Sunday, November 29, 2020

Why I Love Grammarly Premium and Why It's Worth the Investment

Why I Love Grammarly Premium

Last year I decided to tackle several bucket-list items. One of those items was writing and publishing a poetry book, which led to self-publishing a full series of originally written riddle books. Yes, I know, it's crazy that I can write riddles - but, yah, it turns out I can. Weirdest skill ever.

At any rate, this article isn't specifically about my books. You'll find several articles I've already written on that topic posted below. Instead, this article is about one of my favorite paid premium tools, Grammarly. 

By the way, Grammarly doesn't have a referral program, so everything I'm typing here has nothing to do with receiving a commission from them - This is just a straight review of what I love about it.

Grammarly Premium - Your Own Writing Assistant

I originally used the free version, but after writing several books, I decided the Grammarly premium features were worth it. Grammarly's ability to capture wordiness and make alternate suggestions is one of the most useful writing tools. It gives you a better-worded sentence to choose from. It's my favorite feature. 

Here's a brief video explaining Grammarly's artificial intelligence: Viewing Via Mobile? Here's the Link.



When your brain is tired, Grammarly Premium is like having a personal assistant. Grammarly installs on your browsers and shows up on everything you're typing online, even Facebook posts. In fact, as I'm typing this right now, there's a "G" at the bottom of this post tallying up better writing suggestions.

Grammarly Has a Tone Detector

This is a fantastic feature. When writing, the mood we think we're conveying may not actually be conveyed on the screen. Grammarly's mood detector lets you know how your writing is coming across; confident, joyous, formal, friendly, optimistic, and so on. This video provides a brief outline of the tone detector: Viewing via mobile? Here's the link.



Install Grammarly on Your Phone, Microsoft Office, and All Your Browsers and Other Devices

You can also open Grammarly and post passages, paragraphs, and so on directly into the program. That's very handy indeed: When I'm writing a riddle book, I always copy each riddle into Grammarly (opened on a second screen) to double-check for typos or other errors. Since I use Libre-Office to write my riddle books, I haven't installed Grammarly directly into it yet. However, I'm sure that's coming. 

You CAN download Grammarly directly into Microsoft Office. Also, if you prepare documents using Google Documents, Grammarly automatically works there as well. Essentially it provides you with the ability to correct anywhere on any document on your device. Are you viewing via mobile? Here's the link.



If you haven't used Grammarly yet, give the free version a try, then upgrade if you feel it's something that would serve you well. In terms of pricing, as of this date, the annual fee for Grammarly Premium is $139.95. Here's a link to Grammarly Premium outlining the service and features.

If you're thinking about self-publishing your own books, here are additional articles I've written on the subject to date.

Introducing My Latest Self-Published Riddle Book - Volume 6 Released November 24, 2020

By the way, I ended this article by checking Grammarly's tone detector; it said the post sounds 'friendly'. :)





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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Dog Christmas Cards

As a dog lover I love seeing dog-inspired Christmas cards and as a Zazzle affiliate I know I'm not alone as I sell quite a few dog-inspired Christmas cards every year.


Card designs by Christmas Holidays on Zazzle



My most popular dog Christmas card features a pug, but this year I've sold quite a few dalmatian Christmas cards designed by fellow Zazzlers.

If you're wondering what this Zazzle is that I speak of then let me tell you about it.   Zazzle is a website where designers from around the world can upload their designs to various different products such as cards, t-shirts, mugs even yoga mats!

Buying something from Zazzle means you are helping a designer to provide for their family.   Some people 'Zazzle' alongside a 'day job', others do it alongside being a stay at home parent, yet more people do it as they have a disability that means they are unable to work outside of the home.   A few are able to survive solely on their Zazzle income.

I have brought a few products through Zazzle and I have always loved their quality.   You can see a selection of dog-inspired Christmas cards on this site - Dog Christmas Cards - from a selection of different designers.

Check out how I created my popular Pug Christmas card on this post - designing a pug Christmas card.

Here's a collection of my own dog-inspired Christmas cards that you can find on Zazzle:





Something else that I love about Zazzle is that you can personalize the cards - many people will upload their own dog photos to send out with their cards or even write a verse for the cards. Have you ever used Zazzle for any products?    I would love to hear about your experience.





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Friday, November 27, 2020

Deluxe Spicy Shelf for Spice Organization in Kitchen Cabinets or Pantries Reviewed

Spice Organization
Two years ago, I added gripper clips to my cabinet pantry door for easy access to the spices I use most often. They are truly fabulous and convenient. However, I still had dozens of spices, seasonings, baking extracts, powders, etc. tucked away and often lost in the depths of my pantry.  

I've had a carousel tray on the top shelf of my pantry to at least keep the spices all together, but the small containers somehow managed to flip off the carousel and get lost.  Or worse, they would keep the carousel from turning and cause an avalanche of spice containers.  Of course, that always happened when I was cooking and trying to find something quickly.

My son often heard me complain about my pantry cabinet and spice organization.  This past Mother's Day, he surprised me with the Deluxe Spicy Shelf.  I was thrilled!  I had never seen one before, but the picture on the box looked totally awesome and perfect for my needs.  Then, I opened the box!  Yikes!!!  The number of pieces to assemble my new deluxe spicy shelf intimidated me immediately.  I set the gift aside to construct "later".  Even I didn't realize "later" meant 5 months later.


Assembling My Deluxe Spicy Shelf

Deluxe Spice Shelf
Knowing the holidays were fast approaching and I would soon be seeking out those least often used spices, I set aside an afternoon to assemble my much needed organizer shelf.  With no small amount of dread, I opened the box once again.

Imagine my utter shock that it took me less than 30 minutes to assemble the shelves, remove the content from my pantry, and set it all back in completely organized, easy to see and so much easier to find a specific item.  I was so giddy that is was all accomplished in so little time that I considered putting it all in alphabetical order.  I stayed my hand there though because I wanted the things I would need for Thanksgiving toward the front.  Extra, unopened spices went to the back, but I can easily see them!  

As you can see in the photo below, I even found a great use for my carousel.  It has been serving me for so long, I didn't have the heart to toss it.

Spice Shelf

Because my cabinet pantry is so deep, I set one shelf in front of the other, instead of stacking them.  As you can see, that is perfect for me.  My short spices now tower over the taller bottles.

Because I have a few economy size spice bottles, I set them just in front of my carousel.  They are very easy to lift out and grab what I need from behind them.  No more tearing the cabinet apart to find one small bottle.

Spicy Shelf Organizer




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Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thankfulness in 2020

 



In this crazy year we call 2020, it is easy to find lots to complain about, but I would like to take a few minutes to reflect on those things for which I am thankful.  Won't you join me?

Family and Friends

I am very thankful for my family and friends.  During times when we couldn't get together we have family and good friends who have stayed in touch by phone call, texts, and emails.  At the beginning of April my husband and I spent 12 days in the hospital and we never missed a day without hearing from so many people that are near and dear to us.

Now that we are home, and our health is good, these friends and family continue to contact us.  When the weather was good and we could sit out on our deck with masks and social distancing our friends would join us.  We had several small groups gather and it was wonderful to see people.

My next door neighbor is working from home and we are able to take daily walks in the fresh air.  We often go to a park near our house.  I am thankful for Teresa.  Sometimes we bring our cameras and take photos along the way.





Technology

I am very grateful for technology this year.  It has allowed us to connect in ways we otherwise couldn't.
  • We have live streamed our church services every Sunday on our TV and it has been a great comfort to worship in this manner.  




  • Our church has increased online opportunities for Bible study and for prayer services.  They are available on Zoom, Facebook, and You Tube.
  • Zoom allowed us to have visits with our doctor while we were safe in our own home.
  • Zoom also allowed my photography club to meet so we could share ideas and connect with each other.  I had never used Zoom before and it has certainly been a blessing this year.
  • We also did a Zoom call with our family for my husband's birthday.

Books

I have always enjoyed reading books, but this year I am particularly thankful for the opportunities that a book brings.  Here is a quote that I think is very fitting.

           Reading gives us someplace to go
           when we have to stay where we are.
                         Mason Cooley

Photography

Hobbies are a wonderful thing to occupy your time.  I am very thankful for my hobby of photography.  It has certainly helped to keep me grounded this year and also to help me appreciate all that is beautiful in nature.

I have had plenty of time to take online classes in photography and various software programs.  I have spent hours honing my skills and this has brought hours of enjoyment to me.  

I have then taken the skills I have learned and visited "safe places" like my yard, my neighborhood, and nearby parks.  I am so thankful for all the time I have had to devote to my hobby this year.

Here are a few of the photos that I have taken. 






Today is Thanksgiving Day in the USA.  May you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving.  May you take a few minutes to reflect on the things for which you are thankful.






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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Christmas Family Fun, Incredible Memories are Made of This-Gift Ideas

That time of year is coming upon us very quickly now.  You know the one holiday that everyone has been gearing up for since the beginning of the month.  No, it's not Thanksgiving, although that is just a day away! Rather it's the holiday that features good Ole St. Nick, eight tiny reindeers, singing carols by candlelight and sharing our love for one another!  Christmas is just a month away!

This is a gift and application review, to help make Christmas a little brighter for everyone!

Image by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto from Pixabay

We all know that this year 2020 has been full of challenges and many missed opportunities to be with our families and friends.  Everyone is feeling kind of glum over restrictions that have been put into place to keep the spread of COVID down.  (Nothing beats staying healthy)

But that doesn't mean that we can't still have our fun!  We just need to look at different ways to make our holidays special within the safety of our homes, while still sharing the joy!

Many families will not be able to get together this year as they have in past years, but that is not a reason to give up on being with each other.  There are ways to still be in each other's presence without being "right there"!  ZOOM meetings can be arranged ahead of time, so that family in all parts can "tune in" at a certain time and share the excitement happening all around.  Just click on the ZOOM to download the application for PC's.  

Just think of the fun you could have with everyone done up in their Christmas PJ's, sharing the morning eggnog with Gramma and Grandpa, Aunts and Uncles and Cousins who live far away. It can be done!

Make it a plan that every family will join the ZOOM MEETING in their Christmas Pajamas. Set the time to meet and designate one person to extend the invitation to all other members of the family.  So that when you are all ready, it's a matter of joining the meeting and everyone will be able to see and talk to each other.  

There is time on your hands right now to order the "Special" PJ sets for each family unit, so that on Christmas morning everyone is decked out in their finest matching Pajamas.  



When the time is right, everyone will be online in their finest and ready to share in the fun.  I'll bet there will be more than one camera grabbing pictures of everyone and really letting the joy of the morning come through.  Matching pajamas can be had in many different styles and colors.  Christmas themes are everywhere and you can choose to mix and match within a family, or just match everyone in one family!  The fun is in seeing everyone donning their best Christmas outfit and being relaxed and comfortable at the same time.

If PJ's aren't your thing, think in terms of Christmas sweaters or sweatshirts.  Some of these are very nice and other's fit into that "UGLY Christmas Sweater" category.  The choices are up to you and the fun is for everyone.  Getting everyone organized is the key.  

Call or email your family members and get a consensus of what everyone would like to do, and then plan and execute the idea in a timely fashion.  Like right after everyone has had their Turkey!  

Orders should be in before too long so that everyone who is participating can be ready for their Christmas debut flaunting their own special outfits.  

When everyone is all decked out, make sure you take the time to get a good family picture and share it with your whole extended family where ever they may be.  Holiday times are the best and sharing pictures from year to year will make those memories even better.  

I love the idea of being in my Pajamas, relaxed and cozy, while all the grandkids and other "bigger" kids are having a blast as well.  It's nice to be able to sit back and enjoy the fun and the smiles that are sure to be a part of this great holiday time.

While we are called to take care of everyone, by staying within our family "bubble" safely, don't let Christmas pass you by without reaching out with every method possible to be with our loved ones.  





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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Lost Vintage Book Review


I've visited World War II Europe in my readings on numerous occasions in books like Cilka's Journey, The Girl They Left Behind and The Nightingale. This month I revisited the era via Ann Mah's 2018 novel, The Lost Vintage. I enjoyed the trip though of course, the situation was not always a pleasant one. 

The Lost Vintage travels between current day California and France and World War II France, where one family did as best they could to survive the German occupation. 

Living on a prestigious wine domaine in the Burgundy region of France, they managed for a while to avoid drawing attention to themselves by keeping their heads down but eventually they were drawn into the war in one way or another. 

The mystery that drags the current generation down in the modern day part of the book is whether or not members of the family were Nazi collaborators or members of the resistance.  The idea that our ancestors were on the right side of history is an interesting one that cannot be true for all of us.

Because this book is well written, I had no problem switching back and forth between the different time periods. I was a bit less enthusiastic about the inclusion of the occasional French phrase, sometimes translated and sometimes not. I expect the French was included to give a French feeling to the book and translation is not necessary but I did find the practice intrusive.

As the back of the book says, this story contains a mystery, a love story and of course, a history lesson.  It is packed with French food, culture and of course, wine. It is well written and it is easy to read. If you enjoy historical fiction, wine and/or reading about France, I believe that you will enjoy The Lost Vintage. You may even find yourself needing to read "just one more chapter", wanting to drink a bit of wine and desiring a trip to France.

Without giving away the secrets of this book, I will mention that it deals with a little discussed part of the story of France. That is, what happened to French women when the country was liberated from the Germans. French women were often treated as traitors and found guilty without a trial by what was really mob justice. No allowances were made for varying situations like the difference between women who slept willingly with German soldiers and those who were raped. 

This book comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by me. You can buy your copy of The Lost Vintage from Amazon by clicking right here.

See you
at the bookstore!
Brenda 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas movie reviewed.




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Monday, November 23, 2020

Review: Liven Up Your Zoom Background With A Green Chromakey Backdrop

Have you ever wondered how it seems everyone in a virtual meeting has THE perfect office as seen from the background of the camera. The perfect bookshelves, the perfectly clean office, the perfectly arranged room which shines from behind on the computer screen.

It is an illusion. An illusion provided by a green chromakey backdrop ala the green screen we are used to seeing in the creation of movies with special effects. The green screen is now available for online meetings and the ZOOM platform does make it very easy to switch in and out your favorite background.


As working at home is the new normal for many or for seasoned virtual workers, the Chromakey Green Backdrop is a great gift or stocking stuffer! This is the gift any virtual employee will appreciate and may not want to buy, but will love receiving.

A gift certificate to iron (see below!) and install the backdrop would be an added bonus!

How To Hang The Backdrop

What is key for this backdrop is your iron! Yes, I am not a fan of ironing. But as noted by many of the over 2,000 reviews the backdrop must be free of wrinkles to work properly. Have you ever been in a ZOOM meeting where one person seems to fade in and out of their background? A wrinkle is probably to blame. 

The illusion is slightly ruined when a face starts dropping in and out of the gorgeous window we thought?! was in the office. After the ironing is complete the installation of the Green Backdrop is very easy.

Installation Tips

Avoid breezes, fans, air ducts and heat return ducts! Air flow will create the same effect as a wrinkle. Viewers will suddenly find yourself in your actual room instead of the virtual background of your choice when the air conditioning or heat turns on.

My green backdrop is now hung with an inexpensive curtain rod at the top of the wall. If you'd like to try out the backdrop first before investing in a hardware or putting holes in the wall then the backdrop can be adhered to a blank wall with painters tape. Again, the backdrop still needs to be ironed.

The permanent but portable solution is to purchase a backdrop frame on wheels. This looks similar to a rolling luggage rack and allows the backdrop to be easily moved from room to room or from desktop to

a laptop in a different room. The backdrop does come with hanging clips for the installment option which works best for your virtual office.

Where To Find Fun And Free Zoom Backgrounds

Once your backdrop is ironed and ready to go then the fun can begin with shopping for backgrounds. A multitude of free resources exist to download backgrounds. Travel from the artic to the tropics to the office you wish you had! with the click of a download.

A few favorites to shop for ZOOM backgrounds:

Unsplash Sleek and modern

Pexels  Huge variety from all parts of the world!

Good Housekeeping  (Hallmark fan alert, there are Hallmark backgrounds!)

and ZOOM 

Shop around the web and find the background to make your virtual meeting just a little more interesting!






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Sunday, November 22, 2020

5 Health Related Gift Ideas

Review of 5 Health-Related Gift Ideas

Especially during Covid times, health-related gifts are something to consider.

Some people may have had enough thinking about Covid and prefer not to be reminded of it via gifts. However, these items are practical beyond this crazy time.

Here's a List of Health-Related Gift Ideas

Product Page Featuring the Items Listed Below Is Here

1. A Pulse Oximeter

We recently bought a pulse oximeter; it's similar to this one. Ours requires two AAA batteries. After watching endless news reports on how tracking your oxygen levels with Covid is wise, I decided we needed to have one on hand. According to medical experts, Covid may cause your oxygen levels to drop quickly, so tracking is important. Fortunately, so far we've avoided the Covid nightmare here (knock-on-wood), but just to be safe, I ordered one. 

2. A Blood Pressure Device

Several people in my family have one of these on hand. I decided, yep, time for us to get with the program. I have the blood-pressure monitor app on my phone; however, it's a bit awkward. The Health App is handy when you're on the road, but an actual blood pressure device is nice to have in the home. On the above product page, you'll notice they range in price from lower to higher.

3. Face Masks

One year ago, would we have ever considered face-masks as a gift-thing? The world is slipping off its axis or something. Most of us have masks now, but a lovely gift idea is personalizing it to the user's taste. I would love something that fits my personality and likes. I'm too busy to hunt for them or make them; I need someone else to do it for me, lol.

4. Air Purifiers & Humidifiers

Not just during Covid times, but all year round, an air purifier serves a valuable purpose; it cleans the air. Since most of us resist purchasing what we consider 'extras,' this item makes both a thoughtful and practical gift. Who wouldn't love to get one of these? When you visit the product page (link is above), you'll notice they can be a bit expensive depending on the one you choose. When pooling resources, this makes a quality gift.

If an air purifier is out of the price range, consider a small table-top humidifier. They're especially useful for apartment dwellers. We purchased several a few years ago and gave them out as gifts. They were very much appreciated.

5. Adjustable Thermostats

We have one, as most people do. If a loved one or friend doesn't happen to have an adjustable thermostat, consider it a practical gift. Check out the Google Nest Auto Learning Thermostat as well. Ours is a different brand and not self-learning, but we use it for both heat and air conditioning. I have various times of the day stored at different temperatures. Very handy. Highly recommended.

Build a Personalized Health-Related Gift Basket

Consider making a health gift basket with cold and flu products, a thermometer, masks, healthy juices, boost, bandaids, vitamins, candles, creams, and lotions - throw in a book or two.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas <3

P.S. - I'm not a doctor or medical professional - These recommendations are strictly my personal suggestions.





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Saturday, November 21, 2020

Reviewing Regional Thanksgiving Dinners



Thanksgiving dinners in America, and the dishes we serve, may seem to be the traditional dinner everyone eats on this most thankful day of the year. Not so.  What each family considers to be the perfect dishes on this 'turkey day' may be completely different to someone living in a different part of the country. What is traditional for you depends on where you live and also the culture you grew up in.  Let's explore a few different regions and see what is commonly served for Thanksgiving dinner. 


*A few recipe links are sprinkled throughout the following food descriptions if you want to try adding them to your Thanksgiving menu. 


Turkey or Other Main Meats


  • Baked turkey with stuffing is the traditional Thanksgiving Day main dish.
  • Fried turkey is popular in the South, especially in Texas.
  • Ham is often served in addition to turkey, especially for large gatherings.


Stuffing


Image Source: Pixabay


  • The South prefers cornbread stuffing with their turkey
  • In the New England states you will find clams or oysters mixed with the breadcrumbs in the stuffing.
  • In the Northeast, the stuffing is made with sausage.
  • The Southwest is known for their Tex-Mex style stuffing due to their large Latino population. A favorite one is Blue Cornmeal Chorizo Stuffing, which includes Chorizo sausage and serrano peppers in the blue corn bread crumbs.


Side Dishes


Image Sources: Pixabay & AllRecipes


  • Creamed onions made with pearl onions and heavy cream is a tradition in New England.  
  • Saurkraut is a staple for Thanksgiving dinner in Maryland, particularly in Baltimore due to their large German-American population. And Maryland crab cakes and corn-on-the-cob is often served.
  • Italian-Americans in New Jersey & parts of New York State traditionally serve Manicotti (ricotta-stuffed crepe pasta topped with marinara sauce) before the turkey is served. Or lasagna and baked ziti with meatballs are known to grace the table as well. 
  • The Northeastern quadrant of the country insists on homemade cranberry relish or sauce with this holiday dinner. 
  • The West and Southwest states serve a sweetened, fruity pasta salad which is made with pasta, pineapples, mandarin oranges, Cool Whip, and marshmallow topping. It's called Frog Eye Salad.
  • In Utah, Jell-O salad is an important side dish for Thanksgiving dinner.
  • The most traditional side dish in the Midwest is Green Bean Casserole.
  • In the upper Midwest, German Potato Salad is a favorite side dish. 
  • In Minnesota and Wisconsin, wild rice casserole is a tradition. Ingredients include mushrooms, pecans, and onions, and other variations. 


Desserts


Image Source: Pixabay


  • Pumpkin pie always seems to be the traditional Thanksgiving dessert, but this is actually a mainly Northeastern states dessert. 
  • The South is famous for their Sweet Potato Pie. 
  • New England is known for it's Hasty Pudding (originally known as Indian Pudding), a delicious and simple dessert made with cornmeal, molasses, brown sugar, and spices. It's usually topped with whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.  
  • The Midwest Region favors Cherry Pie over Pumpkin.


Other Regional T-Day Dinner Traditions


Source: Pixabay


  • In New Mexico and other Southwestern states, the food word is 'spicy'.  It's popular to add chile to everything, gravy, stuffing, and even a chile-rub for the turkey. 
  • Southern traditions include a large variety of foods for the Thanksgiving table, including several types of macaroni and cheese, okra pickles, cornbread, and sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping. And, of course, lots of collard greens. 


Happy Thanksgiving

What is your favorite dish or combination of dishes for Thanksgiving Dinner?

Whatever your Thanksgiving menu includes, the contributors of ReviewThisReviews wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.


More Thanksgiving Holiday Recipes and Reviews on ReviewThisReviews



*Regional Thanksgiving Dinners written by (c) Wednesday Elf (11/21/2020)






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Friday, November 20, 2020

White Turkey Serving Platter for the Holidays Reviewed

turkey platter
One of the first gifts my husband's grandmother gave me, was a large white turkey platter.  At the time, I had no idea what a treasure this one serving tray would become to our family.  It is now a part of our holiday tradition.  

Thirty-five years ago, my mother hosted Thanksgiving in her home and we all gathered at my grandmother's home for Christmas.  Both women cooked a lot for the holidays, but my mother always cooked the turkey for both celebrations.  Clearly, I didn't have a need for the large turkey platter when I first received it, but I still loved having it.

Over the years, responsibilities have shifted as needed.  Mom & I prepare the holiday food together, but we moved the cooking to my home for convenience when my children were younger.  The hosting house of the day of the actual meal varies and is determined by the number in attendance or convenience.  I don't remember exactly when it happened, but baking the turkey became my primary responsibility when cooking for the holidays, and that large turkey platter became a necessity.  

Since my Christmas china platters are not large enough for a turkey, I use the large white turkey platter at Christmas too.  Because it is white, it is the perfect compliment for my Christmas china.


 HIC Turkey Oversized Serving PlatterCheck Price

White Turkey Platter


There are several beautifully colored turkey platters, but I prefer my white turkey platter.  It coordinates with almost any china and looks pretty in any room regardless of the table settings or wall colors.

The embossed (raised) fruit pattern around the edge adds a touch of elegance to Mr. Turkey and is perfect for the holiday season. 

The porcelain platter on the right, which is similar to my platter, is microwave, oven, freezer and dishwasher safe, which makes using it a lot more pleasurable.  

It is 17½" wide, large enough for a a whole turkey if desired. We usually slice our turkey before serving.


 







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