Here it is Internet . . . Thanksgiving

Let me just put this out there -- I'm having a really good attitude about Thanksgiving this year. I've never been a big Thanksgiving fan (although I do think gratitude is important). I mean, a whole day for eating? Well, let's be real, three whole days for cooking and 25 minutes IF YOU ARE LUCKY for eating. And then, naturally, VERY MANY DAYS for cleaning up.

But now, I'm choosing to see the whole shebang -- the planning, the shopping, the cooking, the table decorating, as one BIG PARTY. And no, I'm not being sarcastic. 

I do find that I sometimes have a hard time getting people to take my heartfelt sentiments seriously.

One reason for my positive Thanksgiving outlook is Sterling's excitement over preparing the meal. Yep. He WANTS to cook. And I'm all . . . "right this way, sir." Last week, he purchased all the equipment necessary to fry a turkey and oversaw a trial run right by the pool in the backyard. WHO WANTS TO GO SWIMMING? Maybe we'll serve hor d'oeuvres in the spa. Really, my mind is opening up on a whole bucketful of possibilities.

And, of course, I've been consulting with my BFF the Internet over all of it. Here's what I'm considering so far:

Napkins! I do love a cloth napkin, but my tastes tend to run to the expensive. Who charges $10 per napkin anyway? Martha proposes a fairly cool (and cheap) alternative. All I need to do is track down some iDye. I'm penciling in Monday as traipse-all-over-Houston-procuring-napkin-supplies day. 

I'm also still very interested in this chalkboard table runner. Basically, if it's made of chalkboard, I'm in. Why the cultural obsession with chalkboard stuff? Talk amongst yourselves.

We will be having a kids' table . . . and the possibilities for kid table paper crafting are pretty darn exciting. I'm totally in on the paper bag turkey. Also, as if she doesn't have enough to do already, Martha totally made a VIDEO on how to construct the paper bag turkey. Do you see why the Internet is my BFF? It just keeps on giving.

And tiny paper pies -- the sure-fire way to my heart.

As for food, I'm still percolating on that. I'm going to start things out with this Puff Pastry Wrapped Cranberry Brie.

I'm also interested in PW's newly-posted Wild Rice Broccoli Casserole

I do like a schedule, so I'll try to draw up something similar to this or, naturally, I'll do up a schedule like my very good pretend friend, Pioneer Woman. (Dear PW, Please, please, please invite me to your lodge. I won't eat much. Love, Sarah)

In closing, I want to share with you a super cool Thanksgiving book that my SIL, Josie, gave me several years ago. It's the story of Sarah Hale, a forward-thinking woman who lobbied to have Thanksgiving made a national holiday. It's sort of a kids book, but with sufficient text and facts to really interest bigger kids. And you can Prime it to yourself for $5.05. Man, this is a great country!

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So . . . Happy Thanksgiving planning! 

P.S. One time, a million years ago, I made a paper bag turkey filled with popcorn for Jordan to take to preschool. (Excuse me while I run sobbing into the next room). The End.

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I know it's Halloween. But let's talk Thanksgiving.

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As I was mentally reviewing my preparations for the Halloween festivities today . . . making sure I had all the parts and pieces and ingredients . . . I paused for a moment on the subject of Thanksgiving. For the last 6 (maybe more) years we've gone away for a few days. This includes some good ole' family time and a fancy Thanksgiving buffet at a hotel or restaurant. But for a whole bunch of different reasons, we are actually considering staying home this year -- cooking in.  It's both appealing (homey, warm, relaxed) and not (lots of work, maybe it will be boring?). But my figurative ears have been perking up around the web, looking for fun and festive Thanksgiving ideas.

I'm definitely going to participate in Cathy Zielske's 30 Days of Thankful. She provides digital templates (in her characteristic clean, modern style), and my task is to take a picture of one thing I'm grateful for each day of November. I'm using the 6 x 6 template, which I'm going to have printed at Artifact Uprising . . . that way I don't have to secure an album and then find time to print and assemble the finished product. Cuz we all know that's just not going to happen.

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I'm thinking these placecards at each plate. Too Christmas-y? Or just simple and rustic? (I'd love to give credit to the placecard artist, but they are unlinked on Pinterest.) 

These stamped napkin holders look cool (and do-able).  

Queen Martha has a beautiful Thanksgiving site. I choose the Three-Tier Candied-Pecan Cake with Brown-Butter Pears and the Family Trivia Books. Because I like cake and books. And my family. 

via marthastewart.com

via marthastewart.com

If we do cook, I'm dead set on Pioneer Woman's green bean casserole. Have your tried it? It's a fresh, foodie version of the old cream-of-mushroom-soup classic. It's really, really, really tasty. We'll probably just have green bean casserole and the Three-Tiered Candied-Pecan Cake with Brown-Butter Pears. Who really needs more than that?

To be completely honest, Thanksgiving would be super-duper special if I could redo my dining room. (I like to go big or go home.) Check out Design Sponge's before/after dining rooms here. I'm really drawn to the ones with dark walls. They match my soul.

I was going to close this Thanksgiving post by linking to Edward Payson Roe's short story, "Three Thanksgiving Kisses" as an idyllic image to get you all revved for the season. But then I reread it and found that while it is a cozy and bright recreation of a nineteenth-century, New England Thanksgiving, it's also full of brazen stereotypes, and the grand idea that a flighty young girl can only settle down under the weight of hardship or at the hand of a steady gentleman. Ahem. So, fair warning there. But then I remembered O. Henry's story, "Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen," which is really quite funny (full of one-liners) and unfailingly provides the old O. Henry one-two punch at the end. Read it out loud to your big kids. Keep on going when they roll their eyes. The ending is totally worth it.

Halloween

Parker as a cereal killer. Get it?

Parker as a cereal killer. Get it?

Even though Halloween is my very favorite holiday (of all time), I've been super lame about celebrating this year. I have watched both new episodes of The Walking Dead, and I tried to imbue those moments with every last spark of Halloween fervor I could muster.  But that's pretty much the extent of it.

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Both of my kids seem close to opting out of trick-or-treating this year (despite the fact I dropped some decent change on a black morph suit for Parker). His current plan is to  "scare kids around the neighborhood and trick-or-treat just when he gets hungry." 

That's a plan.

Becca is still undecided. 

Just as a side note: When Sterling and I were MARRIED and students at BYU we dressed up one Halloween, and my Aunt Mary drove us around Provo trick-or-treating. I dressed up as a missionary -- suit, slicked-back hair (yes, I dressed as a boy), and my HUSBAND'S missionary name tag. I put 'married' and 'husband' in all caps to let you know that I KNOW how ridiculous this sounds. I can't even begin to offer an explanation. It was a different time and a different place. Or something.

And that's all I can say about that. 

Now that I'm older and more mature, ahem, I've done away with trick-or-treating, and, instead, developed a traditional Halloween meal. We invite over friends and family and we eat chili, drink hot chocolate (unless it's 80 degrees), and ooh and ahh over the tiny ballerinas and vampires that ring our bell. The best thing about this chili is making it in the crockpot early in the day -- that way your Halloween evening is free for last minute costume drama. And this chili, my dearies, is the recipe I leave with you today. Serve it with Fritos and cheese if you are feeling very daring.

Chris's Chili

Half an onion
Half a green pepper (except I usually throw the whole thing in because I don't know what to do with the other half)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 lbs ground beef
2 cans diced tomatoes (I like the petite diced)
2 cans chili beans
1 can red beans (or whatever random beans I happen to have in my pantry)
1 tsp chili powder
1 packet chili seasoning
salt and pepper to taste

Dice onion and green pepper. Throw onion, green pepper, garlic, and beef into a skillet and brown. Drain.  

In a crockpot, combine beef mixture with ALL the rest of the ingredients. Give it a good stir and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4 hours. (If you have five hours I'm not sure what to tell you).  

You can double this. A double recipe just fits in my crock pot. Happy Haunting!


 

Present planning

I roll my eyes at holiday displays in October (ugh! don't rush me, Costco!). But, I'll admit it, my Christmas gifting wheels are beginning to turn. I'm definitely not one of those organized souls who has everything all bought and wrapped by July 31st but I do like to bookmark potential gifts all year round. (We just watched What About Bob here and I think I'm going to take a Bob approach to the holidays this year: "baby steps to Christmas, baby steps to Christmas")

October's the time when I start making some decisions, especially if I want to (a) make any of the presents or (b) order from websites like Etsy. With that in mind, I thought I'd share a few of the gift ideas I've bookmarked lately. (Ahem. If you are MY KIDS, click away from here. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.)  

. . . 

First of all, if I were an expert quilter I would make this polaroid quilt for one of (all of?) my kids. You know those good ol' keepsake memory quilts made from old team/school tshirts? How about doing something a little more design-y while still honoring the trip down memory lane? (Tutorial here.) The beauty is that you could put pretty much anything inside the polaroid photo frames: embroidered words, fabric images (like the one below), abstract designs, or--how about this?--have all the kids draw a picture of themselves and then transfer the images and stitch over them in the polaroid frames for a perfect grandparent gift. I'm telling you, I'm going to learn to quilt JUST TO MAKE THIS project.

Photo via  Freshly Picked

Photo via Freshly Picked

For avid reader and book lovers, I'm sold on anything from the Literary Gift company. I mean. A handbag from a book?  

A typewriter pin for $8? 

See also: the novel posters (where the entire text of the book is hidden in the poster), book cover posters, and literary maps

Speaking of maps, this writeable globe is pretty cool. I love its look and can see it being used for years of geography studying and globe challenges.

Know anyone who owns a gadget? Anyone at all? This cordito from Etsy seller This is Ground is such a beautiful solution to carrying all those cords and chargers around. They've got lots of other cool leather things: cord tacos, phone cases, folders.

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I already mentioned the Forever Young locket I got Maddy last year as a special keepsake. I think this fortune cookie necklace from Etsy seller Christina Kober would be another lovely option for a nice, heartfelt gift for a teen. I think I might send something like this to Lauren, who will be far away (whimper) for the next two Christmases. I love that you can personalize the fortune, too, that hangs down from the clasp at the nape of the neck. What would yours say?

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Who doesn't love a pair of funky socks? It looks like Sock It To Me has kind of cornered the market on distinctive, fun socks. In addition to this American Gothic pair I spied on Pinterest, they also have a Chat Noir, a Starry Night one, and many more.  Including super stripes.

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I adore the Timex Weekender series. Great for teen guys or gals. (Or moms named Annie.)  Handsome, colorful, and inexpensive.

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And I think this scratch-off map is fun to keep track of your family's travels (at Restoration Hardware; their stocking stuffer section always has a good bunch of options).

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When I attended my cousin Lindsey's beautiful wedding, I noticed so many lovely details. They had birch place card holders at each plate and I have loved using mine here at home as a holder for a rotating gang of art postcards. I thought it would make a great gift for the girls I work with at church, paired with a small inspiration poster. Or they could make great friend gifts for teen girls to give with some fun card or ticket or photo. Etsy seller Vermont Branch Company sells 10 birch stump place card holders for $12.50. Or, if you're handy with a saw and have access to some gorgeous branches, you could make these yourself. (By the way, if you're trying to find a good friend gift, wedding sites are a good resource for ideas. Their favors tend to be classy and relatively inexpensive.)

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What's on your list of gift ideas this year? How do you plan your family gifting? Though I don't follow it strictly, I really like the guidelines my mom told me many years ago: 

Something to wear
Something to read*
Something to play with
Something you need. 

I'm too rebellious of a shopper to abide by it completely but it does help guide me for the sake of variety and fairness. 

p.s. I promise not to overdo the whole Christmas in October thing, but I do have a post on holiday card ideas in the works. Don't stress. No worries. We've still got all the time in the world. Baby steps. 

*I promise we'll cover books another time. 


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Off time

Please forgive me. I just now walked in the door from a wonderful, sleep deprived, dirt-between-my-toes span of days at a Girls' Camp. Yes, it's true that many of you northern hemisphere-ites are at this minute preoccupied with apple picking and pumpkin carving and cinnamon-scented baking (I know this because Pinterest and Facebook tell me so). I get it (and, hey, I miss it); you're hunkering down for the colder months. But here in southeast Australia, we're just perking up to spring. Since the schools are on a two-week spring break around here, our church group headed three hours away to the gorgeous coastal town of Narooma for the yearly Young Women's camp. 

So the only things rattling around in my brain tonight are: (a) how fast I can get myself into a shower, (b) how good my bed will feel tonight, (c) how long will my left eye stay bloodshot and (d) teen girls are pretty fabulous. Please humor me with a few photos as a companion to Sarah's great post on her Girls' Camp experience in Texas (and I echo every one of her lessons learned):

Teen girls + camp = braid fest

Teen girls + camp = braid fest

Quiet time on the beach. (Seriously. Check out that gorgeous beach. It's like Ireland and Hawaii had a love child and called it the Australian south coast.)

Quiet time on the beach. (Seriously. Check out that gorgeous beach. It's like Ireland and Hawaii had a love child and called it the Australian south coast.)

Amazing Race time (Or, really, an 8K hike disguised as a game. Brilliant.)

Amazing Race time (Or, really, an 8K hike disguised as a game. Brilliant.)

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Happy campers.

Happy campers.

Sketching time on the beach.

Sketching time on the beach.

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A ridiculously funny game where one poor member of each team is subjected to shaving cream, thrown cheeto balls, and squirted water. Maddy was a good sport.

A ridiculously funny game where one poor member of each team is subjected to shaving cream, thrown cheeto balls, and squirted water. Maddy was a good sport.

Bless you for sticking around through what is surely the online equivalent of subjecting you to a whole slide carousel of holiday photos. My brain will be up and working in a day or two.

I almost forgot--as a token of my appreciation, here's a fellow mid-stage mom's hilarious post about being the meanest mom on the block and drawing the line on being over invested in how your kids feel about every little thing. "We're on the same team but, dudes, that team has Captains and it's the parents."  I'd love to hear what you think about it.

The teenage party

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Becca rounded out a FULL week of birthday celebrations with a party. And by "party," I mean a gathering of teenagers. In my house. Chaperoned by Sterling and yours truly. Have you experienced hosting the teenage party? It's a horse of a different color -- an elusive combination of people, space, activity, and food. And supervision? I don't want to crowd or hover. But I don't want to be irresponsible. This means I spend the evening trying to blend unobtrusively into the background. Like, "Don't look at me. No one's here. But stop putting your chips on the arm of the couch. Okay?"

I much prefer the outdoor party. The kids mill around the back deck, forming and reforming groups -- some kids in the hot tub, some in the pool, some lounging on the chairs. This scenario provides activity (swimming, volleyball, etc.) AND I can easily keep an eye on the comings and goings. The food is all outside, so they can go crazy.  

But more and more, my girls prefer the indoor party. Our downstairs is pretty well situated for groups. But the upstairs, where the Wii and Xbox and four enormous bean bags and a comfy sectional sofa reside? It's a bit harder to keep a handle on things -- and THAT's where everyone wants to be. Our upstairs gameroom is a long, somewhat narrow room running the width of the upstairs. It's good in that it's not totally closed off from the upstairs. It's not so great in that inevitably large groups of teens upstairs become a mash of people on the floor, on the computer, on the television, on the couch. The bean bags, after a matter of time, become weapons. And upstairs there is no real vantage point from where I can perch and observe. I'm relegated to frequent run-throughs. I start from the kitchen stairs, walking upstairs and purposely through the mass of teenagers, and down the front stairs. At times I have to call one of my own children along with me and whisper instructions: "No cuddling. No body surfing. No hotdogs on the iMac." You know. Silly stuff like that.

Guys . . . and I know that I'm getting slap-happy, but Saturday night when I was refilling the chips and ice and running upstairs and downstairs, I started to work out this whole parenting/party analogy. How we teach our kids, within the safety of our homes, those skills necessary to go out into the big, scary world. How we keep feeding them and checking on them until they are, hopefully, big enough to feed themselves and make their own good choices. Also, that maybe 18 became the age of adulthood because parents were just plumb exhausted from late-teenage-nights. So, there's that. 

Give me something. What do you do to make teenage parties both fun and responsible?  


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One thing I loved about Rebecca's party was the Italian Soda Bar. This was not my idea -- I totally copied the entire thing from OurBestBites, but the kids were still duly impressed (which is, of course, my only reason for living). All you have to do is purchase some flavored syrups, soda water, and half & half. You can even send your newly-licensed 16 year-old to the store to pick up the goods. (I didn't do this because I'm completely petrified of and for newly-licensed 16 year-old drivers.)  I also wrote out the recipe right on the table for easy instruction.

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In terms of food . . . we served the BIG nugget tray from Chickfila. That was 200 nuggets -- gone in roughly 35 minutes. We also served chips and dip (and some carrots thrown in for good measure) and cupcakes, of course. Other than that, Becca wanted bowls of candy and some little water bottles and we were good to go. Easy enough. So easy, in fact, it's taken me a full 48 hours to recover.  

Help me. . . 

 

Sweet Sixteen

My Rebecca Kate is turning 16 in a few weeks. She's madly trying to finish her online driver's ed course, and, at the same time, she's working her parental magic on Sterling and I towards a Sweet 16 celebration.  

When my kids were younger I was a birthday party maniac. We had artist parties, dress up parties, American Girl parties, mad scientist parties, snake parties (with a real-life snake handler and real-life snakes). But as the kids hit their teens I thought they might be done with birthday parties. 

Not so much. 

Still, if my big kids want a birthday party, they have to drive the process. They are management; I work in party support.  But don't fret, I'm really uber supportive (which means that I do pretty much everything, I just make sure they really, really want it.)

Apparently Becca really, really wants a Sweet 16 party. (Yay! Yay?) 

She has eschewed the teen-favored Facebook group in favor of the printed invitation. [Don't tell, but the invite design is a mash up of some invites Becca found online. I hope I'm not violating any copyright laws. I don't plan on selling them. I'm just APPRECIATING the talents of real graphic designers.] Here's what we have so far: 

Obviously, some of the details are omitted. Not to keep things from you. Just from stalkers.

Obviously, some of the details are omitted. Not to keep things from you. Just from stalkers.

Currently, we are percolating some ideas for the party itself. That means 94% Pinterest, 6% our own brain power. That's how we roll. 

This is probably too juvenile for a Sweet 16, but I do love this Pinterest party. I'd at least like the big camera. 

My other idea is to do a big outdoor movie. Our tiny backyard is pretty much all pool, but if I could swing it, I'd rig up a big white sheet, set up a projector, and have a cool popcorn bar like this

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An Italian soda bar could be fun. (I'm really into 'bars' -- popcorn bars, soda bars, omelette bars, smores bars. It's a theme with me.) 

For decor I'm thinking lots and lots of balloons. If you scroll to the bottom of this post, you'll see a bank of blue, helium filled balloons. I'm also quite taken with the simple, pastel-colored cakes. We've talked about cupcakes . . . but multiple cakes could be cool. Different even. 

Or . . . even though the rainbow cake has seen its day, I still think this version could be really fun. 

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Just as a side note: Could someone please plan this party? And invite me? Pretty please? 

Any suggestions for Becca's party would be greatly appreciated. Also, real-life, working volunteers. I'll be passing around a sign-up sheet shortly. . .