Thanksgiving (a post from the archives)

A Post from the archives…Youngest will turn seven tomorrow, this year her birthday won’t be on Thanksgiving but I think this post is still appropriate.

Youngest Child is a Thanksgiving baby. Her birthday, November 27th, falls every five years on Thanksgiving…her first birthday was celebrated among cornucopia centerpieces and the scent of pumpkin pie, and this year her sixth will also be.

This Youngest child, Thanksgiving gift, is a whirlwind. Spark-eyed and fairy faced, her gold curls bounce along as she embraces her world. Every sight, every sound, every piece of God’s creation is something to hold, touch, smell, feel, experience. She is luminous, alive, in constant motion.

Third children, my midwife told us as we embarked on the journey that is Rachel, are special. Every child, she laughed, should be the third. We couldn’t know what she meant, that day in very early Spring when she was just beginning. Third child? We were nervous. Could we really handle it? Three children meant one too few adults, being outnumbered, shifting the balance of our family. Eldest and Middle Child were happy, comfortable, and…potty trained. The crib was back in storage, the maternity clothing had been passed down. Third Child? We worried that the smooth and easy nature of our family would be broken with this change. We relied on God’s grace, and He has shown us through Rachel that we were right…something was broken. Broken to make room for more blessings, more love. Re-arranged to become something more complete, more whole, and more right than we could have imagined.

I suppose it’s the nature of family, the way things naturally go. We learned we were expecting Eldest in the doctor’s office, sitting together gripping hands tightly and waiting, hearing the nurse call down the hall “it’s positive!”. Middle Child’s beginnings were learned at home, quietly celebrated in a moment stolen while Eldest napped and Hubby and I had a rare quiet space. Youngest’s two blue lines appeared while Hubby fixed a chattering Eldest’s breakfast and Middle Child banged on the bathroom door, wanting Mommy to come out and play. From couple to family, steps along the way. Each one different, each one its own story, each one a integral part of the whole.

She was born very early the morning before Thanksgiving day. Quick from the start, this one. Our Third Child-touting midwife nearly didn’t make it in time to deliver her. There was a moment, when she arrived, when everyone was still. No sound, no cry…everyone’s breath was held. Her little eyes, alert already, took it all in first…as if the shock of this new place were so great, the amazement of finding herself here made her forget to inhale. For a moment, we all did. No breath…only waiting for that first gasp of this new world.

And then she did.

And all of us, collectively, finally exhaled. “Every child should be a third child,” the midwife said again with a wink as she placed the swaddled baby in our waiting arms. And as this new and tiny blessing settled, her first lusty cry quickly giving way to more bewildered taking-in, I began to understand a little.

The awe of new life was there, the love, the beauty. But we didn’t have the fear…the overwhelming feeling that we didn’t know what to do with this new creature, the shock of all the amazing, the frightening, the beautiful, the sticky things that newborns do. We knew she was strong, she was perfectly created, she wasn’t going to break. We knew a hundred thousand things that cannot be put into words, that parents learn by instinct and God-given grace. We’d done this before, we were no longer neophytes. We’d done first child, we’d done new siblings, we’d done boy and we’d done girl. We were relaxed, and able to just be there, breathing in this moment, feeling this completeness, knowing this new child for the first time. Breathing in God’s grace, His blessings, the miracle that He would bless us again with a child of His to raise.

The next day, Thanksgiving, brought another gift. Empty of all but the most necessary staff, the hospital was quiet that day. Peaceful. Eldest and Middle Child came with Hubby, bearing gifts and curiosity. They held their new sister in eager arms and graced her with wet toddler kisses on her silky little head and soft pink cheeks. It felt right, it felt whole. The lesson of the Third Child began to work its magic. Let go. Enjoy. Don’t worry. God has us in His hands, each one of us. Our children will rise, they will grow, they will learn from both struggle and peace. What control we thought we had was always His, not ours. The fear of the loss of it was an unnecessary illusion, a waste of time. There is no limit to love, no loss in the adding of it that is not worth the incalculable gain.

That evening, after everyone had gone, I lay alone with Rachel in the deepening shadows of that beautiful Winter day. In the still and warm, blessed quiet of just the two of us. There would be few moments like that, for this child…an unavoidable part of being third. We had these hours of quiet stillness, before the bustle and clatter of life…the blessings of a growing family…began in earnest. I held her on my chest, her breath warm against me. I stroked her silky hair, marveled at her little toes, inhaled the indescribable smell of a newborn’s head, curled her tiny fingers around my mine. I breathed her in, and every breath was a prayer of Thanksgiving.

Gluten Free Thanksgiving Menu

A gluten free Thanksgiving menu! This is a repeat of last year’s Thanksgiving post, but we’ll be doing something similar this year. I can’t wait to be together with family again, spend time together and enjoy a wonderful meal.

The Menu:

Turkey: We usually brine the turkey overnight, which gives it a wonderful flavor and makes for some really exceptional gravy. This year, though, we may try rubbing it with salt and lots of black pepper, then criss-crossing it with a pound of bacon and roasting it very slowly all day long.

Gravy:
Use the drippings from the turkey plus some gluten free chicken stock (I like Pacific brand) and thicken with corn starch. My dad taught me to always mix the corn starch with some warm water before adding it to whatever you are trying to thicken, to prevent lumps.

Mashed Potatoes: We like garlic mashed potatoes. Boil some whole cloves of garlic with the potatoes, then mash them together with butter, salt and pepper, and maybe a little cream.

Cranberry Relish: A bag of whole cranberries, a large can of mandarin oranges plus the juice from the can, two cups water, two cups sugar. Cook until the berries burst and the sauce starts to thicken a bit, it will thicken considerably as it cools. I canned some cranberry sauce this week, so I won’t have to make it later! Note: Try adding a little clove and a couple of diced green apples to the sauce. Yum!

Stuffing: When we had to cut gluten out of our diet, I thought I’d never have “normal” bread stuffing again. Which was sad. However, I have two very good gluten free stuffing options that are so good nobody will notice they’re not “real” bread! The first is my dad’s Southern Style Cornbread Dressing. You make gluten free corn bread, and then proceed from there…it has fried oysters and onions in it. I will have to get the recipe from him, though…it’s one of those that he carries in his head and I don’t have it written down. The other recipe is for a wonderful sausage and green apple stuffing, my mom found it online at epicurious.com and we adapted it to be gluten free. I am not normally a fan of apples in stuffing, but this is amazing…you don’t taste *apple*, but instead the apples just make the stuffing very tangy and savory. I look forward to it all year! Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 5 cups chopped onion (about 3 large)
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 6 cups diced cored tart green apples (such as Granny Smith)
  • 1 tablespoon dried rubbed sage
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 5 1/2 cups Ener-G stuffing/croutons, gluten free (Order these NOW or find them at a health food store…or you could toast a loaf of Ener-G bread until it’s hard and cube it yourself).

Preparation:

Sauté sausage in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, crumbling sausage with back of spoon, about 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to large bowl. Add butter, onions and celery to skillet; sauté until onions are tender, about 15 minutes. Add apples; sauté until apples are tender but still hold shape, about 10 minutes. Add sage, thyme and allspice; sauté 1 minute. Add to sausage. Stir in stuffing cubes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Generously butter a baking dish. Transfer stuffing to prepared dish. Cover with foil and bake until heated through, about 40 minutes.

Turnips with peas and bacon: This is a new recipe, but looks like a fun vegetable side dish. You need 8 slices of gluten free bacon (Hormel), cooked and crumbled, 1 stick butter, 4 Tbs. fresh dill, chopped, 4 cups turnips, peeled and diced, 2 lbs. frozen peas, salt and black pepper. Melt 1/2 the butter, saute turnips until tender, add crumbled bacon, peas and remaining butter and cook until peas are heated through, add the dill, salt and pepper and cook 30 seconds until the dill is just wilted.

Sweet Potatoes: My mom does a great sweet potato dish. I’m not sure if this is the exact recipe, but it’s really close…I found it on Martha’s website ;o) it’s sweet potato rounds with butter and pecans…MMMMMmmmmm!

Pumpkin Pie: Of course you can’t go wrong with the traditional pumpkin pie…you can use the pie crust recipe found in my apple tart post and use the pie filling recipe from the back of a can of Libby’s Pumpkin. Everything in it is Gluten Free except, of course, use your own crust! If you’re making the Pumpkin Cheesecake below, you might use another filling for the pie. Pecan? Chocolate? Apple or Cherry? Most fillings are easy to do gluten free or are naturally gluten free, so once you’ve got the crust covered it’s easy!

Pumpkin Cheesecake, gluten free: This is one of my very favorites! I use the basic recipe found at epicurious.com and instead of the wheat crackers, I use Mi-Del gingersnaps (about 3/4 of a bag). They work perfectly in this recipe! NOT dairy free, sadly. I have made dairy free cheesecake before…using Toffuti instead of cream cheese, and non-dairy creamer instead of cream etc. They do work, but will cost you a small fortune in supplies. Still, we’re talking about cheesecake here, and it’s sometimes worth it! I prepare the cheesecake as the recipe describes (substituting the GF cookies for the crackers), then top it with lots of whipped cream seasoned with nutmeg and vanilla. A drizzle of warm caramel sauce on top makes it…perfect!

Apple Tart: I may make this for Thanksgiving, or I may have it ready when my family comes in (sorry to ruin the surprise, mom….if you’re reading this, pretend you didn’t hear). You can find the recipe in this post.

Making Christmas…Pajamas for dolls and girls

The girls with their favorite dolls and matching pajamas

Are you ready to start Making Christmas?

One of my favorite projects last year was sewing flannel pajamas for the girls and their dolls. My friend Dawn and I also made plaid flannel pajama bottoms for the boys, and I made Eldest a matching flannel pillow case with buttons for a large square bed pillow. The pattern below gives you pajama pants for child through adult sizes, so if you wanted you could make the whole family a pair! Look for discount coupons in your mailbox, I often get a coupon for 40% off one item, and if you buy a large cut of flannel to make pajamas for the family it’s pretty inexpensive.

Simplicity Easy-to-sew pattern 3935

We had tons of white flannel with red dots, which went well with tiny red-rickrack for the doll’s nightgowns and pajama sets. Little red or white buttons were just the right touch! The doll clothes fasten with Velcro (no buttonholes) and the girl’s pajamas are a simple elastic waist. We left off the pockets and made the cuffs on the girls’ pants to match the ones on the baby dolls’, so we did change the pattern just a touch from the one that came in the package. We just made a folded cuff, measured the pant leg pieces, and cut them down to fit the new cuff…then we added larger red rickrack as an embellishment. If you end up making the matching pants and want to add the cuffs, it’s easier than it sounds once you make the pants for the dolls.

Doll Pajama sets (bottom right). These fit both Bitty Baby and Youngest’s favorite doll, a Corollel Calin baby doll.

Youngest’s doll, Hanna, and the nightgown for Nellie (Middle Child’s American Girl doll) with Eldest’s pillow behind them.

Detail of Nelli’s nightgown

The nightgown for American Girl dolls comes from the American Girl pattern below. Dawn found the pattern online for free download, the company no longer sells these. If you have a child who loves American Girl doll, this is a great resource for patterns! The link has patterns for many dolls, and each pattern has a variety of great outfits and accessories to sew.

Enjoy! Next post…some links to great resources for crafts. Ideas for kids and adults alike!

Making Christmas


The air is crisp, a storm is blowing in, and in the park down the street the Christmas Tree vendor has begun to set up shop. It’s time to start planning for Christmas! Last year, a friend and I decided to do a hand-made Christmas. My family did not do a 100 percent hand-made Christmas, but most of our gifts were hand made with love. My friend’s family decided to go for an entirely hand made holiday, and they had great success! She has four kids, the oldest was 14 at the time…and their Christmas was amazing. Rather than looking through toy catalogs or surfing the Internet finding things they “couldn’t live without,” the kids spent the weeks before Christmas quietly working on their gifts. They took great joy in secretly working on their gifts for each other, and were far more excited to give away what they had made than they were to receive gifts of their own. One child, just six years old, stitched pillow cases with her mother’s help. Another made hand-sewn stuffed animals for her siblings. The boys made tiny pretend food out of clay for their sisters’ dolls. And my friend and I spent many happy nights working together…we made pajamas for each child, matching pajamas for the girls’ American Girl dolls, sets of pretend felt food for play tea parties. We tie-dyed yards of cloth for imaginary rivers, stitched felt stones to decorate the waterways. There are so many ways to make a happy Christmas, and so much to learn from looking away from the lure of consumer glut and turning inward towards gifts from the heart. Even if you choose to make just one gift for each member of your family…or hand craft small gifts for extended family and friends…the experience of Making Christmas gives you a chance to slow down and focus on the heart. It gives you a chance to spend some time with your kids, making gifts for them to give away. What child doesn’t love getting into a project and creating something from scratch? And what family couldn’t use a little extra time together, Christmas music playing in the background, television and Internet turned off…talking and listening and learning together as they work on gifts to give away?

One of our favorite things to do is read aloud from the Little House on the Prairie books. We love to think of the Christmases that the Ingles family enjoyed together…the cozy log cabin filled with laughter, the hand made gifts that were so simple: Button strings, handkerchiefs, hand-stitched aprons and rag dolls. How simple their gifts were, and yet how much joy they found in making them and giving them! Compared to today’s frenzy and greed, these hand-made Christmases seem so….peaceful. Simple. Real.

It’s possible to experience that sort of simple joy! Give it a try. Make Christmas this year…even if it’s just one gift. I promise you won’t regret it!

In the following weeks, I’ll be posting some gift ideas for you to make. Some are great for kids, some are for parents to make with their kids, and others are gifts you can make for your children. Stop by to get ideas, pass it on and get others involved. Post some ideas of your own!

Spaghetti and Meatballs Dinner

Here’s another fall favorite…It makes a lot, so it’s great for company and plan on leftovers! You can make everything but the noodles in advance and keep it in the fridge overnight, then plug in the crock pot the next day and all you have to do is boil the noodles before you eat!

Stuffed mushrooms make a good appetizer for this meal…here’s the recipe!

Meatballs:
1 1/2 lbs sweet Italian sausage (we get ours from the meat department at our grocery store, check to see if it’s gluten free)
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup gluten free bread crumbs (I use Rice Chex cereal, pulverized in the food processor)
2 eggs

Sauce:
3 large (29 oz.) cans tomato sauce or puree (check for gluten!)
5 cloves crushed garlic
1 large onion, diced
3 tsp. crushed basil
1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausage

In the crockery part of a large crock pot, brown the 1/2 lb. of sausage. Add the diced onion and cook until it starts to look transparent. Add all 3 cans of tomato sauce, the garlic and the basil. Bring to a boil. Take the crock pot off the burner and put it in the base, plug it in and let it simmer all day (if you’re cooking ahead, you can put the pot in the fridge overnight and plug it in the next day).

For the meatballs, combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Form into 1 inch balls and brown the balls in a large skillet on all sides. The meatballs will be raw inside…I have found that you have to beat away family members who want to sample them at the risk of contracting salmonella! Put the browned meatballs aside until an hour before dinner (I put them in a zip lock bag in the fridge).

An hour before dinner, add the meatballs to the simmering sauce. The sausage in the sauce and meatballs will season the spaghetti sauce so that you won’t need to add much in the way of seasoning! Serve the sauce and meatballs over gluten free noodles with a little Parmesan cheese on the side.

Side Salad:

I love to serve a side salad with balsamic vinaigrette when we have spaghetti. The salad is just your usual lettuce-and-vegetables, and the dressing is quick and easy to make and will keep well in the fridge. The flax seed in the dressing sounds weird, but it gives it a creamy texture without using something like mayonnaise (plus the omega acids in the flax are great for you!)

Balsamic Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp. prepared brown mustard
6-10 Greek olives
2 tbsp. ground flax seed

Put all ingredients in a blender (I love my Magic Bullet for this!) and blend on high until the dressing is creamy. Toss with the salad, and store the rest in the fridge for next time!

Dessert…Pumpkin Cheese Cake! I use this recipe, (you can also find it in the Thanksgiving Menu) but instead of the graham crackers I use about 3/4 package of Mi-del gluten free ginger snaps. You could use regular gingersnaps if you don’t have to be gluten free…you’ll need around 4 ounces but I usually use slightly more than that for a thicker crust because the ginger-snaps give the cheesecake an extra little kick! Plan ahead on this one, the cheesecake will need to sit in the fridge overnight.

Enjoy!

Butterfly

A re-post from the archives…as Spring begins and I think of new beginnings….

The caterpillars were repulsive. Spiked and striped, they writhed on every tree trunk and squirmed on the west side of every building at the reception center. Around us, the wedding was in full swing….children in white dresses, beautiful flowers everywhere, music dancing through the warmth of an early summer evening. But my children were enthralled with the worms, at the same time attracted to and repulsed by their ugliness. They held their breaths and inched bravely closer to the squirming grubs, then ran away screaming and laughing with a mixture of fascination and horror.

With our youngest on my hip, I stooped to study a worm more closely. The older two children listened with interest as I explained that these fat, wriggly little grubs that looked so fearsome and disgusting with their soft, segmented bodies covered with ugly spikes would one day become butterflies. Butterflies? These ugly worms? This, the children wanted to see. We took a plastic cup from the punch bowl, scraped in several worms with a stick (nobody was volunteering to pick them up with their bare hands!) and covered the cup with a scrap of white netting from a nearby decoration.

At home, we put the grubs in a large glass jar. There wasn’t time to put in sticks, but I was sure that we would have plenty of time the next day to give the caterpillars something on which to spin their cocoons. To my surprise, when we woke the next morning the larva had already spun cocoons! With no stick to hang from, the worms were not able to spin their whole bodies into the cocoons. Instead, white silk encased the bottom three-fourths of each worm while the worm’s heads and a bit of their bodies were hanging out! These three strange little packages lay at the bottom of the jar, clearly still alive and yet unfinished. I didn’t see any way that these incomplete cocoons could hatch into a butterfly without the head of the worm inside…wouldn’t the butterfly have no head? Would they hatch at all? But the children wanted to see what would happen, so we carefully glued the spun-ends of each cocoon onto a stick and waited.

To my surprise, several weeks later the cocoons hatched! Inside the jar were the remains of the cocoons, and drops of a blackish substance had oozed down the glass and pooled under each cocoon. The head segments of each worm lay with the remains of the cocoons, as dead as the silk and dried to an empty shell. And yet, amazingly, three butterflies clung to the stick in the jar!

I was amazed that even without the entire worm, a butterfly could have emerged from those strange cocoons. But when I examined the butterflies carefully, my amazement grew! They were beautiful creatures, looking nothing at all like the ugly worms they had been. And yet, because the entire body of each worm had not been in the cocoons, the butterflies were incomplete. They had beautiful indigo wings edged with black. Their thin and graceful bodies had perfect heads with feathered, arching antennae, tiny black eyes and a curled proboscis. To our delight inside the black boarders of each wing ran a row of tiny white hearts.

But each butterfly was missing something. One had only four legs and its delicate black body was slightly shortened. Another had two holes in its wings, one in each canvas of vibrant blue. The third was missing one set of wings entirely, its right side a beautiful display of iridescent indigo, black and white…the left a crumbled stump that left the creature unbalanced and unable to fly.

What had happened? How had these butterflies developed at all, when part of the worm had not even been used in their development? How could a butterfly develop, complete with a perfect head, when the heads of the worms were still lying at the bottom of the jar? I knew that butterflies were an amazing example of metamorphosis, and a powerful analogy for how God can take something small, ugly and wretched and change it to something graceful and beautiful. What I didn’t know about butterflies changed my heart and taught me something I hope never to forget.

Inside the cocoon, the changes taking place are far more profound than I had imagined. The grub, wrapped in its silk shroud and hidden from view, is not slowly growing wings. The worm is not gradually developing the characteristics of a butterfly, adding new parts on and altering the old to take on a new look. Inside the cocoon, something far more profound is taking place.

The worm as we know it has died. There is no gradual development of new limbs and new features….the worm itself is gone! In its place is a black sludge, the sort of goo we associate with complete and utter decomposition. Floating in the goo somewhere are a few vital organs that have not completely broken down, but there is nothing recognizable as a caterpillar left. The cells are alive, but liquefied. It is from this black liquid, this complete and utter destruction of the original worm, that the butterfly is pieced together. It is truly a new creature! God has taken the cells, broken them beyond recognition, caused the old creature to exist no more, and built something completely new from the pieces.

And the missing parts? Oh, Christian! The missing parts speak so strongly to my heart. For God to make the whole and beautiful new creature He had planned, He needed all of the worm. The worm had to die, it had to become dead black sludge for God’s plan to work perfectly. When we fail to submit All of our heart to God’s will…even when God’s will is that the old must die, when we fail to give it all to him and truly die to self we find that we are incomplete. We emerge with broken wings and incomplete hearts, we limp along when we could be flying high. When we give it all to God, He works every part of it, yes every ugly detail…to His good. He takes the loathsome worm, and from dead black sludge he brings forth a jeweled and graceful butterfly! He asks for nothing less than total submission to His will…nothing less than the death of the old self. But we can trust completely that His plans for us are beautiful! We can trust that He will change us completely, make us a new creature, and give us wings to fly!

Lord, what more can I submit to you today? Thank you for the example of caterpillars and butterflies, for if you can daily work such miracles with them what amazing things will you do when we submit our human hearts to you!

Psalm

I will praise your name
in the cold light of dawn
sing your praises as the sun rises
over blue and purple mountains
For you alone are Holy
you alone formed the peaks
and carved the valleys
and set the sun to shine over them
Your hand wove the burning colors
into spreading oaks
and dressed the starling
in shimmering irridescence
at your word it was created

I will praise your name
in the golden light of evening
proclaim your glory
as the sky reflects gold and crimson
through ever changing clouds
and the wind blows softly
through painted leaves
for you alone are Holy
you alone are Lord
Your glory burns in every living thing
and all creation resonates
with a single purpose
Praise the Lord!
All glory belongs to Him.