A few of our favorite things
by Staff Report
Dec 12, 2010 | 1762 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It's that time of year again -- the season of gift exchanges.

Whether buying for family or friends or for the ever-dreaded office swap, finding an offering can be difficult and finding one that will be loved even harder. In the melee of present purchasing, it can be easy to forget the new and exciting items we discovered through the year.

In the spirit of Julie Andrews' "My Favorite Things," The Daily Tribune News' news staff has compiled a list of the things we discovered and came to love in 2010. Some are big-ticket items and some are simply activities revisited. The list features gift ideas for loved ones and perhaps a little something for yourself. Here are a few of our favorite things:

n Some of my "favorite things" discovered this year include family accomplishments, such as my grandson Hunter's acceptance to a college he loves and where he will get to play baseball. I am also enjoying the Christmas gift I purchased for myself -- a big-screen, plasma TV. The television set replaced a console I had been watching since the 1970s, so needless to say the new one is special. Another favorite discovered this month is Sage Cottage in Adairsville where seven friends and I ate a delicious lunch and "oohed" and "aahed" as we looked at the beautiful Christmas decorations.

-- Elizabeth Cochran, Family & Living editor

n It took me nearly three years to pull the trigger on the L.L. Bean Flying Tiger leather jacket. I searched the Internet and the malls and could not find anything comparable. The model I choose is Thinsulate insulated, fits like a glove and will keep you as warm as an electric blanket. It looks like it would last you a lifetime. The large pockets are ideal for a photographer. It is the only jacket I have ever owned where complete strangers will ask to try it on. To learn more, visit llbean.com.

-- Skip Butler, photographer

n This year, I have been partaking in two of my favorite activities, cooking and gardening. No matter the cookbook or restaurant, it always is hard for me to top the recipes that I grew up with. From mom's sweet potato casserole to her Brunswick stew, few dishes come close to her tried-and-true comfort foods. This is especially true with her lasagna recipe. Every time I taste a new lasagna offering, I compare it to mom's and it always pales in comparison.

Over the last 12 months I have been trying out various dishes of hers, so I will be able to create them for my family and pass them on to my future children. Recently, I made her baked orange French toast recipe that she always makes on special occasions. It definitely will take a few more tries to even come close to perfecting it, but I am looking forward to the process. For this Christmas, mom currently is searching through her old cookbooks and newspaper clippings to compile a notebook for me, filled with "my favorite" recipes. While she might not have made some of the meals in about 20 years, to me it seems like yesterday and I will treasure the gift for years to come.

This year, I also have been adding a few plants to our yard, from roses to oakleaf hydrangeas. One of my favorite additions to our front yard has been a curved wall that my husband constructed using concrete pavestones. Once a bare, sloping area, it now is a feature where I can plant seasonal flowers, like begonias in the summer and pansies in the late fall, and enjoy watching them mature and blossom.

-- Marie Nesmith, Features editor

n The past year has been a wonderful time of learning, experience and enjoyment highlighted by milestone events, growth and lasting memories. Having celebrated one year of marriage in October, I eagerly await the coming years and the blessings life has to offer. I also have marked one year of work at the paper in recent months as I look back on progression made and friendships formed.

As trivial as it may seem, there is great comfort found in a good cup of coffee, a book that can't be put down and a lonely trail with a good view. Finding joy in seemingly small things can sometimes affect our entire day. The struggle lies in pinpointing those enjoyments and concentrating on their attributes, which, for a time, can alter our mood and, in a small way, lift our spirits. Here are a few of my favorite things which I have found in the past year:

* Salad bars: Cartersville is blessed with a plethora of dining options, many of them top notch but I have come to find salad bars are among my favorite places to spend the lunch hour. My favorites are Ingles (both Cartersville locations offer a huge salad bar with the freshest ingredients), Culinaria (a smaller, more intimate option with gourmet toppings at a great price) and Ruby Tuesday (a really good selection in a comfortable sit-down environment).

* Georgia State Parks Family Pass: Last year I purchased my first annual pass to Georgia's State Parks and it easily paid for itself in the first month with free parking at all of the state's parks. This year, however, as newlyweds, we opted for the Family Pass and have already enjoyed one of the two free nights of camping that come with it, along with other incentives like a discount at park stores. If you don't care for camping, the free nights double as greens fees at any of the seven state-owned golf courses. If you're not planning to take full advantage of the pass, look at your local library to see if a park pass can be checked out -- just like a book.

* Netflix: I had tried free trials for through-the-mail movies in the past, but not until I got an Xbox gaming system did I find the potential of Netflix. With a growing collection of online movies and TV shows streaming directly to my TV through the Xbox, I can watch virtually anything I want for pennies a day. The plan I chose earlier this year includes unlimited online access and one DVD at a time through the mail. The DVD option allows you to see just about anything released to video while the online archives grow at an impressive rate.

-- Matt Shinall, Business and Environment reporter

n Although it has been around for close to 40 years, I recently discovered is my lifesaver -- the crock pot.

I received it as a housewarming gift nearly three years ago but just started using it within the past year. I use it for my hearty beef stew, spicy turkey chili, island curry chicken and even snack foods such as cheesy Rotel dip.

What I love about the Crock Pot is it's multiple uses and the fact that it allows me to continue with my day without having to stand over a stove stirring all day. The Crock Pot allows me to maintain my busy and demanding schedule while still having the delicious meals I enjoy.

-- Shaka Lias, Crime and Court reporter

n For me, there is nothing like a good book -- the feel, the smell, the language. While I enjoy reading, I don't often have time and can quickly add up if you opt to purchase new books online or in a bookstore. Imagine my immense relief when I discovered the Friends of the Library Used Book Sale. I arrived for the last hour of the sale while shooting photos for the paper, but once finished, I began browsing and found old library books, which look great on shelves around my house, and also found birthday gifts, baby shower gifts and books for my 3-year-old. The sale offers a recyclable bag, which costs $5, but you can bring the bag back for the last hour of future sales -- they occur four times year and are listed in our What's Going On calendar -- and fill the bag for only $5. For $5 I can purchase enough books to last me for months and give my son something new to read.

While I love to read, I don't often have time but my biggest splurge this year -- the iPhone 4 -- gives me the option to download free books or purchase them through the iBooks app. In addition to books, I am able to take great photos and video of family and friends, listen to any type music I wish, and remain connected through Internet, social networking or e-mail. Admittedly, I am not a tech junkie, but as a person who needs to be available 24/7, this phone has been well worth the money.

-- Jessica Loeding, managing editor

n Throughout the year I've been attempting to tackle the many books on my reading list, but managed to only accomplish discovering "Narnia." Although I'm behind in following the fad and had not seen the movies until I read the books, I've fallen in love with the series. The Biblical allusions are not difficult to catch, and the writing style is perfect for children to grasp. As a Christian, I really like those aspects that make it easier for children to understand elements of the faith that are sometimes difficult to relate to at a young age. I still have yet to complete the entire series, but each book describes a new adventure for the various characters that make "Narnia" a wonderland of tales.

More recently, I finally broke down and bought the new Taylor Swift CD, "Speak Now." As usual, it is not possible for me to be disappointed. Every album Swift produces includes at least one song that truly speaks to, or for, me. "Enchanted" is this year's winner, as every lyric applies to the moment I met my best friend. I'm not a country music fan, generally speaking, but this album has a wide variety of emotions and situations to which I can personally relate.

-- Amanda Stegall, staff writer

n Although hybrid technology has been available to the general public since the introduction of the two-seater 2000 Honda Insight, it was only this year that I made the plunge. With a hand gesture toward the Middle East, I told the oil companies where they can stick it. I threw caution to the wind, ignored the misleading Consumer Reports review and purchased a 2010 Honda Insight in late June and wondered why the heck I waited so long. Maybe it was the cost of the well-known Toyota Prius or the fact that vehicle drove like a mid-century Buick, but not so with my Honda. Yes, it's not fast, but it is a fastback, the next best design to a station wagon. And it was affordable. The icing on the cake was when I got 59.8 mpg while tripping around the Amish country in northeastern Ohio this summer -- it was bliss. And on a trip to Montreal, Lake Placid and Burlington, Vt., with my two favorite people in the world (granddaughters, ages 9 and 12) in the back seat, there was enough comfort and room for all four of us. Life is good in the slow lane.

-- Dayton Strickland, copy editor and designer

n As a musician, there is nothing like finding alternate takes on classic songs. During the past year, I have discovered YouTube.com, a plethora of new and old music, classic or unique takes. It allows me to do research as well. I suggest looking for the video of shadow puppets set to "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong.

-- David Royal, associate sports editor