One Mom’s Essay on Violence in America

Violence isn’t easy on anyone. Death is hard to think about. But I feel as a mom, it is especially heart-wrenching to see unwarranted, reckless violence day in and day out across our country. It’s unfathomable to think about a tragedy striking my family or that my children’s lives could be cut short because of senseless violence. I get teary-eyed thinking about my four-year-old learning how to take cover during an active shooter situation and wonder if it’s too soon to send him to school with one of those bullet proof shields that fit in backpacks. It’s so overwhelming that I often try to block it out. I don’t turn on the news. I don’t open Facebook to see who’s arguing about whether guns are the problem or not.

But enough is enough. We need to talk to each other like adults and stop making this a divisive, partisan issue. We need to look at the arguments we’re using and see if they are legitimate or not, and that is what I am hoping to achieve with this post.

Mental health is a popular argument as to why gun violence is on the rise. One in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That’s 43.8 million people or 18.5% of our population.

According to an article from The Atlantic “Americans suffer from all sorts of psychological issues, and the evidence indicates that they’re not going anywhere despite (or because of?) an increasing number of treatment options.”

Do we need better healthcare to combat this? Mandatory yearly psychiatric evaluations? How does someone with deranged, violent thoughts just decide one day he needs to go get an antidepressant instead of go on a shooting rampage?

Violent video games are also blamed for today’s rampant violence. Countless psychology journals back up this claim. Playing violent games increases aggression, plain and simple. Should we ban video games in which people are killing each other? Or at least prevent children under 18 from playing them? Why are people playing these games to begin with?

A third commonly cited reason for today’s violence is the fall of American family values. The term “family values” has a lot of deeply conservative, evangelical Christian undertones. For the purposes of this post, I’m defining “family values” as the notion of creating a loving, nurturing environment for children to grow up with a strong moral compass. It has nothing to do with having a husband who is the breadwinner, a wife who stays at home raising the kids and going to church every Sunday morning. Rather it has everything to do with focusing on a positive family life.

But are today’s family values that much worse than they have ever historically been?

An article from the University of Minnesota points out several contradictions in what it means to have the correct family values, as well as incorrect stereotypes we clutch to such as how the 1950s was a time of ideal family values. In actuality, the “1950s white middle-class family was marred by rampant alcohol and drug abuse among suburban housewives, and high rates of sexual activity among teenagers.”

The author goes on to suggest that “anxieties about the family emerge at times when national identity, as defined and understood by the American middle class, appears to be threatened—by immigrants, radicals, ‘communists,’ racial or sexual minorities, or feminists.”

This is quite fitting given the current political climate’s focus on immigration and feminism. Is it too far of a leap to say that we’re blaming violence on inaccurate assumptions of the way people lived decades ago?

Maybe it is. And if that’s the case, and family values really are suffering, how do we correct it? Religion? Marriage and family counseling?

For many of us, Christianity does help center our family values on the right priorities: loving our neighbors, turning the other cheek, showing empathy and compassion. But our country is too diverse to think a single religion is the answer. And not all people who claim they are Christians are good people. We need to cross religions, races and classes to find a way to instill respect and empathy in our children.

Finally, the crux of any good argument about why violent acts occur almost always centers around gun control. The right tends to think the reasons listed above are why violence occurs while the left tends to think guns are the problem.

However, Democrats and Republicans agree we need to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns. How, then, was Nikolas Cruz capable of legally purchasing an AR-15 rifle? From threatening social media posts to alarming conversations with classmates, the warning signs were clear.

According to a USA Today article, “Gun buyers are seldom turned down because of mental illness. From 1998 to 2014, the FBI rejected 16,669 potential gun buyers because a background check found a mental health adjudication, about 1.4% of the roughly 1.2 million background checks that resulted in a denial.”

Why is it so easy to pass a background check enabling someone to purchase a weapon that, in my opinion, should only be used in a war?

Here’s where I’m going to insert my opinion on the answer to that question. I believe it’s because of greed.

When shootings occur, people buy more guns. When people buy more guns, the NRA profits. When the NRA profits, it can give more money to politicians. With more money in politicians’ pockets, they have better odds of getting elected and holding office. Politicians are so afraid to pass even common sense gun laws, like requiring background checks, because they fear the NRA will lower their rating (yes, for some reason the NRA rates our politicians) and give them less money.

The NRA has donated millions of dollars to candidates, preventing any type of regulation because Joe Schmo-R from any state, USA thinks being in office is more important than figuring out a way to regulate gun ownership.

This HAS to be the reason. Look at the statistics. Our people are dying from guns at rates nowhere near other developed countries. Look at why Japan has no mass shootings. Australia banned rapid-fire guns after a mass shooting in 1996 and hasn’t had one since.

Guns have to play a role in the gun violence problem in America. Even as I type that it appears so obvious that I don’t understand why we are disputing it.

Many argue that regulation would never work. Guns would be available on a black market. Bad people who want guns would be able to get them. Yes, probably so. However in many of the mass shootings that have occurred, individuals close to the killers knew they had guns. What if those who had this knowledge could have reported it? What if law enforcement had the authority to seize the weapon? How many lives could have been saved?

Consider if we had a crackdown on rapid-fire weapons like we have a war on combating the nation’s drug epidemic. There were more than 1.5 million arrests for drug law violations in 2016. If certain types of guns were outlawed and police were able to make even a fraction of the arrests made for drug violations, wouldn’t our country be safer? Maybe we need to stop focusing on drugs, in which people damage themselves and their own lives, and focus on guns, which are killing thousands of Americans each year.

“But if someone wants to kill people, they don’t need guns!” Yes. People can make bombs and use knives. But the majority of people are dying from guns. Guns are the weapon of choice probably due to their wide accessibility and ability to do a lot of damage in a very short amount a time.

I’m going to make one final point. Let’s go back to the reasons this is happening. If we are really struggling with mental health, video games that are making us aggressive and poor family values, wouldn’t it make sense for guns to be more difficult to attain? Shouldn’t we look at the ownership of certain types of guns as a privilege only for our trained military? At its foundation, gun ownership is a right. But can’t we look at owning military-style weapons as a privilege that can be revoked if misused, even if you personally didn’t misuse it? It’s kind of like when you’re in school and the teacher says if she catches anyone using their cell phone, she’s going to take everyone’s phone away as punishment. Sometimes you face consequences in life when you didn’t do anything wrong. You take one for the team, so to speak, to benefit the whole. It seems like for many people, the need to own guns is more important than our children’s lives.

I feel strongly that the shootings are not going to end until the NRA’s money is not a driving force in our government. I don’t foresee any progress in Congress until current elected officials who are funded by the NRA are out of office and the next batch of elected officials do not have ties to the NRA. This means we’re going to have to cross party lines and elect more Democrats since the majority of Republicans are funded by the NRA.

To me, it’s no question. I will vote for someone who I feel will take a stand on gun control even if I disagree with every other notion of his or her candidacy. My children’s lives are more important than anything else.

Until then, our families, our children, our communities will continue to face tragedy after tragedy. I’m saddened to think about how many more people are going to die at the hand of a gun before politicians put some effort into solving the gun problem.

If you’ve made it through my post, I really appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts and I would love your feedback on how we can work together to put an end to the violence.

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Three & A Half & Loving Life!

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down at my computer long enough to put together a blog post. My boys are really chipping away at my “me time” since they don’t sleep as much during the day anymore and we’re staying busy checking things off our Summer 2017 Bucket List. Plus it’s hard work staying on top of all the cooking, cleaning and never-ending laundry piles. But here I am to report that yesterday was Luke’s half birthday and he is already three and a half! These six months have flown by faster than ever with the weeks ticking by at an alarming pace.

The Big Question: Is Age 3 Harder than Age 2?

Everyone warned me that age three would be harder than two. I wondered how things could ever get more challenging than they were when we were smack dab in the middle of the terrible twos. For us, I am excited to share that age three has been remarkably better than two! A couple months ago it’s as if Luke transformed into a sweeter, more loving, easy going version of himself. He hasn’t had a tantrum in weeks!

How Did We Get Here?

I don’t know if he matured or if I just got more laid back, but we don’t face battles nearly as often as we did just a few months ago. Luke generally goes through the motions of life easily, like getting dressed, getting in the car, taking a bath and brushing his teeth. One of our biggest issues was always the dreaded nap time. Luke always hated taking a nap and I always thought he really needed it. By about his 3rd birthday I stopped even suggesting a nap, nor a quiet time, and instead encouraged some chill TV or iPad time after lunch. Since then our days have been much more pleasant and bedtime goes more smoothly too!

It could also be because we’re able to communicate so much better now. It seems like Luke is starting to really understand limits, and cause and effect, which have really been game changers for us. Now that he understands that if he takes a certain action there will be a certain repercussion, or once he completes one thing we can move on to the next often more fun thing, we can get through our days without major meltdowns. Two-year-old Luke would have thrown a tantrum after telling him he can’t have ice cream until he eats dinner but three-year-old Luke will whine for a minute or two and then accept it and move on (most of the time).

He’s also learning empathy, truly feeling bad when he makes a mistake. The other day I asked him to stop throwing toys. He didn’t and ended up knocking a drink over. It was no big deal and we cleaned it up together, but later that day he said “mama I’m really sorry for spilling that water” and my heart just melted. I felt bad that he felt bad, hours later, but it also felt like a little breakthrough for his understanding of the importance of listening.

I think another reason for Luke’s easy-going attitude these days is an bribery allowance system we’re using where Luke earns a quarter for good behavior, and once he has a certain amount saved he can buy a toy. The boy will do anything for a toy, so this has eliminated the need to use our former discipline go-to of time outs (unless he has really misbehaved). Praising the good all the time with something tangible, albeit monetary, has kept things much more positive as opposed to the spiraling negativity that would come at the mere mention of the words “time out.”

We Still Have Our Fair Share of Daily Tussles 

We’ve come a long way, but we still have a lot of struggles! We can’t get him to sit down and eat a full meal. He visits our bedside in the middle of the night needing company since he relies on us to help him get to sleep. He doesn’t like to leave the house unless he’s been briefed on the day’s plans well in advance. And the biggest downfall to age three so far has been the whining. It’s safe to say that temper tantrums have been replaced with whining, and while I’d take some whining over a temper tantrum any day, the constant, nasally “whyyysss” quickly get old.

All in all, three is off to a glorious start. We’re on the go more and are doing more fun things together that I’m hoping to share. I’m ready for time to slow down now so I can enjoy this phase a little more before it’s gone!

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Stay Little, Sweet Eli

My sweet baby Eli is turning one tomorrow and I’m just not quite ready for it. I’ve been enjoying his babyhood so much that I want to hit the “pause” button and cherish it a little longer.

IMG_7769Life as a family of four felt pretty natural as soon as Eli was born. My heart had never felt so full until the hazy postpartum days after Eli’s birth when I was so tired, my body so sore, yet feeling so fulfilled by holding both of my boys. Instead of experiencing the gloomy baby blues, my hormonal, postpartum tears were tears of joy, over the moon in love with our new addition and our new normal.

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Maybe it was because I was a second-time mom and I had adjusted my expectations of motherhood, or maybe Eli really was the calmest, happiest, easiest baby on the planet. Either way, I want to thank my sweet boy for so many things…

Eli, thank you for…

  • Breastfeeding like a champ! This was a HUGE stressor when I was a first-time mom and I didn’t even have to think twice about it this go-round.
  • Sticking to a schedule. You never asked to be fed. I just fed you on a routine and it became clockwork overnight. You were the epitome of a textbook newborn.
  • Enjoying sleep. You slept everywhere as a newborn and you never fussed when it was time to go down. Today as an older baby, you continue to rarely protest naps or going to bed at night.
  • Being comforted by my voice. You would calm down almost immediately upon hearing me talk to you. It made me feel so important and connected to you.
  • Smiling always and laughing hard. It doesn’t take much for you to crack a smile with your toothy grin and I’m able to get a good belly laugh from you simply from making a silly face.
  • Imitating sounds and gestures. This sounds like a basic thing that all babies just do, but I can tell  you from experience that some babies like to march to the beat of their own drum (one of whom’s name rhymes with Bluke). It is so rewarding to hear you say “a-nan-a” (banana) and “doo-doo” (cockadoodledoo) or watching you clap, wave and try to blow a kiss.
  • Never hesitating to make new friends. Anytime someone wants to give you a cuddle, you reciprocate and hug them right back.
  • Needing me. You’ll be happily playing and then suddenly crawl back to me as if to make sure I’m still there. Or, Cooper will startle you with a bark and you’ll put your hand on my leg for comfort.

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I also don’t want to forget about what’s going on in your life at this moment, so here’s a recap of what you’re up to at age 1:

  • You can say dada, mama, dah (dog), duh (deer), and hat. You’ll also try to imitate other words without really knowing what they mean.
  • You’re still a big guy, most likely in the upper 90s percentile-wise and wearing 18-month sized clothes.
  • You have 8 teeth and at least 6 coming in. This has been interfering with your sleep and general level of happiness lately.
  • Your favorite activity is playing with a ball. We roll it back and forth, you throw it, and you’ll even catch it sometimes.
  • You also love wrestling on the floor, bobbing your head to music, and taking baths.
  • You’re getting close to walking and have taken a few steps. You can navigate steps and rough surfaces pretty well and are even starting to climb.
  • You eat anything and everything!

We didn’t dote on each milestone the way we did with Luke, but we didn’t worry as much either. Gone were the days of asking Dr. Google hundreds of questions about obscure issues that really were not problems at all the way we did with Luke. We knew what we were doing, and we had faith that Eli would roll, sit, crawl, stand and meet every other milestone at his own pace. Since he’s probably our last baby, I held on to each stage and never wished for a certain phase to end.

However I have a little mommy guilt over not following all the new parent rules like we did with Luke. Eli watches TV, we don’t read to him as often as we should, I comfort nurse him back to sleep in the middle of the night (still!). But he gets a lot of love and so hopefully that balances everything out!

I know this next year has a lot of fun in store. Soon Eli will turn into a running, talking, wild toddler just like his brother. But for now I’m hoping my baby stays little just a little bit longer!

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Young, Wild & THREE!

Today Luke turns the big 3! It’s hard to believe he’s already been a part of our family for three years. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I saw those two pink lines and began to prepare for the arrival of our first baby.

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That first year was all about the milestones, and every time he hit one, Robert and I were so proud. His first smile, first attempts to roll over, sit up, crawl, pull up, walk and utter his first words were each such a big deal. We couldn’t wait for him to accomplish the next big thing, and before we knew it, he wasn’t a baby anymore!

In the moment, I was happy to transition out of the baby phase. I loved it, but the adventures of a one-year-old became so exciting! We replaced bottles with sippy cups, onesies with shorts and t-shirts, baby food with table scraps. We baby proofed everything, and then decided reorganizing our house would be easier than continuing to re-baby-proof everything that he outsmarted.

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He ran around without fear everywhere! Into everything. Climbing on everything. Drawing on everything. With that came lots of bumps and boo boos.

Toward his second birthday his love for golf and lawn tools really amped up. He would hit a golf ball and run to it just to hit it again. And he’d help Robert every Saturday with all the lawn work.

At age two his spirited nature really started to shine through as he grew even more passionate about the things he loved as well as the things he would rather not do. He became his own little person in the last year, full of his own opinions, likes and dislikes, and his own friends and experiences with other people.

View More: http://annabethkierspe.pass.us/the-pickett-family

 

To say “goodbye” to two, I’m capturing some of the things I don’t want to forget because I know that in a flash, he’s going to be four and I’ll forget this moment in time.

I don’t want to forget…

The way your eyes light up when daddy says he’s going to mow.

The way when I tell you to behave you say, “I’m ‘hayve'” while batting your eye lashes.

The way you never stop talking! You narrate life with such zest and charm. I think you’ll definitely be extroverted like your daddy!

The way you have taught me so much about lawn equipment, how to fix things, golf and Paw Patrol (a show on Nick Jr.).

The way your imagination has really taken off as you give your toys and tools a life of their own.

The way you line up your Paw Patrol pup figurines, kiss them goodnight and tell them you love them before going to sleep at night.

How you grab my neck and tell me you love me right when I feel like I want to strangle you.

How you come into my room early in the morning to report that it’s light outside and that I need to get out of bed.

The way we cannot walk out the front door without 1-2 tools in hand and we cannot walk around the neighborhood without doing work at every neighbor’s lawn we pass.

The way you line things up in a very particular order – first it was the golf clubs, then your tools, now your pups and their vehicles.

The way you always need to give me one more hug when I’m dropping you off at school.

The way you want to race and tickle around the house.

The way you needed the whole bag of gummy worms so you could share them with your pups (but you proceeded to admit you ate the whole bag yourself).

The way you say the wrong words like “hiccup truck,” (pick-up truck) “magic oranges” (mandarin oranges) and “soup-case” (suitcase) and how you think a hammock is a picnic and grass plugs are the equivalent of ear plugs for the grass.

The way you idolize your daddy and copy his every move.

The way you talk to your brother using the same words I use with him, like “no Eli that’s too small for you!” and when you tell me “Eli’s just a baby, mama.”

The way you call me “ma” and tell me to “come” or “come check this out with me.”

The way you correct someone when they misinterpret you by starting your sentence with “ackshee” (actually)

I’ll end my list there but there are many more adorable antics I’m sure I’m missing.

My hopes for age three are that our relationship can mature and grow stronger; that tantrums fizzle; that we go on new adventures and continue repeating the ones we love; that you keep helping daddy with the lawn and improve your golf swing; that you start playing team sports with success; and mostly, that you feel loved from me and the rest of our family and friends.

Happy third birthday silly Luke! Here’s to another wonderful year!

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Looking Back: A Rough Day in September 2016

I came across this draft, which I wrote about four months ago, or one month into being home full time. I was pretty stressed. Even though it’s a little dated, I wanted to share my story about our challenges in case there are any moms or dads out there currently in the same boat.

Here’s a look back at life in September 2016…

I recently opened up about how deciding to be a stay at home mom was a really tough decision. Now that I’m a month in to my new job at home, I’m able to report that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. It’s probably been the most stressful month of my life. I knew it would be hard, but I wasn’t anticipating the type of frustrations I’ve been facing.

I feel a little bad as I type that my sweet 2.5-year-old Luke, who I love and adore with all my heart, is the source of my frustrations. I have thought twice about sharing this because of how he’d feel reading this, but this is life right now and it will be good for him to understand the type of shenanigans he was into as a tot.

Plus, we need to be honest about mom life! Everyone shares the good parts of life, leaving some of us feeling like we’re doing something wrong if we’re struggling.

To illustrate our daily conflicts, here’s a rundown of our current situation…

At 7:30 Luke wakes up, often in a disgruntled mood because he didn’t sleep well. He enters our room with a huff, slamming the door open and collapsing onto our floor. I go to him, ask if he’d like some breakfast, and I’m met with a groan. I let him be and get the coffee brewing.

He’s calmed by watching an episode of Mickey and is ready for breakfast. He has a dirty diaper but refuses to let me change it. I ask him if he’d like cereal or eggs (taking advice from countless parenting books on “empowering your toddler by offering choices”). If it’s a really rough day his response will be “mower.” Yes, I typed that right. When he doesn’t want to answer, which is probably half the time I ask him something, he tells me “mower.”

We eventually change the diaper and he gets up in his chair and I put food in front of him. Fortunately he’s been pretty good lately about getting into his chair and eating. I’ll say “Luke, food’s ready, come get in your chair,” and he’ll come over and say “Luke is listening!” while climbing into his seat.

After breakfast I’ll suggest an activity, but usually Luke has his mind set on something and resists anything else. Lately it has been relocating dada’s old golf clubs from one room to another, lining them up on the ground, and asking me to hit a ball with each of them, one by one. I oblige.

After a snack, more putzing around the house, and lunch, the mood in the house shifts as if a dark cloud is approaching. It’s nap time. Half the time, no one ends up sleeping, and everyone sheds some tears.

On days when I know he’s tired, naps are non-negotiable. I lure him into his room with a toy and let him continue playing with it for a few minutes before it’s time to start our nap time routine (diaper, books, light off). When it’s time to put the toy away, we enter tantrum town. All out flailing, kicking, screaming ensues. I let him know after his nap we’ll keep playing with it. Eventually he simmers down.

Taking advice from “Raising Your Spirited Child,” I will lay down with Luke and offer to stay with him until he’s asleep. However many days I cannot even get him to lay down. Now we enter the phase of “lay down or mama’s leaving.” He typically doesn’t lay down, so I leave the room and lock the door (I know this sounds bad, but I know he is safe in there because I watch him on the monitor!). He kicks and screams. I go back a couple minutes later and ask if he’s ready to lay down. If so, I lay with him. If not, I leave again. We can go through several rounds of this.

Eventually he lays down. But he’s still not settled. He’ll lay one way, then get up and lay somewhere else. We have a crib with the side down, a mattress on the floor and a blanket on the floor. He rotates around each of them probably 15 times.

By this point, it’s been an hour since we started “nap time” and Eli is on the verge of waking up. Oh, did I forget to mention there’s another child I’m caring for during all this!? If he wakes up, Luke’s nap just won’t happen. Fortunately Eli is an amazing sleeper so I can often count on him to continue resting peacefully while I work with Luke.

Luke may fall asleep, he may not. I can’t make the kid sleep and I can’t spend my entire day coaxing him into laying down. When he doesn’t go to sleep, I get really frustrated. I know he needs the sleep and that the next 6 hours until bedtime are going to be difficult if he doesn’t rest.

After, or in place of, his nap I’ll turn on Mickey and try to get some things done around the house. He’ll usually sit quietly for a few minutes, fortunately. But then it’s back on the horse!

Again I’ll suggest some activities – swimming, going for a walk, playing basketball – but again, he’s on a mission. This time maybe it’s with his mower – running around the house, chasing our dog Cooper (who does not like to be chased), running into things. I’ll say “Luke Cooper does not like being chased, you’re scaring him,” and he’ll say “No! He likes it!”

Eventually it’s time for dinner and I have about 10 minutes to pull something together. If the food prep takes too long, Eli may end up getting bitten or all his toys may be stolen while my attention is diverted.

After dinner I bathe Eli in the sink while Luke plays an then it’s Luke’s turn. I ask if he wants to bathe in his bath or mama’s bath, and his response? You guessed it! “Mower!”

I say “OK let’s bring the mower into mama’s bathroom,” and we enter tantrum town once again. I carry him to the bathroom kicking and screaming, undress him, and before I know it he has run out of the bathroom like a wild banshee on the loose.

I grab ahold of him again, plunk him in the tub and he’s happy. I get him clean, tell him it’s time to dry off, and what do you think he says? “No!! No drying off!” He wants to stay in the tub. erggggg. Eventually he gets out and we enter bedtime territory.

Each aspect of our bedtime routine, which entails putting on a diaper and pajamas, and going to bed, is met with resistance. Eventually, we accomplish each step and I sit patiently with him and wait for him to drift off to a peaceful slumber. I can always tell it’s safe to leave his room when I hear a little moan and his feet start to twitch. I am so happy he’s asleep and take a moment to admire his sweet little face.

After a couple overnight wake-ups from Eli, and possibly even a bedside encounter with Luke, it’s time to do it all again. No breaks. No paid time off.

Do I regret my decision to stay home? Not one bit. I know that even though these days are hard, I am making unforgettable memories and helping shape my boys to be the best they can be. We have a lot of fun together and I’m still ever so grateful for the chance to be home with them. I’m just being real here!

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So back to today, as I read through what we were going through four months ago I chuckle to myself as I’m reminded of fleeting moments in time that I’ve already forgotten about. We’re undoubtedly in a better place today, yet full of new tussles.

Today’s struggle will give you tomorrow’s laugh. Sometimes these phases go by too fast, and sometimes they don’t go by fast enough. But they will end and our babies will grow. That’s why I think capturing the “bad” maybe isn’t so bad after all!

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Our Thanksgiving in a Nutshell

This year we hosted Thanksgiving at our house for 12 adults, 2 little ones and 3 dogs. This is the fourth time we’ve hosted and this time I think we finally got the menu down pat. So much so that we opted against a competitive food ranking that Robert created (complete with a spreadsheet and voting system), and agreed that every item had its place at the table.

With two small children, I need all the help I can get with hosting the big meal at my house. Here’s how we were able to pull it off without a hitch:

The Table: Each year I try to add to my dining collection. I have neutral set of place mats, table cloths, cloth napkins, and a table runner made from burlap that I got from Joanne’s. We use my grandma’s old China and Silver and I typically throw some gourds and candles in the center for a centerpiece. This year I added gold chargers to my collection. Next year I’m thinking napkin rings or cute little place cards need to be added!

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The Menu: I definitely don’t try to do all this myself. My gracious family consists of great cooks who pitch in to help. Here’s the menu we used, which I think covers all the bases:

Turkey
Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes
Gravy
Sweet Potatoes WITH Marshmallows
Cornbread Casserole
Green Bean Casserole
Cranberry Sauce
Jell-O Fruit Mix
Rolls
Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie

Our vegan family members created a stuffed butternut squash dish and pumpkin pudding, which were both unexpected but greatly appreciated additions!

The cooking was extremely stress-free, mainly because there were only a few items being cooked in my kitchen. We would definitely need a double oven to pull all this off in a single kitchen.

The Turkey: We have made our turkey several different ways, including deep frying it, but no one has ever been very impressed with it. This year I didn’t want to put a whole lot of effort into the turkey since no matter what I do, it’s never that great, but to my surprise, it was actually really good this year! Part of the reason I wanted to make a Thanksgiving post was to write down what I did so I’d remember it for next year! Here’s what we did:

I bought a roasting pan with a wire rack at Bed Bath and Beyond a week before the big day. I saw they had them for only $14.99 and we’ve previously used foil ones so I bought it on a whim. They had brine mixes and brining bags displayed right next to them and I figured I’d give that a shot. In the past, we brined a turkey but it was such a mess! We were lugging the turkey in and out of a cooler because there was no room in the fridge. Raw turkey juice was dripping everywhere. And then it didn’t even seem to make the turkey taste any better.

The brining mix I purchased consisted of salt and herbs. You boil it, let it cool and then put it on the turkey in the brining bag, along with additional water. If you go this route, boil the brine mix and let it cool a day before you want to use it because it really takes a while to fully cool. It’s recommended to have the turkey in the brine for 12-24 hours, so preparing the brine needs to be done the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

The brining bag was a lifesaver. Without it, we’d be cleaning out an entire cooler, filling the cooler with water and putting the bird in it, only to clean it out again when we were finished. With the bag, we filled it up, put it in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, and tossed it when we were done.

Once it was time to put the turkey in the oven, we rinsed the brine off, patted it dry with paper towels and let it sit out for 30 minutes. While it was sitting out I prepared a rub for it. Here’s my recipe, which I adapted from Neighborfood.

Simple Garlic and Herb Roasted Turkey

Ingredients

  • 16 lb. turkey (we used Butterball)
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons assorted herbs (I used thyme, rosemary and sage)
  • 2 yellow onion, quartered
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped in long strips
  • One head of garlic, peeled
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, stir together softened butter, olive oil and herbs.
  3. Rub butter mixture all over the turkey, including over the wings and breast, underneath, in the cavity, and under the skin.
  4. Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly all over the bird and inside the cavity.
  5. Stuff the onions, celery and garlic, then place the bird in the oven.
  6. Bake the turkey at 450 for 30 minutes then turn the heat down to 350, tent with foil, and continue to cook for 1½-2 hours. Take the bird out after 1½ hours and insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. (It’s easiest to place your thermometer straight down right where the thigh and breast connect). You want the thigh to register 165 degrees before removing it. If it’s at 150, you know you’re getting close–check every 10-15 minutes from there. Remove the foil for the last 30 minutes of baking, unless it’s getting too browned. (Thanks again Neighborfood for these great tips!)
  7. Once the thigh registers 165 degrees, remove the turkey from the oven, and allow to stand for 30 minutes before carving.

We checked the turkey an hour and a half after tenting it and it was done! We let it rest for a while because it was done much sooner than I expected. This turkey was so juicy, the people who don’t even like turkey liked it! I think our success was a combination of the turkey itself (Butterball), the brining, the oily rub and the fact that we didn’t overcook it.

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The Stuffing: Stuffing is my favorite side dish on Thanksgiving, so I tried something new this year. It turned out well so I wanted to share this recipe as well, which I adapted from Wicked Good Kitchen.

Crock Pot Five-Star Apple Sausage and Cranberry Stuffing

Ingredients

  • 2.5 boxes Stove Top Herb Stuffing
  • 1 Tube Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage
  • 1½ cups chopped yellow onion
  • 1½ cups grated carrot (2 to 3 large carrots)
  • 1¼ cups chopped celery
  • 1 large Golden Delicious apple, cored & coarsely chopped
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, cored & coarsely chopped
  • 1¼ cups dried cranberries
  • Half Carton Chicken broth
  • Half stick unsalted butter, melted

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, cook the sausage and onions over medium-high heat, stirring and breaking up the lumps until evenly browned. Add the carrots and celery; cook for 2 minutes while stirring.
  2. Pour sausage mixture, apples and cranberries into crock pot. Mix well and then mix in chicken broth. (I don’t know exactly how much chicken broth I actually used, but I kept pouring until the bread was saturated. I think it was about half a carton). Cook on high for 30 minutes*
  3. Drizzle butter over top and turn crock pot to low for another 3o minutes*

*Cook times are all approximates! I kind of winged it and don’t really know how long this cooked.

And most importantly, The Family:

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8 Tips for Visiting Magic Kingdom With Little Ones

We recently took our first trip to Magic Kingdom as a family of four. Although we live only about an hour from Disney, we are far from being theme park aficionados. I did a bit of prep work for the big day, but there were still a few things that can only be learned through experience. Here are my 8 tips for making your day at Disney as much fun as possible, especially if you have little ones in tow!

  1. Get there early – Allow more time for parking and entering the park than you think. I would say it took almost an hour from when we parked to when we got into the park.
  2. Do your research – Disney does an awesome job outlining what attractions are suited for little ones. I spent a lot of time on their website looking at the map and figuring out which rides I thought we’d enjoy most. I also found the site Guide2WDW, which gives more detail on what to expect from each ride and advises on how best to use your allotted three Fast Passes.
  3. Come up with a plan – I listed out a rough order of all the attractions we could possibly do as well as dining options, but I knew there would be no way we could get to everything. Just know that you’ll have to be flexible based on the crowds and wait times.
  4. Download the My Disney Experience app – Disney really nailed it with their app. I bet I opened it 20 times throughout the day. One of the most helpful parts was the wait times. You could see how long the lines were to determine whether or not it would be worth riding a ride. The other helpful part was the walking directions. It would even tell you how long it would take to walk to a different area of the park.
  5. Bring healthy snacks and water – Chances are you’re going to be indulging in unhealthy foods while at the park (i.e., Mickey-shaped ice cream and hot dogs!), so to keep things balanced, have some healthy snacks on hand.
  6. Allow more time than you think you’ll need – Getting from point A to point B can take what feels like an eternity with the slow-moving crowds. There’s a good chance you won’t get to do everything that you want because there is just SO MUCH TO DO! Complete your “must do’s” as soon as you arrive in the park.
  7. Get a grip on the stroller situation – You can’t get in any line with your stroller. Therefore you need to park it in the designated stroller parking areas. At one point, we parked ours only to come out of a show to find it was not where we left it. After a short panic, we realized there are employees whose sole role seems to be relocating strollers if they are not in the exact stroller area (we were guilty of putting it near the area, but it was too crowded for us to find an actual stroller parking spot.)
  8. Be patient, show grace – People at Disney are crazy. Everyone is in a hurry to get where they’re going and see it all. I am guilty of being impatient and told Robert he needed to get more aggressive pushing the stroller. It’s hard to show grace when it’s not shown to you, but it’s something we can all work toward!

I know there are lots of you who frequent the parks much more often than I do, so feel free to help me add to my list of tips!