Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Look Out, Martha Stewart!

Well, I'm going to be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family as well as my sister and her girls. It's been a LONG time since I cooked the whole meal since we usually go to my other sister's house and celebrate with her family and in laws. This year, I wanted to stay home and she (or should I say my brother-in-law, since he does most of the cooking) didn't want to cook a big meal, so it worked out well for all of us. I called my other sister to let her know what the Thanksgiving dress code would be. Music Man, the boys and I worked out that we thought that it should be semi-formal, which around here means flannel pants instead of sweat pants. Maestro added that he wanted fleece tops on all and Music Man wanted slippers. So, you see how we will be dressed at our fancy Thanksgiving table, right? Flannel pants, fleece tops and slippers on our cold tile floors. When I called my sis, she said "now, that's my kind of Thanksgiving!". Yep, we're going for comfort this year, ya'll!

It's been a while since I cooked a turkey, like a whole turkey. So, I started to do a little research online for turkey thawing times. The ones I ran across said that 4 days should be plenty to thaw it in the bottom of the refridgerator. Ummm, yeah, right. I went in there this morning and when I knocked on the large lump in the bag, I just about broke a knuckle. Three days into the thawing and the thing is still frozen solid. So, I pulled it out and put it on the counter (just like all the good cookbooks say NOT to do), and it's gonna sit there today until I get some softness to that lump. Can't wait to see what's gonna happen tomorrow when I've gotta get the thing in the oven at 4:00 am, sure hope it's gonna be thawed by then! Since we keep our heat at about 62 degrees anyways, I think there's not that much difference between that and the fridge, right? It's going to be an adventure for me, anyways.

I thought I might share my mashed potato recipe with you. I actually got this published in a cookbook last year, one of the Gooseberry Patch compilation dealies. I submit, they test and print, then I get a free copy of the cookbook. I'm honored to have had two of my recipes make the cut, so that's nice. I got two free cookbooks, both autumn inspired, so that makes me pretty happy. I was a little miffed to have them change the title of my recipe from "Warm and Cozy Mashed Potatoes" to "The Creamiest Mashed Potatoes". I never would have called them that, it sounds too boastful for my taste, and doesn't Warm and Cozy sound comforting? Well, what can you do, right? So, here it is, hope you enjoy them, and Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Warm and Cozy Mashed Potatoes

5-6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

3 oz pkg creamed cheese, thinly sliced and then softened

3-4 T. butter, room temp.

4-5 T. half-and-half or milk

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

salt and pepper to taste

2 T fresh chives, sniped or 2 T dried chives

Garnish: additional butter

Cover potatoes with water in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Boil potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes once they begin to boil. Drain; mash with either a hand masher or electric mixer on medium speed. Add cream cheese, butter and half-and-half or milk, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well until butter and cream cheese are melted. Fold in chives; top with a dollop or two of butter. Serves 6.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thankfulness and Grace

As I sit here tonight, listening to Music Man read some fun stories to the little anklebiters, I'm struck by how thankful I am for my little family unit. Thanksgiving's proximity surely has something to do with that, but lately, I've been feeling very thankful.

Music Man has a job. It's not the job he'd prefer, or even one he likes very much, but as I am, he is thankful to be employed. In this time of uncertainty, for all that are gainfully employed, it's a good time to focus on the fact that bringing home the bacon is a reward unto itself. Since he's been laid off so many times, it's truly a blessing for us that he's working in a company that seems to be plenty busy. He's on mandatory overtime, which is also helping us with the upcoming Christmas giving. I'm making the majority of my gifts this year, but there are the few things that Santa will need help obtaining, and that will be ever so helpful.

I'm so very thankful for the blessing of Music Man's love in my life. It took me a long time to find him, but boy, was he worth the wait. I can't really begin to express how I've grown as a human since meeting him. Not only that I've learned to compromise, listen more, love more deeply, appreciate the small things that come with a long term relationship, and the security of sleeping next to him every night. It's also that I've learned to let go of things that held my heart in the past, to forgive myself for mistakes I've made and to forgive other people for their mistakes as well. We're all just people trying to get through our lives with some semblance of meaning to our days. But, back to Music Man...he's generous, loving, compassionate, and on top of all that he's a great father and husband as well. This is always a work in progress for him since his role model for these things was less then terrific. But, he was lucky in his life to have uncles and a grandfather that taught him a lot about this, and for that I know, he is thankful.

I am also thankful for the blessings of my two boys. Words can't really describe how wonderful they are and how much I have grown as a person since becoming their mother. There are the things about motherhood that I don't especially cherish when I'm in the moments, like taking 10 months to potty train Little Red, or the amount of patience it takes not to have a knee jerk reaction to one of them back talking me, things like that. But, they have also allowed my heart to grow bigger by just being here to love them. I remember when my niece was born (she's now 11). I stood in her nursery watching her sleep, and wondered with a deep internal ache, when would it be my turn? When would I find the man I was supposed to build my family with? Would it even happen, or was that a dream that would be unfulfilled? So, you see why I'm thankful every day for the blessings I have been given of this partner in my life. And these wonderful children to love and care for. Healthy, smart, intelligent, sometimes completely exasperating children. I had so much love to give and was afraid I would never be able to. Now, here they are, and it is all so worth the wait to have them surrounding me. I went through some rough times to get here, but I'm even thankful for those since they brought me to the appreciation of what I have that I may not have realized otherwise. I know how lucky I am and how good I have it and I don't forget it, ever.

I'm thankful for a warm home and food on the table (and overflowing pantry!) and cars that get us where we need to go safely. I know these are all things that most people have, but I don't take them for granted. Even when the situation here isn't ideal, such as when our neighbors are being idiots, I'm still thankful for this warm home. So many are without even that basic necessity, and my heart goes out to them. I feel that even moreso now that the days are turning colder.

So, in this holiday season of counting our blessings, there are so many to be thankful for. I'm physically basically healthy (with a few hiccups along the way), I have passions in my life that keep me going on even tough days, I have a stick-to-iteveness that lets me get most of what I set out to accomplish in life, and that stubborn streak in me gets things done as well. I'm even thankful for my husband's packratness that drives me to distraction, for without that in my life, there would be no wonderful warm partner to brave this world with (though, Honey, I could do without the procrastination thing!). In any case, my life is full of riches, not monetary, but we're getting by. Riches of the most important kind, good and loving friends, a wonderful family (here in my home and extended as well) and love to cover us all. Happy Thanks-giving, please take a moment and count your blessings as well. It's a great way to pass some time, and guaranteed to make you feel warm and cozy inside.

Blessing and Thankfulness to you, ~Peacemom

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's Like My Part Time Job!

Hello All,

I promised I would post about one of my other little skills...couponing. Last January, we were planning to send Little Red to preschool in the upcoming fall season. We knew we did not have an extra $200 each month to pay his tuition, so were trying to figure out a way to squeek that out of the already screamingly tight budget. Since I handle the money in our house, it was up to me to figure out how to make this happen.

Well, after considerable fretting and trying to find a job that would fit my stay at home mother hours (read: nights- sleep, who needs sleep?) I started to pray for some guidance. It was weighing very heavily on my heart and I didn't know how we would make this happen for him with the financial situation what it is. So, I talked to my higher power (you may call it what you like, it's different for each of us), and asked for the knowledge and to be shown the way to make it work. Now, you may or may not believe in that, and that's okay, but it's always worked for me. I felt that I could somehow do this, I just wasn't sure how.

About a week and a half later, I was reading (which I rarely read) and "accidentally" (I don't believe in coincidences) came upon an article about couponing and how people would save all this money with using coupons. I thought, like most people, that it really isn't worth the time to do this, a few dollars here and there, what difference would this make? But, I was intrigued when one woman said she was able to save 70% off her grocery bills. Now, I was paying attention. So, I read further and found a link to the message board that was a Godsend to our family. On this board there are many people that list how they save, how to stretch meals and shop coupons with sales. The first time I followed the advice on this board, I save $30.00 on a $120.00 grocery bill. I was ecstatic-and hooked. I looked at it this way. That's $30.00 I just kept in our pockets. $30.00 is a lot of money in our house, let me tell you. I don't spend $30.00 on myself ever, so that was amazing. The next time I shopped, I was able to save 50% at CVS on toiletries, shampoo, tp, toothpaste, stuff like that. And I earned money back to use on my next visit. Basically, I brought home $40 worth of necessities for free because I earned $39.00 to use on my next visit. Okay, now I was completely hooked. After almost a year of doing this, saving is second nature. If I can't save at least 50% on each receipt, I'm bummed out, it's kinda funny.

I also have been able to stock some shelves in the basement with food. This was something Michael and I discussed wanting to do in case of emergency. We do live in New England where ice storms can incapacitate places for long periods of time and we thought it was a good idea to try to get some stuff stocked up for this situation. Before now, I could not make ends meet with what we needed every week, never mind trying to buy more for emergencies. Now, I have 4 shelves, and they are deep shelves, so overflowing with food, a freezer full of meats, veggies and frozen fruit, I'm out of room to put anything else. And I did this all while saving money every month. Believe me, I say prayers of thanks for giving me the knowledge to make this happen for my family.

I was even able to start shopping for donations to our local food pantry. In June, I brought them over $400 worth of food that I paid only $28.58 for. This is because I clip the coupon for a product, wait for the rock bottom lowest price, then snatch them up, often for free. I will buy more then one paper each week so that I get multiple copies of coupons, then shop with those. The papers pay for themselves easily with all the additional coupons. Anyway, right now, I have over $300.00 worth of food going to the food pantry in town next week, and I think I've paid about $12.00 for it all together. Now why am I not keeping that for my family you might be asking? Well, because we only eat food that's minimally processed (except for cereal, Music Man is a cereal addict). Lots of people will eat things that are instant or canned that we will not, so I just watch the flyers, clip the coupon and wait to see how low it goes before I buy it to donate.

How could we have known that last January our economy would fall apart and that gas would go up so much along with the price of everything else? We couldn't have, but if I had not been doing this, we would not have been making it right now. We would not have been able to get through and still stay in our house that we had to pay way too much for 4 years ago. New England is very expensive and the salaries don't keep up with the prices. But, because I said those prayers and was shown the way, not only are we getting by, but I have also been shown a way to help others with the skills I've been taught. This makes me incredibly happy since I do so value helping others. All of this from a prayer to show me how to figure out how to send Little Red to preschool...and he wasn't even ready to go this fall after all.

I sat down to figure out how much I've saved this year alone. This number doesn't include the amount of money I've saved by not even having to shop for almost 2 months, except for fresh produce and milk, while I had to get rid of some of the stockpile, I outgrew the space for it (or my "store" as I like to refer to it). Are you sitting down? Because I had to add it three times to figure out that it really was right...$6,980.13. Yes, that's what I said-almost $7,000. Now, you may not think you spend that much in food all year, but if you add up what you spend each month, it's amazing. I'm feeding my self, Music Man, Maestro and Little Red and over $1,000 in donations to the food pantry and another family I help out (you know who you are, and you're very welcome), that cost me pennies on the dollar. And to think, I didn't think it was worth the time. You learn something new every day.

Wishing for your little prayers to be answered, ~Peacemom

Thursday, November 13, 2008

okay, I'll confess...

Hello All,
It's been 10 days since my last post and I feel like I'm slacking on the job, but honestly, we've just been out straight here. We've all had some sort of flu/cold thing going on and poor Music Man has not had a voice for 5 days now. He and Little Red are coughing all night long and it's been challenging for all of us to get a good night's sleep. I even fell asleep during my absolute favorite show last night...and we're only talking 9:30 here, folks. Kinda pathetic. But, I woke up after 5 minutes or so and was able to catch the end of it. It's that darned electric blanket!

Since the weather has (finally!) turned colder here, I'm preheating the bed by turning on the electric blanket a 1/2 hour before I'm going to crawl in. Then, I put on my shorts and tee shirt (I sleep in them in the winter because invariably I wake up sweating in flannel sheets and a pre-warmed bed!), teeth chattering and crawl in to that little cocoon. It's guaranteed to lull my old bones to sleep in minutes. I never sleep with it on because once the human oven crawls in next to me, I don't need anything else. Music Man operates at about 500,000 btu's, I swear. How someone can put out the body heat he does and still be cold, I'll never know. But, the cozy feeling I get from having cold air around me, but the warm bed is just great.

My sister asked me what we'd like for Christmas last year. Since she doesn't fancy herself crafty, at the top of our list was an electric blanket. The kids room tends to stay pretty warm in the winter since they have 3 walls that are interior to the house, but our room is definitely colder with two larger walls exposed to the north winds. I pretty much never ask for a frivolous gift when someone asks me what I want. I think it's the minimalist in me, I've got Yankee thriftiness built into me somehow. I just don't want lots of stuff cluttering up my life and so if there's something that I would use for sure, like the blanket, then I ask for that. I also asked for a dutch oven and got two of those also. One from my parents and one from my other sister. I LOVE the dutch oven! Very practical and I use it all the time. Anyways, back to the blanket. My sister splurged on us and got us a really great blanket, way fancier then anything I would have bought for myself. It has two heat zones, so Music Man can set his what he likes, and I can set mine what I like and we're both happy as clams. It also has two separate boxes to digitally control the heat settings. I had an electric blanket many years ago that was a hand me down from my grandmother and it had a little pointy thing on the control that let you click it to "high-med-lo". So, when I unpacked this blanket, I was amazed at the amount of cords, boxes and controls that went with it. I didn't know even electric blankets were so high tech these days! See what I mean about me living in another time, things like that just surprise me. I just never thought there was a need for all that technology surrounding even electric blankets. You learn something new every day. Anyways, this is by far a great gift to give to someone. We keep the heat set very low in our house, as most people are these days. I've lived on my own with the heat set ridiculously low most of the time. I can't stand paying heat bills, it drives me crazy. And that's really pretty silly coming from someone who lives in New England and needs to turn the heat on at least 4 months out of the year. But, my motto is, if you're cold, then put another sweater on, wool socks, whatever it takes. My kids never complain about being cold, mostly because they don't sit still long enough to get cold, but I have the reply to "I'm cold" all ready. It's akin to the one my parents had for "I'm so bored" when we were kids...Well, then, I have a chore for you to do that will warm you right up. Go split some wood." Hehehe, I can't wait to use that one on my too-soon-to-be teenagers....or rake some leaves...or shovel some snow...hehehe, it's gonna be great.

Christmas season is fast approaching and I'm a complete Christmas NUT. I usually get the shopping done for the people that I'm going to buy for all throughout the year. I hit sales right after Christmas for the following Christmas, and just store stuff in the attic. This year, with all the coupon shopping I've been doing (I'm going to post about that in my next post), I've not been concentrating much on the sales for other items. Just trying to get through on what we have without worrying about Christmas.

Christmas has become WAY too commercial for me anyways. I really enjoy making gifts by hand, I think that maybe it runs in my family. Or maybe it's just a latent thing we all possess and some haven't tapped into. I find a lot more satisfaction by shopping for fabric for a particular gift for a particular person, then making just the thing I think they would enjoy. One year, both my sister's families had pop up campers so I did some woodburning and came up with signs for their campsites (still haven't made one for our camper yet!), I've made quilts, doll clothes, knit scarves and blankets, stuff like that. And I love receiving a hand made gift. Knowing that someone put the time and love into an item to make it just for me makes me very comforted inside. There's something about that process that is nourishing.

I see people around me that stress out about Christmas. It's like a long list of gifts they have to buy, parties they have to attend, places they need to be. In the grips of all that, it's completely forgotten on occasion what the whole purpose of Christmas really is about. Not only celebrating the birth of Christ, which most people know but many don't tap into. But it's also about giving to others, it's not supposed to be a chore. If it's done in the right spirit, it's wholly fulfilling for both people. And I for one, don't want a gift from anyone that it stressed them out to have to buy. I would so much prefer that they make me something, or if that's not possible, just donate money in my name to a cause I am passionate about. I am so fortunate in my life, I have so much and I would much rather that someone in a poor country was able to get a chicken in my name...with that chicken, sell eggs and make money to send their children to school. So many lives improved from that one gift. That means so much more to me and my heart then a gift someone fretted over and once found just checked off their to-do list.

Stress is not a natural part of the season, it's the pressure we put on ourselves to get just the right gift or go to just the right parties. I hope that this Christmas, with so many struggling in our country financially, that it could be rediscovered that small things are actually big things. I have this very romantic notion in my mind of the way Christmas used to be, when things were not too commercial, and everything wasn't "made in China", but made by hand or bought from someone local that could make something you could not. Like when children got a hand made toy, or someone knit a scarf for a friend, or people circulated the neighborhood caroling and stopping at their neighbors houses for cocoa and cookies aftewards. What happened to these moments of togetherness in our lives? Where did the value of something made by hand and with love go? When did children start to get almost a mortgage payment worth of gifts every Christmas? I just don't know, but I for one long for the simpler times that were filled with more love, caring, peace, and remembering the birth of one child so long ago is the reason we celebrate it at all.

As I said, I never know what direction these posts will take when I sit down to pontificate. Christmas is on my mind as I am making some gifts for my nieces to give to them on Christmas. I know you're probably thinking, it's a little early for Christmas talk, isn't it? Well, that's where my crazy mind starts to dwell long before the day arrives...I find the joy and comfort in the days preceeding it as well. I've also been looking for a cut-your-own tree place that we've not been to, but that's a whole other story for a later post.

Wishing you simplicity and peace for your holiday season, ~Peacemom

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Let's Make Some History, People!

Hello All You Fellow Citizens Of These United States of America,

Okay, so those of you who know me, know I am not the quintessential "Patriot". I love our country, I love the people and places in it, but I am less then thrilled with most of our government's policies, lies, and corruptions. I'm also a complete pacifist and so when we waged war on Iraq, that was a sad day in my heart. When we became the agressor and not the defender, it made me very sad indeed. Having a nephew over there in harm's way ate me up inside, and we are so thankful that he came home with his body intact.

I've seen my family's financial position become most tenuous over the last 4 years and having had a husband that's been laid off just about every two years for the last 10 doesn't help. It's been starting over every two years.

But, we are not a family that lives as victims, and so today, Music Man and I are going to cast our vote for what we can only see as an improvement over where we, in our country, are today. I have my doubts about whether the election results will not be tampered with (can anyone say ACORN??) and having them done on computer makes the results so much easier to skew. But, as Johnny Clegg sings, ONE MAN, ONE VOTE! And so I will stand in the lines with the kids in tow and show them what that means to me. To see all the people at the polls, signs, and energy will be a good experience for them to see what people who feel empowered can accomplish.

So, I urge you, even if you were just not going to vote, use your right and privilege and get out there and cast your vote. Each one of us, one vote at a time, will make the magic happen. It does not matter to me who you are voting for (okay, it does a little, but it's your business) history is going to be made today. Whether it's a black man for president or a woman for vice president, it's never been done in our country. Either way, equal rights for equal citizens, so let's make some history today, folks!!!

Wishing you your sense of empowerment, ~PEACEmom