Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thoughts On Our Adoption Journey

My fella and I are well on our way to adopting, and our adoption journey has pretty much gone off the rails. The fella would say "We got hijacked by the Holy Spirit" and I would probably agree with that. Before you comment and email me with a zillion questions, you should know that even if I wanted to, I could not tell you anything, there is much that I don't know. But please pray. Pray for our family and our future kids. And pray that we would have patience with and find favor with those that control the process.
Meanwhile, in all of this unknown, I began to think about ways to make sure that any children that come into our family by way of adoption will know that they were just as excitedly anticipated as those that came by way of birth.
There will never be one of these:
Or one of these:
and there certainly won't be one of these:

I am faced with a home that is full of baby books and maternity photos and birthday collages that show age progression. And no adopted child of ours will ever have that. What they will have is a book of photos that we have been taking along the way, depicting things like me putting the application in the mailbox and us at DSS training. And they will have a journal, written in the form of letters to them, that I have been pouring my heart into. 
While I will never be able to tell them what it was like to feel them kick, or what I foods I craved, or tell their birth story, I will be able to tell them how they were loved, wanted, expected, selected,and eagerly anticipated. I will tell them about how my heart was inexplicably drawn to them, and how from the moment of conception, although it was not in my womb, God knew that they were for our family.

God sets the lonely in families...
Psalm 68:6

To read more about our adoption story, check out my post Questions & Answers About Adopting. I am always happy to answer questions about the process, either by comment or email, so as long as they are not situation specific (we don't know any specifics), keep the questions coming!

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Love Gave Hope

For the next 58 hours straight, the Body of Christ will be His hands and feet in our community, raising supplies and awareness for local orphan care. 
I pray that the organizations that will benefit from this outreach will be blessed beyond their greatest expectations. 
But, I have another prayer too, and that is that my family will learn a bit more about giving love this Christmas, instead of just focusing on getting gifts.

We signed our oldest up to volunteer alongside us, and I plan to take him with me to watch his daddy in action as one of the co-hosts of the live webcast. I don't want him to just hear about generosity and giving, and want him to see it in action in our lives. 
To view the live feed or donate, visit, and maybe you too can teach your little ones to "Give This Christmas Away"

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Return of the Elf

Last year was our family's first year participating in the media-driven madness that is Elf on the Shelf. We purchased him, because our then 3 year old saw the 30 minute tv special and really liked it. Later that week, we saw an Elf on the Shelf box set in a store and picked it up. It was quite a lot of fun moving our elf, "Sheldon" from spot to spot each evening and watching Man-Cub eagerly search for him each morning. It wasn't until after Christmas that I really got into Pinterest and discovered all of the fantastical elf-y ideas that are out there.
This year, I had an elf plan, and of course that plan involves character education. You might say that character education is my hobby these days. When I look at these children, I see not only sticky faces and goofy smiles. I see adults that, with the right foundations, will become disciples of Christ and servants to others. Now, back to the elf.
Our elf arrived the same day that we were putting up the decorations, which happened to be during Thanksgiving week. I sneakily placed a package addressed to the kids on the front porch, and a few hours later when I knew that the mailman was on our street, I asked Man-Cub to go out and check our mail. When he discovered that the box on the porch bore his name, he was pretty pumped.
I then assisted him in "sounding out" the return address. You cannot imagine his excitement when he learned that the package came from Santa!
We took a seat on the stairs and opened the box, which contained Sheldon the elf and a letter from Santa.
The letter read:
Noah & Evelynn,
Sheldon was so excited to see you again, he couldn't wait one more day! So when I told him that you were decorating for Christmas early, he begged me to send him by express mail!
Remember, I bring presents because my heart is so full of Jesus' love. If Sheldon acts naughty or misbehaves while he is at your house, please remind him that Jesus loves him no matter what.
I will be seeing you both soon!

So the plan is for Sheldon to get into a little bit of mischief while he is here, and for Man-Cub to teach him all about grace and forgiveness.
There are some really cool ideas and resources out there for incorporating the fun of Santa with the true meaning of Christmas. One of our favorites is Veggie Tales: The Story of St. Nicholas. We love how it teaches our kids where the tradition of Santa Claus came from, as well as reinforcing the idea that; "I can love because God loves me, I can give because God gave."
I would love to hear all about how you incorporate the real reason for Christmas with the Santa fun!

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Chain of Gratitude

This is an activity that we did when I was a kid. I love the fact that it focuses on being grateful for what we already have. In my opinion, there is just way too much focus on what we are going to get at Christmastime. 
I started with a basic mason jar, and decorated it. I used some hemp twine and a handmade tag reading "25 Days of Gratitude."
I then picked a few pages of scrapbooking paper in colors that match my home decor, and cut them into strips measuring 1"x6" which I added to the jar.
Each night of December, before bed, every member of our family will take a strip and write down something that they are grateful for on the white inside the strip.
Then we will add them to the chain.
While the chain will start short and probably stay on a tabletop at first, as it grows we will probably  use to to decorate our buffet in the dining room or hang over a window valance. You can choose to either add to it year after year or [as we will do] you can pack it away with your decorations, then start the next Christmas season by taking apart the previous year's chain and reading aloud all of the things you were grateful for last year.
I pray that your Christmas season will be filled with gratitude, generosity, joy and love!
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Paper Bag Manger & Character Building Activity

 If you know me, or have been reading this blog very long, you know that I am borderline obsessed with character education for kids. During Christmas, I am also obsessed with teaching my kids the real reason for Christmas. This activity is a favorite of mine, because it combines both.
As with many of my Christmas activities, this is a great craft for older children, but if you have little ones you can make this and then allow your children to participate in the activity that goes along with it.
To make your paper manger you will need:
-Brown paper bag (lunch size or grocery size is your choice)
-yellow card stock
-Either a baby doll or make your own doll with white felt and a wooden ball

 Begin by cutting the top of your bag to your desired height, and cutting a circle in the center.
Now you will cut the sides out of your bag, approximately half of the remained height.
Glue the top of your bag together. Then decorate as desired. I simply added a paper star to the top.
Cut your yellow card stock into strips and fold accordion-style. Place these in a separate jar, bag or other container.

Now comes the character education part. Explain to your kids that each time they do something that embodies the true spirit of Christmas, they get to add a piece of "straw" to the manger. This could be anything from displaying generosity, kindness, keeping a joyful attitude or even doing a service project for others. Be sure to give examples, and stay on watch for this behavior. You could even enlist your kids to "catch" each other pleasing Jesus. You may decide to remove a piece of straw each time the behave selfishly, greedily or are unkind, but be sure that it doesn't become a tattling contest between your kids. On Christmas Eve, talk to your children about how their actions were pleasing to Jesus, and praise them for filling up the manger. Then you can add your doll "Baby Jesus" on top of the bed they made for him.

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Felt Nativity Advent Calendar

Around this time of year, I am always concerned that my kids are counting down to a day when they get presents,  and not counting down to a big birthday celebration for Jesus. With all of the commercialized aspects of the holiday season, it takes a lot of effort to bring the focus back to the true reason for this wonderful holiday.
For several years, I searched for an advent calendar that depicted a nativity, to no avail. So last year, I decided to make my own. This is an awesome craft for older kids, but if your kids are little like mine, you can do the "making" yourself and allow them to participate in the daily countdown.
You will need:
-Felt advent calendar base (I found mine at Hobby Lobby)
-Black, white, yellow and tan felt
Your first step will be to do a Google Images search for "Nativity Silhouette" and decide which one you want to use. I chose a very simple one. Print out the image of your choice, and cut it out. Now, trace your image onto your black felt. Pencil shows up fairly well. Glue your silhouette onto your calendar.
Now use your remaining felt to create your baby Jesus. I pretty much free handed mine, but if you are looking for a template or ideas, use that Google Search again. Make sure that your Jesus is sized appropriately to fit into the pockets of your calendar. 
The one main difference between this calendar and the others you have probably seen is that instead of counting up from 1 to 24, you will count down from 24 to 1. This allows the Christ child to "travel" towards the manger scene. 
Because felt sticks to felt, on Christmas morning you can place baby Jesus directly in the manger.
This is one of many things that we do around our house in an effort to put the focus on Him. What traditions does your family have that celebrate the true reason for Christmas?

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Super Simple Salt Dough Ornaments


I originally discovered this recipe on Pinterest, and we have had so much fun with it here. I have slightly altered the original to include more flour and less salt, which creates a very smooth outcome.
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup salt
1 1/2 cups water
Combine flour and salt, then incorporate water slowly. Knead the mixture on a floured surface for approximately 15 minutes or until very smooth and not sticky. Roll out on floured surface to about 1 cm thickness.
To make the handprint gift ornaments, simply cut out a circle (I used a drinking glass) and help your little ones press their hands into the dough.

To make the cut outs, just allow your kids to use cookie cutters, the same way you would do with sugar cookie dough. (That's Man-Cub making a "please stop taking photos of me so I can keep playing with this dough" face)
For all of the ornaments, I used a straw to poke the holes.
Once you have cut out or shaped them, bake in a 300 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. The ornaments should be completely hardened once cooled.
Decorate your ornaments with acrylic paint, glitter glue, or paint pens.
Here are few of our finished ornaments. We all had a blast with this project, and Man-Cub has brought out the cookie cutters several times since, begging to repeat the project!

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Kid-Friendly Advent Wreath

If you have never taken part in an Advent Wreath tradition, none of this will be a stretch for you. If you have, please know that my version of the tradition is not traditional in almost any way. If you want to stick with the traditional readings and candle colors, please do. I began this way of celebrating advent about 3 years ago, during my Man-Cub's second Christmas season. Back then, we could barely get him to sit still long enough to make it through the reading, but we persisted, and now he eagerly looks forward to Sunday evenings and the time to light (and blow out!) the candles. Now we are approaching our fourth advent season since we began doing the wreath and as soon as I pulled out the holiday decorations he was searching for the wreath and candles. That will warm a mama's heart!

The picture above is Man-Cub with the wreath last Christmas morning. I purchased the supplies to make the wreath at AC Moore Arts & Crafts, but almost any craft store should have the supplies needed. It consists of:
  • Wire wreath form with candle holders (check floral supplies aisle if not in the seasonal section)
  • Holiday decorative picks
  • 4 taper candles (I chose colors that coordinate with my decor)
  • 1 medium-large pillar candle for center of wreath

Each Sunday night after dinner we gather back at the family table and bring out the Bible and our Little People Nativity set as well as other props if applicable.

Click HERE for the weekly, kid-friendly readings.

Each week we light the candles from the week before, adding a new candle each week. We read and discuss the message in the reading and ask age-approriate questions to review. Then we take turns blowing out the candles.
On Christmas morning, after stockings are un-stuffed but before we begin opening gifts, we light all of the candles, including the big one in the middle. We keep all of the lights off so that the only glow comes from the 5 lit candles, and we read about how Jesus is the Light of the World. We finish this special time by singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus and allowing the little ones to blow out the candles as if they were the candles on a birthday cake. 
This year, now that Man-Cub has become more contemplative, we plan to add one final question to finish our Advent celebration:
What birthday gift will you give to Jesus this year?

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Kid-Friendly Advent Readings

To read the beginnings of this family tradition as well as a list of supplies to make the wreath, click HERE.
The first Sunday of Advent this year is December 2nd. 
If you are late getting started or miss a Sunday, just catch up on a week night. We have been know to move our candle lighting to a Monday night from time to time if the kids are cranky on Sunday nights.
Okay, let's dive in!

Week One: Mary, the angel, and some very exciting news!

You will need: Bible, nativity figures or some other representation of Mary and an angel, advent wreath , candles, and lighter/matches
  • Read Luke 1:26-38
  • Light the first candle.
  • During the reading, point out to your child which of the characters are Mary and the angel, allowing them to hold the figures.
  • Questions for review and reflection:

  1. Who brought the good news to Mary?
  2. How do you think Mary felt? (Surprised, worried, happy, scared, sad?)
  3. What do you think if would be like if an angel showed up in your room to give you a message? How would you feel?
  4. What was the very exciting news that the angel brought to Mary?
  5. What exciting news does God want us to share this Christmas season?
  • Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the good news of Jesus' birth! Please help us to wait as expectantly as Mary did for the coming of your Son. May we always remember the true message of Christmas, and share that message with others through our words and deeds this Christmas Season! Amen.

Week 2: Joseph has an important dream.
You will need: Bible, nativity figures of Joseph and an angel, advent wreath, candles and lighter/matches.
  • Light the first week's candle
  • Read Matthew 1:18-25
  • Point out to your child the characters of the story and allow them to hold them when they come up.
  • Light the second candle.
  • Questions for review and reflection:
  1. What was Jesus' mother's name?
  2. Who was she supposed to get married to?
  3. How did the angel appear to Joseph? What did the angel tell him?
  4. What did the angel tell Joseph to name the baby?
  5. What other, special name did the angel say that Jesus would be called? (Remind your child of the meaning of Immanuel).
  6. Did Joseph obey what the angel told him to do?
  7. Are we supposed to obey God? What does obedience to God look like?
  • Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for showing us how to obey you by showing us how Joseph obeyed you. Help us to listen for what you want us to do and obey you right away. May we remember to be obedient to your will at Christmas time and always. Amen.
Week 3: No room at the inn.
You will need: A Bible, something to represent a stable (from a nativity set or even a box), figures of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus in a manger, and a donkey, Advent wreath, candles, lighter/matches.
  • Light the candles from the first 2 weeks.
  • Read Luke 2:1-7
  • Point out the figures in the story and allow your child to hold them and place Mary and Joseph in the stable.
  • Light the 3rd candle
  • Questions for review and reflection
  1. Who had to make a long trip?
  2. Where did they go?
  3. Did they find a comfy place to stay while they were visiting Bethlehem?
  4. What very exciting event happened while they were in Bethlehem?
  5. Do you know what a stable is? Do you know what a manger is? (Explain these words, being sure to emphasize the fact that a stable is a common barn, and a manger is where an animal drinks. Also use wording to describe the "stinky" or unpleasant environment that a stable would be for sleeping) 
  6. Where were you born? (emphasize the comfort and cleanliness of hospital or birth center settings vs. a stable)
  7. When you were a little baby, where did you sleep? (again, emphasize the comforts of a home and crib). What would it be like to sleep in a barn?
  8. Why do you think that God would send his Son to be born in a barn?
  • Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you so much for the birth of your Son, Jesus! Although Bethlehem did not have room for Him, allow us to make room for Him in our hearts. We pray that we would not miss out on how special His birth was this season. Help up to remember His humble start and to stay humble ourselves. Amen.
Week 4: Shepherds and Wise Men
You will need: Bible, figures of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, wise men, and various animals, some kind of star, Advent wreath, candles, lighter/matches
  • Light the previous 3 candles.
  • Read Luke 2:8-18 and Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11
  • Light the fourth candle
  • Point out the figures in the story and allow your child to hold them and place them in their appropriate spots.
  • Questions for review and reflection:
  1. How did the shepherds feel when the angels appeared?
  2. What did the angels tell them to do?
  3. How would you feel if all those angels appeared to you?
  4. What did they do in response to the angels good news? (emphasize that they obeyed, worshipped AND told others)
  5. What did the wise men follow to find Jesus?
  6. How many gifts did they bring? Do you remember what the gifts were?
  7. What is the greatest gift of all time?
  • Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the gift of your Son! We know that He is the best Christmas present of all! Help us to respond to His birth the same way that the shepherds did, and worship Him the way the wise men did. Remind us of the lessons that we have learned from the shepherds and wise men, and help us to live our lives as a precious gift to you. Amen.

Christmas Morning: The Light of the World!
You will need: Bible, Advent wreath, candles, lighter/matches
  • Turn off all the lights, light the 4 taper candles and the center candle.
  • Read John 1:1-5
  • Questions to ask:
  1. Who is the light of the world?
  2. Who's birthday is today?
  3. What birthday gift will you give to Jesus this year?
  • Prayer: Jesus, we love you so much! Thank you for coming to this world to be our light! Help us to shine your light to the whole world, at Christmas and always. Be with us as we strive to live out the gifts we promised to give you this year. Happy Birthday Jesus! Amen.
  • Sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus and allow the kids to blow out the candles as if they were the candles on a birthday cake!
It is my sincerest hope that this tradition has blessed your family this advent season. May the joy of the birth of Jesus permeate your heart and life at Christmas and always!

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Get Serious About Celebrating!

Right now I am reading the supremely inspiring book, "The Purpose of Christmas" by Rick Warren.

This book contains the wake up call that we all need from time to time during the holiday season. I am about 50 pages in, and I already have a new mantra; celebrate.
It's that simple, and that complicated, all at once. Just celebrate. Christmas is a giant, one-month-long birthday party for the greatest person that ever lived, and that is cause for some big time celebration. 
So I am taking a few hours today to check my calendar, make lists of to-do's and the dates that they need to be completed by, and then I am letting go of the stress. I am letting go of the impulse to cram one more thing in, to hunt for the "perfect" gifts for one more hour or to allow one more "to do" to ruin my celebration. This holiday season I will simply celebrate. I will attend parties, bake, cook, read, laugh, play and enjoy the wonder and magic of Christmas, but I will not do a single thing that is not celebratory.
Will you take the steps needed to get serious about celebrating?

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Let's Give Thanks Part V: 1 Turkey Carcass 3 Meals

I really hate the word carcass. But when I consulted my handy thesaurus for less graphic sounding alternatives, the options were pretty morbid themselves; body, cadaver, corpse, remains, shell....its not pretty.
But I needed to be specific that these are not recipes for leftover turkey, these are recipes that utilize the bones and the bits of meat that cling to them. One 20 pound turkey carcass can yield 3 recipes, and depending on your serving sizes and size of your family, at least 6 meals. 
My method for brined turkey is here, but if you did not brine your turkey, you will want to add some extra seasoning, which will be listed at the end of the post. If your family serves the wings and drumsticks on the bone, you will not be able to do all 3 recipes, so just pick your favorite and make one nice pot of soup. Also, you will probably want to start this process in the morning, as it is kind of an all day thing.
1. You will begin with 3 large pots and a very sharp knife. Remove the wing, leg and thigh bones from one side of the bird and place in a pot. Do the same for the other side, adding those to the second pot. Finally, put the entire body of the bird into your third pot, cutting into several pieces if necessary to fit. Cover all 3 with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for as long as is needed for bones to be completely bare. It took mine about 4 hours. As mentioned, if your turkey was brined you will not need to add anything to your water and bones, the saltiness and seasonings will be sufficient to make a wonderful stock.
2. Remove all bones and cartilage from each pot and continue simmering as you add the remaining ingredients to each one.

For Herbed Noodle Soup add:
2 diced carrots
1 stalk celery, diced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
chunks of leftover meat (if more meat is desired)
2 cups farfalle or other noodles (add after vegetables are tender)

For Spicy Sicilian Soup add:
2 diced carrots
1 stalk celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, diced
1 can Rotel, do not drain
chunks of leftover meat (if more meat is desired)
1 cup ditalini or other small pasta (add after vegetables are tender)
Black pepper to taste

For White Chili add:
2 cans navy beans, drained
1 can cannellini beans, drained
2 packages "White Chicken Chili" seasoning
chunks of leftover meat (if more meat is desired)

Simmer each of these until the vegetables are tender and the pasta is al dente. For the White Chili you need only simmer until flavors are combined and beans are heated through. Because I serve soup with sandwiches or salads for dinner, I then separated each recipe into 2 gallon sized bags, then froze them flat on a cookie sheet so that they can be neatly stacked in the freezer. We eat all of our leftover turkey meat with the leftover sides or on sandwiches, so I did not add any additional meat to my soups and they are still very rich and hearty. A lot of meat comes off of the bones since I am not very thorough about "picking" the turkey. Talk about being resourceful! With the original holiday dinner,  our leftover meals, plus the soups and chili, one turkey has yielded 10 meals for my family! 

*If your turkey was not brined, you will want to add the following to each pot of water and bones: 1 whole stalk of celery, 1 whole carrot, 1 quartered onion, salt and pepper to taste. Remove the whole aromatics when you remove your bones.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I'm a Top Mommy Blogger!

As of today, I have officially been accepted to the
directory of awesome Mommy blogs!
This is super-dee-duper exciting, and I am currently ranking at #64 in my category, which is "Stay at Home" blogs.
In order for me to move up in the rankings and garner more exposure, YOU have the vote!
You can vote once per day, just by clicking the banner that will now be in the signature of every blog post or the one in the sidebar. That's it, just click after you read the post!
Thank You-Thank You-Thank You!

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Let's Give Thanks Part IV: Entertaining the Kids

The big day is here! 
The parade, turkey, football, and the pile of Black Friday ads on the coffee table. But if you have little ones, you know that there is little likelihood that you will be hanging on the couch watching the parade until the meal and then following it with a tryptophan-induced mini coma.
Especially if you are visiting someone else's home, one where there isn't any "kid stuff" and the space has not been toddler proofed.
The home where we will be spending this Thanksgiving dinner will contain 5 sets of aunts and uncles, 16 of my husband's first cousins, and enough of his grandmomma's fragile heirlooms to keep me on my toes for the entire day. Oh, and my kids are the only one's under the age of 16 that will be present today. 
When there was just one child in my care, I could easily follow him around the house or, weather permitting, take him outside to play on her lawn or walk him over to see her neighbor's horses. But now I am outnumbered. Not that my fella won't help, but if there is a particularly interesting play happening in whatever football game is on, I may be on my own. 
In my imagination, I spend the day with a screaming-because-she-wants-to-run-around toddler on my hip while I chase the 4 year old around begging him "Don't run in the house! Don't tackle your relatives! That's not a toy!" while the relatives look at me with either sympathy or helplessness.
So, I am taking a proactive approach to avoid all of that. I am packing Man-Cub a backpack full of quiet activities that he has never seen before. I have a few simple Thanksgiving themed craft kits from the craft store, a Christmas coloring book, and some pumpkin-pie scented play dough as well as his Leapster and a spare set of batteries. For the Girl-Child I have some toys that she hasn't seen in awhile and an arsenal of toddler friendly finger foods. I also know that I can always rely on the grandmothers, aunts  and girl cousins to want to snuggle the little one and the grandfathers, uncles, and boy cousins to take Man-Cub outside for basketball or to play catch after the meal. 
And even if there is some chasing and correcting, I will not allow myself to be stressed out, because this is Thanksgiving, and I am so thankful for my little ones. I wouldn't trade them for all the parade floats and long naps in the world!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Let's Give Thanks III: Friends-giving & Brined Turkey

I really like to cook Thanksgiving, and I have an extra special love for all of those turkey day leftovers. For many years, while we were stationed away from home, I cooked the whole feast and then we invited over as many single sailors as we could find to enjoy the meal with us. Since we are "permanent" where we are now, at least every other year there is a family meal to attend, which leaves me without my beloved leftovers. So two years ago I began the tradition of hosting a "Friends-giving" a few days before the actual holiday.
This gives me the opportunity to do the cooking that I enjoy so much, and gives my fella the opportunity to do the socializing and entertaining that he loves so much. Typically we invite friends that live far from home or for some other reason don't have holiday plans. We eat, we drink, we laugh, and most importantly, we give thanks. We are thankful for the friends that are in our life and for the unique relationships that we have with them. Friends never take the place of family, but having strong friendships is such an important part of a healthy, balanced life.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”
-C.S. Lewis
One of the reasons that we host "Friends-giving" is so that we can enjoy an awesome brined turkey that I started making a few years ago. My fella says it "ruined all other turkey" for him. It is a variation on Alton Brown's famous Good Eats turkey from 1999. 

In a large stockpot combine:
2 cups kosher salt
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup whole peppercorns
1-2 whole cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup dried rosemary (or throw in the contents of the whole jar if you don't have quite that much)
1/4 cup dried sage
2 tbsp dried thyme
Aromatics for roasting:
1 apple, quartered
1 onion, quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled but whole

Fill up the pot with water and slowly dissolve brine seasonings over low heat. Allow to simmer for at least 10 minutes to fully bring out the flavors of the dried herbs. Completely cool in the refrigerator. Place thawed turkey in a large oven bag in the roasting pan in case of leaks. With help, pour cooled brine into the bag. Allow to brine in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, turning once during that time. Remove turkey, discarding liquid but retaining herbs (I just pour the brine through a strainer to do this). Add herbs back into cavity of turkey. Place aromatics in a bowl with 1/2 cup water and microwave for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatic (minus the water) to the cavity of the turkey. Pat whole turkey dry with paper towels and coat liberally with canola oil. Place uncovered in 500 degree oven for 30 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 for the remainder of cooking time, tenting as necessary if the bird begins to over brown.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Let's Give Thanks Part II:Gratitude

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 107:1

This time of year, everyone is talking about thankfulness. About 88% of my Facebook friends are posting each day about something that they are thankful for, and that is totally awesome. I think that most of us, especially me, could use a good dose of that thankfulness stuff every day, not just in the month of November. That is why this week is an excellent time to start some new habits that build gratitude into our daily lives.
This is not a strictly religious thing, this is for anyone, regardless of belief or denomination, and it can be super simple.
Could you come up with a list of 1000 things that you are grateful for? Grab a pen and paper and start making a list. This is surely not a one day activity, but maybe something to work on a little bit each day for awhile. When you are done, keep it somewhere that you can reread in often.
 Try a gratitude journal. Just designate a journal or notebook and keep it next to your bed. Each night, before you settle in, take a moment to jot down the things that you are thankful for. They may be general things like "my home" and "my family" or specific things like "the look on my kid's faces at the Festival of Lights." The list might be short or long, depending on the day. Make it a habit to write in your gratitude journal every day, but don't beat yourself up if you miss a day now and then. Then, next year, open up your journal the day before Thanksgiving and read about all the things you have felt grateful for all year long. I can guarantee that it will be a truly heartwarming experience.
Another variation of this activity is for each member of the family to write something you are grateful for on a popsicle stick or strip of paper every day before bed, and place it in a mason jar. Next year, while enjoying dessert on Thanksgiving, take turns pulling from the jar and reading out loud all of the things you were all thankful for all year long.

There are lots of resources out there about learning to be more grateful. Some of my favorites are:
With wishes for a Thanksgiving filled with gratitude!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Let's Give Thanks Part I: Better Than Your Mama's Sweet Potatoes

Today begins what will be a 4 part mini-series about Thanksgiving and everything that I find important about it.

I am not going to share every single one of my Thanksgiving Day recipes, because, lets face it, I will need things to blog about for future holidays. That, and, most people already know their favorite way to do it, and I don't want to change all that up.
There is one part of the traditional fare that I think everyone should change, and that is the sweet potatoes. Most people serve them in a casserole topped with tiny marshmallows. While you may like this dish, I am going to go out a limb and assume that it is not your favorite dish on the table. Yeah, you probably eat it, but you wouldn't eat it by itself.
My sweet potato recipe is so good that I make it at every holiday. Every. single. one.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Easter, get the idea.
And I make a quadruple batch.
And everyone asks for the recipe.
And we eat the leftovers by themselves (if we have any!) for several days afterward, sometimes even for breakfast.
Still not sold?
They are made in the crock pot.
If that didn't get you, I don't know what will. So here it is folks,
my (sort of) world famous
"Better than your mama's" Sweet Potatoes
and may I add, that even my mama, one of the most talented cooks that I know, says that these are better than hers!

3 large cans of sweet potatoes, drained
1 stick of real butter
1 cup chunky applesauce
2 granny smith apples, cored and diced (with peel on)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
dash of nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Allow to simmer all day on low, at least 4 hours. You are looking for a chunky but cohesive mixture. The longer you allow it to simmer, the more integrated the flavors become, and the more delicious. 

A very happy Thanksgiving, from our household to yours!