Sunday, July 27

Cornerstone

I've been quiet around here lately. I've also been quiet on Facebook. And in person. Usually that means that I have a lot of things going on internally and this time has been no different. I find that when I'm processing a lot internally, I have a  hard time putting into words what's stirring in my soul, particularly when it feels ugly. 

Fighting depression and anxiety has been one of the hardest battles I've faced (and it's made it nearly impossible for me to blog for many different reasons.) I told a friend on Friday that I feel like I'm drowning and I don't know if I'll ever be able to breathe again. But through this long process, I've had one verse on repeat in my heart, soul and mind over the last few months:



This morning as I sat in the auditorium waiting for the church service to begin, I looked again at this verse in context:

 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, 
firm and secure. 
It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 
where our forerunner, Jesus, 
has entered on our behalf. 

{NIV}

This hope is a strong and trustworthy 
anchor for our souls, a hope 
that enters into the inner place 
behind the curtain. 
{NLT}

This passage has become a lifeline for me. I repeat it to myself frequently throughout the day as I seek to rely fully on my Father.  What is this hope we have? That we can come freely to the Father because Jesus has made the way, has entered on our behalf. When I feel overwhelmed, I have been reminding myself that I don't face this alone, that I can go to my Father and seek comfort at His feet.

I was sitting there, thinking this when the worship service began. We sang a few songs that I don't remember now, and then we came to this one:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus' name

Christ alone, Cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Savior's love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of All

When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil

The truth is that in this moment, I don't know why I am weathering this storm. I don't see the purpose or the redemptive value in it. But this I know, that my Father always redeems, always restores, always heals. It may not come in the package I think it should; it may not come in the timing I hoped it would. But He is Lord, the Lord of all. 
He's showing me anew how His heart burns with love for me in the midst of the darkest places and how He longs to invade every cavern of my heart. He's teaching me, moment by moment, what it means to hold onto Christ alone, my Cornerstone, to have no Plan B or righteousness of my own, what it means for my only anchor to be the one tethering me to Him and His enduring love, grace and mercy.

And so:
When He shall come with trumpet sound
Oh, may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless stand before the throne.
Peace to you, friends.

Wednesday, July 9

Appetizers for Easy Entertaining

We're having Party Week here at Natural Nester! I love organizing and hosting events at my home and couldn't wait to share some yummy recipes with you! Plus, I had so many people at the party requesting the recipes, I thought it was easier to share them all in one place. :) Unfortunately, I didn't think to get close up photos of the food, but as a reminder, this was the appetizer buffet!



Lemon-Dill Cucumbers
I saw a recipe on Pinterest that said to top cucumbers with store bought French Onion dip. That was my plan until I read an email from our local farmers' market, with a recipe for Cucumber and Dill finger sandwiches. I loved the basic idea and I came up with this recipe as a result of that inspiration.
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1-2 tsp. dried dill weed (or 2 Tbsp. fresh dill)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix cream cheese and sour cream together in mixing bowl until smooth. Add lemon juice and zest and dill weed and mix to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate overnight. To serve, spoon a dollop of lemon-dill cream on top of sliced cucumbers. Serve cold.



Marinated Cheese
I found the original recipe in a Taste of Home cookbook, but it called for cream cheese and was far more complicated. I could not find white cheddar cheese like the recipe specified, so I used 8 oz. blocks of mozzarella cut into cubes. I made a few other adaptations to simplify the process and this is the result.

16 oz. mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup chopped roasted red peppers
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
3 Tbsp. chopped green onions
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1 Tbsp. sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Cut cheese into small cubes (mine were between 1/4 and 1/2 inch.) In a gallon size zipper storage bag, combine remaining ingredients. Close bag and turn to mix marinade. Add cheese cubes, seal bag and toss to coat. Refrigerate overnight, turning at least once. When it's time to serve, drain marinade and serve cold, with crackers or bread cubes.

Ranch Mushrooms
These were a HUGE hit at the party! I plan to make them again to serve over grilled chicken. I originally saw the idea on Pinterest, but chose to use my own dry ranch dressing mix*, instead of store-bought.

1-1/2 tsp dried chives
1-1/2 tsp dried parsley
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried dill weed
3/4 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup butter, melted
24 oz. fresh cremini mushrooms (choose small bite-size mushrooms or cut larger mushrooms in half)

Mix first seven ingredients with the melted butter. Clean mushrooms and place in slowcooker. Pour butter and herb mixture over mushrooms and stir to coat. Cook on low for 3 hours. Serve hot.

*To use as ranch dressing, mix the dry seasonings into 2 cups sour cream. Chill overnight. To make salad dressing, thin with a bit of water or milk or use as-is for a vegetable dip.



Caprese Bites
These were perfect, fresh little bites. The basil was fresh from my garden and delicious!

Cherry or grape tomatoes
Fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes
Fresh basil

Layer a basil leaf, cherry tomato and fresh mozzarella cube onto a toothpick. Chill until ready to serve. You may sprinkle with balsamic vinegar, if desired. (We left this off for the party.)


Glazed Kielbasa Bites
You can find the recipe HERE at Real Housemoms. They were a big hit and I plan to make these for football watching parties in the fall! They had just a hint of spice and sweetness.

If you try these, please let me know how you like them! We loved them and I plan to make several of these recipes again. 


Tuesday, July 8

Three Tips for Easy Entertaining

So many people are nervous about entertaining, but it doesn't have to complicated or stressful...in fact, it can be one of the most enjoyable things you do for friends, if you find a system that works for you. No guest wants their host or hostess to be stressed out, so today I'm sharing a few of the things I do to make hosting events more enjoyable for myself AND my guests!

 Tip #1: Plan your serving dishes ahead of time.

For our parents' anniversary party, we were having a buffet and it was imperative that I have enough serving dishes for everything. The night before the party, I laid everything out on the counter (some were mine, some were borrowed) and labeled each dish. When it came time to plate the food, we knew exactly what went where and plating food went quickly!



Tip #2: Choose foods that can be made ahead.

For the appetizer buffet, we chose recipes that could be prepared the day before with minimal last minute prep. Below is a table that shows how the work was divided over two days. In many cases, the only thing to do was to plate the items for the buffet! These also happened to be "easy to eat" and were perfect for our relaxed gathering.

Oh, and make sure you have plenty of room in your refrigerator for all the things that need refrigeration! We had to do last minute rearranging to fit everything! Oops!



Dish
Day Before Prep
Day-Of-Party Prep
Caprese Bites
·   Slice fresh mozzarella and assemble skewers

Glazed Kielbasa Bites
·   Slice kielbasa and assemble skewers
·   Mix up glaze
·      Glaze skewers
·      Bake for 20 minutes
Hummus with Vegetables and Crackers
·   Mix up hummus
·   Slice vegetables

Lemon-Dill Cucumbers
·   Mix up lemon-dill cream
·   Slice cucumbers
·      Dollop cream onto sliced cucumbers
Marinated Cheese
·   Mix up marinade
·   Cube cheese; cover with marinade and refrigerate overnight

Ranch Mushrooms
·   Mix up dry ranch dressing mix
·      Clean mushrooms and place in slow cooker
·      Add butter and dry ranch mix to slowcooker
·      Cook on low for 3 hours
Relish Tray
None
-Drain pickles, olives and peppers


 Tip #3: Draw on your sense of style.

Look around your home. What's your signature style? Is it modern, funky, classic, rustic? If you stick with that, it will be easier to entertain because it will feel natural to you. It won't be too far outside your comfort zone. You will also be able to utilize things you already own. 

Events I host always include a mix of rustic and elegant elements and handcrafted details because that's my signature style. So, when it's time to decorate for a party, I "shop my home" first, saving me time and money! The flower arrangement above is the perfect example. I own lots of mason jars and adding a bit of pretty scrapbook paper, glittery gold ribbon and wildflowers fits with my signature style.

I hope these tips encourage you to open up your home and invite others in! Remember, even if it's just a simple gathering of friends over an easy dinner, entertaining is a privilege and sacred time to share with one another.

Monday, July 7

35th Anniversary Party Fun!!

My parents' 35th wedding anniversary was last week. My brother Tim and I decided that it would be great to throw them a surprise party to celebrate, so about six weeks ago, we set to work collecting ideas, crafting the details and inviting their friends and family. My Dad's favorite color is blue and my Mom loves coral, so when I first saw this photo on Pinterest, I knew the color scheme would be perfect!

The invitations: Simply made from craft paper card stock, white doilies and tied with twine, they set the tone for the laid-back get together.


The decorations: We chose a rustic, relaxed feel for the event. Tim and his precious girlfriend Kelli crafted the fabric pennant banner (all 60-feet of it!) and Miss A helped me with the paper doily banner. I also found white paper lanterns in my stash (leftover from a wedding) and we hung those from the ceiling.


The Flowers: The party was on July 6th and all the flower shops in our area closed Thursday for the holiday weekend. Luckily, my coral rose bush was blooming and we snipped blooms and harvested petals for the buffet table. Wildflowers from the roadside filled in the rest. We created the simple bouquets in mason jars decorated with scrapbook paper and ribbon.

The Photos: Tim built this wooden frame out of pallet wood, stained it and added rope to hang photos of our parents through the years. We put it on my wood buffet and added some decor. It was a huge hit!


The Food: The party was at 6pm, so we planned a "heavy appetizer" buffet. The menu included Glazed Kielbasa Bites, Lemon-Dill Cucumbers, Marinated Cheese, Hummus with vegetables and crackers, Caprese Bites, Ranch Mushrooms and a relish tray (I'll share recipes and party tips this week!)



Lots of tea light candles nestled between the dishes made the buffet glow!



The Cake: I've watched my Mom make cakes several times and I voraciously read the Wilton cake decorating how-to section, but I was still nervous about this! But with my husband Michael, Tim and Kelli cheering me on, we did it!


We even made them feed each other cake. :) The cake was blue velvet and I made buttercream icing (with FIVE cups of butter), vanilla and almond extracts. It was delicious!


The Beverages: Kelli was the brains behind this gorgeous assortment of fruit and herb infused waters. I found the giant mason jar dispenser and the blue carafe at Garden Ridge. We had Lemon Blueberry, Strawberry Lime and Cucumber Mint and they were all so yummy!


And finally, after all the guests went home for the night, we snapped a few pics of the family. The only one we're missing is our other brother Nick, but he couldn't make it home from California in time. He was able to call though and we loved hearing his voice!

We want to thank everyone who was able to attend and show their love for our parents. It was such an enjoyable evening and I loved seeing my home filled with people laughing, chatting and having a great time!

Check back later this week and I'll share my tips for easy entertaining and all the recipes for the appetizer buffet!


Thursday, June 19

Summer in Photos

I just really can't believe it's June 19 already. Really? But then I look at all we've been doing and wowzers, we've been busy!  Here's a peek into our last few weeks.


Seen in southeast Oklahoma on a weekend trip with Hubby...
it makes my brain hurt and my eye is twitching.


I don't believe this is proper iPad viewing procedure. 
Also we chopped her hair off and I want to cry. 
But it's too cute so I just lament her lost baby face.


Our first tomato harvest and a few more strawberries...and a VERY happy little farmer!


This.


To house these:


Her preferred spot for watching Looney Toons. 
That's MY grandfather, her great-grandfather.
I had my great-grandmother until 
I was 24 years old. I hope she has her great-grandparents until at least then. :)


I could live here. We played, we laughed, we breathed deep. It was delightful.


This guy. Best. Daddy. Ever.
And this garden. Best. Smells. Ever.



The biggest koi fish I've ever seen...they were nearly 3-feet long. 
They kinda creep me out actually. In a strangely beautiful, 
"I could swallow your child whole" kinda way.


"Why do I have to stand by the lady showing her panties???"


 And last of all, I found this written in the back of an 
unused notebook I pulled off the shelf to take on our road trip. 
That's my handwriting. I have no idea when I wrote it.

Hope you're having a great summer...I know we are!