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2013 in review

Happy New Year! We are so thankful to the entire “Off the Merry-Go-Round” community for finding and following us, adding your words of wisdom, and sharing your adventures in parenting, careers and life with us. We look forward to even more growth, lots of fun and surprises in 2014!

Click below to recap the success of 2013 with us… and check out some of our blog highlights you might have missed!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Holiday Heart and Soul

Happy Holidays from “Off the Merry-Go-Round!”

As we countdown to Christmas, our writers took time to share their photos and reflections of their most treasured holiday keepsakes, decorations and more. We invite you into our homes this holiday season, to share our memories, tips and inspiration!

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This has always been my favorite ornament. It was my mother’s, and it was always the last ornament to be put on our tree when I was growing up. I was so happy when she gave it to me. And now I continue the tradition… it’s always the last ornament I place on my tree as well. -Jen Ashenfelter

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I feel very blessed to have a large collection of antique glass ornaments from my grandmother and mother-in-law. Since our living room is painted light blue, I struggle with holiday decorating. Traditional reds and greens look out of place. But placing a mixture of green and blue balls into several big, old brandy snifters brings holiday sparkle to the room. I especially enjoy the nostalgic 1950’s era aqua tones! -Karen Hendricks

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My oldest daughter, a dance major, is coming home from college this week! To welcome her home and add fun holiday decor to her room, my younger daughter and I made ballerina snowflakes and strung them on a garland atop her window. We used oragami paper for the snowflake skirts. -Karen Hendricks

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These are some of my favorite decorations–carved wood angels and trees. Simple! -Chris Little

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My mom, who passed away on December 6, 2006, started my collection of Possible Dream Santas many years ago. She would search for just the right Santa that might reflect “our” interests. We continue to cherish these Santas year after year. Interestingly enough, she even purchased one for me the year she passed away. -Mary Ann Filler

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This is the Santa that my mom chose for my Christmas gift, the year she passed away. It takes center stage on my mantle. It’s still emotional for me to think about how she picked this out despite how sick she was. -Mary Ann Filler

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Our family’s Christmas tradition focuses on three main concepts: One – Preparation for Jesus’ birth, marking the Advent season using an Advent Wreath and an Advent Calendar–which this year is in the form of a beautiful wooden house. Behind every window or door being a treat or small toy…

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Two – Anticipation of news of His coming, having the 3 Wise Men “travel” through our house, a little distance each day (my son loves to move them!), until they reach the Crèche (Nativity scene)…

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Three – Celebration of Jesus’ birth! Baby Jesus doesn’t appear in the manger until Christmas. In our home, Christmas tradition also revolves around the story of the life of Saint Nicholas. We are very deliberate in our teaching and celebration with our son. On the first Sunday in Advent our priest responded to the commercialism and secularism that has taken over Christmas by saying, “You never want your children to think that they don’t need God (because they received so many presents Christmas Day).” -Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

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The stockings were hung by the chimney with care… My grandmother started the tradition of knitting personalized stockings for everyone in our family, complete with our name at the top and birth year towards the middle. My mom continued this tradition by knitting my husband and children their own personalized stockings too. Atop our fireplace is a special painting–artist Dean Morrissey’s whimsical Santa, “Preparing for the Journey.” I splurged on this painting after working with the artist during several festivals. I admired it for several years before treating myself, including a gorgeous framing job by a local gallery & a special inscription and signature from the artist. (My cat Jingles even posed for this photo!) -Karen Hendricks

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Dean Morrissey – Preparing for the Journey

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New fireplace decor for 2013! I adore our two-sided fireplace, situated between our living and dining rooms but it’s not very efficient so we rarely use it. So this year, I stacked white birch logs saved from our beloved tree struck by an ice storm several years back, along with evergreen boughs trimmed from the bottom of our tree, and a string of Christmas lights. It gives the illusion of warmth and fire once again! (Jingles is looking quite annoyed at all these changes occurring in “his” house. HA!) -Karen Hendricks

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Does everyone have one of these handprint wall hangings left over from preschool? This one is from 1997. I saw one from 2010 in a friend’s house (with much younger kids of course) last week. Treasure! -Chris Little

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For our family, this crèche is a beautiful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. -Mary Ann Filler

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While this ornament is also a reflection of the true meaning of Christmas, it has caused some strife in our household. For reasons I don’t totally understand as a mom, every year my 3 sons fight over who gets to place this ornament on the tree. Last year, we wised up and wrote down a schedule of who will get to put this ornament on the tree from now until the year 2020! Problem solved! -Mary Ann Filler

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This is a new Christmas treasure! A print of chalkboard art from local artist Valerie McKeehan. -Chris Little

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Our angel tree topper has witnessed all of our Christmases as a married couple, as it was purchased during our first year of marriage over 21 years ago! -Mary Ann Filler

Holiday Links:

To learn more about the chalkboard art of Valerie McKeehan, click here for her Lily&Val website.

To see more examples of Dean Morrissey’s gorgeous Santa paintings and other works, click here for his artist page on Greenwich Workshop.

To make snowflake ballerinas, click here for the pattern and instructions (also pinned to our Off the Merry-Go-Round Pinterest board, “Holidays.”)

Do our photos and stories stir up your memories as well? We welcome your holiday ideas, memories and thoughts!

The Immortality of My Parents

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

I gently chided my husband – again – about how he continues to leave the light on in our master bedroom closet once he has exited, as well as the night light above the toilet when he is finished using the bathroom. “But it’s not me, it’s the gremlins,” he emphasized. Now, where had I heard that before???

When my father was alive, blaming similar occurrences on “gremlins” was his way of doing one of two things: either explaining away the great mysteries of life (Where in the world did I put my glasses/car keys/pair of scissors I just had in my hand? Those blasted gremlins again!); or, trying to “get out of” some trouble around the house that for some reason was always inevitably his fault.

In that shared moment with my husband, I realized what I had known all along as I watched my father near the end of his life: that Dad’s life really wouldn’t ever end. It would continue to live on in me, in my family, and in others, since he had touched so many lives in his personal and professional life. I also realized that over the years I have taken on many of my father’s ways – similarly moving about the house and interacting with my family, that it is almost as though he is here with me daily.

Somehow I still can't leave the house without putting on lipstick or lip gloss! Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Somehow I still can’t leave the house without putting on lipstick or lip gloss! Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

In fact, in so many ways, I now catch myself carrying on a lot of my folks’ “parent-isms.” So much so that I am beginning to wonder if they actually are immortal! Here’s what I mean:

  • The “gremlins” have apparently followed me from my childhood home to my house.
  • My son breaks out into song with, “Ooo, Eee, Ooo, Ahh, Ahh, Ting, Tang, Wala, Wala, Bing, Bang.” Is that a real song or did my Dad indeed make that up? I refuse to Google it to find out.
  • When my son was showing me something and said, “Look at this, Mom,” I responded, “I see said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw.” Ugh! Another bad Dad pun!
  • I’m beginning to tell the jokes from Reader’s Digest and claiming them as my own.
  • When I am getting ready to run an errand, I frequently pause for one last look in the mirror – My mother’s question, “Where’s your lipstick?” resonates in my ear. I choose lip gloss instead.
  • I keep picking out white shirts for Andrew to layer under his long-sleeved shirts and sweaters. Mom is infamous for saying, “You can wear white with that,” when my sisters and I would approach her looking for color matching ideas.
  • I catch myself posing larger than life questions and considerations to my son as both of my parents were prone to do. Like a 4-year-old really gets my explanation about aging as to why I cannot simply leap out of bed and somersault across the floor at 6:00 in the morning too. “And you too one day will be old.” Yes, Dad – I know that now!

My dad passed away on October 3rd this year (click here for “A Gift from My Father”). Those of you who have also lost a close relative or dear friend know that all the “firsts” (holiday, birthday, anniversary) without them are especially tough. My family and I have held fast to having our own holiday time at home versus traveling out of state between various relatives. We believe it is very important that our son wake up in his own house for holidays and experience the family traditions we have established. At Christmastime, we would visit my parents on December 27th or 28th to exchange gifts since they live less than 3 hours away, yet that was the extent of celebrating holidays outside of our own home.

This Thanksgiving, however, we decided to stay with my mother in my childhood home and join her, and my sister and her family, for the Thanksgiving meal. It all seemed “fine,” yet there definitely was a presence missing. My sister puts out little name cards at each table setting so everyone knows their seat, and when she came across the card that said (“Pop Pop”) she and I both had to take a breath. I sat next to my mom, yet oddly, didn’t know what to say or do. I just kind of reached over at one point and put my hand on her arm, hoping she would somehow know what I wanted to say but couldn’t.

The day after Thanksgiving, my mom and I visited Dad’s grave site and met the gentleman there who would help us choose a headstone that would be eventually shared by Mom as well. It was a bitterly cold day, and the man was far too chatty and cheerful for me. The morning there exhausted and annoyed me, and by the time my family and I arrived back in Maryland that evening I was emotionally drained. I slept most of the weekend.

We have all heard of having a “Blue Christmas.” This is also a Christmas song written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, and is a tale of unrequited love during the holidays. It has become popular Christmas music that causes us to think about anyone we are missing during the holiday season. Here are a few tips I am finding helpful in keeping cheer amidst feelings of melancholy:

  • Create a “tribute” table or other spot in your home where you can see your loved one and have their presence more easily felt.
  • Talk to your loved one (yes, out loud!) every day. Tell them what is on your mind and what you are feeling, whether it directly pertains to your relationship or not.
  • Call family and friends who are still with you and reminisce. Cry together, or laugh as you remember the good times.
  • Find fun activities to join in that are separate from the things you used to do with your loved one. Sometimes a shift in routine can be a welcome distraction.
  • Let yourself feel your emotions, yet try not to become bogged down in them to where you are feeling prolonged feelings of sadness and loss. If that does become the case, find an unbiased professional to talk with, help you sort your emotions out, and cope. After all, losing a loved one – especially around the holidays, is tough.
Setting up a 'tribute table' for my father has been helpful. I can "see" him every day and more easily talk to him. I burn a tea light candle for him daily, and have decided to keep the table up for one year.

Setting up a ‘tribute table’ for my father has been helpful. I can “see” him every day and more easily talk to him. I burn a tea light candle for him daily, and have decided to keep the table up for one year.

I watch my husband and son from our dining room window – building a snowman and enjoying a friendly snowball fight in the first snow of winter. Yet it is more than this present moment I see. I see into the future as well – when my little boy will have grown and one day experience the loss of us, his parents. Will he hurt as badly as I do now? What memories will he hold dear and cling to when we are no longer in front of him? I don’t know. Yet if I am successful at continuing to pass on those delightful little parts of my father and mother, which I am so thankful for and which are now parts of me, my son will have plenty of them to keep him warm.

A time of happiness as we watch our young son grow and become close as a family. Yet what losses will my son experience in the future?

A time of happiness as we watch our young son grow and become close as a family. Yet what losses will my son experience in the future?

Are you dealing with feelings of loss or sadness this holiday season? Feel free to share your story, as well as ways you are coping and helping to bring a little cheer to this time of year.

Tired of Turkey? Optional Thanksgiving Treats

Wild Turkey

Gobble, Gobble… Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

In anticipation of the USA’s annual stuff-our-stomach-with-as-much-turkey-as-possible-a-thon … a.k.a. Thanksgiving, I wanted to be sure that you, dear readers, had a few delicious options for what to do when you are well, simply put – tired of turkey.

Of course, the day after your filling Thanksgiving feast you can always make yourself the traditional turkey sandwich with your leftovers, or simply re-heat the whole meal and enjoy all over again. For me, it usually ends there and even at Christmas time my family is still too tired of the turkey taste to cook another on Christmas Day. Instead, my husband has always prepared a delicious filet mignon with lobster tail meal – and there is never a leftover in sight to have to worry about!

Several years ago at a chain store called Ollie’s, near my mother’s house in a small Pennsylvania town, I bought a set of 10 short hardback cookbooks for $10.00 (LW Press – a division of Publications International, Ltd.). What a bargain, and they are simply adorable! I know, perhaps a strange adjective to describe cookbooks, yet it’s true. Each has a different theme: Comfort Food, Slow Cooker Recipes, Soups & Stews, Favorite Chili Recipes, Hearty Casseroles, Simple Winter Meals, Classic Appetizers, Easy Appetizers, Holiday Appetizers, and Kids’ Favorite Christmas Cookies. These cookbooks are great because rather than search through one big one for a recipe that might suit my craving, I can just breeze through the few pages in the book I’m interested in. All of the recipes are easy-breezy and do not require a lot in the way of fancy, what-in-the-world-is-that ingredient and where in the grocery store would I find it? The cooking directions are clear, and pictures accompany many of the recipes.

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The best $10 I ever spent!

Below, I share with you three of my favorite recipes from the categories of Appetizers, Slow Cooker Recipes, and Desserts. Bon Appétit!

Oh, and of course … let me know if you enjoyed making any of these tasty dishes as well!

Sweet potatoes

Turn these spuds into Sweet Potato Chips! Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Appetizers –

Microwave Sweet Potato Chips

2 cups thinly sliced sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons margarine

Place sweet potatoes, in single layer, in microwavable dish. Sprinkle with water. Microwave at HIGH 5 minutes. Stir in brown sugar and margarine. Microwave at HIGH 2 to 3 minutes. Let stand a few minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.

 

Slow Cooker Recipes – Cheesy Slow Cooker Chicken

6 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 ½ pounds)

Salt

Black Pepper

Garlic Powder

2 cans (10 ¾ ounces each) condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted

1 can (10 ¾ ounces) condensed cheddar cheese soup, undiluted

Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

1) Place 3 chicken breasts in slow cooker. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Repeat with remaining 3 breasts and seasonings.

2) Combine soups in medium bowl; pour over chicken. Cover; cook on LOW 6 to 8 hours or until chicken is no longer pink in center. Garnish with parsley before serving, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

 

 

Mmmmm, Mmmmm, Good! Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Mmmmm, Mmmmm, Good! Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Desserts – Peanut Butter Chocolate Chippers

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter

1 egg

¾ cup milk chocolate chips

granulated sugar

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2) Beat brown sugar, peanut butter, and egg in medium bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add chocolate chips; stir well.

3) Shape heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into 1 ½-inch balls. Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

4) Dip fork into granulated sugar; press criss-cross fashion onto each ball, flattening to ½-inch thickness.

5) Bake 12 minutes or until set. Cool on cookie sheets 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Note: This simple recipe is unusual because it doesn’t contain any flour – but it still makes great cookies!

 

Halloween… Through the Years

Trick or Treat! Enjoy these photos from Off the Merry-Go-Round’s families–a celebration of haunted Halloweens past.

What fun, to look back at costumes and kids growing through the years. As you think back to past Octobers, what costumes or characters stand out in your mind? Share your memories below… if you dare!

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Superman to the rescue!

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Butterfly: Easy costume idea!

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Trio of Characters: A Knight, Cowgirl & Indian Princess

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This cowboy lassoed some goodies!

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This cowboy posse is ready for trick or treatin’…

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Sports uniforms always make for easy costumes!

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Two soccer stars and a human iPod!

Halloween 2009

Rock stars!

Halloween 2011

Harry Potter and a bloody soccer player… plus a photobombing big sister!

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A life-size iPod!

Sweet Tea Brined Chicken

A star-spangled summer centerpiece

A star-spangled summer centerpiece

By Karen Hendricks

Sweet Tea Brined Chicken... sizzling on the grill!

Sweet Tea Brined Chicken… sizzling on the grill!

Happy 4th of July!

Looking for an alternative to the traditional burgers and dogs for your summer cookouts? Four words for you: SWEET. TEA. BRINED. CHICKEN.

Ok, I am guilty of pinning a gazillion recipes on Pinterest, but this is one of a handful that I have actually tried. And my family loved this chicken so much that we’ve made it numerous times. Even though I discovered it on Pinterest, it’s originally from Southern Living.

If you like sweet tea, trust me, you’ll LOVE this chicken. The chicken stays very moist and retains a lemony, tea flavor with the zing of rosemary.

Sweet Tea Brined Chicken:

  • 2 family sized tea bags (or 8 regular sized tea bags)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 Tablespoon crushed black pepper
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 3-4 pounds chicken pieces
  1. Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs, so I keep a pot outside my kitchen door. Which herbs are your favorites? Please share your tips for growing/cooking with them!

    Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs, so I keep a pot outside my kitchen door. Which herbs are your favorites? Please share your tips for growing/cooking with them!

    Boil 4 cups of water, add tea bags, and steep for 10 minutes.

  2. Stir in sugar and salt until completely dissolved. Add onion, lemon, garlic, and rosemary. Add ice and cool completely. Put the chicken into plastic bags or covered mixing bowls and pour the brine overtop. Let the chicken sit in the brine for 24 hours. (The recipe does not specify, but I refrigerated the chicken at this point.)
  3. Take the chicken out of the brine, and throw the brine away. Dry the chicken off with paper towels. Heat the grill to medium, but only on one side. Put the chicken skin side down, on the side that is not lit. Weird, but it works. Cover the grill and cook for 20 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook for 40 to 50 minutes or until cooked through.

Enjoy! And if you give the recipe a try, jot a note below to let us know.

I have added this recipe to the Off the Merry-Go-Round Pinterest page.  In need of more summertime inspiration? Give us a follow, and find many more summer recipes, ideas for kids’ summer activities, and much more–even a board we call “Giggles.”

Wishing you many delicious summertime moments… 🙂

A Unique Party Idea – Pies, pies and more pies!

One of the many pies at a pie party!

One of the many pies at a pie party!

By  Ruth Topper

Are you planning a party for a graduation, milestone birthday, anniversary, house warming, or a “sending off” to a new city or college in the next few months?    You might be looking to do something a little different from the backyard picnic or the cake & ice cream open house.  I’d like to suggest an idea that my mother invented over 30 years ago – a pie party!  She came up with the idea in 1976 when my oldest sister was leaving home to spend the bicentennial summer vacation season working at Mt. Rushmore.  Mom wanted to have a “sending off” party for her, and she came up with the idea to make lots of different kinds of pies for friends and family to sample at this open house event.  She and my sisters made the majority of the 20 different kinds of pies with a few being made by church members, family or friends.  The secret for the guests in attendance is to cut very small pieces so that you can try as many different kinds as possible.  This is an event where no one keeps track of the number of pies sampled – nor the calories that go along with it!  Needless to say, the “pie party” was a huge success!  Guests were soon asking when the next one was going to be!  We continued to hold pie parties as my sister was “sent off” to Zion National Park the next summer and when I was confirmed at church another year.

The “pie party” was retired for awhile since it does require some work to make 15 or 20 different pies in a 24-48 hour time period!  It was brought back, upon the request of my mother, to celebrate her 75th birthday in 1997.  My sisters & I agreed to do it with the promise that she would help make the pies!  She has held up her “end of the bargain” as she has celebrated her 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays with pie parties held at her church.  (Perhaps this is the secret to her longevity!  Also Happy 91st Birthday to my mom this week on May 29th!)  I introduced the “pie party” to Gettysburg with the celebration of confirmation for my oldest son, Seth in 2010 and just last week with the confirmation of my daughter, Rachel.  And yes, my mom came a few days early to help supervise and make the pies!  Everyone thoroughly enjoyed trying samples of the 15 different kinds of pies we had to offer!  One of our guests told me that this was the BEST kind of party to have!

My mom with her grandchildren at her 90th Birthday Party - May 2012!

My mom with her grandchildren at her 90th Birthday Party – May 2012!

A table filled with lots of pies to sample!

A table filled with lots of pies to sample!

So – what is your favorite kind of pie?  See if you can find it here in the list of pies we had last week at Rachel’s Confirmation Celebration:  apple, blueberry, cheesecake, cherry, chocolate pudding, coconut custard, peach, peanut butter, pecan, pumpkin, rhubarb strawberry, shoofly, strawberry, tollhouse and vanilla pudding.  If you didn’t see your favorite listed – here are a few other pies that we have made in the past for our parties:  banana mallow, butterscotch pudding, carmel, chocolate fudge, coconut crème, date crumb, lemon coconut, lemon meringue, lemon sponge, mandarin orange, mincemeat, out of this world, peach cranberry, pear cranberry and raisin crumb!  Who knew there were so many different kinds of pie to choose from!  Here is the recipe for a popular one in Pennsylvania “Dutch” Country:

Shoofly Pie

Note:  This recipe makes 2 pies!

Need:  2 pie crusts

Filling – 1 cup brown sugar

3 Tablespoons flour

2 cups hot water

½ cup molasses

1 beaten egg

Mix together & bring to a boil.   Add 1 teaspoon baking soda and cool.  Pour cooled mixture into 2 unbaked pie shells.  Add crumbs before baking.

Crumbs – 2 cups unsifted flour

1 cup brown sugar

¼ cup Crisco

¼ cup butter

Mix and form crumbs.

Bake 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until done.  Enjoy!

The "Tollhouse" Pie was the first one gone at Rachel's confirmation celebration!

The “Tollhouse” Pie was the first one gone at Rachel’s confirmation celebration!

Mouth watering yet??

Mouth watering yet??

I bet you have an undeniable urge for some pie now – don’t you?!  The problem will be…….which kind do you want?  Share with us what your favorite kind of pie is.  What makes it so special?