As the name of my blog indicates, I spend a lot of time thinking about home. Of course, my Heavenly Home is the one that is eternal, so that’s where I need to lay up my treasures, and that’s the one I’m striving for. But in the meantime, I have been given this tiny piece of the here-and-now—this nearly six-acre tract of land, this farmhouse, this domain—in which to serve Him. And, though this is in the earthly realm, I want the things that happen here to be investments in the Heavenly realm.


Monday, March 31, 2014

{Gathering the Moments} March




I have given March a name this year..."The Month of In Between."

We have been in those lingering days.

Days in which Winter lingered, Spring peeked, Winter returned, Spring tried again, and Winter did the same. Yes, it was the "in between" of seasons.

We have been "in between" as we await Kati's surgery. Days of waiting. Some good days when she feels like celebrating spring with Italian ice or spending a normal Sunday afternoon with family or shopping for summer sandals. Some bad days when she barely gets off the couch. 

During the "in between" days, we have eaten a lot of salad and grown tired of rice.

Kati has read a lot of books.

I have bought more flowers than I have ever bought in my life because we have needed beauty for the "in between."

We have lived with quiet longing for better days, but realizing that even the "in between" days are a gift. These days - these "in between" days of this particular March - will never come again.

(And truly, aren't all the days of our lives "in between" days, as we pass our time here as sojourners, preparing for eternity?)

So I gather the moments of this month with gratitude, and I see His hand.





Again with this month, I am inviting you to join me in "gathering the moments." You may wish to share two or three photos, or several collages, or bunches of photos...with words, or without words. The link-up below will be a gathering place for us to reflect and share and connect. (The link-up will stay open for a week, so you have plenty of time to gather.)




Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Slow Cooker Tuesday ~ Week 12 {Wedding Beef}


As long as this winter has seemed (it is snowing as I type...on this sixth day of spring!), somehow this recipe series has sped by, and suddenly it is Week 12 and time to wrap it up. (The series, not the winter. I am not in charge of that.)

I have decided to end the series with my hands down favorite slow cooker recipe ever. I have shared it before here on the blog, but I am going to post it again for any new readers as I don't want you to miss it. ~smile~ 

You're welcome. 

Here is the story behind the name...

One of my "go to" recipes is a crock pot meal that we know as Wedding Beef.  Whence the name?

When my son Ryan was engaged to my daughter-in-law Sarah, we were eating dinner together one evening, and discussing plans for the rehearsal dinner.  We were tossing about ideas for places to hold the dinner when Sarah suggested that I prepare the meal (yikes!), and that we serve it in the fellowship hall of the church where the wedding would be.  "What would we serve?" I wondered aloud, and Sarah said, "How about this?"  

"This" was the dish we were eating that night, a pulled beef recipe from the Fix It and Forget It crock pot cookbook.  And "this" was served at Ryan and Sarah's wedding rehearsal dinner, and will forevermore be known (to our family at least) as Wedding Beef.  

Not only have I served Wedding Beef at the rehearsal dinner, but it has appeared on Sunday afternoons, at extended family birthday celebrations, at weeknight meals, and at company dinners.  We serve it on big crusty rolls, and rarely have leftovers.  


Whenever we visit Ryan and Sarah, or when they visit us, this is the first meal we eat together. It has become a family favorite and full of special meaning and family memories! 

How fitting that we ate this meal tonight, on the eve of their ninth anniversary! 

~ Happy Anniversary, Ryan and Sarah! ~
...with much love







Ingredients:
  • 3-4-lb. chuck roast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 or 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary* (or 1 tablespoon chopped dried rosemary)
  • 1 cup water

Directions:
  1. Combine all ingredients in crock pot.
  2. Cover and cook on LOW 6-7 hours.**  
  3. Shred meat, using two forks.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

NOTES:
* I use whole sprigs of rosemary from my herb garden.  (Little grands who are often my guests don't like the bits of rosemary in the beef.  I put the whole sprigs in for that wonderful rosemary flavor, and then take out the sprigs and the littles are none the wiser.)

** I sometimes take a shortcut by cooking on HIGH for 3-4 hours, then turning down to LOW to keep it warm until serving time.  





Looking for a recipe from another week?
Week 2: Mexican Chicken
Week 3: Beef Ragu
Week 5: Cashew Chicken
Week 7: Crock Pot Chili

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Celebrate Spring" Game Night


When I told you that I was hosting a game party this weekend, some of you asked for details. This is that post. (If you're not interested in all the details, feel free to click away! My feelings won't be hurt! Remember, my response to requests for details usually leans toward TMI. ) 

Photo by Bekah


In early February, I had talked with a few friends about getting together to play games, but so many Friday nights were already filled for one or another of us that we looked ahead to March. 

I chose March 21, the first full day of spring, and decided to let SPRING be our theme. I went to PicMonkey to design a simple invitation and sent it out to my guests via a Facebook group message. I suppose that is a very "21st century" way of inviting. Do you prefer a traditional handwritten invitation, or does an e-invite suffice?

Of course, I did not even notice until this afternoon that I had a typo in the invite! "Diinner?" Really? Yikes! 





As the day of the party drew nearer, I got a wee bit nervous. One thing that I have learned about hospitality is that it is easier the more you do it...and it had been a while since I had hosted a party for anyone other than family. So I kept reminding myself of the things that I had written in my 31-day series on hospitality. Things like this...



We must open our homes, and our lives, not to impress, but to bless.  

If my intention is to impress, then I will fret over the menu and worry that I am not a fabulous cook.  

If my intention is to impress, then I won't be able to invite them over until I get new living room furniture or have my carpet cleaned or move into a bigger house or have a collection of matching dishes.  

If my intention is to impress, then I must wait until my schedule allows plenty of time to make my house perfectly clean and I must wait until my children are older and there are no messes.  


But if my purpose for hospitality is to bless...oh my, well that sheds some new light on it, doesn't it?  


If my intention is to bless, then I will be more concerned with making my guests feel welcome than with an appearance of perfection.  

If my intention is to bless, then why would I worry if my toddler spills his milk or there are a few toys in the kitchen floor?  

If my intention is to bless, then I will swallow my pride, ignore my worn furniture, and open my doors.

If my intention is to bless, then I will take the time to reach out, even in small ways, to make someone feel wanted and loved.

   

By the day of the party, I was in party mode, excited to spend the day preparing for my guests, and looking forward to an evening of fellowship!




Decorations were simple. (Almost.) Since "spring" was the theme, I sprang off the invite design and went with a green and pink color scheme. I've been on a tulip kick, so I purchased a bunch of variegated pink tulips for a table centerpiece. I put them in a large mason jar and the tied jar with some pink jute. 

photo by Bekah


I stole Kati's asked Kati if I could use her sweet little bird salt and pepper shakers for an extra spring touch on the table.

photo by Kati


I had planned to use some bright green paper napkins, but when we were setting the table, I kept feeling "pink." And then I decided that I needed to have some flowers to decorate the island (which is where we were placing the hors d'oeuvres), so Kati and I dashed off to the grocery store to make some last minute purchases. We quickly found some potted pink tulips for the island, but the store did not have any pink napkins. We went to two nearby pharmacies to hunt for pink napkins in their party goods departments. No luck. Home we came, resigned to use the green napkins. Then Bekah went to my linen cabinet and came out with a package of...yep, pink napkins.  Sheesh.

photo by Kati


photo by Bekah




One of  my challenges for this particular party was meeting a wide variety of dietary needs! "Indecision about the menu" is one of my recurring challenges to hospitality, but this one really had me stumped. I have Kati who is on a strictly fat-free regimen pre-surgery. Another guest is also pre-surgery and is totally changing her eating habits. Another gal is doing a month of Whole30, and another has already done the Whole30 and is eating very healthy and natural. 

Hospitality is all about blessing and serving others, so I set out to find a way to have beautiful and yummy food to serve that would also meet the varied dietary requirements. 

Appetizers. Since appetizers are optional, I used a little leeway here. I served baguette slices and the bacon jam that I had made earlier this week. We also had butterfly crackers and cream cheese and Red Onion, Lemon, and Caper Marmalade. If you're thinking that the marmalade sounds like an odd combination of flavors, let me assure you that the ladies raved about it more than the bacon jam! (Check out Potlicker Kitchen for an assortment of artisan jams and jellies.)


photo by Bekah


Main course. A salad bar! The perfect way to accomodate everyone! We set up a bowl of organic mixed greens and another of organic spinach. Then we had small bowls of salad fixin's. Tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli. Sliced red onion, mushrooms, chick peas, black olives. Carrots, red pepper, shredded Parmesan, crumbled feta. Fat-free and regular croutons, bacon bits, sunflower seeds. A variety of dressings. Everyone found goodies to fill their plates!

Dessert. Again, variety was the key. I made a pound cake (no diet food there). One of my friends brought a large bowl of beautiful sliced fruit. We had fresh whipped cream and fat-free Cool Whip. Each lady could choose to eat cake or fruit or both, with or without topping. 





Although the guests all know one another and keeping the conversation flowing is not an issue ~smile~, I decided to direct the conversation during dinner. I asked everyone to share something that they were looking forward to this spring. It was lots of fun to hear each lady's answer (gardening, new job, daughter's college graduation, running a half marathon, and so on). We all learned more about each other, and it was a good way to offer opportunity for the quieter guests to have the floor for a turn. 





After dinner, we had dessert and coffee or tea. (We decided that games could wait until after dessert. You know the saying, "Life is uncertain; eat dessert first.")

We played the same games that we played last year, Catch Phrase and Apples to Apples



photo by Kati




It was such an enjoyable evening! Every time we host a gathering, we wonder why we don't do it more often. 

Hospitality is worth overcoming all of the challenges.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Gran With a "G"


I had tucked a little pack of monogrammed note cards in with my granddaughter Eve's Christmas gift when her family visited in November. "Eve," I said, "if you'll write a note to me, I will write one back to you." 

Eve (6): Do you have one with your letter on it? 
Me: No, I don't. Maybe I'll have to get some cards with a "C" on them.  
Eve: No, you need cards with a "G" on them, because I call you "Gran." 

So I bought some "G" cards to use when I write to Eve. 



"Gran" is a great name.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Note Card Party: Spring Greetings


If you have visited here at Thinking About Home in the past few months, you already know that I am thoroughly enjoying the new kitchen island that my husband made this past autumn. We have used it for food prep, yes. But it has also been the landing place for several cheery bouquets as we have tired of winter's gray.

I have added some spring greetings to my island bouquets as I join in Vee's note card party this month.



















Do you have a blog?
Then you can join this month's party over at Vee's Haven!
Come on over...it's lots of fun!

(Click the button for details.)
A Haven for Vee


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Slow Cooker Tuesday ~ Week 11 {Slow Cooker Bacon Jam}


This winter, I have come out of the crock pot box! 

As part of my Slow Cooker Tuesday recipe series, I have used my slow cooker to make not only main dishes, but also a soup, a side dish, and desserts. It's been fun to try some different things. 

But I had never considered using the slow cooker to make an appetizer! Until this week. 

I am hosting a ladies' game night on Friday evening, so yesterday I put my slow cooker to work to get a jump start on the menu by making Slow Cooker Bacon Jam. (And it smelled sooo good while it was cooking!) Yes, that's out of the box, but it's a sweet, savory, barbeque-y kind of out of the box. 

On Friday, I'll toast some baguette slices, warm the jam to room temperature, and serve this slow cooker appetizer along with other hors d'oeuvres. (I'll let you know how the ladies like it!)






Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
2 medium yellow onions, diced
small 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 cup brewed coffee 

Directions:
  1. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. 
  2. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet (reserve for another use); add onions and garlic, and cook until onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. 
  3. Add vinegar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and coffee and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up browned bits from skillet with a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes. Add bacon and stir to combine.
  4. Transfer mixture to a 6-quart slow cooker and cook on high, uncovered, until liquid is syrupy, 3 1/2 to 4 hours. 
  5. Transfer to a food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped. 
  6. Let cool, then refrigerate in airtight containers, up to 4 weeks. 


Have you ever tried anything out of the crock pot box?






Looking for a recipe from another week?
Week 2: Mexican Chicken
Week 3: Beef Ragu
Week 5: Cashew Chicken
Week 7: Crock Pot Chili

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sunday Snapshots: Green (and a Recipe)


All day Saturday, Bekah said, "I can't wait for tomorrow." We would be back to our usual type of Sunday and her nieces/nephews/friends would be spending the afternoon with us after several atypical weekends. Actually, we were all looking forward to Sunday afternoon!

Yesterday, the theme was green! We are neither Catholic nor superstitious, but we had a little fun with the Irish part of our ancestry. 



Everyone wore green. There were green shirts, green dresses, green sweaters, green necklaces. (Okay, I was the one whose only green was a necklace. But then I am the only one who has no Irish heritage...)

We labeled our cups with leprechaun names Kati had assigned us for the day. There were cute names like "Clover McDoodles" and "Greenie O'Rainbow."  And there were some not-as-cute names like "Bunyon O'Tavern" and "Tater O'Bourbon." 

Of course, we had our annual corned beef and cabbage meal.

The wee folk were treated to leprechaun pickles! (We have some die hard pickle lovers in our family, so when I saw these little individual cups of mini pickles, I knew that they'd be a hit. We named them "leprechaun pickles" for the day.)

The finishing touch was grasshopper pie! Owen declared it "the best pie EVER" which means, of course, that this Gran will be making it again.


Just in case you'd like to make "the best pie EVER"...



Ingredients:
1 prepared chocolate crumb crust (I used an Oreo crust)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 8-oz packages cream cheese
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

16 drops green food coloring
16 chocolate-covered mint cookies
1 1/2 cups heavy cream 

 
Directions:
  1. Whip heavy cream until it forms soft peaks; set aside.
  2. Beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually beat in milk until smooth. Beat in food coloring.
  3. Crush cookies; stir into cream cheese mixture. Fold in whipped cream and spoon into prepared crust. 
  4. Cover and freeze overnight. Remove from freezer 30 minutes before serving. Garnish each slice with a chocolate-covered mint cookie or with additional whipped cream (optional).








Friday, March 14, 2014

A Weekend Chat With My Reader-Friends


One of the things that has surprised me the most over the 4.5 years that I have been blogging is the community that forms between bloggers. Bloggers (and the non-bloggers who read blogs!) are real people with real lives -- and real bonds form. There is fellowship and encouragement and the richness of ideas. We pray for one another. We care. 

Today, I'm going to continue the conversation with my reader-friends (the one that began in the comments section in ~this~ post) and try to answer some of your questions. Want to grab a cuppa?




A couple of you asked about the house photos. Photos of my house all spiffed up for the holidays are slated to appear in a 2015 holiday book by Judy Condon (author of the Simply Country book series). Further details are in ~this~ post (lots of details, including the story of the chandelier fire...yikes!). I am still amazed. 



Those flour and sugar canisters. You guys are quite observant! ~big smile~

As soon as I downloaded the photos of the pot of yellow tulips, I noticed that the canisters were empty. But sunny days have been few and far between lately, so I was not about to wait for another sunny day to retake those photos. We haven't been doing a lot of baking in these past weeks as my resident baker has been under the weather (and on a strict non-fat diet), but empty canisters just don't look very homey, so they are now refilled.



Is "commenter" a word, Sharon D? My auto spell check doesn't think so, as I always have those red squiggly lines under that word when I type it. Merriam-Webster online dictionary doesn't consider it a word either. But Oxford Dictionaries does, so I'm going with that. A commenter is "one who comments," right? It should be a word. (What do you all think?)



I didn't tell Ron of my doubts about the pot rack until after it was hung. I agree with Vee totally. Such a gift should be honored, and it is. I also agree with you commenters who think that I am fortunate to have a husband with woodworking talents. I am! And I loved reading all of your pot rack stories!



The bedroom sitting area is a work in progress. The television is installed now, but the blu-ray player that we bought so that we could stream Netflix movies is one that is not equipped with internet connection. (We assumed that all blu-ray players had that capability, and we disposed of the packaging before we realized.) We'll still use it to watch movies that we already own, but we don't have the options we had hoped for.

As for the room itself, we have plans to paint it when Ron is on vacation in April. I am on the lookout for a new bedside table that can double as a desk. I'd also like to find an armoire (cheap!), so that I can streamline our space. The dresser that we have takes up a lot of horizontal space, and we think we can have just as much usable space by going vertical. I am stalking Craigslist for the right thing at the right price.

This is the photo that my friend Frances took of our bedroom in December. (She made it look better than real life!) I'll post another picture when we've made some progress, but I hope you're not in a hurry. It could be a long time before I get things the way I want them.

Photo by Frances


Lastly, I want to let my non-blogging friends know that they can always email me by clicking on my profile and clicking the email link on the left side of the page. I'd love to chat! 


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Pot Rack




Martha Ellen apparently has a keen eye for detail! When I posted the above photo as part of the Photo-a-Day challenge, she observed in the comments, "I don't think I've seen your pot rack. Did your husband make it?"

Yes, Martha Ellen, Ron did make the new pot rack! I'll tell you the long-but-brief story.




The "long" part is the fact that years ago I clipped an inspiration photo of an old ladder used as a pot rack from a Country Home magazine. I showed Ron and then tucked it aside. Every now and then, I'd come across that photo and mention it again. (Now I can't find that photo, so I can't show it to you.)




The "brief" part is that Ron took a notion to make his own "old" ladder this past fall. He measured and sketched and he made it in no time. 

But...eek! After talking about a pot rack for years, now that I actually had one, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it! What a fickle woman I am.  



As I have told you, we had a crazy, challenging autumn and holiday season, and the last thing I wanted was something new that I had to decorate and tweak. As you recall, I was also preparing (in the midst of the hubbub) for a house photo shoot, and I didn't want to add another focal piece. What if it didn't look good? What in the world would I hang on it? I tend to use trial and error and thinking and tweaking when I decorate, so I didn't want to have to work with something new before the house photos. So I convinced Ron that I needed to wait until the first of the year to hang it (without telling him that I wasn't even sure I was going to like it!). 



Now that it's here, I love it! It doesn't dominate the space as I feared it would. I think it compliments the new island rather than detract from it. 

I still haven't settled on exactly what to hang on it. So far, the pot rack doesn't have a single pot! I like the convenience of the colander hanging within easy reach. But I'm still tweaking, and that's okay now. I feel like I have the mental energy to tweak. (And no "permanent" house photos hanging over my head. Literally.) I have visions of holiday decorating too. There are all sorts of possibilities!




So there's the long and short story of my new pot rack.

Is your house always changing? Are you always tweaking things like I am? Do you think that decorating is ever "done"? 
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