Friday, November 28, 2008


We were so glad family and friends joined our Thanksgiving table this year. Our weather was so pleasant today that I set up the kids table outside. I decorated their table with a pumpkin and the fall crafts they brought home from school, and Emma and Christian donned their headdresses for the meal. Below are some of today's recipes.

Joe's Orange-Sage Turkey

This mouthwatering turkey is so good, I tell Joe we should have it once a week. Joe doesn't follow specific recipes, so the amounts listed here are rough estimates.

Turkey, thawed
1/2 cup fresh sage, chopped
1/2 cup orange zest
Orange juice

Combine sage, orange zest, and generous amounts of salt and pepper. Clean turkey. Loosen skin from the bird, and rub the herb mixture under the skin. Place the turkey into a roasting pan. Drizzle a little honey onto the turkey, and pour orange juice into the bottom of the pan. Cover the turkey with an aluminum-foil tent, and bake at 350 degrees for 3 hours. Then remove the aluminum foil and bake for another 45 minutes. Remove the turkey from the oven, and allow the meat to rest. Place pan drippings into a small sauce pan and bring to a boil to make gravy. Add orange juice and about half a bottle of honey to drippings. Mix a little cornstarch into cold water, and add this mixture to drippings. Boil for several minutes until gravy thickens. Slice turkey, and serve with gravy.

Sweet Potato Casserole

This casserole freezes well and stretches to feed a crowd.

4 large sweet potatoes, baked and peeled
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 stick melted margarine
1/2 cup orange juice

1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup margarine
1 cup chopped pecans

Mash sweet potatoes in a large bowl. With a hand mixer, mix in sugar, eggs, vanilla, butter and orange juice. Pour into a buttered casserole dish. Mix brown sugar, flour, margarine and pecans with a fork. Sprinkle crumb topping onto the casserole, and bake 35 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Cranberry-Apple Bake

My sister-in-law, Shannon, is a fabulous cook. This holiday recipe of hers is met with rave reviews.

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
6 cups diced apples with peeling
3/4 cups sugar
1 stick margarine, melted
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup plain flour
1 1/2 cups oatmeal, regular or quick-cooking
1/2 cup nuts, chopped
Mix casserole ingredients and pour into greased 8-inch baking dish. Mix topping ingredients well and spread over first three ingredients in baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. May be used as a side dish or a dessert with ice cream. Serves 6.

Fudge Pie
Joe requests this recipe every Thanksgiving. This pie is so rich, I usually cut the slices thin and serve them a la mode.
2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, melted
1 cup cocoa
1/2 cup sifted flour
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
9-inch unbaked frozen deep dish pie crust, thawed according to package directions
Combine all ingredients through vanilla, and pour the mixture into pie crust. Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

"O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!" (Psalm 34:88).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Table

We are busy preparing to host family for Thanksgiving tomorrow. Fall flowers already grace the tables, and a sparkling pumpkin sits ready to greet each guest. Place cards remind loved ones, "I am thankful for you." We have a childrens book to share with friends who will be joining our table this year, and our new church cookbook makes the perfect favor to send home with each family in attendance. We are looking forward to a wonderful day!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Prayer Request

Beautiful Trees Pictures, Images and Photos

Please remember Joe's mother, Betty Lester, in your prayers. She is a special lady active in her family, church and community. Betty fell Saturday and broke her leg. Surgery yesterday revealed multiple breaks, further complicated by extensive arthritis. Please keep Betty in your prayers, as she faces a slow recovery and knee replacement surgery down the road. We love her so much and hope she will soon be back on her feet doing all the things she loves to do.

Photo from Photobucket

Monday, November 24, 2008

Getting Our Kicks

We celebrated the end of the boys' fall soccer season with an AYSO banquet Friday night. I was so proud of them for going for their goals all season long. The boys got a kick out of the cake I made for the occasion, and I was giddy knowing that with we can all sleep in on Saturdays -- at least until basketball season starts.

This cake is easily accomplished with only three types of decorating tips. To get this look, use a sheet cake pan for the main cake and one-half of a ball-cake pan for the soccer ball. Frost the entire cake with a crumb coat, then use a toothpick to draw the geometric design on the ball. Use a small round tip to pipe icing around the shapes, then fill them in using a star tip and applying even pressure as you zigzag across the area to be filled. Use the same star tip to pipe icing around the perimeter of the cake, using the same zigzagging motion. Then pipe a shell border around the bottom edge of the cake with the star tip. Use decorating tip 233 to pipe grass onto the top of the cake. Then use a small round tip to pipe wording around the serving dish. The cake above boasts, "I Get My Kicks Scoring GOALS!"

Friday, November 21, 2008

Surprise Baby Shower

Will Carson's fourth-grade teacher soon share the news

That her family is rejoicing over Baby Blues?

Or will Mrs. Williams give a wink

And tell the class she is Tickled Pink?

Boy or girl? This teacher cannot say,

But there's another surprise awaiting her today.

You see, her other kids -- all twenty-six -- can't let Mrs. Williams slip away

Without saying "We'll miss you" and "Come back soon" at a shower in her honor today!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Stories of Thanksgiving

When Joe was in his first year of law school at the University of Kentucky, we were unable to travel to visit our families for Thanksgiving. It was our first year on our own for the holiday, and a sweet family from church invited us to join them for the day. That Thanksgiving still stands out for us as one of our most special holidays, as we were welcomed with open arms and introduced to several lovely new traditions.

Although there were no little ones in their family at the time, each year our hostess read a children's book to everyone who had gathered for the meal. After our feast of traditional Thanksgiving dishes and regional fare, we enjoyed a devotional in the living room. Then we all shared what we were thankful for. That day was such a lovely expression of gratitude and celebration, and Joe and I knew we would want to carry those traditions with us for the years to come.

The next year, we bought our first house, a charming little Cape Cod style cottage. We lovingly painted, decorated and made it our own. We were so thrilled to host Thanksgiving in our home that in the weeks before the day, I practiced every recipe on the menu just to be sure everything would be perfect. And it was. Warmth filled our home as we prepared a simple yet tasty meal.

The mood was festive as family trickled in from all over the South. Praying for each guest during my preparations leading up to the day helped me feel a special closeness to each one and increased my anticipation for being together.

This was my first opportunity to serve as hostess for a family holiday, and I had butterflies in my stomach when we all gathered round to offer a welcome and bless the meal. Looking at the loved ones gathered in our living room -- Joe's parents and grandfather; my parents and brother, sister and brother-in-law, grandmother and aunt -- I was so thankful for each one.

Joe led our prayer, and before the meal I read a delightful childrens book I had discovered that year called Thanksgiving at the Tappletons' by Eileen Spinelli. In this charming story, a series of funny and unfortunate events ruin the Thanksgiving menu for the Tappletons. But the family soon discovers that the meal is secondary to thankfulness and love of family. Thanksgiving at the Tappletons' set the mood for our first holiday, and many years later it is still one of my favorite stories. The photo above shows the original cover of the book, but in looking online to see if it is still in print, I found that the book has been newly illustrated and the humans are now a family of wolves. You can find the book here and here.

After that first Thanksgiving meal we hosted, we gathered in our living room to read Scriptures about thankfulness. Then we went around the room to share what we are thankful for. Although the idea of speaking before the group initially met resistance from a few family members, in the end our share time was a blessing to us all.

So this year, as Joe and I prepare to host loved ones in our home for Thanksgiving, I'm reflecting on the special holidays we enjoyed early in our marriage. And I'm hoping to carry forward some of those traditions established long ago: prayerfulness during preparation, warmth of family and friends, a menu to delight the senses, and a spirit of thankfulness throughout. We will all take time to share what we are thankful for, and most definitely, we will spend some time in God's Word after enjoying Thanksgiving at the Tappletons'.

And what a happy story of Thanksgiving it will be.

Easy Fall Cake

Inspired by a magazine picture, I made this easy cake design for a fall party a couple of years ago. You can have this cake on the table in no time. Simply frost a cake as usual, and shortly before serving press Pirouette Cookies into the icing and tie a ribbon around the cake. Cookie pieces clustered in the center of the cake add the finishing touch. This would also be a cute cake to do at Christmas with peppermint sticks, or any time of year with old-fashioned candy sticks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Favorite Fall Meal

My favorite weeknight menu for fall includes creamy herbed pork chops, green beans, mashed potatoes, baked apple crisp and homemade biscuits.

Creamy Herbed Pork Chops
I found this recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book I received as a wedding gift.

4 pork chops (I prefer quick-cooking thin chops)
1 tablespoon margarine or butter
1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
1 tablespoon snipped parsley
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon instant beef bouillon granules
2/3 cup milk or light cream
2 tablespoons white cooking wine

Trim fat from meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a large skillet cook chops in margarine or butter over medium heat for 5 minutes. Turn chops and add carrot. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes more or until no pink remains. Remove chops, reserving drippings and carrot. For sauce, stir in parsley, flour and basil into drippings and carrot. Add milk or light cream all at once. Cook and stir till thickened and bubbly. Stir in wine or water. Return chops to skillet and heat through. To serve, spoon sauce over chops. Makes 4 servings.

Apple Crisp
This recipe from the LaGrange, Ga., Junior League's cookbook Southern Born and Bread is unique because the apples are sliced but not peeled. And if you want to dip your biscuit in the delicious apple filling, I won't tell.

4 cups sliced apples
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup sifted flour
1/3 cup soft butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread sliced apples in an 8-inch square pan. Sprinkle with mixture of water, cinnamon and salt. Work together until crumbly, using pastry blender, the sugar, flour and butter. Spread crumb mixture over apples. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes or until top is lightly brown. Serves 6 to 8.

Easy Biscuit Mix
From the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, this mix will keep in the pantry for up to 6 weeks or in the freezer for 6 months.

10 cups all-purpose flour, or 6 cups all-purpose flour and 4 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups shortening

For Mix: In a bowl stir together flour, baking powder, sugar and 2 teaspoons salt. Cut in shortening till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Store in an airtight container.

For Biscuits: Place 1 cup biscuit mix in a bowl; make a well in the center. Add 1/4 cup milk. Stir with a fork just till dough clings together. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough gently for 10 to 12 strokes. Roll or pat to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a biscuit cutter, dipped in flour between cuts. Place on a baking sheet. Bake in a 450 degree over for 8 to 10 minutes or till golden. Serve warm. Makes 4.

This baked apple crisp is delicious presented a la mode for dessert, but served as a side dish it is a wonderful complement to the pork in this meal.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pilgrim Hat Cookies

We spent a wonderful evening with friends this weekend, and Stacey sent us home with these adorable pilgrim hat cookies. Isn't she clever? For a fun and edible Thanksgiving craft, use icing to adhere a small peanut butter cup to a fudge-striped cookie. Pipe a square-shaped buckle to finish the design. Adorable, delicious and totally worth sitting at the kids table!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Word to the Wise Man

Proverbs 15:11 reminds us, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."

We see this principle displayed in the story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25. Abigail was the wife of a notoriously evil man named Nabal. When King David asked Nabal to extend hospitality to David's men, Nabal refused. This angered David, and he immediately drew his sword. He commanded his men to descend on the house of Nabal, threatening: "May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of any who belong to him" (verse 22).

When word of her husband's defiance reached Abigail, she was quick to act. Verse 18 tells us, "Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves of bread and two jugs of wine and five sheep already prepared and five measures of roasted grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded them on donkeys." Risking her own life, she threw herself at the feet of King David to plead for mercy.

Abigail's kind words and generosity were enough to turn that negative situation around, and her actions saved her household from destruction. And ultimately, she made such an impression on the king that he later took her as a wife.

We see this principle displayed in daily life as well as a soft answer diffuses tense situations in the workplace, avoids needless arguments and uncovers sadness disguised as anger.

But in my home life, I have found something that is often even more effective at soothing anger. With all due respect to the writer of Proverbs, I think he should know that there is something that is powerful enough to soften a mommy's heart when she is at her wit's end. In a word, it's ...


My case in point.

Two-year-old Emma has been in all kinds of trouble this week, but somehow she seems to get progressively cuter with each infraction. If I'm not careful, I can find myself so mesmerized when she wrinkles her nose and flashes me a toothy grin that I fail to notice her writing on the furniture, sneaking off with my lip gloss, or inching toward the cookies I said she can't eat right now.

Emma, I'm on to you, little sister! I realize you are adorable, but beauty is as beauty does. Please, no more emptying tubes of toothpaste into the commode, writing on the boys' library books or swiping Mary Ashley's doll. And if you slip into the street with your tricycle again without my permission, you will be punished. Even if you are the cutest-little-girl-I-ever-did-see-my-precious-darling-angel-sweetpie. And I mean it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Easy Fall Sweatshirt

For an easy custom sweatshirt, add grosgrain ribbon and mini-ball fringe to the band and finish the design with embroidery. First, measure the band of the sweatshirt to determine how much ribbon you will need. Because this fabric may stretch as you sew, allow for this by adding a few inches to your ribbon measurement. Sew mini-ball fringe to the underside of the grosgrain ribbon. Then stitch the ribbon to the band of the sweatshirt, using the seam between the shirt and the band as your guide. Add a monogram or applique design to complete your one-of-a-kind sweatshirt.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Weight of Worry

I am a worrier from way back. My aunt Gail remembers greeting me as I stepped off the school bus in first grade. From my countenance, it looked like I carried the weight of the world in my book satchel. "What's wrong, Melissa?" she asked.

My eyes filled with tears as I confessed, "I don't know how I'll ever make it to college."

"College?" Gail repeated, incredulous. "Sweetheart, why are you worried about that right now?"

"Well, if first grade is so hard," I replied, "how will I ever make it through college?"

My aunt soothed my troubled spirit that day, encouraging me that I would learn a little more every day and assuring me that when the time came for graduation, I would be ready.

I wish I could say that I left worry behind at the bus stop that day, but for many years my tendency was to carry my anxieties with me wherever I went. As I traded in my book satchel for a backpack, a backpack for a briefcase, and a briefcase for a diaper bag, it seems I often carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. And even as I learned to unburden myself through prayer, my tendency was to unpack my troubles before the Lord, then place them one by one right back into my sack. What a heavy load to bear!

But God never intended for me to carry the burdens of stress and worry. Jesus commands in Matthew 6:25, "Do not worry." And He urges in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light." What sweet relief those passages offer to an anxious heart!

As my relationship with God has grown, I have progressed from belief, an intellectual knowing about Him; to trust, a confidence in His presence I can rest in; to faith, which carries me forward. And on most days I travel lighter, leaving cares and worries at His feet.

But as we studied Matthew 6 in our Sunday school class this week, I was struck by verse 27: "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" And I realized that it is impossible to stand tall when we are consumed with worry. Instead our anxieties make us feel small, insecure and incapable. And paralyzed by fear, our worries plunge us into loneliness, making us forget that God is always with us.

This passage was especially meaningful to me Sunday since Joe was out of town. Because normally as Joe packs his suitcases to leave, I pack my bags too -- the old familiar bags of worry. I dread his absences long before he goes, fret over his safety while he is away, and wonder what will become of us if he does not return.

When I allow myself to give in to this worry, I make myself so insignificant. And rather than dealing with a little thing like a sibling squabble as a singular incident, I approach it with the mindset of, "You don't respect me as much as your father. If something happens to him, what will become of us? How will I support us financially? How will I keep you from rebelling in your teenage years, and in the end will you turn your back on God? And how will I get through the day when I don't know how to change a tire, do our taxes or kill a snake? And what if an intruder breaks into the house?!?"

And what I have finally realized is that the answer to all my "what ifs" is ...

"Then God."

If someday Joe does not come home, then the God who gave him to me will continue to care for me. If I face hardship, danger or struggle, then He will provide, protect and empower me. The journey may not always be easy, but I know He will never leave me.

So during Joe's five days away, I let go of worry and found that I had more room in my sack for blessings. This week instead of stress, I carried peace. I traded fear for joy, and anxiety for thankfulness. And in return God filled my week with happy days and restful nights.

When I am tempted to pick up my bags of worry in the future, I hope my mind will drift to Matthew 6:26: "Look at the birds of the air. They don't plant or gather crops. They don't put away crops in storerooms. But your Father who is in heaven feeds them. Aren't you worth much more than they are?" And I will be reminded that as Christians we really have nothing to worry about. Because when we release the weight of worry and cling to God, we can soar.

Collage Images from Google

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fall Color

The view from our yard has been glorious this season. Leaves in vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red dress the trees in autumn splendor, while pretty blooms on our azaleas dot the landscape with touches of pink.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Scoring Goals

Sport bottles from Oriental Trading will be great for the boys when they are getting their kicks on the soccer field. Black and white hounds tooth fabric liners personalize the bottles, but a masculine font keeps the monogram strong and not too sweet.

Carson's speed and agility make him a joy to watch on the field.

Christian moved up to a new age division this year -- and a bigger field -- but he has adapted well.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Today's Special: Leftovers

I love leftovers. I enjoy getting a break from standard lunchtime fare to sample a hot meal, and so many dishes taste even better to me the second time around. And best of all, with the minimal effort required to prepare leftovers, I gain more time for other creative pursuits outside the kitchen.

Unfortunately, I am the only one in my family who feels this way. Presenting Monday's meatloaf or Tuesday's turkey later in the week is usually met with groans from my husband and four children. So awhile back I came up with a fun way to please my food critics and take leftovers from old news to today's special.

As I peered into my refrigerator one Friday night trying to decide what to prepare for supper, I was amused noting leftovers from two previous weeknight meals: spaghetti and chicken enchiladas. I smiled wondering if we should return to Italy or Mexico for dinner that night. I had some of both dishes left, but not enough to serve the entire family either one. So an idea was born: Mom's Cafe.

I tried not to let my excitement spoil the surprise as I quietly set the table, printed menus and prepared for that night's restaurant opening. Tuesday's spaghetti became The Italian Feast, and Thursday's enchiladas became The Mexican Fiesta. With the document saved on my computer, updated menus could be printed with new specials if the restaurant concept went over well. In no time, Mom's Cafe was ready for customers.

When I called the family to supper, I met the children as they sauntered into the kitchen. "Welcome to Mom's Cafe," I offered with a smile. "How many are in your party tonight?"

The boys shot each other a look as I directed the children to their seats: "Right this way, please." They looked confused as they settled into their chairs and I handed them their menus. "Would you like to hear our specials?" I asked. They nodded silently, and I told them about our featured dishes. "Can I get you something to drink while you look over your menus?" With drink orders in hand, I slipped into the kitchen.

"That was freaky," Carson murmured to Christian.

Joe and I exchanged smiles, and he offered to work in the kitchen while I waited on our customers.

By the time I returned with their drinks -- chocolate milks all around -- the children were starting to enjoy themselves. "May I take your order?" I asked. The children acted so grown up looking over the menu and making their selections. My kitchen staff -- I mean Joe -- worked quickly to assemble and reheat the plates, and I delivered them to the children.

The children were fully engaged in Mom's Cafe by the time I placed the boys' Italian Feasts at their places. Carson was in the bathroom when I asked Christian if he would care for cheese on his spaghetti. "Yes, please," he replied, "and my brother would also." I almost giggled at his response, but I didn't want to break character. The children laughed, talked, cleaned their plates -- and offered their sincere compliments to the chef.

I think all the food critics in my house would agree that the opening night of Mom's Cafe was a huge success. Our role playing made for fun family time, and I'm thinking that down the road the children could learn a lot from taking turns waiting tables or working in the kitchen. The evening reminded me that presentation is important and little touches go a long way in creating a fun atmosphere. We received rave reviews at our opening, and I discovered that hugs and thank you's are the best accolades a restaurateur can receive.

By the time Mom's Cafe closed that night, I felt like a culinary genius. After all, I had gotten my family excited to eat leftovers!

Mom's Cafe serves up wholesome goodness prepared with love and presented with a smile. Little touches please even the most finicky customers and turn yesterday's leftovers into today's special.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Secondhand Soup

When are leftovers sweeter the second time around?

When delivered to a new neighbor in the midst of unpacking.

When shared at an impromptu picnic.

When delivered to a special teacher.

When enjoyed with a pot of tea on a hurried afternoon.

Tomorrow I'll share my favorite idea for getting my children excited about leftovers!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Road to the White House

With the presidential race foremost in our thoughts yesterday, I asked the children what they would plan to do if they become president one day. Here are the campaign promises of these future leaders.

Carson, age 9, would eliminate all taxes. When I asked him how he would pay for projects like repairing and building roads, he said when businesses pay their bills for utilities they would also pay a bill to the government. (He's talking like a politician already!)

Christian, age 6, said that everything that now costs dollars would just cost cents. He sold his plan, offering, "Mom, even you would be rich!"

Mary Ashley, age 4, said she would grow a garden. The children and I debated the merits of a flower garden over a vegetable garden, and Carson said she should definitely grow vegetables so we wouldn't have to buy as much food.

Emma, age 2, said, "No green. Blue." And generously willing to share her favorite color, said there would be "ornge" for everyone.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Off to Vote

As our nation goes to the polls today to exercise our privilege to vote, it is comforting to realize that our ultimate ruler is God.

Psalm 47:1-9

"O Clap your hands, all peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy. For the LORD Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth. He subdues peoples under us, and nations under our feet. He chooses our inheritance for us, the glory of Jacob whom He loves. Selah.

"God has ascended with a shout, the LORD, with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a skillful psalm. God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the people have assembled themselves as the people of the God of Abraham; for the shields of the earth belong to God; He is highly exalted."

Patriotic cupcakes increased the children's enthusiasm for today's election, and prayers for our country reminded us that we are "one nation under God."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Boo, Y'all

A view from Gold Star Park in Wetumpka, where the girls and I picnicked with friends after the Harvest Party at their preschool.

Mary Ashley planned to dress up as Sleeping Beauty until moments before we were to leave for Trunk or Treat at church, when she emerged from her bedroom as Tinkerbell. These shots were taken in the pumpkin patch at school and afterward at the park.

Cinderemma had a ball at the park, and she loved sampling candy at Trunk or Treat.

But what could be sweeter than spending time with friends? Thanks, Emma and Lizzie, for suggesting a play date!

(I delayed posting hoping I could convince the boys to put on their costumes for a picture, but they were not interested. They are growing up too fast!)

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