updated 10/27/2010 AT 7:00 PM ET
•originally published 10/27/2010 AT 6:00 PM ET
California is about to become a little more southern.
The Tournament of Roses Association announced Tuesday that Paula Deen will be the Rose Parade Grand Marshal in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
Deen, 63, will ride in the 122nd parade on January 1, 2011. Later, she will toss the coin before kickoff of the Rose Bowl game.
“My whole family has watched it on TV for years,” Deen told PEOPLE after the announcement. “My sons are very impressed that I was chosen. It only took me 40 years to impress them, but I’ve finally done it.”
“I’m living the dream, honey,” Deen continued with a laugh. “Actually, no. I never thought this would happen in my wildest dreams, because I just don’t have that kind of imagination!”
Deen first learned of the honor while sitting at her Savannah-area home. “Someone delivered a big, beautiful arrangement of white roses,” she says, “and I said, ‘This has to be some sort of mistake. Who would be sending me roses?’ And then I learned that I had been chosen, and I was thrilled.”
Now, Deen has a lot of preparation to do. “I have to decide what to wear,” she says. “And what am I going to say? I’m speechless right now.”
Will she be as dumbfounded on New Year’s Day? “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll find my tongue long before the parade,” she says. “You can’t keep me quiet for long.”