Saturday, January 31, 2009

Delicious Strawberry Cake Recipe ...

This is one of my favorite cake recipes. It's very moist and rich and is a perfect dessert for Valentine's Day.

Strawberry Cake


1 Box White Cake Mix
1 Large Box Strawberry Jello
4 Eggs
1 Cup Oil
1/2 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Strawberries and Juice (I use frozen sliced berries, with no sugar added)

Mix above ingredients and beat with mixer. Pour in a greased (I spray mine with Pam) 9x13 sheet cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

You can also use two 8" round cake pans, if you prefer.

Let cool in pan for a few minutes then place on a cooling rack.

Frosting Ingredients

1/2 Stick Oleo, softened
1 Box Powdered Sugar
1/2 Cup Strawberries and Juice

Cream softened oleo in mixer and add powdered sugar and strawberries. Beat until smooth.

When cake is completely cool, frost and cut into small squares.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Man named Mark Twain ...

One of the things I love most about blogging is being able to write about a variety of subjects that interest me ... from sharing recipes and decorating and gardening projects to taking "field trips" with my camera. And, of course, I love sharing stories about and pictures of our 3-1/2-year-old granddaughter Avery Grace.

I also enjoy writing about people I find interesting or admire, and my post today features Mark Twain. [If you don't care to read the biographical information, scroll down the page and read some of his quotations. He was a colorful character and I think you will enjoy his plainspoken wit and wisdom].

On November 30, 1835, the small town of Florida, Missouri, witnessed the birth of its most famous son. Samuel Langhorne Clemens was welcomed into the world as the sixth child of John Marshall and Jane Lampton Clemens. Little did John and Jane know, their son Samuel would one day be known as Mark Twain - America's most famous literary icon.

Approximately four years after his birth, the Clemens family moved 35 miles east to the town of Hannibal, a growing port city on the banks of the Mississippi River. Hannibal was a frequent stop for steam boats arriving day and night from St. Louis and New Orleans, and served as the inspiration for the fictional town of St. Petersburg, in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

When Samuel was 12, his father died of pneumonia, and at 13, Samuel left school to become a printer's apprentice. After two short years, he joined his brother Orion's newspaper as a printer and editorial assistant. It was here that young Samuel found he enjoyed writing.

At 17, he left Hannibal behind for a printer's job in St. Louis. While in St. Louis, Clemens became a river pilot's apprentice. He became a licensed river pilot in 1858. Clemens' pseudonym, Mark Twain, comes from his days as a river pilot. It is a river term which means two fathoms or 12-feet when the depth of water for a boat is being sounded. "Mark twain" means that is safe to navigate.

Because the river trade was brought to a standstill by the War Between the States in 1861, Clemens began working as a newspaper reporter for several newspapers all over the United States. In 1870, Clemens married Olivia Langdon, and they had four children, one of whom died in infancy and two who died in their twenties. Their surviving child, Clara, lived to be 88, and had one daughter. Clara's daughter died without having any children, so there are no direct descendants of Samuel Clemens living.

Twain began to gain fame in 1965, when his story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County" appeared in the New York Saturday Press. Twain's first book, The Innocents Abroad, was published in 1869, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, in 1876, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in 1885.

He wrote 28 books and numerous short stories, letters, and sketches.

During his lifetime, Twain became a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty. He enjoyed immense public popularity, and his keen wit and incisive satire earned him praise from both critics and peers. American author (and one of Mississippi's most famous sons), William Faulkner, called him the "Father of American Literature."

Mark Twain passed away on April 21, 1910, and his childhood home is open to the public as a museum in Hannibal.

The homespun wit and wisdom of Mark Twain transcend time and can be found in hundreds of quotations by him, as well as in his books. Here are a few of my favorite quotations, some of which you may recognize:

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly. I said I don't know.

It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not to deserve them.

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.

My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.

The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.

The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.

Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.

Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.

You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rambling Around Vicksburg -- Part II

Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg is one of my favorite places. Every time I go, I discover new and interesting things to photograph. I honestly think I could spend an entire day there exploring and never get bored or tired. This may sound strange, but it's almost like a spiritual experience.

I guess that's why my Tuesday afternoon outing ended there. The clouds were rolling in when I arrived and the skies looked threatening, but the rains held off and I enjoyed just driving and walking around, stopping when something caught my eye.

I didn't get any really spectacular pictures, but I loved rambling through the old monuments, some of which are truly works of art. Like this beautiful lady ...

A view of the Confederate Cemetery ...

Also called "Soldiers Rest," it is beautiful in the summertime. I took this picture when I was there last July ...

I love the simplicity of
this little ivy-covered cross ...

There are several stones like this one that have been "embraced" by trees ...

One of my favorite spots in the cemetery ...

As I was leaving the cemetery, I noticed this old stone cross, tangled in ivy and vines, sitting on a bluff beside the road ...

I want to go back sometime and get a closer look at that one ... perhaps in the spring.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rambling Around Vicksburg ... Part I

Yesterday afternoon it was partly cloudy in Vicksburg, with temperatures in the high 70s -- a perfect day to be out taking pictures. I decided not to venture too far and began my photo quest in the community of Bovina, Mississippi, which is about ten miles east of Vicksburg.

My first stop was a visit with this little guy, who came running to meet me ...

He was beautiful, and so sweet ... I wished my granddaughter Avery could have seen him.

Here are a few more things in the Bovina area that caught my eye ...

I love this little outdoor worship area in some woods next to a church. Can you imagine having Easter sunrise services there? ...

When I left Bovina, I headed west toward Vicksburg on old Highway 80. Some of you may remember the post I wrote last July called "The Art of Kudzu." I took most of the pictures featured in that post on Highway 80, and yesterday I decided to take a few of the same places to show you how kudzu looks in the winter time ... and it's not a pretty sight.

Here's a school bus that was almost completely covered by kudzu last July ...

And that same bus the way it looked yesterday ...

Here are some more "before" and "after" kudzu pictures ...

I did find a little bit of sunshine later in the afternoon to remind me that spring will be here soon. Just look at these pretty daffodils pushing up through the winter leaves and vines ...

And these delicate flowering quince blooms ...

I love these determined little purple wildflowers poking through a crumbling brick wall ...

And with the promise of spring in the air, I am going to end Part I of this post. I hope you will join me tomorrow because I've saved the best part for last -- a visit to Vicksburg's beautiful old Cedar Hill Cemetery.

In the meantime, if you would like to read about Cedar Hill, you can click here to read a post I wrote last year about the Monuments of Cedar Hill, and also one called In the Arms of the Angels about some of the children buried there.


Monday, January 26, 2009

A Powerful Way with Words ...

I've always admired people who just naturally "have a way with words," and I believe this is a God-given talent. Some of the greatest speeches in history were written by people blessed with this talent, as well as lyrics to some of the most awe-inspiring songs, poems, and books. And then there are the great sermons written by ministers like Peter Marshall and Billy Graham, that transcend language barriers and touch the hearts of mankind all over the world.

Since I've been writing my blog, I have come to appreciate and enjoy the different styles of writing of you, my blogging friends. I am constantly inspired by your eloquence ... entertained by your wit and humor ... encouraged and comforted by your grace and steadfast faith in the face of adversity ... and always, always feel your most heartfelt emotions as you share them through your words, stories, and pictures.

The sheer power of words is boundless ... and writers have that power literally at their fingertips. Their words enable them to evoke strong emotions, both good and bad, from their readers. When used in a positive manner, words can inspire, assure, elate, encourage, incite, excite, and comfort. On the other hand, they can also depress, torment, sadden, discourage, distress, and inflict anguish.

A relatively insignificant example of the impact of negative words is my personal experience with the popular Rate My Space web site. I discovered Rate My Space a couple of years ago and, after a while, posted pictures of several rooms of my house and also my yard. I received many very gracious and complimentary comments about them, but soon discovered there was another side of RMS. Not all the members were taught by their mamas that if you can't say something nice about something, just don't say anything at all!

It didn't take me long to realize that I was way too sensitive and was letting even the slightest critical comment wipe out all the positive ones. I began to look at my house differently and found myself doubting my choices in furniture and rugs and accessories ... all because someone made an unkind negative comment.

And then one day when I was "visiting" one of my favorite RMS sites which belonged to a sweet lady in Texas named BJ, I read that BJ had a "blog" called Sweet Nothings, and was inviting everyone to visit her there. Now that was the first time I had ever heard the term "blog," so, of course, I had to go see what BJ was up to ... and it was "love at first sight!" I became a regular follower of her Sweet Nothings, which led me to our friend Dot's Picket Fences blog, and ... well, I think you know the "rest of the story" ... I've been hooked on blogging ever since!

And do you know what amazes me? ... I have received only ONE negative comment about my posts (this will be my 164th), and that was from an "anonymous" person who made a very rude comment about my recent tribute to President Bush.

Just as negative words can tear down, positive words can uplift ... and I've witnessed this time after time in the poignant, sometimes funny, and always-inspiring stories and life experiences shared through your blogs. I feel honored and blessed to be a part of a wonderful circle of blogging friends whose way with words is always positive, uplifting, and powerful ... whether sharing life and death experiences, requesting prayers for a loved one, or passing along recipes and decorating tips.

I have come to know and admire each of you ... not only for your accomplishments as decorators, or quilters, or gardeners, or homemakers, or photographers, or teachers ... but also for the compassion, grace, sincerity, and kindness reflected through ... your powerful way with words.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Wit and Wisdom of Billy Graham ...

I have always been awestruck by Mr. Billy Graham. Although at 90, age has taken its toll on Mr. Graham physically, a spokesperson says "the lion still has a roar."

Today, Billy Graham spends most of his time in the remote western North Carolina mountain home where he and his wife, Ruth, raised their five children. "There are a lot of miles on that body," his daughter Ruth said. "His world has become smaller."

It has been a difficult time for Graham. In summer 2007, his wife, Ruth, died after being bedridden for many years. The grief is still constant for Graham.

Graham's family and associates say that his mind is sharp despite his age, and that for a man who is 90, he's in good physical shape. Graham exercises with a physical therapist on a regular basis and still swims and takes walks when he can. However, the fragilities of old age are also a reality. Graham uses a walker to get around. His hearing is failing. Macular degeneration is stealing his eyesight.

Yet despite these obstacles, Graham continues his ministry. With the help of an assistant, Graham is writing another book about growing older. "I have discovered that just because we grow weaker physically as we age, it doesn't mean that we must grow weaker spiritually," Graham said. "In fact, we ought to be growing stronger spiritually, because our eyes ought to be on eternity and Heaven -- on the things that really matter."

Graham's children say that despite his remarkable life, he is a humble man who doesn't dwell on the past. "My father doesn't look backwards," his daughter Ruth said. "He really does see that God was the one who did it, and he just happened to be in the room."

As we begin a new week, I'd like to share a few of my favorite quotes from Mr. Graham, and hope they will be a source of inspiration to you on this Sunday morning ...

A child who is allowed to be disrespectful to his parents will not have true respect for anyone.

A real Christian is a person who can give his pet parrot to the town gossip.

Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has.

Courage is contagious.

When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.

God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with.

God is more interested in your future and your relationships than you are.

I've read the last page of the Bible. It's all going to turn out all right.

It is not the body's posture, but the heart's attitude that counts when we pray.

Only God Himself fully appreciates the influence of a Christian mother in the molding of character in her children.

Prayer is simply a two-way conversation between you and God.

Tears shed for self are tears of weakness, but tears shed for others are a sign of strength.

The framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

The only time my prayers are never answered is on the golf course.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Highway 61 North: Gateway to the Mississippi Delta

Yesterday afternoon was so pretty I decided to take a short ride from Vicksburg, up Highway 61 North towards the Mississippi Delta.

Highway 61 North is also known as the "Blues Highway," because it runs through the Mississippi Delta country, which was an important source of blues music. US 61 has been referenced in music by various artists with roots in the region.

As you leave the hills of Vicksburg, you will see miles and miles of flat fertile lands stretching out in some places as far as the eye can see. I took this picture at Rolling Fork, Mississippi (about 45 miles north of Vicksburg), to give you an idea of the vastness of the Delta farmlands ...

Huge tractors like this one churning up the rich Delta soil are a common sight this time of year ...

It was around 1:30 p.m. when I left Vicksburg, so I didn't go any farther than Rolling Fork, but there are several little towns in between which I found interesting.

The first little town I encountered was Valley Park, which has a tiny little post office ...

Valley Park is also home to a railroad aficionado and I captured these pictures of his railroad memorabilia, which included this wooden caboose mailbox ...

I love cabooses and sometimes wonder if I am the only person who misses seeing a caboose at the end of a train. It's like a sentence without a period ... or an "i" without a dot over it -- a train should have a caboose!

And bless his heart, this guy not only has a caboose but part of a train to go with it! (If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see an old tire swing hanging from the oak tree) ...

Can't you just imagine what fun his children or grandchildren have playing on all that stuff! He even had a miniature train in the building to the right of the caboose, but I couldn't get close enough to get pictures of it.

The next little town ("little" being the keyword) was Onward, which became well known because President Theodore Roosevelt's famous bear hunt was held close to there in 1902. The old Onward Store is known for its hot tamales and hot bologna sandwiches, but I didn't sample either.

A historical marker next to the general store in Onward tells about the bear hunt ...

As the story goes, Roosevelt's hunting guide was a famous Mississippi bear hunter named Holt Collier. This hunt was a late birthday gift for President Roosevelt from his friends. According to the story, Collier, in an effort to make the hunt a success, went out early on Friday, November 14, 1902 to scout for bears. Luck was with Collier and he trapped and tied up a 235-pound black bear. Collier sent his hunting friends to get Roosevelt for the kill.

When Roosevelt arrived, he refused to kill a tied-up bear and the bear hunt was stopped. Local and national newspapers began to run political cartoons about the President refusing to kill the bear. The Cracker Jack Company and toy companies created stuffed bears which were called "teddy bears." Interesting, huh?

Cary is the next community between Valley Park and Rolling Fork, and these three crosses caught my eye ...

I love seeing these along the highways across the country and plan to write a post about them someday. There is an interesting story behind them, too.

My next stop was Rolling Fork, where visitors are greeted by this welcoming sight ...

It seems that bears are a popular subject in this part of the Delta, because there were bear "monuments" all over Rolling Fork ...

I also passed this highway sign cautioning about bear crossings ...

I was hoping I would see one, but I guess they're still hibernating for the winter.

One of Rolling Fork's claims to fame is the fact that renown Blues musician Muddy Waters was born in Rolling Fork ...

This bottle tree in a residential area caught my eye as I passed by ...

I enjoyed my afternoon drive up Highway 61, and hope to go back someday and visit more of the sleepy little Delta towns along its route. I love exploring them, because you just never know what wonderful stories and sights await you in "Small Towns, America."