Monday, December 31, 2012

Jarrod's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

This is Jarrod here, again!

Most of you probably don't know, but I'm a peanut-butter fanatic.  I sometimes eat it twice a day.  Nearly every day for breakfast on toast.  I'm a fan of the natural stuff, and when I learned how easy it was to make my very own peanut butter, I figured it was time to take my fanaticism to the next level.  While I don't do it all the time, I now frequently make my own peanut butter from scratch.  It's super fun, and I think it tastes way better.

And when thinking of making things for our friends and family for Christmas, making homemade peanut butter seemed like the perfect idea.  And I'll tell you what ... it is.  There's a little twist here though:  I added chocolate.  Think Nutella, but with peanuts.  Then put that awesomeness in a jar and cover it over with a chocolate ganache.  Spread that on some toast, and you have world peace.  Are you ready?  It's acutally really easy.  I made enough chocolate peanut butter, in several batches, to fill twelve 8oz jars in under three hours.  But you can make quite a bit in under an hour.  When doing my research for the right building blocks, I started here, and then went my own way.

The first thing you need are raw peanuts.  Sure, you can buy them in the shell.  They even sell them on Amazon.  Our local Sprouts carries them in the bulk department at the front of the store.  Really, that's the hardest part of this whole thing.

We added the ganache to the thing to put it over the top as a gift.  It's totally decadent and delicious, but not necessary.  I'll throw in the recipe for that, too.  If you don't want to use it here, it makes the best ice cream topping ever.

Here we go.

Ingredients and steps for the chocolate peanut butter:
2 cups of raw peanuts
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tblsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1 tblsp canola oil (peanut oil if you can find it!)

1)  Preheat the oven to 375.

2)  Stir the peanuts and the honey together and roast in the oven until they turn golden brown, around 10 minutes, stirring at least once.  Then throw them in the food processor.

3)  Throw in the cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and canola oil in with the peanut butter and blend.  The canola oil will help smooth things out.  The blending in the food processor can take several minutes to complete.  After a minute or so, the peanut butter will ball up and then it will smooth out.  If things are taking to long to get to the smooth point, add a bit more oil.

4)  That's it!  You now have chocolate peanut butter!  Keep it refrigerated after making ... Alton Brown says it will last two months or so in the fridge.

Ingredients and steps for the chocolate ganache:
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cup heavy cream

Mix the chips and the cream in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for two minutes.  Stir every 30 seconds.  Keep going until you have a smooth chocolate sauce.

To finish it off for gift-giving, we poured the peanut butter into these 8oz, wide-mouth canning jars.  They were the perfect size to get in the peanut butter and a fun amount of the ganache to top it off.  It's good on anything.  One of our friends opened the jar on the spot and dipped in chocolate chip cookies. (Leanne's Note: She didn't dip the cookie straight into the jar... I handed her a cookie and she smeared the peanut butter on the cookie. It was a fantastic idea.)

There you have it!  To modify the recipe to make plain peanut butter, take away the cocoa powder and powdered sugar and add another table spoon of honey.  It's just that easy.
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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Countdown to 2013: Desserts

We're counting down the best recipes in 2013. Here's a list of all the desserts we made in 2013 around here. We love desserts and made a lot of new ones this year! I've been so excited for this day. I know there will be lots of other recipes over at Finding Joy in My Kitchen!

Gooey Butter Cake

Oreo Marshmallow Bars

Molasses Cookies from Diana

Gluten-free desserts

Ooey Gooey Rocky Road cookies

No Bake Peanut Clusters

Salted Caramel Frozen Hot Chocolate

Semi-homemade Salted Caramel Brownies

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Countdown to 2013: Snacks and Appetizers

We tend to make the same appetizers over and over again... Something with bacon, chips and salsa, etc. Here are a few appetizers or snacks that we made this year. We actually have a few snack recipes coming at you in just a few weeks, so get excited about new recipes in 2013!

Parmesan Cheese Baked Zucchini Chips

Roasted Pumpkin

Candied Bacon
Be sure to check out Finding Joy in My Kitchen for more recipes!
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Friday, December 28, 2012

Countdown to 2013: Best Main Dishes

I'm a working mom of a very little one. This year I made simple things - things that worked well for leftovers, didn't break the bank, and were healthy. We don't use canned, boxed, or overly processed when we can avoid it. We also make main dishes that Wesley can enjoy as well, now that he's eating table food.

Cheesy Bacon Vegetable Pasta
Green Enchilada Polenta Casserole

Smoked Paprika Chicken Thighs

Brown Rice Casserole

This final recipe is one of our absolute favorites. It's perfect for the dark meat after roasting a turkey. It is easy, packed with good stuff, and doesn't use any canned soup.

Check out Finding Joy in My Kitchen for more main dish recipes!
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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Countdown to 2013: Best Soup and Bread

I love soup, but Jarrod's not big on them. Our compromise? Stews and chili! Here are some of our favorite stew and chili recipes we made this year. Some of them are similar or the same as last year, but we continued making them so I figured it was worth sharing them again!

Hearty Bean and Sausage Stew
Turkey and Bean Chili
These are our two favorites. We also made several types of bread this year. Beyond my simple sandwich bread that I make ever couple of weeks, we also made:
Crusty Bread

and the roll version...

Pumpkin Bread
Sweet Yogurt Bread

All of our recipes need to be healthy, as clean as possible, and super simple. For other delicious reipes, check out Finding Joy in My Kitchen!
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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Countdown to 2013: Breakfast Recipes

We eat a lot of toast for breakfast. Even on fancy days we don't get much more complicated than french toast or pancakes. But I promised I'd be sharing my favorite recipes each day and I will!

The only "breakfast" recipes I shared this year were homemade crockpot yogurt, candied bacon, and pumpkin pancakes.
Because I don't have a lot to add to the breakfast menu, head over to Finding Joy in My Kitchen and check out SnoWhite's recipes and link up your favorites!
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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Poor, sick Wesley

One of my biggest fears in life is vomiting. I know that no one likes vomit, but I abhor it. I cannot handle vomit. I plug my ears, pretend to be sleeping, and remove myself from any situation that includes vomit. I knew that being a parent would bring me face to face with my fear. I prayed for a child with a strong stomach and the ability to handle everything that came my way...

You know where I'm going...

Sunday was Jarrod's 31st birthday. He woke up early and left the house to prepare for church around 7am. Wesley still wasn't up at 7:45am - I went in to check on him. He'd spit up a little bit on his sheets, but was his normal, chipper self! I changed his clothes, cleaned him up, fed him breakfast and got ready for church. At 8:50am (we were running late!) I switched off the light in the kitchen and Wesley puked all over me.

I should sidebar and say that I adore church. I love listening to my sweet husband sing. I love the music. I love church. I was sad that this bought of vomit meant I wouldn't make it this morning. 
We immediately went to the bath. I stripped him and me in the bathroom and got us both cleaned up. Wesley was acting completely normal so I figured this was fluke. Sunday evening we were celebrating a contemporary Christmas service at church - one that I've looked forward to since last year. He couldn't be sick...

But he was. He was sick all morning. Jarrod came home (rather than going to birthday lunch with our friends) and he was sick. I called the on-call nurse around 2pm and had lost count at how many times he'd puked. My sweet boy couldn't keep anything down - not water, puffs, banana, or breast milk. The nurse was fearful of dehydration and instructed me to give him water or breast milk about every 30 minutes for 5 minutes at a time. He seemed starving but would nurse until I pulled him off, scream for 10 minutes, calm down, and puke. Rather rinse, repeat.

Jarrod left for church again at 2:30pm. I'd already had 3 baths myself (plus my normal morning shower) and done 7 loads of laundry. I felt terrible that Jarrod wasn't having the special birthday we'd planned. I felt terrible for my sweet little man. We snuggled most of the day and I gave God thanks for the special time with my little boy. I didn't check anything off my to do list, but I was so thankful to have a little boy to snuggle. I was thankful for access for health care and a very wonderful on-call nurse. I'm also thankful that I didn't need to take Wesley to school on Monday. I know it was a huge challenge for many mamas, dads, and caregivers to take their kiddos to school for the first time after the tragedy on Friday. Although the reason was terrible, I'm thankful for one extra day to snuggle my sweet boy before putting him back in school.

Our plans for the day originally included church, shopping for a birthday card for daddy, birthday lunch with our friends, and a beautiful evening worship service. None of these things happened. By the end of the day (around mid-night, thanks to a dog that peed in our bed and a kid that threw up in our bed) I was exhausted and emotionally drained. I cried a lot. Wesley was up a lot at night, but managed to keep everything down. Monday was a slow, restful day for both of us. He slept a lot and I worked from home - thankful for flexible colleagues.

I'm so glad that Jarrod and I were able to have a special birthday celebration on Friday, because Sunday was definitely NOT a celebration! I'm thrilled that Wesley is on the mend. He's still not 100% yet, but he's doing well. And thankfully, no one else has caught his illness. I'm praying it stays that way!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eleven Months

Wesley turned 11 months old on the 11th. We took photos that day, but it took me a little while to edit them and I'm just getting to posting this now...

Words cannot express how strange it is to be writing an 11 month update for our little man. On one hand, I cannot imagine our life before Wesley. On the other hand, how has it already been 11 months!! It feels like just yesterday we were bringing him home from the hospital. Time is sure flying!!

Dear Wesley,

You are such a big boy these days. You are incredibly mobile - crawling from room to room, down the aisle at church, and all over your school. You climb, pull up, stand, take steps assisted, and crawl at an incredible pace. You sit, but usually not for always have sometime to do! You love music and have started singing along in the car and at church. You love when your daddy and I sing to you, especially if it's a song with your name in it.

You've begun to really assert your personality this month. You are strong-willed, stubborn, and incredibly happy. You smile, flirt, and love people. You make friends everywhere we go. If someone walks past you at church or the grocery store, you follow them with your eyes until they smile at you. You aren't used to people walking past without saying hello to you! You're very social, but usually take your time warming up to new surroundings or a crowd. You also started getting rather clingy this month. You cling to mama or daddy when someone asks to take you. You definitely have your favorites! Once you warm up to someone, you'll go to pretty much anyone!
We get some great pictures of you throughout the month, but the one above really captures your personality. You were screaming in this picture. It's a cross between glee and frustration. We're entering a period where communication is incredibly difficult. You get frustrated very easily because we don't always understand you. You also get frustrated when we refuse to give you what you want. We're continuing with baby sign language, but you haven't caught on yet. We've heard that talking to you as we do daily tasks will really help with your communication and language. We talk all the time. You sit at the table with us for breakfast and dinner and share in the daily discussions. When we go shopping I tell you what we're doing. You talk back and make lots of interesting sounds. 

You get your hard-headedness from mama for sure. If you decide you don't want to eat something, we literally have to push something into your mouth to remind you that you like it. You suddenly became a picky eater this month also, but I think that is because of texture issues and stubbornness. We introduced more meats this month and it took you a while to understand the toughness. We did discover that you LOVE bacon! :-) 
You're still a very little guy. You were never a chunky baby. We attribute that to being such an active kid. The onesie you're wearing in this photoshoot is the same that you've worn for most of the photoshoots. It's a 6 month onesie and still fits. It's snug and we don't wear it out, but it works fine for this! 

Christmas time is here and it's been a really interesting time for us. You love Christmas lights and have really enjoyed watching our tree light up each night. You aren't very interested in the tree, but we did move the ornaments up out of your reach. We are so excited to share your very first Christmas with you!

You are the happiest, most joyful baby I've ever met. You're stubborn, strong-willed, short tempered, and silly. You love to be tickled and don't really stop moving during the day. You love school, church, and people. You have blessed our life in the most incredible ways. We adore you, little man.

Mama and Daddy
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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jarrod's birthday

If you follow us on Instagram (@cookinwiththejohnstons) you probably saw all of our fun dinner posts from Friday night. Jarrod celebrated his 31st birthday this weekend. In true foodie fashion, we hit up 4 different restaurants - some of the best in Dallas. Wesley had a great night with Jarrod's folks while we partied hard...until about 9:15pm. :-)

Jarrod had no idea what our plans were when we left the house at 4:45pm on Friday afternoon. Our first stop was Sushi Zushi - the best sushi happy hour in Dallas. The traffic was terrible, so it took a while to get there, but it did not disappoint. Jarrod was thrilled and we really enjoyed edamame and a couple of sushi rolls. Jarrod loves Japanese restaurants because they have rice beer - gluten free!

We finished up our sushi and hit up The Grape. I read that the Happy Hour was the best in Dallas. Another beer for Jarrod, a delicious wine for me, and hand-cut fries! Absolutely incredible.

 After The Grape, we decided to go to Sprinkles Cupcakes for dessert for later. We were insanely stuffed and had some time to kill before dinner, so we stopped in for cupcakes. Sprinkles always has gluten-free red velvet and Jarrod claims it is delicious. We packed up 4 cupcakes for later and headed to dinner.

For dinner we went Kent Rathbun's Blue Plate Kitchen. Everything we had was incredible. I had a peach margarhita that was delicious. Jarrod had a cocktail called the big daddy, which was also incredible. We had homemade bread, including little mini biscuits and cornbread. I got the fried chicken with mashed potatoes. Jarrod went with the steak, blue cheese mashed potatoes, and carrots. We got brussels sprouts to share. 

It was hands-down the best fried chicken I've ever had. Crispy, juicy, and not at all greasy. I ate myself silly. The dessert menu looked incredible, but there simply wasn't any room left. We looked at Christmas lights and took our time heading home. We arrived around 9:15pm to hear that Wesley had a great time. 

Jarrod received three gifts throughout the night - one after each restaurant. The first was a grater that Jarrod had been pining over. The second was a scraper - he asked for one like this, but I thought this one was even better! 
Finally, after dinner, I presented him with this...

That's a mandoline. We already had the musical version, so I thought Jarrod could use the kitchen gadget. Besides that, he's been asking for it for months! He hasn't used it yet, but I know he will find lots of different uses for it. I might need to get him mesh gloves just to make myself feel better about it! 

Overall, it was a delightful night. I had a great time surprising Jarrod with each turn. I loved the conversation, not being interrupted, and talking about our life. We don't get out without Wesley much and it's really nice to do every now and then. We love our kid, but it's wonderful to have adult conversation! We talked a little bit about work, but really just talked about life. We discussed some of our goals for 2013 - get ready for those! 

We celebrated Jarrod's birthday 2 days early. Tomorrow I'll share what we did on his actual birthday - it wasn't nearly as fun as this celebration!

What do you do to celebrate birthdays?
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Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Traditions

I have thought about how to begin this post for hours. My heart is broken for the families and friends in Connecticut. I've read just enough about the situation to pray but not enough to lose myself in the tragedy. I am deeply moved by the heroism of the teachers and deeply saddened by the violence. All those that were affected by this terrible act of violence, I am praying for you. My heart breaks for you. I'm hugging my boy tighter for you. 

When I shared my Christmas traditions last year, I told y'all that Christmas is a difficult time of year for me. I told Jarrod several weeks ago that I am confident that this is going to be my best Christmas yet. Seeing the magic of Christmas through the eyes of Wesley is awesome. It's only going to get better!

Because so much has changed since last year, I thought I would share some of our Christmas traditions for this year. I love love love this post. I'm struck with the consumerism in our culture this year more than ever before. I am praying that we can raise Wesley with a deep understanding of the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas exists because of the incarnation. The advent season is very important to us as it is the preparation for the incarnation. We prepare to experience God coming to earth. What a celebration!

It's easy to become caught up in the commercialism of the Christmas season. I can see that it's even easier when you have a child. Even though Wesley is still too little to make requests, there is pressure to buy him everything. I cannot watch TV, get the mail, or run errands without being inundated with stuff my kid "needs." It's hard to stay grounded in simplicity.

I love the traditions popping up on blogs and pinterest about getting children 3-4 gifts under the categories want, need, wear, and read. Wesley is still a little too young to really follow those categories, but I love them and we hope to do that more when he gets a little older. What we decided to do is set a budget of $50/person. So we'll spend $50 on Wesley, I'll spend $50 on Jarrod, and he'll spend $50 on me. We fill stockings for each other and buy very practical gifts. Having such a small budget forces us to really examine what we're purchasing. We buy things that are meaningful, make gifts, and buy things secondhand. Our home is decorated, but modestly. We bake, cook, and eat food, but not to extravagance. This keeps us from going crazy around the Christmas season. :-)

In order to give thoughtful and cost-effective gifts, we opt to make a lot of gifts. This year Jarrod made chocolate peanut butter for friends and family. Wesley crafted some beautiful canvases for his friends also. These gifts were not only inexpensive, but also infused with a lot of love. The people in our lives are just as blessed as we are - we have food, shelter, clothing, and abundance. What do you get the person who has everything? Something handmade and crafted with love.

One thing we started several years ago during Advent was writing one thing we're thankful for on a slip of paper each night at dinner. We don't share what we wrote, we fold it in half and put it in a vase until Christmas morning. Sometime on Christmas day we read each slip of paper. This is our 3rd year with this tradition, so we will have 3 years of thanksgiving saved. It's a beautiful and completely free tradition. I love that we can continue this and add Wesley's blessings to the mix. We even encourage our guests to share their blessings with us. If you eat dinner at our house during Advent, you'll share something you're thankful for!

Sharing the Blessing
We have been incredibly blessed. We have far more than we could ever need. If Wesley needs something, we purchase it. For Christmas, after setting our budget for our friends and family, we spend that same amount on others. This year we spent $300 on gifts for friends and family, so we gave $150 locally and $150 to storm relief recovery. Doing this helped us to focus on others, share our blessing, and also keep our budget in check. This is a fantastic way to bless others during this holiday season. I insisted on spending half the money locally - giving a face to our gift. I pray that we continue this each year and can infuse the importance of giving in our son.

I know many are hurting this Christmas. Our dear friend will spend this Christmas without her best friend, many (far too many) families will experience Christmas without their loved ones, and hundreds of people are financially unable to provide the Christmas experience they desire. I am constantly reminded how incredibly blessed I am. I give God thanks for my sweet family, a roof over my head, and a job I adore each day - multiple times a day! For me, part of understanding the incarnation is sharing love with others. God came to earth to be with us - that's the celebration of Christmas.

How do you keep things simple during the Christmas season? What are important traditions at your house?
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Merry Christmas

I'm a little behind today - I intended on posting Wesley's 11 month photos and letter. We took the photos yesterday after work but I haven't had a chance to edit them yet. The letter is done, the photos are taken, but I don't know that I'll get the post up today. Perhaps tomorrow!

Instead, I'm going to share with you our Christmas card!

We ordered them from Shutterfly again, just like last year and the year before.

Let's see how our family has changed over the past 3 years...

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Menu Monday

This has been a really chaotic week. Of course it's chaotic for everyone - it's December! We had huge work events, a funeral, and learned our car would be totaled. All of those independently would be fine, but the combination creates for some serious stress in our world. Weekends like this make me so thankful that we meal plan. Although things were crazy, we didn't have unplanned expenses with eating out.

On to food!

Rather than sharing what we're eating, I'm going to share something exiting that will be coming towards the end of the month.

I'm really excited to share a recipe countdown to 2013 at Finding Joy in My Kitchen.
I'm already going through my recipes from 2012 - those I've shared and a few that I haven't - and will be linking up in just a few weeks. You won't want to miss it!
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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Disclosure Policy

This policy is valid from 09 December 2012

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by Leanne and Jarrod Johnston. For questions about this blog, please contact Leanne Johnston ( This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation.

This blog abides by word of mouth marketing standards. We believe in honesty of relationship, opinion and identity. The compensation received may influence the advertising content, topics or posts made in this blog, but all opinions are exclusively ours. That content, advertising space or post will be clearly identified as paid or sponsored content.

The owners of this blog are compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. Even though the owners of this blog receives compensation for our posts or advertisements, we always give our honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on those topics or products. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the bloggers' own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider or party in question.

This blog does contain content which might present a conflict of interest. This content will always be identified. We are affiliated with Amazon and Google and receive compensation if readers click through links from this blog. Ads displayed on this blog may not express the views and opinions of the blog owners.

To get your own policy, go to
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Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Letter

Dearest friends and family,
Unlike last year where we shared our 2011 highlights in our Christmas card, Jarrod and I decided to share our highlights in the form of a letter on the blog! Welcome to our friends, family, and loved ones. Feel free to take a look around - this is our small corner of the internet.

Without further ado, here's our 2012 update!

Obviously 2012 was the biggest and most exciting year we've ever had. On January 11, 2012 we welcomed a beautiful, healthy baby boy: Wesley Daniel.
After 36 hours in the hospital we went home with our boy and began to live life as a family of 3. Wesley fell right in step with our busy lives. He helped Leanne do projects around the house during her maternity leave and loves snuggling on the couch with Jarrod.

In March, Wesley went on his first road trip and we celebrated our sister's wedding!
We celebrated with lots of family and fun. Wesley had a great time and we are thrilled that Uncle Philip is an official part of the family now.
Leanne's maternity leave ended the Monday after the wedding. We were blessed to have the world's best nanny watch our boy while we were at work. Wesley loves his Nanny Haley and we're so thankful for her.

In April we celebrated Leanne's 30th birthday and Wesley's baptism! It was a beautiful day full of family and friends.
May started a very busy travel season. Wesley went to Waco, took a road trip to Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri with mama and Aunt Courtney, and missed Daddy while he traveled for work. By July we were back together, traveling to visit friends in Louisiana!

We had a fantastic family vacation - Wesley did great in the car and loved meeting his Louisiana family. By August it was time for Wesley to start school! He now goes to daycare 4 days a week. We love his teachers and he loves playing with his new friends. He doesn't nap at school because he's too busy playing! (Thankfully, he sleeps all night!)
This summer Wesley started eating table food. Until mid-July, Wesley had only had breast milk. We started slow and made all of his purees at home. He loves sweet potatoes, apple sauce, bananas, and puffs!

In July Jarrod also gained some notoriety by writing devotionals for the Young People's Ministries, a division of the General Board of Discipleship for the United Methodist Church. His blog, The Liturgy Nerd, is a fantastic outlet for Jarrod's creativity.

September began with the start of a new ministry - we decided to start a young adult group in our home. We invited couples, college students, young married friends and their kids, and others in our midst we thought would benefit from community. The first night was a huge hit and we've loved sharing in food, fellowship, and lots of fun with our friends each Thursday night.

Another first we celebrated in September was Jarrod's preaching debut! Jarrod announced to the church during the message that he'd begun than candidacy process towards becoming an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. Our family has started an exciting and crazy new journey in ministry as we work through this process.

As soon as September was over, we were on the road again! Wesley had a few days of family fun in Oklahoma City while we went to Kansas for a conference. We attended Leadership Institute 2012 at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. We had a fantastic time but missed our little man like crazy!
We were all cowboys for Halloween this year. Wesley was absolutely precious. He's too little to really understand Halloween yet, but he sure looked cute!

The weekend immediately following halloween was the Susan G. Komen 3-day for the Cure. Leanne walked 60 miles again and raised over $2,300 in the fight against breast cancer. Jarrod and Wesley spent the weekend cheering! Leanne's already signed up to walk again next year - you can join the fight by donating today!

Thanksgiving was here before we knew it! Wesley had a fantastic Thanksgiving and was even able to enjoy some turkey, mashed potatoes, and veggies! He also wore a super cute turkey shirt!
We have lots of fun things planned for December including Jarrod's 31st birthday and Wesley's first Christmas. We are so excited to celebrate this beautiful holiday season with our little man. We're working hard to keep things simple. God has blessed us with more than we could ever need so we are focusing on ways to bless others.
We pray that your holiday season is filled with peace, joy, and compassion to carry you through the year.
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