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!