Pay It Forward

When we moved to South Carolina several months back, we had several interesting experiences with people as we settled in.

On one hand we had a neighbor who spray painted the property lines so my roses would not even hang over, and on the other we had a stay-at-home mom of three little boys who made homemade bread and brought it to welcome us to the neighborhood.


The latter was such a wonderful feeling that truly eased my mind over this big decision we had made in our lives!  Knowing how I felt (five and half hours away from all family, trying to figure out where I belonged), when one of Audley’s co-workers moved his family down from Philly, I knew I needed to pay forward the kindness extended to us.

What does every family need when moving into a new home?


I decided to fix a lasagna with salad (including dressing) and bread to carry over fully prepared so all they had to do was take a break from unpacking and enjoy supper together.

I love this lasagna recipe that I inherited from my mother.  She made it when I was growing up and it has always been a hit with my own children.

Savory Lasagna

1 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 pound mild Italian sausage, ground
1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 6 oz. cans tomato paste
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 16 oz. cup of skim cottage cheese
1 cup Grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons parsley
1 Tablespoon basil
1 Tablespoon oregano
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 box lasagna noodles
16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

Prepare your lasagna noodles according to package directions and drain.  At the same time, combine the ground beef and Italian sausage in a skillet with the garlic and salt.  Brown the meat, drain it, and pour in a mixing bowl.  Add the tomato paste, diced tomatoes and oregano to the cooked meats and set aside.

In another mixing bowl, mix together the cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese, parsley, basil and eggs.

Using a 9×13 pan, spread about 3/4 cups of the meat and tomato mixture across the bottom of the pan (this will help keep the noodles from sticking to the pan).  It doesn’t have to cover the whole pan, just give a base.

Add a layer of noodles on top of the meat, another layer of the meat mixture and a layer of the cottage cheese mixture.  Repeat the process a second time.  After you have put the last of your cottage cheese on, add one more layer of noodles (you will have three divisions of noodles total, two of the filling), then top with the shredded mozzarella cheese.

Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees about 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake another 10-15 minutes until bubbly and heated through.

This is a great recipe for preparing in advance and freezing, or just cooking later in the day.  If you do either of these, (thawing out the lasagna first in the refrigerator works best) cook about 45 minutes (possibly longer) in order for it to heat through.  I have never cooked it frozen, but I would say close to an hour and a half (covered with foil).
Just check on it as it is cooking!!


**Make it easy.  Chose a filling one pan meal like lasagna, spaghetti pie or a casserole.

**Pick something that is popular with most everyone in the general public.  Deciding to experiment on the neighbors is probably not a good idea!

**Carry everything over in pans/bowls that can be trashed.  Someone who has just moved in has enough to organize without having to wash dishes as well.

**Unless you are helping unpack or clean your new neighbor’s house, don’t hang around expecting an invite to supper.  Seriously, if you fixed your favorite dish to carry over, fix extras to share with your own family and let your neighbors enjoy a peaceful supper.  Being a mooch the first time you meet them will make a bigger impression than the food you carried over.  There will be plenty of time to get to know them in the upcoming weeks!

** Carry a little welcome gift.  Leave them your phone numbers so that they have at least one person to contact for questions and help.

When I carried supper over, I also carried a little welcome basket.  Since they have moved to the South from the Philly area, I decided to give them a Southern welcome by gifting Mason jars and sweet tea.

I also included chocolate chip cookies (with the South Carolina Palmetto) for their children.

It brought quite a laugh which is a great way to break the ice!

Linking up with Foodie Friday this week;  drop in at Designs By Gollum for more savory treats!


Be Our Guest

With crisp, clean linens on the beds, fluffy new towels in the bathrooms, fresh flowers scattered throughout the house, and scented candles lit to create ambiance, Audley and I welcome our first weekend guests (besides my parents) to our new home over the weekend.
I never thought having company would make me feel so nervous, but overnight guests can do that to you!  I wanted everything to be just perfect as well as warm and inviting.
**Making overnight guests feel special and welcome is so important.  You don’t want to make anyone feel like they are burdening you!
We wanted to share some of our new life with our friends, so I had activities planned in advance for all of us to enjoy like a baseball game and a stroll through the park in Greenville.  These were things we could do without getting exhausted and crabby with each other because we were so tired!  We couldn’t have ordered a better weekend for having friends from “home” up.  Sunny and warm, but not hot.  Flowers bursting with bloom, everything so green and lush.  To me that is perfect.
**Schedule and plan activities based on your company’s tastes.  If they aren’t sports fans, baseball isn’t going to appeal to them.
I also planned all of our meals out in advance so that I was not spending the entire weekend in the kitchen, but rather spend the time with our friends.
Breakfast is one of my favorite meals to prepare, although I often despise getting up so early to cook! It’s easy to plan in advance when you know your guest’s likes and dislikes.  For our weekend breakfast, I went simple:  fresh fruit, pound cake, mixed berry muffins, and (for those who like something hot) crisp bacon.
**When planning meals for overnight company, be sure to find out any dietary restrictions, allergies or serious dislikes in advance.
I set a simple little buffet complete with milk and juice so that everyone could casually eat as they got up.
**Casual can still be pretty.
The muffins were a real hit and were snacked on throughout the day as well.  I love this easy recipe for moist & flavorful muffins that has become a favorite here.
Mixed Berry Muffins
(adapted from Taste of Home)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups sugar
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 cup sour cream
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups freshly, chopped berries (I used strawberry & raspberry)
In a large bowl, mix together your dry ingredients and set aside.  In another bowl stir together you egg, sour cream, butter and vanilla.  Add the wet ingredients to your flour mixture, stirring with a rubber spatula until just combined.
In a muffin pan lined with cupcake liners, spoon some of the mixture into each cup.  Place in the oven that  has been preheated to 350 degrees.  Bake 15-20 minutes until done throughout.
So, so delicious!
You can also substitute the berries for other delightful treats such as chocolate chips, bananas and walnuts, apples with a teaspoon and a half of cinnamon; just use your imagination!
Our weekend was wonderful and I hated to see our friends leave Sunday afternoon.  But, the best part of having great friends is you never say “good-bye”, but “see you soon!”
By tomorrow I hope to be nearly finished with out little garden area.  Later this week I want to share a little of our area that we have been able to enjoy.  I am also heading out of town to the National Cornbread Festival sponsored by Lodge Manufacturing in South Pittsburg, Tennessee (my adopted hometown).  You can read about last year’s adventure here.  Blogger and cookbook author Christy Jordan of Southern Plate will be one of the judges.  I look forward to meeting her.  
When I return I am planning on doing a giveaway that includes a Lodge skillet!  
I hope you’ll stop back by!

{Meet} The Neighbors

Sometimes I think common courtesies have totally disappeared from our society.  More often than not, I feel like we live in the most selfish culture in the world.  For example, last week, I had a flat tire on the interstate about 10:00 at night with my son with me.  Stranded on the side of the road, not one single person even stopped to help, much less even move over to keep from blowing us off the road as people sped by in their cars!  Fortunately, Audley was behind me, and though I knew he was taking care of things,  he was gone 45 minutes!  If you have never been stranded on the interstate late at night, it can be quite  scary!
As if that little instance didn’t bother me enough, we pulled into our driveway over the weekend to find our neighbor spray painting the property line.  It seems my pretty little pussy willow tree Audley planted had crossed over the boundary (part of it was on our side!) and he didn’t like it.
{Talk about petty!}
I guess my point is that it often seems so many people are scared or even don’t care anymore about feelings or emotions of others around them.  No one communicates, they just react, or even ignore those around them.  It is quite discouraging, especially when you are trying to teach your own children to put others first.
There is a ray of sunshine amid the clouds.  Between these two events, one of our new neighbors walked over with her little boy to bring a loaf of fresh banana-nut bread to welcome us to the neighborhood and introduce herself.
It truly made my whole day and warmed my heart!
But it also got me to thinking; would I do the same for someone else?  I would like to think so!
In Alabama my nearest neighbors were my in-laws and a pasture of cattle.  I always noticed when new cows were added to the pasture, so surely I would become acquainted with our neighborhood well enough to know when someone new moves in.  Kind of like “Wisteria Lane” without the drama!
In a era of self gratitude, what is acceptable when meeting new neighbors?  
*This is the one time it is perfectly acceptable to venture out of your comfort zone and take a stroll next door to meet your newest neighbor without calling first.  The whole idea is just to say hello and welcome them to the neighborhood.
*Perhaps you have noticed your neighbor likes to walk their dog the same time every day, or work in the yard.  Maybe you have seen that they leave to pick their children from school the same time everyday.  Use that time for a quick hello.
*Don’t wait until the dinner hour approaches to pop in, and certainly don’t make it a long visit!
Meeting new people can be awkward sometimes.  There is not really a specific time frame for meeting a new neighbor, but if you have acknowledged them with a nod or slight wave on several occasions, you really ought to take five minutes to introduce yourself.  Sharing a written list of area highlights or great places to shop would be a most welcoming gesture.  While an offer to babysit may not be as acceptable since you are obviously unknown, offering to help move furniture or haul off empty boxes would be a huge help to those just moving in.  If you would like to welcome a neighbor with a gift, a loaf of homemade bread, a candle, wreath for the door, even a six-pack of pansies go a long way to making someone feel at ease.
 What ever you do,  don’t spend your visit badmouthing other neighbors or putting down the neighborhood.  Moving is stressful enough without creating the feeling that someone may have made a huge mistake in your choice!
Besides, gossiping does not make anyone look good.
Whether you have lived in your neighborhood for a while or are new, there are common courtesies that will make us all good neighbors.
*Say hello or wave to your neighbors whenever you see them.  A smile and wave can go a long way to brightening a dreary day.
*When you have time, stop and talk.  There is no better way to get to know someone than to stop and talk! It doesn’t have to be a long chat.  If you want to visit longer, plan a lunch.
*Call ahead before visiting.  Make sure it’s a good time to stop by.  Once friendships are established, this may change to a more casual drop-in, but as you are first getting to know people, always call first.
*Don’t make your visit an all-day affair or sit around and wait on an invite to dinner.  We all have things to do, even if it is just folding clothes.  There is a time to linger and a time to be brief.  Know those times wisely.
*Don’t take advantage of a neighbor’s generosity.  If they offer to help with something, it is fine to accept, but don’t abuse the offer.
*Honor your neighbor’s privacy and property.  Clean up after you dog if he visits their yard and don’t cut through yards to get somewhere else.
*Keep your yard looking nice.  In an area with manicured yards, an unkept one will stick out like a black-eye.
*Most of all, say thank you.  No one likes to feel unappreciated, ever.  And if a neighbor is willing to do something for you, be sure to return the favor.

{Several of these ideas have been adapted from Emily Post’s Etiquette, 2011}

 Who knows, maybe if we all try to be good neighbors, stopping to help someone will seem more the norm and less the trouble.
I am working on a post this week to help you with stocking your pantry, and I have a fabulous recipe for a a refreshing strawberry pie I can’t wait to share!  I hope you will stop back by to check it all out!

Funeral Etiquette; the Basics

Unless you are personally caught in the moment, most people never think about funeral etiquette.  In the last week I have been to three funerals; the father of a friend, a 17-year old school-mate of my daughter’s, and Audley’s precious grandfather.  Visits to the funeral home always brings up questions of what to say, how to act, how to dress, etc…, but after the events of the last week, I am quite sure not too many people knows the answers to these questions anymore.  Attitudes towards funerals have changed greatly over the last 100 years as they are no longer a completely somber event followed by months of mourning, but more of a celebration of the life of one who has passed.  Just because the event itself has changed, doesn’t mean that our manners and behavior should slack off.  Good manners NEVER go our of style!
I know as we prepared to attend visitation for Pop on Sunday, I pulled my children aside to remind them that a funeral home is not a playground, nor is this time about them.  There may be some laughter and smiles, but there would be tears and sadness as well as family and friends have come to remember and honor Pop.
What to do with the children
As parents we find ourselves asking at what age should we introduce our children to death or take them to a funeral home.  I can tell you now; you can take them at three years old or fourteen years old and you will be faced with a ton of questions.  Children are very curious about the subject of death and funerals.  They are also easily shaken when that death is a young person with whom they were acquainted.  Our children were introduced to death differently than most children as Audley’s parents are morticians.  With my father a minister, they have seen and experienced many sides to what happens after we pass away.
You really don’t find a lot of current information on taking children to the funeral home and services as our society has adopted a very laid back attitude in raising children that quite honestly doesn’t involve any raising!  Believe it or not, there are still situations where children should be left with a sitter or be expected to behave.  Unless the child is an immediate relative or a friend, I wouldn’t take them to the funeral home or a memorial service until they are at least school age.  That is actually the age I begin to let mine visit their grandparents during business hours at the funeral home and attending visitations with me.
I suggest school age for several reasons: first, hopefully children have learned to sit still and be quiet in a classroom at school, which will help them behave at the funeral home, and second, they are at an age that they have (hopefully) learned reverence and respect while attending church services which comes in very handy while visiting a funeral home.  If you take a younger child, please find a seat in the back of the chapel on the end so that you can discreetly leave the service should your child begin to act out.


Visiting the Funeral home
Unless the death notice specifically mentions that the memorial service is private or family only, anyone is welcome to pay their respects to the family.  But, please for goodness sake, don’t just visit the funeral home because your curiosity is peaked over the circumstances of someone’s passing and you might vaguely know their 5th cousin twice removed!  When one visits a family in mourning it should be a true expression of sympathy and to share comfort, not a means of gaining attention for yourself.  Believe me, the family does know the difference.
When you stop by to visit, please remember to sign the guest book.  Generally located near the door, this is a record for the family to keep of those who shared in their time of sadness.  Speaking from experience visitation can be overwhelming and it is wonderful to have a record of visitors.  Don’t worry that you won’t have the right words for the family.  A simple “I’m sorry for your loss” or “_____ was a wonderful friend and will be greatly missed” is actually quite comforting.  If you are there on behalf of a friend, be sure to also speak to the widow or widower, introducing yourself and how you are connected; “I work with _____”, etc…


Appropriate funeral attire
As you plan to visit the funeral home, many ask what is appropriate to wear.  Gone are the days of head to toe mourning attire or all black, but shorts, jeans, t-shirts and the like are still taboo.  Opt for semi-formal business attire or “church” clothes.  For a gentleman this may include a tie with or without a jacket, khaki pants or slacks.  For a lady this would include slacks with a button-down blouse, a skirt, dress or suit.  The same would apply for children.  While black is still very much acceptable at a funeral, other muted, dark colors are also common.  I wouldn’t go for for red.  Who wants to draw all the attention to themselves?  Rest assured you will be talked about later!  Your goal is to be respectful and blend in, not draw all of the attention to yourself.
And ladies, this is unacceptable …..


I would beat my daughters, no matter what their age if they showed up dressed like this!


Keep you boobs and your bum covered, always.  I was floored at the way I saw some of the teenage girls dressed last week (some were dressed just like the above examples!).  It was more like an advertisement of themselves, and definitely NO respect for others around.  Many young men were just as tacky with their pants sagging and holes showing skin.  Oversized t-shirts untucked with jeans were seen on both guys and girls.  Teaching children to dress appropriately begins at home.  Parents really need to teach young people respect for themselves, situations and for others, especially in the attire that is chosen to wear out in public.  Believe me, it will be noticed, and most appreciated!


Sending Flowers


Flowers are a traditional way of expressing condolences, but respect the wishes of the family or religious beliefs in regards to sending them.  Also do not feel obligated to send them.  In tough economic times they are often an expense that doesn’t fit the budget.  If donations to the cancer society, a scholarship fund, a religious organization, or the heart association are requested, please honor those wishes and if the organization doesn’t send a card, send a note to the family letting them know you have donated.  As for sending flowers or a potted plant to the funeral home, place your order as early as possible to assure it arrives before the actual service.  You may also order flowers to go directly to the church building where the service might be or to the home of the family.  If you send flowers directly to a church building, please check with the funeral home or florist for proper etiquette on these.  Some faith traditions call for different considerations.  If you want the flowers to go to a specific family member, please have the florist note this on the card.
What about feeding the family?


Feeding a grieving family can be done in many acceptable ways.  In the past it was most common to gather in the home of the deceased after a service and mingle with the family.  Now it is common for a church family to fix a meal to serve a family after  the service, or even bring food to the funeral home for light snacking during a particularly long visitation.  Preparing a buffet for the family or having a meal ready for them in their home allows someone to have the option of how much to eat and when to eat.  It gives the family time to sit down and actually visit with one another out of the grieving setting.  Children can have a little more freedom to run and often the atmosphere is generally less formal.  While a meal certainly doesn’t change the hurt of a family, it does change the focus.  And just because you helped prepare a meal for the family, doesn’t mean you are invited for dinner.  Unless the family invites you to stay, drop off your prepared meal and quickly leave.
And one last thought for friends of the grieving, follow-up with them in weeks to come.  Sometimes all of the stress of the moment keeps us from properly grieving.  When things have settled down and everyone has gone home, the days and nights can become quite lonely.  Even a card or phone call speaks volumes on those lonely days.
For the Family
Proper behavior at a funeral goes beyond the guests; it also extends to the family.  Be sure to genuinely accept guests’ condolences.  Most visitors you have are their because of their love for the deceased or are close to a member of the family.  Be sure to record (or ask a good friend to handle it for you) meals, flowers, and phone calls for the family so that a proper “thank you” can be sent.  You will also want to send a thank you note to baby sitters, pallbearers and any ministers or musicians who helped with the service.  These do not have to be sent the day after, but do not delay too long. Appreciate the love that others offer during your time of sorrow.