My Times Are in Your Hands

We all get words, phrases, songs, limericks and sayings stuck in our head. Some weeks I'm humming a top 40 chorus, some days I'm recalling a movie line. For the past two weeks a Bible verse hasn't left my mind or my heart for more than a couple of hours.

My times are in Your hands... Psalm 31:15



Time. The precious commodity. The fleeting one. The thing we always want more of and yet the thing we often neglect to prioritize properly.

Today, a missionary my age, who I graduated Bible college with many years ago had a sudden heart attack and passed away. Leaving a wife and three small children behind in Indonesia.

Yesterday, at the gas station not too far from our sleepy little neighborhood, a random robbery ended in death.

And this week I lost someone very dear to me to cancer. I'm heartbroken at his passing.

Time is not guaranteed to us and it is most definitely not in our hands. Yet each day that it is gifted to us, we have the amazing responsibility to use it at our discretion.




I have always had an immense respect for time. Call me sentimentalYet because of my awareness of it, I have always managed it properly and re-evaluate where I spend it, making course corrections when things get out of whack. I am thankful for it and I treasure each moment of it I get here on this Earth. And I am resolutely aware, that my times are not just in my hands. They are in the One who gave me life and who keeps hope in my heart each day.

But what I do with my time, each day~ each year matters. My children are growing up and my relationship with my husband is evolving. This new thing in my life called "career" is blossoming and new opportunities open each day. My friendships are expanding and my closest ones remain dear to my heart.



And each day I want to use my time with wisdom and thoughtfulness. I don't want to spend 15 minutes scrolling through Instagram photos when my 7 year old is sitting on the couch next to me staring at a TV. I don't want to schedule unnecessary meetings when I could be putting it towards mentoring another or helping a friend in need. I don't want to be missing out on the chance to bless my neighbors with kindness, send a letter across the miles or make a candlelit dinner for my family at the end of the day.


Steve...my friend who passed away this week...Steve and I would write letters to one another. He was a mentor since I was 13. He gave me the only nickname in life I've ever been given, MP (Megan Page). The time he invested in my life is incalculable. He cheered me on through those confusing middle and high school years and made sure I never forgot my worth, value and beauty. He was a father figure to many and I'm so blessed to have been one of them.
Last month, knowing he was growing weaker by the day, I stopped in the middle of dish washing and sat down to write him another letter. A longer letter. A walk-down-memory-lane letter. A thank you letter. My last message from Steve was a note on my Facebook wall thanking me for it. I only wish I could have had time to hold his hand and tell him those things in person.

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Football Season's Sweet Ham and Yeast Rolls





It’s football season. Oh, and it’s consistently 42 degrees outside. And my yoga pants, fuzzy boots and cozy over sized Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt has become my daily wardrobe.

What is it with these cold weather months? In the summer, I can go weeks on salads, grilled chicken and pineapple (and large doses of ice cream too, of course). But the minute that thermometer dips below 60 degrees, I’m scarfing down every carb-ridden, mayonnaise-laden, rich-sauced bit of food I can find, like a Survivor competitor winning the food reward at a challenge. (Hence the yoga pants reference up there.)

And with all of this hunker-down-and-enjoy-the-snowfall goodness, the Smith Homestead kitchen has officially made its annual rotation from summer menu to winter menu.

This weekend we spent much most of our Saturday watching those incredible rivalry match-ups happening on football fields around the country. And forgoing the typical pizza and chips route, I dug through some of my favorite Fine Cooking back issues to discover this gem of a recipe for yeast rolls…the foundation (and roof) for dozens of mini ham sandwiches to feed this small army of men in the house. 



You could really dress these little sandwiches in all sorts of garb. Relishes, mustard, veggies, cheeses, sauces, etc…. But honestly, nothing is more pure than some sweet ham and a warm roll. Quintessential simple food.

And what I love most about this entire package is that is just so, so simple. The yeast roll dough can be made the night before, shaped and left to rise in the fridge. I did a variation on this recipe. 



I put the ham in the slow cooker for a couple of hours while we went to pick out our Christmas tree and then made a really basic sugar glaze, spread it over the cooked ham and popped it under the broiler till crispy. 


All this to say….on game day, I wasn’t slaving in the kitchen. I was cuddled under the quilt with those sweet boys of mine, cheering on my beloved Buckeyes to their victory over Michigan~ and munching on some really great wintery food. 

Make Ahead Dinner Rolls

4 cups AP flour
1 package (or 2 1/4 tsp.) instant yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1 t salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 large egg yolks

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the dough hook (or by hand), combine dry ingredients. Mix gently. Warm the milk and butter in a saucepan (or microwave...that's a little more volatile...keep a watch out for pour over.) Warm the butter and milk to 115 degrees. (If you don't have a thermometer, put your index finger in the milk mixture. You want it to feel quite warm but not hot to the touch.) 

Add the warm milk/butter mixture to the bowl with the egg yolks. Mix on low speed until it comes together and then allow the dough hook (or by hand) knead the dough for 5-6 minutes until it looks and feels smooth as silk. 

Shape into a ball and place the dough in a buttered glass bowl~ one large enough to allow for ample rising. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise...about an hour. 

Butter a 13 by 9 baking dish. 

Turn the dough out on the counter and divide the dough into 16 pieces. I like to use a kitchen scale and weigh to ensure all dough balls are evenly sized. If you go this route, the magic number on the scale is 2oz. per dough ball. As you shape the balls, place them in the buttered baking dish. You should get 16 rolls total. 

**To make ahead: At this point, cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight. The following day, remove the pan and let it sit at room temperature for 4-6 hours before baking. Proceed to baking as follows.

If baking immediately: Cover the baking pan with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap when the rolls are puffy and ready for baking. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.


Basic Sugar Glaze:

1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup water

Mix all three in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk until it liquifies. With a pastry brush, brush the cooked (hot) ham with the sugar glaze and  place it under a high broiler until the sugar has browned and the ham is looking glorious.

**Little scrumptious tip: Take a bit of that sugary glaze that has dripped off the ham and into the pan below and brush it on top of the roll. Seriously heavenly. Makes your fingers slightly sticky and best-of-all, deliciously sweet.




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Parenting a Nearly Pre-Teen

Canaan...you know, that sweet, chubby cheeked boy that has been cooking alongside me at the counter since he was in diapers? Yeah, that chubby cheeked diaper boy is growing up. Quickly.

Much too quickly than anyone ever told me. I know, I know...it goes by fast. Blink of an eye. Babies are driving cars and going to prom. It happens fast, so I was told. But not this fast. This is beyond lightening speed.



So here I am, a far too young (ah-hem) of a mom with this nearly pre-teen on my hands that has found the art of eye rolling, occasional snarky remarks and attitude.Yikes.

Its an interesting time of his (our) life. Watching a child waiver between childhood and teenage years. The struggle between innocence and reality. Their yearning to still wear cozy pajamas and want to curl up on the couch for a snuggle and sensing the desire to pull away and read in a corner for hours with headphones on, without interruption.



The other night he and I had a long heart-to-heart. There had been a string of bad attitude days and ,lets just say, it was time for Canaan to become a bit more self-aware. It ended up being a really great conversation.

Yet, I could sense myself as the parent of a now maturing person, feeling unsure of how to wade into this new relationship. We've read some great books on the topic of raising boys, but I've found over the course of these years of parenting, I would rather know my child deeply and navigate based on our particular relationship and their particular nuances, than follow the ABC's of another's journey or studies.

We take it all day by day. Some days I still get that sweet chubby cheeked boy standing at the kitchen counter cooking alongside me. And as great as those days were in his early years, they are even better now. Great conversation and discussion, laughs and fun.
Other days he needs his space and we try to give it.

Recently I've branched out to a new form of communication with this guy; email. He has an account through school, so a couple of weeks ago I began sending along a note and "Questions of the Day." This little practice has become a fun part in our daily relationship. As you will see below, Canaan is (and has always been) very serious and to the point. He knows what he knows (or at least thinks he does) which makes me chuckle all the more given the ridiculousness of the questions and his oversight on their ridiculousness.

Each day, he comes in from school and asks if I've read his response. Its a small thing, but its a open door to another way of building relationship with this little guy that's not so little anymore. I imagine, in time I can throw in a few more thoughtful, personal questions in there (us moms are sneaky like that) to stay close to the heart of my son and remind him of my love as we continue to head into these tricky teen years ahead.

Here's the recent email chain~ 



Mom:
Hi Canaan!
Thought I'd send you an email since you now have an email account. Getting all grown up and stuff :)

Questions of the day:

In the song Yankee Doodle, is he calling the horse or the feather "macaroni"?
Why do people say "heads up" when you should duck?

Canaan:
It is meant as a warning and they are talking about the feather.

Mom:
Hello Canaan~
I hope you are having a great day at school.

Here are your questions of the day:

When lightning strikes the ocean why don't all the fish die?
How old are you before it can be said you died of old age?

Canaan:
It spreads out and loses its power before it can reach the fish. You have to be 80+.

Mom:
Good Morning Canaan! Just went and helped out in Ezra's class. It was fun.
Hope you are having a good day!
I love you!

Questions of the day:

At a movie theater which arm rest is yours?
Is there a time limit on fortune cookie predictions?

Canaan:
The right one, and as soon as you read them it expires. 

Love,
Canaan


Mom:
Good Morning Canaan! I hope you have a great day at school today. I love you so much and am so proud of you....for just being sweet, lovable you :)

Questions of the day:

Why is it that on a phone or calculator the number five has a little dot on it?
How can something be "new" and "improved"? if it's new, what was it improving on?

Canaan:
For blind people. I couldn't figure out the second one.





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Lovely Kitchen Contributor~ Thanksgiving Style


Photos by Kristina Carter, Vrai Photography

Thanksgiving, as you probably know if you are a longtime reader of this blog, is my favorite holiday. Each year I post my Thanksgiving Day Menu with loads of recipes that we make at the Smith Homestead (no...these pics are not at our quaint Smith Homestead...rather the gorgeous home in the next town over...more on that below.)

Photos by Kristina Carter, Vrai Photography

 
This week I joined the girls over at The Lovely Project as their new Lovely Kitchen contributor!

The Lovely Project is a non profit organization started by some of my good friends based in Orlando Florida, (where I used to live) that are passionate about working with girls and women so they'll know their Value, Voice and Valor. 

They publish a super-fun blog that is dedicated to sharing how to make all aspects of life, lovely.
 
Photos by Kristina Carter, Vrai Photography
Photos by Kristina Carter, Vrai Photography

Photos by Kristina Carter, Vrai Photography

 

This week they share one of my Thanksgiving Menus, and are also offering a handy and cute FREE Thanksgiving Day Planner printable written by a Culinary Institute of America graduate and world class Food Photographer Susan Bourgoin.

Show them, (and me) some blog love by checking it out!....and just a few more gorgeous picks taken at last years Thanksgiving meal with friends at Moundale Manor in Winchester, Kentucky by my dearest friend and crazy-amazing photographer,Tina Carter of Vrai Photography. 

Photos by Kristina Carter, Vrai Photography

Photos by Kristina Carter, Vrai Photography

Photos by Kristina Carter, Vrai Photography

Photos by Kristina Carter, Vrai Photography


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Life in Photos

Prior to the camera phone...I toted around my Nikon D60. Before that, I had a much smaller/less pricey digital camera. And in my younger days, I'd load the spool of film and be on my way~ counting the photos as I took, to ensure there would be enough to not run out too soon.

There are some days that I leave it all behind though just to completely detach. I've actually been doing a lot more of that lately...especially on the weekends. Turning it off on a Friday afternoon and not powering on again until Monday morning. Really great practice to get into. I highly recommend it. 

Some of my favorite memories this week? Spending dusk to dark with Canaan at our community garden plot on our hands and knees, gathering the last of the cherry tomatoes from the vines and digging the biggest carrot on record (EVER!...ok, well it has to be really close), out of the cold soil. We broke the spade and proceeded to work our fingertips to the bone to pull the precious cargo from the ground and home to show off to the rest.
I loved my afternoon of painting with Ezra at a park near our house. We set up a portable studio on a bench and painted for hours, only leaving because the gate was closing for the night. We barely talked...only commenting occasionally about the funny bird sound or remarking about the perfect weather that day. We both left with our finished paintings in hand and a vow to do that more often. 

Recently life has been a series of cross country meets, soccer games, late afternoons in the kitchen
and late evenings in the garden. Its been painting dates, picnics with friends, candlelit dinners, final touches on the fall issue of the magazine and evenings of Masterpiece Mystery. In other words...really great memories.









Huffington Post "Love Letter to Lexington"

A couple of weeks ago, I was emailed with a request...a request to write. Of course, as a writer and editor, its not unusual to receive such emails. But this email caught my eye on that first pop-up in the inbox. It was an email from a pretty snazzy marketing company here in Lexington looking to connect a local writer with a travel editor at a pretty snazzy NYC online publication for a "Love Letter to Lexington."
Truth be told, I have zero time to write much of anything beyond the land of CAKE&WHISKEY anymore. But, there was something about this project that was calling my name.
Donning the editor hat a few months ago certainly pulled me away from creative wheels that can only be put in motion with a blank document and the crazy mish-mash of thoughts waiting to be pulled together....my, how I have missed that.
The piece was sent off last week and immediately my editor hat was picked up off the floor (where Jameson the bunny was nibbling on the brim) and it has been a mad dash to the finish line of a gorgeous fall issue to be released in October.
This morning The Huffington Post ran the "Love Letter to Lexington" and a big smile came across my face. I loved writing it because I truly love this city. And I something in me needed to set aside all else for just a few hours to reflect on why. 




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Ohio Road Trip

There's been a winner of the fabric stash! (sorry for the delay...reasoning below in this post.) The winner is Becky Johnson~ I'll reach out Becky and we'll get you a whole buncha' fabric soon! :) 

A glorious road trip delayed that winner announcement last week. I swept up the boys just one week prior to school starting and we headed out for the cornfields, diners, ice cream parlors, lakes and state parks of Ohio.

I grew up in Columbus (GO Bucks!) and yet most of our activities were a first for all of us. Except this one.
Slate Run Farm. Ahh....THIS place is magical. I grew up going to Slate Run on school field trips and weekend outings with my dad. I have the absolute best childhood memories here.

So, it caught be by surprise when I actually loved it even more now! Isn't it usually the opposite? We have incredibly lofty early memories that don't quiet live up to the hype in adulthood, right? Not so with my beloved Slate Run Farm.

First of all, I am still blown away that its free. FREE! No parking charges or donation boxes. Just absolutely free of charge to come spend the day, stepping back in time. Oh right...so I should explain a bit about this magical place. Slate Run Farm is a living historical farm. Its legit. They grow their own crops to preserve and eat, they smoke meat, they care for farm animals and hang laundry out to dry. They tend the fields, push around old timey wheelbarrows with hay....and although in essence its "staged", its not your typical historical representation themed attraction. The workers eat their meals there in the farmhouse kitchen while visitors meander freely. There are no guided tours, no employees talking your ear off with an overload of information about life in the olden days. I guess what makes this place magical, and what I appreciated about it even more as an adult, is the easiness it offers.

The boys and I spent nearly all afternoon wandering, sitting, playing (it was a tad surreal seeing them play with the exact wooden toys I remember playing with), feeding animals, taking a slow walk out to the pasture and petting baby cows. Heck, I could have laid down in the hay next to sweet 3 week old Primrose the calf and taken a nap! Its just that chill here at the old farm.

Luckily we went when the weather was absolutely glorious AND I think most kids in Ohio must have already gone back to school or were at abercrombie buying back to school clothes. Because it felt, for an afternoon, like we were getting a glimpse of what life on our farm might look like someday.















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