Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Learning to live, or living to learn... Part 2; Education

        When I had my first child, who is turning 10 years old next month (oh Mylanta, where does the time go?), I was in a very different place than I am now.  Understandably so... Nevertheless, I honestly, like most young parents, didn't know what I was doing!  At 17 years old, I knew very little about the world, relationships, child-rearing, work-ethic, God, handling money, relating to others, education... the list goes on!

        Flash forward to present day, more specifically, around when my second child was born (nearly 1 year ago now!), and there have been lots of changes, indeed!  I've done lots of soul searching in the past 3-4 years, and changed many aspects of our lives (sometimes, to my husband's dismay =)  ).  I've become much more health conscious, set up an envelope budget system to get our (many) bills caught up, and like I hinted in my previous post:  decided on a "parenting style".  Now, that's not to say I subscribe to a cult-like idea of how to parent my children, and do ritualistic things to ensure that I'm following the "grain"... Not at all.  I follow my own idea (and the bible of course) on how to raise my children, but I do look into studies and articles which reinforce my idea that children thrive best when closely connected, and gently corrected with love and attention.  

        Naturally, among these studies, I have found many "bunny trails" to peak my interest in other areas of our lives.  One of which is the choice to educate at home.  Now, there are many factors to consider in this equation, and it's not for everyone.  Things one should ask themselves when considering home education, include, but are not limited to:
  • (If your children are already attending public school) Is the current system working for us?
  • Do I enjoy spending time with my children - lots of time?
  • Which type of schooling do my children want/prefer (if both styles have been discussed or tested)?
  • Do you have strong religious or political views that don't coincide with the public school system?
  • Do one or both parents stay home or work from home to enable this lifestyle?
  • Can you afford it? (depending on what type of schooling, you may choose to use a curriculum, but also there is the cost of traveling, museums, co-ops, fun group activities, and of course the lost income of the parent staying home.) *this can vary greatly, depending on many factors!
  • Are there many resources available in your area to compliment a diverse learning environment?
  • Any other concerns your spouse and you might have.
        After much prayer, research, discussion, and 4+ years of dealing with public schooling for my son, we have decided that homeschooling is the right choice for our family.  Ideally, our daughter, when old enough, will never have to see the inside of a traditional classroom (unless she chooses to!).  I was asked, when withdrawing my son last month (mid-April), by his principal, why we chose this.  Out of curiosity, he said, he asks all parents what helped them come to this decision.  Honestly, the answer is that there wasn't one specific reason... There were many factors that lead to this decision.  The current system wasn't working for us.  My son was not thriving in this environment.  I, being a stay at home mom now, felt like my children would benefit most from being home with me.  Many of the secular and downright worldly ideas taught in school directly clashed with our faith.  I want my children to be happy, healthy, free-thinking, individuals with the freedom to choose what to learn and` when to learn it.

        Now, I'm sure someone reading this subscribes to the common misconception that home-schooled children are "sheltered" & "unsocialized" but not only is this wrong, it's actually quite opposite from the truth!  Think about this:  In public school, evolution is taught as the absolute truth.  I remember books filled with Darwin and his theories, photos of monkeys "evolving" into men, and talk of dinosaur fossils from millions of years ago.  Now, what I don't remember hearing is anything about this information being an 'opinion' or 'one of many' ideas about how the world came to be.  Thankfully, at home, I was exposed to the bible, and other information supporting what I believe to be the truth.  This is not to say that I will do what the public school system is doing, but on the other end of the spectrum.  I don't plan to teach my children Creationism only, while avoiding touchy subjects like evolution, big-bang, etc.  I plan to expose them to everything.  Explain what we believe, and why, and (so far my son, being the free-thinker that he already is, believes what the bible teaches) pray that they follow the right path.  

        As far as socializing, if you think spending 7 hours in a 18x18 room with the same predetermined 15-20 people your age day in and day out for 185 days a year while not being allowed to talk about or do what you want for 6.5 of those hours is socializing, then I don't even know what to say.  All of that, combined with after-school time-sucking homework activities, doesn't leave very much "free time" now does it?  My children will have plenty of time to see their friends (99% of which are different age groups and attend different schools), meet new friends (church, play-groups, internet, neighborhood exploration, & more), & "socialize" (morning, noon, evening, so much free time now that they aren't subject to arbitrary things like 8:00PM bedtimes, homework, & school bells.

        Again, homeschooling is not the right choice for everyone.  Your family dynamics, lifestyle, feelings, & environment will all affect the way things will work themselves out.  Making any big decision for your children should take both your spouses and your children's feelings/needs into consideration.  The most important thing in parenting is to have both mom and dad on the same page.  Without this, there will be discord and chaos, both of which will be more harmful than any "parenting style" or choice of education you could ever choose for your children.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

Learning to live, or living to learn... Part 1; Labels & Boxes

        About one year ago, everything I thought I knew started to change.  Many of my beliefs and ideas about life, living, children & more started to instead become questions... I started researching everything from natural living to different parenting styles, & everything in between.  After many hours of reading, watching videos, asking questions in forums, & observing those who lived these lifestyles in action, I felt fairly confident to "label" myself a Crunchy Christian mama practicing Attachment Parenting and it felt good to know who I was.  However, flash forward a year, to present day, and here I am thinking how absolutely stupid and downright restrictive these (or any) labels can be!!!

        One of the things that bothered me about most mainstream parenting/public school systems was putting our children into boxes, more specifically, labeling them.  "This child is hyper-active, so he just MUST have ADHD."  "This child is reserved and quiet, so she's definitely shy and sheltered."  "That boy likes to climb trees and chase dogs, he's ornery and wayward!"  Labeling our children almost invites or encourages them to fill these shoes.   The other day my husband said something to me that reinforced this idea.  I have this bad habit of assuming things, especially about those closest to me, because I feel like I know them.  I know them well enough to place labels on them.  I know them well enough to expect them to fill these expectations I have of them!
Me(while making dinner with one hand, and holding the baby with another): "so I guess you're going to play that game again..."
Husband(about to take baby, but instead, leaves the kitchen and goes to pick up the Xbox controller)
Me "What are you doing??"
Husband: "What I'm expected to do"
[This was resolved, and he did end up holding her so I could make dinner, like he usually does - but this example shows that assumptions can lead to the outcome we are trying to avoid!]

        I believe in positive thoughts, and to an extent, the Law of Attraction.  Even the bible tells us to focus on things that are good, and not the bad.  Anyway, why shouldn't we use this process in all aspects of our life?  Why not expect the best behavior from our children?  Assume that our spouse is trying so hard to make us happy and not piss us off?  Appreciate that everyone isn't perfect, and maybe that woman who cut us off in traffic on a busy highway isn't a vengeful speed demon bent on ruining our whole week and trying to cause an accident, and maybe she's just a busy, tired, mom trying to make it to her only daughter's dance recital on time?  Instead of focusing on what could be, or what we perceive things to be, why don't we start focusing on the good, and expecting it, instead of almost "summoning" the bad?

        This is obviously something I'm still working on, and I'll most likely never "get there", but I'll keep trying, striving, and asking God to help me!  Let's realize that our children, our spouse, and every single person we encounter is a unique and diverse individual with different thought processes, ideas, needs, wants, & goals than us, and we don't have to put them in a neat little box to make ourselves comfortable.  We shouldn't assume the worst about someone just because it fits our preconceived ideas about who they are, what they've done in the past, and how we imagine that they feel about us.  I don't want to be labeled, so I'll be the change that I want to see!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Flavorful & Delicious Chicken and Dumplings

Flavorful & Delicious Chicken and (flat) Dumplings

        Now, when I say chicken and dumplings, you may envision your momma's chicken and dumplings, with fluffy moist clouds floating alongside chopped veggies in chicken broth... but these are not your momma's chicken and dumplin's!!!!!!!

        My love affair with chicken & dumplings goes way back.  Way, way back.  Back to my momma!    She doesn't do much cookin' anymore, but when she did, the most memorable meals from my childhood included chicken & dumplings, creamed chipped beef, & fried bologna sandwiches... Now you probably wouldn't find any of those things in your standard 5-Star Restaurant, but if I ruled the world, things would be better, I promise...  Anyhow, thinking about those foods from my childhood makes me nostalgic, and makes me miss my momma's cooking... So over the years I occasionally recreate the (simple) recipes myself.  However, I've never had much luck with the fluffy poofy (Bisquick) drop dumplings that my mother made with ease, so I've been playing around with roll dumplings lately.  After many attempts that left myself (and my family) less than satisfied, I finally created something to be proud of!  Now, I plan to work on some drop dumpling recipes in the future, but for now this hits the spot, does the job, and makes me smile.

        **Note: The broth should be made the day before, and left to sit overnight in the refrigerator.

        Ingredients (chicken/broth):

  • Whole chicken (washed, gizards and other fun/gooey stuff removed)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery chopped OR 1tsp celery seed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 whole carrots (peeled)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or bacon fat)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • corn starch (to thicken at the end)
  • 1/2 tsp ground thyme
  • 1/2 tsp sage
  • 1 tsp parsley
        Ingredients (dumplings):
  • 3.5 C flour
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tbsp cold bacon fat
  • 3 tbsp cold chicken fat
  • 1/4 C chicken broth (from above)
  • 1/2 - 1 C milk
  1. Heat up the olive oil (or bacon fat) and butter in a skillet on medium-high heat.
  2. Rub your chicken down with salt & pepper & place into hot skillet to sear, flipping after several minutes so that both sides get nice and brown.
  3. Transfer the chicken from the skillet to a large stock pot (carefully!) while keeping your skillet hot.
  4. Add chopped onion, celery, & garlic to skillet, and saute for several minutes until the onions are translucent.
  5. Add apple cider vinegar to the skillet and scrape up all the little stuck on browned bits =)
  6. Pour this concoction over your chicken in the stock pot and add also your bay leaves, carrots, thyme, sage, cayenne & parsley.
  7. Fill the stock pot the rest of the way with water - only just until the chicken is barely covered.
  8. Pop a lid on your stock pot, and place it on the burner on medium-high heat to bring to a boil.  Reduce heat just a tad so that you have a healthy simmer going.
  9. Simmer for 2-3 hours or until your chicken starts to melt off of the bones =)
  10. Pour everything through a fine strainer into a large bowl to store liquid in the refrigerator.
  11. Separate chicken off of the bone, and store chicken in a large ziploc bag in the fridge also, while discarding bones, veggie mush, and bay leaves. (You can freeze the bones in a large bag for making Bone Broth later!)
  12. Wait 24 hours (or overnight) for the broth to cool and the fat to solidify.
  13. Skim the fat from the top of your chicken broth carefully.  (I like to put the fat in a small bowl and transfer it to the freezer for 10-15 minutes to get it extra cold!)
  14. Pour the broth into your large stockpot (reserving 1/4 cup of it to the side) and heat it up over medium to medium-high heat to a healthy simmer)
  15. Meanwhile, put your flour, baking powder, salt & pepper in a large bowl, cut in your solidified bacon & chicken fat until it's all crumbly and mixed.  Then add your chicken broth & just enough milk to make it doughy and pulled together.
  16. Drench your countertop with flour and transfer your dough ball to the counter, kneading it 4-5 times to get it all together.
  17. Using a rolling pin or a glass or a Pringles can, or whatever you can find that is cylindrical and fairly clean - roll out your dough really thin (I didn't measure it, but you want it less than 1/8 inch thickness - the thinner the better!)
  18. Using a pizza cutter (my favorite method) cut up your dough into 1in. squares.  Let them sit for 15 minutes to dry up a bit.
  19. Once your broth is simmering well, scrape up your dumplings using a dough cutter or metal spatula (you can bring some flour with them too, although not necessary.  Add them to the broth and cover with lid.
  20. After 6 minutes they should have fluffed up a bit, but test them to make sure (I 'tested' atleast 15 this way, hello carbs!).  Remove them with a slotted spoon, and continue this method until all of your dumplings are cooked.
  21. *I put the cold chicken in the serving dishes, and lay the dumplings on top as they finish.  This helps to heat the chicken up, as does the broth once we add it in the next step!
  22. After your dumplings are finished, whisk some corn starch into a small amount of cold ice water, and add this a little at a time to your simmering broth, until it's the thickness that you desire.  I did about 3 tbsp. and that was enough for us =)
  23. At this point, I like to taste it, and add a bit more sage, pepper, or whatever I think it might need at the time!
  24. Pour your thickened broth over the chicken and dumplings in their serving dishes, and you're all ready to serve it!  I like to add some more salt, pepper, and hot sauce to mine!  YUM! Enjoy!