Sunday, January 23, 2011

Old Fashioned Parenting Reaps Family Rewards!

Yesterday at around Noon EST, my first born child, my daughter, enlisted in the United States Navy. This article cannot contain the PRIDE I feel right now! This is the same kid who has struggled through the last 2-years of life undecided about what to do with her future.  She's extremely bright, she's always done well in school and has almost perfect grades for the year she spent in college, but like many other young people her age, she just hasn't been able to decide what she wants to do with her life.  Yesterday, all that changed. 

We weren't surprised when her recruiter came out of the testing room after Ashley had taken her practice ASVAB test (like a military entrance exam) and said "Wow! She did really well!".   I never doubted for a second that she would ace it :) 

For two years Ashley has walked around in somewhat of a daze bouncing between our house and her grandparents house trying to find her way. Within 3-days of suggesting the military as an option, her entire life has changed. She's gone from this introvert, moody, quiet person to blossoming with excitement and eagerness to take this next step in her life. I knew it was the right thing when I see the excitement in her eyes. I've never seen her look like that about anything before. I just KNEW she had FINALLY found her way.

As a mom, there have been many times when I have questioned my parenting skills and methods. I've always reverted back to old fashioned family values and traditions with my kids, the way my parents did with my brother and I. It's important to me, and will be to them one day, to know these values and family traditions so that they can be passed on to their children.  If you're a parent, you know it isn't always easy, heck, it's RARELY easy and if you have more than one child (we have 3), then you can relate to the mother animals that eat their young, ESPECIALLY during those turbulent teenage years. 

Yesterday, all of the blood, sweat, and tears become worth it. All of the hard work and persistence, all of the arguments, eye rolls, mumbling under her breath, etc. all became worth it when the child I least expected to do it, stepped up to the plate and made a serious adult decision, loaded with responsibility and challenges. She now eagerly awaits the next step in this most incredible journey she has chosen to take. 

I was a single mom for 7-years. During those years, I often worried that I wouldn't be enough. I worried that it would be impossible to instill the values that would develop good character and values that a in-tact family has. Then I realized that way too many families with both parents are failing to teach these precious traditions and values. After 7 years of being a single mom, I met and married my husband Michael who shares my sense of values and believes in the old-fashioned traditions that make a family so precious.  As Ashley signed her first set of papers committing herself to the military, we both sat with tears in our eyes. We did it! One down...two to go! And the other two seem to be heading in the right direction too! Our youngest daughter, Cassie is planning a career in law enforcement when she graduates in May, she's already a senior police explorer and her sisters decision has inspired her to consider enlisting as well since she can't enter the police academy until she is 21. She is going to decide on her 18th birthday in March. Either way, she has her life mapped out and our son, the baby, is enlisting in the US Air Force upon graduation in a little less than 2 years. Obviously, we've done something right. 

As my kids get older they are starting to appreciate the old-fashioned, family traditions that I have made part of our lives. People can say whatever they want about old-fashioned values, but when it comes to rearing kids, it's my opinion that they are invaluable in teaching them that there is more to life than iPods, XBox, and cell phones.  These conveniences have robbed and separated families from the most important traditions and simple activities that strengthened families 20 or 30 years ago. Too many parents are raising their kids via text messages and e-mail and there's something wrong with a parent who depends on Facebook to keep up with their kids daily lives. What good can come from this? How can parents be surprised when their kids go off and make major mistakes that will effect them for the rest of their lives like getting pregnant, using drugs, etc? Parents only have themselves to blame. 

When we moved to Tennessee and began living a simple country life, we allowed that lifestyle to spread to all areas of our lives, including our parenting.  It's obvious that it was the right thing to do.  My kids have iPods and cell phones, but we've taught them that these things are only THINGS... they will never replace the importance of our family dinners each night or our day trips to the national park or even doing chores around the house together. They certainly don't replace or even come close to being as awesome as a day spent in the kitchen with my daughter baking or cooking or out in the garden with my husband. 

NOTHING is more rewarding than the one-on-one face time I spend with my family. You want my opinion? Pick at least one day a week that cell phones, iPods, video games and TV are off limits and spend time with your family face-to-face. You'd be surprised at what you're missing, 

In closing, I want to say how VERY PROUD I am of my daughter. Way to go Ashley! The courage and responsibility it took to choose the path you've chosen was a wise and brave decision. We're so very proud of you and we know you're going to do a great job serving our country! 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Farm Fresh Eggs No Matter Where You Live

When my family moved to the east Tennessee mountains 7-years ago, I was determined to learn all I could about country living. I'm still learning and I have a ways to go, but I'm enjoying every minute of it. 

One of the first things we did when we moved to Tennessee was buy chickens. We decided on Rhode Island Reds because of the superior brown eggs they produced. Needless to say, we had a lot to learn about raising chickens but we learned a lot fast. Within 6 months of getting our little chicks, we were enjoying big, brown delicious fresh eggs. I've never tasted better eggs in my life! And these were the best eggs for baking too. Sadly, after a year and a half, my husband entered a 6-month para-military style police academy in order to join the police force  and we had to give our chickens away. The good news is, now that the kids are older and we've adjusted to our country lifestyle, we're going to get more chickens. 

These days, even city folks can raise chickens right in their backyard and enjoy the benefit of fresh eggs or fresh meat, depending on what you decide to raise your birds for.  Our chickens became pets so we only raised them for the eggs, but many people raise them for both. 

Chickens come in handy for a few things. 

1. They help you become a little bit more self-sufficient by providing you with healthy, non chemical or steroid injected eggs.  Add up the amount of money it would cost you to buy free-range, organic eggs and compare it to the cost of raising your own. In most cases you come out ahead and in the rare case that you decide to raise fancy birds or spend more on a coop, etc. it's worth the extra cost to know that what your eating is way healthier than the stuff you buy in the grocery store. 

2. Chicken droppings make excellent compost and natural fertilizer for your garden! Talk to anyone who uses chicken droppings for fertilizer and they'll tell you, it works better than the chemical laden fertilizers you buy at your local garden center. It's cheaper too! 

Chicken droppings are high in nitrogen,  adding it to the compost pile will turn it  into a rich addition that adds organic matter and increases the water holding capacity and  biota in your soil. Aged chicken manure can also act as a good fertilizer, providing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to help your plants grow.

3. Chickens are good for pest control. As they hunt and peck around the yard they devour all those pesky insects eliminating the need for toxic pest controls or at least less of them. Always be sure to use natural pest controls. 

4. Their hunting and pecking is good for the soil. As they search for bugs, grubs and worms, they break down the leaves and large pieces of soil debris and aerate the soil.

Some of the benefits of farm fresh eggs are:

Thanks to a 2007 study by Mother Earth News that took egg samples from 14 different flocks, we have some pretty good data to back up the claim that free range or pastured eggs are better for you. Here are some of the benefits:

1) Less Cholesterol: According to the study there was 1/3 less cholesterol in the free-range eggs. This is good news for an egg lover like me who also has a family history of high cholesterol.

2) Less Saturated Fat: Mother Earth News found 25% less saturated fat in the pastured chicken eggs. Saturated fat is a buzz word in the food world now, with reason, so anything with less is always a plus.

3) More Vitamin A and E: Vitamin A helps in all sorts of areas including vision, skin health, immune function, and so much more. There isn't as much information out there on Vitamin E, but I think we can assume it does have a purpose.

4) Extra Omega-3s: We are constantly learning more about the Omega-3s, but there has already been a lot of research pointing to benefits for people with heart concerns. Double the Omega-3s is a good thing!

5) They Just Taste Great: I suppose this is more of an anecdotal thing, but I believe pastured eggs just plain taste better.

** The above information was found at the article: The Health Benefits of Farm Fresh Eggs"

So many people are starting to realize that our world is spinning out of control, being self sufficient is going to be a necessity. Not everyone can afford to or wants to live in the country on a farm. The good thing is, raising chickens in the city and in urban areas is becoming more and more common.  The first thing you need to do is contact your local zoning department to learn about the rules and regulations for keeping livestock in your area.

For more information on raising chickens visit the resources below:

Back Yard Chickens -
The BEST online resource for raising backyard chickens, including breeds, hatcheries, and more.

DIY Chicken Coops
Excellent information for beginner backyard chicken raisers.

The Country Chicken -
Information and resources for raising backyard chickens.

Stay tuned for more backyard chicken and urban livestock articles. As Under the Willow Tree grows we'll be adding more to these sections. Feel free to leave questions, etc. in the comment area. We'd love to hear from you.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Under the Willow Tree - Winter Day Wonders :: Fresh Pasta Recipe

Wow! What a winter we're having! When we moved to our country heaven on earth seven years ago, we chose the foothills of the Smokey Mountains in east Tennessee for the mild climate. This year, we broke records. It started snowing on Thanksgiving day and it feels like it hasn't stopped! 

I am not complaining. One thing I missed when I lived in Florida, was the change of seasons and this year, for the first time since I left my hometown of Buffalo, NY some 23-years ago, we had a white Christmas! It was gorgeous! 

What I love most about these wintry days is the time it gives me to cook and bake. The kids have had a bunch of snow days too so I get to spend time with my youngest daughter, Cassie, who also loves to cook with me. Yesterday, as the news was issuing Winter Storm Warnings, and the state was declaring Level 3 state-of-emergency for our area, Cassie and I broke out the pasta machine and decided to take full advantage of the time we were spending cooped up. We lit a fire in the kitchen fireplace, and got to work! 

Under the Willow Tree embraces the simplicity of country living. None of this is scripted, this is our life and we're enjoying every minute of it. One of the things I love most about country living is the closeness that's developed within my family. We've gradually become like those families you saw on television 30-years ago and to be honest...I am proud of that! I feel so so much pride when my daughters stand next to me eager to learn all of these old fashioned traditions. It brings me comfort knowing that they'll be passed on to my grandchildren. 

So anyway, on to the fresh pasta! You'll find this recipe on the Under the Willow Tree Community! (

Fresh Pasta


  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons water (add more 1 tablespoon at a time to make a stiff dough)


  1. In a medium sized bowl or Kitchen Aid, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the flour, add the slightly beaten egg, and mix. Mixture should form a stiff dough. If needed, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons water.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough for about 3 to 4 minutes. With a pasta machine or by hand roll dough out to desired thinness. Use machine or knife to cut into strips of desired width.  
We used a manual pasta machine for ours. 

In a medium saucepan, boil about 2 quarts of water, place your pasta in the boiling water for approximately 3-4 minutes.  Fresh pasta cooks much quicker than the pasta you buy in a box at the supermarket.  

** To store your pasta, let it dry for  about an hour then place in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 3 days.  You can freeze the pasta for up to 3 months. 

The more you work with the dough the better you'll become at this whole process. If you don't have a pasta machine you can roll your dough to the desired thickness and then cut it into strips with a sharp knife. The sky is really the limit with how you can work with this recipe. 

Add your favorite sauce and ENJOY!!

The one thing I like most about fresh pasta is the fact that I know what's in it. Unlike store bought pasta, there are no preservatives or other junk that you find in mass produced product. This is a simple recipe that ensures a healthy end result. 

Stay tuned for our upcoming homemade cheese series! That's right, we're going to be making cheese! 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sometimes Progress is Only Possible by Taking a Step Backwards!

Happy New Year to all of my friends! Can you believe 2010 is over? My goodness the year flew by didn't it? For many, that's not a bad thing. But for me, it was all-in-all a good year. I did a lot of progressing this past year.   All it took was a little step backwards. 

Yep, I did say backwards. 

For me, it took watching the bottom fall out of the economy and realizing that with the way we were doing things, an implosion is imminent. Fortunately, the economic events of the past 18-months did not effect my family too much, but seeing how it effected people close to me was enough to make me realize that things have to change. I've been preparing for the amazing things that are headed my way this year and I am happy to say that progress is has been made. 

My blog will be taking a new direction. 

For the past 7 months I have been writing and now pre-producing the Under the Willow Tree Country Living eShow for the eChannelz Internet Television portal. What started out as a whimsical idea to share the joys of country living has turned into an entire production complete with a fully stocked online community, radio show and, come the end of January, a weekly eShow and live talk radio program. The Under the Willow Tree eShow is not only about the simplicity of country living, but will encompass much more and won't only be for people who want to live a country life, the content has now been written to appeal to anyone who wants to take a step back and learn to live more simply by learning how to be more self-sufficient.   

Let me explain....

Not too long ago, my daughter and I were having a conversation about what we would do if something happened that made it impossible to carry on the way we do currently. We were talking about how we would survive if there was a Hurricane Katrina like incident in our area. Although highly unlikely as we live in the mountains, but it got us both thinking and we took a look around our home to see what things we had that we could use to live and survive with should we be unable to access stores, water, food, etc. It was an enlightening moment and it made me realize just how unprepared we really are, regardless of our country home in the middle of the woods, to sustain ourselves for any length of time. The fact of the matter is, my husband is a police detective in a city 50+ miles away. It's safe to say that if something catastrophic did happen, me and the kids would be on our own for a while until he got home or until he was able to leave. As a police officer, terrorism specialist, and highly trained in emergency management, his skills would be greatly needed and that would mean the kids and I would have to fend for ourselves. 

Most people don't even think about it. They just assume the government will step in or that it'll never happen. Until recently, I thought the same way. But then, I watched a few documentaries about Hurricane Katrina and it was as if I had an instant wake up call. Not too long ago, people were self-sufficient. They were able to survive using their own devices. They lived without fast food restaurants on every corner and pre-packaged, microwavable meals. My new direction will help you reach back and bring forth the important things in life that so many of us have forgotten. 

Anyway, my blog will begin to focus on country living and the simplicity of this lifestyle. 

Now don't go running off just yet! Give it a chance, you never know, you might pick up a good recipe, gardening tip, decorating idea, or something like that and if you hang out long enough, I'll teach you how to can your own food! 

I hope you'll stick with me and get ready for the Under the Willow Tree eTV program that will air weekly starting the third week of January. Also, stay tuned for Country Living radio... I have LOTS of plans and lots of great topics to cover. 

It doesn't matter where you live, you can enjoy country living no matter where you are! I hope you'll join me!