December 19, 2014

"The Good Lie" DVD+Blu-Ray Giveaway Results

Congrats to Julianne Raatikka on winning  "The Good Lie" Blu-Ray+DVD! I will get that out to you shortly. Thanks to everyone who participated!

December 12, 2014

Old Friends, New Friends... So Much To Be Thankful For

My precious friend, who lives 30 minutes away, went out of her way to drop by one night this week just to make sure we are still alive.  Because I haven't posted in way too long.  For the record we are alive.  Over the course of our conversation she mentioned she was waiting to see Thanksgiving photos.  Yes, I know.  Believe me,  I really do love you all.  And I really am thinking about you and praying for you.  And I am so very thankful for your texts and emails and letters.  They make me smile on days when smiling seems like a challenge.  I compose answers in my head but with a crazy schedule and difficult health issues somehow I never quite manage writing the replies.  I very much want to post.  Not just for you, but for me.  I have lists of posts I want to write and half written drafts.  But, alas, no real opportunity to sit down and do it.  
And time is passing so very fast.  Around here things are in full swing for Christmas.  The decorations are looking more beautiful than ever.  The stockings are hung.  The lights are ablaze.  We made our first batch of Christmas cookies yesterday.  And this weekend is our annual Cantata at Victory.  If we aren't already in the Christmas spirit, this always puts us over the top.  The children have been diligently practicing their music pieces and Carmella sings, "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" as she dresses her dolls in Christmas outfits. 
Even though it is late and seems a bit out of season I can't let Thanksgiving go unacknowledged.  I have so much to be thankful for.  And this year, especially, we need to focus on those things for strength and for courage.   
After my savior I can think of nothing I am more grateful for than my husband and my family.  We have faced so many hard things this year but we have faced those sleepless nights, scary diagnoses, and unknown futures together. 
This year our plans got shifted around a bit, due to a snowstorm.  We welcomed a day of snowmen and sledding but we were sorry Aunt Dawn had to delay her arrival by a day.  We shifted the dinner a few hours to allow for her travel time from Ohio.  But then our older cousins had to cancel because they can not drive at night.  We missed them so much!  But we were also very grateful to have Aunt Dawn with us.  God never takes away without giving a blessing in return.

We always have a crowd for the holidays and Thanksgiving more than any other.  This year we had 24 for dinner.  When our family is entertaining we rarely get time to eat as we all keep busy with preparations, serving and cleaning up for our guests.  Nathaniel fixed us a snack to have some quiet time together before our company started to arrive. 

We made these frosted cranberries last year.  I love them!  We love them.  Our guests love them.  And they are really that easy. 

Put cranberries in a bowl.  Heat maple syrup to just under a boil.  Remove from heat and pour over the cranberries.  Refrigerate for 12 hours or more.  Put the cranberries in a fine mesh strainer.  Allow to drain.  Use the syrup for another recipe.  Roll the cranberries a few at a time in sugar.  Allow to dry on wax paper.  We have made these a day ahead of time.  I let them sit at room temperature until ready to serve.  Hint... store them out of site (like in the school room closet) or there will be none left for company. 

 Planning and setting the table is one of my favorite parts of a party.  For Thanksgiving we always move the dining room to the living room and the living room to the dining room so we have room to extend the table.  We always like to find ways to use what we have in new and different ways to make a fun and elegant table.
I found the fabric for the red table cloth in Sicily some years ago.  We've used it every Thanksgiving since.  And yet I don't think the table has ever looked the same.  The bark came from the trees the power company took down a few years ago.  We cut some of them up for firewood this fall.  The bark that had peeled away looked so beautiful we decided we wanted to work it into our table setting.  The moss and woodland animals were leftover from Addison's first birthday party.  And the pumpkins are ones we've had around for sometime.  I love the look of the rustic pieces and burlap with the more elegant gold flatware, crystal stemware and china.
 I am fundamentally opposed to a kids table.  I like our family to be together.  Especially for special occasions.  We ended up with a larger group than we had anticipated.  We could have fit but it would have been very tight.  Samuel and Elisabeth were really excited at the idea of presiding as Host and Hostess at their own dinner party.  We built the Mayflower and the kids table was set up in the living room. 
They requested brown craft paper and crayons so they could draw pictures.  Which they did.  Samuel had the great idea of cutting the kids drawings out so they could take them home.

 When guests arrive it always excitement as we reconnect with friends from near and far.  Aunt Dawn arrived just in time for appetizers and cocktails.  We also had the blessing of reconnecting with a family we've not seen for a long time.  It was an extra treat for our boys to make new friends with their kids, who they were meeting for the first time.
 And then there are friends who are so dear to our hearts they have become the family we look forward to seeing on our doorstep for any occasion.
 No one stands around long before being put to work in my kitchen.  Brianna made an excellent cranberry cocktail with cranberry syrup, lime juice, ginger ale and a few other ingredients I can't remember.  It was good anyway. 
 So good, Steven decided to take over as bartender.
 The food sure is good, but it is only the catalyst to the best part of holidays... the people who gather at the table are what I live for.  As we were planning our guest list we realized how our table truly represented what America and this Thanksgiving holiday is all about... people from all backgrounds, cultures and even various religions coming together in celebration of a God greater than all our parts and the way He has touched each of our lives in unspeakable blessings.  We had friends from Poland, Africa, and France as well as Alabama, Ohio and upstate New York (which, let's face it, is really a foreign country in itself).  Now that's a mix worth writing home about.  Conversation was lively and full of laughter, to say the least.    During the evening I heard talk from the Bible, geography, hunting, movies, books, politics, running, high cholesterol and the diet changes that come with being over 40.  I just love when a guest list comes together so perfectly your guests can't stop saying, "We had such a good time at your party."  It really makes all the effort worth it.
With all that being said, let's just get down to the centerpiece of Thanksgiving... the menu.
Cranberry Lime Cocktails
Gosia's Cheeseboard
Stuffed Mushrooms
Crystalized Cranberries
Smoked Turkey Breast with Herb Rub
Sausage and Cranberry Dressing
Aunt Helen's Holiday Mashed Potatoes
Mushroom Gravy
Green Bean Casserole
Roasted Carrots with Harrissa
Cranberry Relish
Sour Cream Apple Pie
Chocolate Caramel Pecan Tart
Pear-Cheddar Pie with Rosemary
Cherry Pie
Elderberry Pie
Peach Pie
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chili Chocolate Ganache
 I like to serve dessert in the family room by the woodstove.  It's a great way to get people to relax and mix up the conversation a bit.  It never takes long for the children to get some pool going.
 Followed by air hockey
  After a very stressful and exhausting week the girls and I enjoyed relaxing and getting in a game of air hockey ourselves.
 Lilano and Samuel were fast friends and were not parted until the Owana's car pulled out of the driveway.
 And ditto for Aedan and Pascal
 I hate Apples to Apples but my older kids love it and they love to have a crowd to play. 
 I love that what was a horrid basement when we bought this house has turned into what we envisioned... a place for the kids to enjoy time with friends... a place filled with love and laughter
 a place where strangers and friends, young and old all feel comfortable kicking off their shoes and settling in for a good time
 And as always the case at our gatherings...
 ... babies were passed from arm to arm for hugs and squeezes and tickles and stories.
In this year of trials beyond anything we could have imagined, we indeed have so much to be thankful for and not the least being good food and good friends.  Bless His name!

November 26, 2014

Snowmen and Warm Hearts In the Kitchen

As promised we had our first snow day today.  Thanksgiving preparations had to be put on hold for snowman building. 
 Samuel built Walle.
 And Aedan's Fashionista

 Our own little snowman
 Time out to shovel the neighbor's drive
And then we warmed up in the kitchen while we prepared dishes for our party tomorrow.  25 guests equal 2 turkeys.
 Pies... pies and more pies.  All in all we have 4 pies and a pumpkin cheesecake.
 Nathaniel's cherry pie is my all time favorite... just the right tart and sweet with a touch of almond.
 Aedan learned how to make stuffed mushrooms this year.
 Emma's Rosemary Pear pie with cheese crust and Samuel's green bean casserole
 Carmella helped with a new recipe I am looking forward to tasting.  Anyone been trying out Harissa this fall?
Once everyone was warm and toasty and the sledding hill had sufficient time to ice over, it was back outdoors to hit the hill. 
Carmella built Olaf, of course.  A very tiny Olaf.  Emma decided Disney should have thought twice before giving a snowman legs because she says it is impossible to get a snowman to balance a snowman on two little snowballs. 

Are you cooking tonight?  Sledding?  Out of town visiting family? How are you unwinding and getting ready for a weekend of celebrating?

November 25, 2014

Pumpkin Outfits

I love finding special seasonal outfits for my youngers.  I fell in love with these when I saw them.  We took the girls outside for a photo shoot on one of our amazing autumn days... like a month ago.  But I never have had time to actually upload them.  The girls have since moved on to their turkey outfits (and actually Elisabeth was wearing her Christmas outfit today).  I want to get these up before the Christmas decorations go up next week. 
These two girls are so very precious.  They used to look like opposites with Elisabeth being all about blond and fair skin and Carmella being brunette and olive skin.  This last year Elisabeth has gotten so much darker and Carmella has lightened up.  The result is they look a lot more alike these days.    
 Their personalities are still very different, though.  Elisabeth is the MOST outgoing and chatty person.  Carmella is so shy and reserved.  We have been working with our Winnie girl for so long to get her over that bad attitude.  We have had a breakthrough in recent months and it is so rewarding to see her cheerfully greeting people.  She cracked us up the other day.  Every time Addison's therapists come we ask Carmella to say hello to them.  And this has been a big problem for our girl.  But the last few times Addison's physical therapist has come Carmella said hello and had a little conversation with Miss Trudy.   Which, Miss Trudy almost fainted.  Last week when Miss Trudy came Carmella said, "I am going to say hello to Miss Trudy today."  We praised her for being so proactive.  Later she asked, "Why don't big girls have to say hi?" 
 These two girls are so inseparable.  I love to see them together.  If Ellie says something, Carmella will say the same exact thing the same exact way right after.  And whatever Elisabeth is doing, Carmella will do.  Now that Ellie is in school, Carmella must do school.  And if she isn't doing school she is asking if Elisabeth can play with her instead of doing school work.  Carmella wants to be with Elisabeth so much she hasn't even slept in her own bed for more than a year because she always wants to sleep in Elisabeth's room. 
 In other news, we had a beautiful fall with many great outdoor days and all the beauty of autumn colors on the East coast.  A big wind the other day took the last of the leaves off the trees. 

The weather continues to be crazy.  Yesterday, we stacked a load of firewood, while working on our Thanksgiving preparations.  That is nothing to speak of.  Except, we had to put a sun hat on the baby and we wore short sleeves and bare feet because it was almost 80 degrees.  The local radio station was playing Christmas music.  It is an odd day that we prep turkey while the kids play in the yard and a spring like breeze blows through the house.  I imagine that must be what it is like living in California.  I don't think I would like to do that regularly.  

Oh, and I almost forgot.  When we were done with that stack of firewood the boys cut back the sledding hill.  That's right, our first snow is due to arrive tomorrow with the sunrise.  Go figure.
What about you?  How are your Thanksgiving preparations coming?  Are your plans being rearranged by an early snow fall? 

November 22, 2014


October has come and gone and November is more than half done.  Yet, I would count myself remiss if I didn't post some fall happenings before Thanksgiving arrives and with it the change of seasons and Christmas holiday.  After the local radio station starts playing Christmas music Autumn quickly becomes a thing of the past and all we love about it fades into the background until next October. 
You can tell the season by the coffee we are brewing up.  Autumn is all about Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Caramel Macchiato.
After months of waiting Samuel was delighted to harvest his Moon and Stars Watermelon.
 With Prednisone a thing of the past, Addison is back in full scale therapy three hours a day.  Carmella makes certain every doll in the house has mouth therapy right alongside of him.
 And speaking of dolls... I love listening to these two play dolls.  There are moments I look at them and think... my life is so PINK!
 On Wednesdays the big kids spend several hours at music lessons and band practice.  This leaves me and my youngers to have some special time together.  It always involves a tea party.  Elisabeth and Carmella like to make up the tray and serve.  Addison gets his very own (yes pink) cup.
 On one particularly rainy Wednesday we made popcorn and watched a video.  I think Carmella must have taken this picture because she was the only other one there who isn't in the photo. 
For the last four years, we have taken a day trip to Lancaster to the Sight and Sound theater.  It has become something we really look forward to.  This year Moses was playing.  Every time we see a show we say, "That's my favorite." 
 This was no exception.  A wonderful depiction of the Bible.  I love how the writers show how Christ present in each part of the Bible.
 Well, just because.  Addison looked like a big boy sitting in his high chair when we stopped for dinner on the way home.
 October brought the first day of school.  Some of my kiddos retrieved the only apple the chickens didn't eat off our tree to bless me on our first day of school. 
 With the fall, comes the close of the pool season and the return of Friday night pizza and video.  No one makes better pizza than my girls.  We have been experimenting with pumpkin pizza this fall.  Don't knock it until you've tried it.  We are hooked.
 The kids hatched a couple dozen chicks this summer.  They named them all after Kings and Queens of England.  To simplify it for me the black ones are all George and the white ones are Mary, Elizabeth and Anne Gloria.  We had one that was different from all the others and turned out to be a rooster.  He is King Henry.  Allen doesn't want a rooster so Henry has gone to live with a friend of ours. 

And speaking of chickens... the boys continue to work on their chicken coop and tractor shed.  They have worked so hard all summer and fall.  Allen is there with them but he is more directing so the boys can add to the skills they've been building all these years.  It is his hope that (should we ever get settled with a contractor) they will be able to do a lot of work on the house during the renovation and addition project.  

In this project they have learned framing, installed windows, done roofing, siding and mixed and poured concrete.  Now it is a race against the weather before snow sets in and puts the project on hold until next spring. 

And speaking of weather, we have had a year of crazy weather and this fall has been no exception.  Last Tuesday it was nearly 80 degrees.  We had a picnic for lunch.  Two days later we saw a day of freezing rain and snow flurries that never got above freezing.  With the leaves off the trees and the wood stove going full tilt and we are looking forward to some snow.  Although, I hear it is predicted to be in the 70s on Monday. 

What about you?  Are you missing summer, enjoying Autumn or looking forward to winter arriving soon?