Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Laura Ingalls Wilder & Adoption


'LilDude and I have been reading through the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Lovin' 'em. So we're currently on our sixth, Little Town on the Prairie. Imagine my surprise when this pops out of the text:

Ida was as warm and friendly as she looked. "I'm only an adopted child," she said. "Mother Brown took me out of a Home, but she must have liked me to do that, don't you think so?" [p. 133]

and again...

Ida could not go. She said cheerfully, "I ought not to waste time. Because I'm an adopted child, you see, I have to hurry home to help with the housework as much as I can. [p. 193]




P.S. In answer to "what did you say?"...I took the chicken way out and mostly edited them as I read. I think I left the "only" out of the first one and totally edited the reference to "adoption" out of the second one. He usually follows along while I'm reading, but wasn't in that moment. I was personally shocked into speechlessness. That doesn't happen often!

Monday, December 28, 2009


"This mine?" is a phrase I hear a lot lately. GG sits on the slide. "This mine?" He points to the wading pool, in storage for the winter. "This mine?" He looks at the kiddie riding cars. "This mine?"

"Yes, they are yours."

He nods and grins.

This is worthy of an entire sermon, but here's the summary... It has taken GG seven months to begin to comprehend all the privileges of ownership that come with adoption. He is one of us. He belongs. What is ours is his.

How different is it when we join God's family? The difference? For most of us, it takes a lifetime to comprehend. 

Sunday, December 27, 2009

GG Says...

Twice today GG says to me, "You're pretty nice!"

And, for the sake of contrast, last night he sang the "Mommy Loves You" song that I sing to both boys each night at bedtime. I always include each of their names. It usually goes like this:

"Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you.
Yes, she does. Yes, she does.
Mommy loves _____('LilDude's name.) Mommy loves ______ (GG's name.)
Yes, she does. Yes, she does."

GG's rendition:

 "Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you.
Not ______ ('LilDude's name.) Not _______ ('LilDude's name.)"
Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee. (laughing)

Domino Rally Fun!

After much consternation, I found a perfect gift for 'LilDude...a wooden domino rally, $20 on Craiglist. The whole family enjoys it!

China Foster Family Skype #5

I'm sad because a young couple in China broke up. What a small, small world this is...

We've had relatively little contact with GG's foster family since August. I attributed it to our busyness and the passing of time (meaning that they weren't missing him in the deeply painful way they had initially.) Come to find out there are other reasons...

You'll recall that my primary contact has been through Ayi--"Auntie"--who is actually the fiancee of the foster mother's third son. In GG's eyes, Ayi was almost as much a mother to him in China as Nai Nai, his foster mom. I've emailed updated photos and video links to Ayi and she's set up several Skype sessions for us with multiple family members.

She sent us an email Christmas greeting. I replied asking to Skype. At the planned time, no one answered our Skype. Two hours later, she came on, alone. We couldn't hear her, but we had one of the best pictures qualities we've had so far. GG was thrilled with her entertainment. She donned a Santa hat and played with stuffed animals in front of the camera. He sang her song after song in Chinese and she sang along. (We could see her mouth moving to the right words even though we couldn't hear any sound.) GG was in his element. He laughed uproariously at her antics, saying, "You are a little bit funny, Aunt." Later he said, "I love you, Ayi," to which she replied, "I am also, I love you, love GG." (Throughout the session we used the text feature to send messages back and forth. Both of us had our on-line translators up and running.)

About twenty minutes into the session, GG asked where Nai Nai was. Ayi replied, "Because her son broke up with me, I have moved out from her home." Shock doesn't even begin to describe it. I quickly asked her if she still had contact with Nai Nai. She reassured us that the grandparents love her and that she's in contact but they now live twenty minutes away.

My mind went a million places at once. First, it was like divorce. GG's China family is not what it was. I've felt guilty about taking him from them. They loved each other so, so much and I always thought that there was a possibility that Ayi (with her husband-to-be) may have wanted to adopt him, had she been given the opportunity. But with this "divorce" his life in China would have been turned upside down. Apparently they broke up four months ago, so he'd only barely left with us before Ayi would not have been a significant part of his life anymore. I'm so glad that he missed that pain.

It's also left me to wonder how we'll ever maintain contact with the foster family. Ayi agreed to bring Nai Nai to Skype next week. But long-term, I don't know of anyone in the immediate family who is interested in helping Nai Nai to maintain contact. Ayi IS the contact.

It was the longest Skype session we've ever had. We moved the computer into the living room so that we could Skype in front of the Christmas tree. I asked GG several times if he was done, but he was having a marvelous time and only wandered away after we'd "talked" for 55 minutes. Today, on reflection, it feels like we had Ayi over to our house to play for an hour last night. It's like she was here and part of our family.

What a small, small world we live in.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kids, Homeschool, & Schedules

Since I began homeschooling NINE (gasp!) years ago, I've tried any number of different schedules. For many years we didn't need a schedule. But I've found that sometimes we need one for various reasons... Young siblings on the sidelines. A particular personality who craves order. (Sometimes that's ME!)

The last time I used a schedule, I wrote it and everyone else followed. This time I'm doing it a little different...and loving the results!  Here's what I did...

Gather supplies:
  • pocket chart
  • old business cards or small pieces of cardstock in 3 colors
  • markers
As part of school today I had LilDude make labels indicating every half-hour. On orange cards I listed the parts of the school day that are landmarks: breakfast, lunch, and (sometimes) nap. On blue cards LilDude wrote down each of the things he does independently during the day. On green cards he posted things that he needs my help with during the day. Then, in the bottom right of each card we listed how much time (in 15 minute increments) each job takes.

He then placed all the time cards in the pocket chart, followed by the orange cards. It was then his job to make the schedule for our day, using the blue and green cards. I really didn't care what order he put them in (which gave him a lot of control!) as long as all the jobs made it on the chart. I did suggest that he put the "school" type cards before lunch as much as possible. I also explained that during the blue card (independent work) time that I would be doing household jobs.

As he finished each job, he turned the card over so I knew it was complete. This worked great! He does well on a schedule, but especially if it's a schedule that he has some control over. The fact that he has to think through what he must do each day and analyze just how much time it will take to get it done is an incredible life skill. He'll do this each morning so that the day's schedule is fresh in his mind.

Bierrock Potato Pie

Bierrocks used to be a favorite food in our household. But with the gluten issues around here, I quit making them. This gluten-free substitute was a hit...

Bierrock Potato Pie

4 small potatoes, peeled, sliced
2 T. oil

Slice potatoes thin. (I use a food processor.) Toss with oil and arrange in bottom of 9x13 dish as crust. I also spray the dish with olive oil. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

1 lb ground beef
onion, to taste
3/4 cabbage head, chopped
1 t. g/f Worcestershire sauce
1 t. pizza seasoning (I buy this in bulk)
1/4 t. pepper
3/4 t. salt
garlic powder, dash
1/2 c. grated cheddar cheese
1/2 c. grated Jack cheese (pepperjack is great!)

Brown ground beef with onion. Add cabbage and cook until cabbage is limp, about 5 minutes. Add Worcestershire, pizza seasoning, pepper, salt, garlic powder. Cook 3-5 minutes, turn off heat, add cheddar cheese, toss.

Place meat mixture in potato crust; top with jack cheese. Bake 10-15 minutes at 350.

Everyone in the family had seconds. LilDude had fourths. I think I did, too! ;)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Finger Food Lunch!

We've been cooped up in the house a lot this past week with highs around 30 degrees. So I decided to try and make lunch a little more fun today. I put an assortment of finger food out (carrots, apples, oranges, bananas, cheese, meat, almonds, pickles) and let the boys fill their own personal muffin tins. Both boys were thrilled and, in comparison to other meals, it sure was easy to get GG to eat! :)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas Gift Ideas II...Wikki Stix

Thought of another one...

Last Lenton season my kids were introduced to "Wikki Stix" at church. During children's time each week the kids were given a single stick. The "sticks" are bendable, waxy, and sorta like a candlewick without the candle. We collected them until we had a baggie full. They have been playing with them ever since, bending them into people, words, shapes, names,...anything they can think of! I LOVE them for quiet times and use them every week at church, but they could also easily be entertainment in a car, on airplane trips, while sitting at a restaurant, etc. (I've heard that some restaurants hand them to kids to play with while waiting for food.)

Ours have now been played with for about 8 months and they're getting gummy. I bought a new set at Learning Palace (wish I hadn't because for the price you can get a lot more on-line.) Amazon has a wide selection including books and sets to go with them. The Wikki Stix Book of Wiggles, Squiggles & Curlicues has a five-star rating and includes 36 sticks. They are quite inexpensive and have a lot of play value. Made in the U.S.A. Ages 3 to adult. (Confession: we ALL play with them during church!)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas Gift Ideas

At Ni Hao Y'all, they are compiling a list of good Christmas gifts. So now that I've ranted about what I won't buy, here are some of the best purchases we've made for our kids over the years. Our kids range in age from 3-19, so if it made the list, it's probably stood the test of time. And kids. ;)

The Chronicles of Narnia, Audiodrama on CD

When Anakin was about 8, we bought him this radio theatre CD set. We thought it was a good deal back then at about $30. Now I see you can get the 19-CD boxed set, 22 hours total, for less than $20. That's crazy cheap. And hours of entertainment for the entire family. Ages 6 (depending on how sensitive your child is...some content is scary) to adult.

I've mentioned the most played-with toy in our house before...the over door basketball hoop. This SERIOUSLY gets played with EVERY DAY. All ages. My 3-year-old can shoot and make baskets and the bigger kids play some pretty serious ball with it. If you do a search for "basketball hoop door" you'll find a LOT of options. Ages 3 - 12. (Although my teens still play with it!)

SET is one of the best games out there. I recommend it when I lead teacher workshops and those who are familiar with it always sing it's praises. Basic concept? Lay out 12 cards and look for "sets"...a set comprises 3 cards in which all the characteristics are either completely the same or completely different. But there are many characteristics and therefore, many possible combinations. Some sets are very simple, others very complex. Kids as young as 6 can play...and sometimes beat!...adults. Any number of people can play. I've used it in homeschool co-ops before, spreading it out on a table so kids can look for sets as other kids are arriving. It's an awesome family game and is wonderful for developing mathematical skills (like looking for patterns). But it's so fun that no one notices that they're learning. Ages 6 to adult.

Fisher-Price Crazy Combo Horn Set...
While this is no longer made, you can still find it cheap on Ebay. I bought ours years ago at a garage sale. It has been played with a TON. A couple months ago I considered buying another one because the two youngest were constantly fighting over it. They use it in the way it was intended, to build and play their own unique instruments. But Anakin had a whole 'nother agenda. He'd pop pieces together to make his own toy gun. That toy has seen a LOT of use! Ages 3 (or younger...I don't think the parts are too small, but not sure?) to 7 years old.

Lego Mindstorms NXT...
Two of my kids spent 4 years in organized Lego Robotics. They used the LEGO Mindstorms NXT on an almost-daily basis. Our NXT was sponsored by a local company, thankfully, but we would have considered investing in one ourselves if we hadn't had that support. They grew tremendously through the Lego Robotics program. Highly recommend it. Our two younger kids will likely do the program as well. Ages 10 to adult.

Our favorite family game is probably Settlers of Catan. If you aren't familiar with Catan or haven't been bitten by this addictive game yet, it's well worth checking out. Over the years we've added the 5-6 player extension as well as Cities & Knights. Ages 10 to adult. (I think our kids played at younger ages with help.)

And, while we do not own this, it's what I'm coveting...a Quadrilla Marble Railway. I don't actually know anyone who owns one, nor have I touched one personally. I just think it looks very cool. ;) It's what *I* want for Christmas. :) LOL. Ages 3 - 12. (Although it's ME who really wants it!)

Other "most played with" toys in our household:
  • Legos!!!!!! (age 3+)
  • Playmobile (age 3+)
  • Fisher Price Little People, vintage (I realize that they were taken off the market for safety--choking--reason, but if kids are supervised and/or older, they are a great toy. Lots available on Ebay. My kids did not tend to put toys in their mouths and enjoyed them from ages 3 to about 8 or 9.)
  • Balls (all ages)
  • Playdough (all ages, with supervision)
  • Bubbles (all ages, with supervision)
  • Wooden Puzzles (toddlers)
  • Dolls (all...my big girls still have their collectible dolls)
  • Art Supplies of all kinds (all, Lizzie especially loves Polymer Clay, ages 8 to adult)
  • the OUTDOORS!

I'll post more if I think of them. What toys stand the test of time at your house?

Zhu Zhu Pets (...or You've GOT to Be KIDDING ME!)

If you don't want to listen to a rant, stop reading.

If you want to know how culturally out-of-it I am, keep reading.

For the last few days, I've been following CraigsList, looking for a couple of used toys. The name "Zhu Zhu" pets is posted after about every 5 or 10 entries. Curiousity got the best of me, and I made the mistake of googling it. Here's the commercial that I've been missing. Don't push the link unless you're ready to puke commit yourself. When I played the commercial, LilDude came running in to see what it was. He'd never seen it before either. (I think this must prove that we aren't watching much t.v.) We looked over the site, watched a YouTube video of the thing in action and looked at each other like, "You've got to be kidding me!" But, alas, a mere look online will tell you that:

1. Many parents in the U.S. are giving their kids a Zhu Zhu for Christmas.

2. Most of the remaining parents in the U.S. are desperately seeking Zhu Zhu pets and will give their child's college education to obtain one.

3. A significant number of people are making a FORTUNE off these inane toys. They bought 'em up, cornered the market, and are now charging insane amounts of money to the people in #2 above.

I seriously don't get it. The toy has little educational value. (Actually NONE, in my opinion, but no one asked me.) It's use is extremely limited. And it costs a small fortune. I read one YouTube comment that said, "America deserves the coming financial meltdown. Should've bought a real hamster. At least you could've eaten it when the food runs out."

Like Cabbage Patch Baby and Tickle Me Elmo of the past, I'm quite sure that this insanity will end, probably within hours of Zhu Zhu being opened. Zhu Zhu will be the Goodwill buy of the week. And parents will be reassured that Little Johnny is indeed the happiest child on earth.

Oh, and btw,...for exactly the price of one Zhu Zhu house and pet a child in GG's orphanage can be placed in foster care. For a month.

Just sayin'.

Friday, December 4, 2009

New Uses for Train Table

I've sometimes regretted buying a train table. It takes a lot of space. Becomes a collection space. Gets dusty. And monotonous.

We bought ours when LilDude broke his arm when he was three. His cast made it hard to play on the floor, so a raised toy surface was ideal. But since then, it's only seen scattered use.

In the midst of "New Year, No Stuff" (which has largely turned into an organization project) I came up with a plan. I want to rotate toys in our play/school area. So each week, I'm clearing the table and bringing in something different...something that both the younger boys can play with together.

This week I got out Playmobile, Noah's Ark and the barn. Despite the fact that these toys have been accessible for, say, THE LAST FIVE YEARS or so, they were played with more in the past five days than they've been played with since we bought them. I love the fact that the table "contains" the play. No one has to pick up the floor. And, since the focus changes each week, I hope to prevent it from becoming a dumping ground.

I've been thinking about what to rotate. I'd love suggestions. Here's what I've got so far:
  • Legos
  • Playmobile
  • blocks with plastic animals (to make a zoo)
  • Fisher Price Little People sets (the "old" kind...which means I'm old???)
  • dinosaurs (thought we'd get out the dinosaur books and tapes that week)
  • trains! (LOL)
  • cars w/ a plastic mat showing roads
  • Lincoln Logs
  • puzzles/games/math manipulatives
That's two months worth.  Sheesh. And I'm buying stuff for Christmas???

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stripped Clean (or Stripped of Star Wars??)

Black Friday. I didn't hit the stores, but I sat at the computer. Equally dangerous. On Amazon, I watched a StarWars helmet go on sale for $19.99, regular (or MSRP) $49.99. I snatched it. For at least a year 'LilDude has commented on that helmet each time he's seen it at the store. Since it was now suddenly within our $25/person Christmas limit, I though it was a good idea.

But then I started having doubts. It's not a creative toy. It has limited uses. Takes up a lot of shelf space. And has the potential to cause HUGE arguments between two little boys.

But I was still stumped as to what to get LilDude. Although we don't have tons of toys (though I guess that's relative!), we have what we need. With five kids we long ago decided on what we wanted to focus on and what we didn't. We have the usual basics: balls, blocks, dolls, puzzles, games, books. And items of focus: Legos, Playmobile, and gads of the old kind of Fisher Price Little People (from my generation.) We really aren't in need of more stuff...especially if it doesn't lend itself to being:

1. Educational (at least in some way!)
2. Group oriented rather than single person oriented.

I started searching the internet. Again, dangerous. I found a fantastic marble roll system that seemed like the perfect thing for both little boys. Unfortunately, it would more than double the budget we set for the two kids.

But I considered doing it anyway.

Then, on Sunday, I was challenged by our youth in a wonderful service. They've been doing a book study, Stripped Clean, challenging them to think about how stuff gets in the way of a relationship with God. They did a powerful drama based on this:

...but changed it to reflect more "stuff" getting in the way of the girl's relationship with God. Quite a few people in the congregation teared up. They lined the stage walls with ads from black Friday.

But I kept thinking about that marble roll.

Then I went to swim lessons. Talked to another mom who used to be a preschool teacher. I asked her if she knew anything about this particular marble toy. She reminded me of a few things that I already knew but, in the throes of purchasing, had forgotten...

1. Children will use whatever is in their environment to explore a new level of development. They do not have to have the latest, greatest and most expensive. When I mentioned a cheaper marble system I'd considered she said that even though LilDude was close to being developmentally past it that he'd still get tons out of it, just in different ways. When I mentioned that even this system was expensive she laughed and said she only buys them at Goodwill...and over time she's built up quite a collection.

2. The least expensive stuff can be the most fun. Homemade playdough (at $3 for a huge mound) will see far more play than a Star Wars helmet. And it's cooperative, creative, and imaginative. I told her that this situation was particularly hard because 'LilDude rarely asks for specific toys. She smiled saying that her daughter doesn't either but has now mentioned a "bee helmet" several times. I asked if she was getting it. The reply? "No. Because I know what she needs."

3. Relationships are more important than stuff. Her family has a limit of $100 to spend at Christmas, but when they give something, they attach it to relationship...tickets to go somewhere together. A sled and other outdoor snow toys to go with a day at the mountain.

The Star Wars helmet will be under someone else's tree this Christmas. It sold 1 minute after posting. And the spendy marble roll still belongs to the store. So far.

Alternative to Christmas Wrapping Paper

After Christmas morning, my living room is not littered with paper. It's littered with pillowcases and  ribbon.

For years, we've avoided purchasing wrapping paper. Although frugality usually tops my reasons for not buying something, this time it has little to do with it. I simply hate wasting that much paper. It literally turns my stomach to see all the garbage (and yes, even piles of recycling) that line our neighborhood street after Christmas. I hate the thought of discarding something that has seen such minimal use.

So every year we get the pillowcases out of the linen closet and dig through a bag of ribbon I found at a yard sale. If an item shows through the pillowcase, we double up the fabric or box it prior to wrapping. If an item is truly too large for a pillowcase (which rarely happens with a $25 limit per family member), we put it in a box or a large popcorn tin (also saved from previous years). For small gifts I reuse wrapping paper we get from packages outside the family. Or we use the old standby, newspaper comics.

It's just as fun to "open" a pillowcase as it is to open paper. Perhaps more fun. You can't hop around in torn wrapping paper after all the gifts are opened! :)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Super Math Website for Kids!

KidsKount is an amazing website, filled with math games and learning opportunities for kids ages 5-12. (Side note: I'm not able to run Java on my Mac using Firefox. I use Safari instead.)

Panda Express-Chinese New Year program, free!

Panda Express is offering a free program for use in schools. Homeschoolers have reported no problem in getting the same offer. Here's the information from the website:

Panda Express, America’s largest Asian restaurant chain, is offering a FREE educational program to your school and its students. For three years, our signature Chinese New Year Learn With Me Program™ provides educators with an instructional resource to encourage learning about one of China’s traditional holiday celebrations. The FREE kit, geared for second through fourth grades, includes:

* Panda Express’ Year of the Tiger DVD
* Year of the Tiger Fact Sheet
* Jade Emperor’s Interactive Game & Activity Sheet
* Chinese New Year Decoration Art Activity
* Lai See Activity Sheet
* Bookmarks (with a Free Kids Meal with purchase coupon attached)

Each classroom is limited to ordering materials for 35 students; please note that one school can have multiple classrooms ordering materials.

Please complete the information below to receive your free program kit.

Program kits will not be shipped to P.O. Box addresses. Please note that providing incorrect shipping information will result in not receiving program kit materials. You will not be contacted if this situation occurs. All submission must be received by Tuesday, December 8, 2009 by 11:59 pm Pacific Standard Time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Winter Broccoli

One row of broccoli remains in the garden. Despite the cold, it continues to flourish. I picked some for lunch while watching the bees share the harvest.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

China...Getting New Information on Child's Past


Check, check and double check to see if your child from China has more information available from early life.

We were NOT told that any further information was available. We were NOT told that a an outside sponsor made his foster care possible. But I just received 154 new photos and 6 pages of written information about his early life.


I'm on a forum for his SWI. (Orphanage.) On the group one woman was offering to check to see if kids were sponsored by Grace and Hope in foster care. I was previously told that our agency and the government paid for his foster care, so for months and months I ignored her offer. Then, one day, I ignored what I "knew" and asked.

He WAS sponsored by Grace and Hope**. And for a small donation they sent me a CD FILLED WITH INFORMATION ON HIS EARLY LIFE.

I cannot believe that we came so close to not having this photo and 153 others like it. If your child was fostered and there is even a smidgen of a chance that some outside agency fostered him/her, CHECK!!!!!

**Many, many organizations are working in China to sponsor children in foster care. You'll have to check to see what groups are working in the area where your child is from.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Lost Boys of China

Want to read a tear jerker? Look at this blog entry. Many people have asked us how we were able to adopt a BOY from China. Unfortunately, many, many boys--older children or those with minor special needs--languish on "Waiting Children" lists for months or years without being chosen. If you follow the links at the bottom of the linked post you'll see photo listings of boys waiting for families.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Visitor from CHINA!

This weekend we were blessed with a visitor from China. J was our "guide" in GG's hometown. She knew him long before he knew us. Even as a toddler she would visit him in his foster home to get updates on his development.

J told us that she thinks GG is doing very well and that to her he acts more "real" than he did in China. She thinks he was quieter and more subdued (like a girl, ha!) in China and that he is "definitely louder and busier" here. I'm not surprised given that he lived with a little girl in China and he lives with LilDude here. Together they generate quite the activity. Or, as one fellow at church put it today, "Doesn't appear to be any energy crisis here." They've got TONS.

J also commented on how interesting it was to see our home...to see that what we put in the photos is ACTUALLY the way things look. :) She said that she always figured that photos taken by adoptive families (for our dossiers) were showing the best of the best. But she says that everything is beautiful here and that now she thinks the photos just show how things really are. (It's good she wasn't here while I was cleaning out piles of junk!)

She also countered another thing we often heard in China..."why you have so many children?" When she saw our home (which isn't THAT big for 7 people) she said that she now understands why people here have so many children. She took a look at our field and told my dh that "100 Chinese children could fit back there." She told us to adopt more. Then we told her how much it costs to pay for college educations. :( Puts things into perspective.

GG took some time to warm up to her, but when she was ready to leave today he got weepy. Not sure why. He may see her as part of his China "family" or he may have just wanted to go along to the train station in the car...sometimes he gets sad if he can't go along. So he came with us. And was fine.

We sure hope to see her again soon. The boys had a marvelous time playing hide-n-seek and singing with her (at the top of their lungs) in Mandarin. She commented on how LilDude's Mandarin is better than GG's. (She found LilDude easier to understand.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

(Home)"School" Sneaks Up On Us...

I could feel guilty about the lack of "formal schooling" that's taking place in my home. But learning seems to happen whether we plan on it or not.

Take the last two days...

Yesterday, I'm cleaning my office floor. (Found the floor, btw!) LilDude is hanging out with me. Out of the blue he says something about "even numbers." So I ask him what he knows about even numbers. He goes on to tell me that 2 is an even number. So is 6 because you add 2s to get there. Hmmm. So I toss out a whole slew of numbers--including hundreds--asking him whether they're even or odd. He gets them all right. I finally say, "So it sounds like you only have to look at the last digit to know if it's even or odd."

He grimaces. "That's what I've been doing!" (Duh, mom!)

To reinforce our little conversation, I pull out a book about even/odd numbers. After reading it, he does one worksheet...just to make sure that this is really down pat. Duh, again. He really, really knows this. So even/odd #s...CHECK.

Then, last night, Anakin (7th grade) is studying for a map test of the United States. I guess LilDude overhead some of this because today he walks to the kitchen table and pretends it's a map of the U.S. and points to where a bunch of different states are. Intrigued, I let him try a U.S. Map Test on the computer. I'm surprised when he gets 13 correct on a timed test. Something obviously stuck when I had him follow a map of our trip to a family reunion...16 months ago!!!!

About this time Anakin returns from school and tells LilDude to try a different state labeling game. By the time they're done, LilDude is able to label most states correctly.

But today the only "school" we did was one journal entry and a few autobiographical sentences. I also read aloud several picture books and a chapter from On the Banks of Plum Creek. And Nana came over and read to him from another chapter book. But he mostly just played. And played. And played.

Build a fort with the couch cushions. Went outside when the sun peeked through. Took his bro on a horsie ride down the hallway.


Still Sad...

When one loses one's entire family, it makes sense to still be sad almost 6 months later. But that doesn't make it any easier to watch.

This weekend the guide from GG's province is coming to our home for a visit. I showed GG her photo and a little video clip to remind him of who she is and to explain that she is visiting but he is STAYING HERE. While we looked at her photo, he got the familiar blank, faraway look that I've learned to equate with grief. Then he wiped away invisible tears and asked to see more photos from China. As we looked at the pictures, his eyes gradually became more wet until a few drops ran down his cheeks. He continued to ask to see photos for several more minutes, including the "sad" ones from the day we visited his foster family. When it became too much, he looked away and said he was done. It's the saddest I've seen him in a couple months. I kept telling him that it's okay to cry; that he has good reason to be sad and that crying might help him to feel better. Not sure how much of my message was understood.

Last night (before any mention of the impending visit), he woke up crying. It happened again this evening. Twice.

I wish I could do something to erase his pain. He's three. This isn't fair.

China Foster Care

GG received incredible care from a very loving foster family for his first three years in China. Until recently, I believed that his foster placement was financed by our adoption agency and the Chinese government. (Information we were given in China led us to believe this.) Then, through a series of fortunate internet connections, we discovered that his foster care was supported by a private, non-profit agency. The "U.S. arm" of the agency, Grace and Hope, hooked us up with his actual sponsor in Scotland, Hope 4 China. Grace and Hope is sending us information (photos, reports, etc.) from GG's past that they collected and sent to the people who sponsored him. We are so excited to be able to get a few more glimpses into his past.

But that's not the reason for my post.

I know there are a lot of "good causes" out there, but if you're looking for one that will make a huge difference in the life of a child, consider sponsoring a child in foster care. Grace and Hope's website includes a photo listing of children who currently need sponsorship in order to move them OUT OF THE ORPHANAGE and INTO FOSTER FAMILIES. I cannot fathom how different GG's life would have been if he had spent the past three years living in an orphanage with ever-changing caregivers. Instead, he has a whole family in China who love him intensely.

To put it in perspective, I've been thinking about what a month of foster care is equivalent to:

* a tank of gas
* a mail order child's Halloween costume
* a Wii game (a Wii "Starter Set" pays for almost a year of foster care!)
* one meal for our family to eat out
* a family night at the movies (probably without popcorn!)
* one family trip to a museum
* photo Christmas cards
* the stamps for mailing Christmas cards

Kinda crazy when you think about it. I'm happy to forgo the Wii. Thrilled to invent our own Halloween costumes (or reuse the ones we have.) What "extras" in our comfortable N.American lives can we trade in so that more kids can have the amazing start that GG had?

BTW, it would have been excruciatingly difficult to choose a child to sponsor off that photo listing if not for one thing. A name. Many of you know that our niece, Selah, died a little over a year ago, just four months after being adopted as a newborn. So when we saw a Chinese baby from GG's orphanage who'd been named "Selah," it was a no-brainer. What are the chances? :)

P.S. If you'd like to help children from GG's orphanage, look for Guangxi: Nanning.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Honey Baked Chicken

It's a miracle! I found another food that GG will eat. Actually, inhale!

Honey-Baked Chicken is a longtime family favorite from the More With Less Cookbook. I haven't made it in ages. Why? Well, in my less-frugal days, I'd buy chicken breasts and just plop 'em in the baking dish. These days I actually have to CUT UP a chicken. Horrors. I got out my trusty Betty Crocker and tried to follow the photos. It worked. Sorta. Tasted good, despite how the rib bones de-connected from the leg bones. [Hum along if you know the song. And, yes, I realize that rib bones aren't actually connected to leg bones. Um, I don't think.]

Anywhoo...this recipe is awesome and GG loved it. What more could one ask?? (Today at lunch we ate it for leftovers and he kept nabbing chunks of chicken from MY plate.)

Honey-Baked Chicken
from More With Less Cookbook

Preheat oven, 350.

Arrange in baking pan:

1, 3lb fryer, cut up
(If you cheat and use chicken breasts, that'll work, too...but it might make me jealous. And forget that idea if you have a newly-arrived 3yo from China; he only wants dark meat and/or skin.)

Combine and pour over:

1/3 c. margarine, melted (I use less and sub in some butter)
1/3 c. honey
2 T. prepared mustard
1 t. salt
1 t. curry powder

Bake 1 1/4 hours, basting every 15 minutes, til chicken is tender and nicely browned. (I just turn chicken pieces over. And over. And over. When I remember.) Serve with rice; my family loves to pour the juicy stuff over the rice.

Monday, November 9, 2009

As Good as Grandma's? (NYNS #6)

After I cleaned off a counter, LilDude said this about our home:
"Pretty soon ours is going to be as good as Grandma's."


"Although that's kind of hard to beat!"

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Homeschool Hooky with Purpose

Confession time...

Homeschooling my 7yo.

Have Master's in Education.

And we've done almost no school so far this year. Extremely minimal.

I LOVE the fact that homeschool means I can give my kids what they need the most. And what my youngest two need right now is time to bond to each other and to me. So that's what we do. We stay home, going almost no where. They play outdoors pretty much every day for as long as possible. Yesterday it was around 60 and sunny and they played outside almost the entire day. They ran. Made stick houses on the back berm. Played with the dog. Ate broccoli from the stalks left in the garden. Soaked up the vitamin D.

I LOVE it that they're doing what they need to do the most. As I write this, the wind and rain are picking up. I look forward to more days of snuggling on the couch with a pile of books. Doing math with 'LilDude while GG plays with the manipulatives right along side us.

I love my life.

Deep, deep sigh of contentment. :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to Reuse an Empty Altoids Tin (NYNS #5)

Still decluttering. :)

I don't actually buy Altoids. But I have a bunch of tins saved from a long ago project. Here is an awesome list: How to Reuse an Empty Altoids Tin

Friday, October 30, 2009

God and Adoption

Here's some heavy stuff to chew on:

* the "cultural" advantage
* God adopted us, so adoption is good - right?
* Rescued from Buddhism: A brief history of the Christian adoption movement

In the interest of honesty, I'll tell you two things...

1. I am uncomfortable with the current promotion of adoption from within the Christian community. I'm not ready (or perhaps able) to articulate why. But I do not equate God's adoption of humanity to the adoption of children. Third Mom says is better than I can:
But the "Christian adoption movement," which some Christians claim has been given God’s approval because he “adopted” us, has become something unto itself. When you read the sites of those who promote it, you find that it no longer has anything to do Christ or Christianity or Christ-like behavior, but instead is all about pounding the point home that because that because there are five references to God's adoption of humanity in the Bible, we should all go out and adopt. Those who do adopt get a kind of theological atta-boy: See we adopted an orphan, and since God adopted us this is a good thing and we’re good people!
I do believe that God brought these children into our lives. But the path to get here wasn't all sunshine and roses. And just because I believe that God brought us together does not mean that this arrangement was God's first choice. This, to me, is not the stuff of theological back patting.

2. GG came to us wearing a jade Buddha. I removed it. Felt guilty. We're saving it for him along with other keepsakes from China. Why did I take it off? That's hard to articulate as well. One is easy. I actually thought it was rather tight, pokey, and had the potential to choke him as he slept. But it also didn't match our belief system; growing up in our home, he will be raised as a Christian. I couldn't raise him Buddhist even if I wanted to. No more than I could raise him Chinese. I'm neither Buddhist, nor Chinese. I honor his past. I respect it. But I don't have the ability to continue it. I can only be the best third mother I can with the knowledge I have.

I know that makes some people really angry. "You shouldn't adopt if you aren't going to uphold _____________(from his past)." But I can't.

What I can do, however, is work mightily to respect his past.

If one of my children was adopted to China, I wouldn't expect the new Chinese family to teach the child my belief system. But I would expect them to show respect for his past with me.

Tough stuff.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ripening Green Tomatoes

I collected a box of green tomatoes from the garden before we plowed it under. I was planning to wrap each tomato in newspaper to slowly ripen. Owlhaven says she does this successfully and has tomatoes til Christmas. I tried it last year and ended up with quite a few rotten ones. Granted, I may not have had the best tomatoes to begin with, but it felt like more work than it was worth.

This time I put the box in the garage, basically forgotten. They were piled on top of one another, not individually wrapped. Yesterday I brought in gorgeous Romas to chop for taco toppings. They couldn't have been any nicer. They went from fully green to totally red in a couple weeks. The remainder of the box is still in various stages of green-orange-red. No noticeable rot. So far, I'm glad I was too lazy busy to wrap them. Think I'll just leave 'em sitting out and see what happens.

Happy Now!

In the last couple weeks, I've heard this repeated almost daily from GG, age 3.5:

"GG** China

Cry, cry.
(Then he wipes his eyes and pretends to cry.)

Miss NaiNai. Miss Ayi.

GG** HAPPY now!!!!!"

**Although he uses his new name, J_____.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Facing Someone's Indifference, Hostility, or Arrogance???

To go along with the last post, a quote:

To realize that behind an indifferent or hostile or arrogant facade another person is struggling just to claim a place in the world, a place they do not really believe they deserve - this blows our superior attitude to smithereens. (C. Terry Warner)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Get Bitter or Play Better

My mom is one of the smartest people I know. She'll also forgive me if I steal some of her thoughts and lay them out in public.

In the last week or so, I've felt increasingly bummed about several situations in my life. (If you know me in "real life" don't think this is you or presume you know what I'm talking about...cause you'd never guess...there are multiple situations, including some that don't directly affect me...and it doesn't matter in the scope of what I'm about to say anyhow! :) In every situation, someone has put a lot of effort into building relationship. The person (or people) on the other end have been either unresponsive or have been downright hurtful in their response (or lack thereof.) I'm not talking about "too busy for a playdate" kind of stuff. I'm talking about serious damage in relationships; unfortunately, stuff that seems to be part of the human condition.

So often in life, this leads to bitterness, distrust, or a desire to "get even." But we are called to something different. We are called to love, despite what "the other guy" does. We're told to love even our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

No small task.

So, I've been thinking. When put into this kind of situation, you have several options. But generically, three big ones come to mind:

1. Do nothing in response.

2. Get even.

3. Do the opposite of what the world would expect you to do.

So my mom's idea? "Get Bitter or Get Better." Sometimes we find ourselves suddenly playing a negative "game" with someone that we never intended to play. The object of the game for them? To get you to play a "Bitter" game. In this game, the other person holds all the cards. You find yourself playing the game, getting more and more bitter...something you never intended to do. You wake up one morning and realize you're playing a game you never wished to start. And decide you won't continue.

You decide to play "Better." How does better work? The object of this game is self-improvement. The other person becomes an opportunity rather than an opponent. The rules of the game? To practice unconditional love for the person (whether you feel it or not.) When you give love--even when it's totally rejected--you win. Again, the object of the game is for YOU to work on YOURSELF, rather than to change anything about the situation or the other person.

Are you feeling vindictive? Bitterness is harmful to YOU. If you can find a way to play "Better" rather than "Bitter," you've won the game of self improvement.


to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Adopting From a Disruption or Dissolution

"Disruption" is a term used to describe the termination of an adoption before it's legally complete. "Dissolution" refers to adoption termination after it's been legally finalized.

Either way, it's sad.

I've considered adopting a child whose adoption was being dissolved/disrupted. I've also done therapeutic respite for children with reactive attachment disorder (RAD.) When someone posted a question about adopting children out of disruption, I started thinking...

My first and foremost concern is that prospective parents understand what it means to parent a hurt child. Not all children coming out of a dissolution are going to have severe issues, but they may. And just as a parent should not adopt a child with significant physical special needs without doing research into the condition, neither should a parent consider adopting a child out of disruption without extensive research. Off the top of my head, here are some of the things I'd consider:
*talk to a family (or several) who has disrupted. (One prominent example is Nancy Spoolstra (of ATN) who has both dissolved an adoption and adopted more than one child from a dissolution. She can see both sides of the issue.)

*talk to a therapist who specializes in RAD

*only consider an adoption of this sort if you already have the professionals in place to treat the child. I know of families who've been forced to dissolve adoptions because their STATE had NO ONE who could treat the child's issues. I know families who've gone out of state for treatment and eventually run out of options.

*can you handle it financially? RAD therapy can run $150-$200 or more per session. Kids with significant issues may need weekly therapy. Insurance may or may not cover it. I'd want to know it ahead of time.

* I would never consider an adoption like this out of birth order. I would want my youngest child to be SIGNIFICANTLY older than the child coming into the family.

*I would want to remember that chances are that what I see upon meeting the child...and perhaps even for weeks or months...may not be the "real child"...and that the true "issues" may not emerge for a very, very long time. "What you see" (initially) may not be "what you get." Decisions probably shouldn't be made based on initial meetings with the child.

*I would want to consider my own history. My "buttons." Will I be okay parenting a child who may consistently push me away or do everything s/he can to be unlikeable? If you have unresolved issues of your own, the child is likely to push those buttons. If you have unfinished "self-work" the child will be happy to help you find what it is that ails you.

And, I think if you aren't nervous, then something is wrong. You should be. But if you can answer the above questions and feel like it's something you are capable of doing, consider it. These children need loving, endlessly patient, compassionate parents who will fight for their hearts. And I know nothing more worthwhile than fighting for the heart of a child.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why Are You Hot?

GG sits near me in the kitchen. He says, "I'm hot."

I say, "I'm hot, too. Why are you hot?"

"Ummmm, because...(pauses, then in imitation of the Michael Jackson song)...I'm bad, I'm bad..."

That's what less than five months of English does to a three-year-old. :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Processed Food is Less Expensive?!?

This article really bothers me. Why do so many people believe that it's cheaper to eat processed foods? It isn't. How can we help more people to understand?

Incidentally, I'm no food saint. I've evolved. From the days dating my future husband, when I thought it was amazing that he could put together a meal of hamburger helper and canned green beans. Then to our early marriage when I cooked cream-of-soup casseroles and thought I was cooking from scratch. To these days when the bulk of what we eat is either grown in our own garden or in our local community.

We've changed.

Pakistani Kima (or easy hamburger curry)

This recipe from the More With Less Cookbook is a staple at our house. And although our garden is long gone (cover crop is already growing!), I'm still using up tomatoes that continue to ripen. In this recipe, I substituted chopped garden tomatoes for cooked.

Pakistani Kima
from More With Less Cookbook

Saute in skillet:
3 T. oil (I use olive or coconut)
1 c. chopped onion (or less)
1 clove garlic, minced

1 lb hamburger

Brown well. Stir in:
1 T. curry powder
1 1/2 t. salt
dash: pepper, cinnamon, ginger, tumeric (this combination is awesome!)
2 c. cooked tomatoes (I use garden, frozen, or canned)
2 potatoes, diced (I usually add more potatoes and a little extra liquid)
2 c. frozen peas or green beans

Cover and simmer 25 minutes. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Easy Corn Chowder

Favorite recipe from my "college family"...

Corn Chowder

3 medium potatoes, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped (I use 1/2 onion)

Add water to almost cover and cook til tender, about 15 minutes.

2 c. corn (I use frozen, thawed)
1, 12 oz can evaporated milk (I use regular)
3/4 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper

Add the above. Heat to boiling again.

2 T. cornstarch
1/4 c. cold water

Dissolve together. Add to soup, stirring til thickened. (I didn't do this yesterday and it was thick enough without it.) Fry/crumble 3 strips bacon and sprinkle over top before serving.

Easy, economical and good!

Halloween Candy Alternatives! (NYNS #4)

While I'm thrilled to declutter, I'm not happy to add to the landfill. So, as I yell and scream and try to unjam my junk drawer clean, I'm looking for new ways to make use of our stuff.

This morning, as I emptied my "junk drawer" (got one of those?), a thought occurred to me. Halloween is coming. Although I'm not so miserly(?), smart(?) that I neglect to buy candy, I'm also not all that thrilled about handing out so much CORN SYRUP. I admire our neighbor. Instead of loads of candy, she makes "goody bags" consisting of crayons, coloring books, and other consumables. So what does that have to do with me?

Well, in the process of cleaning, I kept running across decorative erasers. Lots of 'em. In new condition. Then, while cleaning out another cabinet, I discovered my 19-year-old's abandoned pencil collection. Also new. I even found one pencil with the $3 Disneyland price tag still attached.


If you come to my house for Halloween this year, there will be three baskets: candy, erasers, and pencils.

But then I started thinking... What if those of us with a bazillion McD's toys provided a basket of those on Halloween? (Although we no longer subject ourselves to UnH*ppy Food, I found an unopened toy when I was cleaning out a cupboard. Once you get one in the house, they mutate.) I've got an entire baggie of little bouncy balls. What do you have in abundance? And, even better, what can you pass on to someone else to enjoy...all while saving stuff from the landfill?

From now 'til Halloween, I'm lookin'!!!!!

One gal's junk is her next door neighbor's kid's treasure.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Meal Plan-October 19-24, 2009

Just starting to break into the canning jars and freezer...

Breakfast: G/F Butternut Squash/Chocolate Chip Muffins (so good!), eggs
Dinner: Corn Chowder (will post tomorrow), Green Salad with Autumn Fruit

Dinner: Pakistani Kima (an easy hamburger curry from More With Less Cookbook, p. 131...great use for tomatoes/potatoes), Sweet Vegetables (butternut squash/coconut milk)

Dinner: Anakin's Favorite Green Beans & Sausage over noodles

Dinner: leftovers

Dinner: more leftovers!

Turkey Dinner! (Need to use up the turkeys in the freezer before Thanksgiving is here!) Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cheesy cauliflower, green beans, raspberry applesauce jello

Growing Celery & Raised Beds for Fall

I wrote about celery a few months ago. Since then, I've learned a few more things.

Celery is at it's best in spring/fall and into early winter. In the summertime it goes to seed and the stalks get tough and inedible. A couple months ago I thought I'd need to replant and start over. But I hacked it off at the base of the stems and hoped for the best. And today it's fresh, crispy, and perfect for chopping/freezing in bags for the winter.

And despite planting only a month ago, the spinach, kale, and mustard are doing fantastic. I put the window covers back on a few weeks ago and they're loving the warmth.

Start with the WORST! Organize Counter/Toys (NYNS #3)

I decided to start with one of the worst-offending junk-heaps in my home...the counter. I don't know if every home has one of these, but it's the place where everyone deposits either:

1. stuff that they're taking with them the next day: wallets, purses, sunglasses, coupons, store items to return, etc.

2. things that need to be repaired

3. misc stuff that needs to be put away

In our case, the counter has cabinets beneath that held little-used china. I moved the china and replaced it with dedicated bins. I hope to retrain the fam. "Hope" being the key word. (I've emptied this surface repeatedly, only to have someone cover it with junk again. Hopefully, the new storage area RIGHT BENEATH will eliminate the problem.)

I also went on to tackle the toy bins. (Remember...worst first...cause it makes you feel good, is obvious, and shows quick progress!) Bins are awesome...but only when they store things the kids actually use; I eliminated close to half. (You're seeing the before picture...in the "after" picture, several bins are empty.) If your kids are like mine, they spend about 90% of their time playing with about 20% of their toys. If it's out and hasn't been utilized recently, it's GONE.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Desk Clean Out (NYNS #2)

I don't open two of my desk drawers. Ever. Which accounts for the stickers that are no longer sticky. The four, five, SIX packs of index tabs (now rubberbanded together so I don't lose them and buy more!) Disks that go with a computer I stopped using about 12 years ago. Five rolls of scotch tape. Passwords to a bazillion different websites. (Yikes! My secret is out. Now if YOU can figure out which passwords go to which websites, you'll be able to masquerade as me...cause I sure don't know what they go to!)

Clean out your desk lately? What's the weirdest thing you found? The thing you have multiple copies of and will never need to purchase again??

China Blues

While the boys were at my mom's, GG (3) told her he was sad to leave China. Again this morning in Sunday School, out of the blue, he said, "Sad. China."

Several months ago I showed him China on the map. Now, he occasionally pulls it out and tells me about how we flew from China. Then he'll point to where his foster family is and where we live.

He seems to have vivid memories of the adults, particularly Ayi (aunt) and NaiNai (foster mom.) But the memories of his closest playmate (a 4yo granddaughter who lived with them) are fading and he seems to get her confused with his current playmate, 'LilDude.

It's hard for an adult to comprehend. Can't imagine how hard it must be for him.

I continue to be grateful for foster family contact. Looking through the photo book given to us by the orphanage, I paused again at one baby picture. It just didn't look like the other photos of GG. For months now, I've harbored serious doubts that it was him. So I emailed the photo to his ffamily. This morning brought a reply. "Oh, this is GG. The clothes that he wore are still kept now." Wow. Although I never would have been so brazen as to have tossed the photo, it did cross my mind. But it's my baby. A baby I cannot recognize without help from those who "knew him then..."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Join the Challenge: New Year No Stuff! (NYNS#1)

Are you sick of STUFF? Do you spend hours a week working to pay for new stuff? Constantly organizing old stuff? Tired of trying to find places to store stuff?

Meet the queen of STUFF!


In an effort to dethrone myself, I'm throwing out a challenge...join me in purging your home of stuff from now until the New Year.

Together, we'll challenge each other to explore all the scary nooks and crannies of the house. We'll think of creative ways to reduce/reuse/recycle, give away, and make money. (Let's also think about ways to simplify Christmas!)

You can decide how to calculate your household purge. I'm going to keep track with 12 gallon storage boxes. Obviously, those of us who are packrats, hoarders, organizationally challenged will have more to eliminate than others. No worries. It's a support challenge. Not a contest.

Wanna join in? Grab the button below and add it to your blog. That way others can join the challenge.

Sign in using Mr. Linky. Please link directly to the blog entry that describes how you want to join the challenge. Then other participants can visit you. I'll post an entry each week with new opportunities to link to your blog, reflecting on your progress. Please link back to my blog so others can join us. Let's create simpler, emptier homes!!! :) (If you don't have a blog, I'd love it if you'd post a comment to show that you are participating!)

If you're wondering...here's what put me over the clutter edge...

For the last year, I've been working outside the home more than ever. For whatever reason, during this time it seems that while the stuff kept coming in, nothing was going out. Days filled with decluttering. Then, four months ago we added another child to the family. Ironically, he came with almost no stuff. And we had no "baby" showers. But somehow the "new kiddo" stuff seemed to eek it's way in anyway.

And then...

A month ago, 'LilDude started his first soccer season. He needed soccer socks. With three older siblings who've played soccer, I knew we had extra soccer socks. BUT DO YOU THINK I COULD FIND THEM? Nooooooooooooo! I would have bought new ones, but we've been so busy, that we just made do with what we had. (Too big church socks!) Today I start purging my bedroom, attacking the stacks that Anakin and Lizzi graced me with at the end of summer when they were decluttering their rooms. Lo and behold. Soccer socks. Multiple pairs. (And don't think I didn't ask earlier!)

Later, Lizzi and I were discussing a book that her friends recommended. I told her I'd also enjoyed it and that she could probably borrow it from her grandma, who owns it. Five minutes ago, while cleaning out our hall bookshelf, I discovered that I own it, too.

If these examples are non-issues for you, I alternate between wanting to kiss your toes and wanting to smack you.

And, no kidding, after watching my mom and her siblings shovel clean out my grandma's tiny duplex after her death...well, here's a cup raised to anyone who regularly purges stuff and saves their children the pain of doing it later!!!! :)

P.S. I'm starting the challenge with just me. I haven't recruited the family. Yet. (My three biggest are old enough to declutter if they choose. Or I can close my eyes when I walk past their rooms shut their doors. And I can slip stuff from the youngest two when they aren't looking. ;) )But if you want more recruits in your home, consider what Malia did at Homemaking 911. She offered incentives to the family, based on the number of items they decluttered. They removed 500 items in one day. Wow.

Saturday, I filled two bins for garage saling:

What else is leaving the house?

* bin #3 is half filled with new-looking toys to donate

* bin #4 contains several toys that my oldest kids have grown out of that my youngest kids will eventually enjoy. Although I could eliminate it as "stuff," I don't want to purchase again new...and I do have room to store it in the barn, as long as it's going to get use in the next several years.

*3 pairs of eyeglasses to donate. (Note: although I don't Wal*shop, I do drop in occasionally to donate eyeglasses at their Lions Club drop box. Even though the location is not listed on the link, I know they have a drop box. I also hear about community drives to recycle eyeglasses, cell phones, etc. So if you have them, you might make one box designated just for items that can be reused/recycled. I'll probably just put one small bag of glasses in the car for the next time I'm nearby.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Be a Non-Consumer. It's cool.

Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate writes:

...here’s my very extremely complicated and high tech advice to minimize your role in climate change:

Stop buying tons of unnecessary brand new stuff.

Thank you.

Love that!

And I'm trying. With five kids, including three teenagers. Go ahead. Feel sorry for them. I do.


Do you ever consider how much of your life is dedicated to the purchasing of new stuff? The organizing of new stuff? The storing of new stuff? Ever think about how those hours could be better spent?

I do.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wahoo! Tastebud Transformation

GG's tastebuds are slowly transforming. He's now gained a liking for:

*spaghetti (had thirds on this the first time I fed it to him)
*cheese (picked it out of sandwiches a few months ago, now asks for more)
*ice cream (initially refused it, will now eat it, but w/o chunks...he gives the candy pieces away)

The following condiments continue to cover a myriad of foods he doesn't like:

*Ranch dressing
*peanut sauce

I need to buy stock. Seriously. Each morning I wake up to the sound of "Eggs? Toast? Ketchup? Peanut Sauce?"

The other thing that keeps him eating? The promise of a couple of potato/tortilla chips or chocolate chips if he finishes his food. With a bargaining CHIP I can get him to eat almost anything. :)

Born in Korea & China to be Brothers!

Before GG's adoption I thought about the advantages for 'LilDude...especially not being the only Asian, internationally adopted child in the family. But we didn't adopt for that reason. We wanted another child. But with only 3.5 years separating them, I hoped that our new child and 'LilDude would grow to be close.

At first it looked like it wouldn't happen. When GG came home, 'LilDude moved out and a big, green monster moved in. The BGM stayed for a month or two. I wasn't sure if he was a permanent fixture or not. But then a miracle happened. It was quick, too. It's like one day the BGM was here and the next week he was gone. In his place? An amazing, new, big brother.

The two are inseparable. Every moment of every day they are together. Exploring outside. Slipping train-style down the slide. Running with the dog. Building a fort beneath the grapes. Pulling one another down the stairs and giving me heart palpitations.

My mom noted yesterday how much 'LilDude seems to get a kick out of GG. At times, 'LilDude just seems to sit back and take him in...being amused at GG's giggles right along with the rest of us.

They aren't saintly. They are normal brothers. They fight over my lap. And how close their chairs are at the dinner table. And who gets to sing what verse of what song (in Chinese!) But they are closer than I could have ever imagined brothers being...after less than five months of knowing one another.

God designed these two to be brothers. So awesome to watch.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Yearning for Homeschooling...

Parent/teacher conferences.

Tonight I remembered (ever so clearly!) several good, great, WONDERFUL reasons to homeschool.

In homeschool, there is no such thing as boredom.

No such thing as not having enough teaching staff.

No such thing as schedules.

Or budgets.

Or letting kids go unchallenged because other kids need the majority of the teacher's time.

No such thing as feeling extremely frustrated with the system that "leaves no child behind" but then goes on to leave your child behind because he's already too far ahead.

Very frustrated.

(And if you don't know me personally, know that I am also a former public school teacher myself...a former p.s. teacher who is currently very frustrated with the system.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Meal Plan...and Fall is Here

The garden is done! We picked the last of the tomatoes yesterday, finding a few more red and harvesting the nicest green ones to slowly ripen in newspaper. I tried this with a few stragglers last year and can't say it was very successful; we'll see if the outcome is worth the bother this year.

Canning is done. The only freezing left to do is one tray of jalapenos. I have very few outside jobs coming up. It was amazing how much pleasure I had today in just reading with the kids and doing the laundry. Rain is supposed to start tomorrow and last for a week. I guess it's really time to sit back and breathe.

I'm still cooking by the season. The last head of cabbage will go into one last cabbage salad. If I can still scrounge up some lettuce, we'll have another taco salad. I'm looking for recipes to use potatoes, winter squash, tomatoes and peppers. But after that, it'll be mostly freezer/pantry cooking. I'm ready. :)

This week's eatin'...

Lunch: Stirfry with last of garden veggies, rice
Dinner: split pea/ham soup, Asian Chicken Salad

Dinner: Stuffed Green Peppers, Baked Acorn Squash w/cranberry apple filling

Dinner: spaghetti

Dinner: taco salad...last of the year!
Evening snack: Gluten Free Butternut Squash Muffins

Dinner: Easy Chicken/Veggie Stir Fry

Saturday: leftovers

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Grape Juice and Gardening

Sorry I've been absent. Tonight I'm only taking the time to type because I ran out of canning lids and dh isn't home from town yet. Two nights ago it froze for the first time, so I gathered this from the garden yesterday...

I haven't even touched the tomatoes and peppers yet (except for dinner tonight!), because I'm still busy dealing with this...

(And one box didn't even get in the photo!) I don't think we've ever had so many grapes. LilDude and I washed and sorted them most of the morning, then I started canning grape juice during nap and am still at it tonight. I'm hoping to finish before I go to bed. 21 quarts done and quite a few left to go. [Update: 31 quarts total!]

It seems like a lot of things have done particularly well this year. Bumper crops for plums, squash (when is it not a squash year?), cherries, kale, mustard, Roma tomatoes, green peppers... The only thing that really failed is apples. We have about five on the whole tree.

It's been a glorious growing season.


(Anonymous 17th Century Sermon)

Please be gentle with yourself and others.

We are all children of chance,

And none can say why some fields blossom

While others lay brown beneath the harvest sun.

Take hope that your season will come.

Share the joy of those whose season is at hand.

Care for those around you.

Look past your differences.

Their dreams are no less than yours,

Their choices in life no more easily made.

And give.

Give in any way you can.

Give in every way you can.

Give whatever you possess.

Give from your heart.

To give is to love.

To withhold is to wither.

Care less for the size of your harvest

than for how it is shared,

And your life will have meaning

And your heart will have peace.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Meal Plan

Worked a couple evenings this week...hence the increase in crockpot meals. Home now and happy that I get to be "just" a Mommy tomorrow. Hurrah for Mommyhood!

Dinner: baked potatoes/toppings and Cranberry Pear Salad

Dinner: taco salad

Dinner: Crockpot Beef Stew


Dinner: Slow Cooker Chili

Dinner: meatloaf, Frugal French Fries, Squash & Apple Bake

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cranberry Pear Salad

Favorite recipe from my sister-in-law. She often brings it to family gatherings...and gives me the leftovers. ;) We had it tonight with baked potatoes/toppings. It's similar to the Green Salad with Autumn Fruit I mentioned a few days ago.

Cranberry Pear Salad

dried cranberries
pinenuts or sliced almonds
pear, cut into small chunks
feta cheese, optional

Toss together, amounts to taste.


1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. oil
4 T. sugar
4 T. cider vinegar

Mix well and pour over salad when ready to serve.

(**I usually use less oil and sugar and more vinegar. But this is good, too.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Grocery Spending Challenge, Week #5

We're done with grocery shopping for the month (I think!), so I can reveal our results...

Total groceries for the month, feeding 4 big people & 2 little people = $240.36
This is without couponing, which I don't generally do. (I've rarely found anything we eat that comes on a coupon!)

My goal was $200/month, so technically we didn't reach our goal. Although we just bought some items that we could have easily put off, so I guess I gave up the spending challenge in favor of getting one errand off my "to do" list. ;)

Costco was the downfall, if you want to call it that. I asked DH to stop on the way home from work to get:

1, 2lb loaf cheddar cheese

He brought home all of the above, plus:

8 pk ravioli (what's with that??? we never buy ravioli!)
2 more cheeses
1 more box oatmeal

I've got jobs coming up and will be terribly busy for a bit, so I'm glad he went ahead and got extra. So much for the challenge. ;) I can't say that we really did anything different this month than we do normally. This is in the bottom range of what we normally spend/month, which makes sense given all the garden produce. If I'm figuring this right, we're eating really well for about $1.30/person/day. Not bad.

How did other "Spending Challenge" families do? Feel free to comment with a link to your results.

Off to plan next week's menus...

Enjoy the weekend!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Green Salad with Autum Fruit

We had Green Salad with Autumn Fruit** for dinner alongside Fresh Tomato & Basil Pasta. I had thirds on the salad. :) It's yummers!

I'd never tried the salad before, but decided to after the recipe came in my Simply in Season email. If you want a new recipe each week, sign up!

**I assume the link will only contain this recipe for a few more days?? Not sure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Is Balance?

I need to preface this by saying that I need a nap. But I need to write more. I don't often have kid days where I consider pounding my head against the nearest brick wall, but today might be in that category. If you can't relate, I don't want to know.

But on to writing...

First, as background, you must read Reasonable Limits. LOVE this piece. In it, the author talks about striving for balance in her life.

Sometimes I think I'm seriously out of balance. But here's the thing...

I am doing EXACTLY what I want to do with my life. I want a houseful of kids (which, incidentally, says a lot considering my morning!) I want the garden, the healthy cooking/eating, the family time, homeschooling. And, although it's sometimes hard to fit in, I also enjoy the periodic challenge (usually a couple times a month) of working outside the home. It is stressful, but it makes me think in ways that I don't usually get to at home.

But I am BUSY. ALL. THE. TIME. I feel like I always have a "to do" list ten miles long. (Even when I don't have time to make a list, it's still in my head. Last night I even dreamed about one of my friends' moms coming over to help me organize my house. Pathetic, I know.)

Contrary to the article, I do not feel like I'm obsessed with my children in an unhealthy way. That's pretty balanced, I think. (If you're my friend and reading this, let me know if I'm wrong.)

But I totally struggle with what is "reasonable." What is balance? Does the fact that I'm busy all the time mean that something is out of whack?

I mean, come on. Let's look back a few decades. Take the women of the 30s or 40s...they certainly didn't have recreational time. They didn't have all the modern conveniences we do. Just gardening, sewing, cooking, and doing the laundry took up most hours of the day. So were they out of balance?

I relate to the author when she says, "Some people think I do too many things. I feel like I don't do enough." I know there is more I could be growing. Canning. Cooking. Learning. Teaching. Writing. DOING.

I do feel gratitude for the good I'm experiencing, although sometime I have to "feel gratitude" at 100 miles an hour in order to sneak it in. I often think how fortunate I am to have what I've always wanted. Yet I sometimes find myself reading aloud to my kids, thinking about what it is I need to DO next rather than enjoying the moment. I try to live in the present, but it's hard...and the more busy I am, the harder it is.

Like the author, I am HORRIBLE at keeping things organized. Countless stacks of papers and books pile up in my office. My kids gifted me with boxes of their unwanted stuff that I'm supposed to sort--what to garage sale, what to give away, what to keep for younger siblings. I still have piles of adoption paperwork to sort. Homeschool curriculum. Job-related materials. Stuff-n-stuff.

At the moment, it feels worthless to even try. In the time I sort through one pile, GG will create another ten piles. If I stay with him, playing "Clean up, clean up..." we're at least down to minimal GG damage by the end of the day. Though looking around in the late afternoon, I often wonder what DH will think when he walks in the door. "Do I have children or mini tornados?" This letter from a Dr. Laura listener makes me feel slightly better. Slightly.

Yesterday I related so well to the woman who called into your show saying she felt frustrated that she could never get any tasks accomplished. As she spoke my list of 367 things to do ran through my head. I nodded frantically as she spoke the exact feelings of my heart.

You told her "your house is a toy box until the kids are in kindergarten". and then explained that all she needed to worry about was that the health department wouldn't come and take the kids away, there was food on the table, and there were clean clothes to wear but most importantly that she was relating to her children and making sure that they were being cared for and loved. Those words changed my life, they were just what I needed to get all the weight of that giant list off my shoulders. Suddenly I could breathe!!

I excitedly called my husband to tell him and that dear man said to me "that is what I've been trying to tell you. I don't care if there are toys on the floor or if we have left overs for dinner. I care that the kids are happy and most importantly that you are smiling".

Today each time I've felt stressed and overwhelmed I've reminded myself that my home really is a toy box and the two small boys making all the messes are what really matter in life.

But back to the original blog article...

I hugely struggle with decluttering. But here's the thing. I have children ages 3-19. I'm homeschooling. I have a preschooler. I occasionally work from home. Out of necessity (at least perceived), I have a lot of STUFF.

Take yesterday for example.

I have a little basket of eye droppers, film canisters, squirt bottles and mini containers. While I was chopping/freezing produce, I took the basket out, added it to the "doctor kit," grabbed a couple dollies, a dollbed and blankies. The boys had a blast. Eventually, they took it outside so they could do more with the water and less with the doctoring. But they had SO. MUCH. FUN. Yeah, it's "stuff." Yeah, I hardly ever use it. But it was perfect in the moment.

Here's the next piece I relate to:
I seem to have an issue with a skewed idea of what I want to do and what I can actually do in real life. In my mind I wish I could do so many things and just don't have the time. Living with a feeling like I always have an unfinished 'to do' list puts me in a negative situation as I always feel like I'm not measuring up, not doing well because it never is done.

For me it's not so much that I have a skewed idea of what I can get done. (At least I don't think.) It's that I know exactly how much I can get done. Then I fill every little second of that time until there is nothing left. I'm not sure how long a person can continue that route and still call herself "balanced."

Frankly, I have no time to declutter right now. It's all I can do to take care of kids, garden, cook, do laundry, and, yes, WORK.

I feel an urge to rethink "what is reasonable."

So is your life balanced? How'd you manage to get there???

Simply Sustainable

Simply Sustainable, to be published by Herald Press in 2010, will help readers meet the challenges facing the earth and our communities by offering realistic alternatives to many of the consumer choices they make everyday. The learning and experience of contributors from around the world will offer tested and proven methods to better care for God’s creation.

Want to contribute as a writer, reviewer, or tester? Visit the website.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What Do I Do All Day???

My day, in a nutshell...

Get up to see why Lizzi is up. Go back to bed.

Get up. Stay in bed that long, hoping that GG sleeping at my side will fall back into a deep sleep. When he does, I get up.

Eat, say goodbye to DH and Lizzi.

Greet boys as they get up. Make them breakfast. Get dressed, eat more breakfast, drink coffee. Fire off a work (yep..."real" job coming up) email or two. Dress little boys. Say goodbye to Anakin.

Start homeschool with little boys. Read aloud for quite a while. Help LilDude with his insect pop-up book. Watch a video on internet about insects to confirm a fact on his page. Learn that we were both wrong! :) Supervise as he writes a rough draft and final copy of one page and draws rough draft and makes final copy with Prismacolor pencils.

Make one job-related phone call.

Go out with the boys to gather eggs. Pick plums at the neighbors. Harvest broccoli and red peppers. Boys alternately help and drive cars around the backyard.

Eat lunch. Go back out to play for a bit before nap.

Nap for all. I sleep for about 45 minutes. Boys, for about 75 minutes. I get a couple work emails answered in the extra few minutes.

Water flowers at my parents'. Decide we need to eat some of their lettuce tomorrow.

Boys sit down to do "school work" while I freeze red peppers and broccoli. GG draws and LilDude does math. When they're done, boys play with doctor stuff. They love to use all the little bottles, droppers, and tubes I've saved. They go outside to use water in their droppers to heal their dolls. Then they take dolls on rip-roaring ride in the cars and crash enough times that babies have to return to the doctor.

Lizzi home. Talk with her. Read books to little boys.

Anakin home. Talk with him.

Feed kids dinner. Lots of leftovers!

As I write, I'm holding GG who is watching a Mei Mei Chinese video on one side of my screen. Time to go feed DH and clean up the kitchen... ;)

Rest of the day?

Catch up with DH.
Plant raised bed with the kale and mustard seeds that DH brought home.
Start on a jog.
Find snake on the road.
Run home to get boys to see snake.
Finish jog.
Bathe kids.
Read stories.

It's been a good day! I'll have to save this for ten or twenty years. Wonder what I'll be doing then???
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