Reflecting on 2016

I’m not much of a resolutions kind of girl but I think it’s healthy to take time to consider the past year, both the good and the hard. I’ve always felt that reflecting on what you have experienced helps give perspective to your current situation and hope for the new year.

Ours is a family of faith and we have relied heavily on it in 2016. We literally started the new year with a cancer diagnosis (my sister) and we are ending the year in good health – praise! But all of the in between was challenging to our faith and stamina and for me personally, living so far away and not being able to physically be there for my sister was extremely difficult. I wanted to bring her food, go with her to appointments and sit in the waiting room at doctor visits. I wanted to fly down for her surgery and support her in her recovery.

But with four small children and 1300 miles in the way, physically being there was just not possible. Instead, I supported her from afar, through prayer and phone calls and gifts in the mail. It was not easy for me and made me question living in Maine. Add to that the very real issue of seasonal depression and what I call the five year itch of living here and I was feeling more than ready to pack my bags and move back south.

My husband and I spent a good part of spring and early summer considering opportunities that might bring us back below the Mason Dixon line but there seemed to be no doors opening and neither of us felt like we were being led somewhere new. By July, Maine was showing off her finest and we were thoroughly enjoying all that is lovely and precious about this place. I remember being out on the water as family one day and feeling peace in my heart that this state is still home for our Miller Party of Six.

And with the hard came a lot of good in 2016. Relationships with friends grew deeper, new friends were made, a creative outlet (this blog) was launched and a house addition was started (almost done!) I’ve watched my husband work so hard to provide for our family, my children work through their own challenges both socially and academically and other family members show great courage despite what lay before them. It has been both inspiring and encouraging to see so many loved ones persevere in their own circumstances with so much grace.

I won’t lie that I get anxious heading into a long stretch of gray days and extreme cold. This week has already teased and tested me with those old feelings of sadness. But like the others in my life that I admire, how I respond to my situation is my choice. At our Christmas eve service my pastor said something that really resonated with me: “Joy is not determined by the circumstances around you but Christ within you.” I wrote it down immediately and taped it to my bathroom mirror and hope to use it daily as a reminder of how I want to live each day – choosing Joy.

So while 2016 started out in a way none of us could expect, it ends with great hope for what may be ahead in 2017. Happy New Year Everyone – I pray that your 2017 brings you and yours hope and joy!

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New Year’s Day Food Traditions

I’m not really a superstitious person but I always cook a good southern New Year’s day meal. Growing up in the south, we always ate pork, black eye peas, turnip greens and cornbread. I learned over the years that this plate of food, when eaten all together, represents financial prosperity, good luck and good health in the coming new year.

While I love all of the stories I’ve heard over the years about the greens representing paper money, the cornbread, gold, the pork, good health, etc… for me, the tradition matters more than the superstition. I feel like these southern comforts are even more important to me now that I’m raising my children in New England. I would guess we are the only family in Maine consuming this meal on January 1!

While my  mom always served a traditional plate of black eye peas and coca-cola pork chops with her turnip greens and cornbread, I’ve created our own family version of the meal including Hoppin’ John and pork tenderloin (and of course the greens and cornbread!)

There are various versions of Hoppin’ John out there but I prefer this simple version for our new years plate and I’m sharing the recipe I make every year for you!

Hoppin’ John*
serves 4-6

Ingredients:
1 cup dry black eyed peas
1/2 cup rice (dry)
3 plum tomatoes, chopped
6 green onion, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
grated cheddar cheese for serving (optional – I prefer mine without)

Tomato hot pepper relish:
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 serrano pepper, seeded and chopped (be careful, wash your hands and don’t touch your face while handling this hot pepper!)
pinch of salt

Directions:

Soak the black eyed peas overnight in water. In the morning, drain the water, add fresh water (about two inches above peas) and bring to a boil. Cover pot (leaving an inch open) and simmer for about one hour, until peas are tender. Drain and set peas aside.

Cook the rice in 1 1/2 cups water. When done, fluff with a fork and combine with the peas in a large bowl.

Top the peas and rice with the sliced green onions and chopped tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the relish, combine all ingredients. It shouldn’t be runny so you might need to add a little more or a little less mayonnaise to produce desired thick sauce consistency.

*Recipe courtesy of eatliverun.com

Does your family have any New Year’s Day traditions? I want to hear about them!

Last-last Minute Stocking Stuffers!

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Sure, you’ve probably picked up some cute things along the way for the stockings but now that the big day is nearly here, you may be thinking there are still things you need to fill up those cute little socks hanging on the mantle. This is just a quick little list of things you are sure to find at your local drug or grocery store. I always plan to grab the final items on Christmas eve so that 1.) I don’t have to find a good hiding place for a million things 2.) I don’t lose a million little things and 3.) the perishables don’t spoil. Without further ado:

For Dad: Dad always gets coffee in his stocking and I like to buy it last minute so that it’s as fresh as possible. Depending on how well I shopped ahead, I sometimes pick up toothpaste, lip balm and some chocolate.  (This year I was on the ball and bought socks and a great little Jack Black kit for him.)

For Kids: Santa is both fun and practical at the Miller house, so while I’ve picked up scented pens, fancy erasers, glittery socks, bath bombs, sparkly headbands and undies in advance, I also love to grab band-aids, lipgloss, lotions or nail polish, candy canes and other treats the day before. And because I have 3 girls and it’s easier to buy for them, I find I almost always need last minute race cars or ninja toys for the boy. Drug store for the win!

For Everyone: In our house, Santa always brings fruit. It’s an excellent filler if your stockings are oversized, and there are reasonable odds that at least one kid will decide it’s easier to grab the apple in their stash than it is to wander over to the pantry for a cookie snack as the morning goes on. And I always pick up a fruit that is not already in the house – if we have red apples, Santa surely brings a green one. It’s also a nice balance to the treats  – see above!

 

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Finally, if any stockings look a little lean, there are always plenty of gift cards available at both the drug and grocery store to add last minute.

Do you do last minute shopping for stockings? Tell me, what are your go-to items? And Merry Christmas y’all!

 

Perfect Holiday Cocktail

Most everyone who knows me is probably wondering how in the world I can make a recommendation on a great holiday cocktail. I’m not much of a drinker and when I do have a drink I am happy enough with a nice glass of prosecco or a french red wine. I rarely have a mixed drink.

My husband, on the other hand, is quite the mixologist. He makes the perfect margarita and a delightful cucumber basil martini. He knows his way around a cocktail menu too so when he was working on a new drink a few years ago, I knew it would be a good one. And it is!

We served this last year when we hosted several couples for a fancy-ish New Year’s Eve dinner. Technically, I think this drink was intended to be a great summer cocktail, inspired by the flavors of an Orange Julius and a Creamsicle, but Mark thinks it’s a great winter drink, because of the flavor notes that give nod to all of the seasonal citrus around, as well as the popular rum cakes that sit on many holiday buffets.

 

Julius Orange*
2 ounces Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao Ancienne Méthod
½ ounce Cruzan Single Barrel Rum
½ ounce lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla syrup
½ teaspoon sugar cane syrup
1 dash orange bitters
½ ounce heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg

Add all liquid ingredients to a cocktail shaker, adding cream last. Shake with ice. Strain into a glass over crushed ice. Garnish with nutmeg.

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A few notes:

  •  It’s important to have good crushed ice.
  • Vanilla Syrup: Easily store bought (usually in the coffee aisle) but also can be made from scratch. Split a quarter of a vanilla bean pod open and let it sit in 6 ounces of simple syrup (two parts sugar to one part warm water; mix until dissolved) for about 20 minutes. Remove vanilla pod before use.
  • Cane syrup: To make your own, take two parts cane sugar and one part warm water and mix until dissolved.

*Inspired by an original recipe printed in the Wall Street Journal

Christmas Traditions – Keepsake Gifts

I love building traditions around the holidays. I recently shared what we do for breakfast on Christmas morning. And I wouldn’t be a good southern girl if I didn’t give my children monogrammed Christmas PJs that they open on Christmas Eve – hello cute, matching kiddos on Christmas morning!

But we also give our children a special ornament every year. This sweet keepsake was inspired by my own parents. When each of their daughters married (there are three of us) they started giving us a lovely Towle snowflake ornament each year at Christmas for our own tree. Now that my husband and I are sharing our 17th Christmas (what?!?!) we have a tree full of beautiful snowflakes. It is such a special reminder of our history and the many years we have had together.

When we had our first child, we decided that we too wanted to start an ornament tradition. We knew we wanted to give her something special but we weren’t sure how to start a tradition like this and we knew that we hoped to have more children and needed to make it special, but reasonable from a cost perspective. We talked to our local jewelry/specialty gift store, who recommended going with a traditional company that historically puts out a new ornament every year.

Because we love the spiritual story connected to the candy cane, as well as the whimsy and sweetness of it, we were so happy to find that Wallace, a renowned silversmith had established a Candy Cane ornament in 1981 and would be a safe choice for an annual gift for many years to come.*

Now that we have four children, our tree is absolutely full of candy canes. Every year when we decorate the tree, they love to pull out the candy canes and talk about which ones are their favorites from over the years. And because they are not breakable, they are welcome to place them anywhere that they want to on the tree! Our hope is that when they leave the nest, they will take their ornaments with them for their own tree, along with those sweet memories.

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Do you have a gifting tradition in your family? I’d love to hear more about what you do to make special memories for your family this time of year!

*Wallace also has a well priced Sleigh Bell that they produce annually, along with the Candy Cane.