Heart of the Home

Readers share stories of dream vacations.

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Years spent with husband was her dream vacation

In March 1998, I submitted a pen pal request in a farm magazine I read. Not long after it was published, I received a response from an 81-year-old retired farmer from western Nebraska. In his letter, he said that he would like to come and see me, and that he intended to fall in love fast.

I sent a response letter and picture to him, as well as an invitation to come visit me. He arrived in late March and proposed April 1. We were married April 25.

We honeymooned in Estes Park, Colo., which began our dream vacation. The next year, we bought a camper and traveled to a number of interesting places. We sang along to Statler Brothers cassette tapes as we headed to our destination. We even visited his seven sisters in Texas on one trip.

My husband passed away February 24, 2002. He proved to be the greatest friend and companion ever. We made each other very happy, and we were never lonely.

Our marriage of almost four years was our dream vacation, and I'd do it all over again.

Burwell, Neb.

Dream vacation taken each year

Shortly before we married in 1998, my husband-to-be asked me to make a wish list of all the places I would like to visit. I made a list and gave it to him, thinking it was for some kind of joke. Since we were both 'senior citizens,' and he was the pastor of a church, I was certain we would not be able to do much traveling.

However, each month, after deducting 10 percent of each paycheck for our tithe to the church, he put an additional 10 percent of his earnings into a secret savings account at the bank. He called this money our 'travel fund.'

Our first vacation as husband and wife was in Kauai, Hawaii, a destination on my wish list. The following year he took me to Niagara Falls, which was also on my list. Year after year, we traveled to more and more of the places on my wish list - Mount Rushmore, New England, a Caribbean cruise, Miami, Tombstone, Ariz., and Dallas.

One year, instead of taking me to Paris, he arranged one month of vacation and took me on a tour of Europe. That trip was so fantastic, I still have trouble believing it really happened!

All of our vacations have been dream vacations - mostly because I was able to experience them with my wonderful husband, who - after 10 fantastic years - is still lovingly dedicated to making my dreams come true.

San Diego

Trip across country was dream vacation for couple

A cross-country trip with just my husband and me driving in our car was the formula for the vacation of my dreams.

Up until then, raising five children had made it impossible to take a trip like this. We always had to work around schedules, destinations, time and a lot of noise. Thus, I had to wait a long time before I could actually take the vacation of my dreams.

We were finally able to take our vacation the first summer after my husband's retirement. After we decided where we wanted to visit and how we would get there, we packed our suitcases, grabbed a map and hit the road.

We only drove during the day. We would leave one motel after enjoying a complimentary breakfast and stop at another when it was close to suppertime.

We spent a lot of time driving, but we filled that time with music and audio books. Conversation was also a treasured activity. I had my husband's full attention, and he had mine. It was the perfect opportunity to share what was in our hearts, and it even made us grow closer together.We made a lot of pit stops along the way to stretch our legs and get some exercise. We would speed-walk around rest stops to exercise and loosen up.

Before leaving on vacation, we had agreed to not stop at restaurants for meals; it was just one way we figured we could save money for other fun activities, such as shopping. Instead, we stopped at grocery stores along the way and bought anything nutritious and usable for meals in the car and at motels.

We also decided that we would stop and check out the sights and scenery anywhere that caught our eye along the road, planned or unplanned. I'm sure glad we did; those spur-of-the-moment changes were welcomed.

When Sunday rolled around, we would look for a church to stop at. Luckily, we always found one, and we gave it a visit and were blessed. It was great to be a visitor and worship with fellow believers all across America.

We were in no hurry. There was no rush, no push, no schedule, no fuss, no noise and no disagreements.

Along our trip we stopped at the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, the Painted Desert, the Ronald Reagan Museum and the Phoenix Zoo, just to name a few of the exciting places we visited. What a beautiful country God has given us! We felt spoiled to have the privilege to see so much of His touch on our land.

When we got home, we were rested and refreshed. The four-week, 8,000-mile trip was so wonderful, we decided to do it again a few years later.

On that trip, we took five weeks and drove more than 9,000 miles to fulfill yet another dream vacation. This trip included visits to the Lincoln Museum, Mount Rushmore, Bear Country U.S.A., Yellowstone National Park, the Redwoods, Sequoias and Carlsbad Caverns.

It was so wonderful, I think we'll do it again next year.

Beaver Dams, N.Y.

Best gift ever

Over the years, we give and receive many gifts for many occasions. What is the best gift you've ever given or received? What was the occasion - graduation, Christmas, a birthday or anniversary, or perhaps for no special reason at all?

Who did you give the gift to, or from whom did you receive it? How did it make you feel to give or receive such a wonderful gift? If it was a gift you received, was it something you'd been wanting, or was it something you never would have chosen for yourself?

Send your letters by October 12 to CAPPER'S, Kate Marchbanks, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.

Friday Night Fiesta!

Instead of spending another night at a noisy, crowded restaurant, why not partner with a group of friends to take turns hosting a delicious meal at home? Cooking clubs, often called supper clubs or dinner clubs, are a great way to bring people together for a night of good food and good company.

Hosting a cooking club is as easy as one, two, three. First, choose a theme. Seasonal and festive occasions are a great place to start. Next, create a menu by selecting recipes that complement your theme and are easy to prepare. Last but not least, invite your guests and assign each to bring a few ingredients for the evening's meal.

One party idea that's sure to please is a 'Friday Night Fiesta.' Serve store-bought tortilla chips and salsa as an appetizer to keep hunger at bay, so your guests can concentrate on simple but delicious Mexican-inspired recipes.

Chicken Enchiladas make a terrific entrée to prepare in a group because you can assign everyone a small task, like chopping the onions or shredding the cheese. Combine cream of chicken soup and Monterey Jack cheese with authentic ingredients like chili powder and green chilies to create enchiladas that are mucho delicioso.

Another dish that's perfect for a crowd is Southwestern Beef Cornbread Bake. This hearty casserole features tomato soup, zesty spices, meat, cheese and corn for a satisfying addition to your fiesta.

For more recipes, visit www.CampbellsKitchen.com.

Chicken Enchiladas

This is a delicious and easy dish perfect for entertaining friends.

1 can (10.75 oz.) condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken or turkey
1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chilies
8 flour tortillas (8 inch), warmed
1 cup shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

Stir soup and sour cream together in small bowl; set aside. Heat butter in 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and chili powder; cook until onion is tender. Add chicken, chilies and 2 tablespoons soup mixture.

Spread 1/2 cup soup mixture in a shallow 11-by-8-inch baking dish. Spoon about 1/4 cup chicken mixture down center of each tortilla. Roll up tortillas and place seam-side down in baking dish. Spoon remaining soup mixture over filled tortillas. Top with cheese.

Bake at 350ºF. for 25 minutes, or until enchiladas are hot and bubbly. Yields 4 servings.

Southwest Beef Cornbread Bake

Try this filling and festive dish at your next fiesta.

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 can (10.75 oz.) condensed tomato soup
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 can (8 oz.) whole kernel corn, drained
1 package (12 oz.) corn muffin mix
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 oz.)

Heat oven to 350°F.

Cook beef and onion in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until well-browned, stirring frequently. Pour off and discard fat. Stir in soup, water, chili powder and corn. Heat to a boil. Spoon into a shallow 11-by-8-inch baking dish.Combine muffin mix, egg and milk in a bowl until just mixed. (Mixture will be lumpy.) Spoon over beef mixture in pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until cornbread is golden brown. Sprinkle with cheese. Yields 5 servings.

Cheddar Potato Bake

Here's a quick and easy solution for a hungry crowd.

2 cups water
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup milk
2 cups instant potato flakes or buds
1 can (10.75 oz.) condensed cheddar cheese soup
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
Generous dash of ground black pepper
1 medium green onion, chopped (2 tablespoons)

In a 2-quart saucepan, heat water and butter over high heat to a boil; remove from heat. Stir in milk. Slowly stir in potato flakes.

Add soup, sour cream, pepper and green onion to potato mixture; transfer mixture to a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish. Bake at 350°F. for about 30 minutes, or until casserole is piping hot. Yields 8 servings.

Together with God

What's my idea of a dream vacation? For me, it's as simple as a little uninterrupted time - time to relax and let my mind rest … or wander.

Give me a warm bubble bath and the soft glow of candlelight, and I'm soon enjoying the peaceful release from a stressful day. Give me a cool autumn day when nobody is around, and the house is quiet, and I'll head to the computer. In no time, I'm off to another world through my writings.

During my school years, I couldn't wait for summer vacation because I got to go to vacation Bible school. Now that was a dream! I enjoyed the hot days spent playing softball, making crafts, drinking Kool-Aid and learning new songs.

Vacations come in a variety of sizes and styles. Going to Europe would be nice, but these days I'm happy with not having any requirements on me for short periods of time.

That's what a vacation is all about - getting away from it all, which is usually the stress of our own lives. We go on vacations to forget that we have responsibilities and demands that are often holding us down. A vacation really is what you make of it - time with or without the family.

Father, thank You for the days off when we can relax and reflect on the importance of our lives. Help us understand that living involves more than just a paycheck. Keep us close in Your vision of life so that we may find our way home. Amen.

D. Susan Rutz

A Letter from Kate

Dear Readers,

While my family might not have been able to afford expensive cars and big houses, we found a way to take family vacations. As I grow older, I realize how priceless those vacation memories are and how important it is to continue to find time for each other - even as the younger members begin their own families.

One year when I was in high school, our family drove from Kansas City, Mo., to Scottsdale, Ariz., to visit my grandmother. My mom, sister and I wanted to visit all of the big shopping districts, but my dad was determined to take us to Tombstone, Ariz., for a more fulfilling experience. He promised it would only take two hours to get there, and he said we would be back before dark.

Didn't happen. Instead, we drove for five hours, and the most exciting part of the trip was the cement statue that re-enacted the big shootout at the OK Corral. The climate was boiling, and the entertainment scarce. However, what made this vacation one of my favorites was my dad's persistence. He kept trying to convince us that Tombstone was great and interesting, even though we all knew that he was secretly disappointed as well. He was relentless. Even today, he still will not admit to any of us that his history trip was a dud.

While it might sound like I didn't enjoy this vacation, that isn't entirely true. I was able to spend time with my family and explore a place we had never been. I enjoyed my time in Arizona, and I cherish the memories we made together.

As I grow older, I realize that the memories we made on those family trips are priceless and have given me many dream vacations. They gave me more time with my beloved family, and for that I'm grateful.

Kate Marchbanks