The Advent of Family

After a super lazy morning at my house, I went outside to throw the football with my son for a while. It’s a chilly day, but beautifully sunny, and it’s colder than a lot of winter days we’ll have in Georgia. The sky was the bluest blue, and the trees–now mostly bare except for those determined pines–seemed to be there only to show off that fantastic blue.


When I came inside, my brother-in-law was napping on the couch, and my husband was upstairs playing video games with some more family. No one was hurrying. No one was working. No one was arguing. No one needed anything more than exactly what he had. And on top of all that, no one has to go anywhere for the rest of the day.


At my son’s request, I celebrated this wonderful family day by making (no baking!) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Pie. It’s his favorite, and he sees a lot of pies go out the door for other folks, so I was more than happy to grant his request. It took a few minutes to unwrap (and “safety test”) the peanut butter cups I’d need for the pie.

If you are a peanut butter lover, or if you love one, you should make this easy pie. Here’s how:



Peel 20-25 peanut butter cups. Save 6-8 to decorate the top of the pie, and chop the others coarsely.

In a bowl, mix the following with an electric mixer:

1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese (softened to room temperature)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
12  oz. Cool Whip

In a graham cracker crust (store bought-no baking), fill the bottom with a layer of chopped peanut butter cups. Cover with a layer of the filling. Add another layer of chopped cups. Cover with the rest of the filling. Use the uncut peanut butter cups to decorate the top of the pie. I also piped (and by “piped,” I mean squirted out of the cut corner of a zip-loc bag) some decorative Cool Whip on the top. Chill the pie overnight (if you can stand it) for best results. If you’re OK with still-incredibly-tasty-but-not-perfect-looking results, then wait an hour or two and dig in!

cuppieIf you’re fortunate enough to be with family today, show kindness and celebrate the gift of time together.  If circumstances prevent your family from being together, call someone you love, or send a card, or stop to pray for the ones you hold dear.

Family is indeed a gift to treasure.

“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.”

                                             –George Bernard Shaw


The Advent of Messiness



The Christmas season has arrived at our house. Kids are done with school.

Concerts and parties are done. Now for family, pajamas, too much candy and PIE!


This afternoon, my kitchen table (along with a lot of other parts of my home) were really messy. Stuff is everywhere around here.


My son has taken over the downstairs with all that he dumped out of his book bag yesterday. No one has had time for laundry, dishes, bed-making or anything else.

To add to this messiness, I baked two Apple Pies with Oatmeal Crumb Topping today. They are the last two contributions to the firehouse pies this week, and they made a delicious-smelling use of some quick oats in my pantry. I’m a huge fan of using what you have.

It was indeed a messy process. There were lemons to zest and squeeze (must be in that order, I have learned from doing it the WRONG way), apples to peel, and crumb topping to mix.


The crumb topping is the funnest and messiest part of this pie. In a bowl, I mixed brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, oatmeal, salt and a whole stick of butter. Let’s face it: everything tastes better with a whole stick of butter.



The recipe recommends a food processor for making the crumb topping, but I like using my hands. It has to be blended until the butter pieces are small. It’s messy, but completely worth the results.

I have found the same to be true of this life. Often, the messiest parts of life give us the best results. Relationships can be complicated, and loving folks takes some work, but what beautiful results.

I am reminded of a childhood memory that is so vivid to me. I’ve probably shared it before, but I love it. My grandfather (mom’s dad) and grandmother, Johnnie and Alice,  had two giant Blackheart Cherry trees in their front yard. When cherries were ready to be picked, my parents sent us up into those enormous trees (I was quite small, so they seemed big to me) to harvest them. My dad fashioned these picking buckets out of a family sized plastic mayonnaise jar and a cord. We hung those around our necks and climbed up the tree. I don’t think I’ll ever forget picking cherries; one for the bucket, two for my mouth. What a huge mess it was! Cherry juice staining our mouths and our clothes. Pits raining down on us from whomever was spitting them out from a higher branch. Even after all we’d eaten, there was sure to be some delicious reward later–jelly or cobbler or something Mom or Grandma made. (Maybe even PIE, but I can’t remember) It is a family memory that I treasure.


Today, give thanks for the messiness of this life. Do the work that is worth doing. Love the people who are hard to love. Take time to enjoy what’s delicious in life.

Go out on a limb, where the good fruit is. Eat it up, and let the juice run down your chin! 

The Advent of Reflection

reflectAs I began making homemade crusts this afternoon (I really like them better than the store-bought ones), I realized that my view had changed. There’s a certain counter in our kitchen where I usually roll out dough, but because some dishes were drying on it, I changed spots. The above photo shows my new crust-making perspective. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for the two ornaments hanging from our outside–well–tree. The tree is outside our kitchen window just beside our patio. It started as a stick–one stick–of a confederate rose bush. Now, this “bush” is as tall as the back of myself and plenty big to decorate, so we hung ornaments on it.

Today, I loved staring at the silver ball in the center–it reflected all that was inside our home right back to me, albeit much tinier and a little distorted. It reflected the chandelier that lights our kitchen table, where we share meals together. It reflected me, right where I love to be, making pies. I smiled to think of all the sweet memories made just in the scope of what this ornament could reflect.

Busy in my new crust-making location, I wrapped up about 10 crusts and placed them in the fridge. They last 3 days or so, and I wanted to be ready for this busy week in the kitchen.

Later this afternoon, I baked two Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pies.


I delivered them tonight to my friends who are treating all the firefighters and EMTs in our county. The pies have a smooth, sweet, peanut-buttery filling. My favorite part, though, is the crunchy peanuts and the chocolate chips on the top of each pie. I was so much happier with the crusts today, too. The homemade ones have just enough butter to make them cooperative.

I loved delivering the pies tonight to my friends, but for me, the few moments staring at a “new” perspective in my kitchen made all the effort worth it.

Taking a moment to reflect each day is the key, I believe, to realizing how blessed we truly are.

In just a few moments–really less than one minute–I remembered a ton of happy times in our kitchen, at our table, in our home. Even though sometimes, like the reflection in the ornament, our memories are a little distorted or faint, we are fortunate to have them. Reflecting on the past (not dwelling on it), is time well spent.

Often, the reflection of our memories, both pleasant and painful, can shine a brilliant light on the path ahead of us.

Take time today to appreciate the gift of reflection. And may your memories reflect onto a bright path that shines just for you!

“Sometimes, you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.”
― Yvonne Woon

The Advent of Hope

I’m excited today to be baking pies for some great friends. They have organized a terrific effort in our county to bring holiday goodies to all of the firefighters and EMTs in our county. In the oven right now is Red Hot Firehouse Apple Pie and a Chocolate Chip Pecan pie is waiting its turn to bake.


Want to make an apple pie? Here’s how:


Prepare a 9 inch pie crust (you need a top and a bottom crust).

For the filling:

Peel and chop up 6-7 granny smith apples into a bowl. Put 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in the bowl to keep the apples from browning.

Add: 1 TSP cinnamon, 2 TBSP flour, 1/2 TSP salt, 3/4 CUP sugar, and 1/4 cup red hot cinnamon candies. Stir it all up. (the redhots are optional, but they really give the pie a holiday flair)

Pour it in the pie shell. Add the second crust on top. If you don’t want to figure out a lattice top pie, you can simply put the whole crust on top, crimp the bottom crust to the top, and cut a few slits in the center of the top crust. I used a Christmas tree crust cutter to do mine.

Brush melted butter on the top and sprinkle sugar to give a browned and sparkly look.

Bake for 45-50 minutes at 375 degrees.

As if baking pie weren’t fun enough, it’s a special honor to help out these folks with their effort. Here’s why: they have turned tragedy into hope. Not too long ago, they lost a child to cancer. It was a horrible loss–one I cannot imagine. They decided last Christmas that they would bake goodies to thank some of the emergency workers that frequently came to their home during their daughter’s illness. It wasn’t long before they expanded their efforts to appreciate more of these under-thanked heroes.

They’ve expanded their efforts so much that they’re delivering 40 dozen treats a day for THREE DAYS. That’s a lot of cookies. I’m adding a few pies a day to their efforts, and I’m so thankful for all the people in our community who have been baking, donating ingredients, and signing up for delivery times.

These people give me hope. So much hope.

In light of recent events in our nation–such tragic events that this mother and educator cannot comprehend–I am choosing today to follow the example of these good friends of mine. Tragedy happens. We don’t know why.

But in the cold, dark soil of tragedy, we must sow seeds of hope. Sow hope. So…HOPE.

Today, hope is coming. It is coming this Christmas. It is coming each day that we choose to hope–even in our broken world. I am so grateful today for the gift of hope.


The Advent of Doing it Anyway

I have been on a brief pie-atus for the last few days. And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to make pies. The days just ran out of hours. We are a household of four people, and this has to be one of the busiest weeks of the year for us. The kids have concerts, exams, programs, books to finish up, holiday activities–and my husband and I have the grown-up version of all that–holiday luncheons, work gifts to buy, end of year work to finish up, church commitments, and so much more. We have just all fallen into bed exhausted every night!

This evening, I had a bit of time–just enough, really–to bake a Pecan Pie.  Even though I had the time, my body’s definitely running out of energy, but I did it anyway. Here’s the proof:

pecanIt was easy. You should try it yourself:

Easy Pecan Pie Recipe

Place a store-bought refrigerated pie crust into a 9 inch pie pan and crimp the edges. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the following in a bowl (I never use an electric mixer for some reason):

3 eggs, 2/3cup sugar, 1tsp vanilla, 5 and 1/3 TBSP melted butter, 1 cup of dark Karo syrup.

Place about 1/2 cup of pecan halves (or enough to cover the bottom of the pie plate) in the unbaked shell.

Pour the mixture from the bowl over the pecans and CAREFULLY move it to the bottom rack of the oven(bottom rack=crispier crust).

Bake for 50-55 minutes or until center is not “wavy” when you move the pan.

Cool for at least one hour before you slice it.

This pie is so delicious as is or with vanilla ice cream on top.

If you like chocolate, add 1/4 cup of chocolate chips with the pecans in the pie shell.


I’m gonna take this pie to a Christmas lunch at my work tomorrow. It’s nice to check one thing off of my big Christmas to-do list.

An important reminder to me and to all of us during the holidays:

Even though you’re busy, it’s still Christmas.

No amount of doing, going, trying, running, buying, listing, finishing or anything else can stop it. So if you’re like me, and the big to-do list is trying to keep you from celebrating this season, do it anyway!




The Advent of Comfort

First things first. Someone better come to my house and help me eat the rest of this Cranberry Apple Pie. It is SO delicious, but my husband is allergic to walnuts, so somebody, PLEASE save me from myself and come eat a piece. Or two.

Anyway, back to today. I am the sort of person who might get a little–let’s say agitated, when things don’t go my way. Just ask anyone close to me. I’m high maintenance–no doubt about it. So today, at the grocery store, I was displeased to be served (and I use the word “served” very loosely) by a less-than-enthusiastic checker. Now, I’ve been a grocery checker before, and I’ve been a grocery shopper for quite a few years. There’s a WAY to do it that works. And, as it turns out, there are many, MANY ways to do it that don’t work so well.

For example:

WORKS:  “Good morning, how are you?”

NOT SO MUCH: “Grunt” or “SUP?”

WORKS: Paying attention to the customer and what you’re doing

NOT SO MUCH: Taking a break during my order to show another employee something on your phone

WORKS: Putting like items together (meats with meats, veggies with veggies, etc.)

NOT SO MUCH: Dropping lots of canned goods on top of tomatoes so that, when removed from the bag, they no longer look like something from nature

Now I know how I SHOULD be. I behaved. I did not protest (out loud). I smiled and said, “Thanks, have a nice day.”

Then I came home and griped about it–complete with acting out the scene with me playing the part of Ms. Checker McLazyton.

THEN, I got over it.

Getting over it is definitely underrated. As annoyed as I was, it didn’t take long to remind myself:

You left with a full cart of food.
You came home to a comfortable place.
Someone kind helped you unload the groceries.
Everything is all right.

I am so thankful today, to accept COMFORT as one of the many gifts of this advent season.

Comfort is defined this way:

 A condition or feeling of pleasurable ease, well-being, and contentment.

Right now, think of all the comfort you receive each day. No one is comfortable all the time, but everyone gets a bit of it at some time.

Don’t take for granted all the times in your life that everything has been–well–just fine.


To celebrate comfort, I baked a simple Cherry Pie. It’s considered by many to be a “comfort food.” I especially like the tiny Christmas trees in the top crust. Downright Festive. And comforting.

Just to boost the comfort factor, I made Chex Mix. For me, it’s another major comfort food. I’m very comforted by the fact that we’re having some people over this weekend. Therefore, there’s a chance I won’t “overcomfort” myself with these treats. Maybe ;).chex

The Advent of Singing!

This is an audience participation song. If you are reading this, you must sing along to the tune of “On Top of Spaghetti.”


Ready? Everyone together, with feeling!

On top of some apples
And cranberries red
The baker placed sugar
“And walnuts!” she said
But in her big hurry
She started to bake
Forgetting the flour
The mixture should take
The pie smelled delicious
The berries, well done!
But when she removed it
The top was no fun.


And while it still smelled nice
Flour matters, it’s true
Cause without the flour
The top looked like poo
The story ends happy
‘Cause the pie tasted great
It was good for the tummy
Though ugly on the plate
The moral is simple
For bakers of pie…

Some pies turn out ugly

But they’re still worth a try!



The Advent of Winning

Alright, pie-lovers. Here’s your chance. The first local person (who can meet me or pick up the pie TONIGHT) to read this blog and comment (on the blog–not Facebook) wins today’s Advent Pie:

Pineapple Coconut Pie

cocopineI know–no lofty, meaningful message today. Just this:

If you pay attention and act fast,

you might win a pie.


On your marks, get set…..




The Advent of Sore Muscles

This evening, I baked a Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie. It was one of those cool, easy recipes you find on the back or inside of a wrapper or package. This one came with a graham cracker crust. Yes, I used a store-bought graham cracker crust. I have made them from scratch, and I’ve not found them to be any better.

Here’s how you make it:

Mix 2 8oz packages of cream cheese with a hand mixer until it looks fluffy.

Add 2/3 cup sugar and mix some more.


Add 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice and mix some more.

Next, beat in two eggs.

Finally, mix in one 15oz can of pumpkin.

Pour it into a graham cracker crust and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Cool it on a rack for an hour and then chill for at least 3 hours.

Add whipped cream if you want to.

Making the pie is not what made my muscles sore. I enjoyed some time with my father-in-law and my son this afternoon making (of all things) a fire pit in my back yard. My kids are having some friends over for a Christmas bon-fire this weekend, and we sent out invitations without having a fire pit. So…I’m super grateful for the help today. We drove around on the golf cart gathering rocks and sticks and sand and lights and stuff. We whipped up a pretty decent little fire pit in no time. Thanks, Tom!

I know I’ll be sore tomorrow, because I’m already sore.

I don’t mind a bit, though. As it turns out, I’ve been a bit of a SLUG lately. No good reason–I just haven’t made time to exercise much. Even though I’m sore, I feel good about getting something done. Not to mention, it sure is nice to spend time with folks where there are no SCREENS involved. It was a great day to be outdoors with family–even just for a little while–and it was worth every ache.

Today’s pie is going to someone else who knows about hard work (much harder than I did today). I’m taking this Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie to my son’s third grade teacher. She works hard every day at one of the most important jobs there is–teaching and nurturing children. What an impact she is making on my son and so many others! pumpkincheesecake2

I am grateful for her hard work, and I am so thankful for the ability to do work myself. Whether your muscles are sore from the work you’ve done or perhaps just your brain :), give thanks today for the gift of work.

The Advent of Endurance

All right, folks. It’s December 3–and the third day of the “Advent of Pie” series here at fortyandtwentyblackbirds.

This week, I’m a temporarily single parent. My husband’s out of town on business, so it’s just me and the kids. And the kids’ school stuff. And the kids’ homework. And the kids’ rehearsals. And the kids’ activities. And the kids’ laundry. And carpooling. Now, before I officially declare how tired I am right now, let me say how thankful I am to have a partner who divides the job of parenting with me right down the middle. I’m always grateful, but I notice it even more when he’s not there. So a shout out goes to the best husband and dad ever.

mary engelbreit Christmas







So I remembered about making pie on my way down the driveway at 8:30 this evening. I had just dropped off two other kids and been to a parent meeting while my kids were at a play rehearsal. Before I thought about which pie to make, I thought this:


But then I got over it. I realized that today’s big, wonderful, notable gift is endurance. Sure, we’ve all got plenty to do–probably too much on most days. Today, though, I paid attention to the gift of endurance. I had enough energy–and a lot of other resources, too–to do what needed to be done.

Enough gas in the car.

Enough food to pack a snack.

Enough time to get where I needed to go.

Enough clean clothes to avoid doing laundry tonight.


Also, I had enough eggs, cheese and ham to make a very quick Ham and Cheese Quiche. The kids and I will reheat it for our breakfast in the morning. Good fuel for another busy day.

Seriously. So quick. You could do it, too. Here’s the recipe:

In a big bowl, mix this stuff up:

3 eggs, 1 cup of any cheese (I had shredded mozzarella), 3/4 cup cubed ham, 1 tsp basil, salt and pepper, 1 and 1/2 cups of milk, and 1 heaping tbsp of flour.

After you mix it all up, pour it into an unbaked pie crust. You can make the edges of the crust as fancy as you like, but you’ll see from the photo that my crust was ugly–don’t think it’ll slow anyone down. Bake it in a 325 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Time can vary a bit–if you stick a knife in the middle, it should come out pretty clean.

quicheWe all have crazy days. Sometimes, each of us wishes for less to do. But you can bet there’s someone out there tonight wishing they’d had the day that you did.

Tonight, give thanks for the ability–and the endurance–to do all that you’ve done today.