmas Eve Hot Chocolate

1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk

1/2 Cup Cocoa Powder

1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

1/8 tsp. Kosher Salt

6 1/2 cups water

High Quality Chocolate Chips

Whisk together first 5 ingredients in a sauce pan on the stove top.  Stir in 8 ounces chocolate chips until melted, simmer for 20 minutes on low-medium heat, stirring often to prevent scorching.

Top with whipped cream.

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Christmas Eve Hot Chocolate

hot-chocolate-ohfiddledeedee-comIf you are serving Santa tonight as he stops while making rounds at your house, leave the whipped cream off and have it on a coffee mug warmer for his convenience.

And from our family to yours –

a very merry Christmas!

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Decorating Lessons from the Biltmore Estate

One of the highlights of the holiday season each year for me is a trip to the beautiful Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  Every year the mansion is completely decked out from basement to attic with festive trees (there are over 70 of them!), garlands, lights, and other delightful frivolities.  It’s truly a magical experience for everyone in the family.

After so many holiday visits to this lovely home, you can’t help but pick up a few things that you might want to add in your own home.  It’s only natural!

So, today I am sharing ten Christmas decorating lessons I’ve learned from the beautiful Biltmore Estate.  I apologize for the quality of photos; they have just now allowed visitors to take pictures in the house and I had the rely on my phone as my camera had the wrong lens on it for great shots.

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1. Deck it all.  Seriously, go all out!

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The beautiful view looking up the grand spiral staircase; trimmed out with live garlands and ribbon.

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2. Mantle decor doesn’t have to be symmetrical.

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3. Use a lot of natural elements.  biltmore-christmas-8-ohfiddledeedee-com

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Could you imagine over 1,000 scattered throughout your home?

4. Add bling and a lot of twinkle lights…  Everywhere!

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5. Multiple trees are highly recommended; maybe even throughout one room!

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The beautiful tapestry room had four trees all decked out, one representing each season!

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The “winter” tree in the tapestry room

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6. Dress-up everyday ordinary items or use unexpected items to decorate with.

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These books looked so lovely tired up in colorful ribbon

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Feathers and roses help make this a stunning tree indeed!

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7. Deck the bedrooms. After all, the children shouldn’t be the only ones nestled in their cozy beds.

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Mrs. Vanderbilt’a beautiful bedroom with not one, but two gorgeous trees!

8. Take your time.

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Decorating just one room in the estate can take up to ten hours!  We may not have a design team in our own homes, but there are no rules that say it all has to be decorated in one day!

9. Use your imagination

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The “naughty & nice” list running down the tree is such a cute idea for your children or grandchildren

10. Make decorating a BIG deal and a celebration itself within your family

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The grand banquet hall tree arriving at the Biltmore Estate

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of the Biltmore Estate at Christmas and found a little inspiration for your own home.  If you ever want a fabulous holiday get-away I highly recommend that you  slip away to Asheville and the Biltmore Estate.  We are all decked out here in the Jones home and are ready to kick off the month of celebrations with a Christmas caroling party this weekend!  I’ll be sharing our decor over the next few days and hope that you will stop back by.

Have a blessed day!

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A Traditional French Gumbo

What a fabulous whirlwind Thanksgiving weekend was!

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Between Wednesday and Saturday we made time to enjoy Thanksgiving with my family (especially enjoying the time we had with all four of our kiddos & the son-in-love) and the in-laws  in Tennessee, then finally attending my mother’s family 40th annual family reunion just south of Birmingham.  It was so much fun, but I have to be honest with you I am totally over rich, heavy foods, casseroles and desserts, and I am most definitely over turkey!

Looking for something different yet tasty, I looked back over my notes from a cooking class I took part in at the New Orleans School of Cooking a couple of weeks ago and decided a pot of chicken and sausage gumbo was just what we needed to break the monotony of the holiday.

This version of gumbo I learned to make in class is the traditional French, before the Italians and Haitians added their touches to southern Louisiana cuisine, so it does not have tomatoes or okra.  I won’t give you the full cooking lesson, but you use an old-fashioned dark roux for the base which is the traditional French way!

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INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup lard or 1/2 cup bacon grease (strained)

1/2 cup flour

1 pound chicken, cut up and deboned

1 pound Andouille sausage, sliced

2 cups onion, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

1 cup green bell pepper, chopped

1 TBSP Garlic, minced

6 cups chicken stock

1 cup green onion, slivered

Tony Chachere’s to taste (I prefer the unsalted version)

ASSEMBLING THE GUMBO:

Season (salt & pepper) and brown the chicken in 1/4 cup of the lard or bacon grease over medium high heat in a large pot.  Add sausage to pot and sauté with the chicken.

In a skillet make a roux using equal parts of lard or bacon grease (must be strained &  without particles) and flour to desired color. Heat the grease to medium-high prior to adding the flour to aid in an easier breakdown.  Whisk continually and strive for a dark roux.

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You want your roux to look like dark chocolate … this was buttery color still

You must pay attention to this step because a scorched roux smells horrendous and you’ll have to begin again.  Reduce heat and add your onions, celery, and bell pepper (also known as the Trinity of French cooking) to the roux.  Add the garlic to the mixture and stir continuously.  After vegetables reach desired tenderness, add to pot with the chicken and sausage, continuing to stir frequently with a strong wooden spoon.  Gradually stir in chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer to cook for an hour or more.  Season the gumbo with the Tony Chachere’s to your taste.

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About 10 minutes prior to serving, add green onions.  Serve gumbo over rice or French bread if you choose.

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We LOVED this gumbo and it’s even better heated up a second day after the flavors have had more time to mesh.

What is something you like to serve to break up the rich foods served over the holidays?

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