{December 3} Advent: Why are you hiding?

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The woman…saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

~ Genesis 3:6-9

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Where am I. That question has come to my mind several times in the past two years. The wandering about in sorrow and loss and wondering what is real and what isn’t. Who God is and Who He isn’t. I always came to some sort of answer – they weren’t always the “right” ones. In fact, some of my answers were so against the mainstream things I’d always been taught they were only secretly breathed to some of my dearest friends.

But I learned that while I was searching for God and His answers and His hand and His comfort and His peace and His love….He was already searching for me. When I turned to Him, He was already looking at me. Lovingly, eagerly.

God is searching for our hearts. He wants a relationship with us. He doesn’t give up on us. His love never fails. His searching never fails.

Your God looks for you when you’re feeling lost, and your God calls for you when you feel cast aside. He doesn’t run down the rebel. He doesn’t strike out the sinner. He doesn’t flog the failure…

And that moment when you heart turns to His heart – already turned to you?

The Fall turns into a falling into His everlasting arms.

~ Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

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{December 2} Advent: You were made in God’s image

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

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Then God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw that the lights was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”…DSC_0067

God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

~ Genesis 1:1-5, 26-27

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You know what gets me? That the God who made all of this. The giant universe. The big skies. The faraway stars. The tiny cherries. That God who brought all those things into existence with mere words – He is the one who joined together all of Him in love to make people. “Let us make man into our image…” Like, we were special. Unique. And all that love was funneled into our very existence.

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“The three persons of the Trinity — Father God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit — gathered close together to imagine you. And God in three persons, uncontainable affection, knelt down and kissed warm life into you with the breath of His love…No matter your story before, this is your beginning now: you were formed by Love…for love.

“Christmas begins here. The Christmas story, this love story — the whole blue marble of the world spinning right now on the Cross-beam axis of Love. ”  ~ Ann Voskamp

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What does this sort of love mean to you?

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Thanks for joining me for Advent this year. Jump here to catch up on Day 1. Or just stay here and follow along. I’m happy to have you. Whatever you do – don’t think it’s too late. 25 days is good. But so is 24. Or 14. So come on this journey. Live this Christmas.

{ A few links to get your start }

>> DIY for making your own salt dough spiral – We do this in about 20 minutes – or 20 Christmas carols. <<
>> Advent book for you – my favorite study for Christmas <<
>> Free reading plan for the Jesus Storybook Bible for littles. >>
>> The book we are using for advent this year for our whole family. Big pictures. Big truths. <<

{December 1} Advent: Out of the dead comes something alive.

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It’s a little branch, but it’s alive.

Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot –

yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.

And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him –

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and might,

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord….

In that day, the heir to David’s throne

will be a banner of salvation in all the world.

The nations will rally to him.

and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.

~ Isaiah 11:1-2, 10

Do you know what my kids do with stumps? Stand on them.

That’s all they’re good for it seems. Lifting others up. Helping others be taller. But never taking time to grow itself. 0011_IMG_8435

I met a girl the other day. Ringing a bell for the Salvation Army in front of a nearby grocery store. All I had to give Kami was a crumpled up dollar bill. Kami asked what she was ringing the bell for. “I’m helping people buy food at Christmas.” Kami peeked into the bucket.

“You don’t have berry much money in der.”

She didn’t. Now, the season has just gotten started.

“Would you like to ring the bell?” she asked Kami.

She eagerly agreed. And loudly she rang that bell. A few other people stopped by the bucket. Many walked waaaaaay around it though.

“I appreciate you.” I (should have) told her.

I wonder if that woman felt like she was rather stump-y.  But that she was working hard to dig roots in hard dirt and as Kami pointed out, she didn’t have much growth to show for it. 0009_IMG_8417

Maybe your stump is your entire life-bucket. It feels unfair, unjust, unloving.

Maybe your Christmas seems rather dead and lifeless. A lifetime of memories with no energy to make new ones. Or even keep the old ones going. Maybe some of your family have been cut off from life. That makes Christmas more of a curse on the calendar than something exciting to watch for.

Let me tell you something though.

The tinsel. The lights sparkling. The reds and greens. The bells. They’re all a quiet little chorus right now singing softly — Jesus is coming

He is the reason we can celebrate this season. Christmas isn’t a tree. It isn’t even making memories. It isn’t gifts or decorations or a twinkling yard.

It doesn’t have to be big. Simple is how He came anyway. A little baby with almost nothing in the middle of a cold hard cave.

A little live branch in the middle of a dead cold hard stump.

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One candle can work as well as 25.

A tree branch cut out of the yard can hold handwritten verses or some homemade ornaments.

You can celebrate quietly every night. Or every Sunday. Or whenever you get a moment to let God’s Spirit breathe newness into that old stump-life of yours.

But you know something? Out of that dead, lifeless stump a marvelous thing happened. A new branch grew. And this new branch brought forth so much life and freedom.

Watch for it friends. You may feel like a stump. Forgotten, unloved. Condemned, misunderstood.

Don’t be afraid to sit still.  That’s when the real life happens. That’s when you’ll hear it. Jesus is coming…

Wait for it. Something is coming. It seems small now. Just a small branch coming in a quiet whisper. But it will grow and it will be so big and loud you won’t be able to miss it.

Jesus is coming…

 

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Join me every night around this time. Grab something to drink. Lean your kids in close with your own Bible or advent book. Maybe light a candle or many. There’s no right way or wrong way. Just take a few moments and focus on the life of the season. The real reason we are all here. The reason I can make it through Decembers. Merry Christmas. It can absolutely be merry.

 

Join me for Advent? {links to a simple Christmas}

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I remember not knowing what “advent” was a few years ago. I always knew the “true meaning of Christmas”. I didn’t need that. Besides – “isn’t it a Catholic thing?”

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Then I had a son. A son who was here only to teach me the truth about life in the dark of death. And when we lost him in December two years ago, I knew Christmas would never be the same. And it isn’t. We still have gifts for the girls. We have a tree. We get excited at the beautiful displays of reds and greens and lights and sparkles. We hope for snow on Christmas Eve. {We are even more hopeful this year. :)}

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But the month is just full of memories of the lasts. The last ultrasound. The last kick. The last maternity sweater I bought for a Christmas party…and had the intuition to not remove the tags. These thoughts would overwhelm me in a sea of sorry.

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This advent thing keeps me from drowning. Because there’s another boy who came to earth. For the purpose of teaching us about life in the dark of His death. Did Mary know that He would live a different kind of life? A shortened one that was meant to reach far more than any one person usually reaches in a long one?

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Everything is whispering softly the truth – “Jesus is coming.” I want to be still and hear it. I want to be focused and see it. I don’t want to sink this Christmas. I want to stand straight and tall and smile.

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Join me. Every night around 7 PM Philly time. Make it big or small. Make an advent spiral out of simple things, flour, water, salt, or just light a candle by your computer. Sit by the fire, or the tree, or that candle – light.  Think about the Light of the world and let it brighten and slow and lift your holiday to something higher and more peaceful and full of sparkle.
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{ A few links to get your started }

>> DIY for making your own salt dough spiral – We do this in about an hour – or 20 Christmas carols. <<
>> Advent book for you – my favorite study for Christmas << and for you, for today, a special deal? Only $8.39 if you use code HOLIDAY30?
>> Free reading plan for the Jesus Storybook Bible for littles. >>
>> The book we are using for advent this year for our whole family. Big pictures. Big truths. Only $10.49 in you use code HOLIDAY30!>>

{Cranberry Apple Cornbread Stuffing} with sausage

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So I’ve been a little nervous about the holidays for several reasons. But sometimes my memories of childhood Thanksgiving dinners just overtake me with happy inside I can’t stand it. One of my memories is Thanksgiving at my grandparent’s house. My dad’s mom had four boys. This alone makes her a saintly creature. Each of her boys has wives and kids – and my cousins were everywhere! Second cousins and great aunts and uncles and in laws of the in laws would come. I’d always try to figure out who went with who as they came inside…but I usually couldn’t get it all down in time for the meal. It was such a happy time for all of us to walk up that big hilled driveway through the garage and pass the “A Fisherman and the Catch of His Life lives here” sign and through the door-that-was-always-unlocked. No one ever used the front door. Unless we were in the middle of a giant game of chase and needed an escape route. And if that house was ever locked, we could find the key by feeling around in the open brick wall on the other side of the garage. If we could squeeze ourselves around Grandpa’s truck.

We’d all squeeze into that house. And the love and laughs (there were tons of those!) would overflow right back out. There was a kids table. Usually in the kitchen (with the hard floor). There was a grownup table – usually two big plastic tables smushed together – brought in from somewhere – the attic or the basement workshop maybe?

There was never enough room for all the food. In the oven. Much less the table. The turkey would take up all the space in that small oven but of course all my aunts brought in their own things. My mom always brought in a hash brown casserole. And yeast rolls. Usually tensions would rise in that hot hot kitchen when my mom showed up with her rolls. Because that’s when the space ran out. But somehow everyone always forgot about those rolls every year. So, inevitably, all the food would be out on the counter (sometimes there was also fried chicken from somewhere?) – and my mom was somewhere in the living room saying “we’re just waitin’ on the bread!” Except no one was waitin’ on nothin’.

My Grandma had a dessert table. Always two things – pecan pie. And pumpkin. They were in the dining room away from the rest of the food. And Grandpa had a secret appetizer dessert course stashed in a cabinet – white chocolate red and green ball covered sprinkled cookies. When there’s so many people squished in one house, there isn’t much room for one busy mama or aunt or grandma or whoever-else-was-there to notice us kids taking those cookies. By the handfuls. Grandpa usually knew though. Which is why he’d hold the bucket in the living room in his chair.  If you could endure a few lighthearted jokes, and a few kisses, you could manage to stave off the hunger pains until those rolls finished.

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My grandma and grandpa with their four boys. My dad is the one on the bottom right.

 

Then my grandma would yell over the loud chatter – “Ricky! Ricky! Pray for us son.” My dad always got picked! Well, sometimes one of my other uncles. But usually my dad. I used to think it was because he went to church the most of all the uncles. It was probably just because he was the oldest. It was the one quiet moment of the day. Then the noise levels would kick back in and everyone would talk about who took all the dark meat, who made those rolls again? Whether Grandpa spiked his ambrosia or not, and which of the four brothers was gonna walk away with the most $$ for Christmas this year.

That’s what I think of when I think Thanksgiving. I miss this more than any of my childhood memories. I’ve learned the hard way that my kids won’t have the same sort of memories with our living so far from family so often. So we make our own. And I’m learning that their memories are becoming just as important as mine are to me, even though they aren’t the same.

This year, in the midst of another holiday season, I’m thankful for memories. Happy ones.

Well, except for Grandma’s stuffing. I never liked that. (What kid does?) It was probably amazing and I just didn’t appreciate it.

Truth be told, I came up with my own stuffing recipe.  So, now if my grandparents were still alive. And we all gathered under that roof once more. I’d bring the stuffing. And this is the recipe I’d make.

 

 

cranberry apple stuffing

I make up a quick batch of cornbread. I have my own recipe I use to make it from scratch, but the sweetness and ease of Jiffy makes this just the best.

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While the cornbread is cooking (unless you’ve made it ahead of time!), cube two loaves of bakery bought bread. I like to use French and Ciabatta.

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I like to bake it in the oven for 15 minutes at 425 degrees. To get it nice and dry and toasty. (So it’ll hold all the yumminess that’s about to be poured on top of it!)

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Meanwhile, cut up your other ingredients. Two large apples, and one large onion.

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Then while those are sitting on the counter, I cook up a pound of sausage. This is so so yummy. Usually somewhere during this sausage cooking my bread has finished toasting so I can take it out to cool.

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Once the sausage is finished cooking, I’ll drain it and remove it from the pan to set aside, then add the chopped apples and onions. Cook them on low heat until the apples are a tad mushy and the onions are translucent.

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Then I add my spices. I added 1 Tbsp of Basil and 1 Tbsp of Marjoram. But really any two of your favorite spices would work well together in this. I also tasted this and salted as necessary. Remember to season well because you’re about to add this to a lot of bland bread!

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Add your toasted bread crumbs to a (very) large mixing bowl. Don’t forget your cornbread! Add that in there too!

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Right on top of that bread, I add the sausage, the apple and onion mixture, and one cup of dried cranberries.

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Then I add about 2 cups of chicken broth. And mix it gently but firmly. The cornbread will become pretty crumbly, but the other cubes of bread will hold their shape pretty well.

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At this point, I’ll taste it a bit because I’m so hungry and it smells so amazing and it tastes out of this world!  to check the seasonings. Then pour it into a 9×13 pan and stack it up high and pop it in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes. Or until the top of it looks brown and toasty.

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The apples and onion blend into the bread to make this deliciously sweet bread and the salty sausage cuts that sweet and takes it over the edge. You have to try this. You’ll be so glad you did it. And I promise it’ll be such a notch above anything store bought! Keep making those memories, though, storebought stuffing or not. They are oh so very important.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!!

 

(And for those of you who think my kitchen is neat like this for all these pictures. May I step back a few steps and show you what it really looks like right now? Keep cooking – even in the mess, girls. It’s all worth it.)

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I mean really. I was making stuffing. So why did I need two things of sugar on my counter? Maybe because I’m thinking that bag will fall off?

{easy!} Bacon Honey Roasted Brussel Sprouts

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Before we left our lovely little Greenville town a few months back, some very dear friends of mine threw together a surprise goodbye dinner for me. (This was thrown together because the entire move was thrown together! If you really wanna see the timeline of our two week move, I wrote about it last month.) They wanted to take me out to dinner to my favorite downtown restaurant. I had an hour to get ready.

It wasn’t hard to get ready. These girls have been with me since my college days. They’ve come and gone between states, moves, houses. I don’t know how many times we’ve helped each other move. Come to birthday parties. Held each others babies. Sometimes two or three different babies at once. They’ve cried through my baby’s funeral. They’ve eaten my food. We’ve sat through countless Panera Bread salads at children’s hospitals and prayed over little ladies with unending seizures. We’ve killed ant invasions together. < This is serious friendship here.

And this hasn’t always been an easy task. Trust me, not every dish that comes out of my oven is intact. Much less stellar. And they all know that it’ll never be on time. But they keep coming back.

And while they were dealing with their own crazies (my one friend was moving within the week or had just moved within the week or something – I can’t even remember now – and was pregnant – and my other friend was dealing with her own little ones and trying to put on a brave happy face even though we both knew that losing such a dear neighbor friend was probably something we’d never get again, and maybe we should prolong this all just a couple more days….

We needed a last hurrah of sorts. Or maybe we just needed an excuse to get a quick moment out and away from the home front. Either way – these girls shocked my socks off. And we went out.

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The restaurant they chose – my favorite in town – is a great little Mediterranean high end but casual cafe of sorts.  They serve a tapas style menu – everyone order a dish, but you all share a bit of everything. It’s a slow food place. Which I love. Since I love to eat good food and talk it fits me so perfectly. Each dish can be brought out as one is finished – instead of everything at the same time.

And my favorite is this one. This isn’t an exact replica of the amazingness we had there. But these brussel sprouts are the closest I’ve been able to get. And they’re so delicious. I’ve never liked a green vegetable so much in my life. And at only 5 ingredients or so, it’s a cinch to make.

Give these a try! I promise they’ll change your mind from the boiled-to-mush things you probably grew up on.

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Actually, she did this on purpose to try to sabotage me. She really did like them.

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You can buy your brussel sprouts on the stalk like this (this stalk was only $2.49 at Trader Joe’s this week!), or you can buy them in the refrigerated produce section already cut for you. You’ll get about half this many for the same price. You can also find them frozen.

DSC_0082Cut your sprouts off the stalk, rinse thoroughly, then cut them in half or in thirds. This is the key. The thinner the pieces, the crispier they will be later. You’ll thank me when you get to the later.

DSC_0085Congrats – you just did the hardest part! (Yeah, I know, that wasn’t even hard.) It’s all easy peasy from here.

DSC_0086Drizzle some olive oil over the cut sprouts and toss them, then dump them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Add some salt and pepper.

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At this point, I whip out my kitchen shears and cut up 5 slices of bacon or so into pieces right over the top of the sprouts. I guess I could cut them all up professional like with a big shiny knife on a cutting board then sprinkle them on top. But I just cut it right on top of the pan. Saves dishes.

Then bake them in a 425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until they start getting dark brown and crispy. I like to toss mine in the pan once at the ten minute mark.

Meanwhile, you’ll need two more things. Some honey and balsamic vinegar.

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Put a half cup of balsamic vinegar in a small pot with a couple Tbsp of honey. Cook this on low for about five minutes until it simmers a bit and starts to reduce, getting thick. Once you turn off the heat, it’ll thicken up a bit to a salty, tangy, slightly sweet rich sauce. This is right when I usually toss those sprouts!

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When your sauce is done, your brussel sprouts will be about done. Give them a good look-see and see if they look like this:

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This is golden. Your bacon is done. There’s some good looking caramelization on the sprouts. (NOTE: caramelization does mean that they taste like caramel. But it does mean they are almost as good as it.)

Now it’s time to dress these golden nuggets of goodness with that sauce.

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Toss them up a tad and serve immediately.

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Half a stalk of brussel sprouts fed my family of four. But we could have eaten the whole thing. They’re that good.

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It’s a Girl! | Baby Shower for a new Philly Friend

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Apparently, when you have a blog called “kimzkitchen”, new people associate you with “Kim the Caterer”.

Until they meet me.

Then it’s probably “Kim the worthless-around-town-without-Siri-parallel-parking-klutz-who-has-funny-kids-and-talks-funny-crazy-caterer. Girl.

But before they knew me as that ^^^^^, some new friends in our new church asked me to jump in and help out last minute with the food for a baby shower. I was eager to connect in some way. Although, maybe not so eager to put my tiny kitchen to the test.  I ended up being able to delegate all of the food prep, except for 4 dozen mini quiches or so, so it wasn’t too bad! And, another new friend let me borrow her predictable-oven. So I didn’t have to exercise faith in mine quite yet.

First off, the space we were able to use. Uhhhhh-mazing. It belongs to one of our churches – there’s a couple different plants up here in the city – this building was gifted to the one a few neighborhoods away from the one we go to. And it lived up to all of its 100 year old charm! The old wooden folding chairs, the exposed beams…

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I mean, is there anything that wouldn’t look good in this room? We served a menu based on the mom-to-be’s favorite foods. The only thing we left out was her favorite french toast casserole. I think I’ll have to bake her one after baby girl gets here. I blame my tiny kitchen oven on that oversight. What’s nice about the food at this shower, is that most of it is store bought. The granola for the yogurt parfaits was homemade, but doesn’t have to be. The doughnuts were store bought, the fruit was rather no-bake – hee hee. The quiches were baked but not too hard at all. (Recipe coming next week!)

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My favorite addition to the shower food table set up was my new drink dispenser! The mom-to-be mentioned she loved mason jars, so I tried to incorporate as many as I could. She also has a passion for all things vintage, so bringing out my grandmother’s old mason jars for drinks made total sense. This drink dispenser fit the rest of the decor just perfectly, and worked better than any of my previous ones. The fact that it’s glass and the nozzle thingy is super well-made (with no leaks!) definitely helps my adoration of it.
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There were a few stations set up around the room for decorating a diaper – so mom can see something interesting in those middle-of-the-night changes. And a wishes and wisdom tree for mom to take home and display in the baby’s nursery.

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I loved watching Michelle, the mommy-to-be enjoying herself so much with her own mom. What a special moment for both of them.

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Michelle’s mother in law gave her a copy of a book Michelle’s husband wrote in 4th grade, “Sam the Indian Boy”. There wasn’t a dry eye around.

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Everyone left left with a tea bag – just in time to brew for the cold weather!