3 sisters. 2 states. 1 story.


Crock Pot Black Bean Soup

Sunday, September 30, 2012

This soup is delicious and easy to make. Considering the dip in temperatures we've had for the last couple of days, soup weather is definitely upon us! Pair this with French bread (or considering I'm from the South, I'm also inclined to say cornbread), and you have yourself a hearty meal.

Crock Pot Black Bean Soup
Note: This recipe takes 6-7 hours cook time total, prep all other ingredients while the beans soak in step 1. Also, if you want to eat this for dinner, start this right after breakfast. (Keep in mind that if you've had a bag of beans sitting in your pantry for a while, they might take even longer to cook, so it's always best to leave yourself a little wiggle room with the timing of a dry bean recipe.)

1 lb dry black beans, separated and rinsed*
6 cups boiling water
1 carrot, minced**
1 stalk celery, minced***
1 large red onion, minced**
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 green peppers, minced**
2 jalapeno peppers, deseeded and minced**
1/4 cup lentils, separated and rinsed*
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
Sour cream
Shredded cheese

  1. In a large pot over high heat, place the black beans in three times their volume of water. Bring to a boil and let boil 10 minutes. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse.
  2. In a crock pot, combine soaked black beans and 6 cups boiling water. Cook for 3 hours on high. Stir in carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bell pepper, jalapeno, lentils, and canned tomatoes. Season with chili powder, cumin, oregano, black pepper, red wine vinegar, and salt. Cook on high for 2 to 3 hours.
  3. Stir the rice into the crock pot in the last two hours of cooking. Taste to make sure vegetables and rice are cooked thoroughly and are seasoned to taste. Puree the soup as desired with an immersion blender or by transferring 1/2 of the soup to a blender or food processor and then pouring back into the pot before serving. 
  4. Serve with sour cream and shredded cheese.

Kitchen Tips:
*For those of you unfamiliar with cooking with dried beans, please do not dump the opened pack directly into the pot! Sort through the beans a handful at a time and remove any discolored or misshapen beans (or anything that looks suspiciously like rocks). Place them in a colander and rinse them before placing in a pot and cooking.

**When chopping this many vegetables for a recipe, a Cuisinart food processor is your best friend. Especially if you are going for a fine chop for a soup or a salsa. Since all of them will be mixed together, you don't even need to rinse the bowl or blades between mincing. Save time and save yourself from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!

***I don't know about you, but I don't think you can purchase just one stalk of celery. But, there are countless recipes that call for just the one. My method is to just wash and chop the entire bunch at once. I find that if you put the rest of the bunch back in your fridge unchopped, you are likely to end up with wilted celery on your hands (even if you wrap it in foil) because there just aren't that many recipes that call for celery. If you chop it into snack-size sticks, however, you can foist it off on your kids or snack on it yourself!

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I Rented the Runway!

Have you heard of this Website yet?  It's called Rent the Runway, and you can rent designer dresses and jewelry for a fraction of the cost of purchasing the same.  I saw this on another blog recently, and decided maybe it was worth a try just to see how the whole process worked.  John and I were planning to go out on the town for our 1st Anniversary, so I thought I could use that as an opportunity to test out a great dress from Rent the Runway.

Let me start by saying that I told a few people that I was trying this, and somehow my little dress took on a life of it's own.  John told some of the ladies at his office about my little experiement, and they have been asking about this dress ever since.  I have also had friends of friends asking about this already too.  So now this dress has suddenly become more popular than I am.  In fact, IT asked me to blog about it, so I am graciously honoring that request.  Then, it asked me for it's own Facebook page.  Sorry, that request is denied.  I have to draw the line somewhere.

So, here's how it works.

You create an account with Rent the Runway, and then you have access to search through piles of designer dresses online.  You can save your favorites for future reference, and if you are like me, you search for a coupon code before you actually commit to renting the dress. (I found a code for $25 off my rental, which was only $75 to begin with!)  And it's as easy as that!  The rental period is for 4 days, and you pick the date you want the dress to arrive.  In my case, I chose to receive my dress on Friday, because I wanted to wear it on Saturday, and didn't want to be waiting my the mailbox right before our date!!

My package arrived exactly as promised.  AND, Rent the Runway is fabulous about sending you email updates.  I received a confirmation and a notification of shipment (of course) but also an email the day the dress was scheduled to arrive with FAQs and a phone number I could call if I had any questions.  I eagerly waited by the door for my much-anticipated dress, and the moment finally arrived.  Izzie barked her little head off at the delivery arriving on the doorstep, and I knew my dress was here!

I quickly opened up my box, and there it was all bundled up in a garment bag.  The anticipation was killing me, but I knew I wanted to get pictures first. 

And, ta-da!  The moment you have all been waiting for.  Well, the moment I was waiting for, anyway!  This is the dress I chose.  It is made by Zac Posen and retails for $400.  (Pay no attention to the messy closet in the background.)  And, no, you aren't seeing double here.  They actually send you a FREE second size of your choice, so it's highly unlikely that between the two of them, you will have fit problems.  

They also include a mailer for returning the dresses and well as full instructions on how to do that. But it's so simple really.  The postage is already paid, so you just package up your dress when you are finished with it, and pop it into a blue bin at the Post Office, and you are done.  You don't have to get it cleaned or anything.  They take care of all of that on their end!

And, this was a nice little surprise.  They included a few free samples, the most thoughtful of which was fashion tape to help hold everything in place.   I didn't need it for this dress, but I liked that little touch.  :)  So how was the dress in action, you ask?

Well, she certainly didn't disappoint.  I loved the color, and the fabric!  And, the best part?  This little party dress had pockets!!  AWESOME!!

I ended up accessorizing with my own jewelry, but you can also rent those types of pieces from RTR. I went with green and gold earrings and necklace, a gold bracelet, and nude heels.  It was a little chilly last night, so I also tossed my black and gold lace coat in the car with us, and I'm glad I did.  As for my date, let's just say, he cleaned up pretty nicely too.  That's one handsome man about town. 

I am so glad I gave this a try.  Would I rent from RTR again?  Absolutely!  The process is just so darn simple, and I ended up spending less on this rental than I would if I had bought a new dress.  I'm one happy customer.  Now, to package up my little dress and send her back on her way.  And just in the nick of time.  I didn't know how much longer I could stand this little dress outshining me.  :)

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Kings Dominion Haunt

Saturday, September 29, 2012

I had a hard time getting Charlotte to take this photo in broad daylight:

When dusk fell, the fog machines started rolling, and it was all I could do to get Charlotte to wait long enough to find my camera to get this shot:

(Even so, she didn't mind posing.)

Well, Kings Dominion employs all kinds of haunts at this time of year to walk around and scare the bejeesus out of you.  Charlotte had already made a plan of action that involved riding rides in the areas where the spooks did not go.  After attempting to throw her in the midst of said haunts, she was walking so close to me her lady's size 8's were running into me.  I turned around to scold her and came face to face with this guy:

The people who were walking beside us got a very good laugh out of me screaming in his face.  That's when I realized how it would all go down during a Zombie Apocalypse.  

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Halloween Serveware Display

I truly believe that every nook and cranny of your home should be decorated for the holidays if possible.

When we moved into this house, we inherited this glass-doored nook in the kitchen. Most days it just displays our glassware and a few pretty pieces.

Today, I gave it a makeover for Halloween.

Of course, my husband took one look at it and said, "You have enough Halloween." I'm assuming he means Halloween spirit because you can never have enough Halloween decorations!
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Happy Friday!

Friday, September 28, 2012

I've been a fan of this beagle for as long as I can remember.  Doesn't he just make your day better?  
That, and the fact that it's FRIDAY!!

I actually figured out recently that you can subscribe to Snoopy on Facebook to receive cute little posts like this is your news feed.  It's the little things that just make your day sometimes.  If you are interested in doing the same, here's the link.  Enjoy!!

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Our First Anniversary- It's Been a Whirlwind of a Year!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

One year ago today, I stood on the most beautiful beach in the world and promised my devotion to my best friend.  I can hardly believe it's already been a year, but I have to say it has certainly been the best year of my life.   

John has a pure joy of life.  He is thoughtful, sweet, and caring.  I'm not sure what I did to deserve him; but I know that I am the luckiest girl in the world.  We are happy, we compliment each other so well, and I do believe the best is yet to come.  

Now, for a little dose of reality...

Since our anniversary falls on a Thursday, we decided to cook a nice meal at home tonight, and go out on Saturday.  So, I asked John what he would like for anniversary dinner.  He quickly told me he wanted beef stroganoff, salad, and bread.  Fine.  So, I asked next what he might like for dessert (keeping in mind, of course, that this has to be something I can actually make.)  He quietly suggested "cereal?".  Fine.  Can do.  Just kidding.  Although, at the least, I must say this man knows me well.  Thank goodness he is the lead chef in this family.  I said we complimented each other, and I wasn't kidding!

Happy Anniversary to the man who doesn't mind that I serve cereal for dessert - er,dinner- on occasion.  :)  

♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪

There's nothing like the warmth of a summer afternoon 

Waking to the sunlight, and being cradled by the moon 
Catching fireflies at night 
Building castles in the sand 

Kissing Mama's face goodnight 

Holding Daddy's hand 

Thank you Lord, how could I ask for more 

Running barefoot through the grass 
A little hide and go seek 
Being so in love, that you can hardly eat 
Dancing in the dark, when there's no one else around 
Being bundled 'neath the covers, watching snow 
Fall to the ground 
Thank you Lord, how could I ask for more 

So many things I thought would bring me happiness 
Some dreams that are realities today 
Such an irony the things that mean the most to me 
Are the memories that I've made along the way 

So if there's anything I've learned 
From this journey I am on 
Simple truths will keep you going 
Simple love will keep you strong 
Cause there are questions without answers 
Flames that never die 
Heartaches we go through are often blessings in disguise 
So thank you Lord, oh thank you Lord 
How could I ask for more

♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪

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DIY: Barbie house

I seem to be the recipient of quite a few furniture castoffs from friends and family that sends my other furniture into hysterical fits of laughter when I'm not looking I'm sure. After hours of happy pinning, I came across this little gem:

Then, I remembered, when we were little, we turned a bathroom cabinet into a dollhouse. Of course, it wasn't as elaborate as this, but then again, I was 10. Lightbulbs went off, and I started my very first DIY!

So, I started with this sad little hutch and thought, "It's a Barbie house. It's gotta be pink."  So I let Charlotte loose with the spray paint.

as Emma Lola supervised...

Then we had to make a trip to the Hobby Lobby for the ultimate in DIY,

(I feel like there should be sunlight gleaming off of it, but you get the point.)

and of course, some decorative scrapbook pages because what's a cool pad, without some groovy wallpaper?

I also found this really cool website, www.zazzle.com.  They have a huge selection of stickers (among other things).  The "paintings" that decorate the wall came from there, and you can even customize them, so the very Barbie-esque microphone there has a very Barbie-esque "Charlotte" written across the bottom right corner in pink, of course.

Stay tuned:  The sister piece to this hutch is just screaming to become a play kitchen.

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Which includes the Chicklets, but not the erasers...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I recently read the book Divergent to see if it was PG enough for Charlotte to read.  

I usually don't like apocalyptic/futuristic type books (anything really), but I think this may be Hollywood's next big franchise.  It didn't just have cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, they were on every page.

Divergent was so good, I finished it in 2 days and then made Charlotte a bet.  If she could read it in the same amount of time, there was ice cream in it for her.  

To celebrate Charlotte's new-found ability to be slightly quicker than a comatose turtle, we went to try out the newest place in Roxboro to get an icey treat, Pelican's Snoballs.

Unfortunately, this joint wasn't open any day ending in Y! So, I will have to settle our bet another day!

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This is where I perch as I'm watching Baby Emmers savor every last drop of bath water.  (Of course, it's closed, but I'm sure it still sparkles just like that.)  If only, now, the hubby, in his most recent act of clumsiness, hadn't fallen on and broken it.  We have yet to get a new toilet seat, and somehow, that seems to slip my mind every time I gently shift my weight and almost fall in.  Sigh!

The toilet seat is also from where new you tube sensation, Psy reigns.

Videos like this go crazy in my house or should I say drive Howard crazy.  Ironically enough, Psy is making a political statement.  A friend of mine researched and "Psy is making a statement w/ the song saying that the Gangnam area in Seoul has become too rich and too materialistic."   Thank you, Cundo.  I would have never known.  But still definitely a cool dance.  And here's the snl version:


Now, That's Legit!

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Pinterest for a Child of the 80s

I know many of you are Pinterest people!  It seems like EVERYONE is on Pinterest these days, and for good reason.  What an awesome way to catalog your recipes, project ideas, and all sorts of other things.    Well, we are no exception.  You can actually link to all our Pin Boards in the right-hand column of our blog.  Go ahead, and check out our pages; we have some good pin boards going on, if I must say so myself.  If you see anything you like, we would love you to follow us!

My favorite new Pin Board that I recently created is called "Childhood Memories".  If you are a fellow child of the 80s, perhaps you will recognize some of these fun finds.

Roller Skates
Jelly Shoes
Trapper Keepers- I had this exact one!

Lip Smackers

I am busy updating this board to see what other hidden gems I can come up with to fill this board up!  Don't you just love Pinterest?  What are you pinning these days?

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The Protector of the Halloween Homestead

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Just a preview of some of the Halloween decorations we have started to put out...  Here's our little Izzie keeping watch over some of our pumpkins.  :)
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Ooh, Baby, Baby

Baby, Baby,
Ooh, Baby, Baby,
Baby, Baby

(name that song without Googling it . . .)

Whenever we have a little one joining the family, I get crafty. So, this was my latest creation for my husband's cousin:

One of my favorite sites is Ravelry. Once you create an account (for free!), you then have access to tons of free crochet and knitting patterns, you can post photos of your creations, and you can interact with other fiber artists such as myself.

For new those new to the craft, the benefit is that the patterns have been tested and people leave comments so that you can tell right away if the pattern is for you. You can also join groups and get tips and advice from "dyed-in-the-wool" knitters and crocheters and see their expertly crafted projects, which helps you develop as an artist. As Martha would say - it's a good thing.

This baby blanket, for example, was created by joining 9 separate 12" square patterns that all use the same color motif. The free crochet patterns for the squares used in this afghan were:

I have found through trial and error with my own kids that about 3' X 3' square is the perfect size for a baby blanket. While it might seem large for a newborn, newborns grow really fast and toddlers like blankets too!
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Gone Girl- Love it or Leave it?

Monday, September 24, 2012

I'm still not completely sure I have the answer to this burning question.  Have any of you read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn yet?

It was supposedly one of this summer's must-reads, and of course, I jumped right on it.  Incidentally, I also read the "50 Shades" trilogy, and am still trying to understand the hype around that, too.

Here's the synopsis:

  Marriage can be a real killer. 

   One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn. 

   On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? 

   As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

   With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

So, here are a few of my thoughts...

The Pros:

I absolutely agree that the writing in Gone Girl is really good.  This was the first time I've read anything by Gillian Flynn, and I was impressed. And, there are some major twists and turns to the plot that keep the story line REALLY interesting.

I won't give anything away, but if this is your kind of thing, you might really enjoy this read. It was definitely a little dark and at times, very suspenseful.  For me, it was not one of those predictable books that you automatically know how it will end.

The Cons:

Gone Girl had a really slow start, in my humble opinion.  Once it got cranked up, I was totally wrapped up in it, but it took a while to get there.  On that note, my mother-in-law actually tried to read this book before I did and never made it to the good part.  :)

Even though I was tempted, I'm not one to end a book early, so I stuck it out, and was pretty glad I did...BUT, I didn't like the ending.  Don't you hate that?  When you make it to the end of a book, and it doesn't end the way you want it to??  Although, it did seem pretty clear that there may be a sequel in the works, which at the end of the day, if there was, I would likely give that a try, too.

If you have read this one, I would love to hear your opinions, too.  Or, if you have any suggestions for what to read next. let me know; I'm always on the look-out for my next great read.  Leave your thoughts in the Comments Section below.  Can't wait to hear if any of you have read this one (or any other good books) lately!

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Reese's Peanut Butter Cup-Cakes

Sunday, September 23, 2012

First let me start by saying, I don't remember a lot of recipes growing up that called for candy as an ingredient. I actually remember an episode of Mama's Family that guest-starred Stacey Q. and they made a candy cake for a fair entry. At the time, I thought this was unheard of and it was probably why they won the blue ribbon. (That and it was written into the script!)

Nowadays, recipes with candy in them are all over Pinterest. I've even seen a Snickers salad, but I digress.

Aidyn loves Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and he wanted cupcakes that tasted like them for his birthday. Below is the recipe we used.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup-Cakes

15 miniature peanut butter cups (I used dark chocolate to vary the chocolate flavors)
1 box Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge Brownie Mix (for 13 by 9 pan size)
3 large eggs
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup oil
1/4 cup hot fudge topping or Hershey's syrup

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
6 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

15 miniature peanut butter cups

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place baking cups in each of 15 regular size muffin cups.
  2. Prepare brownie mix as described on box to make cakey brownies using the eggs, water, and oil, adding hot fudge topping. Fill each cup about 2/3 full with batter. Remove foil and paper from candy. Place 1 unwrapped candy, upside down, on top of batter in each cup. Lightly press candy down into batter.
  3. Bake 23 to 25 minutes. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan. Place on wire rack; cool completely.
  4. Make frosting by placing peanut butter and butter into medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and creamy; scrape bowl. Add powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt. Beat on low speed 1 minute; scrape bowl. Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Spread about 2 tablespoons of frosting on each cupcake.
  5. Top each cupcake with a peanut butter cup.
  6. Store cupcakes in the refrigerator. Remove them to room temperature one hour before serving.
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Life's a Beach (or at least this party was)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Aidyn's birthday party was today, and even though today was also the first day of fall, he really wanted to have a beach-themed party. So, with fingers crossed for good weather, we planned an "End of Summer Beach Bash." And as luck would have it, the weather was perfect for a beach themed party on the first day of fall! The kids were able to have one more day of summer fun.

The menu:
  • Sun Chips (individual bags from Costco)
  • Goldfish crackers (individual bags from Costco)
  • cupcakes with gummy turtles on top
  • saltwater taffy (find a store at a beach near you and buy up all of the saltwater taffy and sea-life shaped candy! If you're not near a beach, Swedish Fish candy will work just fine!)
  • gummy whales
  • gummy sharks
  • fruit-flavored fish candy
  • blue M&Ms (for a good resource for color specific candy, see my Pinterest Kids Party Ideas board - you can find all of my Pinterest boards over there on the right navigation bar or here's the direct link)
  • madelines (shell shaped cookies from Costco)

For beverages, we served Sunny D, Hawaiian Punch, and lemonade for the kids; sodas for the adults.

Games to "wear the kids out":
  • Pinata
  • Limbo (and the kids were surprisingly good at this!)
  • Beach Relay (The kids were divided into two teams. Each team got a bag of identical beach gear - floaties, goggles, lei, beach towel, and pool noodle. They had to put on the beach gear, run a course, and then switch the gear to the next person.)
  • Sand Pail Fill (the kids were divided into two teams and had to take turns filling an empty sand pail one shovel-full at a time with sand from another pail that was placed about 10 feet away).
The kids collected their goodies in sand pails that I found at the dollar section at Target.

We decorated with fish nets and starfish over the tablecloths and shell necklaces linked together to make garland. The fish nets and starfish are available at Oriental Trading Company. We had collected shell necklaces from trips to Hawaii and thought this was a good time to use them.

The Beach Bash was a success . . . just a bit of a break from the norm . . . just a little somethin' to break the monotony . . . 
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