The Best Thanksgiving Mac and Cheese

Thanksgiving mac and Cheese

It is starting to get chilly outside, and with Halloween in our rearview mirror, it’s time to start thinking about our Thanksgiving meals! I am usually a baking and sweets kind of gal, but planning the perfect Thanksgiving meal is a think of beauty and a joy for even the most avid baker.

Thanksgiving is all about decadence. You take whatever might be your everyday, and bump it up just a notch, all in an effort to show a little bit more love and appreciation for those around you. You take your standard family dinner, and make it something special. Sharing in your community and traditions. So, it goes without saying that you should have a killer Mac and Cheese recipe in your back pocket to knock your guests off their feet. If you have a homemade Mac and Cheese go-to, put it away and replace it with THIS White Cheddar mac and cheese. A cross between Panera Bread’s and something that fell from heaven and hit every branch on the delicious tree on it’s way down, you will have your family scrambling for the last spoonful.

It’s creamy, with a subtle hint of pepper and spice from the mustard and paprika. If you want a bit of smokey-ness you can always used a smoked paprika to create an even deeper flavor.

Best Thanksgiving mac and Cheese

[image source]

You can opt to use other kinds of pasta, I just prefer to use shells because then they get filled with that deliciously creamy white gold cheese sauce. I like to make homemade mac and cheese a lot, but I save this recipe to make on special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

You can also choose different types of cheddar, I just prefer to have the tangy bite that this particular brand offers. To me, the sharper the better when it comes to cheddar!

Print Recipe
Best Thanksgiving Mac and Cheese
Thanksgiving mac and Cheese
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Thanksgiving mac and Cheese
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large pot, on medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in flour and cook until smooth. Reduce heat and add milk, heavy cream, salt, pepper, paprika, and dry mustard. Continually whisk until smooth and bubbled begin to appear around outside of pot. It is important that you don't leave it unattended. You don't want milk to cook down too much.
  3. Reduce heat to low and add cheese. Stir until melted.
  4. Add cooked pasta, stirring until pasta is completely coated. Allow to sit to thicken and melt. Top with additional salt and pepper if desired.
  5. Devour.
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How to Make a Book Tree for Christmas

I know I know I know… it’s not even Thanksgiving, so give it a rest with the Christmas post already. But this is just TOO cool not to get excited about. I know you’ve seen them on Pinterest and floating around the internet and if you really want to do it, it’s going to take some planning on your part (and unless you are a book hoarder like me… some serious book buying between now and then!)

So… first of all, gather all your books. I am lucky enough to have an extensive library of several thousand books and after buying the entire tree still didn’t even crack open all the boxes I had in storage (much to my husbands dismay!).

book christmas tree

The first thing i did after I collected all my books was find the largest and heaviest to start the base. I made it about 4 or 5 feet around, ensuring that it would be plenty tall.

Then you simply start stacking!

Finding the right books that will fit in your space is like a giant game of Tetris. The only piece of advance I can give is to separate books into small, medium, and large so that you can easily see what you are working with.

Note: I also have several hundred pre-1900 books that I didn’t want near the bottom (where little baby hands and dog noses might bother them), so I made sure those were used in the second half of my tree.

Book Christmas Tree

I left the middle open and just stacked closer and closer little by little and it worked it’s way in just fine.

Book Christmas Tree

After about 5 hours of stacking, I had a 5′ tall beauty of a Book Christmas tree! I wrapped some lights around it and basically just stared at it every time I could. It really made working in my office hard.

Book Christmas Tree

Book Christmas Tree

Thankful Thursday: 108 Years in the making

I am thankful for so many things, but today, especially I am thankful for fate. For having been born in an amazing city, to parents to are huge sports fans. For my father for instilling in me a competitive edge that carried on to this day.

I have to take this Thankful Thursday to say I am insanely thankful that I was able to not only watch the game with good friends, but to watch history being made mere blocks away from Wrigley Field. We screamed and jumped for joy. I lost my voice, decided to join my fellow Chicagoans in a sea of people in a trek to our Mecca, all while singing Go Cubs Go.

We hugged strangers, we cried. It was one of the most beautiful, meaningful moments to have been a part of. Some people might not understand the big deal, and unless you are from Chicago, it might be hard for us to explain. But all I know is when they won, my father cried and a town was rebuilt on the backs of a team from 108 years ago. If you need a little help understanding how meaningful this is to people, take a look at this video and then see how people reacted after the win:

Here is a look at Harry Caray’s grab today:

Harry Caray's grave

I am thankful that I will get to share these memories with my son and that I got to witness it with my own eyes. There have been people who died waiting to see this. There have been people who were born AND died without seeing this. It is incredible and feelings that I will never forget.

Being able to recall things like Grandpa Rossy hitting a home run in game 7 in his last at bat ever and then watching him get carried off the field by his teammates… I am literally tearing up just typing about it.

The way the city is coming together is something that is to be celebrated, too. We’ve been waiting for a long time for this. Here are a here of my favorite things on the internet to come out of the Chicago cubs World Series win so far:

Eddie Vedder Cubs Meme

In addition to being a HUGE cubs fan, I have been literally in love with Eddie Vedder since I was 10 years old and that fact that he is so intertwined with my love of the cubs makes this even more sweet for me. When I hear and saw this video, of course I cried… again. So, I’ll leave you with this and when I’ve had a little more sleep, maybe I’ll writing something a little more coherent.

This win was for my father, who as a kid would walk down to Wrigley field with his baseball bit and wait on Waveland avenue all day long for batting practice before the game in the hopes that he would go home with a souvenir. All I have left to say is, Go Cubs Go, Fly the W and This year was finally next year.

W over Chicago skyline

[source: SportsMockery]

 

Being Brave in the Face of Death and how Organ Donation Saved My Life

You might think from the title of this post that I had a life-saving transplant and that would be a fair assumption. But I did not. I did not, but others did. Thanks to the selfless gift of my best friend and little brother, Andrew.

It is fitting that today I am going to write about being Brave as my Facebook memory was a post from 2011, a poem written by someone my mother knows about Organ and Tissue Donation.

To My Donor

You gave me life when the tide of my life was at ebb.

You gave all you had left to give

Life restored, I am forever grateful

Yet I know not who you are.

We are now a part of one another, brought together by tragedy

I shout my thanks from the silence of my mind, for I know not to whom I am speaking

I am you; you are me, as we share what you have given, unselfishly,
Without remorse.

I cradle your gift, as sacred as life itself.

Still I know not whom to thank.

So I shall continue to whisper a prayer of thanks, until we meet again
In a more perfect place, whole again.

Joseph E. Kralicek
copyright 2005

You see, back in 2009 I received a phone call from my sister, early one Sunday morning, while I was in South Carolina during graduate school, that changed my life forever. It was odd that my sister be calling that early int the morning. She calmly asked me if I was sitting down.  I wasn’t, she told me to.

Then she delivered words that echo in my head every single day, “Andrew’s been in an accident.”

My baby brother. My best friend. The idiot who was always up for doing dumb stuff if we were bored. The goof ball who never met a stranger. The protector of his friends and family, the enforcer when it was necessary, was laying in a hospital bed, 900 miles away, in a coma.

Me and my brother

Long story very, very short, he had hit his head in a pool and broken his neck. He would never recover. By the time my then fiancé and now husband arrived with my other sister who was living in North Carolina, my brother had been declared brain-dead and was only still “alive” because he was on ventilators and other machines keeping his bodily functions going.

When I walked into the hospital room where my giant of a brother lay, not fitting on the tiny hospital bed, I was enveloped by my father’s arms. Through sobs he told me he was gone.

He then explained that they had been approached about organ donation as he had registered as an organ donor with the DMV when he got his license.

Now, you see, my brother was 22 years old, 6’4″, broader shoulders, strong, football player… you couldn’t ask for a healthier more vibrant person.  In my family’s eyes, there was no question, my brother would have wanted someone else to live on because of his death.

Me and my brother at his high school football game

He was selfless and compassionate, and had the biggest heart of anyone we all knew.  Which funny enough ended up literally being the case as his heart was too large for the first two people on the top of the transplant list, so it ended up going to the third person on the list.

Our family was called brave and strong so many times over the course of the next few weeks for our difficult decision to donate my brother’s organs and tissue after his death. But the truth is, while it was a hard time, watching the casket close on him for the last time, the easiest part was making that decision. Giving the gift of life to others is exactly what he would have wanted, and I can say that without the saccharine after-taste you get when you say something like that just to be nice.

The truth of the matter was that it might have been brave to give life to those waiting for life-saving transplants, but it saved our lives, too. Losing my brother blew my family’s core nucleus into a million pieces. We were broken, might as well have been dead ourselves, too. But having that one thing, the little tiny spark of light in such a dark time was all we needed to keep us together, to literally save our lives.

me and my brother at our sister's wedding

Knowing that my brother’s heart beats in someone else’s chest and that his lungs take breath on this earth, still. It makes all the difference in the world.

So, the last time we had to be brave in the face on insurmountable times, we might have come out battered and bent, we may have been broken for a while, but our bravery and my brother’s selfless gift of life became the glue that now holds us together and bonds us to each other and to this world around us.

My final thought is this: The most important thing you could ever do is register as an organ donor. Then talk about your wishes with your family. You never know when it is your time, and if your time is up, it will help make an impossible time for your loved ones, just a tiny tiny bit easier in the end.

donate life logo

If you are looking for more information about organ and tissue donation, please visit Donate Life America and get all the facts.

How to check in with your mental health if you are having a bad day.

How to check in with your mental health if you are having a bad day.

Let’s face it… life can be hard. Stress is, unfortunately, a way of life for a lot of people. And if you are a woman, who has a career, kids, a partner, friends, a social life, hobbies, I could go on and on and on… it can be even more difficult to feel like you are “having it all.”

I, admittedly, have it “easy.” I work full-time, from home. I voluntarily put my young son in part-time day care so that he get some other kid interaction and I can get some serious work done while he is gone. So, I at least don’t have that to worry about, as much. But I still stress out over what he eats, how much TV he watches, is he getting enough protein, are his tantrums normal?

On top of mommy stress and work stress and life stress… I have had some dark events in my past that, whether I like to talk about it or not, bring anxiety creeping into my life even on the brightest and most sunny of days. High-functioning depression and mild-PTSD are no joke when it comes to your mental health and it took me a long time to not only realize that but to do anything to try to combat these mental health issues that I was having. My family isn’t the best at communicating about these types of things. We are more of a bottle it up in side and pretend it isn’t there…

And while I still *kinda* pretend it isn’t there, outwardly, inwardly I do mental health checks when I feel the anxiety or stress beginning to take over.

I start by checking in with all of my senses. Taste, touch, smell, sound, sight.

I am a very auditory person.  What I hear makes a huge difference in my mood. So, I start by making sure I am listening to either something relaxing, meditative, or soothing. I have several Pandora stations geared towards this. Not just classical stations, but I love indie folk music. It has such a calming quality about it. I am instantly in a better mood when I hear good folk music. Another great set of sounds I found comes from hang drums. If you have never listen to hang drum music – seriously, get on that.

I love this song in particular, it speaks really well to me.

Also, it has been proven that not just BEING in nature but listening to nature is SO helpful for your mental state. So, I use several different background noise sites. This one is great for nature sounds.

how to meditate in nature

And of course, if you are a Potterhead like me, you could listen to the background noises of the Gryffindor common room.

I often use meditation and breathing exercises to bring down my stress level and it is a tremendous help. You don’t need any special equipment, special spaces or even to know what you are doing! Simply close your eyes and breath deeply, keeping track of your breath. You can sit back in your chair, on the floor or with your legs up on a wall to help destress.

meditation chant

I generally do mini-meditations for 5-10 minutes at a time and find that my inner voice that is telling me bad things is MUCH more quite after a mini-destress sesh.

Working at home, I am often in my pajamas (hey, just keeping it real…) and I find that if I simply go jump in the shower and put on “real” clothes that it can work wonders for my disposition. I can often feel cut off or isolated from the rest of the world in my little hole of an office and simply being clean and freshly dressed can turn around my mental state really quickly.

shower meditation

Finally, I will brew myself a good cup of tea. Valerian root teas, chamomile, green tea… will help ease your anxious mind, putting your mental health back in check. My favorite herbal teas are Celestial Seasonings, which you can purchase at most grocery stores or on amazon here:

These are just a few of the quick things I can do, in the moment that can help from getting my mental state derailed by a bad day. Long term things are different, like keeping a gratitude journal, for instance.

I know life can get stressful, and you never know what curveballs you are going to be thrown any given day. But I hope that these few quick methods can help you get out of a mental funk or destress on a bad day.

It’s just a bad day, not a bad life!

25 Books for Christmas on the cheap!

Looking for an amazing Christmas tradition to start that won’t cost you an arm and a leg? Try this one out:

In our house we have a tradition. And given that I am a HUGE bibliophile and it is fairly safe to say that I am addicted to books, several of our traditions are centralized about… you guessed: BOOKS! And cheap books at that!

The cutest and most exciting thing about our Yule traditions are the countdown ones. I posted about my homemade, DIY Count down to christmas advent calendar last year, which is not only adorable and super fun for the kiddos every year, but we do a book a day, count down to Yule, too. I have taken to scouring used book stores and goodwills in all the towns around where I live to find cute, out of the ordinary or just plain awesome holiday themes books for my little one to open every day until Christmas day!

25 Books: A Countdown to Christmas

I started early in the year and began looking in every goodwill and used book store for Christmas and holiday books. Look until you have a total of 25 books. I especially keep an eye out for interesting, off-the-wall, different takes on classics and of course, the classics to round out my collection. It didn’t take very long, you generally find a lot of holiday books at goodwills. I’m not sure why, but I did at least. All-in-all, I spent probably less than $40 total on the books. At goodwill, children’s books are $.79 and then used book stores, children clearance books are about $1 a pop.

25 Books: A Countdown to Christmas 25 Books: A Countdown to Christmas

The next step once you have all your books is to wrap them! I am pretty easy-going in the holiday wrapping paper department so I tend to buy whatever is left at the end of the previous season and use that. So I had a collection of paper and sat down with a warm cup of coffee and went to town on my stack of books!

Then viola! You’ve got a beautiful stack of Christmas books that you little one will be THRILLED to open every day.

Christmas book tradition

We put ours under the tree and let our son pick one each day before his nap time and he loved being able to tear open a present every day.

Christmas book tradition

The trick to keeping this from getting out of control each year is to ONLY take out the holiday books for this tradition then pack them away with the Christmas decorations to bring out the next year. This way you don’t have to look for new books every year AND your little one gets to be doubly excited about seeing his or her favorite holiday books again in another year without burning out from the same old books the whole year. This allows them to get excited about them all over again every year!

How to Rock Your Halloween Costume

How to Rock Your Halloween Costume (and not feel like a dork). A life lesson about owning your own style.

Everyone loves Halloween. And honestly what’s not to love?! The decorations, the costumes, and most importantly the candy! If it were up to me, we would ditch a few of those other holidays and add more celebrations that require costumes into the mix. But along with dressing up comes the stress of deciding that to wear! Women these days have a hard enough time deciding what to wear every day, let alone for special events. Societal pressure around halloween can make deciding what to dress up as not so much fun, and when guys get a pass on the sexy and get to basically do whatever they want, it can make it even more stressful. Let’s be honest… I saw a “sexy mechanic” costume the other day and just about flipped out at the store. So, when you DO finally choose a costume, you can end up feeling silly, looking out of place, or down right like a tool. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Halloween is a great time to toughen up that outer layer of skin. It is a great time to build your confidence and step out of your comfort zone. It is more than just a silly costume, it is a time to find out what you are really made of. One of my life mantras is that if you own it, wear it, do it like you SHOULD be doing it, no one will even notice anything out of the ordinary! Love a hat but think you aren’t a “hat person,” throw it on your head and strut like you were born in hats. I guarantee you that not a single person you encounter that day with this your new accessory looks out of place. Own it. And my advice for not looking like a tool on halloween is the same! Commit to your costume, it’s fun! So have fun!

It doesn’t matter your age, if you have kids, if you are going trick or treating or if you are staying home to give out candy – you NEED a Halloween Costume! Here are some of my favorites I’ve seen around the internet so far. Some silly, some smart, some goofy, some original, some sexy, and some just plain badass. What is your style? Which is your favorite?

Here is a quick round up from some awesome blogs and website for want-to-copy, some but not all last minute, pretty awesome Halloween Costumes. Check them out, and click through to the sources to find EVEN MORE inspiration!

Easy DIY Halloween Costume Snow White

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DIY Easy Hermione Granger Halloween Costume

[source]

DIY Rosie the Riveter Halloween Costume

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DIY Halloween bank robber costume

[source]

DIY Halloween Costume Where's Waldo

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And for those of you who have the steady hand to do some killer, yet remarkably simple make-up. Check out these!

Easy DIY Sugar Skull Halloween makeup

[source]

Easy DIY Vampire makeup

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Easy DIY Scarecrow Halloween Costume

[source]

 

6 Tips for Growing the Beautiful Succulents

Ruffled Feathers Growing Succulents

6 Tips for growing succulents:

I am a total sucker for an interesting, unusual, visually appealing houseplant. My poor husband has to tear me away from garden centers and when friends and family see my collection of succulents and cacti, I am often asked how I get them to thrive so well and grow so large (and/or how I have so many!). Let me start off by saying I am a novice, and relatively new to the houseplant game, but I’ve got the green thumb bug and it has hit me hard. I am no expert, but I thought I would share my tips and things I have either read other places or that I have found work best for me and my plants. And if you are looking for a wellspring of information on all things plants and gardening, check out my Pinterest board:

Green Thumb Betty

Through trial and error, I have found there are three main factors to consider when: soil, light, and water.

Ruffled Feathers Succulents

The first thing to make sure you understand is what type of soil succulents like. They need, love and will thrive in well draining soil. Most garden center will have a good quality cactus and succulent mix, I would start there. It is a great place to start. But if you find that your soil is drying out too quickly you might want to make some additions to this soil. Mixing in some moisture control potting soil is a great idea as well as some sand. Putting stones or pebbles in the bottom of your container with a drain hole isn’t necessary (you might want to just include a little bit of screen or something to keep the soil from washing out of the bottom. However, if you are anything like me, just about everything you look at you can see as a planter, so not everything will have a drain hole. In this instance, you will need to put down a layer of rocks or pebbles for drainage.

Sunlight

Succulents like to have a lot of light, but indirect sunlight. They are pretty hardy plants so they can withstand varying amounts of sunlight, generally. But you don’t want to either burn or deprive them. Six to seven hours of indirect sunlight a day is a good number to shoot for. If your succulents are not getting enough sunlight, they may become “leggy” or “stretched,” which is what happens when you see them growing long and spread out or even bending towards the direction of the sun.  In the event that your plant does get too stretched out, you may want to think about propagating it (free plants!!!).

Water

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding the care or cacti and succulents is about watering.  How much you should water, when you should water are all problems I often hear people have. It is a misconception that succulents don’t need a lot of water. And while it is true that they shouldn’t be left standing in water AND that they can go long periods without water, they don’t generally do best in drought-like situations.  What you should aim to do is allow your succulent to dry out completely between watering (up to several weeks). You can gauge this by seeing if the soil is wet or dry around two inches down into the soil. Then when you DO water, you want to give it a thorough soaking, allowing water to run out the of bottom of the pot. If you have the correct soil make-up it should hold the right amount of water for your plant. (Note: if you have a pot without drainage, you’ll not want to soak it quite as much as it can’t run out of the bottom). One of the ways the folks kill succulents is over-watering.

If you are having difficulty getting your succulents to grow and thrive here are a few reasons other than sunlight, water, and soil that might be killing your succulents.

Ruffled Feathers Succulents

The planter is too small

If you planted it in a cup tea-cup while it was small, that’s fine! But if it has been in there a while, it probably doesn’t have enough room for it’s roots. Try repotting it in something larger and see if it makes a difference.

They aren’t warm enough

Succulents like it warm! Move them away from drafty windows and doors. Also, they don’t like to be moved around a lot, so find a place to park them and let them get comfy.

Your soil isn’t right

This doesn’t just mean well draining soil, this also means the soil is nutrient deficient. You can either feed them monthly during the warm growing season or a better option is to stir in some organic material  or plant them in a planting soil mix when transplanting or potting them.

 

Glam Purple Wedding: Matt & Deane’s Chic Wedding

Glam weddings will always be in style.  And with purple as the color scheme, this one was royal! It is undeniable that Denae has impeccible taste. The first time I met with Matt, a good friend I met through another good friend, and his beautiful bride-to-be Denae, I was excited about their wedding. The details of their big day were swoon-worthy.  They had chosen a deep purple and lavender color scheme and from the description of the flowers she chose for her arrangements to the adorable chapel they chose for the ceremony, I couldn’t wait to photograph it!

Adorable Family Photo Shoot: Family Photography

I have grown to love family photography and it is quickly becoming my favorite type of photo shoot.  Kevin turned 2 a few weekends ago. His mother hired me to take some photos to commemorate the day. She, her husband and their family had a small get together in their backyard. Living in a traditional Chicago neighborhood and in a much beloved Chicago bungalow, they have a quaint backyard with some beautiful ivy growing on their neighbor’s garage that served as the perfect backdrop for some adorable family photos.

Kevin turned 2 a few weekends ago. His mother hired me to take some photos to commemorate the day. She, her husband and their family had a small get together in their backyard. Living in a traditional Chicago neighborhood and in a much beloved Chicago bungalow, they have a quaint backyard with some beautiful ivy growing on their neighbor’s garage that served as the perfect backdrop for some adorable family photos.

I was blown away not only with how cute this little guy was, but by how smart he was! He knew all the names of the planets and could name all the colors. That is super impressive for a toddler just turning two. And about those balloons… Kevin didn’t want to put them down! He was super excited to be playing with them, but his favorite thing was to let them go! He would get SO excited to see them floating off, much to the dismay of his mother and father I might add, but isn’t that the job of a toddler?!

Ruffled Feathers Family photography Ruffled Feathers Family photography Ruffled Feathers Family photography Ruffled Feathers Family photography Ruffled Feathers Family photography Ruffled Feathers Family photography Ruffled Feathers Family photography Ruffled FeathersFamily photography

And with these photos done, it is time to download and start in on the wedding of Matt & Denae that took place this past weekend over the Memorial Day weekend. I can’t WAIT to see them!

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