Family Secrets—Sshh . . . Don’t Tell Anyone

The Apple Pie and Fool-Proof Crust Recipe

I love October because I get to visit family I see only once or twice a year. In early October, we have a family reunion. In late October, we travel to my aunt’s church homecoming and see cousins and other people that make up a Southerner’s extended family. This includes people to whom we’re not actually related but who were grafted in because somebody married into the family line. And despite not being blood kin, we all grew up together and enjoy getting to see each other. We have a lot of fun and it’s never a dull moment with that crowd.

I know this sounds complicated—but if you’re a Southerner, you get it. And did I mention the food at these gatherings? My children have been known to get weepy at the thought of these upcoming feasts. Barbecue—pork and vinegar-based; cornsticks, Brunswick stew; butter-beans—lima beans for the Northern brethren among us; ham biscuits; coconut cake; pineapple cake, etc . . . I’m going to stop now before I break down, too.

Here’s a sure-fire winner of an autumn recipe—from the family I married into.

Fool-Proof Pie Crust
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cups vegetable shortening
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 egg
½ cup water

Mix first 4 ingredients with a fork or pastry blender. In a separate dish, beat the remaining ingredients. Combine the 2 mixtures, stirring until all ingredients are moistened. Shape dough into a ball. Chill at least 15 minutes before rolling into a crust. Dough can be left in the refrigerator up to 3 days or frozen until ready to use. Makes 2 pies—4 top and bottom crusts.

Apple Pie
6-8 apples—I’ve used Rome, Granny Smith and Magnabonum
Juice of half a lemon
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. butter

•Heat oven to 425 degrees. Peel, core and slice apples into ¼” pieces. Place apples (6 cups) into large mixing bowl. Pour lemon juice over apples.
•Add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg. Toss well. Spoon spiced apples into piecrust and dot with butter.
•Roll out top crust. I like to also cut out piecrust dough ornaments to add to top crust. Cut slits in dough to allow the steam to escape. Brush the top with milk for a glaze.
•Place pie in oven. I put the pie in an aluminum-foiled tray to catch drips. Bake for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and juices bubble.
•Let the pie cool and slice into wedges. Serve with vanilla ice cream.


Do you have family reunions or church homecomings? What recipes do you look forward to each year? Do you have a family recipe you could share?

A Southern Christmas—Spicy Cheese Straws

8 oz. Extra Sharp Cheese
1 ½ stick margarine—softened
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cayenne red pepperSpicy Cheese Straws

1. Grate cheese into large bowl.
2. Sift flour into another large bowl.
3. Measure flour again and sift once more with 1 tsp of cayenne.
4. Mix cheese and flour by hand.
5. Using a spatula, stir in softened margarine until of consistency to press out with cookie press.
6. Score before baking. My cookie press has an attachment that produces a “straw effect.”
7. Bake at 350 degrees until bottom is browned—about 20 minutes.

Hope you enjoy the recipe. Let me know how you like it.

My Aunt Grace’s Sausage Ball Recipe—By Popular Request on Facebook

Ingredients:Sausage Balls

1 lb. Neese’s Country Sausage, Hot
1 lb. NY Sharp Cheddar—grated
3 cups Bisquick

1. Grate cheese—I use one of those hand-cranked graters.
2. With your hands, mix sausage and shredded cheese.
3. Incorporate fully the 3 cups of Bisquick.
4. Roll into balls.
5. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
This is super easy. I don’t—can’t—won’t do hard. It involves a great deal of kneading—cheese and sausage, cheese/sausage and Bisquick. After you’re done, you have a tin full of sausage balls and much less tension in your body.

Enjoy. Let me know how you like it.

A Taste of Autumn—Autumn Pumpkin Muffins

From my friend, Wendy Woodworth, who often shared this delicious treat with our Precept Bible Study class—

You have to try these scrumptious autumn pumpkin muffins. Fix yourself a cup of chai tea or coffee, put one of these fabulous muffins on a plate and enjoy yourself a taste of autumn.

And of course, I think these are best eaten when also curled up with a good book.

Makes: 18
Oven: 350 degrees

1. Combine—
3 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. salt

Set aside.

2. Mix in separate bowl—
2 cups pumpkin
1 cup canola oil
3 cups sugar
3 eggs

3. Add set-aside dry ingredients. Mix well.
4. Stir in ½ cup walnuts if desired.
5. Pour batter into muffin tins 2/3 full.

6. Cream Cheese Mixture—
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg

Mix until velvety and smooth.

7. Use a teaspoon to place a scoop of cream cheese mixture into the center of each tin. Sprinkle a few nuts on top.
8. Bake 20-23 minutes or until middle is done.


What’s your favorite autumn recipe?

The Unforgettable State Fair

Another one of my favorite things in autumn is the North Carolina State Fair. There are few years in my life that I’ve actually not attended the fair. Like many Raleighites, I have my favorite Fair vendors from which to get a foot-long hot dog. Or a ham biscuit. Another place to get mountain-cold apple cider, funnel cake dusty with powdered sugar or cotton candy.

My Fair experiences have changed over the years with my—ahem—maturity.

Once upon a time, my best friend, Kathye and I tested our mettle on the rollicking, rolling Himalaya; scanned the Raleigh skyline atop the Ferris Wheel; and clamped hands over our ears at the grinding gears at the tractor pull. We braved the House of Mirrors; attended concerts at the Dorton Arena; stayed to ooh and aah over the fireworks.

With small children, my Fair experiences comprised of winging strollers through packed crowds. There’s an art to it in case you didn’t know. As a Fair aficionado, I have my own preferred route from one end of the Fair complex to another end. Every native Raleighite has one. What to do first, second . . . last. A state fair sized version of the Normandy invasion. When Corinne and Kathryn were small, we did pony rides; frequented the petting zoo; and had a craftsman from the Village of Yesteryear cut paper silhouettes of each girl.

Now with teenagers in tow, we try to do something for every family member’s interests. We go through the gorgeous Art Deco Ag buildings, admiring the 4-H booths, and get free samples from the It’s Got to Be NC tent. Corinne enjoys the art and the horse show. Kathryn’s mainly in it for the food, so in this economy we share funnel cakes, cotton candy and ice cream. We inspect the Master Gardener displays at the Flower Show and walk and walk until our legs ache, our bellies are full and its time to go home.

Do you like the Fair wherever you live? What are your favorite things to do at the Fair? What do you like to eat at the Fair?

Loving Me Some Autumn

It’s October and finally beginning to feel like autumn. Autumn is special–my favorite season—and we shouldn’t let it pass us by without a celebration.

So I’ve ventured to the Farmer’s Market—one of my favorite autumn activities—and decorated the exterior of my house.

Autumn is my excuse for buying mums, pumpkins, chai tea, apples and apple cider. Farmers from the Blue Ridge and Great Smokies come to Raleigh and sell from their mountain orchards a variety of apples, perfect for applesauce or pie.

When my girls were small, every autumn we planned a long weekend to a different corner of NC and camped. Okay, my version of camping—renting a cabin with electricity, indoor plumbing and preferably close to a larger lodge to which to walk for all meals.

But we had a fireplace, made s’mores and I lugged some of my favorite autumnal children’s books with me to read aloud to them in front of the fire and after the s’mores. Books like Miss Suzy by Miriam Young from my own childhood; Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey; and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen—which we re-enacted all over the cabin.

These weekends included hikes to lacy, cascading waterfalls and picking our own bushel of apples from a local orchard. We tried to do something for everyone so for mom that included visits to mountain quilt shops.

But with busy, social butterfly teenage girls, my mountain vacation has been reduced for now to a stay-cation involving a stolen afternoon with the girls and a trip to the Farmer’s Market. This year, we bought Magna-bonum’s (ranked as one of the ten greatest Southern apples) and here’s the apple pie that resulted.

How do you celebrate the arrival of autumn? I’d love for you to share your memories and what traditions you built with your families.

If you’d like a list of my favorite autumnal children’s books to share with your children and grandchildren or to try my Foolproof Piecrust and apple pie recipe, email me at

Six Tips for Traveling with Children

Journey of the Body—Travel Adventures

PlanesWith Memorial Day weekend and summer vacation looming, many parents are gearing up to travel with their families. Counting down the final days of school as a parent and as a teacher, here are some time-tested tips I have utilized in not only enduring the journey but enjoying the journey, too.

Caution: Organic, mother earth moms may find some of the following material slightly offensive to their delicate sensibilities. The Motherhood Police will also view these tips as politically incorrect.

  1. Research, plan and prioritize. Then, don’t overschedule but allow wiggle room in your itinerary for whims and sudden flights of fancy from all members of your traveling family.
  2. Allow each member of your family to choose an activity/excursion. On a recent trip to San Antonio, my oldest daughter, the equestrian, was on a shopping hunt for real cowgirl boots. My youngest daughter is the roller-coaster maniac. We allowed room in our planning to meet both girls’ interests. Although after one fear-inspiring ride in Orlando on the Manta with me screaming, “Jesus, Jesus”—for the record, I was praying, not blaspheming—mom now holds the equipment and dad accompanies the thrill-seeker.
  3. Carry snacks—lots of snacks. For the airport wait, for the airplane ride, for the times you’re driving in the rental car to destinations . . .  Lisa’s travel maxim: Them—that’s Southern for my children—with their mouths chewing and bellies full aren’t whining and complaining. Feed them everything you can carry through airport security. Be prepared to mix it up when tempers start to flare or tears hover on drooping eyelids. Also, bring chewing gum and lollipops to help smaller eardrums handle the changes in air pressure inside the cabin.
  4. Create your own family rituals just for trips. Again, not a favored tip by the Motherhood Police, but after surviving the stress and strains of modern travel, I dole out a chocolate bar for each member of the family once we’ve cleared the airport, secured the rental car and are zooming on our way toward fabulous adventure.
  5. Rule for life not just travel: It’s not my job—or God’s—to entertain you. Another family travel ritual? I buy a special magazine for each family member that we only purchase for annual vacations. Otherwise, each child is responsible for bringing books, puzzles or games for the plane and rental car.
  6. Pack only what you need. Learn to travel light. My two daughters are now excellent packers. We never check luggage. Since the age of three, each—to the amusement of sophisticated corporate travelers—has pulled their little carry on cases behind them in airport terminals across the country. From Sesame Street and Hello Kitty to brightly colored Vera Bradley, the luggage marks our steady advance through the years. Everyone is allowed to bring a special comfort toy and yes, that too has evolved over the course of our journey together from stuffed animals to electronic devices. My four-year-old once threatened to take down the entire TSA at a Colorado airport when they none-too-gently poked her beloved stuffed animal.

And in conclusion, if you remember nothing else, remember this tried and true equation—

Tired + Hungry = Disaster

Moms, whatever you do, don’t let this happen to you.

Any travel tips that work for your vacations with or without children? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy travels and trails to you.

Roman Holiday

Journey of the Body—Travel Adventures

Any of you, ladies at least, ever wished you looked like Audrey Hepburn? Any of you guys wished Audrey Hepburn could ride behind you on a Vespa as you scooted around Rome? For those of you out there who have not celebrated as many birthdays as I have and have no idea who Audrey Hepburn is—She was one of the most luminous film stars of the mid- to late-20th century.


Well, God in His wisdom, didn’t allow me to look like Audrey Hepburn and neither my husband nor I when we visited Rome several years ago rode around on a Vespa, but let me share a few of our adventures with you.

We began our visit by staying at the Grand Palatino Hotel, located just blocks from the ancient Forum. Don’t get me started on the morning cappuccinos! They became a morning ritualistic addiction for me. Out of our hotel window, we watched the sun rise and set each day over the dome of a church. And that is what I think of when I think of Rome—the churches and the fountains.

Finding a wonderful local takeout pizzeria, we tried out our basic Italian on the guy at the counter and ate our huge slice of Margherita pizza sitting on the ruins of a broken Roman pillar overlooking the Forum. What a start to what has become one of my favorite cities in the world!

My advice–do your homework before you travel. I don’t know about you but that is my primary function and responsibility on all family trips—to be the resident expert and tour guide extraordinaire. Having a Master’s in History doesn’t hurt either.

So, we strolled through the ruins of Nero’s Palace gardens, literally a garden now of broken columns. We ambled under the Arch of Titus and bought tickets to see the Colosseum, a short walk from the Forum. I pointed out the distinct menorah carved on the arch noting Titus’ triumph in destroying the Temple and city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Travel Tip—Don’t buy your tickets for the Colosseum at the Colosseum. You can purchase the same ticket near the Arch of Titus for the same price and without the wait. We did receive some ugly looks as we bypassed the line wrapped around the Colosseum and walked right in through the Tickets Only entrance.

Colosseum in Rome

We sat on the same benches as Roman citizens two thousand years ago and contemplated the gladiatorial contests that had taken place there so long ago. The stadium floor is no longer intact but that is a plus, I think, for tourists. For now, you can get a good look at the rabbit warren of rooms—a peek most ancient Romans never got to see—housing the gladiators, the wild animals imported from Africa to quench the Roman’s bloodlust and possibly—although historians disagree on this—where many early Christian martyrs lost their lives but gained their eternal victory.

Eating gelato on the steps outside the Pantheon, we’d revisit this gelato shop every day. Got to take time out for the really important things in life. And yes, I deliberately timed our excursion to the Pantheon for the gelato. Research, people! Don’t leave home without it!

Located not far from the Forum—it wasn’t easy because it is now located far below the streets of modern Rome—I found and crawled down into the Mamertine Prison. This was the final stop for political prisoners—Death Row—for men like the Apostle Peter and Paul. They knew those that entered the Mamertine only escaped it with death. I’m claustrophobic and had just finished teaching two Precepts courses on II Timothy and II Peter—the last writings of each man. I was determined to overcome my pathological fear of tight, closed-in spaces to pay honor to two men who gave their all for the cause of Christ. It was as near a place as I can imagine that would be hell on earth. I’m short and I couldn’t stand upright. There was no outside light and a sewer trough ran through the middle of it just as it did in those ancient days. The cell was a dark hole in the wall. Thinking of those blessed men’s suffering and sweet spirits, I stayed as long as I could stand it and left in tears.

Churches in Rome

Then, watching the sun set over another one of Rome’s glorious churches as we stood in the Forum, a young bride and groom emerged with their wedding party.

Time and space do not allow me to tell in detail of a wild taxi ride to Vatican City to St. Peter’s Cathedral, the actual site of Peter’s upside-down crucifixion. We’d met a young couple from Maryland and we were standing in front of Michelangelo’s Pieta where I was explaining the Biblical scene when Christ was removed from the cross and it’s correlation in Michelangelo’s genius to the loss of his own mother, when a crowd formed. I kid you not. They started asking questions. I should have charged admission. To pay for more gelatos, mind you.

Another wonderful memory involves going outside the ancient city wall to the Cathedral of St. Paul Outside the Wall. Really. That’s what it is called. Here on this site is where Paul was beheaded. I also bought lovely gold crosses for my two daughters at the shop. I’m all about the food, the shopping, the history. . .

Every night in Rome we walked two blocks to a local Italian eatery and ate the best food imaginable. There was one mix up with our limited Italian when I ordered “Fungus” by mistake with my pronunciation of fungi instead of “Funghi” pronounced foon-gee for mushrooms. You should have seen the expression on the face of our waitress. She tried not to laugh, but she did.

Any of you have any adventures to share? I’d love to hear from you.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Wishing you many happy Roman or elsewhere holidays.

Monument Valley Vacation

Journey of the Body—Travel Adventures

Monument Valley Left MittenMonument Valley Navajo Tribal Park on the Utah/Arizona border.

Does this view of red rock buttes and majestic spires against a brilliant blue sky seem familiar? It should because, as one of the most photographed places on earth, the stunning landscape of Monument Valley has appeared in countless western films and television shows such as John Ford’s Stagecoach, Back to the Future III, Thelma and Louise and MacGyver. These towering monoliths, ranging from 400 to over 1000 feet, epitomize the American Southwest.

Located entirely within the Navajo Nation, a 17-mile dirt road beginning at the visitor center, transports visitors through 11 scenic stops to the mysterious world of The Mittens, Elephant Butte and the Totem Pole. The journey takes about 2 hours and most family cars or smaller RVs can handle the rugged terrain. Entrance fees to the park are $5 for adults with children 9 and under admitted free.

The formations at sunset were incredibly beautiful. My daughters, age eleven and nine at the time of this vacation, particularly enjoyed sitting atop a horse at Lookout Point, courtesy of a Navajo guide and a small tip. On the optional Navajo-guided jeep tour, my oldest daughter had her long blond hair braided by an elderly Navajo woman into the traditional Navajo bun. They also were thrilled to see a small group of wild horses grazing in the magnificent landscape.

If you can, time your visit into the park at sunset. Or, check into the historic Gouldings Lodge for balcony views of sunrise over Monument Valley. Gouldings has a nice little museum of movie memorabilia—most of the John Ford movies utilized Gouldings’ as their accommodation of choice. There is a pool for the children and the restaurant (because there is not much else around) is fantastic with authentic Navajo cuisine as well as the usual de rigueur cheeseburgers and fries for your less than adventuresome eaters.

While you’re here, take a guided jeep tour for a 2-hour off the beaten path look at petroglyphs, buttes and Navajo hogans. Prices range from $40 to $100 depending on length and route of tour. Horseback adventures are available also. There are hot air balloon rides from May 1st to October 31st. Try a Navajo taco. And there are roadside stands selling Native handicrafts.

Summers are hot and crowded. Consider a spring break trip as we did—early April—for no crowds though the mornings and after sunset was a little nippy.

For more information: Contact the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park at (435) 727-5874 or visit

I’d love to hear about your Monument Valley vacation adventure.