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I just got a phone call from Ian’s mom… she is at the bakery right now picking up his cake that was our RAOK #2 this week.

I just had to update because I was so certain that my time at the bakery would be so much better than theirs – that whole giving is better than receiving thing, right? She insisted that the bakery owner call me so she could thank me… the minute she heard my voice I could tell she had those “brimming tears” (and me, too, of course.) She was gracious and lovely and I wished her a very, very happy birthday party weekend.

And y’all, I just know that when she hung up the phone she got one of those awesome hugs!! So yay for us – her time at the bakery WAS almost as good as mine!

Happy Birthday Ian!!

Happy Birthday Ian!!

Ten Years

Y’all. I can’t wait to tell you about my day.

But first, do you know what “brimming tears” are?  They aren’t sad or mad tears. They aren’t exactly just tears of joy either. They are the tears that happen when you are just completely full. There’s just so much…so much good, so much love, so much gratitude, so much in-this-moment-right-here…that the slightest extra thing, extra hug, extra smile, extra word makes you spill over in the form of tears. Brimming tears.

(They can also happen the other way… so defeated, so anxious, so exhausted, so hopeless that one more little thing – one more spilled cup, one more middle-of-the-night-wake-up, one more mean word… and you spill over that way too. But that’s not the kind I’m talking about today. No, not at all.)

Today I am the mother of a ten-year-old. For those ten years he has been in a tiny, cherry wood urn sitting in an heirloom cabinet in our living room. I can see it from this chair I sit in. It is surrounded by Willow Tree figures. For ten years I have been trying to figure out how to be a mom to my oldest child – simultaneously the easiest and most difficult of my children. He doesn’t talk back. He doesn’t have a perpetually messy room. He requires no laundry, no car pooling and no grocery store lists. But he’s also never reached for my hand. Never laughed so hard that I wondered if he would be able to catch his breath. He’s never snuggled, fresh from a bath, into my lap in order to get to stay up past bedtime. For ten years I’ve been trying to solve this dilemma – what does it look like to parent this oldest child of mine?

Just like parenting my living children, I’ve made some mistakes. But I’ve tried to learn from them…and from other brave moms before me who share these experiences. I’ve never stopped trying to figure it out, trying to get closer to what I think it could be…lots of trial and error about how to keep his memory alive and honor the ways he’s changed me and changed our family. I imagine it’s something I will do for the rest of my life – and I hope I never feel like it’s done. One of the things that does work for us is to spend his birthday inflicting kindness on as many people as we can manage… and today it was pretty splendid.

So here they are… the WWS Random Acts of Kindness to commemorate a decade:

RAOK 1

WWS RAOK #1 The joy of flowers

Now that the boys are getting a little older, they throw their ideas into the RAOK bucket when February comes around. This is Whitman about to deliver flowers to the office at his school. He also took flowers to his teachers (and in his backpack when he came home this afternoon there was the cutest thank you note signed by the whole class…too much!)

I should also note that Whitman really wanted to give gift cards to, well, like to everyone. I’m not entirely sure he knows exactly what a gift card is, but he definitely wanted everyone to have one today. This tradition could get pretty expensive if we ever let him be in charge!

Meemos Bakery

Check out this adorable little bakery…serious cuteness in here. This was easily one of my favorites of the day.

Meemos sign

WWS RAOK#2 Cakes and Hugs

This sweet little bakery definitely saw some brimming tears today. And not just mine, either.

I had made arrangements (via email) to anonymously pay for someone’s birthday cake – and out of the three bakeries I contacted only one of them even answered me and then followed up again to let me know that an order had come in that might be what I was looking for. I was so grateful that someone took the time to help out with my little request.

To the lady at the counter: “Hi, I’ve been emailing with someone here about paying for a birthday cake?”

A head poked around the corner from the back, “Oh that’s me. Are you Jennifer?”

“Yes, yes I am.”

“I think I have to hug you.”

And people, she wasn’t joking around. You know how sometimes you get a hug and it’s nice – it’s just a simple, quick hug and it warms you up a bit? And then there’s what happens when people hold onto you for longer than that. And they talk to you while they are loving on you. As this woman who I had known for exactly 1.7 seconds was squeezing me she started saying, “I lost my husband recently and, oh, that was so, so hard. I just can’t imagine a child. This thing you are doing to honor his birthday, it’s just beautiful…beautiful.” (She was still hugging… and I could tell that her brimming tears had started.) We chatted for a minute – she asked about Wheeler and then the lady at the counter took a noticeable breath and headed to the back. My new best friend leaned in and said, “She lost a baby, too…this is probably hard.” I know I don’t have to tell you, but this is where you can cue my brimming tears if you are picturing this like a video in your head. I paid for a cake for a little boy who is celebrating his birthday this weekend – Ian, who likes all things construction related – and requested a picture of the cake when it was finished, if that wasn’t too much trouble. As I was signing the receipt the other woman came back to the counter and she was taking a good hard look at the card I was leaving – this side:

DSC_0030And then I knew why no other bakery had called me back. (You can cue another round of brimming tears for that moment when I got back into my car.)  I almost feel sorry for Ian’s parents…I mean, sure, they are in for a nice little surprise when they pick up his cake on Saturday and don’t have to pay for it…but, seriously, I hope somehow they get one of those hugs. I hope they get at least one dose of brimming tears. If not, they won’t get nearly the joy at Meemo’s that I had today.  Bakery RAOK Update

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WWS RAOK #3 Notes to Soldiers

These are some of the cards the  boys made to send to soldiers who are serving overseas. Thanks to the most awesome nanny in the world, this little project took place on a day when I was working until 9:30pm…and it was lovely to come home to a table full of these cards. We used A Million Thanks as our resource to send the cards out today as RAOK #3. Most of the cards just said “Thank you” or “Thanks for your service” but one, there was just one that had a little something extra (that I hope my brother gets to see…)

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Can you see that? “Thank you for everything you do for us.” And then the tiniest little stick guy under our flag pointing what looks like a gun at another little stick guy who is in “som other contry.” Poor little guy in some other country…can you feel patriotic when you don’t even know where you are from?!

boys at post office

WWS RAOK #4 Care Package to Seattle

(Apologies for some of these photos which were taken with my phone. Let me tell you a little story about my phone. It’s an iPhone, technically. I believe they actually refer to it as an iPhonasaurus. A few weeks ago I was at the end of a session with a client and I grabbed my phone to look at the calendar to schedule his next appointment and he said, “Geez doc, that thing still work? Does it even HAVE a calendar on it?” “No,” I said, “Actually it’s not a calendar, it’s a sundial. But it works just fine. How’s next Wednesday at two clicks past the third quadrant?”  Yes, he’s at least a decade younger than I. And yes, many, many clients can not resist the urge to call me “Doc”… not because they think I am one, but because of my last name. OK… so there you go. My phone is old. The camera sucks. Let’s move on.)

Shortly after Christmas one of my favorite souls on this planet posted on Facebook about how the homeless shelter at which she works had not gotten nearly the stuff they needed during the holidays. And that was a particularly bad thing since the holidays are when people tend to do that kind of thing. So I pledged to her that when Wheeler’s birthday came around, we would send a package of whatever she needed most at that time…which is what the boys are helping me do at the post office in that Jurassic photo above. Maybe now a shelter full of men in Seattle can stop sharing nail clippers. Ew.

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My little helpers as we loaded up stuff for all of our stops.

Time to head to the park for RAOK #s 5 and 6. The weather was so gorgeous today, so these two were just plain fun.

WWS RAOK #5

WWS RAOK #5 Happy Dogs

A bin full of dog toys and frisbees at the dog park. Whitman really, really wanted to go around and hand out each of the toys to the dogs and owners that were there. He absolutely couldn’t understand why I was content to just set them out on a bench and leave them.

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But, as you can see, he’s really shy like that. (And no, in spite of the last few photos, Linc was not in a bad mood…he’s in an anti-camera phase at the moment, so his cooperation can not be counted on.)

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We moved on to the playground. I sure hope that little cutey on the rock wall got to enjoy some of the bubbles we left behind.

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WWS RAOK #6 Bubble Time

The next Act of Kindness would test us all. Our will power, that is.

WWS RAOK #7

WWS RAOK #7 More Happy Animals

Here’s Whit reluctantly dropping off the toys and treats for the dogs at the Animal Defense League. Reluctantly because, again, he didn’t understand why he couldn’t just take them into the facility with us and hand them out to each and every dog there. Which I totally get.

We went in and walked around and loved on the animals and, miraculously, we have just as many animals as we had when we got there. (whew!)

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Professional Nappers

Next we headed home for a little break, two more RAOKs and to wait until later so Ron could join us for the last few of the day.

WWS RAOK #8: The boys helped me pick out a child to sponsor on the Compassion International website. We found a little boy who shares Wheeler’s birthday whose name is Angel and lives in Nicaragua. This is part of my on-going effort to raise children who have as broad of a perspective as possible. I mean, let’s face it, if you are born a white male in the USA, you’ve pretty much won the global lottery. I wish, wish, wish for children who learn to be mindful of the larger picture, the planet as a whole…to think of their impact on it and to understand that other people, other humans just like ourselves, are out there living lives quite different than our own. I have hopes that by reaching out to a boy their age we will not only provide some basic necessities to him, but that they will also broaden their world view just a smidge. Baby steps.

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WWS RAOK #9 Memorial Boxes

Long-time readers might remember this post about little boxes… and so this act will be a familiar one. In March our local chapter of MISS Foundation will be hosting a memorial box painting party and these supplies will be donated to that event, turned into works of art, make their way to a local hospital and eventually into the home of a family who finds themselves on this unwanted journey. These boxes will some day contain very precious and priceless cargo.

And finally…twelve hours after we started…we completed our TENTH RAOK:

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WWS RAOK #10 Movie Night

What’s movie night without popcorn?? We attached a dozen packages of microwave popcorn to the RedBox in our neighborhood.  Fun, right? I hope so… it was a nice way to end a busy, bittersweet, splendid, generous day.

Throughout this day I lost count of the messages and texts and emails coming in from all over the place…my dear, dear friends by whom I am so blessed all sharing how they were remembering Wheeler in their own communities and in their own ways. In Dallas and Houston and Atlanta, Arizona and California there were people paying for Starbucks orders for those in line behind them, donations made to animal rescue organizations, formula and diapers given to a women’s shelter, extra large ice cream bought for an unsuspecting kid, cookies baked and delivered, library fines anonymously paid off, a teacher who recruited her whole class to join in and many others that kept trickling in over the course of the day. I felt giddy at the thought of all this kindness going out into the world with my little boy’s legacy attached to it…I felt über-connected to all of you. I will never be able to thank you enough.

A number of the messages wanted to know, “How are you?” And not like the usual “How’s it going?” but the much more sincere, “No, really, how are you…really?” It’s a question that I very much appreciate and here’s the answer:

I really am quite well. This is a day I have grown to love, love, love. Grown to love. I didn’t start there, for sure. These past few years I have marked the day completely out – no clients, not much work, no obligations – and it’s one of the few times I can do that with very little guilt. The time with the boys is precious – they ask such great questions and embrace the spirit of this endeavor in a way that surprises me and makes me brim (yet again!)

Here, at the decade mark, there is much, much less sadness. Of course I still wish he was here, in our family where he belongs. Of course I wonder things like how tall would he be by now? Would he play sports? Which brother would look more like him? What would his voice sound like? What would he dream of doing with his life? I wonder. But that’s not what parenting this kid looks like – I don’t get to know those things. And I’m making peace with that. Days like today help me do that. All day I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for how his existence has changed me and how much influence he has on our family…I could have burst with it. The impact he has had just wasn’t possible in any other way.

I give a talk at memorial services about the transformation that grief brings and in that speech there is bit of poetry from Gibran. He basically says that he who has not looked on sorrow will never truly look on joy. “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” Wheeler’s brief visit on this planet carved out such a space in me I wasn’t always sure I could endure; but here, here at the ten-year place, I mostly feel astounded at my capacity for joy and gratitude and perspective. What greater gift could a son give a mother?

And that is how I really am. Brimming.

WWS sunset

So happy birthday my dear, sweet boy. There remains a hole in our family that is exactly your size…thank you so much for teaching us how to fill it with all the best parts of what we have to offer. You’ve made me a better mother than I could have been without you. I can’t wait to see what it’s like to learn to parent you for the next ten years.

Until then, all my love,

Mom ♥

For past years of Memorial RAOKs… go here and here

For more information on MISS Foundation go here for national and here for San Antonio.

I’m sure you have all heard about the gratitude jar phenomenon that has been going around for several years now.

If you haven’t, just go here on Pinterest and see roughly 483, 720 examples. (Basically, you jot down as many grateful moments as you care to, store them in a large container all year, and then, on New Year’s Eve, you read through them all and bask in the memories of the previous year’s highlights.)

photo from mommaonthemove.ca

I did not take a picture of my plain mason jar…this much cuter jar is from mommaonthemove.ca

I stumbled across the idea at the end of last year and have been waiting anxiously since then to complete our first year. I’m not very patient when it comes to fun, new traditions. So finally, 2013 has come to an end (almost) and we had our first “jar party” tonight. My boys were forced to joined us on the floor where we dumped out many, many piles of tiny papers and began reading through them…there also might have been chocolate fudge cake. And champagne.  (Yes, I know, it was one night early… see note above about my patience.)

Suffice it to say, I was in misty-eyed-mom-mode for most of the ordeal…the good kind. What a treat. Here are some favorites:

My four-year-old listed every family member (including extended) on one piece of paper and then at the bottom it said, “they are all the best.” Both boys had many submissions about family movie nights and bike rides, pets and special times with mom, dad, and grandparents…and not a single mention of toys, electronics or anything material at all. Oh wait, there was one note about a new trampoline. OK, so one mention of a toy. Such simplicity in the things the boys wrote down – it felt humbling.

“I love my school.”

“When mommy read to me today.”

“Our house is always full of good food.”

“The earth and stars and a big sky and angels.”

“My dad lets me build stuff with him.”

“Our super soft kitty.”

I had three different entries about how blessed I feel to be in charge of my own schedule and have the luxury of flexibility…and several more in appreciation that long-time, old stressors from the past no longer exist. It was a clear way to see some patterns about what really feels important.

All in all it was a big success in my book. It is such an easy way to incorporate the “discipline” of gratitude into our everyday lives and, hopefully, instill healthy mental habits in the boys. (There’s lots of good reasons for this, in case you haven’t heard.)

Some adjustments I’m making for 2014:

A new, prettier container – with more room!

Pre-cut papers so they are always handy

Putting dates on the entries (some of the things we wrote about were hard to place exactly without a date for reference)

Making entries even more often, so I can be mistier-eyed next year. ;-)

It’s never too late to start… Happy New Year!!

UPDATE:

Here’s the new jar for 2014…with several  little papers in there, already. Is it too early to be excited for next New Year’s Eve?

Gratitude Jar

Halloween Fun

This week before Halloween, it was our turn to take snacks for the basketball. Because I had to work that day and would miss the game, I felt the need to assuage my guilt…

Halloween snack bags

So I filled these cute pumpkin bags with an assortment of spooky treats:

Halloween snacks

a popcorn-filled skeleton hand with a spider ring, a mandarin-orange jack-o-lantern and a little stash of Goldfish…

Halloween snacks

…there were also juice boxes and spoons in there somewhere.  And I’m always happy when I can avoid candy!

And, important note…if you haven’t ever tried to fill a glove with popcorn, be sure to set aside plenty of time. It can be a little more tedious than you might think!

Nothing like a little crafty-cuteness to help balance out mommy-guilt, eh??

Happy Halloween!!

Sorry for the delay on the rest of the paleo menu from last week… we were out of town and I (was unexpectedly without wi-fi) decided to take a mini-break from the internet while enjoying the cool mountain air of northern New Mexico and Colorado.

We rode an awesome train:

Train in Chama, NM Chama, NM

 

But we are home now…back to the heat…and I think I promised a post about my favorite broccoli salad ever. I think I could live on it. Really.

Recently I got a new cookbook (please don’t tell Ron…we sort of have an agreement about me NOT getting any more new cookbooks) from Deb over at Smitten Kitchen. Truly one of my favorite recipe/family/food perfectionist blogs. Way back in 2009 she posted about a broccoli slaw recipe and I never made it…and then it showed up in the cookbook, so I finally got around to it. I’m so sorry that I waited so long.

making broccoli salad When I say that I could live on it, I’m not kidding. As you can see, I make it in a huge batch so it will last for a few days. I think I had it for lunch for three days in a row. So delish.

It also rounded out a paleo-ish dinner with that roast I made:

Roast and broccoli salad

 

Here is the recipe as posted on the original blog:  Broccoli Slaw  (in keeping with the paleo thing, I reluctantly substitute almond milk for the buttermilk and use homemade mayo when I have it.)

Don’t wait as long as I did to try it. Trust me.

 

 

This evening I made a version of Chicken Marsala that made everyone happy. Including me because it is pretty easy.

You start out with chicken breasts…

chicken marsala  which get pounded down to an even thickness…

chicken marsala …and then salted and peppered heavily on both sides

chicken marsala …then are seared in butter or ghee very briefly (3-4 minutes) and removed from the pan.

chicken marsala  In the same pan mushrooms and shallots are sautéed in butter for several minutes…

chicken marsala …then chicken broth and Marsala wine are added, along with a rosemary sprig. After a few more minutes you add the chicken breasts back in, cover and let them cook for 8-10 minutes.  I took them out and sliced them up before topping them with the sauce – but that’s just because the boys like the smaller pieces. You should feel free to do what you like – they would be impressive served whole, too.

chicken marsala In keeping with our grain-free menu, I paired it with the with the spaghetti squash from last night and a big green salad. Delightful paleo feast. The boys ate it up (except for the mushrooms which they won’t eat because they are black. Silly kids, more for us!)

And yes, that’s a puzzle underneath the dishes. We are in the middle of one right now that takes up the whole table, so we just cover it up when it’s time to eat.  No, we’ll probably never finish it.

Still to go this week…chocolate chili, cauli-rice and the best broccoli salad ever. Such yumminess ahead!

Well, I certainly haven’t been here as much as I like to be…and I haven’t been in the kitchen as much as I need to be, either!  The summer has  been lots of fun so far…I’m enjoying a lighter work schedule and the occasional day to sleep in (shhhhhh, don’t tell anyone) BUT I’ve really struggled with meal planning and cooking this summer. And anyone who has ever tried to maintain the whole Paleo-thing for any amount of time knows that the devil is in the details (of meal planning.) I finally got fed up with too-much-junk in the house last week and decided that my little vacation from the kitchen was over. And, in case you didn’t know it already, blogging here helps keep me accountable…so, here I am!

I spent a little time creating a week’s worth of meals so I could participate in this awesome project (there’s still room to join in, by the way) and then decided to go ahead and jump back on the wagon this week.

I’m going to be gone several nights this week, so I knew I would have to cook some stuff ahead – I got started on those this afternoon. This first one is a crockpot meal that is a big hit around here… Balsamic Roast

Spices for Balsamic RoastYou start with a spice rub that includes salt, pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder and garlic powder.

Spices and meat for Balsamic RoastYou place the top round roast of your choice in a crockpot (on top of some onion slices) and then rub the spices into it.

Ready to get happy for 6-8 hours, Balsamic RoastThen you pour in a tomato paste-balsamic vinegar mixture, a little white wine and cover and let the magic happen for 6-8 hours (or until the meat is sufficiently falling apart.) It has a nice tangy flavor and, like most roasts, is just as good the next day or two, so it’s perfect to make ahead or use for lunches. (pictured here with my favorite broccoli salad)

I also made some spaghetti squash that I’ll need for two other recipes this week. I don’t know if you have made friends yet with spaghetti squash, but seriously, this stuff is a hero to me. And with certain meals, I actually prefer it to pasta. (Don’t get me wrong, spaghetti squash doesn’t taste like pasta…but it has a very similar texture and you can swirl it around your fork and sauces can cling to it…it’s a very happy stand-in.)

I know that you can microwave it and I have done that when in a pinch but, trust me when I tell you that the texture is much, much better if you have the time to roast it. It’s not as mushy, closer to al dente, if you can swing the 35 minutes in the oven.

Spaghetti Squash in halfCut a whole squash in half lengthwise…

Spaghetti Squash, cleaned…scrape out the pulp and seeds (and put in your garden for the birds, if so inclined…that’s where these were going.)

Spaghetti Squash ready for ovenLine a baking sheet with parchment paper, place squash cut-side down and sprinkle the paper with about 3TB of water before placing in a 375° oven for 35 minutes.

Spaghetti Squash, ready to shredWhen they are finished, allow them to cool on a rack until you are able to handle them. (Or, if you are cooking them ahead of time like I was, just let them cool completely.)

Spaghetti Squash all doneOnce cooled, use a fork to separate the strands of squash and scrape out the “spaghetti.” Since I’m not using mine until Tuesday/Thursday, I put it in some Tupperware and stored it in the fridge. This is going to go under some Chicken Marsala and as a side for Chocolate Chili later this week.

Then finally, what we were having for dinner tonight: Meatballs and a Radicchio Salad

This recipe is from Sarah Fragoso’s new book Everyday Paleo Around the World: Italian Cuisine. I just got it recently and am very excited to have some of the results of her Italian adventure on the menu for this week. Meatballs are an easy homerun in this house and I have several recipes I like, so it’s always fun to try a new one.

Meatball ingredients ready  The ingredients all ready to go…Meatballs ready to mix … grass-fed beef, pastured eggs, organic spinach, sage, garlic, salt and pepper

Meatballs ready for the stove …mixed, formed and ready for the skillet. My oldest came into the kitchen while I was working on these and asked if they had grass in them.  (It wilts quite a bit while cooking, so it won’t always look like grass!)

Meatballs finished in a sauce  They cook relatively quickly in a large skillet on the stove top and stay nice and juicy.

Meatballs finished They are nestled in a paleo-fied “Béchamel sauce” that is made with white sweet potatoes (instead of flour) and coconut creme (instead of heavy cream.) It was a yummy sauce, but the coconut flavor came through a little too much for me to feel like I was eating a French-mother sauce. Very good, but I think I will still tweak it a bit…or just use it as a coconut sauce. I kept thinking about shrimp or even a nice white fish in it – that would have been perfect!

Lastly was a radicchio salad that I very much enjoyed in spite of how bitter I usually think it is.

radicchio salad This was very easy to make. A small head of radicchio shredded and spread out on a plate. Shallots, pancetta and garlic sautéed in butter and then whisked, while still warm, with olive oil, white wine vinegar and oregano get drizzled over the whole plate. Season with salt and pepper and voilà! I also think this dressing would be divine on spinach or maybe a combination of the two – especially if you want something in there to cut a little bit of the radicchio bitterness – but overall, it was delish!

The Balsamic Roast recipe is below…and for more of Sarah’s meatballs, check out her site here. And, as for me, I’m back on the wagon so I’ll be back with the rest of the menus this week!  Happy Summer everyone…

Balsamic Roast

Prep: 15min

Cook: 6-8hours

2 pounds top round beef (or your roast of choice)

1 TB salt

1 TB smoked paprika

1 TB garlic powder

1 TB onion powder

1 TB black pepper

2 TB coconut oil

1 large sweet onion, sliced

½ cup balsamic vinegar

8 oz tomato sauce

½ cup water

2 TB white wine

Mix spices in a small bowl and season roast generously on all sides.

Heat coconut oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Sear each side of the roast for 3-4 minutes. Place the sliced onions in the bottom of a crockpot and put seared roast on top of the onions. (I have made this plenty of times when I skipped the searing part and just put the spice-rubbed meat straight into the crockpot. I do think you lose a little bit of flavor but if you are really in hurry, doesn’t hurt to skip it.)

Combine vinegar and tomato sauce, mix well, and pour over the roast. Add the water and white wine to the pan to deglaze (gather up the brown bits of flavor) and pour this mixture in the crock pot as well.

Cover. Set to low for 7-8 hours.

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