Because my family lives in three different locations - four if you count my niece, Katelyn, who now lives in Wisconsin working as a nurse in the Eau Claire hospital - gathering for a meal on the Thanksgiving holiday is pretty tough. So, our tradition includes gathering either the weekend before or after the Thursday holiday. This year, we were able to get together in Mankato with almost everyone present. My brother-in-law, Tim, had to stay home in Iowa and my niece, Allison, was attending a tennis camp. We did get to see her for a whole 10 minutes when she got home on Sunday, just as we were all leaving!

With the addition of my sister and her three children, my parents, Katelyn and myself, it was definitely a full house! As we were planning the weekend, it was quickly deemed to be the "Thanksgiving Slumber Party" as the Iowa kids would be bringing their sleeping bags to sleep on the floor in the family room downstairs and those with beds normally were giving them up to the adult "guests." My brother and his family slept on cots, air mattresses, couches and recliners while my parents, my sister and I all commandeered their beds.

I was actually lucky enough to get a whole room to myself as Allison was at tennis camp and I was assigned to her room. I had stayed there the weekend before when I took care of my nephew on his birthday, so I felt right at home!

Our weekend began with a delicious feast on Saturday with my sister-in-law cooking a turkey and a ham to satisfy both the traditionalists and those who are not fond of turkey. Of course, those of us who are not as picky enjoy both! Mashed potatoes, corn bake, stuffing, vegetables and gravy rounded out the meal. Dessert consisted of a warm apple crisp and a delicious pumpkin dessert. Yes, some of us had a hard time choosing, so had to have a piece of both!

Because my sister and parents had not yet celebrated Joshua's birthday, we had a short party so he could open his presents, which included a game my sister wanted us to play. So, while the men sat in the living room watching football, the rest of us gathered around the dining room table and played a card game, "Deer in the Headlights." It was a good game as there was no limit on how many could play and it was good for all ages. All the cards were dealt out and the players rolled three dice on their turn. The combination of the patterns and numbers that turned up dictated the next action - whether you discarded all your threes, aces or jacks to the center or whether you passed them to another player. It was a bit complicated to keep track of the combinations and which actions they called for, but with one of us keeping the key close at hand, we did OK.

My sister-in-law whipped up a batch of sugar cookie dough after we were done playing our game and we baked and decorated some Christmas cookies. We had colorful icing, sprinkles and red hots to decorate the different shapes. It was something she had planned to do to entertain the kids, but we adults ended up enjoying the process and creating our delightful cookies. They were delicious as well as attractive!

Before long, it was time to assemble the leftovers for our evening meal.

Were any of us even hungry by this time? Did that even matter?

I was introduced to a delicious way to use the turkey and it was a great hit with the rest of the family as well. I had heard of the hot, cheesy, creamed turkey sandwhiches before, but I had never tried them. They were so good, I am now contemplating roasting a turkey breast so I can make a batch of the sandwich meat! Basically, it calls for 8 cups of leftover turkey, a chopped onion, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can of cream of chicken soup, three cups of "cheese loaf," which we call Velveeta! Mix that all together into a slow cooker and heat for four hours on low. Well, we made it up on the stove first to get everything melted and mixed together and then put it in the Crock Pot to keep it warm. It was delicious!

After supper, which was a bit late in the evening due to our cookie baking and the men's trip to my brother's shop to change oil in a couple of the vehicles, we gathered in the living room to watch "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" on DVD. It's a short little cartoon, but more than a few of us were struggling to keep our eyes open and a few of us failed!

It didn't take us long to find our respective sleeping places once the movie was over. I snuggled in under my covers as I listened to the rest of the house "settle in" and the kids in the next room whisper their goodnights. The pitter patter of little feet - and a few big feet - clacked overhead.

It was at that moment when I lifted up my prayer of thanksgiving. I had enjoyed a lovely day with my family, had great conversations and did some of my favorite things - baked cookies and played games - with those I loved. I was safe, warm and well-fed. I felt loved and had many to love in return. I counted my blessings and found them to be many. So, I took those last moments of wakeful awareness to give thanks for all of those gifts and for those I was not yet aware of. I also prayed for more times such as these and for others to experience similar joy with their families.

It was a bit early, but it truly was fabulous Thanksgiving.

Sunday morning dawned and the festivities continued with more delicious meals - a breakfast of freshly baked cinnamon rolls and a lunch of more leftovers.

Once lunch had been consumed, it would be time to pack our cars and head to our respective homes. It was a short time together, but we surely cherished each minute.

I hope you enjoyed wonderful food and wonderful company for your Thanksgiving holiday. While the food is an important part of these traditions, the family and friends and the feelings of gratitude are surely what matter the most.

As we continue through the holiday season and enjoy the rest of 2013, let us remember to be grateful for all our gifts - not just those that appear under the tree.