I've worked in restaurants, watched cooking shows and tried my hand at making meal after meal.  I recently learned something that I've never seen before though.
     I love to cook with onions.  Sautéing them, grilling them, you name it...they give recipes that certain...umph.  What I hate though?  Is chopping them.
     The burning sting that brings tears to your eyes is enough to drive you mad.
     Here's a trick you can try that might surprise you.  When I heard about it, to be honest, I didn't believe it.  I decided to give it a go just to see if it worked though, and it knocked my socks off.
     What you do, is take a single piece of bread.  (I used a regular old slice of sandwich bread.)  Bend the piece of bread in half, then bite down on the bent side so that most of the bread is sticking out, making you look like you have a duck bill.
     Chop, dice or slice your onions and waaaait for it...  
     For whatever reason, as long as you keep the bread in your mouth, the burning and stinging won't reach your eyes.  You can chop away and nothing hurts.
     It's wild.  
     Sure, you might look like a crazy person, but at least you won't have tears streaming down your face when you're done.
     I hope if you try it, it works for you too!    
     Until then, happy cooking and have a very HAPPY THANKSGIVING! 
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    It's hard to be the youngest brother.  When your older brothers are bigger, stronger and faster than you, it can start to get you down.
    Our youngest son, Preston, feels like this often.  His two big brothers are giants in his eyes.  Preston always asks why he can't do what he wants or watch what he wants...play what he wants.  He always has to follow their lead because they do it all first.
    Not this weekend though.  On Saturday, Preston pulled something that his two big brothers never have...both of his two front teeth...at the same time.  
    His teeth have been ready to come out for awhile now, but over the weekend, Preston decided that not one...but both of them had to go.  
     With the cheering of whoops and hollers that only boys can do (with squeals from his baby sister), little Preston bravely pulled both teeth out one at a time.  Christian and Ethan were impressed to say the least, causing Preston to stick his small chest out just a tad further that afternoon, as though he'd joined a special club. 
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     Later that night, Preston carefully put his teeth under his pillow.  Lying down with hopes of a visit from the Tooth Fairy, his toothless smile was from ear to ear.   
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     Kissing his cheek, I couldn't help but grin.
     Preston hugged my neck and whispered, "Mom?"
     "Yes, Baby."
     "I did it."
     "Yes you did, little man.  Yes you did."
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    When I met my husband, it was love at first sight.  He was the epitome of what you would call the tall, dark and handsome man.  He was a fighter pilot and just about as cute as you could imagine.    
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     I would sit and daydream about having cute babies with him...and I just knew that one day they would grow up to be something wonderful.  
     Maybe Olympic athletes, genius inventors, the President of the United States?  
     Then something happened.  We actually had babies. 
     At first, the dream stayed alive.  With each milestone, I was convinced that they were destined for glory.  Each step was that of an NBA player.  Every nursery song was the next Grammy winner.
    I couldn't wait for the day when our son or daughter would one day turn to the camera and say those two simple words that melt every mother's heart.  "Hi Mom." 
    As the years go by though, something's changed.  I've realized that I don't want them to be phenomenal.  Not even exceptional.  I actually hope they'll simply be average instead.
    You see, I don't hope for our daughter to be an Olympic gymnast.  I don't want her to live at the gym so much, that the rest of her life will dissolve.  
    What I do want...is for her to go to gymnastics and have the time of her life.  I want her to meet friends and giggle, loving the excitement of it all.
     I don't want our boys to play in the NFL.  My goal isn't to pull them into the car after their games and bombard them with what they did right and wrong...preparing them for the future.  
    Instead, I hope their future will involve the love and respect that comes from teamwork.  That they'll know how to win...and lose with grace.
    Call me an underachiever if you will, but my goal has indeed shifted.  What's taken its place however, is something altogether different.
    Going back to my cute husband.  He's no longer a fighter pilot.  He's out of the Air Force now, without the impressive lifestyle or thrill of it all.  He has a very normal job, he lives his very average life and pays the average bills.  
    Where he is exceptional however, is in his heart.  He's the best husband and father that God could have put on this Earth.  That's where the real importance in life makes its mark.  When the dust settles and the lights go down, what you're left standing with - is what matters.  
    That's where my hope lies for our children.  In their spirit...their character and their hearts.  In these things, I know now that I want them to be the furthest thing from average.  I truly hope they'll be phenomenal.
    I used to  dream about having amazing babies, more fantastic than the Earth could imagine...then we actually had them.  The most average, common, beautiful and wonderfully amazing children. 
     My hope for them is that they strive to accomplish any dream they may have, with a love that fills their hearts...and that they know...they were far beyond any dream I ever could've known.
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     It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!  With the week of Thanksgiving upon us, it's the best time to cozy up to a beautiful movie to get you into the spirit. 
     The Hallmark Channel Original Movie Premiere of "Christmas Under Wraps" will do just that.  
      The stunning Candace Cameron Bure stars as a headstrong doctor who has her whole life planned out.  Little does she know that an unexpected turn of events and a detour to Alaska will change everything.
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     I Loved this movie and I know you will too!  It's the perfect way to get the season started...and the ending will give your heart a smile.
     Catch "Christmas Under Wraps" on Saturday, November 29 at 8 EST and 7 CST. 
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    It's the best time of the year.  The leaves are falling, the air is cool and crisp...and the holidays are right around the corner.
    Nothing says Thanksgiving like a group of cute first graders.  Preston's class had their program today and it was the sweetest thing.  The boys and girls dressed up and gave a beautiful performance about the first Thanksgiving, led by their fabulous teacher.
    Not only was it adorable...but now I'm ready for some turkey and pumpkin pie.  :)
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    With the weather getting cooler, we broke out our winter clothes and realized that our five year old daughter's sweaters from last year were too small.
    There's something that happens inside of me when I get to look for new clothes for her.  I think it's because after having three boys in a row, I never thought I'd ever get to buy dresses or cute pink sweaters.  
    Maybe it's that Pavlovian response I developed when walking by any children's store window with little girl outfits beautifully put together.  My heart used to ache with the doubt that we'd ever get to buy those gorgeous plaid Christmas dresses or little fancy Easter shoes.  
    As luck would have it, I had a 40% off coupon for the Gap store just in time for winter.  Score. 
    Heading to the mall, I excitedly took our baby girl and walked into the children's section that was festively decorated for the holidays.
    Going straight for the pretty dresses (I know, I know...we're looking for sweaters) I combed through the displays for her fit.  She's outgrowing a size 5 now, so I began to look for a 6 to get her through the winter.  
    Hmmmm...nothing.  Everything seemed to be small.  A sales rep must have seen my expression and came over.
    "Can I help you?  Are you finding everything you need?"
    "Oh, hi!  Thanks.  We're just looking for something in her size."
    "What size is that?"
    "A six I guess."
    Nodding to the next 'Gap' store over (the big kid store) she smiled and said, "Oh, you'll find what you need over there."
    It was like a punch in the stomach.  
    (Over there?  Our baby can't fit clothes over there.)  
    That's where we get things for the boys, but they're bigger and older...and...smelly.  
     We shop for her at the little girl's section.  The cute, little dresses and bows, adorable little kid section.    
    It was hard enough to pull myself away from the baby/toddler area three years ago...but this?  THIS?  This can't be happening.
    I took a deep breath, smiled, and said, "Oh, okay.  Thank you."
    The kind woman must have heard my internal dialogue and smiled saying, "It's okay mom.  You're going to be fine."
     Holding hands, Lauren Elizabeth and I crossed over to the "other side".  We found some really cute outfits which were pretty and nice.  There was definitely an older flare to them which hurt my heart, but the bigger she gets, I know she'll, (ahem) I'll be ready.
     For now though, just one last time, I went back to the children's section and grabbed a little size five outfit for her to wear over the next colder month or two.  I knew it would be the last time I'd be able to do it and the tiny sizes suddenly never seemed so small.  It was a bitter/sweet feeling to say the least.  
     Our little girl's growing up and there's nothing we can do to stop it.  
     I guess at least for now though, I'll smile knowing that she'll still able to wear her tiny cute boots to help her along the way.
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    I'm so excited for Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel to begin.  This was the first of many that I was happy to cozy up to with a cup of hot chocolate and review.  
    Within a minute, I knew it would be fun for the whole family as the kids LOVED the spectacular scenes of the North Pole.
    The story follows a single mom, (Tiffani Thiessen, 'Beverly Hills, 90210') as she uses her reporting skills to crack a case for her new job.  She finds help from her son, (Max Charles, 'Mr. Peabody, Sherman') his school teacher, (Josh Hopkins, 'Cougar Town') and an adorable Santa's elf. (Bailee Madison, 'Trophy Wife, Pete’s Christmas') 
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     It's up to them to recapture the love and joy of the holiday spirit to save Christmas for their town...and the rest of the world. 
     “Northpole,” is a Hallmark Channel Original Holiday Movie World Premiere.  The film also stars six-time Golden Globe® and Emmy® nominated actor Robert Wagner (“Hart to Hart”) and Emmy® nominee Jill St. John (“Diamonds Are Forever”) as Santa and Mrs. Claus, with a special musical appearance by “American Idol” champion, Candice Glover.  
     As the first full-length, two-hour original holiday movie that Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Cards, Inc. have created together, “Northpole” is a beautifully told story, allowing children of all ages into the magical sights of Santa's world. 
    You can see it on the Hallmark Channel this Saturday, November 15 at 8:00 ET, 7:00 C. 
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    Growing up in Southeastern Ohio, we weren't far from the "New River" in West Virginia.  I went there with a youth trip once, where we rappelled down cliffs, went spelunking (exploring and crawling through caves) and yes...white water rafting.   
    It was scary, but fun.
    Going back to my hometown in Ohio, the landscape and scenery was beautiful.  Breathtaking in fact.  The hills and trees were something to behold in all seasons.  
    One of my favorite things to do was to canoe down our main river.  On any given summer day, a group of friends would get together and throw our boats into the water to spend countless lazy days of fun and memories.  
    What's my point with all this?  Well, I worried that my kids wouldn't have the same love of nature.  I began to wonder how they'd ever get to experience these sorts of things.  That's when I searched for a way to take them canoeing down a river nearby.  I wanted them to be able to enjoy the gorgeous trees and colors of fall while it lasted.  
     Little did I know...
     Like I said earlier, I've been white water rafting down a big river which was pretty intense.  I never would've believed that I would be more scared in a simple canoe though.   
     It all began rather nicely.  The six of us gathered into two canoes.  Adam had our nine and seven year old boys with him and I had our eleven and five year old little ones with me.  The day was perfect and the river was low.                        
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     We were about five minutes into the trip and Adam and I were teaching the kids how to paddle.  He went ahead of us so we could follow and we watched as they maneuvered through a tricky spot with two trees that had fallen into the river.  
     They made it through...we...didn't.
     It all happened so fast.  Our boat went straight into one of the trees.  That was fine, but then the current pushed us along side of the trunk so we became lined side by side with it.  I tried to paddle us forward to get away, but our eleven year old said, "Don't worry, Mom.  I've got it."
     Just as I realized what he was about to do, it was too late.  He tried to push against the tree without realizing that by leaning us to the left, we'd take on water...quickly.
     The canoe began to go down and get pinned under the tree but I figured it would be okay since the river was so low.  What I didn't realize, was that where we were, was actually deep.  
     Christian, Lauren Elizabeth and I all fell into the water and began to scream with how cold it was.  Fighting to gain some hold either from under our feet or against the canoe, I instantly became alarmed at how there was nothing.  I couldn't touch and what was worse, I realized that the current was beginning to push our five year old under the canoe.  If she went down, there was no way for me to see her anymore.  
     I began to fight against the river that was pinning me to the boat.  I yelled at Christian who was in the front to hold on.  I tried with everything to get to our daughter, but it was useless.  Between the current pushing against us, I had to redirect and think quickly.
     The good thing about growing up in nature, is that you learn at a very young age that in almost every case, you're never going to beat it.
      Everything in me screamed to pull with all of my strength to get to my child.  As much as I tried to get so much as a tug at her sweater though, the force wouldn't let me.  Growing up with the river, I had to go against reason.  I had to let go.
      I yelled at Christian and Lauren Elizabeth to grab onto the boat and hold on.  I began to fight with everything in me to lift and push the canoe away from the tree.  The fear that pounded through me gave me the strength to force it out of the water and away from being pinned.  I saw Christian and Lauren grow fearful as they realized I was pushing them away, but they couldn't know it was the only way to make them safe.      
      As soon as the canoe broke free from the hold, it shot around to the other side of the fallen tree where I realized Adam had already pushed the other two boys into the riverbank, then jumped out of their canoe to swim up river to get to us.
      He caught our boat with the kids still hanging on while I pulled myself around the tree and swam down river to meet them.  My adrenalin was rushing so fast and it was hard not to cry. 
     Adam pulled our canoe to shore and dumped the water out while we searched for lost paddles and shoes. 
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     It took a minute to get everyone together and ready to go again.  It was hard to get back in the water.
     We switched gears and put Christian and Lauren with Adam from then on and the rest of the trip was smooth sailing, minus one cold and unhappy girl.
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    Once we dried off, we began to enjoy the trip a little more.  The kids ended up having a good time but it might be awhile until I'm ready to go again.  It's one thing facing huge rapids down a big river by yourself, but it's something completely more terrifying to fight for the safety of your children.  
    Mother Nature can wait awhile.
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     It took awhile to stop crying after work.  I have the best job as a therapist, where I get to be with patients for rehab.  I love this job, except for when days like this occur.
     In our facility there was a man and woman who have lived there for years.  They were the sweetest couple...both in their 80's...and had come to fall in love.  
     It was the cutest thing to see them each day, sitting in the courtyard, eating lunch together or going to crafts.  They were literally inseparable from morning till night.
     Last week, the woman told the man that she knew her time had come.  She said that she could see angels above them and questioned why he couldn't.  
     Sure enough, she was right.  Five days later, he sat by her side as she took her last breath.  We were all heartbroken and began to worry how he would go on without her.
      Later in the day, I went to ask how he was.  He lowered his head and said, "I held her hand and she looked at me.  She looked right at me until she stopped breathing.  She told me a couple days before that she knew she had to go, but it was alright, because the angels were there.  Then she said that she would wait for me and be the first one to greet me when it was my time.  The last thing she told me was to kiss her picture every night before I went to bed...and she would get my kiss in heaven.  Then she would come down and kiss me back while I slept."   
    It hit me hard and reminded me again of how life and death can be a horrible and beautiful thing.  It's hard to be surrounded by it so frequently.

    It gives me a unique perspective though and for that, I'm grateful.  
    The couple got to have a love so strong which was nothing less than amazing to see.  It was as though they had waited their whole lives to find each other.

    He'll smile and say now, that he just has to wait a little longer until they can be together again.

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    "Hey, Mom!  You wanna hear a concert?"  
    These words under any other circumstances, would make a mother's heart proud.  The thought of their child playing a musical instrument would and should bring joy to their soul. 
    That's unless...their child is learning how to play the trumpet.  
     I wrote a little while back about the horrific, ahem, the beautiful sounds that have emanated through the walls of our home (and neighborhood) as our fifth grade son has so eagerly picked up the joy of music from his school band.  It's been nothing short of heaven sent.
     Tonight though, a miracle happened.  Christian put some sheets of paper in front of him and took his proper stance.  As I prepared myself for the bellows of the suffering cow that I've become all too accustomed to hearing, you can imagine my surprise when actual notes filled the air instead.  Not only notes...but dare I say it...music.  
     It was the song, "Jingle Bells".  I knew the song not by asking what it was, which is what I usually have to do, but from simply listening to the sound.  For the love of brass, it was less than painful to hear.
     With my jaw dropped and the turn of a page, the next song that he played was, well, let's face it, it was a train wreck.  But at least he has one song down.
     The school band has a Christmas concert next month and I'm actually reconsidering the supply of earplugs I had looked into ordering.
      Now I'm looking forward to hearing what melodies the band director will create.  If he can get our baby to play that out of what he used to sound like, I'm officially a believer that Christmas dreams really can come true.
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