Welcome to Twindom

It was an idyllic fall day. I was outside chatting with Ryan when all the sudden out of nowhere I felt ill. “Oh my gosh. I’ve got to throw up!” I announced before bolting into the house. The feeling passed a few seconds later.

“That’s weird.” Ryan said. “Yeah, maybe there’s a bug going around or something” I replied, thinking nothing of it. A few days later, on a whim, I decided to take a pregnancy test. Within seconds I knew. Oh my. We’d just gotten back from China two months earlier after adopting our two sons and surprised doesn’t quite adequately describe our feelings when we found out we’d be adding another little one to the mix. We were thrilled nonetheless and patted ourselves on the back…good thing we’d gone with the eight-seater van last time we were car shopping. We could still squeeze one more in. Phew. No need to buy another car.

I called and set up our first prenatal appointment. Since we’d had other babies before I was pretty certain I knew what to expect. We called ahead to make sure the appointment would be under an hour long. We did not feel comfortable leaving the boys with a sitter quite yet so Ryan met me at the doctor’s office and took the kids to lunch while I went to the appointment.

It’d taken me a bit of searching to find a doctor’s office out this way. All our other pregnancies were in New York and we had a midwifery practice there we loved. I was hoping to have a water birth with this newest one like I’d had in New York. There was only one hospital and one practice that offered water birth as a potential option, but it was an hour drive from our home. All our previous labors had gone as planned. In New York we didn’t mind a forty-five minute drive while in labor so fifteen more minutes wouldn’t be that much further if we could be at a hospital and with a doctor or midwife we loved.

As crunchy as I may be at times, I never felt one hundred percent comfortable with home birth for myself. I tend to worry and imagine every possible scenario while in labor and I know if I’d be laboring at home I’d be wondering if there was an issue and worrying about whether or not we’d make it to the hospital if necessary- not exactly the most helpful train of thoughts to be having in the middle of contractions. Then there’s also the issue of focus. During the last hour or so before baby arrives, I don’t really like people too much. I don’t want to be touched or talked to or even see other folks so to labor at home with all our oftentimes-nosey (bless their hearts) kiddos, would be challenging. I much prefer the quiet of a hospital room. You may be thinking a hospital is not all that quiet. Let me assure you. Compared to our house, a hospital is like a monastery.

With Ryan and the kids off to lunch, I strolled into the doctor’s office praying the visit would be super short so I wouldn’t puke on anyone. Although I’m sure that event would be a fantastic first introduction to my new doctor, I was really hoping to avoid it. I was so very sick this time around. All. The. Time. There was no food or drink that would alleviate the nausea. The only thing that would help was sleep. The minute I woke up until the time I went to sleep I was severely nauseous.

Soon I was checked in. The receptionist found out from our paperwork that we had adopted and had lots of questions about the process and our boys. The nurse also had lots of questions about our adoption. I told them how my husband and I would often joke during the adoption process that we could have had two kids in the time our adoption had taken start to finish. They laughed.

The doctor came in and estimated our due date to be May 19, 2018. She began to do an ultrasound to confirm the due date and make sure the baby was growing well. She quickly found the heartbeat. “Everything looks good!” she said. “The baby is measuring right on track.” She announced. She paused for a minute, “Wait, what’s that?! There’s something else in there!” She yelled, quite surprised, before turning off the ultrasound machine and demanding the nurse to call and request a more in depth ultrasound immediately. The nurse jumped to make the call.

“What do you mean there’s something else in there? Like twins?” I asked her in disbelief. “I’m not sure.” She replied. “Let’s get you down to the other ultrasound machine. It’s higher resolution.” With that she walked out of the room.

My mind was spinning over her “I don’t want to say” comment.” Cancer, some disease, another baby, were all thoughts running through my mind. She’d only found one heartbeat that I knew of. I anxiously texted Ryan that it’d be a bit longer. “They found something in the first ultrasound and are sending me down to get a more detailed one.” I knew it was getting to be late and the kids were probably about fed up with being in the car. My thirty to forty-five minute long appointment was quickly spiraling to well past an hour.

The nurse walked me down to the other ultrasound room (in a different part of the hospital) and left me there with the ultrasound tech. This was the first thing we saw when she touched my stomach with the ultrasound wand.

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October 10, 2017

“Oh my God. There are TWO!” I cried. I started laughing. Then crying. Then a bit of both mixed with “I just can’t believe it. This is crazy. There are TWO! There are REALLY two!”

“Are there two heartbeats?” I asked, holding my breath. Before she could find out we watched as both babies began to kick and move all about. She quickly confirmed that there were two, healthy heartbeats.

“I can’t believe this,” she said. “They are identical! It’s very rare for us to ever get to see identical twins! This is only the second set I’ve ever done.” She shared.

“It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen to see two babies floating around and kicking together. Praise God! I am in awe of His workmanship.” I wrote later that evening in my journal.

The rest of the ultrasound I alternated between laughing, crying and laying there in complete shock, watching the babies kick away. The tech finished taking all the measurements and announced, “They’re growing just fine. Everything looks great.” She turned off the machine, gave me a few pictures and sent me back to the doctor’s office.

As I soon as I got back to the doctor I asked if I could leave. I couldn’t wait to see the look on Ryan’s face when I told him. I was so shocked, amazed and just plain tickled at God’s sense of humor.

After congratulating me, the doctor went over a few more things. As she talked the nurse began taking blood so I could leave as quickly as possible. By this point the appointment was pushing three hours. The doctor told me I couldn’t have a water birth because any twin pregnancy is high risk. She also said identical twin pregnancy is particularly high risk. “I wouldn’t tell anyone just yet.” She said.

“Why?” I asked. The ultrasound tech had just said everything looked great.

“It’s relatively common for one twin, if not both, to not make it with this type of twin pregnancy.” She shared. “If they do, they will most likely be quite early because this type of twin shares a placenta. There are a lot of complications that could happen.” Despite her words of caution, I was still over the moon excited. Regardless of how things could potentially turn out, I was simply in awe of seeing two babies moving around inside my body. What a miracle.

I hurried out to the van where Ryan and the kids were waiting. He jumped out of the van. “Is everything okay?”

“Here! Look at this!” I said showing him the ultrasound picture. He gave it a quick glance.

“Oh, only one huh?” He replied. Every pregnancy he’s hoped we’d have twins.

“Ry! Look closely! There are TWO!!!!” I exclaimed.  He grabbed the ultrasound picture before bursting into laughter. We were completely surprised, shocked and overjoyed by the whole thing.

Given the news the babies may come quite early and having been told a water birth was not an option, we decided to switch to a doctor who practiced at a hospital with one of the top NICU’s in our area. It was quite an experience being pregnant with twins. The sheer number of doctor’s appointments alone was staggering. The way my body grew so quickly to accommodate two babies was astounding. IMG_1716 2It seemed like I couldn’t walk around very well in no time at all. It was like being stuck in the ninth month of pregnancy indefinitely. God was so faithful during that season to bring so many people alongside to help without us even asking. People brought meals. People helped watch our children for the many, many doctor’s visits. People brought groceries. People helped with laundry. They were all such instruments of God’s grace and goodness.

Five months after that first ultrasound, Pippa Josephine and Georgina Rose, were born via c-section at 32 weeks, bringing immeasurable joy to our family. Pippa (left) was 4 pounds, 4 ounces and Georgie (right) was 4 pounds, 11 ounces. They spent six weeks in NICU before coming home.

For that month and a half our family was at a standstill. I spent most of every day at the hospital with the girls. We are forever thankful to the NICU doctors and nurses. They saved our girls lives on more than one occasion and the images of them bending over our daughters’ ever so tiny bodies to help them breath again will always be etched in our minds.DSC04817There were three nurses who primarily cared for our girls. One was in the operating room when our girls were born. DSC04500She was with us the first week of their lives when the girls were struggling to stabilize. She was there when we held Pippa for the very first time.

She was the one who gently told us we could not hold Georgina quite yet during the first few days because Georgie was not yet stable. She was there when Georgie had grown strong enough to hold, arranging all the wires and cords and coordinating all the doctors and specialists to be in the room just in case Georgie did not do well. DSC04882DSC04872She was just as excited as we were when the girls went down to a smaller nasal cannula. IMG_3981She saw Pippa’s first smile with us and celebrated when the girls no longer needed feeding tubes and were able to wear clothes. DSC05032She was there helping us pack everything up the very last day we were in NICU. As I drove away from the hospital, she was right out front waving goodbye to us.

This past weekend we were able to go to the NICU reunion hosted by the hospital. It was such a blessing to see all the girls’ nurses and they all loved seeing how the girls have grown and meeting the rest of our children.IMG_1214
Today our girls are happy, healthy six month olds who continue to keep us on our toes. They’re busy rolling over, giggling and stealing toys from each other, much to everyone’s amusement. They have quite a fan club with five adoring older brothers and sisters. We never imagined we’d be twin parents, but here we are. Oh, and that van…it had to go. We upgraded to a larger van this spring that can fit all our kids plus a double stroller plus a walker plus a wheelchair plus the kids port-a-potty and well, you get the idea…11-IMG-11

Snippets and Pretzel Making

Things here have been humming along at a rather rapid pace. This past weekend was one of the first we have had for quite sometime without any doctor’s appointments or loads of time spent on food preservation. Our weekend was simple and sweet. Laundry was entirely caught up (for about four hours) and Ryan had a nice bit of time to work on a new project. Friends came over for chili on Sunday. The whole weekend was just a lovely time of rest.

Check out some of these sweet photos Myla and Joshua took and edited on Saturday.IMG_0922.JPGIMG_0923.JPG IMG_0924.JPG
After being exclusively breastfed for six months, our twins dove into the world of solids this past weekend. They were super excited about food. So far their favorite thing seems to be avocados. I am so thankful we made it to the six-month mark with breastfeeding. I wasn’t sure how it would go nursing twins. It was definitely challenging and it seemed most days, especially early on, were spent nursing round the clock. I am really proud we made it this far. Hopefully with the introduction of solids, both girls will feel fuller for longer and will start sleeping for longer stretches at night too. One can hope, right?IMG_0917
I’ve been experimenting the past few days with pretzel making. Years ago I tried unsuccessfully to make pretzels at home from scratch. They were okay. I thought maybe one of those pretzels in a box kits would better so I bought one and tried it. They were also just okay. Neither option was stellar and I abandoned pretzel making. I hadn’t really thought much about it until a few days ago. I was originally going to attempt, for the first time ever, to make a Jelly Roll, but despite having 21 chickens, we didn’t have enough eggs to make the roll. I was in a rather eccentric, high-energy baking mood so I didn’t want to abandon my urge to create something delicious so I flipped through one of my favorite cookbooks until my eye caught the pretzel recipe. It didn’t need hours to rise and we had all the ingredients so we began to bake.

Years and years ago when I was in Salzburg I had a pretzel. It was nothing like anything I had ever eaten in America. It was crispy, deep golden brown on the outside and divinely soft on the inside. I had no idea how to create that crunch on the outside, while still keeping the middle soft. After a few days of experimenting and trying out various flavors, I think I’ve got two recipes that we are all nuts over, so much so that none of my kids really left my kitchen for hours anytime I (plus five helpers) was making pretzels. They kids all liked making their own individual pretzel shapes. I was really impressed with Ellie’s peapod pretzel. IMG_1116.JPGThey were in pretzel making and taste-testing heaven and wanted me to take their picture while they were munching. So, here are those pictures to go along with our family favorite recipes.IMG_0967.JPGIMG_0979.jpgIMG_0980.JPGIMG_0982 copy.jpgIMG_0972.JPG

Garlic Onion Pretzels*

Ingredients

2 cups warm water
yeast (around 2 ¾ tablespoons – this is around what would be in one packet of yeast)
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of onion powder
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
4 cups of flour
4 tablespoons of baking soda
Dried minced onion
Melted butter

First add sugar and yeast to two cups of warm water in a bowl. Let sit for five minutes or so until the yeast is happy (starting to foam up a bit). Then add onion powder, garlic powder, salt and flour. Mix in a kitchen aid mixer with a dough hook on medium speed for several minutes or knead thoroughly by hand. Cover with a cloth and let rise for 30 minutes. Prepare a pot on the stove of water (4-6 inches deep) and 4 tablespoons of baking soda. Bring to a boil. Once the dough is finished rising, dump it on the counter. Cut into even pieces. Try not to over work the dough. Roll into strips around 15 inches long or so (longer if you’d like a full-size pretzel shape). Shape into pretzel shape (or whatever shape you’d like). At this point it really is up to you how thick or thin you’d like the pretzels to be – just use whatever amount of dough you’d like to get the desired size/thickness of your shapes.

Drop the shaped pretzels one at a time into the boiling water/baking soda mixture on the stove for about five seconds. Remove and place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Top with a sprinkle of salt and a bit of minced, dried onion flakes to taste. Bake for 15-20 minutes until deep golden brown. Brush with melted butter once done. Best when eaten warm. (If not planning to eat right away, wait to top with melted butter mixture until ready to enjoy).IMG_0963.JPG

Coconut Pecan Pretzels*

Ingredients

2 cups warm water
yeast (around 2 ¾ tablespoons – this is around what would be in one packet of yeast)
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup of shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
4 cups of flour
4 tablespoons of baking soda
Melted butter plus 1 tablespoons of brown sugar

First add sugar and yeast to two cups of warm water in a bowl. Let sit for five minutes or so until the yeast is happy (starting to foam up a bit). Then add salt and flour. Mix in a kitchen aid mixer with a dough hook on medium speed for several minutes or knead thoroughly by hand. Towards the end of kneading add in pecans, coconut flakes and brown sugar. Cover with a cloth and let rise for 30 minutes. Prepare a pot on the stove of water (4-6 inches deep) and 4 tablespoons of baking soda. Bring to a boil. Once the dough is finished rising, dump it on the counter. Cut into even pieces. Try not to over work the dough. Roll into strips around 15 inches long or so (longer if you’d like a full-size pretzel shape). Shape into pretzel shape (or whatever shape you’d like). At this point it really is up to you how thick or thin you’d like the pretzels to be – just use whatever amount of dough you’d like to get the desired size/thickness of your shapes.

Drop the shaped pretzels one at a time into the boiling water/baking soda mixture on the stove for about five seconds. Remove and place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until deep golden brown. Brush with melted butter mixed with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar once done. Top with shredded coconut flakes. Best when eaten warm. (If not planning to eat right away, wait to top with melted butter/brown sugar mixture until ready to enjoy).IMG_1123.JPG

*Modified from Soft Pretzels recipe in The All New Good Housekeeping Cook Book (2001) edited by Susan Westmoreland

A Good Life

One of our children spent the first eight years of his life in an orphanage. We adopted him a little over a year ago when he was nine years old. One thing we have realized over the past year is just how much children learn by just being children in a family. Its incredible how much they pick up on just by being a part of a family. We didn’t realize the depth of this until we adopted our two sons.

We will be humming along as a family and then realize, wait, we need to back up and teach one or both boys about a concept or idea that we never consciously taught our girls.

This week we came across one of these “gaps”. Honestly, we realized it’s been a “gap” for a while but we were thinking with increased language acquisition and exposure to opportunities it’d be learned. Perhaps it would be learned with more time, but, nonetheless, today presented itself with a perfect teachable moment.

Joshua’s been attending public school this year for half-days. He has a one-on-one aid that helps him while he is at school. His aid shared with us yesterday how much everyone at school likes Joshua. No surprise there. Joshua is very social, easy-going and, come on- his smile is just the best.

This morning I decided it was time to have a discussion about people with Joshua. If you’ve adopted a child you may already know where I’m going with this. Children who have been adopted may display something called indiscrimate affection. The short version summary of this is that they bond with everyone- they’ll hug anyone, talk to anyone, go with anyone and don’t really have any boundaries. The theory behind this is, basically, because of their traumatic backgrounds they are not able to trust that their adoptive parents are really going to stick around so they need to win over anyone they come into contact with in case they need to find someone new to take care of them. While it might seem sweet to have a little one bond so quickly and seem so very loving to you if you are a new acquaintance to them, please know adoptive children need to know their new parents can be trusted. It’s always best to point the adoptive child back to their parents, particularly for all caretaking needs. This is vital, particularly in the first few months so the child/ren learn who their primary caretakers are, that they can be trusted and that they are not going to abandon them. That is the super quick, simplified version and I’m digressing. Here we go. Back on track.

While we were waiting for Joshua’s bus this morning, I asked him if he had any friends at school. “Oh yes! I know everybody at school Mom!” he replied. “Oh, but knowing everyone does not mean they are your friends.” I told him and then I launched into a discussion about different types of people in life- strangers, acquaintances, friends and family. The discussion ended with an encouragement to go to school and be a friend to someone. I gave him some examples of questions to ask like “What do you like to do?” or “Do you have any pets?” The bus arrived and he waved goodbye after promising he’d try to get to know just one person he’d like to know better. I went inside and had the same discussion with all the rest of our kids over breakfast. I figured I might as well cover the basics with everyone just in case. Even if they’ve heard it before (okay, yes, they’ve all heard it before but English for some of our children is still a work in progress so comprehension is, well, an entirely different matter for all of our children), a reminder is always good. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

Joshua got off the bus this afternoon and, never one to make lots of small talk- I jumped right to his task. “Who did you get to know today Joshua?” He told me all about his new friend and how she had a dog and two parrots. He was clearly pleased with himself. The matter dropped and we dove into our usual afternoon routine.

At dinner tonight we rehashed (ahem, reviewed) the conversation we had this morning about types of people and how to make friends. Joshua jumped right into the conversation. “Yeah I asked Mr. R if he has a rough life,” he announced. Mr. R is Joshua’s aid. I mentally reviewed our conversation from this morning wondering where the whole “rough life” part came from. “Oh really?” I asked. “Yeah…he said no.” Joshua answered nonchalantly. “Then Mr. R asked me if I had a rough life!” Joshua said as if he was shocked Ryan even asked the question. Ryan and I looked at each other across the table. “I said ‘no’” Joshua answered. “No?” I replied. “No. I have a good life.” Joshua announced. “I’m happy.” He said casually. “I did not have a good life before. But, now I have a good life. I am happy.” And then life went on. Dinner finished. The table was cleared. Life carried on. I sat there for a good little while, as life zipped along around me, thankful for the sweet gift that fell into our lap entirely unexpectedly at dinner with Joshua’s revelation.

There are days when we wonder if we’re doing anything right. Adopting two boys and then having twins soon after has been one humbling experience. Then, we find ourselves (usually unexpectedly and without doing anything of merit) in moments of such simple, raw beauty. Where we know we are exactly where we need to be. Doing exactly what God has given us to do.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

John 15:12-13

The Fails

This weekend I had two cooking fails. One redeemed itself and turned out splendidly and one turned out subpar.

If you remember from last post, we were quite backed up on our tomatoes. We had too many tomatoes and too little time. So, getting as many tomatoes preserved as we could was in the forefront of our mind for this weekend. I typically like to use a slow cooker tomato sauce recipe. The tomatoes cook for twelve hours (at least) with a mixture of onions, garlic and spices. The resulting sauce is delicious. Early Saturday morning, Ryan and I went up to the garden to pick the bulk of our remaining tomatoes. We quickly realized it’d take us days to use up all the tomatoes if we stuck with our usual slow-cooker sauce recipe. We knew we did not have enough time to make as many batches of slow-cooker sauce as we had tomatoes before the tomatoes spoiled. So we decided to try something new. Instapot tomato sauce. After some quick calculating we realized we could turn all the tomatoes we just picked into sauce after only sixty minutes of instapot cooking. We prepped all our tomatoes assembly-line style, with the help of the kiddos, and loaded the first batch in the Instapot. Thirty minutes later, round one was done. I opened the Instapot, grabbed my immersion blender and started blending. I noticed right away, the sauce was way too runny. The consistency just wouldn’t do. I sighed and thought I’d have to transfer the sauce to the stove to cook down to the consistency we preferred, a process that would most likely take hours. I cautiously tasted a spoonful of the botched sauce. For the first time ever, I added cocoa powder to the sauce after reading online it would add complexity to the sauce. I was curious how it tasted. I’d also just thrown in a smattering of my usual sauce ingredients, not really paying too much attention to measurements. Oregano. Thyme. Parsley. Salt. Pepper. Garlic. More Garlic. Tarragon. More Garlic. It was amazing. The texture was that of tomato soup and, on the spot, I announced we were going to just freeze it as is and use it as soup. Images of thick sourdough bread, toasted with Brie or Gouda cheese ran through my mind and all the sudden my sauce disaster seemed more like providence.I anxiously started to dump in all the ingredients for the next batch, hoping my fingers remembered just the right amount of each spice to replicate the batch we just made. Sure enough, we got a second large batch of scrumptious tomato soup. So, instead of a ton of sauce this year, we have a decent amount of sauce plus at least four meals of tomato soup for our family. Not bad. With the way the soup tasted, I’ll take that any day.

So, tomatoes are now done. Grapes are also done. We picked our grape vine clean and promptly turned the grapes into jam. Our family has already inhaled half a jar of jam. Homemade grape jam is utterly divine. As are cranberry pecan cookies. This brings me to the next fail.

The second fail of the week was not one I’d replicate again. We had friends coming over and I decided to make my absolute favorite cookie, cranberry-pecan, for the occasion. Everything was humming along beautifully until it was time to add the flour. Two cups went in just fine, but then, alas, I had no more flour. Somehow on my grocery list for the week, I’d not realized how perilously low we were on flour. Most of the kids were with Ryan at soccer practice. I had two choices. I could ask Ryan to go get more flour after the kids were done with soccer. Timing-wise this was a bit tricky because we were having friends over to enjoy the cookies. If I didn’t start baking the cookies until Ryan was home, there was a strong likelihood the twins would be awake from naps and cookies would be delayed (if not scrapped entirely). I had an entire bowl full of nearly ready to go batter. My other option was to improvise. I had two boxes of gluten-free baking mix in my pantry. It might work. I went with the second option. I measured out four cups of gluten-free mix and dumped it into the batter. It looked somewhat decent. After the tomato soup adventure, I had high hopes for my now half gluten, half gluten-free cookies. I popped the first batch in the oven, set the timer and waited (e.g. cleaned up the mess I just made of my kitchen). Twelve minutes later, I opened the oven. Disaster. An entire cookie sheet of flat dough glared at me. All the cookies fell flat, running into one another and making one giant flat blob. I pulled out the tray and walked away, hoping I’d come back in a few minutes and things would somehow be better. No such luck. I scraped the dough off the cookie sheet and decided to put another tray in. A baby was up and I knew I wouldn’t have another chance before friends came over to mix up a whole new batch of cookies.

The second tray went into the oven. I picked up baby number one from her nap and went into the living room when I heard whispers. Something was up. I peaked in the kitchen. Esther and Hudson were tiptoeing over to the pile of goo I’d scraped off my cookie sheet. “Shhh” Esther told Hudson before reaching over, grabbing a chunk of goo and darting out of the kitchen. Hudson was quick to follow with his own chunk. A few minutes later, they were back at it. I guess the cookies couldn’t be that bad. The timer beeped and I went to see if the next round turned out any better, noticing along the way that the most of the blob had disappeared. For the second round I had adjusted the size of the cookie dough balls, but that was about it. I opened the oven. Not awful. Still flat. I decided to leave them on the tray for a bit and then try to get them off. Bingo. They did taste slightly mealy from the gluten-free baking mix, but the overall flavor was good. “Mom! I love these! They taste like toffee!” one of my kid’s exclaimed after she returned from soccer practice.

After I wrapped my brain around the idea that these cookies would never be my beloved gooey, gluten-filled cranberry-pecan cookies, I started to enjoy my new cranberry-pecan crisps. I also wondered if I could get away with eating more of them because they were half-gluten. I’ve been avoiding gluten the past few months and so I’ve limited myself to only one cookie when I bake a batch of cookies. Surely, if these cookies are half-gluten I could splurge and eat two of them…or four…four is good, right?

Winding Down…sort of

It’s happened. We knew it would. The tomatocalypse of 2018 is here. It began around the same time as my phone died, the basement flooded, refrigerator fried, new PT schedule began (45 minutes away from home), a miscellaneous smattering of doctors/specialists appointments occurred, and a myriad of other various events transpired in our home making it quite difficult to actually walk up to the garden to pick the tomatoes. The result. We only have one batch of tomato sauce made so far and a whole lot of tomatoes still on the vine.

Ryan went up Sunday afternoon and picked all tomatoes that were in critical condition, meaning if they did not get picked, they’d rot. We all worked together to get them ready to go for sauce making Monday morning. Well, I should say we mostly all worked together. Esther bailed part way through to eat as many tomatoes as she could before we diced them up.Typically it takes me around two hours (including all interruptions by children) to get a batch of tomatoes ready for sauce making. Thankfully, since it was a team effort, we got the tomatoes ready to go in a half hour.Our refrigerator is up and running again. Thank God. By the end of the week and a half of being fridge-less, I just loaded money on J’s school account and told him to go crazy and buy school lunch. He was thrilled.

Tonight we are tackling the grapes and apples won’t be far behind.

As things wind down in the garden, we’ve been making notes about what we’d like to do differently next year. First, some friends of ours had a separate melon garden. What brilliance. Our melons always end up taking over our entire garden by the end of the summer. We are definitely stealing their idea for next year. Also, we’d like to grow more beets. For sure. Beets, once harvested, last forever. They are incredible roasted and are exquisite with goat cheese as an appetizer. We only planted a few this year because we were not sure how they would do and we did not want to waste square footage on a maybe crop. They flourished. So for next year they’ve earned additional square footage. You will probably find this hard to believe since we live in the Midwest, but we have yet to master growing corn. It’s a goal for next year. One way or another we need to figure it out.

We’ve managed to work out a daily school routine here that works well with the babies’ nap schedule. In case I haven’t shared this incredible news with you yet in person or on the phone or in an email, I’m announcing it now. The twins have a bedtime. They have a daily schedule. It’s fantastic. My evenings are back and I’ve even been able to go out shopping by myself (for fun things, not groceries- we still keep Instacart  very busy (here’s a link for $10 off Instacart if you are interested and decide to give it a try) and for coffee with friends (well, actually hot chocolate since I’m still off coffee thanks to the babies’ sensitive tummies). We love our little ladies, but my heavens, the first few months of twindom was something else.

Since our evenings are a little more open, we’ve even been talking about trying out a few new hobbies around here at night. We’re trying to figure out something that neither of us is very good at but are both interested in learning. Painting and/or drawing together is a solid “no”. Learning a new musical instrument is out since Ryan has a definite advantage over me in that area. We talked about working out together, but honestly the appeal of sweating together, after one of our busy days here, is not really there. So, we’ll see what we come up with once the dust settles from all our food preservation adventures and the garden is finally done for the year. If you have any ideas, feel free to pass them along!

Sufficient

Fall always seems to bring with it such promise. Promise of rest, promise of a fresh start, promise of a new season ripe with undiscovered treasures. I’m just about to restart my thankfulness journal. I did this several years ago. I’d write down at least one thing I was thankful for each and every day. I even posted whatever I wrote on my Facebook page. I’ll never forget the fall I started that habit. It was the fall my grandfather passed away unexpectedly and we also almost lost our daughter, who was four months old at the time. It took two hospital stays, several blood transfusions and multiple trips to the hospital each week over the course of two months for her to stabilize and fully recover. Somehow in all of that uncertainty and chaos, I wrote “Today I am thankful for…” day after day.

“Today I am thankful for many things. Most of all I am thankful to all of the people in the world who give blood. You saved my daughter’s life this weekend. Thank you.” (October 11, 2011).

The list goes on. I think I made it to around four hundred things I was thankful for from the time I started my list that June till when I stopped. This time around I’d really love to get to 1,000. I’d heard of this from a friend who’d gotten the idea from Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts.” I eventually borrowed the book from the library and inhaled it, slowly. I took time to write out all the parts I loved so I would remember them long after I returned the book. It remains one of my favorites and I eventually purchased it for our home library.

I’ve found that thankfulness multiplies. Even in the hard. The past two weeks here have been rather challenging and my spirit is aching for a season of refreshing and hope. Most of the time in life when things get rocky, I’ve realized it’s my own perspective that needs to change not the circumstance. So, I’m sensing in my spirit the need for reflection on all God has done and is doing in my own life and in our home.

We knew going in adoption is not an easy road. There are moments of joy, absolutely. We’re realizing, a year in, adoption is very much like a marathon. You see trauma isn’t just something that is worked through and then it goes away. It comes back. It has many layers. Fight or flight rears it’s ugly head whenever a child is stressed or uncertain. Things taught and comprehended are suddenly forgotten in a moment. Regression happens. Change to routine or the norm may result a kaleidoscope of behaviors long thought ended, usually bringing with them new challenges, exposing even more layers that need worked through. A year in is still so very little compared to the years our boys spent without a permanent family.

As we help each of our seven kids settle into our new normal for the school year, I’m resting in the promise that God’s grace is sufficient. We’ve got a whole mess of things going on this year, many of which are new. Some are rather intimidating. Roads we’ve never walked before. Let alone with seven kids. Even in all of the new, in all the challenge, in all of the hard, there’s still reason to thank. Reason for joy. I’m determined to find it. To note it. To not just get through, but to keep His goodness always on my lips and on the forefront of my mind. To rest in His grace. Knowing, full well that it is enough.

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore I will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Foggy Days

The fog rolled in thick overnight. Our entire property is covered in its haze. Fall is not far. It will usher in a whole new season for our family. This week we’ve been busy preparing. Schoolbooks were delivered this week. Supplies purchased. Activities registered. Our new school year is just weeks away. Days if you ask our kids. They were ready to start as soon as the first box of freshly printed schoolbooks arrived.

I’m hesitant to get back to the grind. I wonder if everyone is ready after our somewhat chaotic spring and summer welcoming the twins to our family. Last fall’s grueling therapy schedule coupled with an overabundance of doctor’s appointments is fresh in my mind. I dislike out-of-the house busy. I cherish time to be with our kids, one-on-one. As our family has grown, this time is even more precious. I find myself greedy to sit with them and know their hearts. Our first littles have so quickly turned into our bigs and my heart knows time will fly away faster than ever. Before we know it, our mini-littles, the ones who spent six weeks in NICU, will be ready for school too.

We had several doctor’s appointments this week. I don’t usually book appointments for a solid week straight, but there was just no way around it this time. New specialists and therapists we’ve waited a year to see finally got us in so off we went. Summer and our brief respite from all things medical is ending.

As has become the norm at doctor’s appointments over the past year, we were met with unexpected news. Doctors think one of Joshua’s prior surgeries was not done correctly. This makes two surgeries that may have brought harm instead of healing. There’s no repair. More therapies are in order, but it’s anyone’s best guess what the future holds, particularly since puberty is just on the horizon.

One of the first things we were told by specialists is whatever mobility is achieved by puberty is, most likely, it. At puberty, things plateau for boys like Joshua, and it’s a challenge even to maintain whatever mobility is achieved. It’s not unusual for things to go backwards as their bodies struggle to maneuver and carry all the extra man-cub height and weight they gain during that season. We are racing time.

It was a sober ride home from the doctor. I suppose that is an understatement. I felt sick. Our boy has enough going on without adding, not just one, but TWO, botched surgeries. Grief and anger hovered as my Momma bear protective instincts took over, mentally roaring at those who harmed my child.

It took two days before I felt I could breathe normal again. Sure, I functioned, but perspective was nowhere to be found. I was grieving hard. A stolen future is hard to reconcile when it’s permanently altered by a knife in a stranger’s hand.

We are not entirely sure what the future holds. It’s taken me a few hard days to to admit that it is okay. We don’t need to know. Over the past few hazy days here, the Lord’s impressed on my heart to love faithfully- thoroughly. Loving a person exactly where they are can be challenging at times. I’ve found myself wanting to make plans and predictions and goals- to somehow make things better, more normal. But, that is not what is needed.

Love is patient*. Even when a child struggles over and over and over with the same thing. Love is kind*. Even when a child has no idea how to receive or reciprocate. Love always protects*. Even if a child does not realize he or she needs protected. Love always trusts*, even when the path is windy, dark and the only clear direction is to just take one step at a time. Love always hopes*, always perseveres* through unexpected news, through grief that rolls in thick as the fog around our land. Love never fails*. Of this we are sure.

*Excerpts from 1 Corinthians 13:4, 7 & 8)

A Year In: Grit and Glory

This has been a year of grit. Of going to battle for our boys. Of clutching onto grace and walking one step at a time on water all the while fervently praying we don’t sink. It’s been one of the most challenging years and also one of the most awe-inspiring. We’ve been carried by the prayers of many and helped by saints near and far in more ways than we could have ever imagined. God has never led us to something and not made a way.

July 10, 2017. The day we met our boys for the very first time. We were so excited and so very nervous. It was the kind of nervous excitement that makes you puke. We were about to meet two boys we’d signed up to parent for the long haul.

We were met that day with two very different boys. One was bouncing off the walls with excitement and belting “we will, we will rock you” at the top of his lungs.Meeting HudsonThe other was pasty pale. Nauseous from his journey to us and his body, so much smaller than we ever imagined, hinted of trauma. He walked to us that day through crystal clear doors, cane in hand, barely able to stand. He made it through and into our arms before my husband scooped him up and carried him over to the couches to rest. We wondered how long it would take for him to trust us. For him to know he was safe. For him to know he has a place and is so very loved. We wondered how long it would take to see the boy inside, not just the smile he flashed everyone. He had no idea how to even hug. Eight years in an institution will do that.DSC01042The next day we stamped our thumbs red and signed all the documents, we swore these boys would be our sons.So began the journey of getting to know our boys. This first year we’ve been navigating waters we’ve never been in before. From various therapies to learning how to get around town with gear to learning the ins and outs of each boys’ personalities and needs, it’s been a year of learning for all of us.

It’s been gritty as we’ve worked through various behaviors associated with trauma and institutionalization and gone to doctors visit after doctor’s visit hearing wonderful news at times, hearing devastating news other times. It’s been glorious as we’ve watched the boys learn to trust us, open up and settle into being a part of our family- To watch the boys’ walk, ride bikes and laugh deep belly laughs.

It’s been filled with soaring highs and the darkest lows. Sometimes all in one day. All in one hour. Some days hour after hour. This awkward dance has brought us to our knees time and again. But God is faithful. Over. And. Over. And. Over. Again. And so we dance. We spin and waltz and see beauty emerging from hard places.

These are our sons and they are loved. Mightily. They’ve begun the hard process of learning to trust. Of knowing what it is to be in a family. The changes we’ve seen in their lives are nothing short of miraculous. Family will do that. God will do that.

Both boys are a tremendous gift. They’ve brought us to the one who holds their future time and again and we’ve found him faithful. In all things. Faithful.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Joshua and Hudson 2018

Making Beautiful

This weekend we fell into a project, as is the norm in our house. There is a section in one of our gardens that is filled with ground cover. Completely covered. There are no flowers. No shrubs. No vegetables. Just flat ground cover. In my mind, if it’s on our property, it needs to be edible, useful or pretty. Like everything else in life, it’s a work in progress. I digress.

We’ve been meaning to clear out that bed ever since we bought the house, but we weren’t really sure what to put in it so we delayed. Flat ground cover was better than an empty bed so there it sat until one day we decided we need to venture into the world of roses. We’ve done peonies (my favorite), hydrangea, lilacs, various shrubs and all sorts of bulb flowers, but never roses. I thought they may look lovely under the giant oak that graces our front lawn and so we got a single white rose-bush on our anniversary to see how it would do under the tree.

This weekend, I stumbled across a jaw-dropping, turn the car around clearance on rose bushes and so I shot off a “please don’t kill me” text to Ryan and bought several rose bushes for the not-so-pretty garden bed. I insisted, of course, he come out in complete darkness to see my steal of a deal when I got home. He was impressed. I felt a bit guilty because my steal dramatically increased the amount of things he had to do this weekend. Roses that die because they never made it into the ground aren’t really that much of a steal after all. The pesky bed was laughing at me. I’m rather short on uninterrupted time these days, as is Ryan. However, it was time. The plain ground cover had to go.

I eventually found a pocket of time this weekend and set out to get it done. The ground cover’s roots went into the ground and into each other. The whole thing was one giant web and I was mildly worried there’d be a snake hiding under all of it. As I was pulling out fistfuls of roots, woven to and fro around the entire bed, it reminded me of sin and what a mess it makes of my heart. I wanted to plant beautiful roses in this bed but the reality was it was filled with thick, gross gunk. Rotting leaves and sticks were hiding under the ground cover. White spiders were roaming around under there. I have no idea if this is accurate or not, but my imagination kept telling me they were white because they’d never seen the light of day. Albino spiders. Ew.

Sin. So often when I purpose to do something beautiful, it is overtaken by sin – or maybe it just exposes what’s been there all along. Kinda like how when we bought the rose bushes, all the sudden we saw how much we needed to get that ground cover out.

I often think of sin as the things on surface- the ones that are evident. Lying. Stealing. Gossiping. Similar to the leaves on top of the ground cover. But, really, I think it’s more like what’s underneath. The twisty-interconnected roots that run deep and I could pull and pull, but it just keeps going and going and going. I often don’t see or choose to ignore so many of these things. Indeed I need a Gardener to come alongside and expose them and somehow extract them out of my life without pulling out the good- the things He’s planted.

I was nearly done pulling everything out when I noticed that some of the ground cover had started to grow right in the bark of the mighty oak. The nerve. So like sin. It may start out so very small – a cute, tiny plant at a garden shop- and then before we know it burrows and multiplies in the mighty strongholds and foundations of our faith.

Ryan and I are the only ones really who care what is in our garden bed. We are tearing it apart and making it beautiful because we want to. After my mini-life lesson while pulling out weed (ahem, ground cover) after weed, I stood up covered in mud and mosquito bites, so thankful I’m not the master gardener of my heart. I may never look beneath those outer leaves if left to my own devices. My own heart is a disaster at times (okay, most of the time) and how tenderly he cares for it. How graciously he prunes and pulls, shapes and stakes those plants that need a little more help to stand strong and turn towards the sun. I may cringe a bit when those leaves are pulled back and He begins to work, but in the end, he is making beautiful.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a)

Running to Joshua

Two years ago to the date we sent a letter to China declaring our intent to adopt Joshua. The journey to Joshua was not an easy one but God was faithful to guide and direct our paths to Joshua in his perfect timing. During our adoption journey, I blogged on our fundraising website. So, in honor of hitting the two year mark, I’m stealing and reposting here our original post where we share the news about deciding to adopt Joshua. We are so thankful he is home.

An Open Hands Story – July 1, 2016

How do we even begin to tell this story? How can we explain the ways the Lord changed our hearts these past few months? How do we explain how all the roadblocks and delays turned into a divine appointment to see just the right picture at the exact right moment in time? There are so many details and so many things that have happened these past few months. We are sure we’ve left something out, but alas, let us begin our story. This is a story about open hands, tear-streaked faces and a God who so faithfully guides our path.

A few months ago our adoption doctor told us that some families just see a picture of a waiting child and know that it is their child. His words stuck in our minds. We must not be one of those families, we thought. We had scrolled through many children during our waiting while waiting season. That’s why we are adopting from Uganda we rationalized. We don’t get to choose. Our agency calls us with a child/ren they’ve identified for our family and then we run with it.

In March, the Parliament of Uganda passed a bill that would make international adoption from Uganda much more difficult, if not impossible. The bill would become law if the President decided to sign it, but no one knew at that point what would happen. He may sign it. He may not. He may send it back for revisions. So we began the waiting (to hear about the law) while waiting (to be matched with a child/ren in Uganda) phase. Our adoption agency recommended we look at other country’s adoption programs and identify a back up. We opted for Poland since it was one of the only other programs our agency had for which we met all the requirements. At our agency’s urging, we signed up to get notifications for waiting children in Poland since we had not yet been matched with any children in Uganda. Somehow we also ended up getting notifications for waiting children in China as well. Strange, we thought, we don’t want to adopt from China. We don’t even qualify for the China program.

While we were in our season of waiting while waiting (March to end of May), our hearts slowly began to change. Before then, we’d been set on Uganda. When Ryan and I first met in 2003, we both had a burden for orphans in Uganda because of the poverty and unrest there. We’d heard devastating stories of children and it broke our hearts. In 2014, when we felt led to start our adoption journey, we decided to pursue adopting from Uganda. However, after we started to see all the children who were sitting on lists around the world just waiting to be adopted, our hearts began to break for them as well. Some of the children had been waiting for years. Most of the children had pretty major special needs. We thought back to when our social worker was sitting at our dining room table in New York and asked us what special needs we were open to. We took a look around at our three little ladies under age six and replied back, “Um. Minor ones.” In our minds, we would be adopting two toddlers from Uganda suffering from malnourishment. We wanted to adopt from Uganda. We wanted mostly healthy children. We want. We want…we had it all worked it all out in our minds…

The conversations we had with our social worker about special needs replayed in our minds as we saw the waiting children. When we’d started this process, we didn’t want it to be about us. In the “about us” section on our application to adopt we’d written: “It’s a joy to open our hearts and home and serve the Lord wherever He guides.” This entire journey we’d wanted to have open hands with whatever God had for us, but we were in limbo, waiting. We started to wonder if maybe God had a different plan than the one we had imagined in our minds, but we hadn’t felt led to leave Uganda. There was no clear closed door yet and no clear direction to leave.

We had a lot of discussions during this time in limbo, and, kept coming back to the basics of the reasons why we wanted to adopt. We wanted to provide a loving home and family to a child who had none. Why did we feel led to adopt a child internationally? We wanted to bring a child to America who may not have access to things, such as medical care, in their own country. Because of our experience nearly losing our middle daughter when she was a baby, hospitals are not as terrifying for us. We know God carries us through the hard moments and so we knew if God led us to a child with special needs, he would be right there with us. Our hearts were shifting…Maybe Uganda was just our jumping off point and all the roadblocks and setbacks during this process was to lead us to a child at just the right time. We kept telling ourselves, “open hands”. Open hands. Open hands. We still had no clear direction. We were just waiting to see what God was going to do.

April 14, the most beautiful smile we had ever seen came across the China waiting child page. We don’t qualify for China we thought to ourselves and this child is major special needs. We can’t do major special needs right now. We wrote it off. All day that day, people who had met this child when they had traveled to China to adopt their own children kept commenting on the listing. A waiting child listing may get one or two comments about how cute a child is and requests for more information, but that’s usually about it. Lots of comments on a post are pretty rare. Seven days later, more comments on the child’s listing. Our interest was piqued. Who was this child? Nine days after the original listing, even more comments showed up, “I couldn’t help thinking about J. For anyone who is open to adopting an older child, this little J is a gem. I hope a family finds J soon.” And “I completely agree. I pray daily that this child’s family sees J”. We had never seen a listing get so many comments. Crazy, we thought. Surely, J’s forever family would see the listing soon. And, we went back to waiting.

May came. The President hadn’t signed the bill. We still had no clear direction one way or another. So, we stayed put, waiting. May 18, we saw J’s picture again. This time it was featured on a write up about a particular special need. The write up was on our agency’s page and then on another larger adoption site too. “What is up with this child?” we thought to ourselves. Why do we keep seeing J everywhere? Why can’t we get J out of our minds? Curious about J’s need, we clicked on the article. We were surprised. The article shared a lot of information about J’s need and it didn’t overwhelm us at all. In fact, we could see it working out pretty well. The next day our hearts were in pieces as we read, “Oh, how I hope the right mama sees this precious child!” in the comments section and “J’s smile lights up the room”. Yes, that smile, we thought. It does light up the room.

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First picture we ever saw of Joshua.

Two weeks later, we piled all of our kiddos in the car and headed back East to visit family. First stop was a water park. The kiddos loved it. It was noisy and bright and had all sorts of excitement for our little ones and, in all the chaos, we got word that the Ugandan President signed the bill. It would become law. Our hearts sank. It was done. We mourned the entire fifteen hours back to Illinois in between the many potty and Starbucks stops. We saw J’s face again on the way home. We re-read all about J’s special need, and dared to talk about maybe, just maybe J could join our family. There was only one glaring large obstacle. We didn’t know if we qualified for China. When we started the process, we didn’t think so, but maybe, just maybe we did now. The next day we called our agency. We filled out more paperwork and sent it in to find out if it was even possible for us to switch. We found out later that day, we qualified. We were ecstatic. Did we want to see J’s file? Did we want to talk to someone who has met J? Yes. Yes. We were nervous. Excited, but also terrified to know more, lest it turn into yet another closed door.

That evening we talked to a Momma who had met J a year before and had been praying for him ever since. For a solid year, she’d asked everyone she knew if they wanted to adopt J. She had convinced our agency to put J on their waiting child list and in April they did. She had been praying the right family would see it. This Momma had just gotten back from a second trip to China to adopt their second kiddo and had gotten to see J again while she was there. She excitedly told us all about J. The smile. The personality. The story. J wants a family. J wants to come to America. J wants to walk. No other family has even asked for J’s files. The people at the orphanage are telling J, if J wants to be adopted, J must walk. So, J practiced. And practiced. And practiced. J just started using a cane. J is nervous and wobbly, but determined to walk. We wanted to know more about this happy child she described and anxiously awaited J’s files.

The day after we talked on the phone with this momma who had been praying and praying for J, we found out Uganda may not be a closed door after all. There was a chance we could still continue there if we wanted. We were stumped. That evening, on Wed., June 1, we got J’s files. We sat at our computer and cried huge tears. J was beautiful. All the waiting, all the setbacks, all the delays brought us to this place- staring at the picture and videos of this breathtaking child with a smile that melted our hearts and courage- oh, my. Courage, resilience and such perseverance radiated from J. We knew. We were going after J. 

We didn’t know how it was all going to work out. We still didn’t have clear direction to leave Uganda. If Uganda was still a possibility should we leave? All our paperwork for Uganda was done. Since there was a chance we could travel quickly to Uganda, should we adopt from Uganda first and then go after J? We had no answers. We had discussion after discussion with each other and with our agency as we prayed for direction. We sent J’s file to our adoption doctor, thinking maybe there was another special need that maybe they didn’t include in J’s file. Maybe the doctor would advise against adopting J. He seemed like a grouch when we’d talked to him in March. He probably only recommends adopting healthy kids, we thought to ourselves. Instead, on Father’s Day morning, we read, “…I love J’s smile. J seems like a survivor, who strives to overcome, and that is also good…J looks like a child you can help grow into a great adult.” We were shocked. Amazed. Overjoyed.

A week and a half later, we got the clear direction we’d been so desperately praying for. Crystal clear direction. Leave Uganda. Go after J. We called our agency the next day. On June 24, 2016 we made the switch to China. China. Wow. We are going to CHINA!!!! Our minds were blown and peace, such precious peace, flooded our hearts and minds. There just aren’t words to describe how crazy excited we are to be adopting J. We are beyond thrilled, completely blown away, and we cannot wait for you to meet this little person.

Since we made the call to switch, God has been opening such doors for J. A day after making the switch, were able to talk to a specialist who came up with a treatment plan for J. We wrote our letter of intent to adopt J and sent it off to China. IMG_4338We were able to update all our documents for our home study in a week (that’s a huge pile of paperwork and five doctors visits in case you are wondering)! We have to have another visit with our social worker and then our agency will be able to update the home study for China. We are still around nine months away from being able to travel, but we are hoping and praying doors continue to open for us to go to China sooner. J has been waiting for several years and will wait a few more months until we are actually able to bring J home.

We started out in Uganda, because we thought that’s where the greatest need was, but two delays, one roadblock and much soul-searching later, we realized that our heart is not to adopt from Uganda. It’s not to adopt from Poland. It’s not to adopt from China. It’s to adopt wherever God makes a way and to adopt who ever it is God leads us to. And, on June 1, 2016 God led us right there. All the road blocks, all the setbacks and delays all orchestrated by divine hands to lead us to see the face of a beautiful child in a land we didn’t even think we could adopt from. A face that is older than we would have ever searched for if we had started out in or switched to China. This story unfolded just the right way and in just the right timing for us to see J. We are so thankful we did not switch countries any sooner or any later. It all happened at just the right time. Open hands. Open hearts. Here we go.

 So, with tear-streaked faces, but overjoyed hearts, we must write:

Dear Uganda. Thank you for being our jumping off point. Thank you for helping us see just how desperate the plight is for so many children around the world. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to grow in patience and trust. Thank you for teaching us to leap.

The time has come for us to part ways and take another huge step of faith in a different direction. There is a little child in China who desperately wants to come to America. J is asking for a family. So sweet Uganda, it is finally time in our journey for us to run. J is not able to run to us, so we choose to run to J. Arms open to whatever the future may hold. To run confidently and boldly where we have been led.

Dearest Uganda our paths are going a different way. Your amendment bill is a wonderful thing for the children of Uganda in so many ways, but we have been led on a different path away from your red soil. Maybe one day we will finally be able to meet, but this is not the season for us. Take care of those precious little ones. Put agencies and laws and people in place to protect them. We cheer for you. We cry for you. As we part ways, we know you were our inspiration on this journey and though the finish line will not be on your soil, it will still make a difference. It will still forever alter the life of at least one little child, for it was this journey towards your soil that God used to ultimately lead us to J.

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Gotcha day July 11, 2017

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

If you’re interested in the behind the scenes story from Joshua’s other momma – the one who prayed and prayed for a family for him – you can read about it here:

Not Alone

It was a crazy, fun day. We had Buddy Break in the morning, one of our family favorites. Buddy Break is a ministry at our church for families with kids with special needs. The kids love it because they get to spend three hours one on one with a buddy doing awesome things like making crafts or exploring a police car. Us parents love it because we get a bit of rest for three hours and it’s free. The first time we participated in Buddy Break, we walked out of the building after dropping our five kids off, sat in the car and cried happy tears. We’d just found out we were pregnant with twins and had only gotten home with our sons just a few short months before. It all seemed so very overwhelming.

We felt incredibly loved when we walked through the doors at Buddy Break the first time. The director knew our family as soon as we came through the door and knew each of our kids’ names without ever having met them before. Admittedly we are our own crowd when we go anywhere all together so it’s not too hard to figure out who we are, but knowing each of our kids names having never met them before?! How cool is that?!!! Also, since it’s a ministry specifically for families with special needs we knew no one would be freaked out by any of special-ness of our kiddos. In short, they get it. All the families there get it. They’re living it right alongside us and there is just something about seeing, in person, that you aren’t the only ones.

That very first Buddy Break, we went out for breakfast. It was the first time since China that we’d had a date and I was so nauseous from being pregnant that I could barely eat anything. Which I was rather upset about because the food looked uh-mazing. We found out our waitress had also had twins and she assured us that we’d survive. I was skeptical, particularly since the nauseousness I experienced while pregnant with the twins was significantly worse than anything I had ever experienced with our singletons. We left the restaurant and went home for a bit. The house was eerily quiet without any kids. Silent. My husband and I rushed around doing some deep cleaning before leaving to pick up

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Look at those smiles after their first time at Buddy Break!

our kids. When we picked them up, they were glowing. Radiating. The girls all had their hair done fancy. The boys’ faces were painted. They were bursting with excitement to tell us all about what they did and show us their crafts.

Fast forward to this past weekend. The twins in hand, we went to breakfast again after dropping off the other kiddos at Buddy Break. This time around we were celebrating our anniversary. Breakfast was delicious. The twins slept through the entire thing, which was nothing short of a miracle. We left refreshed and went to get our other kiddos. The rest of the afternoon we played outside in the sprinkler and then followed it up with a movie date with Dad for a few of the big kids and an at home movie date with mom for the other kiddos.

I decided to make popcorn right before starting the movie. I went into the kitchen and started to pull out the supplies. Popcorn. Popcorn maker. Butter. Salt. Large bowl.

Esther and Hudson marched into the room. “Mom we are going to help you so you don’t do it all alone,” Esther announced. They worked on lining up all the small bowls in a neat little row, all the while giggling in anticipation of the very first “pop”. As the popcorn began to pour out of the popcorn maker and into the big bowl, their giggles turned to outright belly laughs. The afternoon went on and the laughter continued during the silly movie we watched together.

One of my favorite things about having a large family is there is always someone. Always someone to play with. Always someone to talk to. Always someone to do life with. We are a tribe. Ryan, I and all these littles. I was so blessed by Esther’s comment. We tell our kids over and over “We are a team. We help each other. We stick together.” and it was so encouraging to see it clicking in her little mind. Of all the lessons to learn in life, this is a pretty good one.

Of Camps and Frogs

This is the first week of Joshua’s English Language Learners camp. He was incredibly excited about it. Joshua never received any type of formal schooling in China because of his cerebral palsy diagnosis. He’s made significant progress with learning to speak, write and read English this first year home during our time homeschooling. We are so proud of him and his hard work and hope he has a great few weeks continuing to sharpen his English skills.

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It’s been sweet to see just how much all the kiddos have bonded this past year, made more noticeable by him leaving for camp for a few hours each day.

He had his own entourage the first day seeing him off and welcoming him home. Everyone was counting down the hours till he was home and eagerly listened to him tell about his day at lunch. Everyone had lots of questions.

IMG_6297Our garden is growing quickly thanks to a ton of rain we’ve had here lately. We’ve spied baby fruits and veggies making their grand appearances and even enjoyed a few strawberries already.

Esther continues to adore frogs and carries them around with her all day long whenever she spots one. IMG_6303She told me today that her frog was “a very good pet” and asked me “isn’t he pretty?” Not exactly the word I would have chosen to describe the very large toad she had, but I love that she loves all creatures great and IMG_6318small.

Our newest chickens have acclimated well to the outdoors. Well, except for the white silkies. With all the rain they’re looking a bit out of sorts. They do enjoy being outside roaming around, but their fluffy white plumes just don’t agree with all the mud. IMG_6323We should be back up to getting a dozen or more eggs a day in the next month or two, which will be wonderful. Just about all our kids LOVE eggs and it’s a fantastic snack to just have a bunch of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge, ready to go.

We’ve been enjoying the slower pace of summer now that the garden is in and we’ve finished up our textbook schooling for the year. Things will pick up again once all the fruits and veggies start to come in, but for now we are savoring the waiting, catching up on our rest and getting in lots of playtime.

An End to Far Too Long

It’s been awhile. Two years to be exact since I blogged here last. I realized the other day it has been far too long.

Much has happened during the “far too long season”. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. We went from a family of five to a family of nine in less than a year thanks to bringing home our two boys from China and the recent birth of our twin girls.

Last weekend we had newborn pictures taken of our twins and as I was sitting there watching the photographer work her magic to ensure each pose turned out exactly how she wanted it, I realized I miss creative expression. In all the craziness of international adoption (two and a half year long process), moving to a new state, adjusting to life with two new children, doing life pregnant with twins, having the twins early and all the craziness of their six week NICU stay, and finally re-adjusting to life with twins once they were discharged from the hospital, I haven’t had much time for writing anything besides in my journal and even that’s been a bit sporadic. The thoughts have been there but the time to write it all out has been rather limited. I love blogging because it’s sort of like a digital scrapbook. I’m terrible at paper scrapbooking, but I can do the written kind.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to write, but I’m hoping to get back in the habit as we do life with our seven kiddos. I love sharing what God is up to in our lives and I love being able to look back and see his fingerprints.

So here we go…

Let’s start with summer. It’s close. So close I can almost taste the freshly picked strawberries. We put in our garden last weekend. By that I mean, Ryan put in the garden, with the kids help, while I supervised the twins in their stroller and acted as a consultant for where to put everything. This year we will be growing: kale (of course!), beets, broccolini, cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, green onions, cantaloupe, sweet peas, cucumbers and brussel sprouts. All of this in addition to apples, grapes, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries, our beloved plants that return year after year. When we moved here, there were already several apple and pear trees, along with a well-established grape vine.

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Aren’t these baby grapes growing along our fence the cutest?

Year by year, we’ve added a few new plants here and there. I would love it if we eventually had enough berries growing around our property to make a few batches of jam to go with the grape jam I usually make from our vine. We are most likely a few years away from reaching that goal, but hopefully we will get their one day. This year it is looking like we will get a ton of grapes! The vine is already covered with itty-bitty grapes. I cannot wait for them to come in!

How to Meal Plan

Over the years meal planning has been one of my most time, money and sanity saving practices. Time is saved by my only needing to go grocery shopping once a week. I also do not have to plan/think about what we are having for meals on a daily basis. Early on, in my living on my own days, I found if I had to make a quick run into the store for even one item, I invariably came out with additional items I was not planning on purchasing. Meal planning allows me to minimize trips to the store. Additionally, by planning out meals far enough in advance, I am able to identify items that can be bought in bulk, which is often cheaper.

Even though I have to take a bit of time to sit down and write out a meal plan, it is much better than fretting every day (or few days) about what to make for dinner. My sanity suffers little to none when all I need to do (besides prepare the meals) is look at our calendar and follow the schedule I’ve already come up with using ingredients I’ve already bought.

Here are some basic steps that I use when creating a meal plan:

1. (This step I usually only do every few months or so) Make a list of things you buy on a regular basis that are non-perishable (or can be frozen, as in the case of meat, etc.). I call these my staples and includes such things as: toilet paper, paper towels, dried beans, Rapadura, coconut oil, etc. Track the quantities you are buying and how quickly the items are consumed. Identify whether or not you would save time, money, and/or sanity by buying in bulk for at least a one month’s supply.

2. Buy a calendar (or use some other handy, dandy organizational tool) and decide how long of a meal plan you would like to create. We use a regular wall calendar. We write in our schedules (appointments, etc.) on the calendar as well so everything is in one place and easy to reference. Our calendar hangs on our kitchen wall. We plan our meals in one month increments.

3. Start filling in your dates with meals! I typically have one breakfast and snack food per week that lasts the entire week. Sometimes I’ll plan a weekly dessert as well. Then, lunches during the week are leftovers or a choice of several staple lunch items that I keep on hand at all times, such as tuna, peanut butter, etc. or fresh fruit/veggies that we’ve got on hand. So dinner is really the only meal that requires extensive planning. So, my planned week may look like this (except written in the boxes on our calendar):

Jan. 30-Feb. 5

Weekly breakfast: Oatmeal with fresh fruit

Weekly snack: Nutriblobs

Weekly dessert: Homemade icecream, chocolate chip cookies

Jan 30: Baked salmon, rice and beans, roasted beets and carrots

Jan. 31: Homemade chicken noodle soup with homemade sourdough bread

Feb. 1: Rosemary chuck roast, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts

Feb. 2: Salad with grilled chicken

Feb. 3: Pan-seared pork chops, mashed delica squash, cauliflower

Feb. 4: Bacon, Avocado, Tomato sandwiches on homemade sourdough with salad

Feb. 5: Tacos (homemade tortillas, tomatoes, lettuce) with beans and rice, left over veggies

4. After you have come up with meals, write out a shopping list for each week. Some people may prefer to look at grocery store ads first and then come up with meals based on what is on sale. We get a month’s supply of meat (we’re part of a meat CSA) delivered to our home once per month. Once the meat is delivered, I develop a meal plan around the different meats we receive. Then, come up with my shopping list based on the meals I’ve planned. If you like the idea of having all the meat you need for an entire month, try buying meat in larger quantities and freezing it. Then, keep a list of your meat supply and use it for meal planning.

Other helpful tips and ideas:

  • I keep a shopping list for each week on a separate piece of paper (in my weekly to-do list notebook for easy reference) and then add to it throughout the week.
  • If I plan to use a recipe that I do not have memorized already, I write down the page number and recipe book initials next to the item on my meal plan. So, it would look like this, “Rosemary Chuck Roast, p. 42., GFC.” This way, I’m not scrounging to find a recipe when I go to make dinner. I know exactly where to find it.
  • If any recipe requires prep work before the day you are going to be making the meal, write whatever prep work (feeding sourdough, marinating meat, etc.) that is required on the calendar day that the prep work should be done. So, if you are planning to have fresh sourdough bread for dinner on Tuesday, the sourdough starter must be fed the day before. So, I would write Monday’s date, “feed sourdough”.
  • Try to have meals correspond with your schedules. For instance, I know that by the time Friday night rolls around, I am going to be exhausted and not feel like cooking. So, I usually plan a lighter meal for Friday nights, such as BATs (bacon, avocado, tomato sandwiches).
  • I find it useful to find a quiet moment in a day, sit down and surround myself with cookbooks and do all my meal planning at once. Most people think and plan better if they are able to focus on the task at hand and not have to deal with interruptions. I’ve found it takes me less time when I set aside a chunk of time and concentrate on meal planning, than if I try to meal plan in the midst of my daily activities.

So, there is my meal planning method. If you find it overwhelming or confusing, I encourage you to develop your own method that works best for you and stick to it. The more you do it, the quicker you will become and the easier it will be for you. I have been using this method now for five years. You can also start small. I used to only plan for one week’s worth of meals when I first lived on my own. I gradually increased my planning to a month’s worth of meals (even before we joined our meat CSA) merely to save money and reduce the number of trips I was taking to the grocery store. Now I plan our meals in one month increments. I go to a grocery store once a week on Friday, mainly for perishable items, such as fruit, which is not available at our farmer’s market during the winter. I also go to a local farm on Fridays and get our week’s supply of milk. Then, Saturday mornings our family heads to the farmer’s market for the rest of our groceries and to have fun together. I do admit I buy a fair share of non-perishable items in bulk online at either Alice.com or Amazon.com merely because I can get things cheaper there (and often with free shipping) than in our local stores.

If you have any other meal planning tips or suggestions, I’d love to hear them! There are so many different methods of meal planning out there, it really is all about discovering and/or developing a method that works best for you and your family.

Happy planning!

*This post is shared on Monday Mania and Raising Homemakers.

Monday Night Mash Up

It’s Monday night here and the first chance I’ve had in a week to sit down and write much of anything.

We got our first taste of our new normal last week – and then some. Overall, it went okay. It helped I kept my expectations relatively low for the week. I didn’t plan a lot of “work” for the four-year olds, because, well, they are four. I knew they were SO crazy excited about starting “school” that it’d be hard for them to focus on much of anything. Just as I suspected, they were bouncing off the walls the first two days. We did a few crafts with their new supplies and they were tickled silly over the whole thing. We took a field trip to the garden on an ABC scavenger hunt and found a stunning spider web along the way. The big girls completed their school work in record time and were asking for more all week. Turns out they missed school. IMG_0195.jpgOur school week was mildly interrupted midweek when a storm came through our area and we lost power in the middle of the night. The power stayed off for over ten hours. Since it was the middle of the night when it went out, we didn’t get the generator on right away. This meant the sump pump had no power for around an hour or two and the basement flooded. The night turned into a comedy of errors. We got the generator hooked up, but it wouldn’t power the whole house (unlike other times when it powered everything just fine). It would only work if we plugged things into the generator outlets. So Ryan ended up drilling holes around our house at one in the morning to run the power cord down for the sump pump to prevent the basement from flooding further.

We stayed up the rest of the night getting the water out of the basement and making sure the sump pump continued to work through the downpour. Once power was restored we realized our refrigerator was fried. That turned into its own fiasco. The end result is we have no upstairs fridge or freezer till later this week (and that’s an improvement from the two-week timeframe we were originally told). It’s a rather large bummer. We’re praying the part the technician ordered comes soon.

In the meantime, we moved all our upstairs freezer foods to the basement freezer. We packed the upstairs fridge with ice and ate as much of the food out of it as we could. It’s taken some creative planning, but so far we’ve not had to throw away any food.

Our garden is winding down for the season. We’ve had a daily supply of cantaloupes coming in. Watermelons are at their peak. Tomatoes are ripening at a nice, steady rate. I wish I’d written down the varieties we bought this year. I much prefer this pace to last years’ when they all decided to come in at the same, exact time. Apples and grapes are in the wings, ready to go whenever I decide to inventory our canning jar supply, restock if needed and then dive in to processing those for the year. The end of our gardening adventures this year is near. We’ve been blessed by all the goodies. We have a nice stockpile built up and I’m looking forward to having a bit of a break from preserving all the yumminess. I’ve got a few books picked out to work through this fall and my couch and a cozy blanket are looking really nice about now. Oh, and a fridge. Let’s not forget about that necessary piece of equipment. It does, after all, hold my cashew milk, a necessary ingredient in my lattes, which pair really well with a good book. If we could get that going soon, it would be fantastic.

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