Monday, December 15, 2008

Celebrating and Sewing

Greetings all. I hope you are all enjoying the Christmas season. Things have been busy around here. I have caught the sewing bug and for the past couple of weeks I have not been able to stop. My husband came home from a meeting the other night about 9:30 and heard the sewing machine going. He asked me if the sweat shop was still open. I'm making most of the gifts this year and of course got a late start, therefore I have been sewing like a mad woman.
We are in the midst of celebrating advent and are doing an activity each day to count down the days 'till Christmas day. Some are really simple, like letting the kids build a tent with blankets. The other day our activity was a special story and hot cocoa. The kids helped me make the cocoa mix and we enjoyed it in front of a fire while I read this sweet book called "The Small One."

It was a favorite of my husband when he was little. I can never get through it without tearing up.
Here is my hot chocolate recipe. I found it years ago in Better Homes and Gardens. It is really good. You can leave out the anise seed if you want, but don't be afraid to try it. The flavor is good and not at all overpowering.

All is Calm Hot Chocolate
8 oz semi or bitter-sweet chocolate (I just use chips and only about 6 oz)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp anise seed toasted and crushed (toast in a dry skillet until they smell toasted I guess, and I crush them in a clean coffee grinder)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Combine all ingredients and spoon into a jar or bag and cover.
To make 4 servings:
Combine 2/3 cup mix and 1/4 cup water in saucepan. Stir over medium heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Whisk in 4 cups milk and heat through.

Here is another favorite craft idea that we did last year. I really liked it and decided to do it again. I think I saw it in a Better Homes and Gardens craft book.
All you need is tissue paper and contact paper.
Tear the tissue paper into strips of different sizes. Lay your contact paper out, sticky side up and lay your tissue paper strips on to make a picture. We made Christmas trees. It's pretty easy for kids. Mine just needed help building a tree shape. Make your picture on half the contact paper then just fold it over and smooth out when your done. I had some sequins that we threw in for sparkle.
Then just tape your picture to a window. It's really pretty and festive.
It's great for kids, anybody can tear paper.

We are trying to keep things simple this year and focus on the real meaning of Christmas. I've been praying that God would give us opportunities to give this Christmas. I really want our children to understand sacrifice and giving.

Well, the sewing machine is beckoning. Have a good week!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What's Going On With Me and Something For Your Holiday Table

This morning my husband put my newly painted kitchen shelves back up before going to work, which means I can get all the dishes out of the laundry closet! Yay! We're doing a little kitchen spruce-up just in time for the holidays. Today I'm off to search for tile for the back splash.
Also on the agenda:
Doctor visit for two kids
Making cornbread for the stuffing
Making chicken broth for the stuffing
Making pie crust
Going to the grocery store because I forgot a bunch yesterday when I went

Also, I wanted to share a couple of recipes using my favorite, butternut squash.
I have tried quite a few butternut squash soup recipes and this is my favorite. My family loves it so much that it's a meal with some bread and salad, but it's great as a starter to a holiday meal. I'm planning to make it for Thursday. It's from Better Homes and Gardens. The only change I make is I just use evaporated skim milk for the whipping cream.

Click here for recipe

Roasted Butternut Quiches
I developed this recipe to serve at my sister's wedding reception. It's very easy and delicious. The dough can also be used for a sweet filling. This recipe makes about 24 mini quiches. Use a mini muffin tin.

Cream Cheese Dough
3 oz cream cheese (reduced-fat works fine)
6 TBS butter
1 cup all-purpose flour

Mix cream cheese and butter with a mixer. Add flour and mix until combined. Press a small amount into each cup of your muffin tin. This dough is so easy to work with. I even let my daughter help me when I made like, a hundred of these for my sister's wedding.

a small onion (chopped)
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp dried thyme
2 cups roasted butternut squash
about 1/4 cup half and half

Melt 2 TBS butter in skillet. Add onion and sprinkle with one tsp sugar. Cook over medium-low heat about 20 minutes.
With a mixer, beat all ingredients together until well combined. Now, fill up your mini quiches. I use a mini cookie scoop for this part. You can fill them all the way to the top. You'll probably have some extra filling. If this is the case and you don't have extra dough, you can bake the rest in greased ramekins right along with the quiches. Bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes. Remove from tins immediately.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Today my beloved husband John and I celebrate nine years of marriage. God has been so gracious to us. He brought us together through some difficult circumstances, which has always been an example to us of His sovereignty.

My ambition throughout high school was to marry John. I always tell him that he made all my dreams come true! This was what I wanted--to be a wife, homemaker, and mother. Sometimes in the middle of a crazy day or moment, froth with crying, spills, or some of the other things we mothers face, I'll stop and think--this is what I wanted.

Today will be filled with all of those everyday, lovely things...

...hungry kids, chubby hands, hugs, baby talk, crayons, cuddles, stories, questions, giggling, tears, superheroes, ponytails, diapers...

...and one incredible man that I love more now than I ever thought possible.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fall Favorites from the Kitchen

Glazed Chicken and Vegetables
This is a family favorite in our house. My husband and children cheer when I make this. It's so satisfying and delicious and the leftovers are really tasty. I make this all year round, but it seems especially good in the fall. This recipe is from my old standby Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I've made a couple changes from the original.
1 3-31/2 pound chicken (I usually buy 5 pound chickens, it usually takes about 20 more minutes to cook)
Cooking oil
3 potatoes, quartered (I use more, 3 is not enough for my family)
6 carrots, sliced 1-2 inches thick
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup prepared mustard
2 TBS butter
2 TBS chopped onion
2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2-3 apples, cored and cut into wedges

Rinse inside and out of chicken, pat dry with paper towels. Place chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Brush with oil. Roast uncovered, in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Cook potatoes and carrots in boiling water until nearly tender for 15 minutes.

For glaze, in a saucepan combine honey, mustard, butter, onion, curry, garlic salt, and ginger. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Discard drippings in roasting pan. Arrange carrots, potatoes, and apples around chicken in pan. Brush glaze over chicken, vegetables, and apples. Roast uncovered, for 30-40 more minutes until drumsticks move easily and chicken is no longer pink.

Apple Pecan Salad
Again, from Better Homes and Gardens. This is so good; it's delicious with a big baked macaroni and cheese. I've simplified the original recipe somewhat.

3 TBS packed brown sugar
about 1/3 cup chopped pecans
3 apples (gala or red delicious work well) cored and sliced into wedges
1 TBS butter, melted
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup apple cider or apple juice
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 TBS honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
about 6 cups torn romaine or other salad greens

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Place apples on sheet and brush with butter, sprinkle with sugar and nuts. Bake about 10 minutes or until just tender. You have to watch the nuts, if they are chopped really small, they will burn quickly.

In a jar, combine oil, cider, vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper. I also add some sugar to the dressing; I think it's an improvement. A couple of spoonfuls is sufficient. Cover and shake well.

Arrange greens on a platter and top with apple slices. Scrape the melted bits of sugar and nuts onto the salad. Serve with dressing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ranting and Pondering

Hey there,

The past few weeks have been extremely busy for my family. We pulled off a beautiful and meaningful wedding for my dear sister on October 25. Last week was meant to be spent catching up, but nothing went as planned. I had appointments and interruptions that resulted in me having a meltdown on Saturday. The house was a disheveled heap of laundry, bags still sitting half unpacked from the wedding, dirty dishes that I had been trying to get to all week, and clutter that I had no place for in the disheveled heap. When I recovered from the meltdown, I concluded that I just have to manage my time better. You know, you think you're managing things just fine and you get comfortable and start to relax a little and then, suddenly, it all unravels and you have to start all over again. To top off the weekend, Sunday night my husband mentioned the five Bible verses that we needed to have memorized for today, which I completely forgot. I never even thought about it after the night it was assigned three or so weeks ago. So I've been cramming, which is all too reminiscent of high school.

The past couple days I've been deep in thought about how I can do a better job as a homemaker, teacher to my children, and mother. With all this pondering, thankfully, I am reminded that my purpose is not to have the cleanest house or the best cooking skills as a homemaker, it is to love and train my children for the Glory of God. Why do I not put more thought into that? I thank the Lord that He uses these frustrating times to teach me, because I am definitely still in need of His teaching.

After a good Monday spent doing school, laundry, and little cleaning, things are looking up. We were out super early yesterday morning to vote and have breakfast out before going grocery shopping. As I sat at the restaurant writing my grocery list with a crayon, I thought about how much I really love motherhood. Nothing is perfect, but if I keep my eye on what the real purpose is, perfection doesn't seem so important anymore.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Morning Thoughts

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

I'm so thankful that because of the grace of God, every day is a fresh start. The frustrations of yesterday melt away, and I can start each day forgiven.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Beans, Beans...

Last night I told my husband that I think we eat out too much. I tried to justify it. After all, too much is just a couple of times a week, and it's usually just for convenience sake. Well, he wholeheartedly agreed. In fact, he hit me with some figures, like, how much we're spending in a month on eating out. "Have you been thinking about this?" I said, "Why didn't you say something?" My husband, God bless him, is very laid back and sometimes I think is afraid he'll hurt my feelings. I've been feeling bad about all this eating out, so with my husband's encouragement, I'm going to try to plan better. For the days that I think I need something easy, (which for me is Mondays), I'm going to keep it simple. Today it's going to be beans and cornbread. Thankfully, my husband is not a picky eater, and I think the only thing he hasn't liked in almost 9 years of marriage was the authentic falafel I made. I happened to love it, but I haven't made it since.

I thought I'd share a few tips on how to make easy, delicious pintos. If you happen to be a fellow West Virginian, you probably have your own methods. If not, try it. Pinto beans are cheap, easy, and nutritious.

I've been using my crock pot to make beans. I do a quick-soak method (boil for two minutes, cover and set aside for one hour). My mom soaks beans in large quantities then freezes them for future use. Next, I drain and rinse the soaked beans then boil them for ten minutes (which must be done if you plan to use a crock pot). Next, pop them in the pot, water and all. I add a few fresh herb sprigs and a small amount of salt. If you add a lot of salt at the beginning of cooking, it slows cooking time, but adding part of the salt improves the flavor. Cook them on high or low depending on how much time you have; they actually cook pretty quickly this way. Adding the fresh herbs makes great tasting re-fried beans for later.

I hope you enjoy this West Virginia Classic!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Putting a positive spin on well, a crapper

My hope for this blog is that it is a breath of fresh air, a place where there is no one pretending that they have it all together. Well now is just such that time for honesty.
We are in our second week of homeschooling. It hasn't all been bad; much of it has been good. But ladies, nothing is perfect. Most of my frustration has come from my 3 year old, who seems to have slipped into a second season of the terrible-two's. My son, who is mostly energetic and delightful, has become stubborn, destructive, and has one volume...LOUD. Today was bad. I had just begun the school day. I had read one thing. I opened up one of our history books and he said "Can we be done?" He has asked me this many times over the course of our school time. My answer is always the same "You're not in school, yes, be done, go play." But that is never good enough. He assumes that he must sit there, and today, none of my suggestions of things he could do were accepted. Well, we were battling it out and all the while I'm trying to control my anger (you know, set a good example). Finally, I dissolved into tears and came downstairs, wondering how many days can go into the crapper without us getting behind. I have seen some progress. There are days when I've seen him hold it together when he hasn't gotten his way. But today has been one of those days for me. Even as I've been typing this, Jack, who was supposed to be taking his nap decided he was done with that, and my daughter asked me if I am mad at her and her brother.
Ever since my oldest was a toddler, in the midst of a struggle, many times I have thought about my sin before a Holy God. Any offense against me is nothing compared to my sin before God, and He has forgiven me. It kind of helps put things in perspective. I don't know why I expect so much from them sometimes. I am thankful for the love of God and the example in Jesus, because as frustrated as I can get I love my children so much and I know that doesn't come in and of myself.
So, today was pretty much a loss. If I hurry, I can get some housework done. Looks like we're going to do school on Saturday.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yee-haw! A cowgirl party

We really enjoyed our daughter's birthday party this year. She loves horses and wanted a cowgirl themed party. This was really fun for a guest list that included both boys and girls. I've always taken more of a laid back approach to parties, focusing more on good food and the setting. However, as the kids get older I've found that parties need more structure to keep things from getting crazy. This year I wanted to have more games for the kids and less time in the food so I could just enjoy watching my little girl having fun.

This little idea came from Better Homes and Gardens. It's a great easy decoration for any party. I bought two 8 inch embroidery hoops for 99 cents a piece and 4 rolls of crepe paper. Cut roughly 8 foot lengths of the streamers and drape them across the inner hoop, close the outer hoop on top and hang with fishing line. I used red and light blue to match our theme, and I added a little hot pink. This was so cheap and easy.

To set the mood, we bought a few bales of hay for the guests to sit on. A table with a red-checked table cloth was a great place for the kids to stop and play with toy horses. This was a great idea and kept the kids busy in between activities. I also set out peanuts in the shell to munch on, this was a hit with the adult guests especially. I bought cowboy hats for each of the children and mentioned to the parents to dress them in jeans or any western-like stuff they had, if they wanted to.
The Lord blessed us with a beautiful evening and we were able to play games out in the backyard.

Stomp the Flies
This is a fun and easy idea my sister-in-law told me about. The black balloons are the flies and the children are the horses trying to stomp them. They seemed to like this one.

Six Shooter Game
The goal here was to shoot the bottles down with a water gun. I think a dart gun would've been better because the kids had to stand right up to the bottles to get them to fall down. They still enjoyed it, one little fella played with the water gun for most of the evening. He was quite a hoot, walking to the sink in his black cowboy hat to refill his gun.

T-shirt decorating
We did this later in the evening indoors and it was a great wind down activity. We purchased t-shirts in bulk online and bought fabric markers at a crafts store. We looked at buying the markers online also, but they were going to take longer to get in. It may have been cheaper. We just found a coloring page of a horse on the internet and bought iron-on transfers to print the image onto.
I had two other games to play, but there wasn't time. We were planning a stick horse race. I just asked some friends to bring their kid's stick horses, which was handy anyway. For the other game, you hang apples from a long board and the kids try to eat the apple like a horse (with no hands). For this game I had to make sure the apples I bought had a stem to tie the yarn to. I was really excited about this game, but we just ran out of time. Another nice touch was my husband signaled the start of games with one of our kid's cap guns. Also the dads really enjoyed playing with those.

The Menu
I wanted a really easy meal that would remind you of what a cowboy would eat out on the trail. I decided on beef stew and cornbread muffins. We served it on aluminum pie plates to represent the tin plates you always see cowboys eating from in western movies. This was a big hit, although the bottom of the plates got hot from the stew.

Birthday Cake
This cake was so easy and fun to make. I baked the cake a few days ahead and froze it, then my husband and I decorated it after the kids went to bed the night before the party. I wanted it to be a surprise. I found the idea on the Family Fun website. I also made a couple dozen cupcakes. My mom, who makes special occasion cakes, gave me this icing recipe. It is easy and sooo good!

Buttercream Frosting
With a mixer, mix 1 lb softened butter with 1/2 cup crisco. Add 2 lbs powdered sugar and beat just until mixed well. Add 1-2 tsp of your favorite extract (I love almond extract, it is wonderful). If you make this ahead and refrigerate it, you can add a little hot water or milk to soften it a bit before frosting your cake.
I used this on the cake and cupcakes. For chocolate, add about three tbs cocoa. I also added brown paste food coloring for the horse because the cocoa didn't make it brown enough.

Isabelle and her brother really seemed to enjoy this. When I asked her if she had a good time, she said "yes, but I want another cowgirl party!" So I guess we will do this all over again next year!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Busy, busy, busy

I am still here, just in case you were wondering. With planning my sister's wedding, Isabelle's birthday coming up, home projects, and diving into homeschooling, there just doesn't seem to be much time left!

It's exciting and a little scary taking on this homeschooling thing, and while we've done some school already, it's time to really kick it into high gear. I'm looking forward to the bonding time it will bring with our daughter, and the teamwork experience my husband and I will share. I am a little unsure about how I'm going to do this with a five month old and a three year old to care for, oh well. I guess they say "necessity is the mother of invention", so I guess I'll just have to dig deep to access that resourceful side I have...somewhere.

Fall time, my favorite time, is upon us and some of the trees in our front yard already have some leaves that are turning yellow. Little things like shopping for fall clothes for my kids and getting out my grandmother's glass pumpkin-shaped cookie jar just make me so happy! Ahh... jacket weather, anyone that knows me knows my love of my jean jacket. Another love of mine, cooking, is also put to use in autumn. I'm making a mental list of all of my favorite fall recipes to share. Provided I can find the time to sit down at the computer.

With all of this stuff on my mind, I've had some frustrating days. Days when I wonder if I should be a parent at all! But then when it seems all hope is lost, I learn something, a hug goes a long way. I mean that. On that uplifting note, I'll go. My kids are asking for a snack.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Berry Picking and the best cobbler ever

My parents have an abundance of blackberries this year and were generous enough to share them with us. So the other evening the whole family ventured out, even baby Maggie in her stroller, to pick some of the bounty. The kids proved to be quite a help, and weren't even bothered by the prickly thorns. They were really excited to come home and eat some. After a small bowl with a little sugar, they went off to bed, and I began cooking up a treat for my husband and me.
This cobbler recipe has been in my family for years. The story goes that my grandmother and aunt were eating in a restaurant in North Carolina and had this cobbler. They liked it so much, they asked for the recipe and got it. It is so easy and delicious that I thought I would share it. You can use it for any fruit cobbler; my favorite I think is peach, with blackberry a definite second.

The best cobbler ever

1 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup sugar (I think the original recipe said 1 cup, but 1/2 cup is plenty if you want to save some calories)
1 cup milk

Melt 1/2 stick of butter and pour it in your pan (I used a 7x11 glass pan, it's just the right size for this recipe).
I used a medium sized bowl of blackberries, sorry I can't be specific but I forgot to measure the berries. I had just enough to make a small cobbler. If you have a lot of fruit just double the batter recipe and use a 9x13 pan. For instance, last time I made a peach cobbler, I used a 29 ounce can of peaches for one recipe of batter. Sorry for the confusion.

Now back to the recipe...
Add sugar to berries to taste, I think I used about 1/2 cup.
Mix flour, sugar, and milk just until blended and pour it on top of your melted butter
Carefully spoon your fruit right on top of the batter.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until it's golden brown.
It is that easy. I hope you will enjoy.

P.S. For peach cobbler, if you use canned peaches, drain the syrup and reserve a little. Add a little cornstarch to the syrup to make a thickening, sugar your peaches, and the most important thing- add a little bit of nutmeg. It's delicious.
Again sorry for the lack of measurements and straight-forward directions.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Save the planet and some room in your cupboard

Every time I come home from grocery shopping, I get annoyed at all those plastic bags. Do I throw them away or stuff them into a cabinet? Here's a great idea I found in a Martha Stewart magazine for reusable shopping bags. It's better for the environment, plus I found a new use for all of those t-shirts of my husband's he doesn't wear anymore.

You will need:
a sewing machine
disappearing ink fabric pen
9 inch diameter bowl
heavyweight cotton t-shirt

1. Turn t-shirt inside out and sew the bottom closed over the existing hemstitch. Turn right side out, and lay on a flat surface with seams aligned.
2. Invert bowl, and place it over the neck so that only half the bowl is covering the shirt.
3. With pen, trace the rim of the bowl onto the t-shirt.
4. Cut along the traced line through both layers of fabric to make opening. Then line up sleeves and cut each sleeve off to create handles.

Voila! This was so easy. I made several in just a few minutes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fried Apples and Biscuits

When I was growing up my grandmother made fried apples and biscuits often in the summer using transparent apples. My other grandmother had a transparent apple tree in her backyard, and after picking several, she would carry them back to the house in her apron. I was delighted to find that the first house my husband and I lived in had several transparent apple trees in the backyard. It was so rewarding as a young wife to step out into my backyard and return into my kitchen with fresh fruit to cook up. I fried apples often for our breakfast and usually had plenty to freeze. Fried apples are delicious for breakfast but also make a great snack or dessert. These biscuits, adapted from my regular biscuit recipe, are a little sweet, perfect for topping with fried apples and a good shaking of powdered sugar. Transparent apples bruise easily and do not keep for long, so use them quickly.

Fried Apples
4 Tbs butter
About 8 cups sliced apples (leave peel on)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
sprinkling of kosher salt

Melt butter in large skillet. Add apples and cook on medium heat, stirring often. Cook for about five minutes, then turn down heat and add the rest of the ingredients. The apples cook quickly and will turn mushy fast if not watched carefully. Cook for 4-5 more minutes. Remove from heat.

2 cups self-rising flour
2 Tbs granulated sugar
5 Tbs butter, cut into pieces
1 cup milk
1/4 cup light cream

Mix flour and sugar. Cut in butter with pastry blender until blended. Add milk and cream and mix with fork just until blended. Drop into mounds onto greased baking sheet and bake in 400 degree oven. Bake for about 15 minutes or until tops and bottoms are lightly browned.

Cut biscuits open and top with apples. Dust with powdered sugar.

Friday, July 25, 2008


As I was thinking this morning about starting this blog, I was excited about all the interesting things I would discuss here. Things like my favorite recipes and homemaking tips. Then I began to think about how difficult it is to try to be all things to everyone as a mom and homemaker. It is impossible to be good at everything. Sometimes I can feel pretty darn inadequate, especially in today's society with Martha Stewart magazines and all the shows on television about decorating and cooking. I've all but given up trying to keep a house plant alive. Despite what we see around us, we can not be everything; and it seems that when I try to be the perfect homemaker, it's at the expense of time with my children. I as a mother need sometimes to let the housework go, and just enjoy my children. I want to be honest about myself; I'm not perfect and to pretend such is wrong. So as I was sorting out these thoughts, I remembered a poem I once heard. I couldn't remember much about it so I went looking for it. When I found it, it brought tears to my eyes. So I dedicate this post to all my mommy friends; and especially those with newborns or a new one on the way.

Where is the Mother whose house is so shocking?
She's up in the nursery..blissfully rocking.
Cooking and cleaning can wait 'til tomorrow,
but babies grow up, which I've learned to my sorrow.
So, settle down cobwebs,
Dust, go to sleep
I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep

Welcome In

This is a place to share thoughts and inspirations with other mod mamas like myself. Enjoy.