The Morning Haul

I adore being able to walk out into our backyard and get whatever veggies we need for the day. This morning the littles and I headed to the garden to see what we could discover. They approach going to the garden like going on the most valiant treasure hunt. You never know what could be hiding under the garden leaves!IMG_7185.JPGThis morning was our first big haul. It’d been a week or so since I’d been up there and we ended up picking two giant zucchini amid much cheering from all the kids because they have been begging me to make zucchini bread as soon as the zucchinis start to come in. I usually make at least two loaves a day during prime zucchini time and we stock up our freezer with lots of loaves for the winter. I’ll be making a few loaves today and then use any left over zucchinis for our stir-fry for dinner tonight.

We also found three cucumbers. One of which was a fun shape so the kids kept pretending it was a telephone, sparking giggles all around. We will most likely eat all three of these for lunch. There were many baby cucumbers (or baby pickles as Esther says) on the vine and I’m hoping we’ll be able to make some pickles out of them in the next few weeks.IMG_7191.JPGThe broccoli plants looked fantastic and we harvested a bit for our stir-fry. The last stop on our tour checking out the various edibles around our yard was our currant bush.IMG_7023.JPGSeveral years ago when we lived in New York, we religiously went to the farmer’s market in Saratoga Springs. We went every single week to pick up our veggies from our CSA, get our eggs and milk and try all the delicious farm to table food. We did this for years. One of the venders at the market was a little old lady named Anna Mae who opened the market each week by running down the main aisle shaking an old, rather large bell. No one would sell anyone a thing until Anna Mae finished ringing the bell. Anna Mae sold jams of all kinds. Each week she put out several to taste and one week, after I had read some article about the health benefits of black currants, she put out black currant jam to try. I fell in love. Tart, but not too tart, it had a lovely zing and I decided that little jar of jam, packed full of all its health benefits, was well worth the price. Each of Anna Mae’s jams was a different price, based on the fruit. Now that we have our own black currant bush, I know why her black currant jam was one of the pricier ones. We spent quite a while this morning meticulously picking each of the currants off our bush. I need to investigate how to pick the currants further, particularly for future years when we have more currants coming in. Hopefully there is a more efficient way to go about it. For the moment though, the currants are picked and we are ready to roll.IMG_7196 2.jpg

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.

IMG_3535 2

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.

DSC01050 2.jpg

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

IMG_1234

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.

IMG_6294

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.

baby grapes

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.

Blueberries faked in cereals, muffins, bagels and other food products – Food Investigations – NaturalNews.tv

If you remember, several blogs ago (click here to read this blog) I discussed a conversation I overheard at a local restaurant. The head chef was explaining that we, as a culture, have become so used to artificial flavors that we don’t even recognize or like the true flavor of real food anymore. She even had a customer complain once that the blueberries she was using in her blueberry pancakes were not real. She knew the blueberries were real because she’d bought them herself from an area farmer. The customer was just so used to artificial blueberry flavoring that his taste buds did not recognize what a real blueberry tasted like anymore.

Here’s an interesting video that discusses the common trend of adding fake ingredients to foods and marketing the fake ingredients as the real thing.

Blueberries faked in cereals, muffins, bagels and other food products – Food Investigations – NaturalNews.tv.

Stocking the Pantry

There are a few things that make me geek out when I’m wearing my homemaking hat. Stocking our pantry is one of those. I get such a buzz when it’s stocked with things we’ve made ourselves. It’s amazing the value that can come from a small vegetable plant that initially cost a few dollars (or cents if you opt to start with seeds).

If we can’t grow it, I prefer to buy as many things in bulk as I can as long as it’s cost effective. This has been tricky since we moved to IL. Costco is great, but sometimes their bulk prices are not the best value and other stores, like ALDI, end up being a cheaper option.

While we were visiting family in Virginia we took a trip to my favorite bulk food store. I stocked up on spices and dried goods and paid a fraction of what I’d have paid back home. Our pantry is looking really nice for fall.

Next up is stocking the freezer. Soon we’ll begin the mad dash to make sauce out of as many tomatoes as we can. I usually freeze tomato sauce in two cup increments so it’s easy to pull out what we need for recipes.

This year in addition to tomato sauce, I also used a ton of zucchini by making zucchini sauce. It’s super easy and is a great way to use up large quantities of zucchini. Click here to see a formal recipe (note- if you follow this recipe and you’d like the consistency to be more “sauce-like” just add a bit of water or more olive oil to the mix), otherwise here’s a quick summary- To make the sauce just chop up a zucchini or two, sauté it in olive oil/butter (half and half of each) and whatever spices (I used thyme, garlic and onions) and gently cook it down till the zucchini is more like a sauce or paste. It takes at least a few hours for it to cook down to the right consistency.

I’ve been adding chicken to it and serving it over pasta for dinner. I’ve also been freezing the sauce to use later. I haven’t tried it yet, but I bet it’d make a nice white pizza sauce too.

Once the zucchini are finished for the season and we get our tomato sauce done, the grapes will be ready to harvest. Those will be turned into grape jam. Then the apples will be here and those get turned into applesauce, apple pie filling or apple crisp. Then we’ll be all gardened out and ready to have a nice long break over the remainder of the fall and winter, which is timely because a new school year is just around the corner.

Below are some pics from our gardening adventures this past week. We moved our melons to a new part of our garden this year. They must like their new home because they’ve taken over the garden from their original starting point. We are just days away from our cantaloupes being ready and maybe a week or two until the watermelons are ripe.

The watermelons are climbing the fence.

Melons are taking over!

Road Warriors

We just returned from logging over 2,000 miles with all seven kiddos. We spent a week and a half in New York and Virginia catching up with family and meeting all our new nieces and nephews. This was our first long trip as a family of nine. Here are a few random observations from our travels.

  • Although I was rather heartbroken about giving up our other van (e.g. plush heated leather seats) when the twins arrived, I admit having a vehicle that fits everyone comfortably and has plenty of space is a game-changer. No one is climbing on or over anyone’s head to get to the back. The kids all have their own space and no one is crammed. We also have plenty of room in the back for J’s wheelchair and walker, the twins double stroller, a pack and play and luggage. The seats of our new ride also have space underneath where we put storage baskets for things like bottle parts, burp clothes, paper towels, etc.
  • If all the stars align, it is possible for us to do a four hour stretch of driving without stopping.
  • Bags to put poopy diapers can also double as barf bags for any child who gets car sick. Also, we discovered we can never assume our children will tell us they aren’t feeling well before barfing all over the van. It’s better to pre-distribute the barf bags when the trip begins.
  • There are four things I was willing to break my gluten-free streak for- a garbage plate, a cookie from the farmer’s market, an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and the Thundering Herd biscuit at Biscuit World. Gluten never tasted so good.
  • To be safe, it’s best to just go ahead and pack every single medicine and natural remedy and expect to take at least one trip to urgent care while traveling.
  • If it is alive and nearby, Esther will find it. She will find the mole, the ducks, the turkey, the goats, the worms, the frogs, the stray cats, and the caterpillars.
  • Traffic in Chicago is practically nonexistent at 4:30 a.m.
  • Gone are the days of quick, in and out stops. Now every pit stop takes an hour.
  • Drive thru’s are no longer drive thru for our family. They’re more like sit and stay awhiles while everyone working at the restaurant scrambles to get our rather large order together. So, we realized instead of stopping at drive-thru’s, it’s better and actually more efficient to just pack a cooler and stop at grocery stores and load up on fresh food for meals.
  • We only made one Starbucks stop during the trip there and back. That’s it. Really. We all survived and were mostly happy for the duration- a solid win in our book.

As much as I’d like to keep writing, our fully packed van awaits. Time to start unpacking and settle back into normal.

Getting it Done

This weekend spiraled into complete insanity. In other words, we tried to do way too much. It all started on Thursday when Ryan came in from the garden with 21 cucumbers. We like cucumbers, but there is no way we could eat that many before they spoiled. So, Friday I decided to make pickles.

A friend of mine raved about a recipe her family loves. I figured I’d start with that recipe since my last pickle making venture several years ago did not turn out, or rather, I should say, it turned out but no one liked the flavor or consistency. I ended up with a dozen or so jars of uneaten pickles. It was a complete dud.

This time around I started by making a small batch and then made every single person living under our roof (minus the twins) taste them to let me know if they liked them or not. The vote came back almost unanimously in favor of the new recipe. The pickles were sweet, but also tangy. Super addicting. I gave each child one pickle slice to test and by the time we got all the votes in, most of the kids were begging for more. A definite win.

Right before we began the pickle taste testing, Ryan came home with five pounds of blueberries. Surprise! Knowing how much we already had to do this weekend, we decided to turn them into blueberry jam that very night, right after we got the kids down for bed so they wouldn’t spoil. So on Friday we made a few quarts of taste testing pickles and eight jars of blueberry jam. Saturday morning I prepped the rest of cucumbers for pickle making. While I was working on that endeavor, Ryan was prepping for our first honey harvest of the year. This was supposed to happen last weekend, but it was rained out and so, it got added to this weekend’s to do list. You may be wondering where our kiddos are at this point. The twins were napping. The others were at Buddy Break at our church. It was a mad dash to get everything prepped for pickle making and honey harvesting before we needed to go meet friends for coffee and then pick up our kids, but we did it.

Once we were home for the afternoon, I got to work and made up a large batch of pickles, bringing our grand total of pickle jars up to eleven. This will last our family a few months at best. I’m hoping we will get another large round of cucumbers so I can do a second big batch of pickles.

Ryan zipped around on Saturday afternoon cutting grass, weed whacking and getting things outdoors in order for our upcoming trip.

Sunday after church Ryan harvested our first batch of honey. We got around two and a half gallons. It’s quite a process to harvest it so we invited friends over, had Mexican and made a party of it. All in all, a very productive weekend. Somewhere in the mix of things, I managed to make six loaves of zucchini bread in a valiant attempt to use up all the zucchini we’ve accumulated. Monday dawned bright and early and we were quite frankly, exhausted. The cucumbers were all pickled. Blueberries jammed. Grass cut. Honey harvested. Zucchini, well we’ve still got a few of those hanging around.

The Boy Who Flew

Let’s chat about this photo right here. This is a boy who, one year ago, was terrified of so many things. It’s been a solid year of us encouraging him to do things on his own and to just try. Sounds simple enough, but to a boy who’s spent nearly all his life being taken care of in an orphanage, trying at anything can be awfully terrifying.

He saw this ride tonight at the county fair and begged to try it. For once in our parenting of Joshua I hesitated to let him try. I wasn’t sure it’d be a good introduction to fair rides for him, considering he tends to get car sick at times. But, I could see in his eyes he was desperate to try. And so, we wheeled him over. Ellie, ever his faithful friend, rode next to to him. We waved and cheered them on as they rode round and round, higher and higher to the very top.

He flew tonight. In so many ways. This boy of ours had the courage to try to fly. And he did. The boy soared.

For your steadfast love is great above the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. (Psalm 108:4)

Clipping Ceremony

We are preparing to go on a trip. All nine of us are going and it’s a bit of a process to batten down the hatches so we are good to go.

Ryan and I have heard rumors from the kids that a few of our new chickens like to fly out of their fenced area. Normally, this is no big deal. I’m home all day most days and keep an eye on them (or rather, check on them frequently because they are ridiculously entertaining). Typically, the offending chicken flies over the fence and pecks around for a few minutes before flying back over to return to her friends. The other scenario is, instead of returning on her own, one of our children decides to hop the fence to help her return to where she belongs. The outside area around our coop is shaded by a tree, which offers both shade and protection from hawks. Hawks love chickens.

Earlier in the spring we had, what we call, the Great Chicken Massacre. This happened when our run extended further than it does now leaving the chickens in plain sight of any overhead guests. Ryan and I were in NICU with the twins at the time and the hawks took full advantage. We lost chicken after chicken until only one remained from our original flock. Ryan has since made adjustments to the run and so far we haven’t lost any of this new round of chickens that we raised this year. They were too small to be outdoors in the spring when the hawk massacre occurred. Thank goodness.

Since we will be out of town and all our animals and house will be under someone else’s care, we wanted to make sure things go smoothly and the chickens stay safe. Since a few chickens have a reputation for fence hopping, this morning we decided a wing clipping ceremony was in order.IMG_7015

My announcement to the kids about the wing clipping brought on mass pandemonium. Joshua and Hudson thought we were going to harm the chickens. I assured them the chickens would be fine and that we would actually be keeping the chickens safe by making them stay in their designated zone. In the mix of all the discussion about wing trimming, Joshua kept talking about an eagle, which only added to the pandemonium as I wasn’t sure if he meant an eagle was trying to get the chickens or if he meant his chicken was an eagle (to which I put on my teacher hat and tried to explain that chickens and eagles are two different things). Finally, we got to the bottom of it. Turns out, he named his chicken Eagle.

Once everyone had settled down, I asked the kids which chickens have been hopping the fence. Eagle. Pumpkin. Sprinkle. Star. Cherry. They rattled off the offenders. We grabbed a pair of scissors and set off to get it done.

I’m going to pause here and assure all readers that clipping the chickens’ wings really does NOT hurt the chickens. It’s helpful to think of it like trimming fingernails. There are certain feathers that are cut (and they regrow). There is no blood flow, or anything along those lines, on the part of the feathers that get cut so there’s no pain for the chickens. The chickens don’t seem bothered in the least. It’s a rather simple process. One person holds the chicken and then we open the chicken’s wing so all her feathers are extended (e.g. you can see them all). The feathers furthest out are the ones that can be clipped. It’s not hard to cut them; a simple pair of scissors can get the job done easily. We trim just one wing so that if they try to fly, they can still get some air but they basically are off balance, making it tricky to fly over our fence so they stay put where they are supposed to be and stay safe.

Five kiddos marched outside with me to help with the project. It can take some maneuvering to catch a chicken. Eagle was first up. I reassured Joshua again it wouldn’t hurt and we began. Joshua was relieved to see Eagle sitting very happily, enjoying all the extra attention, while her wings were clipped.  Since almost all of the kids were helping, we got the offending chickens caught and clipped relatively quickly. Once complete, the kids collected the feathers for a craft they’d been planning to do.

This should keep all the chickens in their safe, fenced area while we are gone. I gave orders to the kids if they see any other chickens flying over the fence to report back. We don’t need any rebel chickens around here. We need all the eggs we can get.