It’s here. I smell it . . .

Kentucky and Belle Meade 183My favorite part of fall isn’t the changing leaves, the cooler weather, or that thing called Turkey Day. Don’t get me wrong. Those are all wonderful things to look forward to, but my senses veer towards a little something different.

Just call me Ms. Olfactory because it’s the smells of fall that get me a smiling.

Wet leaves

Rain on a crisp day

A pumpkin pie spice candle

Turkey sizzling on the grill

Damp soil

A casserole in the slow cooker

My husband, Dale, and I experienced nature’s version of fall this morning as we road 13 miles on our mountain bikes through a hidden valley of massive palm trees, California Oaks, and a trickling stream. The dank smell reminded me of hiking in New Zealand during their fall last year where everything was glowing green and wet from weeks of rain.

Kentucky and Belle Meade 151Then there was the 40 some degree temperature that engulfed us. It was as though it rose from the moist soil like a ghost seeking a human to haunt. It tickled our noses, leaving them cold to the touch.

The ride was lovely, unexpected, perfect.

The best way to start our holiday week during which we’ll embrace a host of fall scents and experiences that will leave us craving more.

What makes the fall and this holiday week memorable for you?

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Creation at its Best

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,because he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:18 – 21 NIV

Have you ever wondered why God chose to have Jesus born by Mary rather than appear as a grown man? Instead of spending his entire childhood and adult life on Earth, God could have had Jesus on Earth for just a few years as an adult. That would have saved a lot of time and effort . . . but then the beauty of creation would not have been showcased through his birth.

My husband, Dale, and I became parents on October 28, 2012 to a boy weighing in at 9 lb. 14 oz. He was such a hefty guy, we thought he should have a big name, too, so we selected Christian Alexander.

Christian Alexander on his first day

Christian Alexander on his first day

We chose to not know his sex until the delivery. All throughout the pregnancy we debated what we thought the baby would be, or I should say others debated – I knew it was a boy from the first day we found out we were expecting. It was as if God decided to give me a little inside information on his creation, just like Mary and Joseph got the scoop on Jesus before he was born.

jesus birthBecoming a parent is a magical and terrifying experience. You spend hours inspecting every little part of your darling, marveling at how perfect he is,  and then an equal amount of time brainstorming and researching the source of his incessant crying. I imagine Mary and Joseph experienced something similar. Even though Jesus was perfect in every way, he was still born a babe. His parents likely marveled at how beautiful his toes were and guessed what color his eyes and hair would be as he got older. They probably savored every moment with him, knowing he would grow up faster than they wanted.

God sending Jesus to us as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes was brilliant and beautiful.  Jesus’ birth gives us parents and our little ones something to relate to and cherish, and lets everyone celebrate the miracle of creation each year. Only God could create something as magnificent as a baby named Jesus.

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Our adorable creation

Can Elves Handle Heavy Lifting?

Do you want a new house for Christmas?

Escondido dream house by Heather Zuber-Harshman

Does it rank in the top five on your Christmas list? Have you been a good girl or boy this year?  If you answered a resounding “Yes!” to each of those question, I’m about to make you a very happy person.   You can have this house for free.  That’s right.  Zero dollars and it’s yours.  There are two caveats, though.

First, new is a relative term.  It can mean fresh and unused by others, or it can mean something you have not had before.  The latter applies in this situation.  The upside is that you can make it what you want as it falls in the fixer-upper category.

Second, you have to  move it to a new location on your own dime.  This house is located in Escondido, California, so you may want to purchase some land there since moving a house is no easy chore and could drain your pocket book, unless Santa’s elves are capable of heavy lifting.  No worries, though. I can assure you that Northern San Diego County (where Escondido is located) is lovely this time of year.  For proof, you can follow this link, The Slow Pace of Life in Southern California.

So, how are you feeling right now? Ecstatic? Elated? Energized? Or maybe some other adjective that starts with “e”?  I’m glad I was able to take care of one of the top five items on your Christmas list. 

What are the other items on your list?

This will be my last post until January 2nd.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the first six months of my blog.  Have a blessed holiday season with your family and friends.

Heather

You Want Me to Be the Mother of Our Savior? No Problem

by Heather Zuber-Harshman

18Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1: 18 – 21 ESV

Do you ever wonder if Mary and Joseph were worried about what others would think about them having a baby out of wedlock?  Although an angel assured Joseph that he should proceed as planned and marry Mary despite the social awkwardness of their situation, I am sure they both experienced moments of doubt and concern.  Yet they followed through with God’s plan, and Mary gave birth to our Savior.

by Heather Zuber-Harshman

I can list hundreds of times when I have been nervous about what others thought about my actions.  Whether it be choosing the dress I wore to senior prom, coloring my hair brown while in law school, or leaving the practice of law to teach, I have mulled over other people’s perspective on my decisions to the point of raising my blood pressure and making me doubt all of my decisions.  Not only was this unhealthy, it made my life miserable.

Although it would be super if God sent an angel to confirm our decisions, since that isn’t likely, we can seek his assurance and guidance by reading the Bible and praying. These actions will help us to get to know God and what he desires for us.  They will also allow us to embrace the fact that God loves us no matter what clothing we wear, what color our hair is, or what decisions we make in life.  His love is a perfect distraction from worrying about what others may think about us.

Do you continually fret about what others think about you? 

Song for Meditation: O Holy Night by Leigh Nash (free download)

Get additional free Christmas song downloads here

Oh How Sweet Life Is Recipe #2: Taking Bonbons to a Whole New Level

Although the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a bonbon as “a candy with chocolate or fondant coating and fondant center that sometimes contains fruits and nuts,” for purposes of this recipe they are “cookies with chocolate, cherries, nuts or other fun things in the center and icing on top.”  Sounds yummy, ehh?  Precisely.

Les bons gateaux by Holly Zuber

½ c. margarine (the consistency of the dough is better with margarine than with butter)

¾ c. powdered sugar

1 Tbsp. almond

1 ½ c. all purpose flour

1/8 tsp. salt

Red and green food coloring

Combine the margarine, sugar, and almond.  Blend the flour and salt together then add them to the wet ingredients.  Divide the dough in half.  Add red food coloring to one half of the dough, and green food coloring to the other half.  Add 1 to 2 Tbsp. milk to the dough if it is dry.

For each cookie, wrap 1 Tbsp. of dough around 1 of or a mixture of the following fillings: 1 date; 1 pecan; 1 walnut; 1 cherry; 2 or 3 dried cranberries; 3 or 4 chocolate chips.  Bake 1” apart on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350° for 12 to 14 minutes.  Cool.

Are you hungry yet? Photo by Holly Zuber

Make the icing by combining the following ingredients:

1 c. powdered sugar

2 Tbsp. milk (any kind of milk should suffice)

1 tsp. almond

Divide the icing in half.  Add red food coloring to one half, and green food coloring to the other half.  Dip the top of each cookie in the icing.  You can do red on red, green on green, or mix colors.  Set the cookies on paper towels to let the icing set.  This recipe makes about 3 dozen, depending on how much dough you use for each cookie.

Enjoy with some hot chocolate, mulled cider, or another favorite holiday beverage.

What Christmas treats are you making?

It was confirmed that I was a natural blonde . . .

when I was in middle school and wanted to help my mom bake Christmas cookies.  I selected one of my favorite recipes – Bon Bons.  They are made of flavored dough that is wrapped around a yummy filling such as chocolate chips, a cherry, or nuts.  My younger sister, Holly, acted as my assistant baker.  We spent more than two hours making the cookies, even adding a beautiful glaze on each.

Deciding to taste our masterpieces before they were fully cooled, we both daintily picked a soft, steamy cookie and took a bite.  Our lips puckering, we uttered “eeeww” and spit them out.  This was not how our treasured treats were supposed to taste.  What happened?  Scanning the ingredients on the counter I saw a bottle of lemon extract.  Lemon?  Oh no!  I had accidentally used that instead of almond.  Feeling guilty for wasting my mom’s baking supplies, and devastated over my poor baking abilities, I acted like it was no big deal – like the cookies really weren’t that bad.  I forced my ever-obedient sister to eat two of the cookies as I followed suit to prove that I hadn’t really messed-up; that I was still the perfect daughter.

What baking blunder have you made?

Tune in tomorrow for the correct, non-lemony recipe.

The infamous Bon Bons as captured by Holly Zuber

Don’t Lose a Finger This Thanksgiving

When I was in Colorado a few Thanksgivings ago, my friends, John and Marisa took me to their friends’ house for the holiday feast.  The primary draw at the dinner table was the turducken. What’s that, you ask?  This common question is why I chose to write this story: to put to rest all confusion and questions about this festive treat.

Let’s start at the very beginning.  Turducken is a chicken stuffed in a duck, stuffed in a turkey.  Here’s an illustration for visual learners:

Being the naïve person that I am, I had four questions when I first heard of this treat: 1) how does one debone each of the birds while still maintaining their shape? 2) how does one stuff a full chicken in a duck?  3) why not just cook a duck, chicken, and turkey on their own? 4) where did this fascination with stuffing birds inside of each other come from?

This video answered my first two questions and motivated me to make a turducken one day, or at least until I got to the

One reason I won't be making my own nested bird combo for Thanksgiving

part when the narrator warned about losing a finger when trying to prepare the meat:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-Co1Ecv_8g.  This word of caution caused flashbacks to my solo trip to the ER last May for a cooking cutting injury.  Four hours in the ER, getting a shot of anesthesia into my gaping wound, and paying five-hundred dollars for the privilege of being poked and prodded like a baked turducken were enough to shift my motivation to saving $8 per month for the next year so my husband and I can order a tri-bird treat from this company: http://www.cajungrocer.com/fresh-foods-holiday-dishes-turducken-c-1_15_24.html?lastaction=add_to_cart&=&page=1.

Once you have taken your first bite of a turducken, the answer to my third question is apparent.  It is one of the juiciest, most flavorful meats I’ve ever had the privilege of eating.  Being a fan of duck, I’m convinced that it is what makes the blend perfect and flavorful.

As to my last question, according to Wikipedia, creating roasts of nested bird has been going on for centuries:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turducken This story indicates that in 1807, a gastronomist named Grimod de La Reynière decided to make a bustard stuffed with a turkey, a goose, a pheasant, a chicken, a duck, a guinea fowl, a teal, a woodcock, a partridge, a plover, a lapwing, a quail, a thrush, a lark, an ortolan bunting and a garden warbler.  Since I had to look up eight of the names in that litany of birds, my motivation shifted a second time to developing a nested bird combination of my own for next Thanksgiving and hiring a butcher to create it.  Below is what I’ve come up with so far.

Have you had turducken before?  Will you have it again?