Seeking a little simplicity

28 Feb

20120228-172140.jpg

Had a nice little time on our back deck with my little sweetie this afternoon. We snuggled under a blanket and felt the breeze on our faces. It was mostly cloudy (my fave) but the sun broke through occasionally to give a nice, soft glow to the yard.

He wanted to get some books and read, which we love to do, but I thought might be nice to just sit and be quiet. We listened to many different bird songs. We watched our cardinal family (they have been in our yard for at least five years) fly back and forth, letting out their “chit chit chits.” The doves shared their coos and mourning songs. A little sparrow nibbled on seed in one of our feeders.

We just get so busy doing and doing and doing. When I actually stop and listen and watch, I’m overwhelmed by the peace of simplicity.

We are working on simplifying our house. Even though we have purged so much over the last few years, I am amazed at what it still left! So we whittle down even more. And with every box and pile of things that leave our house, so does stress and anxiety.

In our modern society, I think true, complete simplicity is near impossible. And certainly pretty impractical. But I know there are places in our lives that we have allowed to become so cluttered, and when we clear those spaces, whether tangible or intangible, there is so much relief to be gained.

I have a 10 year old. o_0

31 Oct

My baby boy, the one who made me a mama (after 25 hours of labor), turned 10 today. I can hardly believe it. It’s frighteningly true how quick the time goes by. Those days that seem endless really do fly by and days turn into months turn into years. I am so thankful for the gift of being a mother. Yes, it’s completely exhausting and exasperating sometimes. But it really is a gift, and I find joy in it more than in any other thing.

To you moms of young toddlers, enjoy the little silly things they do, enjoy the thousand questions, enjoy that they almost always want to be right where you are, and enjoy any snuggles you can get. That will not last forever. Yes, the older ones still do those things occasionally, but, not often, though I try to savor it when it does.

Certainly, I am glad they don’t stay toddlers forever, even though they are adorable, because they are also so demanding. It’s nice that my older boys can do so much for themselves, and we can interact on a more mature level. I am looking forward to seeing my boys grow into young men, and enjoying their company in a different way. But there’s nothing like that toddler voice and face and sloppy kisses…

Back to home learning

13 Sep

So, we brought the boys back home this year, and I am pretty sure it’s for good. At least for this year, it is! I have so many things to say about why public (or private) school is wrong for my boys, and I don’t feel like I need to go into them all here. What I will say, however, is that it just sucked the love of learning out of them, and took something wonderful and turned it into something frustrating and exhausting and annoying. Thankfully, they were not too far gone, and they are coming back around.

It was not a difficult decision to bring them home. While other mothers breathe a sigh of relief when their kiddos head back to school, it was nothing of the sort for us. Every single morning was a battle to get one out of bed, and to get both dressed, eat their breakfast, and out the door without a huge shouting match. There were a few hours of peace and quiet at home with just me and Parker, and John when he wasn’t working or sleeping off a night shift, and those were nice. But then once school was out, it was an hour or two of getting Pierce to do his homework, and dealing with a grumpy, exhausted Will. It more than negated the peacefulness of the day while they were at school.

And, most of all, they were so unhappy. Now, Will had a wonderful teacher last year, and really enjoyed his class, because she made things fun, and enjoyed learning herself. It didn’t hurt that his cousin (they are 2 months apart, and are almost like twins) was in his class with him. ūüôā But just the nature of teaching and learning and curriculum in public school is a beat-down. Third grade begins the all-out focus on standardized testing, and every day is based around learning how best to take and succeed at the test. EVERY DAY.

Seriously, I could say so, so much about all of this, but so many other people have said so much more eloquently than I could, so I won’t. We just know that our boys are where they need to be right now–at home.

And what are we doing “school”? Not much, and we like it that way! John works with them some on math, and has them copy down a Bible verse (a short one, to work on their handwriting). I do housework with them, and ride bikes with them, and sit outside while they ride down the street, or play basketball, or dig in the dirt, or swing Parker in his swing. ¬†We go to the library often and pick out a wide variety of books. I am implementing a short devotion in the morning (seriously, 10 minutes or less). And that’s about it. Oh, and we do art stuff sometimes.

Will it always be just like this? I doubt it. But they needed some time to decompress, to get the bad taste out of their mouth of being forced to learn what some smarty-pants somewhere said was important and was necessary for them to “make it” in life. I doubt we will ever use a formal curriculum. We will read often to learn about our interests. We will go fun and thought-provoking places. We will visit with interesting people. We will explore nature. Sometimes we will just chill at home and watch tv and play games on the computer. But we will always be learning, in our time, in our way.

What prompted this post tonight was my realization that pretty much anything I know today did not come from my formal schooling, until college level. I have told people frequently that though I graduated summa cum laude from high school (a U.S. top 150 public high school), I honestly don’t know how I did, because I couldn’t really think of anything I took away from it. That’s not true. I learned about the Aryans (the original ones, who settled in India and intermarried with the Indians), and I learned about economics–as much as my brain could understand it (because we had a fun and unconventional teacher). I’m not exaggerating there. The things I know and use today, I learned myself, because I wanted to learn it. I was helped by people who mentored me, in a sense–people who were there to share their knowledge and help me further my understanding and answer questions. But mostly, the baking and gardening and cleaning and parenting and sewing and crafting and home repair, and whatever else I do on a day-to-day basis, I learned because I read, and I researched, and I asked questions, and I DID. I might as well give my kids the opportunity to have time to do that for themselves, instead of wasting so much of their day “learning” facts out-of-context of real life, then being too exhausted to spend their free time learning what they want to learn.

Just my thoughts here. Obviously my approach to home learning is different than many others’, and that’s ok! We all have to figure out what is best for our kids, and our families. The left-brained, organized, step-by-step learner/teacher would likely flounder in such an environment. Thankfully, in our family, we are more (or very!) right-brained, creative, whole-to-part (we don’t learn in steps, we just take what we need and figure it out) learners, and this kind of unschooling is working great for us, at least for now!

Do you like chocolate? And peanut butter? And yumminess? I thought you might.

28 May

I love sweets. Way, way more than I should. But anyway…I saw this recipe pinned on Pinterest¬†(ummm…I am warning you–if you open this link, you will get sucked in, and will never want to leave its awesomeness) You can enjoy it without joining, but if you want to join–and you will–you will have to request an invitation to join, which could take months to receive. However, if you go onto their Facebook page, like them so you can post on their wall, and request an invite on there. I got on the same day. Awesomeness.

But I digress. Here is the original recipe to which I was referring. They look so yummy. But I had no peanut butter chips. I would’ve made it without them, and it still would’ve been yummy. But, my eldest is a sugar fiend, and literally sneaked out of his room in the middle of the night to snatch the bag of chocolate chips and finish them off. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Oh, AND THERE WERE TWO BAGS. And they are both gone.

Soooo, I had to improvise. In my refrigerator was some chocolate cookie dough, so I scooped it into my mini muffin tin and baked the dough for about 10 minutes at 375¬į. I like my cookies really gooey, but I actually think these would’ve been better had they been cooked for about 2 more minutes. I let them cool for about 10 minutes, during which time the middles fell into a nice crevice, just waiting to be filled…

I then warmed 2 tablespoons of peanut butter in the microwave for about 10 seconds, and mixed it with 2-3 tablespoons of powdered sugar (I don’t measure very often). I heated it for 10 more seconds to soften it, then spread some on each cookie muffin, just enough to fill in the crevice on top. And then I ate them. Well, not all of them, because I made a dozen.

Enjoy!

As promised to my 2 loyal followers, a meal plan post…

17 May

I have finally given in to meal planning, and I wish I had done it a long time ago! I have always hated late afternoons/early evenings, because it meant that it was time to figure out something for dinner. It was stressful and exhausting, and often ended up with a run to the grocery, which wasted time and money. I have read for a couple of years how much time and money a meal plan saves, and I can say that after just a few weeks of doing it that it definitely will save us lots of time, money, and my sanity! I might even say that I am starting to enjoy cooking again…

So I told some friends on Facebook that I would share my meal plan, along with links to those you can find online, and if anyone is interested in recipes for those with no link, I will post those too.

Monday: Sour Cream Noodle Bake

Tuesday: Homemade Pizza and Breadsticks using this as the dough

Wednesday: Date Night!

Thursday: Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos

Friday: Baked Potato Soup¬† ¬† ¬†This recipe looks good, and doesn’t have gross stuff added in like celery. *shudder*

Saturday: Cowboy Quesadillas  These seem like a nice change from our normal, plain (but good, of course) cheese and chicken version.

Sunday: Pot Roast for lunch (have to plan a good lunch or the kids revolt since they really want to have fast food)            Chicken and Dumplings for dinner

Monday (23rd): BBQ Biscuits  I love these, they are super easy, and always a hit with my picky kids I will post the recipe soon.

Tuesday (24th): Chicken Spaghetti¬† ¬† But no little pimentos because that would make my boys flip out–or Anna, you could share your recipe with me…

Wednesday (25th): Date night!

Thursday (26th): Pasta with meat sauce and homemade bread (see bread dough recipe link above)

Friday (27th):¬†Beef Empanadas ¬†I haven’t found the right recipe yet, and a friend is supposed to share it with me, but I am still planning on making these

As for sides, I usually just serve a side salad, or steamed broccoli or green beans. Very simple. I am planning on making this fresh corn casserole one night, maybe to go with the BBQ Biscuits, but I need to find the corn on sale first.

I came up with this plan last Friday night, made out my grocery list according to what I did not have, and shopped on Saturday. I bought all my groceries for these meals, plus stuff for breakfast and lunches, for $150. That is a HUGE difference in what I had been spending bi-weekly on groceries, and it was all from about an hour of planning. The return on investment for the one hour is definitely worth it. I was easily spending double that amount biweekly, plus we were eating out too often because I didn’t have a solid plan in place. I am excited about what a difference this will make for us, and I know John is excited that I finally¬†am saving us more money and cooking more!

If you don’t meal plan, I really think you should try it for a couple of weeks, and see if it doesn’t help you out too!

We’ll get to it when we get to it!!

18 Jun

I have breastfed all my babies. ¬†I weaned Pierce at 11 months because I was pregnant with Will and was so tired I literally couldn’t get off the couch. He took a bottle happily, and that was that. I nursed Will for 13 months, and he weaned easily, as I think we were both ready to stop. And that was that. I have nursed Parker for 19 months, and we’re still going. And I love it. He’s just not ready to wean, and I’m just not a pushy mom. Nor am I really ready to wean him. I don’t really understand why it’s such a big deal to people. He only nurses at nap time and bedtime.¬†He’s not even 2. He’s very likely my last baby. So you know what? We’re going to keep doing this for a while. I’m not going to stress about it, and I’m not going to let other people make me feel bad about it. Just because I choose to do things differently than other people doesn’t mean it’s wrong, or bad. It’s just different.

So, yeah, I still nurse my baby. He might be a toddler to you, but he’s my baby. And we’ll wean some day…when we get to it.

*Sigh* I’m in love…

10 Jun

…with my new lampshade!!

Target has all of these beautiful items with designs by Liberty of London, which always has the most beautiful floral patterns you can imagine. I’ve been watching for the items to go on clearance. Well, they’ve been on clearance for a few weeks, but I’ve been waiting for the 75% off clearance!! I saw these lampshades over a month ago and was so struck by them, but I don’t pay $20 for stuff like that, even if it is gorgeous! So today, as I was perusing the clearance endcaps, there was this beauty, for $4.50. I wasn’t entirely sure which lamp I would use it on, but I knew it was coming home with me. Then I noticed the inside of the peacock feathers had brown, and I have this beautiful brown lamp ($5 at the thrift store…I waited months for it to go down!), and it was perfect! I brought it out of my room and into my den, and it brightens up the corner by the sofa now. Happiness.

Caramel Pretzels

22 Apr

OK, so it’s obvious from my few posts that I like food. Tonight is a short little how-to for some yummy, salty-sweet caramel pretzels!

What you need:
approx. 1 cup of pretzels (see note)
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
dinner plate or small cookie sheet
nonstick cooking spray or foil or wax paper


Spray the plate or cookie sheet with the spray or cover with a sheet of foil or wax paper. Spread the pretzels in a single layer, or just slightly overlapping. Now, in a small saucepan, over high heat, bring the butter and brown sugar to a boil. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn the heat to medium. Set your timer for 5 minutes. Stir it constantly, or very close to it. Seriously, it will start to stick if you don’t. This is the only “hard” part about this: once the sugar has completely dissolved, and the caramel has turned a slightly more golden color, then STOP!! It can turn from perfect to burnt and disgusting in literally seconds. Mine takes from between 3-5 minutes. If you’re nervous, stop at 3 and it will still taste great, the sugar just may not be completely dissolved. Or go ahead for the full 5, just watch it closely so you don’t burn it. Once it’s done, take it off the heat, and pour it over the pretzels. Don’t take a bite yet, or you’ll just burn your tongue. Give it a few minutes. Or blow on them really, really hard. Either way, it’s worth it for that sweet and salty treat. And it takes all of, like, 6 minutes!!

Note: I used Pepperidge Farm Baked Naturals Pretzel Thins (Pack of 4) as my pretzels. They are fantastic. But you can obviously sub in regular pretzels.

P.S. I would’ve posted a pic, but they’re already gone. I didn’t really want to take the time to find the camera when the pretzels were begging to be eaten. I hope you understand.



Strawberry Fried Pies, or, The Deliciousness Contained Herein Might Simply Be Too Much for Some People

16 Apr

I’m the kind of person who, when I decide I want to make something, I figure out the easiest way to do it, and I do it. It’s not always the “right” way. I will usually look on the web for instructions, and might ask someone I know has done it. But if their way seems too complicated, and I can think of an easier way, then I’m going to do it that way. Yes, sometimes this ends up with things done not as well. Yet, this doesn’t usually bother me, if it gets the job done. And yes, sometimes I learn that there are certain things that must be done the “right” way. Mostly, I don’t like to be confined by a box of “this is how it has to be done”. If I want to try something that other people say won’t work, I’m just going to try it. And, oftentimes, it works fine, at least for me!

All this to say that I have been wanting to make fried pies for years, just like my Granny does. They were just kind of a mystery to me. She kind of explained it to me one time, in the way that Grannies explain something without really explaining it, since they’ve been doing it so long they never thought about HOW they were doing it, they just do it. So I looked up some recipes. Still, I wasn’t feeling it. I have to really want to make something before I get around to it.

This week, Mom told me that Granny used to use her biscuit dough to make the pies, before she found a different dough recipe she thought did better. I was like, “WHAT????” because I always thought you made them with more of a pie crust-type dough. So I said, “to heck with all this waiting, I’m making some fried pies!!!”

So here’s where my non-conformist ways come in. I had a pound of strawberries in the fridge, and I love the idea of strawberry pie. However, the only kind I ever see is the kind that’s either made with gooey canned filling or the kind that’s made by cooking the strawberries with cornstarch, which produces a similar product as the canned. Both of these gross me out. I don’t want my strawberries cooked, I want them fresh! So I decided I’m going to make my fried pies with fresh, sweetened strawberries. You know what? I was right, they are awesome!

It will take you a good 30-45 minutes, hands-on, to make all of these, but you’ll be glad you did. And so will your family or friends. Shall we?

Strawberry Fried Pies

filling
pound of strawberries
1/2 cup (or to taste) sugar

dough
2 cups all purpose flour
2 heaping teaspoons baking POWDER
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
3/4 cup milk

canola or other cooking oil for frying
powdered sugar for dusting, optional

Cut off the stem/crown of the strawberries and slice them in half, then into thirds (this is just how I did it. You can also chop them, or just slice them, whatever floats your boat). Here’s a pic of how I sliced them:

Set them aside to let the strawberries soak up the sugar.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together with a fork, then stir in the butter and milk and combine. This is easiest done with your hands (clean, of course…).

Now pour about 1/2 inch of oil into a 9-inch (or so) skillet and heat it on high for a couple of minutes, then turn it down to medium/medium-low. You can test if it’s ready by flicking some water into it and seeing if it sizzles. However, this is kind of dangerous, so do it at your own risk). If you have a candy or frying thermometer, you can heat it to 375 F. Mine was broken by a cute kid, so I just did the above.

While the oil is heating, prepare the pies. Tear off a ball about the size of a golf ball and roll it in your hands. Then roll it out onto a floured surface till it’s a circle about, oh, 5 or 6 inches across (can you tell I’m not into precision?). The circle won’t be perfect. That doesn’t matter. If you don’t have a rolling pin, just press it out with your hands.

Next, spoon some strawberries (which are now sweet and syrupy–try not to get too much syrup though, because it will leak out) into the center of the circle. Not too many, maybe 1/4 cup, because you are going to fold the circle over to make a half-moon shape.

Now fold it into the half-moon shape and press the edges together with your fingers. I read somewhere to use water along the edge before you close it to seal the edges. It didn’t work for me. Don’t waste your time.¬†Now take a fork and press the tines along the curved edge to seal it better and to make it look all cute-like.

Before you fry the pies, get a plate and line it with a couple of layers of paper towels (I don’t buy paper towels, but I always save the extra napkins we don’t use at fast food restaurants, that would be thrown away otherwise, and keep them at home for just such an occasion!). You’ll transfer your pies to this, after they’re cooked, to drain.

Take a slotted turner/spatula and pick up the pie, then slide it gently into the hot oil. Fry for a few minutes, then check the bottom side to see that it’s a nice, golden brown (if it isn’t, keep frying and check after another minute or two). Flip it over for a couple minutes more till the other side is also golden brown. Transfer it to the paper towel-lined plate, and sift some powdered sugar over it, and it’s ready to make you its newest fan!

Now, I had an idea. Seeing as these are small, and kind of clutch-shaped, I think you could just carry one of these as your little handbag somewhere. Then you can just take little nibbles here and there, and no one would really notice. Of course, eventually people might notice the strawberry dribbles and the grease stains on your clothes, but until then, I think it could be a great thing. Just an idea.

Enjoy!!

2 Ingredient Dinner

27 Jan

We have discovered a yummy, filling dinner that only requires 2 ingredients. Yes, you can add other things, but our family is just as happy with this dish at its simplest. It’s just chicken thighs and lentils. It is so tasty on a cold, rainy night like tonight. I don’t have exact directions since we’ve done it slightly different every time, but it’s so easy that general directions should do for most people. So here goes:

Chicken Thighs and Lentils
5-6 boneless/skinless chicken thighs (can use bone-in but takes longer to cook)
2 cups lentils
salt and pepper, to taste

Put the chicken in a 3 qt. pot with about 3 cups of water and heat to boiling, then turn heat down to medium.

In another 3 qt. pot, bring 4 cups of water to boiling. Put the 2 cups of lentils in and let boil for 1 minute, stir, then remove from heat and cover for about 10 minutes, till saturated.

Check the chicken, and cook till the internal temperature is 165 F. It should start to fall apart at this point. Take two forks and pull apart the chicken into shreds. If there is a little extra water, just leave it. If there’s standing water, you might drain some out. Then mix the two together, season with salt and pepper, and you have a great cold-night dish!

Now, we did this in 2 pots, but originally it was for one pot, we just found it made our lentils too squishy. If you want to do it in only one pot, don’t add the lentils till after at least 5 or maybe 10 minutes, since they’ll be in simmering water, not off of the stove’s heat. Anyway, it’s very yummy, and very easy!

We ate it with a nice, crusty bread, which I make using the technique from this fabulous book, which I suggest everyone buy. You will not regret it!!!