Thanksgiving...a Midwestern Ozark Family Gathering

Have any of you ever had a pre-Thanksgiving celebration?  We've struggled at the tail end of this year getting everyone together for holidays.  With work, college schedules, and family commitments, this year turned out to be a Thanksgiving in October for our family.

Thanksgiving = An Ozark Family Gathering - Fall Road Trip 2013 from Thyme (Sarah) on Vimeo.

In late October, we rolled quietly out of the tangle of highways that is Houston for a Fall Road Trip.  We meandered up through the beautiful state of Arkansas, up and over the Boston Mountains, to see the brilliant fall colors and spend time with family.  

Our destination was my in-laws in southern Ozark country in the midwestern state of Missouri.  Over the years, we've approached their house from the north and the plane and by car.  Now we are approaching Missouri by exploring the southern routes from Texas, in order to arrive in the land claimed by young Laura Ingalls Wilder from the endlessly enchanting novels of Little House on the Prairie.

I had fun putting together a little travel video of the sights and sounds as I heard them.  Please enjoy my little hobby!

From the crunching of the leaves to the sightings of squirrels everywhere gathering their winter store, I relish the changing sights, smells, and sounds as we trundle over the great expansive landscape of America.  

I also love thinking of, creating, and bringing hostess gifts when we go visiting family. This year, in keeping with the coziness of the season and the abundance of recipes laced with warming spices like cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom...I decided to make some Cinnamon Swirl Bread.

I try to encourage those on the receiving end to put this gifted loaf aside and save it as a treat for when all of the company is gone.  A nice thick slice can be toasted and savored after all the hard work of hosting family has subsided.

Our drive was gorgeous.  We left at the crack of dawn so we wouldn't miss seeing the sun rise up over the flat lands of Texas.  We crossed the border between Texas and Arkansas as the very early morning sun rays softly filter the milky light over the cattle fields, dotted with fat swollen hay rounds.

I made my cinnamon bread loaves before the trip so that I could wrap them nicely with "Happy Fall" gift tags.  I wanted to bring something to be offered as a token of seasonal giving as well as giving thanks for the hard preparation that has been done for our pleasure.

The house swelled with aromas of yeasty dough and earthy cinnamon as the loaves were rising into soft pillows of soon to be delicious cinnamon swirl bread.  Breaking bread as well as gifting bread must be as old a tradition as time itself it seems.

This is a wonderful recipe for morning sweet bread.  The outside forms a crisp crust and the inside is sweet without being overly saturated with sugar...just a hint of cinnamon sugar rolling throughout the dough.

Passing through Arkansas, the scenery starts to gradually change.  The landscape grows hilly and becomes more lush and green.  We headed north towards the sweeping Ouachita Mountains that stretch across the western side of the state.

I always arrange to leave before sunrise on a road trip.  It might be so we can sip on pumpkin spiced lattes in the cozy darkness of the car.   To accompany the slow and lazy sunrise, we listened to the violins and cellos of the music I used in the video above.

Trundling across the country at sunrise, as the mist is still creeping over the fields and resting gently on top of the rivers and streams, is such a magical time of day.  I savor every sight and sound until, knowing that "poof", the magic is gone, the day must progress all the way through until the alluring and provocative sunset hour comes around to play with light and dark once more.

Arkansas had plenty of fabulous farmer's markets, almost spilling into the road as they bustled their seasonal pumpkins and gourds.  We made sure we got off of the main highways as we approached the Ouachita Mountains for the Scenic Route 7 Drive

Wild elderberry bushes clustered alongside the country roads. As the landscape grew more forested, the sunlight streamed across the trees and fields in giant glowing beams that glistened and danced across the earth.

We rolled along, sometimes with the windows open, stopping to peek into a farmer's market to see different items on offer, like "pickled quail eggs" or "black fig jam" grown and supplied by a nearby farm.

The light was marvelous on the drive up as well as the drive home from Missouri.  On the drive up, the colors were bright, the sky was a brilliant peacock blue, and the air brisk and cool.  On the drive back, the colors were brilliantly showcased among the damp and drizzly landscape against a backdrop of greys and whites.  After a long hard humid Texas summer, we gratefully breathed in the cold and frosty air and welcomed the drizzly rain.

Farm life dominates the landscape of Arkansas up into southern Missouri.  All sorts of animals peek out over their fences, lazily watching the passerbys whiz on.  

These horses caught our eyes as we were meandering along Route 7.  The horses were handsomely striking but it was the fact that they were surrounded by fields awash with wild flowers that made the scene so beguiling.

Arkansas's Scenic Rt. 7 drive has several places to pull over.   Some stops lead into pine covered river bank settings with picnic tables situated right next to the tumbling waters of the Buffalo River.  We especially enjoyed that stop.

Chester came along with us on this road trip. At each and every stop, he would spring out of the car as if we planned the entire trip just for his unhindered enjoyment of Arkansas and Missouri.

At one stop, an entire roadster group of drivers assembled together.  Their cars were all lined up to be properly shown off and people milled about as the drivers recounted their stories of the best scenic drives up and around Arkansas to see the fall colors.

One couldn't help but notice the pure pleasure had by this group as they drove from one scenic spot to another, parked their cars along side each other, and spilled their tales of car talk and travels to anyone within listening distance.

Before long, at the stop where we encountered them, the group donned their quirky but warm hats, waved to the milling and curious onlookers and swept off to find the next rest stop for more carousing and good times together.

The fun of a road trip is not only the scenery.  The wanderlust in me is always trying to get our family to pull into some interesting looking eatery so that we can mingle with the locals and try out some local fare.

Success on this trip!  We ended up pulling into Big Jake's BBQ in Hope, Arkansas.  Hope, Arkansas just happens to be the birthplace of former President Clinton.  And, yes, everyone there, speaks with an accent just like he does.

With pulled pork, fried okra, sweet potato fries, and baked beans, we had a properly naughty road trip lunch.

As we rolled into southern Missouri, we always make the same comment, "Doesn't this remind you of so many scenes in the 'Little House on the Prairie' movies?"

The rich and famous of the country music crowd are staking out tucked away plots of privacy for their stately European styled mansions.  It isn't that surprising to come up something like this home {above} gracing the sloping hills of a corner meadow near my in-laws home in the heart of the Ozarks.

What a great time of year to visit our family.  Piles of black walnuts can be scooped up from the ground as they clunk down to the earth with plops and thuds.  They are like round balls of decorations adorning the earth with their earthy fall colors of chartreuse and coffee.

One of our favorite traditions is to go walking down the forest road winding its way into the woods leading away from my in-laws house.  Whether we walk in clusters of family or in  peaceful solitude, each season offers a completely different outfit of style, as nature slips out of one season and into another.

My in-laws' home is nestled back in the middle of a plot of woods.  I've said to them for years and years that a magazine like Country Living or Southern Home Living would have a field day inside their rustic and charming home.

Their style is "early-American country" and every detail in their home, from the collected antique door knobs to the wood burning black iron stove that keeps the house warm, fits seamlessly together with this early period in American colonialism and expansion into the Midwestern prairies.

It is the light that surrounds their home that is uniquely captivating and alluring.  The woods soar in the back and on the sides leaving the sun's rays to pierce through their canopy in lovely layers of soft and hazy beams.

Their Thanksgiving table is filled with the finest that early-Americans brought with them as they expanded west in the new world.  

The menu is filled with long tested favorite dishes that are expected, relished and appreciated each and every year.  Soft clover leaf bread rolls, that seem to come out of the oven just as we are all sitting down at the table, never fail to amaze me how effortlessly my in-laws seems to manage a meal for 8 to 10 people.  

Over the decades that I have known my husband's parents, there have been a parade of loyal labs that are lucky enough to find a resting spot in their home.

Sugar is currently the fortunate and sweet-hearted lab that has found a safe and warm family to call her own.  Any time someone goes out the door, she faithfully climbs the stairs so she can take up her guarding post and be on the lookout.

Like the cornhusk doll {above}, bought for my sister-in-law when she was a little girl at a fair deep within the heart of the Ozarks, it seems that each detail of the house whispers a story of life's sweet moments within this family that wonderfully reflect the style of life in the heartland of America.

Always there is a dish on the table that has certainly come to be expected.  It is my mother-in-law, Joanne's, "Sweet Cranberry Fruit Salad".  

Not only does the pop of cheery red look inviting at the table, but the tangy flavors of fruit embedded in a pillowy sweet jello blend so well with the pop of cranberry to adorn the table of Thanksgiving.  

Always ready for another story, I realized I had never asked about the origins of this tangy sweet salad.  Joanne said that years and years ago, she used to belong to a southern sewing club.  The ladies gathered to discuss their latest antique finds as well as sew quilts, samplers, or knitted items.  Each visit together, the hostess provided a lunch for the group.  Joanne brought this jello salad once and it was such a big hit she thought she would incorporate it into her holiday menu.  

And she did.  We've enjoyed it for years.  I collected the menu and added it below.  According to Joanne, she looks at the dish and considers it "a uniquely American one".

Can anyone get by without pumpkin pie?  Deliciously smooth and sweet pumpkin pie?  Our wonderful Beverly graced us with two mouth-watering pillowy soft pies.  Perfectly smooth and soft on the inside with just the right little crunch around the edges.  

Our pre-Thanksgiving dinner couldn't be any more complete.  Perhaps the calendar should just move Thanksgiving into October anyway...sheesh, we're always advertising for Christmas already anyway.

So, I find myself in beautiful Oregon this Thanksgiving.  My family is scattered like the leaves that are whirling by the roadsides here in hilly Portland.  

But my thoughts are with the lovely Thanksgiving family gathering in the Ozarks at the end of October that brought us all together this year for a beautiful time of fun, laughter, and all the Thanksgiving trimmings that make each season unique and enchanting.

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you who grace this little space of mine.  A space that yearns to capture and mark the never-halting passage of "thyme".

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