My mother is from Sandersville, GA, a quiet southern town tucked neatly between Macon and Augusta.  As a child, I spent at least a week a year there, and I have vague but fond memories of cooking with my Mama Bertha (read: my great grandmother).  We’d cut and bake biscuits and mix apple cake batter, but my all-time favorite was preparing the dumplings for her divine chicken and dumplings.

Years (okay, decades) later, I found a recipe that calls to mind those lazy southern evenings…sweet tea, collard greens, biscuits and honey and, yes, Mama Bertha’s chicken and dumplings.  And, to my delight, I found that not only is it a frugal meal, but every member of my family loves it.  I actually caught hubby licking his bowl. 

I used split chicken breasts, which I picked up for $.89/pound, and the other ingredients I nabbed from Aldi (if you’re at all budget-conscious and you haven’t visited an Aldi, you must check it out here).  Altogether, the meal cost about $3.25. 

Cracker Barrel ain’t got nothin’ on this.

Cook’s Note:  Add a dash of Nature’s Seasoning and white pepper for scrumptious, layered flavor.  The white pepper adds a touch of spicy heat that warms the back of the throat.  Oh, and throw in a few handfuls of sliced carrots and celery.  Even some green peas if you’re feeling crazy.


A Step off the Grid

Our new baby!

We’ve heated with propane for the past eight years, and each year we complain about the high cost and swear that this is the year we’re going to put in a wood-burning stove.  However, until now we were never quite brave enough to take that first step off the grid.

It’s funny how cutting your household income in half can motivate you.
So, after much, MUCH research, we found that heating with wood would (haha) more than halve our heating bill, and we chose this beauty to install in our living room.  Is it a big up-front investment?  Yes.  But it will pay for itself in approximately three years. 
If you need me, I’ll be happily stacking firewood for the next three months.  🙂  woo hoo!

I gave a six week’s notice when I resigned from Corporate America and, in the weeks leading up to my Journey Home, I heard three comments/questions almost daily:

1.  “Wow.  You know, you’re very lucky to have that luxury.”
I’ve been home for four months now and finally no longer culture-shocked.  Thinking back now, I’m pretty annoyed about this one.  You know why?  Because I’m not lucky and this is not a luxury.  This is a s.i.g.n.i.f.i.c.a.n.t. lifestyle change that my husband and I chose to make, and it took us five years to make the decision.  We planned and scrounged and doubted and cried and stalled.  We cut our budget in half.  No, former colleagues, luck had nothing to do with it.  The luxuries I am now enjoying are ones like spending the summer with my son before he ventured off to kindergarten.  Now I get him on the bus in the morning and I’m there when he comes home.  When my two year-old daughter is feeling whiney, I can drop what I’m doing and cuddle with her instead of balancing her on my hip while I apply mascara and then rush out the door. 

We’re by no means wealthy, but God provides.  Every day that I am here with my children and able to work toward making this home a haven, I know that God is continually supporting our decision.  There is absolutely no way we could have done this alone.

2.  “You’re leaving your job?  You know, I hear being at home is harder than working.”
Oh, this is harder than working?  There goes my soap-opera-and-bon-bon plan.  Foiled. 
Yes, this is much harder than working in Corporate America.  So far there has been little recognition for a job well-done and no grown-ups to chat with at the coffee pot.  No Friday lunches with my teammates.  My days are packed and I’m bone-weary by dusk.  Am I surpised by just how hard this is?  Yes.  But I’ve never been so satisfied.

3.  “You’re quitting?  In this economy?”
This one was the hardest to hear, because it reflects my personal fear.  I’m giving up a full-time career in the worst recession since the Great Depression.  I am an idiot.  I still feel a little shakey when I dwell on this one.  But my husband and I have always wanted this for our family.  This was our goal, no matter what type of economy we’re in.  I could either continue to work full-time and pay someone else to raise my children, or I could tighten the purse straps and raise them myself.  When I think about it like that, there was never really a question.

There.  I feel better now.

I’ve had a strong-willed child on my hands for five years.  From birth (complications) through the first year (colic) to toddlerhood (authority schmauthority) to preschool (I don’t care for circle time.  Let’s play.) to kindergarten, where we are now fumbling our way through conversations like:

Me:  This work doesn’t look complete.
SW Boy:  It’s not.  I didn’t really feel like finishing it.
Me:  SW boy, you have to finish your class work in class.
SW boy:  Why?  Why can’t I just finish it at home?
Me:  Because…because…

So now, at the recommendation of his teacher, we’re doing “speed games” because he’s slow in class.  I give him two or three tasks and set a timer.   The funny thing is, he thinks the games are silly, and we both know he can beat the clock any time he wants to.  Methinks the well-intentioned teacher may have met her match. 

But I digress.  I’ve read at least five books on the topic of strong-willed children, and I have a solid base of textbook knowledge from which to draw when said will exerts itself (which is daily, thank the good Lord child No. 2 is compliant).  The problem is, in part…me.  I find myself debating with him when I shouldn’t (because he counters, questions, stalls relentlessly); I wind up snapping at him (when I should just gently but firmly implement a consequence); I find myself being stubborn and I almost never give in (when I know there’s nothing wrong with giving in every once in a while).

A while back we wrote a list…Eight Rules of Behavior that I found here and modified, and we’ve been largely holding him to these rules.  For each one he breaks, he gets a consequence of parental choosing.  But the implementation is rarely smooth on account of the aforementioned parental behavior.  So I sat down today and wrote a list of rules for myself:

1.  No yelling – let the consequence speak for itself.
2.  No repeating – implement the consequence as soon as I’m ignored.
3.  No dinner battles – if he doesn’t eat and he’s hungry later, he comes back to the same plate.
4.  Be consistent

I know I’ll add to this list over time, and I’m going to post it somewhere prominent so that I have a constant reminder. 

If you’re the parent of a strong-willed child, I would love to hear about your strategies.  I need all the help I can get.

**not for young eyes**

An 18 year-old man – a child, really – ends his life with a Facebook post and a single step off the George Washington bridge.  Reading this afternoon about the sad chain of events leading to his death stunned me, and I’ve been morbidly following the story and reading the witch-hunt like comments attached to the Fox News article.

At first I got caught up in trying to sort out responsibility and  the level of prosecution that would be adequate for the suspects, all while commenters raged on about privacy and gay rights and homophobia and personal accountability.  Eventually I began to wonder about the point of all the debate. 

I’m the bazillionth person to say this, but it’s a tragic event.  And it’s over.  It’s horrifyingly over and a child is dead and two more children will likely be imprisoned for their cruel and childish behavior.  We can try the perpetrators according to the law, but only God can judge them. 

There is a larger question behind this calamity, but I don’t know what it is.  That the perpetrators did not consider the consequences of their actions (or, worse, didn’t care), and that an 18 year-old boy felt he had so little support that he would choose ending his life as the best course of action speaks to a larger failure – one that extends far beyond the plight of these three individuals.   

I wonder whether we as a nation linger too long in our collective carefree youth, when it’s responsibility and servitude that grounds us.  

But that’s not it either.  I had hoped to write my way through the void, but it’s a question to be pinpointed by people much more insightful than me.

My guess is that many, many bloggers before me have already sung the praises of the Flylady, so I will merely add my voice to the chorus of the formerly-frazzled folks trying to juggle it all (full disclosure:  I’m still frazzled a good bit of the time).  At her core, Ms. Fly believes in simplicity and small bites, and she has spent a decade perfecting a brilliant house-running program, which I use and as a result have, at times, actually felt like one of those “together” women.

Take Kelly’s missions.  I don’t know who Kelly is, but if I ever meet her I’m going to plant a big, fat kiss on her cheek.  This enlightened domestic intellectual broke down the basic areas of the home into zones, and each weekday she sends her readers on “missions” in that week’s particular zone.  So, if this week’s zone is the kitchen, on Monday she may send us beneath our sinks to weed out anything unnecessary, and then to wipe down the inside of the cupboard.  The project takes 15 minutes, tops, but to be honest, if no one had called me to go forth and disinfect, well, I’ve been known to neglect the under-sink area until the city threatens to condemn it.   Another favorite mission calls for wiping down the toilet exterior – because nothing says I love you to a stomach-flu stricken spouse like a clean toilet base.

Daily missions take no more than 15 minutes, and now that I’ve been doing them for a while I can walk around feeling for the most part like there are no unpleasant surprises waiting for my loved ones. 

So, if you’re looking for a method for your madness, check out the Flylady.

In my early efforts to keep up this blog (at least until I figure out what the heck I’m doing), I’m going to loosely theme my days.  Each Mondays I’ll review a recipe that I’ve found to meet the following criteria (criterii?): 

–  Uses mostly raw ingredients;
–  Is frugal;
–  Must not include prep work and/or cleanup that will make me want to set my hair on fire.

The blurred child is my son, who evidently moves faster than the speed of light.

We’ll start with the kneadless (as opposed to needless) bread, which I found in a Mother Earth News that was adapted from a New York Times article.  The gist with the bread is that you mix the ingredients the day prior, and then do absolutely nothing except let it do it’s yeasty thing for up to 18 hours.  I’m not kidding.  I’d estimate the hands-on time to be six minutes, and when it comes out of the oven you’d swear it came straight from a rustic oven in the French countryside.  I’ve made the bread several times, and while the loaf’s appearance has improved each time (you can see today’s lopsided loaf at left), the flavor and crunch are incredible.  My four year-old always lurks around the island, lying in wait for the bread to cool.  You can find the recipe here .

Main course tonight is a Summer Harvest Beef Stew, which I stole borrowed from a lovely blog called A Sonoma Garden.  There’s a bit of chopping and ingredient gathering involved, resulting in a total prep time of about about 15 minutes.  Not much mess, which I L.O.V.E.  It simmered stove-top for 1.5 hours and filled my house with a not-too-hearty-for-summer tomato, garlic, thyme aroma.  Served over rice.  You can find the recipe here.

The bottom line:  

The bread is fantastic.  Seriously.  The family swarmed around the island tonight while my husband cut the loaf into slices, and I actually had to shoo them.  If you appreciate home-baked bread even a little you MUST try this recipe. 

The stew was light and flavorful (I added salt; the recipe does not call for any) and reasonably priced.  I had all the ingredients in my pantry except, obviously, the stewing beef and bell peppers.  My husband loved it and even the kids ate it without holding their respective noses.  The best part?  The recipe calls for a “surprise ending” that includes a bit of sugar, cocoa and balsamic vinegar – the combination within the stew just sort of makes you blink, then smile. 

Criteria met.  Four out of five stars.