Tag Archives: faith

Catching Up

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Nathan’s 2014 Calendar – I love these calendars the kids make at school and will be so sad when the year comes that they are all too big to make them anymore.

I’d say it’s about time we do a little catching up.

No, I have not given up blogging.

No, I was not kidnapped by Aliens.

No, I did not move to the south of France to hide away from the world. Although some days, that is still on the table.

We have had a pretty challenging couple of months with some big losses in our family and my heart has been processing it all. Throw in a couple big holidays and a birthday and this unprepared lady just had no time to write or visit my favorite blogs.

I’ve missed you guys.

In early November, we received a call that my father-in-law, who had been battling cancer for last 10 years, was being moved to Hospice care with only a few days to a week before it would be his time. My husband immediately hopped on a plane to be by his dad’s side. Proving that he is absolutely the toughest guy I know, dad fought to live for another three weeks. I am so thankful my husband was able to spend most of that time by his dad’s side. After dad’s passing, our whole family flew out to say goodbye to grandpa. Well, goodbye for now anyway. We know he’s saving us a place at the best fishing hole around.

We stayed with our family in Indiana for a bittersweet but very blessed Thanksgiving.

While in Indiana, we were also able to squeeze in a trip to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis…

Sara was off with her cousins so I only have boy pictures and boy did they have a great time! True to their nature, David loved the history and “fact” finding opportunities and Nathan was all hands on energy. We only lost him once. He knew where we were and was evading. Nearly every gray hair I have is his doing. Nearly. They aren’t all his fault but I’m still sending him the cumulative salon bill someday anyway.

It was hard to leave grandma Judy and the family, the big blue Victorian house, the crisp fall air, the falling leaves, the warm fire and the quiet time.

We love you grandpa and we will miss you everyday. Until we meet again.

After getting home from Indiana, there was not a moment to waste getting ready for Christmas. Christmas cards and letters, decorating, shopping, baking, teacher, neighbor and co-worker gifts, brunch, parties and even a Women’s Ministry event thrown in for good measure! Thankfully, my trusty staff was on hand to help – see picture below., way below.

Oh, and a Birthday to celebrate too!

Happy Birthday, Sara!! One year from now,  we’ll have a teenager. Actually, less than a year from NOW.  Gulp.

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We try very hard to keep her birthday separate from Christmas and just celebrate her. With all that had gone on and all of the “Christmas catch-up” I had to do, Sara was very gracious about having a simple, low-key celebration this year. Low-key was officially supposed to come next year as the last of the “big” parties is sixth grade; says the parental management team. With the exception of Sweet 16 of course.

Instead of a big party, we decided it would be just as much fun to take her and as many friends as I could safely fit in the van to Jump Street where they could trampoline themselves to their hearts content.

Fun. Did I say fun? Oh my will I have to tell you all about it some time. For now, I will just let you imagine a half an hour in a car with six 11-12 year old girls, too many cell phones, too much perfume, lip-gloss and nail polish (all of which were opened, sprayed, dripped and gooped in my car at least once) and far too many pre-teen hormones. They are fun in groups of three or less. Anymore than that and a pack mentality seems to set in. A half an hour EACH WAY. Did I mention that.

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We do have a special birthday tradition just for her that we never miss. Every year, on her birthday, we take her out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and give her all of her gifts from the family. It is always a special evening and she loves it.  This year’s coveted birthday items – crazy knee socks, floral combat boots and anything with a moustache print on it.

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Nope, I wasn’t kidding. Don’t ask me?? If it is safe, appropriate and makes her happy, I don’t question.

One day soon, I will do a series of posts on some of the kids’ past parties. We’ve had some fun ones! For now you can check out the two I have posted; David’s Duck Dynasty Bash and Nathan’s Despicable Me Party.

In other news, Noodles the Elf on the Shelf was back for the Christmas Season so there was much Elf Management to be done …

The Elf Management team wasn’t quite as creative as last year but we got the job done. Mostly. When you have a six year old who misses nothing and wakes up instantly hyper-focused on a mission to find the elf, it can be complicated if the elf has not in fact been moved because management was dragging into bed at 1am and … gasp … forgot. “Oh, no someone must have touched the elf” came in handy more than once.

And then, all too soon, it was Christmas …

I love Christmas. Everything about it. Next year, my goal is to have posts ready ahead of time so I don’t miss sharing this wonderful season with my blogging friends. Unless you are prepared in advance, It is just too hard to write and keep up with all of the “busy” while desperately trying maintain focus on what truly matters. Lesson learned.

Desperately busy. Which leads me to December 26th and hibernation. I am an extrovert who becomes an introvert for about two weeks a year; December 26th until the day the kids go back to school.  I’m done. Finished. Spent. Turtle in her introverted shell. I may stay in my PJs all day. I may watch movies with the kids all day. In my PJs. ALL DAY. For many days.

Needless to say, I am not a New Year’s party girl. Well, I’m not really a party girl at all (anymore – for any of my college friends who might be reading) unless it is a dinner party or a birthday party or there’s cake. You know what I mean.

New Year’s Day consisted of bike riding and a picnic out back oh, and we did share the week with one very special and adorable house guest “Buster” or “Sassy McNoodle” as we like to call him.

And New Year’s Eve?

Nathan-Chillin'

Well this is about as exciting as it gets around here folks! H.I.B.E.R.N.A.T.I.O.N. Only one kid made it to midnight. I’ll give you one guess. Yup. The youngest. Party animal – just look at that face.

JanuaryAnd so, here it is the middle of January and sadly, 2014 has not had an easy start. We just returned from Oklahoma after saying goodbye to Gary’s incredible cousin Mike who passed away just after the New Year. I will tell you about Mike sometime as I will tell you about dad. For now, I will just share this from a card that was sent to us by Gary’s uncle Chuck after dad’s passing …

My prayer for you is a little light in the midst of this darkness. “We will never be the same as we were before this loss, but are ever so much better for having had something so great to lose.” – Leigh

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Indeed we are. And we are grateful to the God who loves and sustains us and we praise Him in all things. We trust in Him an look to Him for comfort even when we can’t find understanding.

Boomer-Sooner!

This one’s for you cousin Mike – Boomer Sooner!

Yes, it has been a difficult and busy few months for our family but we are moving forward and I am so glad you and I are finally catching up. Thank you for hanging in there with me and for your readership and friendship. A special welcome to the new visitors who have stopped by and the readers who have so graciously followed Welcome Company. I have a long list of recipes, ideas, plans for the Hacienda, stories to share and adventures to come.

I am looking forward to all that 2014 will bring.

I hope each and everyone of you had a wonderful holiday and got some time of your own to “hibernate” with those you love most. May 2014 be a year of blessing, adventure, friendship, family and fun. And may we be thankful to the God who loves us in all that may come.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

Blessings my friends!

 

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The MVMT Dinner – It’s a Wrap

Today I am wrapping up my series of posts on the MVMT Dinner, an Art Deco themed event I coordinated in July.

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But before I write another word, I must thank my hardworking and dedicated staff …

Good-Helpers

David filled about 150 votive candle holders with decorative black sand. Nathan was quality control and tested every votive candle, passing it down the assembly line to his brother only when he was certain it was in perfect working order.

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Two scoops each x 150. No more. No less.

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My mom ironed and ironed and ironed.

Two-Helpers

David and Sara came along to help me set up. I don’t think they even snuck many of the gelato bar toppings. Well maybe just a few.

They are small but they aren’t unionized and you can pay them in gummy bears. They helped a lot and I couldn’t have pulled it off without them; especially my mom who does not accept payment in gummy bears.

The pre-dinner reception was held in the foyer of the church’s worship center. It was a great place to mingle and chat and share in some wonderful hors d’oeuvres.

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The crudité tower was beautiful and had a nice assortment of fresh vegetables and cheeses along with olives, marinated mushrooms and crunchy chilled grapes. Served alongside was a delicious hummus with crackers and pita wedges.

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I love the presentation.

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We also included one passed hors d’oeuvre.

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A unique savory cone filled with a Thai basil goat cheese, topped with a wasabi pea.

The filling was delicious!

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We were off to a good start.

I love all of the behind the scenes action …

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The pre-dinner reception was great. Unfortunately, the dinner itself was not what I had hoped.

The caterer we used is very good and came highly recommended. They had fantastic customer service and accepted our job short notice. They accommodated several changes and adapted to a last minute final head count. I also have to say that on the night of the event, the wait staff was fantastic!

That being said, there were a few lessons learned and things I would do differently. Hopefully I can pass along my missteps and save a reader or two any catering regrets …

Think everything through and don’t assume the details will be covered.

The crudité tower had marinated mushrooms on it that were awkward to select with your fingers. The tower should have had small serving tongs. Alas, I had to go and find a few plastic spoons. Luckily, I had purchased disposable plates and napkins for the hors d’oeuvre table, just in case, or there would have been none.

Be certain of what you are getting and don’t assume anything.

I did not have enough time to arrange a pre-menu selection tasting. Knowing that, I should have asked more questions and assumed less as the dinner itself turned out not to be at all what I was expecting.

The picture in my head of beautiful Tuscan roasted vegetables alongside a savory citrus roasted chicken breast artfully placed on a bed of orzo was not what was set before me. The vegetables were finely diced and mixed in with the orzo making them virtually undetectable. The chicken was a baked chicken breast and while it was tender and the flavor was good, I was very disappointed at the missing beautifully browned crispy skin that the term “roasted” led me to assume. In fact, there was no color on the plate at all. The veggies disappeared into the pale orzo along side an equally pale chicken breast.

When I shared my disappointment with a friend, she said “oh, the vegetables were in the orzo, I thought they just forgot them” – can you hear my breath drawing in? Not the reaction to dinner I was hoping for.

Follow your instinct and don’t be talked into something that doesn’t feel right. Oh how that applies to soooo many things in life.

The missing spoons. The missing spoons that haunt my dreams. I let the catering representative I worked with talk me out of spoons. She said they really aren’t really necessary. She said they are often left off. She said they cost more. It is amazing how much each piece of tableware adds to the overall cost (I think I need to go into the party rental business). I nixed the spoons. I didn’t want to but I did and in the end, the tables just didn’t look complete. They looked like somebody forgot the spoons.

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I know it sounds picky and no, it was not an epic world crisis but I was raised knowing how to properly set a table. Ask anyone who knows me, it is kind of “my thing”.  For all of the planning and effort it takes to pull an event together, you don’t want a small detail to negatively impact the finished product.

Bottom line, don’t omit the spoons.

Set a complete table and negotiate a better price for it. Also, the salad forks were so small I felt like I was eating from an oyster fork but we have spent enough time on flatware and negativity.

The Lesson … Ask. Ask. Ask. Verify. Verify. Verify. Until you are satisfied with every detail and know that you are getting what you expect.

I really hate not being able to give the caterer a glowing review. They were lovely to work with and really did go above and beyond for us in many ways. But in the end, the devil is in the details as they say.

On a far more positive note, I have to share with you one of the highlights of the evening.

Perry the Coffee Guy.

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Okay, he’s not really the “coffee guy” – he owns The Coffee Chop. I found him through an online search for a mobile coffee barista and read some really great articles about him.

As this was not an event suitable for the standard “cocktail hour”, we decided instead to have a  coffee bar. It was a great decision. Perry did a fantastic job, coming fully stocked with Italian sodas and a complete espresso bar. Let me tell you, he was a big hit. He was busy all evening and was very sweet and personable. He even sent me an e-mail a few days later complimenting me on the event and letting me know how welcome he felt and how much fun he had. Classy guy and a skilled Barista. I highly, highly recommend him if you are planning an event in the Phoenix area. His website is http://thecoffeechop.com but I have had trouble linking to it and am hoping it will work in the future.

So that is it for the MVMT Dinner. But the MVMT at Mission Community Church has only just begun and was launched this past Sunday to the congregation.

I was so blessed to work on this event and truly loved every minute of it. Thanks for indulging me and letting me share it with you. In the end, the MVMT Dinner wasn’t about the food or missing spoons or fancy hors d’oeuvres. It was about coming together in fellowship to celebrate all that God has blessed us with as we trust Him and take the next step He has for us as a church.

I would love for you to see what the MVMT is all about and why it is such a blessing to be part of a community of Christ followers who truly seek to be His “Hands and Feet” in every way.

Do Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. Mica 6:8

MVMT.org

 

Bringing the Beach to Arizona and the Women of Mission

I know that this is a long post but we have some catching up to do. You may have noticed that there has been little more than the chirping of crickets happening here at Welcome Company lately.

If you did notice, thank you!

I appreciate you stopping by and visiting and I’m sorry the hospitality has been a bit lacking. I promise to make it up to you and that I do have a good reason, actually a couple of good reasons, that I am so excited to share with you.

I told you a while back that I was asked to step into the role of Event Coordinator for the Women’s Ministry of our church. I shared with you one of the first events I did for our Summer Spiritual Growth Speaking series; A Very Vintage Event – there were actually four evenings in the series but I didn’t bring my camera to the first two (I know, lesson learned) and had to leave town unexpectedly just before the last when my sweet Uncle passed away. A shout out to my friend Shally who covered for me and got everything set up beautifully; no one even knew I was gone.

But I did get to share one with you and I am thankful for that as it was such an incredible evening.

I have been very occupied with events this past month as Women’s Ministry just had one of our biggest this past Thursday evening. We call it the KNOW Event.  Our church is experiencing a phenomenal amount of growth and the KNOW event is geared toward welcoming new women into our ministry and getting them in the “KNOW” and plugged in where they can best serve and be served. We have a KNOW event twice a year and also love to welcome back women who have been with us previously and are interested in finding out what will be going on in Women’s Ministry, details about the Fall Retreat and what bible studies will be offered.

When I began thinking and praying about the KNOW event, I felt God leading me to consider in particular the new women we would be welcoming; whether brand new to our church or new to women’s ministry. We are a big church. And while we are a welcoming big church that truly feels like a small one, there are a lot of people and that can be intimidating for many.

And the honest truth is, women are often intimidating to other women.

Each of us comes with our own story, our own set of hurts, past experiences, uncertainties and hopes and it is hard to walk into a room full of other women for the very first time with all of that dragging behind us. Maybe even walking in knowing not another soul, setting aside our apprehension to find where we belong. Hoping we will be welcomed. Hoping we will fit in.

My job description as I see it is simple; make each woman feel welcomed and at home. That idea is paramount to menus, design and activities but I am thankful to have a God who can work through such things to create a welcoming atmosphere for all.

God is in the details. He cares about every detail and desires for us to seek Him even in what we might consider trivial.

I felt that, I felt Him very close to me, in the planning of this event; in the mindful desire to create a welcoming, relaxed and peaceful gathering for every woman who would walk through our doors; whether for the first time or the five-hundredth.

Welcoming. Relaxed. Peaceful.

The beach. He keeps bringing me back to the beach.

Of course. After all, what is more relaxing and peaceful than the beach?

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When I think of the beach, I go east coast. I don’t know why. Maybe it is the idyllic setting in my mind as I have never been east of Tennessee (and I have only been that far east once). But when I think of the beach, I think of cozy cottages on Cape Cod, the charm of Nantucket and strolling the quaint streets of East Hampton (well, that one I’m sure is because my girl Ina lives there).

These might be romanticized notions but regardless they are what come to mind when I think of the beach and I just want to dig my toes in the warm sand and listen to the gentle waves lapping the shore line with a big glass of iced tea, a flavorful picnic basket and a few girlfriends to share it all with.

Welcoming. Relaxed. Peaceful.

So last Thursday, the beach came to Arizona and to the 250  women who came to spend the evening with us. I would love to share with you how it all came together.

The Mission Women’s Ministry KNOW Event, Fall 2013

Mission-Women-KNOWYes, it is only August but here in Arizona, some of our kids have already started back to school and the rest begin in the next few days (Hallelujah Chorus) so we call it Fall. Part of the inspiration for the beach theme was to pay one last little homage to summer.

The first thing about pulling a big event together is to be mindful of the budget. Believe it or not, I love the challenge of this. Half the fun of pulling it all together is to see just how far God can take a shoestring. I also firmly believe that if He has given me the ability and the means to do something, I absolutely cannot pay someone else to do it – this gets me into trouble sometimes, in the form of sleep deprivation, but generally works out for me.

He has given me the ability to sew a pretty good straight line (just don’t ask me to make an item of clothing) so I made my own table cloths and runners, which add so much but are just not in the budget for each new event. The standard tablecloths provided by the church are black which is a good basic look but not very beachy.

I am now about to let you in on a little budget friendly decorating secret, perhaps one of my all-time favorite … painters canvas.

Painters canvas. You know the drop cloths you find at Home Depot? Well, they make GREAT tablecloths – especially for rectangular folding tables.

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I cut a “big” one into thirds, hemmed the unfinished edges and it covered three 6’x2′ rectangular tables perfectly. The “hallway runners” work GREAT as well.

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I found this gorgeous light blue and cream chevron fabric (I am all about the chevrons right now) at Hobby Lobby and made a 12 foot runner for the buffet table.

With budget ever in mind, I made my way up the steep ladder (I’m not exaggerating, I feel like GI Joe every time I climb up there) into the overhead storage room to see what Women’s Ministry already had in storage. Twenty-three hurricanes, six glass bowls and a whole lot of LED candles came in handy for the centerpieces.

I bought the sand, shells and seaside potpourri at Michaels and the blue table runners from Target. They are a heavy but soft paper that comes in a roll and can be cut to whatever size you need. Blue mason jars (be still my heart) and an assortment of pretty white flowers from the grocery store completed our beach themed centerpieces. The potpourri had a lovely light scent that added a nice touch.

Remember that budget I talked about? Well, I usually end up happily contributing a little on my own. It is a blessing to do so and what girl doesn’t need 36 fabulous blue mason jars? Oh, I will find something to do with them.

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The buffet table centerpieces came from Costco and I added in blue hydrangea that I just couldn’t pass up.

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I don’t always use flower bouquets as a centerpiece. This time I put two arrangements offset from my centerpiece which was an aged blue lantern, white vase with beach grasses, sea glass bottles, shells and white starfish.

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Flowers are a must but don’t always need to be used as a focal point. It is fun to create a scene or vignette that fits your theme.

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These flowers played a secondary role but were still show stoppers! I love mixed bouquets and I particularly love all white flowers with just a touch of green and in this case pale blue. You can’t go wrong with a monochromatic bouquet.

With the table centerpieces in place, a zillion LED candles turned on and the buffet table ready to go (thanks to LOTS of helping hands) all that was left was to welcome in the women we are so privileged to serve.

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Sweet Shally greeting women as they came through the doors. She is also a girl who can work wonders with a sewing machine. She doesn’t know it yet but I’m going to have to do a post one of these days on the incredible things she can do with a plain old t-shirt. Be watching for that one!

But wait, I nearly forgot to tell you about the food. That is so unlike me. Here’s the spread …

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Picnic sandwiches, fruit – green grapes, strawberries and blueberries, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese cubes, brownies, toffee hazelnut cookies, Pirouettes, chocolate wafer cookies, chocolate chip mini-cupcakes and lemonade.

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I love to serve berries in “picking” baskets with a simple white napkin (I line the inside with waxed or parchment paper). They are casual but still beautiful presented and it saves a little room on the table.

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My 11-year-old daughter frosted the cupcakes for me and meticulously placed every single chocolate chip by hand. No kidding. I could have corrected her and told her just to sprinkle them on but she was happy and didn’t seem to mind so I let her do it her way. I love how they turned out because I know that while they aren’t perfect they were made with a lot of love and care. You can’t ask for more. I’ll share the recipe with you later this week.

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Even for an event that is later in the evening, centered more around dessert, I think it is important to offer something savory. Many women came straight from work and I wanted there to be just a little something hearty. These Herbed Goat Cheese Tea Sandwiches did the trick. I’ll share these with you soon too – let me just tell you that I could eat the filling by the spoonful but try to be a lady and slather it all over a low carb pita instead.

So that was our day at the beach, or evening anyway. It was an absolute pleasure to pull this event together and to be blessed by a room filled with women who have a heart for Jesus and a desire for fellowship. It was a relaxed, peaceful and happy evening and I hope all felt welcome.

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Erin and Jodi; two incredibly special women I am so thankful to serve with and would gladly spend a day at the beach with. Maybe Ina will join us and bring cookies.

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Thanks to everyone who helped me so much (you know who you are) and especially to my friend and events team helper Linda and her daughter Kimberly (I need to get a picture of those girls) who I would be completely lost without.

Thanks for visiting. I pray you have a special group of gals (maybe even 250 of them) that you could spend a day at the beach with – remember the beach is where you find it, it’s the company that truly matters!

We who had sweet fellowship together, Walked in the house of God in the throng. Psalm 55:14

If you are nervous about reaching out or joining a women’s ministry group, pray and ask God for his guidance and peace and know that there are women who are genuinely waiting to welcome you.

If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Philippians 2:1-2

If you are in the Mesa/Gilbert area of Arizona, come and visit us at Mission Community Church or e-mail me at welcomecompany@cox.net for more information about our Women’s Ministry.

So, I told you there were two reasons for the crickets. Here’s the second …

MVMT-Dinner-3A staff/board dinner for 175. Two evenings before the KNOW event. Another beautiful evening I can’t wait to tell you all about. But for now, I’m going to find a beach somewhere and take a nap.

Blessings!

A Very Vintage Event

Before I write another word, I first have to express a very heartfelt thank you for all of the kind words, wishes, support and prayers we received after sharing Nathan’s autism diagnoses. God never leaves us alone in our journey and it is beautiful to be reminded of that. Nathan is very blessed and loved, as are we. Thank you!

Nathan-1I had to put this in because its just so darn cute! Do you ever wish you could have just one more moment with your “baby”? I love my big kid but every now and again I just really miss that baby; soft hair, chubby hands, quiet rocking, sweet snuggles … sigh.

Tangent alert. Sorry,

I know I haven’t been writing as much lately but I’ve been reminded of something recently … summers are busy.

Really busy.

Yes, there is a season to everything and summer, with all three kids at home going in three different directions, just isn’t writing season.

It isn’t just the kids that are busy though, I have also gotten busier but in a really fantastic way and I am excited to tell you about it.

A few months back I was asked by the head of our church’s Women’s Ministry to take over the events team. We are blessed to have a large church and thriving women’s ministry with many activities and events. Needless to say, it is a pretty big job. But it is also an incredible opportunity to serve the women of our church and I must say that I was very humbled and honored when Jodi asked if I would consider it. Women’s ministry has always been where my heart is and has always been where I have served. With three young kids and our focus on their needs and special needs, I have had to serve on a smaller scale but as I said before, to all things there is a season. Nathan will be starting Kindergarten this year and my plate won’t be quite as full.

God’s timing is perfect. I love that about Him.

So, after consideration and prayer, I happily accepted the job and immediately jumped into the first event or series of events as it were – the Spiritual Growth Summer Speaking Series.

My role for this four week event is food and hospitality … hard to imagine, right? My goal each week is to match the hospitality table, food and design with the personality of each speaker as I know three of the four speakers personally. I know I was lead in this direction as it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the very distinct style and unique gifting of each of these women. To consider what each has brought into my life and to pray over each of them as I plan and prepare. What a blessing it has been for me. What a blessing each of these women is to me.

The first week, my friend Christina spoke on living outside of yourself, outside of your comfort zone, truly giving God every part of you. She was so inspirational and is currently spending two weeks in Africa living her words. She is a blogger and mama to six and has gone to Africa with our missions team to chronicle the team’s work and the experience. I encourage you to visit her at The Lang Gang Loves and read about the incredible things God is doing in Malawi and in the hearts of all who are blessed to serve there.

The second week, Christina’s mom Candace was our speaker. I have had the pleasure and privilege of sharing bible study with this amazing woman of God. She is truly a Titus 2 woman and I have been deeply blessed by her nurturing and teaching heart. Her beautiful message of forgiveness and the freedom that comes with it was one so many of us needed to hear.

Last night, my sweet, sweet friend Kristin spoke on knowing and sharing Jesus Christ. This is a gifted and anointed woman who delivers a powerful message. Wow! I am still thinking on her words this morning.

So, three weeks into the events and it only took me two weeks and two events to realize that it might be nice to bring my camera along and share a bit of my new adventure in event planning here on my blog. I wish I could share the first two evenings with you but better late than never, right? So I’ll start with Kristin and last night’s event.

Kristin loves all things vintage, eclectic, shabby chic. I love those things too and was very excited to pull out some of my antique service pieces and my grandmother’s linens and lace.

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For the flowers, I filled jelly jars with Kristin’s favorite hydrangeas (sorry, I said hibiscus pre-edit), pink tipped white roses (which look very old-fashioned to me), small white mums, and sprays of little purple filler flowers. A larger bouquet of the roses complemented the smaller bouquets.

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I love fresh flowers and I love mixed bouquets.

A person’s favorite flower truly says so much about them.

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I decided to do “old-fashioned” treats and decided on a menu of Red Velvet and Coconut mini-cupcakes, my grandmother’s banana bread and pecan bars served alongside a refreshing platter of watermelon and blueberries and gorgeous bowls of juicy ripe strawberries.

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Watermelon-&-Blueberries

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The small seedless watermelons are great sliced in easy to hold wedges and present beautifully surrounding a mound of sweet fresh blueberries.

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Lace. Lace. Lace. I love handmade lace and am so thankful to have the ivory tatted lace from my grandmothers and great-grandmothers. It is so beautiful atop a white table-cloth.

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Or a black one.

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You can’t go wrong with a simple bowl of  fresh in-season strawberries. I knew there was a reason I couldn’t pass up that soup tureen with the missing lid on my last trip through my favorite antique store.

And now for the baked goods. I can’t eat them but I sure do love making them! I mentioned before that I wanted to serve old-fashioned treats so here’s what I came up with …

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Barefoot Contessa’s Pecan Bars

I make these every Christmas and can’t begin to describe to you how incredibly delicious they are. If I were going to fall off the gluten-free/sugar-free wagon with reckless abandon, I would fall into this plate of Pecan Bars. The honey and orange zest and rich shortbread crust are what make them so special.

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As you may have read before, I love Ina (the Barefoot Contessa) and use her recipes all the time. They always come out perfectly and are certain to be crowd pleasers. Here I made her Red Velvet and Coconut cupcakes in mini-version.

And I made a lot of them.

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I also made my grandmother’s banana bread. It doesn’t get any more old-fashioned than that and you can’t go wrong with her recipes either!

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I didn’t make it into the tea sandwiches this time as I had quite a bit of frosting and richness on the table already. The simple fingers of moist delicious banana bread were perfect just as they were.

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And there you have it, a Very Vintage Event. It was a blessed and wonderful evening. I am looking forward to sharing more “events” with you but for now, I need to get going as we are having a big event at the Hacienda and I’ve got to get busy.

I told you that my boy turned nine a few weeks back, well his party is tomorrow and we’ll be gettin’ our “redneck” on with a Duck Dynasty bash. It’s gonna’ be a party, Jack!

Only in my world do we go from vintage elegance to Duck Dynasty in the same week!

In Real Life, There is Autism

I know, I promised you food this week. I’m sorry. I also had wanted to share a little bit more about the Trim Healthy Mama (THM) plan that has been such a gift in my life and has changed my eating and health so dramatically in the past month. But each time I sat down to write the easy stuff, God reminds me that there is something more important.

He does that to me a lot.

I pray for the words and He steers me in a direction that I don’t always want to go. Stubbornly, I fight to go my own way and write what I want, what is easier, and ultimately find that I can’t write another word until I have surrendered and written what He has for me.

He has given me the love blogging and storytelling because He has a story He wants me to tell.

It is a joy and a pleasure to write about daily life around the Hacienda, to share good food and recipes and to connect with other bloggers and readers. It has never felt strange or wrong for me to put my family and my life “out there”. I felt such a leading to do so when I started this blog that I had no fear or hesitation.

After all, how can you write a blog about good company and creating community from behind a closed-door?

I trust God with our story. With the sharing of it and with the direction He takes it.

And while I struggle with it sometimes, I know that sharing our story means sharing more than just the fun stuff, or the yummy stuff, or the easy stuff. It means sharing the real stuff too.

Real life.

And in real life, there is Autism.

This past week, our sweet boy Nathan was diagnosed with autism.

Nathan. Autism.

Nathan has autism.

Nathan is autistic.

I think that may be the first time I have truly put those words together.

So, there is no easy this week. In my head and on my heart, there is only autism. Hours of reading and research already. And prayer.

How did I not see this? What did I miss?

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Nathan, autistic? But he makes eye contact, he is funny and engaging, he has a sense of humor and is full of life and personality. He is social and happy and doesn’t throw huge fits or tantrums. He connects. He is kind and empathetic, loves animals and small children. He is talking now and telling stories and plays imaginatively and independently.

He is all of those things and more. And he is also autistic. I didn’t see it.

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I have read some incredible blogs in the last several days, written by mamas with autistic children. I tell you what, you can read all of the clinical information you want but if you really want to know something, read the words of a mama who lives it everyday. Their stories are both similar and unique but the universal theme that runs through each is  … “I knew something was wrong.”

I knew something was wrong at six months, twelve months at the very least by two. I knew something was different.

I didn’t. I didn’t know. At least not that early.

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As an infant, my son did not display many of the things I have read about. He made eye contact, he tracked, he smiled and laughed and responded to us in all of the right ways. He loved to be held and cuddled and snuggled.

What did I miss? What did I dismiss? I have racked my brain thinking back.

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He had a very sensitive startle reaction (he would cry every time Gary sneezed – it’s a loud sneeze, but still), he hated tummy time, he walked at 10 months but didn’t talk until after 16, he was a tip-toe walker, he couldn’t tolerate loud noises and was very sensitive to sound. But that’s it and except for a sensitive tummy and some digestive issues, he was an easy baby; a great sleeper, not overly fussy, happy and content. We considered ourselves fortunate as he had been methamphetamine exposed the majority of his birth mother’s pregnancy and despite a rough start, was absolutely thriving.

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As a toddler, we were concerned about his delayed speech so we set up early intervention services for him and he had speech and language therapy for a year. He was displaying some rigid behaviors and inflexibility and had a need for control and had some obsessive “quirks” but truthfully, that describes me too (I’m getting better, truly  I am) and it was all easily managed. He otherwise continued to be the happy, healthy, delightful little guy who was advanced in so many other ways. He blew us away with his early ability to focus on and figure things out, to do complicated puzzles, find hidden pictures with little effort. He was a mover and a shaker.

Nathan-6Truthfully, my husband noticed more than I did. I remember him saying “have you noticed how his cars always have to be lined up perfectly and are always arranged by color? Do you see how upset he gets when he can’t get things to work just how he wants or when things are moved around or messed up? His temper concerns me a little.”

I would dismiss it saying, “oh he just has a bit of a temper and he likes to have things just so.” Now, it sounds so obvious. Why does hindsight always sound so obvious.

In retrospect, there were whispers of concern in the back of my mind and I even read a bit about Autism but so many things didn’t fit that I just put it away and dismissed it.

I didn’t read enough.

It wasn’t until pre-school that we started noticing social difficulties and trouble relating with peers. He was easily overwhelmed and overstimulated in a large groups of children. He could be aggressive and was often too rough. We had him in a Montessori type of pre-school setting and it was a disaster for him. It was his sweet teacher who finally pulled me aside and said very honestly “I don’t know how to work with him. I love him and I want what is best for him but I don’t think he is getting what he needs here.” That was the first “bubble burst” and prompted an initial round of testing last fall and my first true inclination that something wasn’t quite right.

The testing we had done was academic and behavioral as it related to an academic setting. His cognitive levels were off the charts. I will never forget the testing process or the amazement of the testing administrator as she would place a series of picture cards in front of him in a particular order, telling him he had several seconds to look at them before she would take them, mix them up and give them back to him for him to put in order again. He would barely glance at them and then shove them back to her, look right at her and say “I ready”. Wanting an accurate test result, she would say, no, Nathan, you can take a little more time.

“No, I ready.”

So she gave him back the cards and in a matter of seconds they were all in exactly the same order she had initially placed them.

The pictures got more and more complicated but the results were the same.

“I ready.”

Eventually, she ran out of cards. “I don’t have any higher level tests with me to give him, we don’t usually need them at this type of testing.”

Concern came when she would give him auditory tests like a simple sequence of words or numbers and ask him to repeat them.

“Nathan, can you please repeat these numbers for me. One. Eight. Four. Two. Six.”

“One. Eight. Four …… what dat nex one? Mommy, what dat nex one. I dohn no.”

And then he would refuse to do it at all because he knew he couldn’t.

Precious boy.

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And so the testing continued and we eventually ended up with a diagnoses of Expressive Language Delay and Sensory Processing Disorder and an IEP including speech and language and behavioral and social goals.

Still no Autism anywhere on the radar.

His diagnoses qualified him for specialized services and we enrolled him in a special needs pre-school. He did much better in a setting with only 11 other children a teacher and three aides but he still struggled and our concern grew, especially with kindergarten and a mainstream classroom of 28 kids on the horizon. So, I made an appointment with Wendy, our older son David’s incredible behavioral health caseworker whose expertise and opinion I value greatly. Her evaluation led us to the office of the Child Psychiatrist who observed and interacted with Nathan, reviewed his IEP, asked me just the right questions and then leaned forward, looked at me and said “you aren’t going to like me but your son has autism.”

And there it was. Autism. Your son has autism.

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I took in what he said as I held my wiggly five-year-old in my arms. Innocent and unaware of what was hanging in the air. Impatiently rubbing my face and poking at me to get my attention; “mommy I ready to go home. We go home now.”

We went home and I began reading. I wasn’t convinced. So much didn’t fit.

And then I read about High-Functioning Autism and a picture perfect profile of my son began to emerge from the pages. The pieces came together and they did fit. Autism.

Because he didn’t fit the typical signs of Autism, it was easy to dismiss and to simply assume he was just a bit type-A; believe me, type-A is familiar around here. We accepted the “unique” and incredible things he did as a sign that he was probably gifted and advanced. We were dealing with his speech issues and used a lot of signing to communicate with him. We were patient, certain the speech would come with time.

What we dismissed as just personality, a bit of OCD and a little quirkiness were truly the signs of high functioning autism. We just didn’t know enough about it to suspect it. Or we didn’t want to see it.

I didn’t want to see it.

In the book “Children with High-Functioning Autism” author Claire E. Hughes-Lynch talks about her journey with her own daughter’s diagnoses; “I can look back now and say, ‘Ahhhh, so that was the autism coming out.’ But at the time … I have backgrounds in both gifted education and special education, and my gifted education experience means I tend to look at kids from a strengths-based perspective. I see things that could be the germ of a talent or activities that show promise of great thinking … I tend not to look at things from a deficit view.”

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This really resonated with me. I have always been amazed by my son and chose to focus only on the strengths and great thinking that I saw in him. I found ways to explain away the other things I saw.

In hind sight, I think we missed some of the signs with Nathan because we were dealing with so much with Sara and David. They had come back to us when Nathan was about 18 months old and we had hit the ground running with their healing and trauma therapy. Nathan was our “normal” kid … whatever that means. Sara and David’s psychological wounds and needs were so extreme that I’m pretty sure I just didn’t have it in me to handle the realization that something could be wrong with my precious baby too.

That isn’t pretty but it is real and it is honest.

God’s timing amazes me. Always. But never more so than now. He restored our family at exactly the time He intended. He knew that we would walk with Sara and David through some very dark and terrifying places in the process of their healing and restoration. He knew that they were going to need every bit of us for that journey.

He also knew that it would ultimately be the end of me.

My reliance on Him who sustains, restores, redeems and strengthens me made absolute under the weight of my own weakness.

Complete surrender.

Then, and only then, would I be ready to hear and accept the words “your son has autism”.

For my strength is made perfect in weakness.

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My son has autism.

My son has autism and he is still the exact same funny, sweet, incredible little boy he was before the word ever entered our lives. In fact, so many of the things that I love about him, the things that make him unique, that make him Nathan, are the “autistic things”. He is wired differently, yes. But he is fearfully and wonderfully made. Created perfectly for the work God has for him to do.

He is truly a gift. He came to us in such a miraculous way and I have always been so thankful to God for entrusting me to be his mama. But now more than ever before, I am humbled and grateful that my husband and I have the privilege of raising this precious boy.

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My son has autism and he will always know love and acceptance and the promise and hope his future holds.

My son has autism. And it’s okay. That is real life.

God has a beautiful plan for him and we will be blessed to watch it unfold. I hope you will join us for the journey ahead.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

My Boy is a Bear

Yesterday, the Boy Scouts of America voted to lift a ban on openly gay youth. Read the article by Miranda Leitsinger and Jason White of NBC News by clicking the link above.

Scouts is a huge part of our life. My boys are still very young so we are involved in Cub Scouts which is for first grade through fifth grade boys. At the end of fifth grade, Cub Scouts cross over and become Boy Scouts. We love the values and skills that Cub Scouts teaches as well as the friendships and fun it offers!

I was David’s Tiger Den leader when he was in the first grade and I am now the committee chair for our pack working to coordinate the dens, plan pack events and keep paperwork in order. It adds a bit to my already full plate but it is worth it. I love my boys and I love what they are learning through Scouts. I love Scouts.

I also make the cupcakes.

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Nathan isn’t officially a scout yet but he loves “Hub” Scouts and can’t wait until he becomes a “Tiger” in first grade.

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I can’t imagine someone telling him he couldn’t be a Scout because he was different or he wasn’t what they deem acceptable. His heart would be broken.

This post is not about debating morality or gay rights.

It is about compassion.

I am thankful and proud to be an American. I believe in the constitution and the principles this nation was founded on and am deeply blessed to enjoy the freedoms that we have in this country.

Those freedoms are for ALL. Whether we agree on everything or not. You can disagree with me. It is okay. Many people I love and respect will disagree. I will still love and respect them. My heart is led to err on the side of compassion and love. To welcome and walk along side my neighbor. Some details I will leave to God.

America needs Scouting! Boys need Scouting. We need to be reaching out and sharing the adventure, not pushing people away.

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David and some of his “Wolf” buddies.

Tico Perez, the BSA national commissioner summed it up well when he said “there were divisions about how to serve kids. If we have disagreement, if we have discomfort, we are going to talk through it. America needs Scouting. Our singular focus moving forward is serving more kids in Scouting, and we believe this resolution is going to do that.”

One parent had this to say “we’re very disappointed. I will compare it to a funeral.” His son expressed concern about being allowed to remain a Scout. “I hope I can continue,” he said. “It depends if my parents feel safe to let me stay.” I find that so unfortunate and very sad and I hope very much that he gets to continue on his journey as a Scout.

A boy scout who is gay is not a threat to my boys.

Allowing my boys to think they have a right to be exclusive or elitist or can turn their backs on people because of differences is the threat.

It is my job to teach my children what we believe and it is my job to teach them to walk in love.

It is my job to “show” others what I believe in the way that I act and live my life.

I will teach my children about a dream where people are judged by the “content of their character”. Remember that dream?

I will teach them to be compassionate, even in disagreement.

Every night at the dinner table we ask each of our kids “how did you show your Jesus today?”

How did you show love, compassion, humility, grace, mercy, hope?

How do we “show our Jesus” if we exclude, push away and turn our backs?

I think yesterday, the Scouts “showed their Jesus” and I may just start sportin’ one of those “I’m proud of my Cub Scout” stickers on the bumper of my ride.

Which is a mini-van. Oh yes, I am a Scout mom.

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And I make a mean cupcake.

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Last week, my boy became a Bear. He completed all of his achievements and graduated from the second grade rank of Wolf to the third grade rank of Bear.

Here are a few photos from our Advancement Ceremony …

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David receiving his recognition and awards from the Wolf Den leader, Eileen. I like to call her Ethel – take a look at my Scout Halloween Party post if you want to know why.

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Part of the Wolf badge ceremony. I sure wish I had a picture of the looks on their faces when they had to drink wolf’s blood. Well it was V-8 juice but I think it may have actually been more palatable to them had it been actual wolf’s blood. I truly thought it was coming back up with a few of them – which would have made the ceremony all the more exciting.

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Our Cub Master and our youngest Scouts, The Tigers, getting ready to become Wolves.

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Our Bear Den getting ready to move up to the rank of Webelo.

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We didn’t promise it would be without peril.

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I love that members of our local Boy Scout Troop conducted our ceremony. They help us out with a lot and it is good for the younger boys to interact with the older Scouts.

If you have a boy of scouting age, I hope you will consider Scouts. The boys can join anytime and will automatically be placed in the appropriate rank for their age. Don’t worry if your boy didn’t start as a Tiger, there is a place for him and he will transition in easily.

If you are interested in learning more about Scouting, please visit the BSA Website or contact your local Cub Scout Pack or Boy Scout Troop. There is also Venture Scouts which girls are welcome to participate in. I promise you, adventure, friendship and fun awaits!

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Look, my boy is a Bear and is beyond excited to leave soon for camp with his dad – who will be the Assistant Cub Master next year because his wife volunteered him.

Lucky for me, he’s a good sport and loves Scouts too.

Salted Pecan Coffee Cake with Maple Glaze

As I have worked my way through so many of my grandmother’s incredible recipes, I have come to notice a few things about her “style” or signature touches, especially with baking. Two big stand outs are the use of orange zest and sour cream as so many of her recipes call for one or both.

In her coffee cake recipe there is no orange zest but the addition of sour cream makes for a wonderfully rich and moist cake. I have made the cake a few times now and have been playing around with it, gilding the lily a bit.

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The first time I made it, I made the mistake of questioning grandma Ibby. Why would you want to top the cake with the streusel mixture and then end up with all of the “good stuff” on the bottom of the plate when you invert it out of the pan? So I put the streusel in the bundt pan first in order to have a pretty crumbly crunchy top to my cake. What I ended up with was an unattractive just about burnt mess. Sorry grandma, you do know best.

Still determined to update the recipe a bit and add my own touches, I decided to embrace the current salted caramel craze (a craze I am very fond of by the way) and add Fleur de Sel to the streusel. Let me tell you, that crunchy hit of salt on your tongue mingled with the sweet of brown sugar and spice of cinnamon – glorious. I’m talking Hallelujia Chorus G.L.O.R.I.O.U.S.

But how to finish the cake? How to add a little flourish to it without overdoing it or taking away from the beauty of the base recipe. I opted for finishing it with a simple maple glaze and Salted Pecan Coffee Cake with Maple Glaze was born; a most welcome addition.

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Salted Pecan Coffee Cake with Maple Glaze

Streusel

  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 Cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Fleur de Sel or coarse sea salt
  • 1 Cup finely chopped pecans

Cream together the softened butter, brown sugar and cinnamon (I just do it with a fork, not with a mixer) and stir in the Fleur de Sel and chopped pecans.

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Cake Ingredients

  • 2 Cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt or 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 1/2 Cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 Cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Cup Sour Cream

Cake Directions

In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk to combine.

In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes).

Grandma’s Tip: Cream the butter for a few seconds before adding the sugar. Add the sugar slowly, a little bit at a time and then add the vanilla and cream 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time until just incorporated.

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Grandma’s Tip: Crack each egg into a small bowl, not directly into the mixer. This way you will avoid any stray pieces of shell and the potential for a bad egg ruining your whole mixture.

Mix in the dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the sour cream; start and end with dry and mix each addition until just combined being careful not to overmix or overwork your batter.

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Take your time, do it right, enjoy the process and  you will end up with one gorgeous batter.

In a prepared 10 inch bundt pan (buttered and floured or coated with baking spray) spoon half of the batter and spread smooth. Sprinkle with half of the streusel mixture. Top with remaining batter and spread smooth. Sprinkle with remaining streusel mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees 40-45 minutes.

Cool in the pan for 20 minutes on a wire rack and then invert onto a cake stand or serving platter – make sure your serving dish has enough room for the maple glaze to pool around the cake. Let the cake cool completely (about an hour) before icing with the glaze.

Maple Glaze

Maple-Glaze

  • 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 2-3 Tbsp Pure Maple Syrup

MIx together until smooth.

Maple-Glaze-2The glaze should leave a sturdy “ribbon” when drizzled back into the bowl as you want it thin enough to run over the cake but thick enough to form a beautiful icing.

Drizzle over the cake and decorate the top with a few pecan halves or a light sprinkling of chopped pecans.

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Let me tell you what happens with the addition of the glaze.

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It puddles and pools around the base of the cake, seeping underneath and mingling with the salted pecan streusel creating a gooey almost caramel like sauce that is plate licking delicious.

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How I would love it if you could pull up a seat at our backyard picnic table under the blooming Palo Verde tree and enjoy a leisurely late breakfast. Happy conversation, a gentle warm breeze, bird song and the soft buzzing of honey bees in the tree’s yellow spring blossoms.

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I enjoyed just such a morning this past Saturday with a wonderful group of ladies who make up the prayer team I am blessed to be a part of. We spent some peaceful time in the comfort of the spring sun praying together and then enjoyed each other’s company as we shared this very special cake. My grandmother would have loved it; the prayer and the fellowship. And the cake.

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My grandmother’s original coffee cake recipe specified only “nut meats” in the streusel ingredients; leaving the possibilities wide open. I started with pecans, which is the recipe you have here. Next up, a walnut orange combo using the same basic batter and then having a little fun with orange; a bit of a tribute to her love of orange zest. I also have a hazelnut chocolate chip version rolling around in my head. Stay tuned!

Kitchen table, dining room table or backyard picnic table, I hope you find a moment to slow down, gather round and enjoy!

“Our Creator knows just what we need. God, who made food for our provision and pleasure, made the table for our souls.” – Joanne Thompson, Table Life