Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 28, 2013


[via]

Just a quick note today, nothing fancy, only to say that I hope you and your family have an absolutely wonderful Thanksgiving! There's so much to be thankful for today and I hope that everyone has a safe, warm, and happy holiday!

Green Bean Casserole with a Twist

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

This year for Thanksgiving, when it came time to sign up for a dish to bring, I was quick to volunteer for the easiest of them all - the classic Green Bean Casserole.

There is probably no other traditional Thanksgiving side that is more simple than this. I sort of felt bad about picking the least complicated thing on the list, so I also signed up to bring rolls and I was thinking about whipping up some spiked apple cider for everyone to enjoy as well. But regardless, I will probably be the only one not slaving in the kitchen this year.

If you've never made Green Bean Casserole, there's really not that much to it. It's literally beans, soup, and a big can of french fried onions. Throw 'em together and you've got yourself a casserole.

But as I was putting together my grocery list for the week, I began to wonder if there were other recipes out there for the classic casserole that were also simple but put a little spin on tradition. So, I hopped on Pinterest (where else would I go?) and found dozens of delicious recipes that each added a little something different. I decided that I'm probably going to go with this version from Brown Eyed Baker for our Thanksgiving feast, but there were so many others that I wanted to try, I thought I would pick one to share here to make later on during the holidays.

This recipe by Justin Chapple comes from Food & Wine and brings a spicy little kick to the classic recipe. I can't wait to try it!

[via]

Green Bean Casserole with Goat Cheese, Almonds, & Smoked Paprika

Ingredients
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
2 1/2 pounds of green beans
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
3 cups of milk
1 garlic clove, finely grated
5 ounces of fresh goat cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of pimentón de la Vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
3/4 cup of almonds, coarsely chopped

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350° and butter a shallow 9-by-13-inch ceramic baking dish. In a large pot of boiling salted water, blanch the green beans until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and cool under running water. Pat dry and thinly slice on the diagonal. Pat dry again.

In a medium saucepan, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the flour and whisk over moderate heat until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer, whisking constantly, until thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the goat cheese. Season the sauce with salt, pepper and 1/4 teaspoon of the pimentón.

In a large bowl, toss the green beans with the sauce. Spread the mixture into the prepared casserole and sprinkle the almonds and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of pimentón over the top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbling and the almonds are lightly browned. Let the casserole stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Don't be a bully.

Monday, November 25, 2013

[via]

I had a bit of an "ah-ha" moment last night as I was getting ready for bed and brushing my teeth.

As I stood there looking at myself in the mirror, I started making a mental list of all of the things I didn't like about myself or things I felt the need to change. I thought about how my eyebrows desperately needed tweezing, how my hair had started to look sloppy and unprofessional, how chubby my arms were getting, and how I was lazy for not running every day. The list went on and on. Then I started to think about all of the times where I had made attempts to fix these problems but wasn't able to keep up with my routines or workout schedules and I continued to criticize myself for giving up on those.

Without even realizing it, I was silently berating myself. I think I stood there for a good 10 minutes pointing out all of my "inadequacies," feeling worse and worse about myself as my list of judgments and critiques grew.

After I finished brushing and I climbed into bed, it hit me. What in the world had I just done? Why did I feel the need to pick on myself? To be my own bully? How many nights do I stand there, staring at myself in the mirror, destroying my self-esteem? I was completely horrified at the thought. It scared me to think that I probably do this every night. Every single night. And I don't even realize the damage that I'm doing. I thought back about the past couple of days and tried to remember all of the times I had subconsciously punished myself for my imperfections.

I remembered getting really unnecessarily upset with myself when the bottom of the bread I baked had burnt to a crisp. I remembered talking to myself out loud in the car about how much of an idiot I was for forgetting to return my library books for the fifth time. I remembered thinking earlier in the week that I should just give up blogging altogether because I haven't been posting any good material lately and what I was writing was awful anyway.

In those few minutes I spent thinking, I recalled probably three dozen specific instances where I made myself feel like crap for something completely insignificant.

Somehow, in my mind, I've been justifying this verbal abuse all because I hadn't met some ridiculous, unattainable standard that I had set for myself. I had made it okay to be my own bully every time I missed a step. It was alright to tell myself that I wasn’t beautiful. I wasn’t talented. I wasn’t good enough. I was bad at cooking. I was bad at blogging. I was bad at life. Just because I wasn't doing anything perfectly, somehow that meant I had failed.

It didn't matter that I've worked out three times this week which is a major improvement from the last. It didn't matter that the meal that I made to accompany the burnt bread was absolutely delicious. It didn't matter that I loved blogging and had touched so many people with the posts I had written in the past. None of it counted.

Every time I mess up, that little voice in my head chimes in saying, “Well, you might as well give up now. Throw in the towel. Abandon ship. Game over. You’ve screwed it up already so there’s no point to keep trying. You’re not good enough and you never will be. I award you no points and may God have mercy on your soul.”

I’m not sure why it happens. I’m not sure why I even let it happen. But it’s not okay. It’s not okay to think I’m a failure. It’s not okay to be my toughest critic. I am sick and tired of feeling like crap and being the one who causes it. I can't sit here and allow that little voice inside to tear me down. I don’t want to be my own bully anymore. I may not be perfect, but I am enough.

Christmas Wishlist

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Have you started your holiday shopping yet? I've only picked up a few things here and there but that's mainly because I don't plan on doing much shopping until after Thanksgiving. In the last few years, I've gotten hooked on all of the awesome online Black Friday deals as well as the even bigger ones they offer on Cyber Monday. That's honestly when I do most of my shopping. I'm able to score some awesome deals on all of the things my family wants without even leaving the house and have it all shipped to me weeks before Christmas - most of the time for free. I can't think of a better way to shop! It has really eliminated a lot of stress and all it takes is a little planning ahead.

Since I've pretty much nailed down the list of things I'll be looking to scoop up for my friends and family this year, I thought it might be fun to throw together a little list of the things I've had my eye on this year for myself. Who doesn't love rounding up a little Christmas wish list?



one - I actually first saw this top on Pinterest and the moment that I did, I pretty much flipped my lid! I have a bit of an obsession with sloths and if someone actually did get me this shirt, I would likely live in it forever.

 two - These mittens are from Target and when I was wandering around the store the other day, I tried them on and fell in love. They are super soft and I've literally been wearing the same pair of gloves since middle school so I think it's about time for an upgrade.

three - With all of the hiking and camping that Mike and I do, it's surprising to me that I don't really have a good quality rain jacket. I know how nice Columbia's products are so I think this one, especially in this sweet Deep Blush color, would be perfect for any nasty weather. 

four -  Once again, another Target item. I am an addict. I love the size and the amount of storage that this little cross-body bag provides. Something just like it has been on my wishlist for a few months but a much more expensive version, so this one, at only a fraction of the cost, is much more reasonable and just as adorable!

five - I probably could have put all of Rifle Paper Co.'s products on here (their stationary is just to die for) but I've had my eye on these notebooks for quite some time. They're just so pretty and cheery! 

six - The same goes for Anthropologie. I could probably have put their entire store on my wishlist. But when I was browsing their site, I stumbled upon these incredible mugs that would go so well with the decor I'm planning for our dining room. Instead of using them for drinking, I was thinking having one or two might be perfect to hold a couple of succulents. 

What's on your list this year?

Homemade Peppermint Mocha

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I just can't help myself this year. For some strange reason, I am completely obsessed with all things Christmas even though I know it's still way too early. I am usually one of those people who literally refuses to even acknowledge the holiday until Thanksgiving has come and gone. Once all the turkey leftovers have been eaten and I've scored a few Black Friday deals, only then can the Christmas celebrating begin. Sometimes in past years, I would even wait until December to start pulling down the fall decorations. I've always been pretty strict about it. It just usually feels wrong to let one holiday overshadow another. I like to give each of them their due, celebrating them only in the month in which they fall. Anything else would be ludicrous!

This year, however, I've thrown all rules and logic out the window. Almost every day for the last week, I've been listening to Tony Bennett's Holiday station (my favorite by the way), drinking gingerbread lattes, dreaming of snow and twinkle lights, and counting down the days until we can go chop down our tree. I don't know what has gotten into me, but I am so incredibly excited! Christmas cannot come soon enough!

That being said, I found this recipe the other day for a sort of copycat Starbucks Peppermint Mocha. Aaaaaand I may or may not be sipping one right now... (it's deliciously decadent, in case you are wondering!) Tis the season!

I hope you are having a truly wonderful Tuesday!

[via]

Homemade Peppermint Mocha

Ingredients
1 cup milk, steamed
1 cup very strong coffee
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 tablespoons of sugar
2-3 tablespoons peppermint syrup (you can use the recipe here or ask behind the counter at Starbucks for a prepared bottle that you can use all winter long)
Whipped cream (optional)
Chocolate Syrup (optional)
Crushed Peppermints (optional)

Directions
Coffee prepared using French Press: Prepare your hot water in a kettle. Add four tablespoons of your favorite coffee grounds to your French Press. Pour 1 cup of hot water over them and allow the coffee to steep for four minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a pot, heat up one cup of milk until it is steaming. Froth the milk with a wire whisk or an immersion blender until it is nice and foamy.

In your coffee cup, mix together the prepared coffee, cocoa powder, sugar, and peppermint coffee syrup until the sugar and cocoa powder are dissolved and there are no lumps. Pour the milk foam over the top of the coffee/mocha mixture and stir to incorporate. Top with whipped cream, a generous drizzle of chocolate syrup, and crushed peppermints.

Note- This is just a base recipe that can be played with to your own tastes and preferences.  It is meant to be personalized depending on how you like your latte!

Five on Friday

Friday, November 15, 2013

[via]

I'm sorry for the silence around here lately. Life hasn't really even been that busy, I've just been feeling drained and like I haven't had all that much to share. I know life has lots of peaks and valleys but I'm really hoping to feel like I'm back on top again soon. Anyway, I hope you are having a wonderful start to your weekend. Here's my list of five wonderful things I'm forever thankful for...

1. Music. Especially over this last week. There's just something so moving about hearing a song that perfectly fits the moment you are in. It's amazing when you really connect with the lyrics in a song whether it's old or new. Music is my escape. It has always helped me to cope with the tough stuff in life and has also been just as powerful in the good times. I am so thankful that we live in a world with music.

2. Little moments. Whether it's a smile from a stranger, a small act of kindness, or something as simple as a brilliant sunrise, I am learning to appreciate the little moments. They are often hard to notice in the choas of the day-to-day, but so worth it when we slow down to recognize them.

3. My health. At work, I am constantly surrounded by sick people, and more specifically the sick elderly. It's not often that I stop to think about how lucky I am to be young, healthy, and thriving and I really often take it for granted. I never realized how blessed I am to be able to go anywhere or do anything I want, free of disease or disability. There are so many folks who can't say the same. I pray that in some way, some day, I am able to give back to them through my work.

4. Second chances. I am thankful for those who know how to forgive and let go. We all make mistakes. It's never too late to make amends.

5. You. Whether you know me personally or have met me through some little corner of this large blogging world, thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for listening, thank you for supporting me no matter what. My heart is so full of joy knowing so many incredibly kind and beautiful people are out there taking time to hear what I have to say.

Book Review: Gone Girl

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book #7 - Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

[image source: Goodreads]

This may be hard to believe, but this is the very first mystery I have ever read. I'm not really sure how I've gone this long without picking one up, but it's true. It's not that I necessarily avoided them, I've just always wanted to read other things. But, I have to say, for my first one, this book was a great choice. I am officially hooked.

I didn't know what to expect when I checked it out of the library, but I knew a lot of people who had read it already and really liked it, so I was hoping I would hold the same opinion. From the moment I cracked the spine, I knew I was in for an adventure. It's one of those thrillers that completely consumes you and until you reach the last page, you won't want to put it down. 

I found it kind of difficult to review a book like this without giving too much away. So even though I can't comment on major details in the book (let's just say there are a lot of twists and turns), I can certainly tell you that I loved it and I plan to try a few more from Flynn.

Summary (source)
Marriage can be a real killer.

One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work "draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction." Gone Girl's toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife's head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media--as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents--the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter--but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn't do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

My Review
What I loved
1. I know I've said this a million times in a lot of my other reviews, but I really do love books that involve multiple points of view. I enjoy reading segments of the story from different characters and piecing together the big picture. This book does exactly that and the structure ended up being one of my favorite aspects. I loved how the story flipped back and forth between both Nick and Amy's accounts of their marriage allowing readers to try to sift through the details to find the truths for themselves.

2. It was the definition of a page-turner - especially after I reached the second half of the book. It took everything in my power not to flip to the end to see how things turned out. Although even if I had actually tried to cheat, I probably wouldn't have understood what was happening anyway since things got so turned around in the end.

3. It was just plain fun to read. It felt so good to be reading something that I didn't want to put down. That's all there is to it.

4. The fact that at any given moment, I didn't know whose character to trust or who the reigning "good guys" or "bad guys" were. Once you think you know, you'll soon find out that you really have no idea. Flynn does a wonderful job of making sure that all of the characters have pretty nasty flaws but also lots of heroic qualities, too, making it difficult to really spot the culprit.

What I didn't love
1. I was quite frankly a little unsatisfied with the ending. I can completely understand why it was left the way it was, but I guess I ended up so invested in the characters and the story that it actually left me a little frustrated. Which I guess is the point in and of itself. (This probably makes no sense if you haven't read the book so I apologize for that, but that just means you'll have to go check it out, huh?)

2. The first part was a little slow, I have to admit. There were only a few moments in the first half where Flynn would divulge little bits of information that kept me reading. If she hadn't done that, there's probably a good chance I would have put the book down entirely. Once you reach the second half, though, the story accelerates significantly keeping you hooked until the end.

3. This is more of an observation than a complaint but I feel like the author honestly must have one ridiculously twisted mind to be able to come up with a story such as this. I obviously will not go into much detail here so that I don't give anything away but after I finished reading, I think I literally sat there for a good five minutes with the book closed wondering how someone would be able to dream up such a wild, dark, and sick scenario.

Rating
4 out of 5 stars

Five on Friday

Friday, November 8, 2013

I have been a pretty crappy blogger this week. I had a lot planned for posting at the beginning of the week but somehow, life just got in the way. I find it's been doing that more and more lately.

Today has been a crazy day for me at work so I am going to keep this short and sweet with a few photos of some of the incredible fall foliage I've seen lately and my little list of thankful things. Have a beautiful weekend!


1. Mother nature. I am continually reminded of her beauty as we move from season to season and it's astonishing to me how often I can forget how lucky we are to live on a planet as incredible as this. Maybe I'm just noticing it more this year but I really feel like the leaves are a bit brighter than they have been for the last couple of years. Or maybe it's just that I'm finally slowing down enough to take a few moments to really soak it all in. Either way, I am thankful.

2. My husband. If it weren't for him, I don't know how I would have gotten through this week. It's been very hectic for me at work and coming home to him every night has been the highlight of each day. Even though we had a million and one things to accomplish around the house before the heater gets installed on Monday, he's been so flexible and allowed me to relax and blow off steam when I needed to.

3. My job. Despite the fact that things have been pretty chaotic recently, I am so grateful to have a job that I love. My boss, my co-workers, my trainees, and everyone that I come in contact on campus every day have truly made this a place that I love coming to every week. It feels so good to have such a great support system and to know that what I am doing is bigger than myself. Even though we may not see the outcome tomorrow, or next week, or even a year from now, the research that we are conducting will benefit so many people and I am so fortunate to be a part of this team.

4. Life's challenges. It would be so simple for me to sit here and complain about the stress that I've been under this week and the obstacles I know are ahead of me in the coming weeks but instead, I am choosing to see these challenges in a positive light. Without them, I would not have learned that I really am capable of handling big responsibilities. These challenges have taught me so much about myself and helped me to believe that I am a much stronger person than I had previously thought.

5. Hot showers and coffee. At the end of the day, when I've been beaten down and I don't think I can handle anything else, a hot shower and a cup of coffee just help me to get back to feeling human again. Plain and simple.

Punkin' Pickin'

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hey there! Hope you are having a wonderful Wednesday!

This was actually the post I had planned on publishing a couple of Fridays ago but somehow it disappeared when I went to do so. Strange as it is, I checked this morning and the post had returned! So, although Halloween is over and it's no longer October, I really hate to waste a perfectly good pumpkin post.

A few weekends ago, Mike and I ventured all the way out to Westminster to check out Baugher's Family Farm to pick us some punkins. Our original plan was to try to pick both apples and pumpkins but we changed our minds once we arrived for several reasons:

1. It was rainy and cold. When we got there, the skies were cloudy and it had started to drizzle. Mike and I had both forgotten our jackets and Mike had chosen to wear a t-shirt and shorts in 40 degree temperatures. Not his best move. I was worried that we would end up getting stuck out in one of the fields in a downpour and freeze to death, so we decided to nix the apple picking and just go for the pumpkins.

2. You have to pay. This is the first farm I've ever been to where you have to buy a ticket to even get to the pumpkin patch and apple orchard. At first I wasn't all that upset about it since it was only $1 per person but then I realized that we would have to buy two separate pairs of tickets - one for the pumpkin hay ride and one for the apple hay ride - and each of those had its own ridiculously long line.

3. It was crowded. I knew before going out there that this place was a big deal. They are a pretty large scale operation with a massive farm (over 600 acres), a market where they sell their fruits, vegetables, and just about every homemade item you can think of, a restaurant, bakery and more. I mean you can acutally go to the grocery store and find their products on the shelves - they are that big. So I knew it was bound to be busy, but looking back we should have planned to get there a lot earlier if we wanted to stand in line for both apple and pumpkin picking. We got there around 3:30PM and just managed to catch the last hayride to the pumpkin patch at 5:00PM. It was definitely a lot longer of a wait than I had expected.

Overall, I don't really have anything negative to say about Baugher's but I don't really have anything great to say either. It's a good place to go if you don't mind waiting in line for everything. They also have a ton of stuff for kids (face painting, moon bounce, petting zoo, play areas, etc.) which is nice, but if you don't have children, I honestly think a smaller farm might be better. We bought some of their apple cider that everyone raved about and it was definitely tasty. My only complaint would be their false advertising. The sign said "Hot apple cider" so I was expecting hot apple cider. What we got was more lukewarm apple cider. Not quite as comforting. I don't know, maybe the rain and the cold and the crowds dampened my mood, but I just wasn't really all that impressed with this place. Which is a bummer, but now we know for next year to stick a little closer to home.

The pumpkins that we ended up picking were huge! We were actually walking around the pumpkin patch trying to find smaller ones. We had a hard time getting ones that we could both carry back with us. In the end, Mike's pumpkin weighed almost 30 pounds and mine was about 22 pounds. Seriously. Those were the smallest we could find.

We took them over to my parents' house a few nights before Halloween and carved them. My mom had picked a pumpkin from our local Papa John's Farm (no relation to the pizza company) so they had one to carve too.
My favorite part of pumpkin carving every year is roasting the seeds with a little Old Bay. It's seriously the most delicious way to eat them. I'm pretty sure everyone from Maryland probably does this but seriously, it's so good.
I carved an owl into my pumpkin and it took me three times as long as everyone else spent on theirs. I always pick something more complicated than just a normal face. I may have learned my lesson this year.
Mike opted for a scary face and my dad carved a typical Jack-O-Lantern face that my mom designed.
I teased my mom saying that they always do the same face every year but then my mom pointed out that there was one year they did something different. They put a "grill" on their pumpkins teeth. Yes. It happened. Want proof?
Me posing with the pumpkin and his bling. Halloween 2010 

Only my parents.

Overall I think our pumpkins looked really nice on our front porch for Halloween.
I think even Carlisle liked them!

Breaking out the Baking Pans

Monday, November 4, 2013

Remember that time I shared the story about our crappy home inspector and our sudden need for a shiny new gas boiler? Yep, well, we have finally worked out all of the kinks and are on our way to installation day! Yay? Not so much.

While I am excited to be finally getting rid of the old, dangerous thing downstairs, the process hasn't been so easy.

First of all, our home inspectors denied that they had any responsibility for missing the holes in the pipes, the carbon monoxide leaks, the shoddy workmanship, or any part of the faulty system for that matter. Even though they didn't overlooked a huge problem that could have potentially killed us if we had turned on our heat, they are hiding behind the language in their report. They claim that because they told us the system was "dirty," they don't have to give us anything. Not a dime. They stated that it was our responsibility to have it inspected by a licensed professional before we purchased the home. Uhhh, news flash: THAT'S WHY WE HIRED YOU.

We also found out that had we actually purchased the home warranty at settlement, the damage to the boiler would have been considered a "pre-existing condition" and we wouldn't have gotten any money from that company either. No one seems to want to claim responsibility and I get that, but seriously, it's so frustrating to hear that all of these companies are blaming us for the issues.

Anyway, to make a long story short, no one is paying for anything. Well, except for us, that is. So, we had no choice but to move forward and take on the burden entirely. We interviewed several companies and fortunately found an option that works with our budget and will give us a totally new, efficient, and safe system.

So what does all of this have to do with baking?

[via]

Well, because we discovered this problem in the fall, when everyone decides to have their heaters replaced, we can't have the new system installed until November 11th. And that means, no heat for yet another week.

In the mean time, I've had to find creative ways to heat our home. It's been dropping into the low 30s here at night and I turn into an angry popsicle if the house temp gets below 60, so I've been doing everything I can to prevent that from happening.

Just about every night for the last two weeks I've been turning on the good old oven and baking up a storm to generate some heat. Muffins, pies, cookies - not to mention every single dinner that we've eaten - have all been baked. We may gain 30 pounds, but we will not be cold! I quickly learned this summer that our oven heats up the front end of our house pretty efficiently. Of course, at that time when it was 95 degrees outside, I wasn't so happy about it. But now, it has seriously been our saving grace. Every day I've been popping something in the oven just to provide a little extra warmth.

I also discovered a neat little trick that keeps the house warm long after I'm done baking. If I leave the door to the oven wide open, all the heat that was generated will slowly disperse throughout the house keeping things nice and toasty for much longer than if I was to keep it closed. Thankfully, we have a wall unit oven, so Carlisle can't even think about jumping inside, since it's way too high for his little kitten legs anyway.

Hope your November is off to a wonderful (and warm) start! Happy Monday!

My First Five on Friday

Friday, November 1, 2013

Belive it or not, I've never done a five on Friday like most bloggers do every week. So since today is the first day of November (I still can't wrap my head around how that happened - where did this year go?) I thought it might be nice to start participating, at least for this month.

Every year, when November rolls around, my brain is suddenly consumed with thoughts of Thanksgiving. For the last couple of years, though, Thanksgiving has started to mean a bit more to me than just turkey and stuffing. After meeting Mike, I quickly learned how big of a deal the holiday was to their family and how this time of year was more special to them than any other. For them, it has always been a time meant for tradition, for gathering the family together at his grandmother's house, working together, eating together, laughing together, praying together, and giving thanks together.
Every year, their family would come from all over the country to do projects on his grandmother's house and spend time with her and one another. There was always lots of work involved but somehow, there was still quite a bit of time for the fun stuff, too. Whether it was taking turns cooking meals for the family in Grammy's kitchen, playing scattergories with everyone sprawled out on the living room floor, pulling out the Christmas decorations and lighting up Grammy's old tree, or singing songs with Mike's cousins playing Grammy's favorites on the guitar and piano (her eyes closed, head bobbing along to the music), it was always kind of a magical time to me. What's even more special is that my family was always included in their traditions and it has meant so much to me how lovingly they opened their homes to us. 
This year, however, things will be different. And it breaks my heart a little to think about it. Now that Grammy has passed, we still intend to celebrate at least one last Thanksgiving in her home, as we all gather to say what I can only see as a goodbye to the property. There's a good chance we won't be celebrating there next year, with people going in all different directions and with the potential of the house being sold. It blows my mind at how quickly things change. We will still hopefully cook and sing and laugh and read Grumpsy's prayer as they always have, but I feel things will be a little dimmer this year.
So for this five on Friday and all the others for the month of November, I want to do things a little differently. As I reflect on the Thanksgivings of the past, I want to share how important it is to be grateful. It's so easy to take for granted what we have in front of us, right here in this moment, not realizing that without notice, our lives can change in an instant. Each day is such a gift.

Here are the five things I am so incredibly thankful for:
1. Our little lovebug of a kitten. Even though he still hasn't learned that our hands and arms aren't toys for biting, he has truly brought so much joy into our lives. The way he cuddles and snuggles close to our heads when he's sleepy, how he sprawls out on Mike's chest at bed time, the way he gets excited whenever one of us walks through the door, how he plays and runs and jumps, his curiousity, how he learns something new about life every day, how he talks to us all evening as if we really are having a conversation - these are all moments I treasure.  
2. Our family. They are so willing to help us at the drop of a hat with absolutely anything we need. Even if they really have nothing to give us, they still find something that helps. We never leave any one of their homes empty handed. The other night, my parents sent us home with leftovers from dinner, extra food for the week, candles, newspaper clippings Mom tore out when she thought of us, our souveniers from their vacation and several other things they thought we needed. Our families never stop giving of themselves and I’m so grateful that Mike and I come from such a wonderful self-less group of people.
3. Heated blankets. Yet another thing my parents gave us the other night. Since our heat is broken, this has seriously saved our lives.
4. The fact that we can afford to have heated blankets. And a roof over our heads. And food in our fridge. There are so many people around the world who will sleep in the cold tonight without these basic necessities and it's so important to remember them and help give what we can.  
5. People like this. My mom recently discovered this group at our local airport when she ran into one of her friends who was a volunteer. She told me about them and how she wanted to join in, and I think I will, too. Showing love and appreciation for our soldiers fighting abroad is definitely something I want to do more.