Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The #1 Reason I Make Pancakes

Why, oh why did I get up early on Valentine's Day to make special pink and heart-shaped pancakes for my family?

Because this is my reward.

A smiling baby is the single best reason I know.

For smiles that sweet, dear Nora, I will make you pancakes every single day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"What do I do with all that ground beef?"

For the past four years, Dan and I (well, really, mostly Dan) have grown feeder steers in our pasture and had them butchered in the fall for freezer beef. Our freezer and bellies have been happy with our high-quality, delicious steaks, roasts, and ground beef, and from what I've heard, our friends that have purchased half- or quarter-sized beef sections from us have been satisfied as well.

When I talk with interested parties about the possibility of filling their freezers with beef, one of the first questions I get, is always, "What in the world would I do with that much ground beef?"  Ha! I have to laugh when I hear this, because ground beef is the backbone of many, many meals around our table. In my humble opinion, ground beef should be considered the hammer or screwdriver of the working mother's toolbelt. Ground beef is why dinner can be ready in 22 minutes and why there will be tasty leftovers for lunches the next day.

Growing up, my mother's go-to weeknight meals of 1) spaghetti and 2) tacos both used ground beef. Many an evening in our house started with Mom asking me or my sister to check and see if we had either red sauce or tortillas in the pantry. The answer would determine the night's dinner. This happened at least twice per week. Please, don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with tacos or spaghetti, I just want to branch out and use ground beef in other ways. (If you're wondering, the $0.88 can of Hunt's red sauce from Winco, paired with a pound of quality ground beef makes an excellent, meaty, and flavorful pasta topper. And a packet of taco seasoning with ground beef, some lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and ranch dressing will make the kid-friendliest tacos you'll ever serve. BOOM! Two family dinners with ground beef are done.)

One of my favorite ways to use ground beef is in meatloaf. Remember meatloaf? Remember the dry puck of meat you and your sister would slather in gallons of ketchup and try to choke down? Remember dinner table fights with your parents about cleaning your plate? Remember how you used to loathe meatloaf? Yeah, this most certainly is NOT that meatloaf.

I originally came across this recipe for individual-sized meatloaf-minis in a Cooking Light magazine. I made it for my family and Dan and Lana ate the meal with gusto, and I put to bed my former assumptions about meatloaf being not-so-delicious and a chore to eat. I also made these meatloaf-minis for a ladies meal-swap group I was a part of, and everyone was grateful that I included a copy of the recipe with the meal.

I made a few changes to the recipe based on my family's preferences, but I have no doubt that as-written, the meatloaf minis would be oh-so-very-scrumptious. Here are my changes:

1. I didn't use fresh breadcrumbs. The ones in the canister from the grocery store worked great for me.
2. I omitted the horseradish. A) I didn't have any and wasn't going to buy a whole jar for just this recipe, and B) Dan HATES this stuff and wonders why it even exists, thus leading to point A.
3. Instead of regular, run-of-the-mill cheddar, I like to use Cougar Gold. It's awesome cheese for any occasion, and I think it makes this meatloaf extra-fancy.

When I try out a new dinner recipe, I mentally score it based on a few categories. Here's how the meatloaf minis did:

Loved it! A hit with the grown-ups (me and Dan) as well as the oldest daughter. I don't think Nora's eaten it yet because I haven't fed it to her yet, so the verdict is still out for her.

Dan and I pack our lunches to work everyday, so I really try to make dinners that can be reheated easily and are still tasty the next day. These foil-wrapped meatloaves transport easily in lunch containers and re-heat nicely in the microwave and are still delicious.

This recipe is very easy to follow, but it does take a little bit of time to chop all the ingredients. For me, it's not a meal I can do on a weeknight start-to-finish. If I make this on a weeknight, I have everything chopped and mixed up the night before so only the baking is needed the next evening.

I love a good freezer meal and have been very happy with how these little guys freeze and re-heat well. I freeze them fully-cooked, so all that is needed prior to serving is a thaw and a quick heat in the microwave or oven.

Give this recipe a try. I'm sure you and your family won't be disappointed!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Happy 1st Birthday to our Nora!

On December 26th (yep, that's right, the day after Christmas, impeccable timing, isn't it?) Nora had her first birthday. Of course, because she's a member of the inconvenient birthday club, we spent the bulk of her special day travelling across the state to see friends and family on a post-Christmas holiday. Dear Nora was strapped in a rear-facing carseat for seven hours, with only limited breaks for food and freedom. Not how anyone, especially an active one-year old, would choose to spend their birthday.

Even though it's a few weeks later than Nora's actual birthday, I hope yesterday's morning of free-play and cake destroying makes up for the seven hours of confinement. It's a good thing babies have short memories and they're really, really cute.

Blue eyes, porcelain skin, baby-soft cheeks, and a sweet, sweet half smile. Oh how I love this girl! 

Hug Momma? Hug?

Nora is my winter baby!

We then got down to the business of cake-destroying. Nora's Grandma made her a delicious cake for eating and smashing on her actual birthday, but a day of driving, limited naps, and a roomful of strangers did not a happy girl make, so we did a birthday cake re-do at home on the floor. 

And Baby did not disappoint.
The first birthday is the only one that is acceptable to sit around shirtless eating cake, right?

Yay for cake!

Happy birthday Nora! You are loved and adored by many. And right now I just want to pinch those chubby thighs, zerbert that squishy belly, and devour those delicious cheeks.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Pictures in December

I didn't even try to do a 12 on the 12th this month. In fact, I don't think I even had 12 pictures to post on the 12th. So this is what's been going on here:

The Santa hats were discovered * We got "elfed" * Lana at the kindergarten Thanksgiving party * Our Thankful Tree * Pigtails are the CUTEST! * Clearly, I'm not a professional photographer. (Although I am looking forward to seeing the "real" photos * Sweet Nora * Crafting with ladies and daughters *

Thursday, November 13, 2014

12 on the 13th!

Hey! Only one day behind!

Our first 4-H meeting * Rock Climbing at the Family Fun Night at Lana's school * Lana the Wallybird * The cutest jack-o-lantern ever, spotted while trick-or-treating * And now you shall be rewarded with a delicious, happy Nora * I was cold, rained-upon, tired, and sore, but that 10K got ran, dangit * Sweet notes from my sweetie * A family picture sneak peak * Two tired loves *Lana prepping for the "fly paper" bounce house at the Family Fun Night * The cutest lunch I've ever had * Queen Elsa and adorable Olaf *

Monday, October 20, 2014

Year Seven of Happily Ever After

Seven years ago Dan and I said, "I do" when we were supposed to, had a party with friends and family, then jetted off to Hawaii. 

Happily Ever After, right? 

Absolutely. And then real life happened, and we learned that Happily Ever After comes in fits and bursts. Happily Ever After has tears and disappointments, and it has heart-bursting joys and miracles. Happily Ever After has never been messier than it was this, our seventh year of marriage. 

First off, I crashed the car.
Yeah, totaled it, actually. I was driving to work with Lana in the backseat and I hit and icy patch and couldn't get the car under control. We ended up upside down in a ditch. We went to the hospital via ambulance. It was scary and awful and I don't recommend it to anyone. But we were fine. Some stitches and soreness, and time monitoring 37-week-in-utero Baby, but we were fine. 

 Then, three weeks later, on the day after Christmas, we became a family of four!

Nora Johanna, our 8 lb. 12 oz. bundle of JOY.

A few weeks later, (because Dan's little pick-up was feeling left-out, I guess) Dan slid off the road into the neighbor's fence.

Baby snuggles helped us all feel better.

Then the Seahawks won the SuperBowl and all seemed right in the world.

We ate too many cupcakes.

And enjoyed some steaks.

Dan kept the driveway plowed through the winter (with help from his valiant assistant).

Then Spring came and we (as tradition dictates) fished at Henry's Lake.

But not before blowing a tire and doing some body damage on the interstate. (Auto issues definitely was a theme of year 7, wasn't it?)

The garden grew and we ate (and ate, and ate) from its bounty.

Lana turned five.

And we again realized that they really do grow so quickly, don't they?

Our sweet cherub, Nora, somehow contracted Whooping Cough.
And we all dutifully took our antibiotics to get this bug out of our house.
(Don't even get Dan or I started on Whooping Cough. Nora is still, four months later, dealing with some of the fall-out from this disease. Trying to get a baby to keep still for puffs from an inhaler isn't fun. And it's really not fun that the baby even needs the inhaler to begin with.)

We went on a week's vacation to McCall, Idaho with my side of the family.

And came back to canning that needed to be done and a garden to tend.

Dan helped with the wheat harvest.

And Lana started Kindergarten.

And while we could have done without all the lows, (crashing cars, and Whooping Cough come to mind) the highs make it all worth it.
This whole Happily-Ever-After Thing isn't always happy, but it is always joyful. By sticking together through the mess, and by meeting challenges together, we're getting through it and doing our best to enjoy the ride. 
Happy Anniversary Dan! Let's make year eight even better, okay?

Monday, October 13, 2014

12 on the 12th (close!)

(Only one day late! That's a win in my book!)
Corn Maze with the family * Matching SISTER t-shirts * Hours and hours spent with my peeler/corer/slicer * Smiling Nora * Lana and the fort she and cousins built together * T-bones are the best! * In that bin is a dead coyote thawing, in my pantry. Yes, you read that right. If you want to know more, message me * Sweet sissie snuggles * Lana rocked the school pictures * Milking a "cow" * Jars and jars of canned goodness * Nora "helping" during fruit picking *

Friday, September 12, 2014

12 on the 12th

Happy baby in the swing * Lana lost tooth #2 * Harvest girls * Pile-o-pets * Waterslide at the church picnic * Harvest * Fields of Gold * My running partners * Visiting Daddy in the fields * Don't touch Nora's bacon * Quick visit with Grandma Sue and Bill * Back-to-school haircut *

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Throwback Thursday: First Day of School Pictures

Okay, show of hands. How many of you parents made sure to take First Day of School Pictures of your kids this year? How many of you had your Facebook feeds full of these pictures?
Yeah, me too. And yeah, my pic of Lana-eating-a-chocolate-donut-before-school posted to your news feed last Wednesday morning around 8:30.

But guess what? These pictures are nothing new. I give you the evidence below:

The three Freston kids. Me, Jen, and Kasey. Circa late August, 1991. I'm heading to 7th grade, Jen's a 4th grader, and cute little Kasey is just starting out in kindergarten. Our mom made us pose for a picture in the front yard before we walked across the road to school. And with all that fluffy hair, a bad pair of glasses, and enough hope and enthusiasm to last the school year, we smiled and let her take that picture. Because just like today, First Day of School Pictures were just what you did

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Letter to My Daughter's Kindergarten Teacher

Dear Teacher,

First off, THANK YOU! You choose to teach and encourage little kindergartners, all day, every day. That is no small task and I am grateful for you. The Kleenex and play-dough we will be sending is a pitiful excuse for a thank-you gift for all you're about to do for us.

My daughter, Lana Jean, will be joining you this year. She's the tall girl, with the white-blonde hair and glasses. She's the one so excited she can hardly keep her skin on. She's the one with dirt on her cheek (already? c'mon kid!) and bruises on her shins. She's the one bouncing on her toes and likely singing a made-up song. Lana has grand dreams and aspirations for you and her class. Despite not knowing you, she thinks you are the nicest and smartest person ever. She's certain that with your patient instruction she'll learn everything from reading chapter books to building rocket ships and candy factories. She just knows you'll teach the whole class the best songs (complete with hand motions, oh how Lana loves her some hand motions) and new and exciting games. You've been everything this little girl has been looking forward to for the past year.

I tell you all this not just as a warning (although it kind of is. I imagine a room full of 25 kids this excited and strung out on high expectations might be cause for alarm), but also as part of a request. See, Lana's Daddy and I really, really like her. We enjoy all that sparkle and spunk. We get the biggest laughs out of her innovative schemes and ideas. We do our best self-reflection after a good talk with our girl, and even though we're now sharing her with you, we don't want to lose any of that. Please, Teacher, please, try to get Lana. Please get that she genuinely thinks everything is the BEST! Everyday is the best day and every friend is her best friend! Every new task needs greeted with outlandish excitement, because, it too, is THE BEST! Please understand all that curiosity and enthusiasm isn't poor behavior or acting out- it's simply her big personality and zest for everything.

This isn't to say Lana deserves special treatment or should be exempt from the rules. Not at all. There are no Special Snowflakes here. (And we, as her parents, aren't exempt either. We WILL be initialing reading forms, reviewing math facts, and signing up to bring treats to the class party.) Just please be gentle with our girl. She wants so very much to please you and be all you want her to be. She is a little girl who feels deeply, loves fiercely, wounds easily, but forgives fully. Your words and actions will become the ones she trusts and strives to emulate. It's your encouragement she'll thrive on. You have so much power; you have our Lana Jean. Please understand how huge this is. (And please also understand that I know that you probably already know all of this and deal with weepy and sentimental parents like me all the time. Thank you for not telling me to suck it up!)

Again, thank you. And get ready, Lana is over-the-moon excited to meet you!

Shelle Lenssen
(One of about 50 moms you'll meet this year who probably penned a remarkably similar letter.)