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!

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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.

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