Saturday, August 31, 2013

The greatest social programs in this country. . . .

OK - so everyone hates welfare and social programs.  Go to facebook to see how your family is doing and somewhere you will see a friend spouting off on how terrible welfare and social programs are.  They are destroying this country. . . the entire reason we have the national debt we have and our country is in the state it is in is because of social programs (or at least that is how it would seem by some f-book status!)  Well, I want to voice my opinion on  few of my favorite programs!

First - Meals on Wheels.  Most of meals on wheels programs is privately funded.  Most of the food is purchased from donations.  The time spent to prepare and deliver this meals is usually donations from people who are willing to give their own time and use their own gas money to make and deliver these meals.  This program is designed to help those who are unable to prepare their own meals have at least one hot, healthy meal.  Most of the people on this program are elderly - but I know I have delivered meals to people who are my age but have end stage diseases.  This is an AMAZING program.  Not only does it provide at least one meal to individuals who may not otherwise have a meal (because of financial problems, their inability to prepare a meal, or just the fact that they are so lonely and depressed that they man not make the meal for themselves), but it also gives these people human contact that many of them may not have if this program didn't exist.  For some of these people - this may be the only contact they would have in weeks!  This helps these individuals be healthier and overall decreases costs associated with malnutrition related hospital stays.

Next - WIC.  WIC is a program through the USDA that provides formula, milk, cheese, fruit, peanut butter, cereal, eggs, and bread to at need pregnant women, infants and children under the age of five.  The guidelines for WIC are more liberal than food stamps - as far as who can get it - with the cut off being ~180% of the poverty level for each family size.  This is not like food stamps where you are given a card and can get whatever you want - you are told which formula you can get, and how many pounds of cheese, gallons of milk, oz of peanut butter - etc.  This has helped millions of infants and children by nourishing them properly.  Proper nutrition from in utero to school age DOES save money from malnutrition related illnesses, as well as promotes proper brain development to help decrease special education needs to malnourished children. 

Third, the free/reduced school lunch program (breakfast program).  OK - I know it isn't all that healthy and it should be better than it is - but the reality of it is that for many kids in this country the only food they can reliably get is what they get at school.  One out of every five children in this country do not know if they will be offered their next meal.  That is a fact.  You can go on and on about how the parents should be providing for their kids, and about how they shouldn't have had kids if they couldn't afford it - the fact is that these kids are already here and the do exist, and many go to bed hungry every night.  Free breakfast and lunch during the school year has helped millions of kids in this country to have a meal or two each day.  The kids born into poverty had no choice in the matter - they were born where they were born - so our tax money helping to give them a bowl of cereal for breakfast and a slice of pizza for lunch is - IMHO - the least we can to to help these kids.

Fourth, and I don't know if this is a social program but Pell grants and Stafford loans.  I know I would have been unable to go to college without these two things.  These programs help those to help themselves.  Not everyone is born with parents that can help them go to college, but these two programs do help individuals who do excel at college to be able to go to college. 

Last - head start.  This is a wonderful program for at risk kids.  Head start is not just for individuals with low incomes - it is also for children who have special needs.  Gabe qualified for head start because of his autism diagnosis, and the program really did help him be prepared for kindergarten (on a social level because he really could have skipped K and first grade and academically started in second grade.)  I once read a report that stated that each dollar spent on head start saved two dollars in future special education costs because it helped kids that much.

So - these are just my thoughts for the day about social programs I love.  There are more - I am sure - but these are my favorite programs.  Call me a socialist if you want.  Call me a hippy (Gabe does), but I love these programs!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The 10 reasons I miss living in Michigan are. . . .

So – it is obvious that I miss Michigan.  Every time I say I miss it Gabe gets very angry and upset.  He loves Florida (or so he claims) and doesn’t get why I miss that, “God forsake, hick, white trash state.”  So, I decided to pick the top 10 reasons as to why I miss Michigan.  Here they are, in order of least to the #1 reason as to why I miss Michigan (think of it David Letterman style!)

10.  There are no fire ants.  OK – this is a lot of northern states – but I hate fire ants.  To make matters worse – I am deathly allergic to fire ants so I am scared to death that one sting one of these days will kill me!!!!  I am scared to even go outdoors because these things stink!!

9.  Mackinac Island.  Oh how I love that island.  Nothing like the ability to go back in time for a few days to make you feel relaxed and refreshed!

8.  Hiking.  I miss all the hiking trails and state land.  I miss taking my family someplace and walking through the woods with them and seeing the beauty that the state has to off.  Yes, you technically can hike here in Florida if you are OK with the humidity and bugs.  Really – we went walking through a small wooded area to geo-cash once only to come out covered in cock roaches and spiders.  Florida is hostile and not enjoyable to hike in!

7.  Fresh produce.  I thought when we moved to Florida that we  would be in fresh produce heaven!  Heck – you can grow all year down here!  The produce down here is terrible and never tastes fresh.  There is nothing like a fresh Michigan apple (or fresh cider during the right time of year), the sweet strawberries, the fresh cherries, the zucchini that people just give away because it grows so fast, fresh sweet corn. . . . oh how I miss the fresh produce and the fresh produce stands!!!

6.  Festivals and parades.  During the summer and fall I swear there is some type of festival or parade you can go to  - and if you are OK not buying anything you can go to it for free!  Here we have found that most festivals charge you to even enter.  The Strawberry Festival (which I thought would be like the Cherry Festival in Traverse City) costs money to even get onto the grounds.  As far as parades down here – most of the parades we have found really aren’t suitable for kids.  

5.  The lakes/rivers/fresh water.  Oh how I love swimming at Duck Lake, or the Grand Traverse Bay.  Lakes and rivers so clean you can see the floor of the lake and river!  You may get swimmers itch, but I never had a ray nibble on my toe when swimming in Duck Lake, or stepped on a Ray while swimming in the bay.  Florida has the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, but most of the time it is so murkey you can’t see what you are about to step on.

4.  I miss seasons.  I miss spring, with the fragrance of lilacs filling the air.  I miss summer, with comfortable days where you can open the windows and hang your clothing on the line to dry.  I miss fall – the beauty of fall (my favorite season) – the crisp air – the smell of wood smoke – the canvas of colors – my heart yearns for fall.  I even miss winter to a certain point.  I miss the fat snow flakes that stick to everything.  The white blanket of snow making everything look like a fairy land.  I am not going to lie – from mid-January until May I do get sick of winter (and yes – it sometimes snows in May!) – but I miss some winter.

3.  The life-style.  Michigan has a feel all to itself.  Driving across the border from Ohio or Indiana you notice a difference right away.  The state is empty compared to the rest of the country.  It just has a different feel to it.  The life-style is a little less cut throat – a little more laid back.  Hard to explain if you haven’t lived anywhere else – but living in Michigan is nothing like living in Indiana, Georgia, or Florida (the three other places I have lived) – and I miss that lifestyle.  It isn't all perfect - sometimes those small towns where everyone knows everything about everyone can be hard to live in (I lived a way more interesting life through gossip than in real life) - but I miss it just the same!

2.  My Grandma’s house.  I bet you thought this was going to be the number one reason I wish we could move back to Michigan – but it isn’t.  I do love my Grandma’s house.  It is the one place on Earth where I can feel myself at peace.  There is something about that beautiful brick home that just makes me feel joy and love like no other place on this planet.  I miss that house and wish we lived closer to it so I could visit it (and my Grandma’s grave – sad I didn’t get to put flowers on her grave this year)

And the number one reason I miss Michigan is . . . the people.  Yup – I miss the people.  Most of the people I love live in Michigan.  There a few others scattered around the country – Texas – Georgia – New York – but most of the people I love live in Michigan.  From family I grew up with, to those who might as well be family because I love them as much as if they were family.  From the owners of the Karlin Store who have known me from birth and always ask how I am doing, to my adopted sisters Miss Tonio, Miss Nicole, and Miss Samantha – who I couldn’t love or miss more if they really were my blood sisters, to neighbors who became family and their children who I love like they are my own, to my aunts and uncles, cousins, parents and brother, to my former co-workers at the health department and all those people I got to work with at the health department who allowed me to visit them in their homes and who I also love and care for.  I miss the people that  were in my life there.  

So – to those who think I want to leave Florida just because it sucks here – that isn’t the total reason (but it is part of it!) – and to my son who really doesn’t get why I could miss the mitten – here it is.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Recipe: Patty's pie

1 graham cracker crust
1 yogurt (single serving size - any flavor)
1 container of Kool-whip.

Mix yogurt and kool-whip in a bowl.  Put in graham cracker crust.  Refridgerate.

One of my co-workers from the health department gave me this recipe and my kids LOVE it!

Recipe: Parm Fish

2 pounds of your favorite mild fish (I love fresh whitefish, but cod, or any inexpensive white fish works well)
oil (OK - I like using bacon fat here, but canola oil works well also)
1 T minced garlic
3 eggs
Parmesan cheese.

Put 1 c. flour on a plate.  Set aside.  Put eggs in a flat container (a bread pan works well here) - mix so it looks scrambled.  On the next plate put ~1c flour, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, salt and pepper.  Mix. 

In large skillet, heat oil.  Add garlic to oil.

Now in assembly line fashion put each fish in plain flour, then egg, then your flour/bread crumb mixture - making sure to cover with each product.  Place in hot garlic oil.  Cook on medium heat, turning once, after about 3-4.  The fish usually cooks rather quickly (10 minutes).  When fish cooked take fresh shredded Parmesan cheese (I get a large container at Sam's club) and put on each fish - enough to cover the fish.  Cover and continue to cook until cheese melts.

Recipe: My lasagna

1 package lasagna noodles
1 1/2 pound ground beef
1 onion (chopped)
2 T minced garlic
1 lg container cottage cheese
1 same size container ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 pound mozzarella cheese (shredded)
1 large container and one normal size container of Prego spaghetti sauce.

Preheat oven to 350

Cook noodles according to package.  Once cooked - drain.  Put in FOUR equal piles.  Set aside.

Cook ground beef and onion.  Drain.  In large bowl mix all the spaghetti sauce along with the beef and onion mixture.  Set aside.

In another bowl mix cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, eggs, parm. cheese, garlic, and half the mozzarella cheese.  When mixed, "cut" in the bowl three pie shaped sections.

Now, in a 9x13 inch lasagna dish put a small amount of beef/sauce mixture on the bottom of the pan.  Spread.  Take one pile of noodles and place them on top of the sauce mixture.  I usually have three running long wise, and one partial noodle running short wise in the pan on the bottom.  Then take 1/3 of the cheese mixture (thus the reason I had you "cut" the cheese mixture into thirds) and spread it on the noodles.  Cover with sauce meat mixture, then another layer of noodles.  Repeat with another cheese layer, sauce layer, noodle layer.  Continue this pattern (keeping a small amount of sauce for the top) until you are left with a layer of noodles on top.  Now, take that small amount of sauce/meat and cover the noodles.  Cover with tin foil and bake for 75 minutes.

Remove tinfoil form lasagna - cover with remaining mozz cheese.  Bake for 15 minutes uncovered. 

Let sit out for 15 minutes before cutting.

This makes enough for my family to have TWO meals and a lunch (and usually a little more after that!)

Recipe: Beefy hashbrown bake

4 c frozen shredded hashbrowns
2T oil
1/8 t pepper
1 pound ground beef
1c water
.87 oz package brown gravy mix.
1/2 t garlic salt
2 c frozen mixed vegetables
2.8 oz can french fried onions, divided
1 c shredded cheddar cheese, divided.

In a bowl, combine frozen hashbrowns, oil and pepper.  Press into a greased 8x8 baking pan.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium heat, brown beef; drain.  Add water, gravy mix, and garlic salt to skillet.  Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.  Add frozen veggies; cook and stir for 5 minutes.  Stir in half of the onions and half of the cheese.  Pour beef mixture over hashbrowns.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 5-10 minutes.  Sprinkle with remaining onions and cheese; bake for 5 minutes longer, or until cheese melts.  Makes 4 servings. 

Recipe: Sausage Orzo Skillet

1 pound ground pork sausage
14 1/2 oz can beef broth
14 1/2 oz can stewed tomatoes
1 1/4 cup orzo pasta (uncooked).

In skillet over medium heat, brown sausage; drain.  Add broth and tomatoes with their juice;  bring to a boil.  Stir in orzo.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until orzo is tender.  Makes 4 servings.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Trust and relaxation

I believe in God.  I believe there is something else out there.  I love God and I am thankful for the things I have in my life.  I have read parts of the bible - I need to read more - maybe that is part of my issue.  I also find that there are parts of the bible that really bother me - the wrathful, "I will kill everyone's first born son" parts.  Those are the parts that make me wonder about the bible . . . . if God loves us so much - all of us - then I don't understand some of the things that happened in the bible.

Well, I am getting off the subject I wanted to start this with. . . This morning someone on f-book posted a link to a blog about how trusting in God helps with parenting.  I read the article and I see exactly what this person was saying - and I can see how much that would help.  I could hear Grandma in the back of my head saying over and over again, "Don't worry, God will take care of you.  God loves you.  Just have faith."  That is my issue. . . I believe in God.  I believe in a creator.  I even believe he is out there and he loves us all. . . my issue is that trusting that everything will be "OK".

Does this mean I don't believe in God?  No.  It means I look around me every day and see the world.  How many little kids starve to death in Africa everyday?  Are those little kids bad kids?  No.  I am sure some of them even have been exposed to and believe in God. . . yet they starve to death.  My Aunt Mary - who studied the bible and wanted to grow up to be a missionary.  My Aunt Mary who had faith and love in God. . . she died of cancer when she was 12.  Did that turn out OK?  My Grandfather - a hard working, God-fearing man.  He suffered from stroke after stroke, starting when he was not much older than I am, and died of a massive heart attack two days after his 53rd birthday leaving my Grandma alone to raise three children by herself.  Did that turn out OK?

I don't believe God makes bad things happen to us.  I don't believe he gave my Aunt cancer for a reason.  I don't believe he made my Grandfather die at 53 for a reason.  I don't believe he made our first baby die before he ever was able leave the womb for a reason.  Bad things happen and I don't believe God makes those things happen - at the same time I don't think I believe God makes good things happen for us either.  I don't believe those who are more "successful" in life are better people and that is why God made them be more successful.  I try very hard to hear the words I once read/head - nothing in this world really matters - these are worldly things and you shouldn't hold on to them. . . . but watching people you love suffer is hard.  Suffer from disease.  Suffer from hunger (I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be in Africa and have to watch your children starve to death - or maybe I can and that is why it bothers me.)  Living in America broke with kids is hard. . . . I see their future ahead of them . . . either now college and minimum wage jobs or college degrees and a mountain of student loan debt.  I try to tell myself it shouldn't matter. . . these are worldly things and don't matter in the kingdom of God.  Again, maybe this means my faith just isn't strong enough.

Bad things happen to amazing, loving, God-fearing people every day.  Horrible, terrible things happen to them.  They starve.  Their kids starve.  They are beaten down and stepped on.  They are treated like garbage.  So - how do I let go of my worry and just have faith everything will work out OK.  How do I trust that my husband will find a great job that is closer to home?  How do I trust that God will look out for my children when I am away from them?  How do I trust that it will all work out and be OK?  I want to.  I still hear Grandma in my head, "It will all be OK, God will take care of you". . . . but how do I let go of my anxiety that those I love will suffer and be in pain, or they will be ripped from me?

I don't want to worry anymore.  I want to just enjoy my family.  I love them.  I love my husband - he is a wonderful man who loves me with all his heart.  I love my kids - they are such amazing people. . . I want to enjoy them and not worry.  How do you make your mind ignore the reality that horrible things happen to great people everyday and just stop  and love the minute God gave you - because that is what I want to do.