Sweet Thanks

These quiet days of November are starting to slip away more quickly. Days are getting shorter and nights are getting longer, making cozy movie nights by the fireplace much more enticing. At Crooked Willow we are beginning to discuss plans for holiday get-togethers. Most importantly on the agenda, Thanksgiving is only a week away!

We are looking forward to hosting Thanksgiving in our home this year. My siblings will be home from college in a few short days and we are highly anticipating the arrival of most of our extended family! Perhaps you are planning your Thanksgiving celebration and are looking for decorating ideas or  ways to entertain small children. With a little help from Pinterest, here are a few ideas I would like to share:

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A classic Thanksgiving tradition is to go around the table and share what everyone is thankful for. Have your guests write down the things they have been blessed with in the past year. You can collect the blessings and make a game out of guessing who was thankful for what. At the end of the day, each person should take his or her “Blessing List” home as a reminder of a wonderful year.  Be creative with this sweet little reminder to be grateful. You can find the folding instructions for this silverware holder by clicking here: http://www.abirdsleap.com/2012/11/diy-minimalistic-thanksgiving-table.html

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Chalk painted chargers can be used to create name cards for seating assignments or to allow you to write out your Thanksgiving Day menu.  You might also use the plates to write kind thoughts and words to your guests and family members.  There are endless possibilities with this idea! http://www.mendezmanor.com/2013/10/more-crafting-diy-chalkboard-painted.html

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If you have small children coming to your big dinner (like we do) -I think a photo shoot with different Thanksgiving props is a fun idea to give the kids a chance to be silly and creative. This snapshot will last longer than a paper turkey! http://www.simplysilhouettes.blogspot.com/

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This Thanksgiving Blessing mix is a wonderful reminder of the true reasons we celebrate this holiday. The ingredients are:

Bugles, 2 cups: Shaped like a cornucopia or Horn of Plenty, bugles are a sign of our nation’s abundance.

Pretzels, 2 cups: Arms folded in prayer, pretzels represent a freedom sought by the founders of our country.

Candy corn, 1 cup: Representing sacrifices, candy corn symbolizes the few kernels of corn early settlers survived on each day when food was limited.

Marshmallows, 2 cups (mini): The first winter the Pilgrim’s endured was cold and snowy! (Probably nothing compared to Minnesota, but…)

Nuts or seeds, 1 cup: Promise of a future harvest, they show that we will reap only if our seeds are planted and tended diligently.

Pumpkins, 1 cup: Representing a bountiful harvest.

Dried fruits, 1 cup (cranberries, raisins): Thanksgiving celebrates the fruits of the harvest.

M&M’s: Memories of those before us who guided us to a blessed future. http://hilaryishappy.blogspot.com/2007/11/thanksgiving-blessing-mix.html

Mix together and package cutely.

Thanksgiving, like most holidays, will come with its share of unpredictable moments and unexpected events. Whether the turkey is slightly dry or you receive more company than expected, embrace each surprise that comes your way. Find a way to laugh it off and move on. At the end of the day, all that truly matters are the people seated around your table and the thankfulness in your heart. Blessings to everyone this Thanksgiving! – Kate

Blessings

Blessing-Quotes-and-verseAs of this past Friday, my senior year of high school is a fourth of the way over! We have been spending the past few weeks celebrating the end of another amazing tennis season. I count my team, our wonderful memories of playing tennis over the last three months and the opportunity to glorify God on the court among my greatest blessings from this fall. Needless to say after this exciting autumn, it has been a little bit difficult slowing down and absorbing the quietness of November.

Without tennis, I have been forced to attend to my ever increasing homework load as well as the lengthy college application process. On the bright side, I have at least been able to commiserate with my Mama, who has been just as busy as me these past twelve days. The life of my sweet “glitter fairy” has consisted of dozens of storage bins full of Christmas linens, ornaments, trees and everything in between; planning lessons and putting projects together for her confirmation class; consuming large amounts of coffee (though surprisingly not much more than me) and little else. With our endless to-do lists, we have been trying to use this season to gain a new mental perspective on the holidays.

While thankfulness is usually at the height of its popularity this time of year, it is something we seldom think about otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, we notice when things are going well – When the gas prices drop, when the humidity and freezing temps agree to stay away for a blissful few weeks, when we finally have time to do those things we were meaning to get to. We certainly enjoy these bright moments in life – but do we take the time to truly appreciate each little moment that comes our way?

Mom and I have been starting to understand that the secret to inner peace is being thankful and enjoying every single day. So simple and yet such a challenging task. In all honesty, this is the only way to make things work. Otherwise you listlessly float about on a loose end, grumbling about every minor issue in life and constantly waiting for the next big event on your calendar to arrive.

We need to live intentionally and on purpose. We must seize each opportunity that comes our way – today is the day! Life is not about checking everything off our to-do lists. While our final destination (home with Jesus) is going to be the most amazing thing ever, He has you here for a reason. Don’t be so focused on the bumps and hills that you forget your destination and always remember to enjoy the journey.

Here’s to counting your blessings and being thankful!

Home Away from Home

Where has the summer gone? Between tennis, getting ready for school and soaking up the last moments of summer, I have severely neglected the blog, so here is my attempt to fill you in on what we’ve been up to with an extra emphasis on the happenings of my sister as she returns to school.

After years of working through the unemotional task of weeding and watering the various flower beds on our property, Alex finally discovered her true talent this summer: furniture re-design.  If you have been to Crooked Willow lately, you would have undoubtedly seen traces of the innumerable projects that she has completed over the course of the past few weeks. She and Mom were constantly discussing the old pieces that needed some touch ups and do-overs. They would carefully select colors and shades and little accents to complete each item. Then Alex would spend hours and days patiently preparing the pieces through the sanding, priming and cleaning process and then adding coat after coat of paint and seeing every detail through from start to finish. (Honestly, it is not as easy as it sounds. I gave up after one project and quickly resumed my yard-care and blogging duties.)

DSC_0193These past few weeks, she has been making preparations for moving into a house with her friends. The projects that she and my parents have pulled together are so cute!  It makes me excited to think about my future college dorm/apartment (which is only a short year in the future). An armoire was selected for storage and extra closet space.  It was given a fresh coat of paint and some new fabric in the door (as the graphic blue is much more suited to Alex’s taste than bright florals!) After a laborious and rather precarious experience trying to maneuver it upstairs, it now resides in her new room. I was honored to be involved in the décor by helping apply primer to a rug that was later painted white with a blue trim to cover the wooden floor. My absolute favorite piece in her room is the desk. The desk itself was from our great-grandma (a sweet and sassy lady if there ever was one!) and has a great cottage style flair all of its own. But in a Pottery Barn-esque idea steal, my grandpa constructed a panel that secures a wall of blackboards and fabric covered corkboards behind the desk. If my future home away from home ends up being half as cool as hers someday, I will be absolutely thrilled!

DSC_0191After a phenomenal summer of making memories and sharing precious time together, this amazing girl is heading back at school. While I wish that she could just stay at home forever, I know that God is calling her out to bigger and better adventures and she is going where she needs to be right now. Can’t wait to see what He has planned for the future of my best friend!  -Kate

Berry Delights

When my siblings and I were growing up, vegetables and fruit were foreign cuisine that we were just fine disregarding from our diets. In particular, we loathed asparagus and adamantly refused to eat it in any form. Nowadays, Alex and I make special trips to town to hit up the produce section at Pete’s County Market or the County Stop. When Ben comes home for the weekends, we load up on grapes just for him! While any fruit from pears to peaches intrigues me, I have a special fondness in my heart for berries.

I can’t say entirely when my love of berries first began, but I have such sweet memories of them. Picking raspberries in my grandma’s garden on hot summer afternoons; sampling fresh strawberries from the crop of a generous family friend; making foamy smoothies for lunch (the secret obsession of the ladies at Crooked Willow this summer .) I always enjoy blueberry pancakes while camping and strawberry trifle at Easter. These little moments have made me quite a berry lover. Since August seems to be the pinnacle of the growing season (and bottom of the price range!) for these precious little gems, here are some recipes to try out:

cobbler

Slow Cooker Berry Cobbler

Ingredients:

1 cup flour

3 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. cinnamon

1 egg

¼ cup fat-free milk

2 tbsp. canola oil

1/8 tsp. salt

2 cups raspberries

2 cups blueberries

½ tbsp. lemon juice

1 cup sugar

¼ cup flour

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, 3 tbsp. sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. In a small bowl combine egg, milk and canola oil. Whisk together until completely blended. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir until just moistened. Spread over the bottom of a 5qt slow cooker. In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup sugar and ¼ cup flour and salt. Next add in raspberries and blueberries (fresh or frozen will work) and lemon juice. Stir to completely and evenly coat the raspberries and blueberries with the sugar-flour. Evenly distribute the raspberries and blueberries over batter. Cover and cook on LOW for about 2 to 2½ hours or until batter is cooked through. Top with ice cream or frozen yogurt if desired.

http://www.chef-in-training.com/2013/01/slow-cooker-berry-cobbler/

berryMini Strawberry Shortcakes

Ingredients:

1 pint strawberries, sliced

1 tbsp. amaretto liqueur or ¼ tsp. almond extract

½ cup sugar, divided

½ cup heavy whipping cream

1 (8-oz.) container mascarpone cheese or cream cheese, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 (3 or 3.4 oz.) package ladyfingers

Combine strawberries, amaretto, and ¼ cup sugar in a bowl. Let stand about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, combine remaining ¼ cup sugar and whipping cream in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Fold in mascarpone cheese and vanilla. Layer ladyfingers, mascarpone mixture, and strawberry mixture in 6 (9-oz) bowls.

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/mini-strawberry-shortcakes-50400000113468/

bisquitBo Berry Biscuit

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 cup milk

1/3 cup sugar

5 tbsp. butter

4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

3 oz. blueberries (fresh or dried)

Glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

1/8 cup water

1 tsp. vanilla

½ tsp. lemon juice

Freeze butter. Preheat oven to 450°F. Mix salt, sugar, flour and baking powder in a bowl and sift. Add the cold milk into dry ingredients and mix. As dough begins to form, use a cheese grater to grate your frozen butter evenly over dough. Fold dough, and knead. Repeat until all butter is spread evenly throughout dough. Fold in the blueberries. Gently pull off chunks of dough and pat to form biscuits. Place on ungreased cookie sheet or cake pan. Place in oven and bake for about 7-12 minutes (until golden.) Melt 1 tbsp. butter in the microwave, and paint finished biscuits with pastry brush. Mix glaze ingredients in a bowl, and drizzle over BoBerry Biscuits with a fork.

http://www.thesimplecook.net/2013/03/bo-berry-biscuit-recipe.html

Enjoy yourself!  -Kate

July Garden Vision

When it comes to weather in Minnesota, I’m starting to think that our gardens are just as hardy as we are. After being planted weeks later than usual, undergoing superfluous amounts of rain one week and drought-like conditions the next and braving the harsh sun day after day, I am amazed at the progress our beautiful flowers have made. They have an uncanny ability to roll with the changes and nothing seems to faze their growth. What an inspiring lesson for us to take from nature.  In honor of the perseverance we see in our plants, here are some ideas to give our favorite outdoor spaces the TLC they deserve:

photo1Do you have a hodge podge of aging garden tools lying about? Use them as door or drawer handles in your potting shed! If you feel like moving past the natural look, paint the handles bright and fresh colors.

~Sweet Magnolias Farm

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Are you tired of the same old look with your garden markers? Invest in some vintage style spoons, a 1/8 inch alphabet stamp set and a hammer, and start creating! Even if you don’t use them outside, these would make a sweet little place setting at a garden party.

http://amy-newnostalgia.blogspot.com/2010/11/garden-markers.html

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Mirrors are often used indoors to open up spaces, but have you ever thought to use them outside? Find some inexpensive and vintage looking mirrors, or old window frames which you can have mirrors cut to fit.  Place them in a somewhat sheltered nook of your garden, lean them against a wall or tuck one within a hedge. Visitors will be delighted by the reflections they find when walking through your garden!

http://goodlifeofdesign.blogspot.com/2010/02/outdoor-mirrors.html

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What a better use for an old canoe or boat than turning it into a sweet little rest area in your garden? I absolutely  love this idea! It would be simple to add a few shelves and hooks to create a mini-potting shed!

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This little tire planter is too cute! A few holes in the bottom would allow easy drainage for your plants and a quick coat of paint adds vintage charm. You can also try chalkboard paint and write little messages on this piece.

http://myhangingbaskets.com/hanging_planters.htm

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Are you looking for a new potting bench or table? Try using an old door to make one. Find a carpentry handy person to build you some little shelves and half a table to attach to the front. Old shutters will also work well for repurposing this piece.

http://dishfunctionaldesigns.blogspot.com/2012/01/upcycled-new-ways-with-old-window.html

Don’t wait for someone to give you flowers. Plant your garden and decorate your own soul. ~Kate

 

 

 

 

Independence Day

vintage-patriotic-american-flag-god-bless-america

Image(s) courtesy VintageHolidayCrafts.com

Fourth of July has always stood out for me as the pinnacle of summer and its unofficial half-way point. Many families take the week off to spend time at their cabin or with relatives. For others, the Fourth is a day to have an outdoor BBQ and watch fireworks. With all the opportunities that abound, I would encourage you to be creative when deciding how to spend your day. Take the time to reflect on what makes you proud to be an American and why we are so blessed to live in this great country. Here are some ideas for your Independence Day Celebration:

-Take in a baseball game. Nothing more American than baseball! Watch a local game if any are being played or round up some kids to start a game of their own. Be inspired by the Fourth of July scene from “the Sandlot” and enjoy the competitive atmosphere at the ballpark.

-Find out something new about our country. Study the origins of our American flag or read the Declaration of Independence. Knowing why this day is celebrated will allow you to appreciate the deeper meaning behind the fireworks and parties.

-Visit a historical site in your area. It’s unlikely that you have the fortune to live across the street from the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania being inspired daily by its symbolism in our country’s history, but even visiting a monument or a museum in your town will help increase your knowledge of local history and allow you to understand its impact on our nation. This can be a great afternoon outing, especially if you have children!

-Jam out to some patriotic tunes. While the nice summer weather might leave you desperate to turn some country music on, a few tracks of something more appropriate for the day will help get you in the right mindset for the Fourth. Many local radio stations even synchronize their holiday music with local fireworks!

-Enjoy all that yummy food.  Maybe this year you can try to make your own ice cream or root beer! Is it the cherry pie that always gets to you? Whatever your preference is, savor every bite.

-Host a block party! This is one of those cute little ideas that you always hear happened “back in the day”, but has become lost in this new generation. Round up all the neighbors that are staying home this year and enjoy some food and fellowship together. Get the kids to have three-legged races or a kickball competition. Maybe you can even set off some fireworks of your own (legality providing.) Make some new friends and cherish the bonds you have with the people who live closest to you.

-Find a new spot to watch fireworks. Whether it’s from your boat, the golf course or your own back porch – appreciate every last colorful burst!

Whatever you end up doing this Thursday, enjoy each second. Share in lots of laughter and fun with your friends and family and send up a prayer of thanks that you are blessed to live in this fabulous country. God bless America!  -Kate

Garden Party

webpageIt’s that time of year again: We are hosting our Garden Party! This is an event that has been a tradition ever since Crooked Willow started eight years ago. It’s amazing how blessed we have been as the years have flown by and we like taking the time to celebrate just how far we have come. Hoping that everyone will have an opportunity this weekend to come and check out our delicious food samples, register for some cute door prizes and enjoy a refreshing root beer float on Saturday.

It truly shocks me just how much things have changed in less then a decade. In this short time we have expanded our buildings from just the main house and Summer Kitchen to include the Trapper’s Lodge, Timber House and even the Barn! Us kids have found ourselves being promoted from behind-the-scenes weed pickers and floor scrubbers to project-painting, lawn-mowing, “sales associates.” And through it all, my mama has found an endless supply of creativity and fresh and innovative ideas to be the life-source behind this business. They energize and inspire everyone who walks through our doors to remember a simpler time and place. Absolutely amazing that God would allow us to be a place where people can take a break from their crazy lives to just relax and spend time with friends.

One of the biggest changes that we have undergone in eight years is moving here. It was certainly a major adjustment in our lives and came with plenty of difficulties and uncertainties. Nobody ever really seems to enjoy change because it means breaking free from the safety and assuredness of our present situation. But nothing great and exciting can ever truly come from walking cautiously through all of our days. We need to take risks and try new things, or we’ll never know exactly where God can take us. I think that the story of Crooked Willow is a beautiful example of faith and courage. It shows us why we take opportunities that are full of doubts and hesitations: because God’s whispered peace and love are louder than any fears that creep up inside of us.

I am excited to see what God has planned for our future. Thank you for eight fabulous years of making Crooked Willow your destination for a relaxing afternoon with friends.  -Kate

A Pocket Full of Sunshine

sunshine-natureI don’t know about anyone else, but this cloudy and rainy weather we’ve been living through, day in and day out, is getting mighty discouraging! Once we finally got rid of all the winter snow, it seemed like we were making progress towards a nice, warm summer, but it was not to be. I heard on the weather report a few days ago, that about two-thirds of the days in the past two months have either been cloudy or rainy! We could sure use some sunshine more than anything right now.

In the meantime, as we patiently (or not so patiently) wait, for better days ahead, here are some ideas to keep you energized and joy-filled:

-Clear out all your winter clutter. Being surrounded by lots of junk can make a person feel a little buried and crowded, not to mention scattered and unable to enjoy new things that come into our lives. Go through your closet (and why not the rest of the house too!) and sort through all those undesirable piles of unnecessary things. Give back to your community if you are able, because that will certainly make you feel good about yourself.

-Stock up on fruits in your house. While it’s tempting to keep plenty of sweets and “feel-good” foods on hand (which I certainly don’t discourage!) you are only as active as the foods you eat. Especially focus on oranges or Cuties for extra Vitamin C!

-Make a “Summer To Do” list. It can be simple things that you always make time for like sipping your Diet Peach Snapple on the front porch or watching a sunset. Be sure to include a few items that you’ve always wanted to do, like heading to the State Fair or trying out a new restaurant with friends. Try to cross off at least one activity a week.

-Get working in your garden. Obviously the weather has been a little sketchy as far as planting, but you still have three solid months to enjoy some fresh blooms. Gardens are projects filled with hope as you watch each flower blossom, despite uncontrollable factors around them.

-Volunteer somewhere. Churches often organize events that will benefit others, but groups such as Love Inc. in Alexandria as well as hospitals and libraries can always use an extra hand. There is no greater feeling than the one you get when you help someone else. Brighten someones day! J

-Exercise. Trust me, I know the last thing you want to do when it’s cloudy and depressing outside is put on your athletic shorts and do some crunches, but all those endorphins will energize you and wake your mind up! Make a new workout playlist, buy some cute workout clothes and download some apps (Nike Training Club is fabulous!) to get you motivated.

-Start your mornings a little differently. Buy a new devotional book, read a few chapters of the Bible or spend some time in prayer each day. Spend ten minutes every morning focusing on your spiritual life and you will soon notice a change in your attitude and outlook on life.  Perhaps a little divine intervention could bring us some nicer weather!

-Make a box of sunshine! Fill it with assorted yellow items like post-it notes, stationary, candies, lip balm, nail polish, lemonade, socks,  jewelry, or  whatever you can think of. Give it to someone who could really use some cheering up, or even save it for yourself to dig out on a particularly gray day.

I have been thinking a lot about how much we take the sun for granted and how we allow its presence to dictate our moods.  I’ve come to the conclusion that God must want us to become a little more mentally tough this year. We need to find our source of joy and peace through Him, regardless of the temperature or what we see when we look outside our windows. If we fail to grasp this concept, we are headed down a difficult and joyless path. No matter what, we need to stay positive and optimistic: Bring your own sunshine wherever you go! – Kate

Remembering Veterans

Memorial DayMemorial Day means many things to different people. For  teachers and students, it’s another day off. For everyone in our high school band, it’s spending the morning marching in a parade to the cemetery while the community watches. For veterans, it’s a day to remember their experiences in the military and to be honored by their nation. For me, it’s a day to realize just how blessed I am to live in America.

As a junior, I was required to take an American History class this year. With more depth and details than previous years, I learned all about the wartime horrors that servicemen and woman endured throughout each war. There was the fear of bigger weapons and ideologies that threatened to destroy our nation, worries of being killed in their sleep and concern for families back at home, anxiously waiting for their return. I marvel at their bravery and courage to undergo such experiences.

I often wonder what inspires a person to dedicate their time, energy and (for many) their lives to the military. Surely some were forced to do join because of the draft and others may have felt obligated to follow in the footsteps of family members. But I’m certain that the core purpose and motive that propelled these veterans to fight for the United States is the cause of freedom. Freedom from political ideas that threatened to control our way of life. Freedom from power-hungry dictators that were striving to take over the world. Freedom so that everyone would have a fair chance at life and the opportunity to be raised in a country where they could be educated and responsible for their own actions. Freedom to chase our dreams, no matter how big or small.

Many times in the course of the past few weeks, I have found myself complaining about the excessive amounts of homework I have had to deal with. If I take a step back, I realize just how thankful I should be that I have homework; because that means that I am going to be an educated young woman someday. In far too many places in our world, this is not even a possibility. Nearly every single thing that you take for granted in your life has been tirelessly pursued by the efforts of our veterans. Had it not been for them, we would not be living in the greatest country in the world.

I pray for the veterans who gave their lives for the freedom of millions. I pray for the veterans who still struggle today with PTSD and wartime injuries, both physical and mental.  I pray for each one of us. I know that we can always find fault in the things in our lives and it is far too simple to focus on what we don’t have and lack. But especially on this day, I hope that you can find a place of thankfulness in your heart and be grateful for all that we have been blessed with. God bless America!  -Kate

Inspiring Walls …

DSCN7100Over the past few years, I have truly begun to appreciate photos. When we were younger, it was such a struggle for my mama to get us kids all in a row with our forced smiles in place. As we got older, we began to take them with a more practiced ease and less complaint. Now, I almost feel like I’m the one asking for us to take pictures! There are so many moments in this beautiful life that I want to capture and never let go. Taking a picture can never physically bring you back to that time and place, but for a little while it allows you to remember exactly how you felt in a certain moment. You remember things that had slipped back through the recesses of your memory. You more fully appreciate the little things in life that were actually big things.

The reason I mention my love of photography is because I want to share the project I have been working on over the course of the past year. After our sojourn to Florida last summer, I went through a period of time that yielded a whole lot of cute pictures. I debated whether to frame and display them or just throw them in an album. This problem, combined with my obsession with Pinterest quotes, led me to create my inspiration wall. With just tacks and a massive wall, I can now look at all my photos at once! Whenever I feel overwhelmed and need a morale boost, I pick up encouragement by seeing how far I’ve already come and remembering where I want to go. I update it every few months or so with pictures of the latest events and happenings. So consider creating a place in your office or home where you can be inspired and refreshed by the beauty of your life!  – Kate

 

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