Warm up with this Crockpot Recipe!

It’s Michigan, it’s winter and it gets cold! Making this my favorite time of year to use my crockpot. There is no shortage of cookbooks and online recipes to search through. I thought I would share one of my favorites with you and save you the trouble. This recipe will feed 5-6 people, depending on the people you are feeding. Sometimes I even have leftovers when my teenage kid isn’t around!

Crock Pot Sweet Garlic Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup 7-Up or Sprite
  • 2-3 Tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • Red pepper flakes (optional)

1- Place washed and trimmed chicken breasts in a crockpot. Mix together brown sugar, vinegar, soda, garlic, soy sauce, and pepper together and pour over chicken. {You can spray the crockpot with Pam first to make it easier to clean later. I’ve never tried using one of those crockpot liners.}

2- Cook on low for for 5-6 hours or high for 4 hours.  You can tell it’s done when it starts to fall apart.  Gently remove chicken and pour the remaining juices into a saucepan. 

3- Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl and add to the saucepan with the juices.  Whisk over high heat until well blended. Let the sauce come to a boil for 2-3 minutes until it starts to thicken and looks like a glaze. {It will thicken up a little as it cools.}

4- Top the chicken with the glaze and optional red pepper flakes. {I like to pull the chicken apart a little, but not as much as when you do shredded chicken/pulled pork. My favorite way to serve it is over white rice but you can do mashed potatoes or serve it on a hoagie style roll if you prefer.}

5- ENJOY !!

Where is the snow?

We started hearing about a big, scary winter storm promising lots of snow heading our way about 5 days before it hit. As a Northern Michigan girl who loves snow, I was pretty excited. Images of snowball fights, building snowmen and sipping cocoa while walking along a snow covered trail danced in my head. THAT is winter to me. Not this gray/brown post holiday dreary landscape we’ve become all too familiar with.

On Friday the forecast called for freezing rain and then 6-11 inches of snow, beginning overnight on Friday. Our little town was buzzing about it and stocking up for a Snowpocalpyse. If the lines at Walmart were any indication, people were taking this warning seriously! It was very warm and humid that afternoon and almost 50°. I had doubts then about the amount of snow we were expected to get.

An updated forecast pushed back the storm from Friday night through Saturday night to Saturday afternoon though Saturday night. We woke up Saturday morning with a little ice on the deck and some gusty winds. At that point they had changed the snow total prediction to 3-7 inches. As a lifelong Detroit Lions fan, I am used to disappointment but I couldn’t help but be bummed. Where was the snow I had been promised?!?!

My poor friends downstate were dealing with heavy rains and flooding. There were pictures of people kayaking in their neighborhood streets! And I was a few hours away, still hopefully watching the skies, waiting for the storm to start. The wind picked up through the afternoon. There were big, powerful waves on Lake Huron that undoubtedly caused damage to an already suffering shoreline. We didn’t get all of the freezing rain that had been predicted, which WAS a good thing. But we also didn’t get much snow.

Saturday evening I watched the scene unfold from my cozy little perch in town. The heavy winds blowing the powdery snow around made it look worse than it was. Some local businesses had decided to close up early for the safety of their employees and customers, which I can appreciate. We however, decided to venture out for dinner. The roads were snowy but we didn’t have any problems. The attitude among the other diners seemed to be “bring it on”. By that point no one seemed too concerned. A band was going on soon and it was just another Saturday night in town. We stuck around for a couple hours and then headed back to our retreat where I was still hoping for the snow to really start falling and take us by surprise {a Lions fan, remember}.

I woke up Sunday morning to a calm, gray sky. No heavy winds, just the sound of plows and snowblowers. It’s tough to say how much total snow we received, I haven’t heard anything official. The high winds caused a lot of drifting. I would guess 4-5 inches. Enough to at least cover the brown. It certainly wasn’t the foot of snow I was hoping for. There will be no snowman or snowball fights from this one. Maybe next time.

2019 in Review, A Year of Extreme Highs and Lows

My emotions were all over the place this year. I think I cried more than I ever have before, but also smiled more. I clung to memories from the past while also making new ones I could treasure. I said goodbye to people I loved and also welcomed new people into my life.

The first 4 months of 2019 were about spending as much time with my mom while she was in the hospital and then hospice as I could. I was also recovering from knee surgery and trying to pack and downsize a 3 story family home into 3 smaller places that we could soon be moving into. It was a busy start to the year! As hard as it was to be with my mom so much and to know we were going to lose her, it was also a blessing to have that time. We had some wonderful talks and I feel like I was able to bring her some comfort and peace. The last couple of weeks were especially hard and emotionally draining. But I don’t regret a single moment.

We lost her in April and it was brutal. Thankfully I was so busy that I had a lot to keep my mind occupied. We packed and reduced our belongings by about 2/3. A lot went to our son and daughter who were each moving into their own places and the rest went to those who needed it more than we did. I also spent a solid week going through 50+ photos albums and thousands of loose pictures and scanning them into online albums. I don’t wish that job on anyone! I don’t think we were able to eat in the dining room/kitchen that whole week.

The next few months were busy with helping our daughter get settled into her new house and with our son’s senior year activities including his graduation and party. Again my emotions were running high as we watched our son walk across the stage and then helped him move into his own place. I still picture him as a 4 year old in denim overalls and a fireman’s hat. Now he is all grown up and a real life firefighter!

Shortly after that it was on to the next chapter for my husband and I; our move north to East Tawas. Luckily we were pretty much settled into our new place since we had spent the previous 15 months furnishing and making it feel like home. We had spent so much time here already. We only had a couple carloads of clothes and odds and ends to unpack. This was a very exciting time for us, we had been planning and preparing for this moment for over 3 years! We settled into our new life, made new friends, took lots of walks, planted a garden, spent time at the beach and listened to street bands from our balcony. I remembered what it was like to cook for only 2 people and we realized we had a lot more freedom. We could skip dinner if we wanted in favor of going to the beach, we could spend a whole weekend sipping drinks by the water and listening to live music. We were definitely in a 2nd honeymoon phase and loving it. We also enjoyed having our friends come up and spend weekends with us.

It was during one of these visits at the end of July that we shockingly lost one of my best friends to a blood clot. None of us were prepared and I STILL struggle with this loss. Nothing snaps you out of your perfect little bubble like losing someone you have known since kindergarten. The next couple of weeks were a blur, but my family and friends pulled together to mourn and try to move forward.

The 3 months that followed were about appreciating what you have while trying to honor those we had lost. Trying to remember them and smile and laugh instead of cry. Life continues. We took a nice, relaxing vacation in the U.P with a great group of old friends. We enjoyed having our kids spend weekends with us. We looked forward to the arrival of our first grandchild. We spent more time we with new friends and enjoyed community events. We took road trips. I started volunteering more and settling into a regular routine. Life moves on and you have to move with it.

The year wrapped up with the holiday season. I did get sad at times thinking about my mom. Thinking about Becky’s girls and their first Christmas without her. Wishing I was able to see all 3 of our kids at the same time more than once or twice a year. But I also very much enjoyed having those quiet moments with my husband. We decorated our tree without the kids, baked cookies on our own, spent many nights enjoying dinner with just candles and holiday lights shining. We held hands, bundled up and went for walks, drove around to look at Christmas lights. It was our first Christmas morning on our own in 26 years and it was great. We had a leisurely morning drinking coffee and hot chocolate and watching the town wake up from our downtown perch. We exchanged gifts and had a cozy, quiet day at home.

We will be bringing in the New Year in a completely new way, at a New Year’s Eve party! Normally we stay home and play games with the kids/friends, but this is a time for starting new traditions. This year we are getting dressed up and going out to celebrate the end to this year and to toast to what will hopefully be a brighter new year. I know 2020 will have it’s challenges too, that is life. But I feel a little better prepared to deal with what may come.

From the bottom of my heart I thank all of you for being part of this year with me. For your comments, likes and shares. For your heartfelt messages and words of encouragement. For your incredible acts of generosity. I am truly blessed. I hope the New Year brings you peace, happiness and the strength to deal with whatever may come your way.

13 Awesome things about being an Empty Nester.

It’s been 6 months now since Chad and I joined the Empty Nest club. While we sometimes feel sad and miss having the kids close by, there are definitely some perks too!

1– Don’t feel like cooking? No problem! We can have cereal, sandwiches, or even dessert for dinner without feeling like a bad parent.

2– My schedule is soooo much more open now. No more booster meetings, parent teacher conferences, football games, choir concerts or chaperoning. My evenings belong to me again.

3– Never walking in to find a new roll of toilet paper on top of an empty one. The toilet paper always gets replaced!

4– No more chauffeur duty. I actually enjoy driving again.

5– Things are always where I left them. No more hunting around for borrowed shoes, gloves, or phone chargers!

6– No one eats things I needed for a recipe.

7– The remote controls never get lost.

8– Eating out is a LOT cheaper!

9– My car is always clean. There are no empty water bottles, trash or clothing left behind in the back seat.

10– I never have to wait for someone to remove their day old clothes from the washer/dryer.

11– I need a lot fewer groceries so I can splurge for the good stuff.

12– The house is always clean!!

And my favorite:

13– I feel like a newlywed again. We can be spontaneous and romantic. Every night can be a date night! In the summer we skipped dinner to go to the beach, in the fall we dropped everything to take a color tour road trip up the coast. We choose how to spend our evenings and weekends based solely on what we feel like doing that day. I can’t wait to see what adventures winter will hold.

Grief is not convenient

I knew my first holiday season without my mom would be emotional. Especially Thanksgiving as that was my favorite holiday to spend with my side of the family. Sometimes her birthday fell on that day too, as it did this year. We usually hosted the meal. We’d play games, watch some football, enjoy a great meal that my husband and oldest daughter took great pride in making. The house was warm, cozy and full of the sounds of laughter. I thought by acknowledging it ahead of time then maybe it wouldn’t hit me so hard on that actual day. I was wrong.

My mom popped up in my dreams every night of the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Never in a meaningful, make sense kind of way. Once she was in the background playing a flute (which she did not know how to play here on Earth!). She was also in a crazy dream in an amusement park riding on a carousel with my adult son. Other times she was just silently there, inserted into a scene without speaking. But I felt her there. Looking back, I think that she was telling me, in her very Kathy Williams way, “I’m here and I’m not gonna let you forget it!”

I spoke to my sisters and my niece the day before Thanksgiving, we all talked about mom and how hard this would be without her. We talked about my stepdad and how he is coping. I thought I had a handle on things. Then that evening out of nowhere the emotions came flooding in. (I am sitting here now with tears running down my cheeks and I can’t explain why.) I went into my bedroom to try to get a grip on it but I couldn’t stop the tears. And of course, that is the moment my daughter and son in law arrived. Having driven across the state to be with us for the holiday she walks in to find her mom crying. I really WAS so happy to see her, I just couldn’t express it the time. I stepped into the bathroom, cried hard into a towel for a couple minutes, took a couple of deep breaths and went to let my daughter know how happy I was to see them.

This was an emotional holiday for others reasons for me as well. Our son couldn’t make it. It was our first major holiday without him. As a firefighter/EMT I know more often than not he will be working on the holidays and I am going to have to get used to it. But I still missed having him home. And I was thinking about my friend Becky’s family and how hard this day must be for them. Their first big holiday without their mom/wife/sister/daughter. I thought about reaching out to them, but I didn’t think I could find the words.

On Thanksgiving day, before the football and food started, I wanted to walk down to the lake. It is where I go when I just need to breathe and center myself. My husband went with me and we didn’t talk much. The water was incredibly calm that day. It was just what I needed. I talked to my stepdad when I got back and he let me know he was ok. Sad, but ok. I’m not sure if hearing his voice helped or hurt more, but I’m glad we spoke.

That afternoon we watched the Lions lose and enjoyed a delicious meal. We laughed and played a game. I enjoyed our small gathering. I really do have a lot to be thankful for. My daughter and son in law stayed until Saturday and we had a really good visit. There was a lot of talk about Griffin’s arrival and how much their lives will change when they become parents. I can’t wait to be a grandma and hold that precious little baby. Life moves on whether we are ready for it or not.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to check on me. I appreciate your warm thoughts and comforting words. Most of you are WAY better than I am about finding the right words! I know I am not the only one dealing with loss or other problems this holiday season. We will get through this season together. We will handle the tears that come at random times and hold our loved ones a little tighter. When it seems overwhelming I urge you to find a place where you can find your center. Somewhere you can just breathe in and out and find some inner peace. If you don’t have one, you can borrow mine.

Grandma time!

Our daughter and son in law are having a baby boy! The baby is due at the end of March, which will be here before we know it!

I’ve had some to let this sink in, but it still doesn’t seem real to me. Grandmas are OLD. They wear polyester clothes, perm their hair and wear too much perfume. They carry big pocketbooks that are filled with kleenex, gum and lipstick. That’s not ME!

Then I think back and realize that my grandma’s weren’t that much older than me when I was born. They were just grandmas in the 70s, a time when Polaroid cameras, brown and orange clothes and heavy make up was fashionable. Looking back on our photo albums everyone looked older and made bad wardrobe decisions!

My generation of Grandmas are different. We grew up listening to the music of Michael Jackson, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Prince and Queen. We saw women go to space! We worked to equally support our families. We raised our kids to know it was perfectly fine for girls to play with footballs and nerf guns and boys to play with kitchen stuff. We tried to break stereotypes and increase acceptance. We are the first generation of parents that had home computers and had to navigate the added complications of parenting with them.

So it’s only natural that grandmas my age are going to be more tech savvy! Plus we have something that no other generation had. SOCIAL MEDIA! We are the women who joined Facebook when it started 10 years ago and have watched each others kids grow up. And now we are doing the same thing with our grandkids.

My grandbaby will be 4 hours away which is going to be hard. But I know we will see each other as often as possible and I know I will get lots of pictures and videos from my daughter. (I mean I get at least a dozen puppy pictures every week and those are her pets!)

And as soon as our grandson is old enough he is going to come stay with us for 2 weeks every summer. I’m already excited about that. We will go swimming, hiking, fishing, explore lighthouses, bake cookies and take a lot of silly pictures. We will listen to music and read books and go on road trips. I can’t wait to be called “Gram”!

I’m going to be a blue jean wearing, top down, music up kind of Grandma. There will be no polyester in sight. But I probably will have gum and kleenex!

Moving Forward

This past weekend my girlfriends and I got together in Gladwin for a girls weekend.  We couldn’t have asked for better fall weather.  My friend’s mom has a cabin on 20 acres that she let us use. Nothing but beautiful golden trees in sight. The colors were popping, the sun was shining and the temps in the upper 50s/low 60s the whole weekend.  It was so nice on Sunday that I put the top down for the drive home (though I did have the heat on too!).

There were 10 of us in this group of friends, but we lost Becky in July (during our last girls weekend).  Half of us have been friends since middle school/high school and the other half we picked up along the way and adopted into our group.  We get together throughout the year as we can for movies, vacations, dinner.  Some of us live closer than others, some work full time and so it just depends on who is available.  We all know we are welcome though.

Last weekend 5 out of the 9 of us were able to go.  On Friday we met up at a cider mill that had a hard apple cider tasting room. A new experience for all of us. Then we headed to the cabin, had a nice dinner and relaxed that evening. There was reading, crocheting and we even watched a movie. Something we NEVER do on a girls weekend. We stayed up late into the night talking about Becky and more serious things. Saturday we went to Dow Gardens & Whiting Forest and it was gorgeous. (I’ll make a separate post about that place soon.)  We went to dinner, sat around a bonfire for awhile and had another quiet evening at the cabin, again staying up late to talk.

It was a big change from our usual weekends where we stay up late giggling, drinking and taking silly pictures.  We typically do or say things that we tease each other about for the next year! Things we aren’t allowed to talk about with anyone else. Last weekend was much quieter. It wasn’t something we talked about or planned, no one said ” I don’t feel like playing a game” or ” I don’t want to get drunk and silly”.  It’s like we all felt the same way inside and didn’t even have to express it to each other.  I think we all just needed a weekend with each other to help heal us, not a wild and crazy kinda one.

I know we will get back to our more typical weekends.  We will be silly again and talk about Becky and laugh at her antics instead of tear up. We will smile at her memory and make new memories of our own. The cloud will lift naturally, it will just take time.  I came home last weekend feeling relaxed and grateful for my friendships. Maybe it wasn’t what I had expected but I think it was exactly what I needed.

The Tasting Room

The road to the cabin