cover pic

cover pic

Monday, November 28, 2016

Gathered Together After a Turkey Trot

Wow.  It feels like forever since my last post.  I hope every one of you American readers had a marvelous Thanksgiving.  Ours was filled with family time, drizzly weather, and good food and wine.

Our cool, rainy Thursday morning began with six members of our family headed off to an annual turkey trot.  Two of our sons ran this 5K, two people volunteered as course marshals, and two were bystanders who cheered the runners on.  This was the first race ever for our ten year old who has boundless energy and can literally run circles around me any day.  Our older son hung near him through the race, and both crossed the finish line within seconds of each other with quite a bit of energy left.  They finished in the top half of the 234 runners, which wasn't bad for two amateurs who really don't train for these things, and the entry fees went to non-profit organizations.

When they all returned, cold and damp from the November rain, I had the turkey roasting in the oven and appetizers/light lunch on the table.

I cheated this year and picked up most of the appetizers from the deli and bakery sections of the supermarket.  The cherry cordial Hershey's Kisses were the favorite new item of the morning.

Our traditional Thanksgiving dinner was scheduled to be held at 3 PM, but as usual, we didn't sit down to eat until a bit later.

That was because we were waiting on these two casseroles to finish baking.  I always need to double the recipes, and the vegetable dishes always seem to need more time to set up than I predict.  The sweet potato casserole on the right is the one I make every year, along with millions of other Americans, I'm sure.  This year I made a corn casserole instead of green bean casserole, which pleased my children tremendously.  There were a lot of these recipes on Pinterest, but the one I used can be found here at The only change I made was doubling the recipe, and I had to nearly double the bake time.

My little ones were standing close by, salivating and very eager for the dinner bell to ring.

Hubby did the traditional turkey carving, with the assistance of his dad, while I performed all those last minute tasks with the help of my mother-in-law and teenage daughter.  

But in the end, it all came together seamlessly, and we gave thanks and began eating around 3:30.  It looked like we had enough food to feed us all for a week, but as it turned out, everything was gone within two days.

After dinner and kitchen cleanup, there were Christmas movies, games of Phase 10, pumpkin pie and dessert wine, and just more family time in general.

My day was complete after getting to hold this sweet baby boy in my arms while he slept peacefully amidst all the ruckus around him.

And for all these things, I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Of Thanksgivings Past

Thanksgiving is just a week away, and the only thing I've done to prepare is buy the turkey.  In case I don't have time to do any blogging between now and then, I thought I'd leave you with a few pictures of some of our Thanksgivings we've celebrated since we moved into our farmhouse ten years ago.

Let me start by saying that the images in my head of what our Thanksgiving should be like are similar to last year's Land's End cover of one of their holiday catalogs.  But the reality is that our celebrations really look like this...

Our youngest son was actually baptized over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2006, which is a beautiful thing, but he screamed throughout most of it.

This was the children's table in 2007, back when we had a smaller kitchen table and we could squeeze in a kids' table.  Now that our table seats 10-12, there really isn't room for much else in our farmhouse kitchen.  When we have lots of family here, we now have to split up into two rooms.

We have actually spent a number of Thanksgivings at Disney World.  The kiddos love it, but I never quite feel like it's really Thanksgiving when we have dinner there.  These three are all preteens and teens now.  How I wish I could have just one of those days back again, preferably without the tantrums.

Our only orange-haired son has majorly loved food all his life.  When his siblings and cousins were finished and playing, he continued to sit at the table and clean his plate...and completely devour this turkey leg.

 For many years when my house was full of toddlers and little ones, this is what our Thanksgiving dinner table really looked like.  Definitely nothing fancy, mismatched everything, sippy cups, and if you look closely you'll see that our one year old has her bare foot propped up on the table.  I'm fairly certain the vino got me through.

Remember that this is what I really wanted to see at our Thanksgiving dinner table.

In 2013 we were back at Disney and had reservations to eat at Mickey's outdoor barbecue.  There was a Thanksgiving buffet, and our table was right next to the dance floor so we could be up close to all of the Disney characters.  Unfortunately, our youngest was, and still is, afraid of nearly every person dressed up in a full costume.  She was in hysterics when Donald Duck tried to get her to dance with him, and we had to carry her out of there with her screaming at the top of her lungs. 

Thanksgiving 2014 brought us six inches of heavy snow, which was kind of fun since there was nowhere else we had to be.

It was the only year that our children got to go sledding before they ate Thanksgiving dinner.

Last year my youngest was six, and I had a Pinterest board full of Thanksgiving pins I wanted to try, so in addition to our traditional turkey dinner, I also tried out some new things earlier in the day, and had a great time.  With the children older now, I feel like all the traditional trimmings are getting kind of boring and I could make them in my sleep, but my kids have begged me not to change the menu.  I've agreed to only try one new dish this year, and it's only allowed to replace the green bean casserole.

So just in case I am frantically cleaning, cooking, baking, and decorating over the next week and don't get back to my blog, May All of You Have a Happy Thanksgiving with blessings in abundance.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Every Girl Needs a Gala Now and Then

Do you know how long it's been since I've donned a long dress?  It was the last time I saw my husband in black tie attire.  And the last time I've actually danced with my husband.  That was at our wedding over sixteen years ago.  

But this past weekend, along with some of our other adult family members, we attended a charity gala that was a black tie affair.  I won't bore you with pictures or embarrass the men who very reluctantly wore their tuxedos and black bow ties, but I just have to say, that every girl needs one of these events periodically in life.  I forgot how much fun it is to dress up.  Not just casual khakis and sweaters for errands and volunteering at the school.  Not just "nice" skirts or dresses for meetings, kids' performances, or church attendance.  Not even the long flowing sundresses I love to wear on summer date nights with my husband.  But dressing up in formal wear, with the sparkles, and the high heels, and the eye shadow, and actual lipstick.  Spending a couple of hours getting ready instead of a few rushed minutes felt luxurious.  It was fantastic to be going somewhere with my husband and not feeling as if I'd been thrown together amidst finding some boy's shoes or ironing someone's wrinkled pants or braiding someone's hair or tying someone's tie.  It was just us, dressed in our finest, and spending the evening with other smartly dressed grownups who were together to raise money for a good cause.  Even though we helped with this event, it wasn't me responsible for the dinner, or the cleanup, or the entertainment.  I got to enjoy the evening with some of my favorite people; there was not a single ball cap or hoodie to be seen; and I actually got in a dance with my hubby.  For one night, I didn't have to listen to children's complaints about dinner or remind everyone to brush their teeth and clean up their toothpaste spit or pick up wet towels off the bathroom floor.  I got to feel like Cinderella at the ball with her prince, and when we got home before midnight, I was exhilarated and energized and ready to tackle another week.  

So I have decided that every girl needs a formal night out...and more frequently than every sixteen years.

OK, at the risk of getting complaints from male family members later, I will bore you with one photo.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Preppy T.J. Maxx Treasures for the Middle-Aged Mom

No talk of politics here!  Just some bargain shopping at T.J. Maxx.  Last month I shopped at this discount store for the first time in a decade, and I came home with so many great finds.  I could just kick myself for driving by this place so many times when I could have been finding designer items for a fraction of the retail price.  Today I share with you the best deals I found for fall and winter.

This J. Crew creme collarless wool coat was by far my biggest prize.  I have been looking for a wool dress coat for some time, and I love the winter white color.  This is double lined, and there was exactly one in the whole store, and it was in my size.  I like the uniqueness of this coat with a zip-up front and no collar.  At only $80 I knew this was a bargain, but I didn't realize how much of a discount I had gotten until I looked it up on the Internet and saw that it retails for $350: a savings of $220!

My seven-year old was happily snapping away as fashion photographer of the day.  It was cloudy and rainy, so the quality of my pics aren't so great in this post.

I've been looking for a simple black clutch for an upcoming formal event, and I found this Jessica McClintock metal mesh bag with the silver chain for only $17.  This normally retails for $48, so I saved $31.

I love this purple Lauren/Ralph Lauren wrap dress.  It's simple, classic, elegant, and yet so comfortable to wear.


The retail price is $130.

But I found it for $50 for a savings of $80.

And then, there were these shoes that my daughter fell in love with, but they were only available in my size.  I really don't like heels, and most of my closet contains flats in various colors and styles, but I needed something with a little height to wear with a long dress, and I liked these.

Once again, I didn't realize what a bargain I was getting for these Via Spiga suede pumps until I came home and looked them up on the Web.  I paid $70 at T.J. Maxx, but these Italian shoes retail for $195.  Savings of $125.  And these are actually comfortable!

So these four items: coat, clutch, dress, and shoes would normally cost a total of $723, but I found them at T.J. Maxx for only $217.  Grand total savings of  $506. 

Along with some other less dramatic bargains on a separate shopping excursion, I also found this Milano gold sweater and Calvin Klein skinny ankle jeans.

I love this shimmery sweater with the sheer panel underneath.  I think it's festive enough to dress up with some black pants for the holidays.

Or it can be worn with jeans and boots for everyday wear to the school to volunteer or out to lunch with friends.  The sweater was around $20, but I couldn't find it online, so I'm not sure how much savings went on with that purchase.  The Calvin Klein jeans were $30 and normally retail for about $69, so I saved at least $39 on these pieces as well.

 I went back to the store several times and lucked out with teen clothing for both my son and daughter too.  You can never be sure what you'll find there each time because the merchandise changes frequently.  There was quite a bit of home decor and seasonal items that I didn't even browse through.  From now on, T.J. Maxx will be my first stop for wardrobe shopping.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Let Us Not Forget Thanksgiving

On the day after Halloween, the children and I perused the aisles of Michael's and Home Goods looking for Thanksgiving decor that might be on sale.  First we had to get through the shelves and shelves of Christmas plates, wreaths, pillows, and decorations.  We searched around the numerous bins of ornaments, artificial poinsettias and holly greens, and Christmas lights.  Finally, at the far end of the store, we spotted the tiny section of fall merchandise as "Jingle Bells" played over the intercom.  Although there wasn't much left, it was 80% off.  I felt like I hit the jackpot.

I was able to purchase all of the above items at Michael's for only $11, and that was with no coupons.  The resin "Give Thanks" decoration, white ceramic embossed tray, and the rattan cornucopia were only $3 each.  The harvest charger was $1.  For some reason, my ten year-old kept asking me for a horn of plenty this year, so we lucked out there.  He's been stuffing it with gourds, corn, pumpkin, apples, and whatever else he finds.  Fun, fun.

The sales weren't quite as awesome at Home Goods, and they did have a bit more fall items still in stock, but first you had to get past all the Christmas merchandise.  This canvas turkey wall hanging and the brass leaf dish totaled only $9.  I can't wait to use all these plates for our Thanksgiving dinner.

I will admit that it was very tempting to give in and buy some new Christmas stuff, but I resisted.  I mean, it was the day after Thanksgiving, for crying out loud.  I have such good memories of the Thanksgiving holiday: watching The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving back when you could only see it on TV once a year; dressing up as pilgrims and Indians at school; looking forward to a week off from homework; and anticipating eating as much turkey and pumpkin pie as my belly could hold.  I don't want to skip over this special day when we remember our history and count our blessings.

So instead of filling my shopping cart with things red and green and playing Christmas carols while decking the halls of our farmhouse, I purchased and displayed the above items and did some more Pinterest-inspired chalkboard art for Thanksgiving, and I'm hunting for some new recipes to try this year as well.  And I'm going to do my best for the next 18 days to recognize and acknowledge all the blessings in my life and to be truly thankful.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Feeling Mama Pride and Teary Eyed

I admit that I've never been a sporty person.  Watching sports on TV bores me to tears.  Sitting at a soccer field or the bleachers at a football game makes me wish I had a good book in my hands.  The only high school sports I participated in at all was cheerleading---as the mascot.  It was the only way I could get through an entire game.  When our older children played soccer, ran track, and swam on swim team I went to a number of their events, but I always had babies or toddlers in tow, which meant I was chasing after them the whole time.  But last weekend when we attended our daughter's cross country district meet on a soggy field on an unusual balmy fall day, I understood.

We thought we got there late because we got lost numerous times.  When we found out we actually had hours to wait until our daughter ran, I had that feeling of dread that I get at sporting events.  What in the world were we going to do with ourselves for four hours?  No chairs, no book, no Internet.  It turned out that we ran into a number of old friends whom we hadn't seen in a long time, so we followed their children's races while we caught up and ate concession food.  When it was finally time for our daughter's race, I felt nervous and excited for her, and I offered up a prayer.  A prayer that she would do well.  That she would be able to finish.  That she wouldn't throw up and be embarrassed.   That she wouldn't be last.

Because she's running with a very good team of extremely fast girls.  She used to be the last one to cross the finish line when she ran track in middle school.  She'd be near the end of the line of boys and girls when the track team practiced.  She was usually the last one to reach the school in the evening at the end of their cross country practices.  But she persevered.

And because she has persevered in a way that I've never seen her do before, I wanted so badly for her to do well.  She has pushed through the sore muscles.  She has run in the rain and the wind.  She has covered miles that I never imagined she could just a few short months ago.  She never quit.  And this is the girl who used to go up to strangers to show them a hangnail and dramatically go on about how much it hurt until they offered her a bandaid.  But this fall, I've watched her turn into a young woman with stamina, dedication, and fortitude.

I held my breath as I saw her running up that first steep hill.  We ran farther up the field to see her again, and she wasn't near the back of the line.  We crossed the muddy fields again to see her make that final stretch before she reached the finish line.  And we waited.  And waited.  So many runners passed us.  My heart sank.  Did she fall?  Did she stop?  Was she sick?  Finally, finally we saw her...but she was walking!  Her dad started cheering her on.  Her coaches cheered her on.  Her fellow team mates who had finished cheered her on.  Her little sister and I cheered her on.  And I wished her all the positive energy I had inside of me and hoped she could feel it.

And she started running again.  I hurried to the finish line so I could see her cross, and I made it just in the nick of time.  As I approached, she was coming across, and she was not walking, but... sprinting.  She was hurting.  She was sweating.  But she was running, and she didn't throw up.  And she beat her personal record by two whole minutes.  I was so proud of her, and I couldn't stop the tears from coming.

It turned out that she placed high enough to earn her very first medal.  And her team finished first in their division, so along with the rest of the girls, she got another medal.

And I finally got why people like sports.  Or at least why parents enjoy watching their children play in sports.  It was exciting.  It was nerve-wracking.  It was exhilarating.  And with every photo I looked at, I cried some more.  And I'm tearing up now while I write this blog post.

So I have a whole new respect and appreciation for athletes, and for all those parents who spend countless hours in the gyms, the pools, and on the fields.  And I am awed by the transformation I've seen in my daughter this season.  And I am humbled by the eye opening I received on those rural, muddy cross country fields last weekend.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Fast Forward Through Halloween

Life has been so crazy busy here that Halloween was just a blip on the radar.  There was no time over the weekend to prepare, so yesterday after school, some of us were searching the clearance racks at Target for last minute Halloween decorations.  We rushed home to try on the costumes and wolf down some prepackaged, processed food (horror!), and get out the door before we missed trick-or-treat hours altogether.  I almost forgot to take pictures, and we never had time to carve jack-o-lanterns, and our 7 year old even painted her own face.  Hubby took the youngest three to the nearest town to go door to door because there's nowhere to go up here on our mountain unless you visit the Amish.  And they don't celebrate Halloween.  As of a week ago, only one of our kiddos was even willing to go trick-or-treating because they've been so spooked by this whole scary clown fiasco.  The one who wasn't afraid put together his own makeshift costume and declared himself to be an evil clown terminator.  In any case, at the last minute, three of them did go out for about an hour, and our youngest only refused to stop at a few houses this year: those she deemed too creepy to go near.

Meanwhile, back at home, I agreed to let our teenagers rent a classic chiller from Google Play, and the three of us sat down with a bag of orthodontia-friendly candy (ie. No caramel, gummies, or anything sticky) and watched Alien.  This is actually the first suspense thriller I've let them see.  I've been fairly censorial about the images allowed to enter this house, but they are now the age I was when I saw the stream of 80s horror movies, and I thought Alien was a safe one to start with.  After all, I don't need my older children to be too afraid to retrieve items from the basement, go out to the barn at night, or stay home alone to babysit their younger siblings.  As it turns out, our son didn't find it all that scary, but our daughter has decided that the horror genre is not for her.  I guess there will be no Nightmare on Elm Street, Amityville Horror, or Carrie in her future.  I am relieved to say that everyone did sleep soundly, and there were no night terrors at our farmhouse last night.  Maybe just a bit too much sugar.

Now that the two hours of Halloween have passed, we look forward to Thanksgiving, which I'm hoping is a little slower paced.  A couple of our children will actually be running a 5K that morning while I'm happily cooking away in my nice, warm kitchen.  I'll bet I can find some great deals on turkey and Pilgrim decor now that the stores have displayed all their Christmas merchandise.  I think I'll check that out later today with the littles.