Grand

The very next day after the tragic event with the young man which took place in our neighborhood that I wrote about in my previous post, I was blessed to accompany one of my best friends and her family to the hospital for the birth of their second grandchild. I was there with my camera for the birth of their first grandchild a few years ago, and what a privilege it was to be there with all of these special friends once again on this happiest of days.

While I am certainly no pro with my trusty camera, I was able to just be there to help ensure that the desired “first” pictures were not overlooked amid all of the fun and excitement, as well as taking a few pictures they might not see themselves, such as the picture in this post. Their job was to be family, and my job was to love them with my camera. They also received a free professional photo shoot with baby before they left the hospital, but nothing can ever replace the real-time photos taken in first hour or two in the life of a brand new baby.

IMG_6093
The sign in the room as the family met their precious new baby

There is just nothing like the experience of holding a new baby and seeing the expressions of those sweet family members as each one held this little 7 lb 2 oz miracle straight from the arms of God for the very first time, and I feel quite confident that I am likely preaching to the choir among many of my readers here. I’m not sure that life gets much better than times like this.

As my friend held her precious new grandson for the first time, some new thoughts came to me. Was such a celebration also taking place in Heaven at that moment? What if we are received in such a way in Heaven one day? Do angels sing at times like this? There was such great anticipation of the arrival of this sweet new life. What if it is that way in Heaven for each of us? What will that experience be like someday? Will the earthly celebration of the birth of a baby even begin to compare with the Heavenly celebration? Will this change how I look on the death of a believer going forward? I never once entertained these thoughts until that moment.

I had such a great hour in the room with these precious people in my life, and I will treasure this memory the rest of my life. And as “payment” for my services, I got to hold this sweet little boy after everyone else had their turn and even had my picture made, too. But, this was certainly not about me. It was their special time together first and foremost. My friend’s daughter was more beautiful than I’ve ever seen her, and she is always stunningly beautiful. A new mother has a special glow about her, I think. Haven’t we all seen it at some point? It is revealed in her eyes that are tired, joyful, loving, relieved and a bit scared all at the same time. It’s just priceless.

After I left the hospital, I decided to take a stroll in a nearby park for a few minutes. The grass is still green, as are the trees, and it was a beautiful afternoon to take a quick stroll around the lake in the park. Normally when I’m walking outside, I have one or both of the dogs with me to exercise them, which is always fun, but I truly enjoyed this peaceful time alone to decompress a bit. A quiet walk in nature should be a medical prescription when we are a bit out-of-sorts from the roller coaster of life. Just being in God’s creation, whether in an urban setting or out in the middle of nowhere, is always a good dose of medicine to my soul. Hopefully we will be headed out in the RV this weekend for a quick getaway to one of the state parks, too. This is such a great time of year to go camping, and we are ready to go and enjoy this beautiful weather before winter cold finally arrives in a few weeks.

I believe we all need beauty in our lives regularly, in whatever form we can see, hear, touch or smell it. For me, that also includes absorbing the beauty of God’s word regularly… as in every single day. It is medicine for my soul, comfort when times are hard and joy when times are grand. I doubt that too many things are more beautiful and grand in this earthly life than being present at the birth of a brand new baby. No wonder they call them grand… children!

And all you grand… parents reading this say…. 😀

Psalm 127:3
Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him. (NLT)

Psalm 139:13
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. (NLT)

Jeremiah 1:5
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart …” (NLT)

Matthew 18:10
“Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.” (NLT)

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Reconnecting With Friends

Once again, life seems to be in just a bit of upheaval here again, but thankfully, it is nothing like we had back in the winter when my mom fell and broke her hip.  It is more a confluence of little things and slightly larger things that are taking my precious personal time that I try to guard as much as possible until circumstances demand some of it.  I am missing my quieter mornings right now, for sure, but hopefully things will return to normal soon, too.

I managed to take some time off earlier today to reconnect personally with a high school friend who is in town for a couple of weeks to see her elderly parents.  We have not seen each other in person since 1976, although we reconnected a few years ago on Facebook.  My friend and I met for a tentatively scheduled two-hour coffee visit at Starbucks, and four and a half hours later, we had to finally cut off our visit with the hope that we will be able to get together one more time before she leaves to return to North Carolina.

On my drive home, I felt especially blessed to have been able to reconnect recently with so many long-lost friends from my younger days, and I have been truly amazed at how we have all been able to pick right up where we left off.  The love and caring concern is still there in every reunion, and I realized that I have so many dear friends, even though we have been apart for decades.  I have also been amazed at how similar a path many of us have walked in our respective lives as far as life challenges, too.

Today, my friend and I discovered that we share several similar family struggles, including one that is quite unique.  This certainly helped to fuel the discussion for our extra long visit, but we also found that the friendship that we enjoyed in high school was founded on such a solid foundation that we will likely be dear friends the rest of our lives, despite the fact that we live hundreds of miles apart.

There are days that God sends such a special treat my way when I need it most, and this was one of those days, a special reunion with a dear friend that blessed me in such a wonderful way!  I am especially grateful today, and I have cried tears of joy… always a good thing.

This beautiful song has been a favorite of mine for decades, and it expresses my heart so perfectly today where my friends, both new and old, are concerned.  May it bless you richly today.

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Am I Prepared for Thanksgiving?

Before I move on with today’s topic, I wanted to express my thanks to those that are coming to my site to read my various Thanksgiving related posts.  As I looked through the search terms yesterday, there is no doubt what is on the minds of so many right now, and that is Thanksgiving food preparations.

Search terms

I hope that my ideas have been helpful to those of you that have read them.  It seems that I will be taking my own advice this year, too, as we have decided to dine at home again instead of dining out, and I’m quite happy about that, too.

I started my own food preparations yesterday and baked a big pan of cornbread for the dressing last night so that it would have time to thoroughly dry out by Thursday morning.  As it baked, I decided to quickly check my Facebook page to see how my friends were faring with their own holiday preparations.

The first post that showed up, however, was anything but fun holiday happenings.  It was an update post from a friend’s page concerning her little grandson that is extremely ill and has recently been transferred to a large hospital in another city for more specialized treatment.  I think it is safe to say that while so many of us are supporting this precious little one with our prayers, he may not make it.  We’re going to keep bombarding God with our prayers anyway.  He is in very capable medical hands now as well.

What has struck me and literally brings tears to my eyes every time I read a new update from the family is how faithful they are and how willingly they are opening up and sharing their heart with hundreds of us each day.  Thanksgiving meal preparations are not on their agenda right now, but Thanksgiving has been in their hearts every single day from the very beginning.

Let me just say that one more time… mostly for my own benefit… because it hit me like a ton of bricks last night.

Thanksgiving has been in their hearts every single day from the very beginning.

God never ceases to amaze me how he speaks at times.  My friends are already prepared for Thanksgiving.  They are living it on a daily basis in the midst of a struggle that few of us can even imagine.  I am so humbled by their faith, and now I must ask myself if I am also prepared for Thanksgiving, not only this week but every single day in the future.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

“…give thanks *in* *all* *circumstances*…

D
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An Unexpected Gift

I am so blessed to be friends with some truly wonderful people, and I’m also blessed to even know some of their elderly parents so well that I call them friends, too.  The father of one of my best friends is not in good health, and her mother cares for him full-time now.  Once a month, I try to cook a meal for them, and I’ve also kept them supplied with fresh tomatoes from our garden for the past few months, which they have absolutely loved.  Taking a meal to them is also a treat for me because I enjoy chatting with them.  They are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met and take this difficult stage in their lives with a patience that I only wish I possessed.

About two weeks ago, I took a meal to them which consisted of Pioneer Woman’s potato soup and some sweet cornbread to go with it.  I joked with them that they were test subjects for this new soup recipe from PW and that I was afraid it might not be fit to eat.  Of course, anyone that knows anything about Pioneer Woman’s recipes knows that they are all pretty much fabulous.  My friend’s mom told me that I could cook anything for them anytime, especially if it was a PW recipe, and I agreed to continue to look for more of PW’s amazing recipes online to prepare for them in the future on my monthly visit.

A few days ago, my friend’s mom stopped by to return my dishes from that dinner, and to my huge surprise, she brought this along, too…

Pioneer Woman Holidays_sm
Pioneer Woman Cooks – A Year of Holidays

… and it is for me!!!  😀

I would have purchased this cookbook at some point on my own because I’m a huge PW fan, but receiving it as a special, unexpected gift from a dear friend makes it a treasured keepsake for me, not just a cookbook.  She also gave me a card with a sweet note inside that she had written, and I just got very teary when I read it.  I love these people so much and never, ever expected something like that.  I can’t wait to make them a meal from the new cookbook now, too.  Unexpected gifts are just the best, aren’t they?

As I think about the gifts I will give to others this year for Christmas, I need to continue to try even harder to find some special gifts that will hopefully be remembered and treasured, even if it is not the primary gift that I give them.  I did a great job of doing just that a few years ago, when I compiled family recipe scrapbooks for my kids, as well as one for me.  The scrapbooks contained all of our long-time family recipes, and I made sure to include my own recipes, as well as recipes from their grandmothers and great-grandmothers.  I worked very hard on the scrapbooks for about two months, and both kids were just blown away by them, even our son.  Both kids spent a lot of time on that special Christmas Day looking through their new scrapbooks and realized that I had put a lot of work into them.  Honestly, I’m not sure I will ever top that gift, but I would like to keep trying to find ways to give more thoughtful gifts like that – the gifts that will be treasured for a long time.

D
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Irish Stew

It’s not St. Patrick’s Day.  I’m not Irish.  It’s not even remotely cold outside.  So, why am I so excited about making Irish Stew for the first time?

Irish Stew
Irish Stew

I have decided to prepare a little surprise dinner to take to a friend and her husband next week on the night before they leave on a long anticipated vacation to Ireland for the first time.  Of course, I needed to make a test batch ahead of time so that I wouldn’t run the risk of taking something less than desired, and it sounded so good that I just couldn’t resist making a batch for us right away.

While looking at some traditional Irish recipes, it didn’t take long to decide on a good Irish stew as the main course for our friends’ special dinner.  I spent quite a bit of time looking at recipes and, ultimately, I decided on a recipe that I thought would be good and only slightly modified it to our taste.  It is hands down the best stew I have ever eaten, too.  Usually when I try a new recipe, I have to prepare it two or three times until I get it just the way I want it, but this one was just perfect the very first time for us.

I opted to use half lamb cubes and half beef cubes in this recipe.  While I didn’t actually see a recipe with the meats combined, I found plenty of recipes that used one or the other.  Lamb is the more traditional choice, but beef is often used as well.  I just couldn’t resist giving it a try with the beef.  Initially, I thought that I would just see which one my husband and I liked better and use it in future preparations, but we loved both meats in this dish and thought the dish was perfect this way.  I just browned each of the meats separately in the fat, since I needed to brown them in my enameled cast iron pot in two batches anyway.

The butcher also cubed each of the meats for me.  I purchased a chuck roast and leg of lamb and had a little more of the fat removed from the lamb cuts.  I think most butchers will do this for free, and it’s certainly worth asking your butcher if you don’t know for sure because it is a big time saver.

Here is the recipe!  It serves 3-4 people.

IRISH STEW

5 slices bacon (fattier pieces – inexpensive bacon works great)

In a large pot, (I used a large enameled cast iron pot), cook the bacon slowly over medium heat on the stove until well done to render out as much of the fat as possible.  Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain, leaving as much of the fat in the pot as possible.  (This is a step that I added.  If you prefer, just add some canola oil to the hot pot to brown the meats and omit the bacon completely.  I won’t be doing that, based on how well this came out with the bacon.)

1  1/2 pounds of cubed meat (either lamb, beef or both)
1 c. flour
salt and pepper

While the bacon is cooking in the pot, season the meat cubes well with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour until completely coated.  After removing the bacon, brown the meat in two groups in a single layer in the pot over medium to medium high heat, turning with tongs as needed to brown evenly.  After the meat is evenly browned, remove it to a plate, leaving the bacon drippings in the pan.  The meat will not be cooked thoroughly at this point, only browned on the surface.

1 medium sweet onion, cut into slices and separated into rings
2 Tbsp. canola oil

After removing the meat from the pot, add some canola oil, if needed, to saute the onions.  Cook them over medium high heat until they are just soft.  Chop the bacon into small pieces and add it back into the pot, along with just a dash of salt.  

1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or more to taste)
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder (or more to taste)
1 – 11 oz bottle Guinness
1 – 14 oz can beef broth

Add the meat back into the pot, along with the thyme, garlic powder, Guinness and beef broth.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook on the stove for 30-45 minutes, making sure that the meat is thoroughly cooked.  There should be just enough liquid to just cover everything in the pot.  If not, add more beef broth.  Stir often to prevent any scorching on the bottom, about every ten minutes.

6 or 7 medium red potatoes, peeled and cubed (larger cubes work best)
8 oz peeled baby carrots

After the meat is thoroughly cooked, add the potatoes and carrots to the pot and continue cooking until they are just tender.  I left the baby carrots whole and cut the potatoes into larger cubes about the same size as the carrots.  After about 30 minutes, they were done and not overcooked.

1 – 2 Tbsp. uncooked white rice

Pearl barley is the more traditional option for this dish, but since I didn’t have it on hand, I simply used a bit of uncooked white rice.  Just add it into the pot and let the stew cook covered on medium low heat until the rice is soft, about 5 – 10 minutes.  The rice will thicken the stew a lot, which makes this dish just as it is supposed to be, thick and rich.  Just be careful to not add too much rice or barley, but feel free to add a bit more, if needed, if the broth is still soupy.  Add the rice a little at time if in doubt.

When the rice is soft, keep the stew warm in a 250 degree oven until ready to serve.

Fresh parsley (green tips only, no stems)

Just before serving, add the fresh parsley to the stew to brighten it up, stirring it into the stew well.  Serve the stew hot with a good Irish soda bread or any other crusty bread you like.

This is such a great, classic dish, even in mid-May in 90 degree weather.  I can’t wait to surprise our friends with this special dish next week to help kick off their wonderful vacation!

D
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White Wedding Cupcakes

In just a few weeks, I will be hosting a bridal shower at our home for the future daughter-in-law of one of my dearest friends.  Since there are only two of us hosting it, we have been looking for ways to trim our expenses a bit while not sacrificing quality, especially on the food that we will serve.  Rather than having the food catered or purchased from a local bakery, I am going to do most of the baking myself, while my co-hostess (who does not cook much) will provide the non-cooked food, such as cheeses, crackers and fresh fruit.

After “diving head first” into the world of cookie baking before Christmas, I am ready to take on another baking challenge.  Cupcakes are always fun and certainly not as difficult as some of the cookies I baked a few weeks ago.  But, I want these baked goods for the shower to be as close to good bakery quality as I can get them, so I’ve invested some time in researching recipes to find just what I think I want.

The first recipe that I’ve found is for wedding style white cupcakes with a good buttercream icing.  Earlier this week, I made two different test batches of this recipe, with the first batch being full-sized cupcakes and the second batch being the smaller mini-cupcakes.  Without a doubt, I will make the minis for the shower.  The smaller size will be a perfect bite-sized sweet treat so that guests will not fill up on a single cupcake, and the mini size is just so darn cute, too!

Wedding White Cupcakes with Buttercream Icing
Wedding White Cupcakes with Buttercream Icing

The picture does not really do them justice, as I just quickly snapped it with my phone before heading out the door to deliver some of them to friends, but they really turned out so cute and so good.  I am not proficient with the piping bag yet by any stretch, but some simple piping with a large star tip resulted in a nice, somewhat floral pattern of the buttercream on top and a candy pearl for an elegant accent.

To my great surprise, my husband just raved over them, too, which is a shock because he is typically not a fan of white cake.  That alone should be an indication of just how good these are.  Of course, the good buttercream icing certainly helped.  This recipe is the closest one I’ve found to what my mom used to make when I was growing up, and this recipe is really one of the best icing recipes that I’ve found to date.

The recipes can be found at the links below.  The only thing I changed on the cake recipe was to use a cup of powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar, and I also used two whole eggs and two egg whites, instead of just four egg whites.  I just wanted the cake to be a bit more moist, and this worked quite well.  The minis baked perfectly at 325 degrees for 15 minutes.  I did not alter the icing recipe at all, but I did have to double the recipe to have enough for all the cupcakes.

White Wedding Cupcakes Recipe
(makes about 36 regular or 110 mini cupcakes)

Buttercream Icing Recipe
(double this to have plenty of icing for the cupcakes)

Hmmm, I think it’s about time for a cupcake!  🙂

D
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12 Days of Christmas Gifts

My 12 Days of Christmas gifts arrived last night!  Since I will be out-of-town for a week, my special “elf” said that I can start opening some of them now!

4-365 12/2/10 Twelve Days of Christmas

This is a decades-long tradition that a special out-of-town friend and I have enjoyed… sending twelve “Pre-Christmas” gifts to countdown to the big day.  They are just smaller gifts, sometimes even from the dollar store, but I wouldn’t trade for all the years of fun and joy it has brought to us.

And one thing I know for sure… I will always give (and will always receive) a box of Hot Tamales candy.  Long story.  Maybe those will help to rid me of this lousy cold and sinus infection.  😉

Fun times!
D