Monday, October 27, 2014

Taking on Texas!

After one super crazy week where we fit bits and pieces of the Volunteer State in between meetings, fun activities, Scouts, and a whole lot of Halloween fun, I’m ready to slow down (at least a little bit!) and head to the place where ‘bigger is better.’  This week I’m all about the state that contains 7.4% of the nation’s total area, the one that has seen eight (yes, eight) changes in government and flown six (yes, six) different flags, and is the only state to become part of the United State by treaty rather than territorial annexation.  If you guessed we’re headed to the Lone Star State this week, have a Dr Pepper!  (and yes, there actually is no period after Dr )  So grab your lasso (because rodeo is the official state sport), a spoon so you’ll be prepared to debate who makes the best chili, and get ready for our week in Texas!

With such a large area and long history, you can imagine that my task of narrowing down the ‘famous for’ list this week was a bit of a challenge.  I try my best to balance what is most important with things my kiddos will be interested in, a struggle I have had with nearly every state (yes North Dakota – I’m looking at you.  Still bitter.).  While it is steeped in history (some of which I have alluded to above) I decided to only share two distinct historical events with the Dynamic Duo this week. 
First, you can’t talk Texas and not “Remember the Alamo!”  From February 23 – March 6, 1836, the siege of the Alamo was a turning point in the Texas Revolution.  The death of nearly all the Texian Defenders (estimated at 182–257 men, including last week’s Davy Crockett!) gave the Texas Army something to fight for, with “Remember the Alamo” becoming a rallying battle cry.  The Alamo still stands today, playing host to nearly 2.5 million visitors annually. 

The spirit of resilience inspired by the Alamo can also be seen in the second historical event I chose; the 1900 Hurricane that destroyed the city of Galveston.  The deadliest natural disaster to ever strike the United States, the Hurricane was to blame for the deaths of approximately 8,000 Texans.  The path of the storm caused it to reach Galveston with winds of up to 145 miles per hour (the equivalent of a Category 4 storm today) on September 8, 1900 and brought a destructive storm surge of 15 feet that nearly covered the island that was only about 9 feet above sea level at that time.  The city did rebuild bigger and better (and was struck by large hurricanes again in 1961, 1983, 2005 and 2008) and is now known as a tourist hot spot.   

Since everything’s bigger in Texas, it’s no wonder that is the nation’s leading producer of a whole lot of stuff!  I was most surprised to learn that Texas leads the nation in the production of sheep and goats, wool, cattle, minerals, cotton and of course, oil.  It also leads the nation in number of farms and ranches, with 248,800 farms and ranches covering 130.2 million acres.  The largest, King Ranch, is larger than the state of Rhode Island!  I think it’s safe to say, and to impress upon the kiddos this week, that they don’t do anything small in Texas…

Agriculture isn’t the only industry that plays a factor in Texas’ economic success.  The brainchild of Michael Dell from his University of Texas dorm room in 1984, Dell, Inc. is one of the largest technological corporations in the world, employing more than 103,300 people worldwide.  The company, currently based in Round Rock, develops, sells, repairs and supports computers and related products and services.  It is the second largest non-oil company (behind AT&T which is headquartered in Dallas) in the state, the third largest PC vendor in the world and ranks number 51 on the Fortune 500 list.  Are you getting what BIG means to Texas yet?

Another BIG product from Texas may be just what the Dr ordered.  Well, at least what Dr. Charles T. Pepper ordered, as he is believed to be the inspiration (though it’s debatable) behind the name for the drink that traces its origins to Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store in Waco.  The distinctive 23 flavor Dr Pepper was created by pharmacist Charles Alderton and patented in 1885- a full year before Coca-Cola, making it the oldest major soft drink brand in the US.  You can visit the museum in Waco to learn all about the soda that is often described as the cross between a cola and root beer.  I promise you haven’t heard the last of Dr Pepper here this week…

Another thing Texas does BIG – Sports!  You know my crew can’t make it through a State without going over all the professional teams the state has to offer and Texas has a-plenty!  In baseball they are represented by the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers.  The Dallas Stars play hockey in the Texas heat and you can catch some hoops action with the Dallas Mavericks, the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets.  If a battle on the gridiron is more your thing, in Texas you can cheer for the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans.

Earning its own special shout-out this week for just how BIG it is in Texas, if pro sports aren’t quite your thing, perhaps you’d rather take in a high school game under the Friday Night Lights.  The inspiration behind that show, as well as Varsity Blues, in the near obsessive infatuation with high school football in Texas.  I mean, they build $60 million dollar stadiums – for high school football!  On any given week, the University Interscholastic League of Texas estimates that there are close to 600 high school games across the Lone Star State, involving nearly 40,000 players — 100,000 if you count the non-varsity game.  Pride and dedication to the high school team is especially important in ‘small town’ Texas, where one local coach described it as a religion, saying "If you grow up in Texas as a kid like I did, it's preached in your household around the table from the time you know what's going on.”  Are you seeing a recurring theme about Texas – ain’t nothin’ done little there!

I can’t forget to tell the kiddos this week that Texas is also responsible for giving us a few Presidents.  Though you may remember he is most readily associated with Kansas, as it is where he spent the majority of his life, thirty-fourth President Dwight D. Eisenhower was actually born in Texas.  On the flip side of that, not born in Texas, but mostly associated with the state are the 41st and 43rd Commanders in Chief, George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush.  The elder Bush served two terms as a US Representative of Texas before leading the nation and his son was the Governor of the Lone Star State from 1995 to 2000.  The only man born in Texas and ran for office from there to become President was Lyndon B. Johnson.  Born in Stonewall, and serving US Representative of Texas, Johnson became the 36th President after the assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963 in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza. (which yes, I realize is a huge piece of Texas history, but it wasn’t one I wanted to delve into with the kiddos this week.  Consider this my nod to its importance.)  A few other famous Texans of note; Sandra Day O’Connor, Tommy Lee Jones, Janis Joplin, Beyonce Knowles, Kelly Clarkson, Drew Brees and one of my favorite, Michael Nesmith.  (Kristi’s bonus fact: Michael Nesmith’s mother, Betty Nesmith Graham also hails from Texas, where she invited Liquid Paper in 1951!)

I know you probably expected me to start off with Texas’ signature dish of chili tonight, but that’s going to have to wait ‘til later in the week because we’re actually having our own chili cook-off here on Saturday!  So get excited for that!  In the meantime, still dealing with the goofy religious ed time on Monday night and that I have a PTA meeting tonight, I decided to go with something easy to prep ahead and make later.  I mentioned King Ranch, earlier in the blog and this dish is actually found across Texas and inspired by it.  Tonight I made Texan Ranch Chicken Casserole.  I’ve got a lot of Tex-Mex planned for the week so I definitely stocked up on tortillas, beans and rice at the grocery store this morning.  And in my own tongue in cheek fashion, I took on the most well-known Texas dessert, but made it tiny.  Texas Sheet Cake may or may not actually hail from the state, but it has become a staple of the state.  For giggle (and because we didn’t need a huge cake) after all this talk about how BIG Texas is, I used this recipe for Tiny Texas Sheet Cakes tonight.

Alright, I’ve given you a crash course in all that’s BIG in Texas, are you excited?  I’m going to do my best this week to share it all with the kiddos, so make sure you stick around for the adventure.  Tomorrow I’m going to cross a taco and a burrito – that alone should make you want to check in ;-)  So until then…

Texas Fun Fact of the Day:  Six flags have flown over Texas:
• Spanish 1519-1685• French 1685-1690• Spanish 1690-1821• Mexican 1821-1836• Republic of Texas 1836-1845• United States 1845-1861• Confederate States 1861-1865• United States 1865 to present

The Texas wall is up!

My master chef in the kitchen

Starting on the sheet cake

Then we got to work on the King Ranch Casserole

Had to make the frosting for the cake

Super Girl was here for awhile...

Tiny Texas Sheet Cake

King Ranch Casserole

Served over rice the casserole was seriously a meal in itself

Plus we had to save room for dessert!  

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