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    Oak Park Invitational

    Friday, September 12, 2014

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    We may not be able to make all of Madeline's cross country meets, but when we host, you can bet that we'll be there with bells on and cameras ready. It was Oak Park's second meet, and as this course was significantly more challenging than the first, it was a great one to observe. The weather was great, spirits were high, we could hear the cheers of our girls team as we approached the park. And who was there to great us?

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    Big sister and the rest of the JV girls were preparing to run their own race, and by sheer luck, we happened to be right at the starting line. We watched them warm up and do striders as the other JV girls teams readied themselves. I caught them on their way back to the starting line and took a few shots. This picture made me particularly happy. You'd think at this point the girls wouldn't be interested in taking any, but Madeline...well, there's a story. I'll get to it in a minute.

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    When the race began, we waited until Madeline and a few of her friends passed before heading to another point on the course. We wanted to see the girls in action and they certainly didn't disappoint. I'm always amazed by how effortlessly they move. They're in constant motion. And gosh are these girls tough! They train for hours upon days upon weeks, and watching them run by makes it all seem like they were just born with this natural ability. Perhaps they were.

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    I certainly wasn't, but watching Madeline dash by with her "in the zone" face on makes me glad that she has that "runner's gene". She finished her race with a fantastic time, and after giving some of the competing girls and friends high-five's, stopped to grab a hug from her biggest cheerleader. She wasn't even winded.

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    How is it possible? I don't know. What I do know is that cross country has made Madeline very happy. It's been a great outlet, and she has met the most wonderful people. I don't know much about the boys, and I'm sure they're fantastic, but the girls? They're a tremendous support and lovely as can be. Apparantly they read the blog on occasion as well! So if you want to know the story behind the picture of the JV girls from above, it's a little thing, but cute. After completeing a few striders, Madeline caught sight of me taking pictures and called out to the team that I was there with a camera. Within moments, each girl had turned around, and as Madeline laughed about her mom's crazy picture taking habits, stopped to smile for a quick picture. They were such great sports to humor me.

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    They can consider themselves part of the blog now, so I hope they enjoy it!

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    Congratulations to the Oak Park Eagles on a tremendous effort at yesterday's invitational. Y'all did a marvelous job. We can't wait for your next meet!

    Recipe: Monday's Roasted Chicken

    Thursday, September 4, 2014

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    School is in session, pumpkin foods and drinks are being served...I don't want to jinx things, but with all of that plus overcast mornings and cool evenings, it feels like Fall is creeping in. One can at least hope! I've been fighting the urge to nest and decorate the house ever since September 1st, but sometimes you just have to indulge.

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    To me, a roasted chicken is a year round meal. Change out the vegetable to suit the season, serve it up with different sides or as is~either way, you have a winning dish that makes everyone happy. This recipe is courtesy of the ever wonderful Jenny Steffens Hobick, and though I made a few minor adjustments that I will include here*, it is a simple and delicious one pot dinner.

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    Roasted Chicken

    1 whole chicken
    1 head of garlic, cut in half
    1 lemon, quartered
    1 small bunch of fresh thyme
    1/4 cup of olive oil
    1 tablespoon of sea salt
    2 teaspoons of cracked pepper
    3 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
    1 pound of small potatoes, quartered
    1 red onion, quartered

    Begin by cleaning your chicken. Your butcher can do this for you, or your can prepare it yourself at home. Make sure it's completely thawed if frozen prior to cooking, remove anything stuffed into the cavities, and wash your chicken thoroughly in cool water. Pat it dry then sprinkle salt and pepper into the cavity as well as atop the chicken.

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    Place the chicken in a medium roasting pan or casserole dish. Stuff the inside of the chicken with the head of garlic, 2 pieces of lemon, and thyme. Place the sliced carrots, potatoes and onions around the chicken. Squeeze the 2 remaining lemon wedges over the chicken and vegetables, and place them in the pan with the vegetables. Next, drizzle olive oil over the entire chicken and all of the vegetables. Roast, uncovered in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour (depending on the size of the chicken). Bigger birds will require more time in the oven.

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    Serve directly in the roasting pan, or put it on a pretty platter with the vegetables surrounding the chicken. Be sure to spoon the juice that accumulated in the bottom of the pan over the chicken and vegetables when serving

    *My oven is an older model and cantankerous on a good day. I noticed after an hour that the chicken wasn't done and the skin still fairly light. We enjoy a golden, crispy skin, so I turned the temperature up to 425 and let it cook for the remaining 30 minutes. It came out perfectly! People often ask how you can tell if a chicken is done and here are two ways. One way is to use a meat thermometer, which you stick into the thickest part of the leg. If the internal temperature rises to 165 degrees and the juices run clear if cut between the leg and breast, your chicken is done. Another method~and this is my daughter's favorite~is to wiggle one of the chicken legs. If it moves easily, your chicken is done.

    I hope you all enjoy this recipe, and my tips, as much as I and my children did. It was easy to put together, made the house smell amazing, and as it was all in one pot, easy clean up as well. So easy in fact, I did a little extra indulging as everything roasted in the oven.

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    Now what are you waiting for? Go grab a chicken and pour yourself a glass of wine. You'll be glad you did. Cheers!

    The Pancake Race

    Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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    They've been training all summer. Every boy and girl has sacrificed and worked hard for the beginning of the season, and now it's almost time. But before their first meet, the Oak Park High School Cross Country Team has a tradition they partake in: The Pancake Race.

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    A week prior to their first invitational, before they receive their uniforms, the entire team is broken down into groups of 7 by the team captains and assigned themes. They run a course near the high school called the Pancake Course, where in the spirit of friendly competition, the individual groups of boys and girls race against one another. Their combined times decide who comes out on top. Afterwards, the parents present the team with a homemade pancake breakfast. It is a wonderful event, and one I was glad to be a part of.

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    The theme chosen by the boy and girl captains for Madeline's team was "football & cheer". The girls were the football players, and the boys, in their artfully cropped t-shirts, were the cheerleaders. The other teams had chosen some good subjects as well: the Flinstone's, Wall-E...but as I'm partial to football, I thought Madeline's team had the best one. It was all in good humor, and everyone was in high spirits as the first race began.

    The boys went first, and as the heat started to rise, I have to give it to them: these kids really work hard. They're impressive. No one stopped-no one slowed down. They drove and encouraged one another as they raced around their courses. And the parents and coaches? Following their progress along the paths, cheering them on and shouting words of support the entire way. Of course, Madeline's team had built in cheerleaders, and as the girls raced, the boys shouted the chants that they'd written for them. You have to love that team spirit.

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    I've never been as proud of my daughter as I have been these past few months. She has worked tirelessly, and with great enthusiasm, to be a good team member. You can see how much she enjoys it, and this weekend, I finally saw it up close and personal. She loves this team. In the end, she had a great run, her team did beautifully, and as it was good prep for this week's Seaside Invitational, all felt properly motivated.

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    Madeline has been involved in sports since she was a young child, but never has she found a niche quite like this. Not only does she enjoy running with her team, she's really good at it. There is a passion there that was never present in her other sports; a drive that fuels her through each exhausting practice. I say a little prayer for her every day that she never looses that fire, and that if one day, cross country is no longer for her, she finds it in another area that helps her to grow. Something tells me she'll be running for a long time. All I can hope is that wherever she finds herself, she's surrounded by coaches and team members as amazing as the ones she has now.

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    Good luck this Friday team, and GO EAGLES!!

    Hotty Toddy, Y'all!

    Friday, August 29, 2014

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    There's nothing quite like the beginning of football season. I only really follow two teams, but each are very special. I love my hometown team, the New Orleans Saints. From pre-season to the playoffs, I will cheer them on until the last minute of the fourth quarter. But if I'm to be honest, it's the Ole Miss Rebels that have the stronger hold on my heart.

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    Every game day we proudly don our red and blue. As you can see, Jackson has a few hand-me-down's tee's thanks to his sister, and he wears his favorite one for the first game of every season. Maybe I'm superstitious, but each time he puts it on we win our game! It certainly worked last night as we literally knocked the socks off Boise State. It was a pretty sound win~even with the rough first half.

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    I'm not so much invested in the technicalities of the game; it's fun to watch, especially when you're around other Rebel fans. But I do love, and deeply miss, our tailgates in The Grove. Ole Miss is known as the best tailgating school in the country. Due to the charm of the people, the rich, Southern hospitality, and the elegance of the tents draped across the lush lawn of the oak-dappled Grove, it's no wonder we're known as the pride of the South. It's the place to be and be seen.

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    I always pull out these images from Southern Living when I think of The Grove. We haven't been back in years so I don't have any current images, but if people think what you see here is an exaggeration of what goes on during game days, then you've never been to an Ole Miss game before. It really is that beautiful and the feeling you get...it's the most natural high you will ever experience. There is nothing but cheer and good spirits spilling out of one corner into another. It's pretty special!

    I can't say we'll have a perfect season, because, really, who ever does? What I can say with full confidence, though, is that our family~and all Rebel fans~are going to relish every moment of every game from beginning to the end. I hope you and yours share in that same experience!

    Hotty Toddy, y'all! Have a happy footballs season.

    The Freshman & The First Grader

    Thursday, August 28, 2014

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    School is back in session!

    After a summer that revolved around Madeline's cross country practices & trips, and Jackson's swim lessons & playdates, we are finally back in a regular routine. I'm grateful for this time of year. Much as I miss my young companions, the return to school is good for them. Reuniting with friends, expanding their minds, growing into independant people~they're all good things. I've found that it's also pretty good for me. My time at home is much more constructive. As chairwoman to Westlake Junior's huge Fall shopping event, Gingerbread Boutique, having uninterrupted time to focus on my tasks is important. While the children are at school, I can spend a few hours working on spreadsheets, catching up with vendors and other contacts. Emails can be answered without feeling pulled in too many directions. Ultimately, I can be at home taking care of whatever needs to be handled, and there is no concern that something or someone is being neglected. School gets out, and I can dedicate the rest of the day to my children.

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    There is a feeling I get about the direction of the school year after the first day, and most of the time it's on point. For Madeline, our Freshman, it's going to be a year filled with tremendous personal growth. With a zero period class and cross country right after school, her days will be very, very long. She will have to adjust and relearn how to balance homework with her academic and athletic obligations. Some of her classes are going to be challengeing, but my heart tells me she will handle them beautifully. She has a wonderful support group in us, her friends, and excelent teachers and coaches. Never have I felt more excited about a school year in my life. It's nothing tangible, only a feeling, but something tells me 9th grade is going to be phenomenal!

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    First Grade is shaping up to be a great year as well. Jackson is off to a good start, and that is very encouraging. Our sweet boy has faced some obstacles, but each time one has popped up, with proper guidance he has overcome them. Comparing yesterday with the first day of Kindergarten was night and day. A year ago he could hardly tell me what happened during his time at school. But yesterday, over a cup of frozen yogurt, he told me all about his day from start to finish. His enthusiasm was contagious and about made my heart burst! He was so happy to see his friends. He loves his new teacher. Carrying his Ninja Turtle backpack and comparing them with his friends made him feel very cool, and having his own desk? Nothing compared. I've heard the transition from Kindergarten to 1st is a big one, and in my opionion, the teacher your child has makes all the difference. Jackson is very blessed to have one that really nurtures the individial student, and shows them how to rise to the challenges ahead. It's going to be a big year for our boy, but it's going to be a really good one as well.

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    Friends, if you can't tell, I'm very optimistic about the school year ahead. I'm very excited. But I'm also in high spirits over the very first Ole Miss football game of the season tonight! The kitchen is calling and football food needs to be made.

    Hotty Toddy, y'all!