Monday, May 31, 2010

Two years home

I realize that I never posted about the anniversary of K. being home and part of our family for two years now.  While it has been a roller coaster here for the past two years, that is not because of K.'s presence in our lives.  We have been blessed that K.'s transition to our family has been one of those fairy tale, rainbows and happy trees, types of adoption stories.  It just feels as though he's always been here.

For those of you who might be new to this blog, I'll give you the short story of his adoption.  Because we knew that it could take a while to be matched with another child, we started the adoption process again 6 months after coming home with TM.  We were expecting a year's wait to be matched, so were very surprised to hear from our agency just two weeks after turning in our application that they had a 7 month old baby available and were we open to cleft lip and palate?  After reviewing his file we said yes, even though we knew that he was in a province which was historically a little slower than the others.  So instead of a 4-5 month wait, this province was taking 7-8 months.  We decided we could handle that, especially we weren't really planning on everything happening so quickly.

That 7-8 month estimate turned out to be a complete pipe dream.  We waited 18 months from referral to travel and some families after us waited over two years.  The reason?  We never really knew, except that the province was slow.  Meanwhile, we would receive quarterly updates on our son.  We knew he was having trouble gaining weight and was considered malnourished.  He had surgery on his lip without us.  He had his first birthday.  He had his second birthday.  He learned to walk.  And he grew before our eyes through pictures.  It was incredibly painful and I fought depression during the last year of the wait.  I prayed continuously that God would protect him both emotionally and physically... especially emotionally.  I knew first hand what a traumatized child could look like.

But finally we were allowed to travel.  So we packed up:  J. and I, along with TM, M. and B.  and headed to Vietnam.  We met our son and found him to be a tiny boy, wearing 9-12 month size clothes.  He was covered with scabies and the scratch marks and missing hunks of hair that go along with it.  We discovered that he had never eaten solid food and was virtually silent, making hardly any sounds and didn't seem to have any language at all.  We also discovered that his palate, which we thought was cleft, was completely intact.  We would hold him and he would cling to us, looking at us with his huge, confused eyes.  He was a compliant, well-behaved boy, but we wondered what the future would hold for him. 

Fast forward two years.  We laugh now that we thought him a quiet boy.  He loves to shout, growl, shriek, laugh, and TALK!  And talk and talk and talk.  And it's real talking... in complete sentences.  I am loving hearing what is going on in that little head of his.  Today, we had a thunder storm, and K. told J. that it was thundering outside and that it sounded like dragons.  No wonder he's afraid of thunder if he thinks it is giant dragons surrounding the house.

He's also growing, though I think he will always be on the small side.  His waist is about the same size as the babies'.  Physically he is much, much stronger than he was.  His biggest accomplishment this year so far has been to figure out how to ride a two-wheeler with training wheels.  I wish he would figure out that he needs to look at where he is going, though.  He wants to focus on watching his feet which has caused more than a few tumbles.  A few days ago, some visitors asked if K. was 4 or 5.  That was the first time he has ever been judged to be his actual age.  I was thrilled.

He is a sweetheart and we love him; even when he's whining.  (Though that is starting to get better.)  We are so glad we made the decision to accept his referral two years ago.  He was certainly worth the wait.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stocking up

Twice a year, my friend P. (of the P family) drive two hours downstate to pick-up our bulk order of staples from the farmer who does bulk ordering.  Besides saving money by ordering in bulk, it is one of the few ways to obtain large amounts of wheat berries; they are not something commonly found on the shelves of Aldi.  So, what does a family of 11 buy to stock up with?  Well, this was a smaller order than usual, but I brought home 200 pounds of wheat berries, 50 pounds of whole oats, 10 pounds of baking soda, and 2 1/2 pounds of raw wheat germ.  (I was OK on yeast, lecithin, farina, and dry milk for the next six months.)  It always makes me feel a bit pioneer-like to know I've just brought home supplies that will last for at least six months.  Everything can stay in its original containers except the oats and wheat germ.  The oats get transferred into large food-grade buckets and the wheat germ I freeze in plastic containers.  P. ordered a bit more than I and we were also picking-up wheat for a friend.  Boy, does driving around with 600+ pounds of  weight in the car really do a number on one's gas mileage!

Friday, May 28, 2010


"Nothing is safe from the marauding hands of pageant-producers and actors.  We are all busy sticking gummed labels on the undersides of old pieces of furniture, which have been requisitioned for the day, and our wardrobes have been ransacked -- not only for fur for our own simple Ancient Britons' costumes -- but for hats, cloaks, velvet jackets, feathers, jewels, buckles and belts for the rest of the county.  I quite dread Amy's visits at the moment, as I see her predatory eye ranging round my house, and even over my own person, for any little titbit that might further Bent's [a small town] glory on the day of the pageant."  from Village Diary by 'Miss Read' on the subject of the people of an English county preparing for a pageant (tableaux)

I had forgotten the amount of chaos and insanity that accompanies the picture tableaux which we did this morning.  It is such a great amount of fun, I recommend you get some friends together and do some yourselves.  Some suggestions for you to help you get started:

It helps to have one or two large, color compilations of artwork for everyone to flip through.  We did our searching for paintings on the Internet and printed out our choices, but it is so much easier to flip through a book.  The Sister Wendy Story of Painting  is a great book... someday I need to get a copy for ourselves.  One of my favorite things about doing this is watching all the children study each of the pictures so intently in order to reproduce it. 

Be prepared to move furniture about to get just the right background.  This is another reason to have large pieces of fabric on hand... to hold up in order to cover something in the background which shouldn't be there.

There is a lot of waiting around while one person or group is having their pictures taken.  But, everyone is usually occupied as they are searching among the costumes for just the right piece or prop.  It helps if everyone brings a large stash or costume pieces and fabric.  We did a lot of draping since they were still pictures and often not the whole body.  A large supply of safety pins and bobby pins are indispensable; wigs are always a bonus.

Multiple adults are also helpful.  There was a lot of dressing, pinning, and staging that needed to happen.  Here are two members of the P Family... notice P14's mom holding a picture of the painting to help pose P14 to match.  We used a digital camera to take the photos, but it was mounted on a tripod, making it easier to frame each picture.  Also, to make things easier, the photos are shot in color, but we will print them in black and white, making it much easier to fashion costumes since we don't have to worry about color.

Both times we have done this, I have had a nearly one-year-old baby(ies) to take part.  If you've ever flipped through paintings of this time period, you know how essential this is, since there are a great many Mary, Jesus, and John the Baptist paintings:

And to give you a sense of what exactly we were doing, here are D. and P. posing for their picture Peace and War (1776) by Pompeo Girolamo Batomi:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Utter insanity

One of the common questions that is asked of me when people find out that I have 9 children and that I homeschool is:  What do you do with the preschoolers while you are working with the older children?  Well, the answer, if yesterday is anything to go by, is absolutely nothing.  So much nothing that the 4 year old was able to find a marker and draw on himself, his clothes, and his bedroom wall before he was discovered.  Argh!  Today, I had a better plan for him and kept him occupied and in sight at all times.

But this does not count as the 'utter insanity' reference.  The marker incident was merely typical, run-of-the-mill chaos... barely worth blogging about.  No, the 'utter insanity' refers to me and my delusional assumptions of what I am capable of.  You see, I have a good friend who forwards me notices about children who need homes, and yesterday she sent me one about four siblings, 7 and under, who may need an adoptive family.  For a moment (well, if I'm honest, more than a moment), I thought, "I could do that".  This was even after the marker episode.  But, my reason gets the better of me, and I think about what nine children 7 and under would look like. 

Don't panic, Mom!  Remember that we live in Illinois and it would take an act of God to get DCFS to give us the requisite foster care license.  I'll tell you what I told J., when I idly mentioned it to him:  find a paper bag and breath... breath... breath...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mango pudding

One of the things that we have enjoyed about our yearly history co-op feasts is finding new recipes which we wouldn't normally come across.  (This works both ways, with some historical eras having better food than others.)  This mango pudding is one of the good ones.  We first had it quite a few years ago when we were studying ancient Egypt, and it has been a family favorite ever since.  Mangoes, while never cheap, are at their most reasonable this time of year.  Look for the smaller, yellow mangoes.  They are less stringy than the larger greenish red ones.

Mango Pudding (the actual recipe was called 'mango cup')

6-8 ripe mangoes, cut into chunks (do not use the skin)
1 1/2 - 2 cups milk

Put everything into a blender and mix until smooth.  I adjust the amounts until it is the consistency I want...if you make it thinner, it could be more like a shake.  Chill until ready to serve.  The original recipe also calls for pistachios to be sprinkled on top, though we prefer it without them.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Land form pans

One of the homeschooling items I bought years ago, which I still love and use are these little land form pans. I found them in a Montessori catalogue and also purchased geography cards to go with them. The idea is the child looks at a card, which has a picture of a geographical feature, and isthmus, for example, and then recreates the feature with clay. When it is completed, water is then poured in to give a three-dimensional example of what's on the card. (The older, wiser, and cheaper me now realizes that any small dish would have sufficed. But at least this way, I don't get clay in dishes I need for cooking.) Today, we didn't use the cards because we were building dikes.

We have been studying the Netherlands because of our lunch time read aloud, The Wheel on the School. It's fascinating stuff; personally, I'm learning so much I didn't know about that country. Did you know that in some places in the Netherlands, the sea level is as much as 22 feet higher than the drained land on the other side of the dike? You can't learn about the area and not learn about dikes. In order for the children to really see how the arable land (the polders) is lower than the sea, we built clay dikes and filled them with water:

Some children chose to add clay for the farmland next to their dikes.
It's been a while since I have read The Wheel on the School, and had forgotten how much I love it. It's got it all: lessons about life in another country, an exciting story, and good life lessons. I does make me wish we could have storks nest on our roof. I'm sure it would be far more agreeable than the raccoons that currently make attempts to live there.
And can I just say how much I love summer because of all the exposed baby skin we get to see?

L. and G.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My thumb is not green

Not even the palest shade of green. I imagine plants at nurseries cowering in horror at the thought of having to come home with me and my not-so-loving care. My mother-in-law used to remove plants from my home to nurse back to health. While they survived, they also never returned. I just don't have houseplants anymore. But I do like plants and gardens. I like planning gardens. And I enjoy beautiful gardens... especially from a chair with a good book and a cup of tea.

But reading about gardens does not a beautiful garden make, which is where my children come in. It turns out they enjoy gardening, especially B. A couple of years ago, on his own volition, he completely cleared of weeds one of the more egregiously ugly sections of our yard. In return, I bought him some plants to in the space. And since B. evidently does have a green thumb, the raspberry bushes and ferns he planted are thriving.

After one last, pathetic attempt on my part to garden last year, I have turned over all vegetable gardening to B. We have three raised beds and B. has filled them with lettuce and other vegetables. I have great hopes that this year we will have food to eat from our garden. And since one thing leads to another, A. wanted to get in on the fun as well. After B.'s success, I thought I would give her another section of ugliness for a flower garden. She completely weeded and turned it and made an edging out of leftover bricks. Yesterday we went and she picked out some plants to start with. I have to say, it looks much better than it ever has.

A. in her garden
Inspired by all the previous successes, J. worked to mulch and lay some pavers around the two of the raised beds. It seemed wrong to have nice, neat vegetable gardens surrounded by weedy, boggy mud.
Paving and mulching in process

G. who enjoyed watching the gardening (and playing football) from the safety and shade of the playpen. This really is a smile, though looking at the photo she seems to be slightly worried. (L. was having a nap inside.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010


n. dull, irksome, and fatiguing work: uninspiring or menial labor

I have been working on planning the summer book study for moms at our church this summer, so have been getting to do one of my favorite things in life: research. (Are you in the area and want to come? We'll be discussing, Professionalizing Motherhood: Encouraging, Educating, and Equipping Mothers at Home by Jill Savage. Let me know and I'll get you the details.) I had been looking into other, complementary sources to bring in to add to the discussion, when I came across a statement in a review on Amazon. (I find the review section of book listings fascinating... though more for what it says about each reviewer than for what it says about the book being reviewed.) Anyway, the reviewer believed that the author of the book in question was committing the sin of contradiction. The reviewer believed that the author couldn't at one point give ways to deal with the drudgery of housework while at the same time claim that being at home afforded a myriad of opportunities for imagination and purpose.

The criticism is only valid if indeed these two ideas are contradictory, and I don't believe they are. I don't think anyone will disagree that there can be a certain amount of drudgery in housework. Sometimes there are aspects of keeping a home clean and presentable that are indeed dull or irksome or uninspiring. I suspect that it is the repetitive nature of such tasks that give help give them this nature. I also suspect that each of has certain household jobs that seem more irksome (I like this word) than others and that our lists would not be the same. But every job has aspects to it that involve some sort of drudgery, and the existence of drudgery in those jobs does not negate that fact that they are useful professions that have many other interesting aspects to them. How many teachers really enjoy grading or police officers completing paperwork or contractors requesting permits?

But making and keeping a home is so much more than just keeping it clean. It is about creating a place where one's family and others feel comfortable, safe, accepted, understood, and loved. And these aspects of homemaking, the intangibles, are what gives it such scope for imagination and such purpose. How can we make family and friends comfortable in our home? What memories can we create for our family? How can we make our home peaceful, so that it is a refreshing place to be? These are not easy things to answer and take work to achieve. But what a great purpose we have if design a place (from rented room to mansion) where others are able to find God's love communicated to them in a tangible way. With such a high calling as this, it makes even cleaning toilets have a purpose. And with great purpose, drudgery is transformed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tell me what you read and I'll tell you who you are

Or I'll tell you what I read and doing so will most likely speak volumes about my theological leanings. I was asked on my last post what some of my favorite parenting books are. My shelves are not filled with parenting manuals per se. I find that I can't separate out the job of parenting from other facets of my life and worldview. It is all of a piece and something that influences one part of my life also influences the parenting part of my life. So, with that in mind, I give you my "top 10" parenting resources. They are all so different that I find I can't put them in order as to which I find the most useful, consequently, they are in the order in which I pulled them off of my bookshelves.

1. The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer -- In my head I slot this book in the same category as the Proverbs 31 passage... depending on my mood, I find both either highly motivating or highly demoralizing. To me, Mrs. Schaeffer portrays an ideal of homemaking; something to aspire to. I know there has been some talk about the memoir which her son, Frank, wrote about how she did not quite measure up herself. But just because someone does not measure up to an ideal does not make what they have to say invalid.

2. What is a Family? by Edith Schaeffer -- Mrs. Schaeffer talks about the primacy of the family.

3. Parenting in the Pew: Guiding your Children into the Joy of Worship by Robbie Castleman --If you've ever needed encouragement to keep worshipping with your children or need instruction as to how to begin, this is the book you need to read. It is highly practical and also has some great teaching about the act of worship itself.

4. Family Driven Faith: Doing what it takes to Raise Sons and Daughters who Walk with God by Voddie Baucham -- Have you heard of Voddie Baucham? If not, you really need to read this book (or anything else by him). I find his teaching on faith and family to be some of the clearest I've read or heard. But be warned, he pulls no punches. He takes the teaching of the Bible to its logical conclusions and is unwilling to acquiesce to the pressures of the prevailing culture.

5. Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends: How to Fight the Good Fight at Home! by Sarah, Stephen, and Grace Mally -- This book is written by a brother and two sisters and is one we read as our lunch time read aloud. While it is not a cure-all, it helps provide conversation openers and new ways of thinking for everyone in the family. I'm not sure I can draw a direct correlation between reading this book and how well our children get along, I'm sure it didn't hurt.

6. Passionate Housewives Desperate for God: Fresh Vision for the Hopeful Homemaker - by Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald -- While this is not really a parenting book, I find it encouraging in my role of homemaker. And if I am feeling fulfilled in my role, then I am also able to be a better parent. If you need encouragement in the often looked down on, but incredibly important job of making a home, you may want to read this book.

7. Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory Keck and Regina Kupecky -- Even though this book's purpose is to teach parents how to raise traumatized children, I found it to be a highly useful book for parenting any child. While not everything in the book pertains to non-adopted children, I did find I looked at all of my parenting differently after I read it.

8. Books by Jane Healy. I know I already mentioned Endangered Minds, but I find her other books useful as well.

9. Books by David Elkind. The Hurried Child and All Grown Up and No Place to Go are two titles that come to mind. I don't always agree with his conclusions, but his information about children's development is very interesting.

10. Bible study guides by Nancy Campbell. Once again, these address the role of homemaker which encompasses parenting. My favorite is The Family Meal Table and Hospitality.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Setting the bar too low

(Warning: Rant to follow containing highly opinionated statements about parenting.)

"You and J. are such calm people, no wonder your children are so well-behaved."

"My children are just so high energy, there is no way I could ask them to sit still."

Or, how about:

"Boy, you were sure lucky when they were handing out kids." (In reference to behavior.)

Yes, J. and I actually have had all these statements (or variations of them) said to us. We enjoy receiving compliments on our children's behavior. It is a gratifying reward for our hard work. But there is another side to these compliments whether the speaker meant it or not, because they are also implying that our children's good behavior is merely a function of luck or genetics. Or as in the middle example, there is a tacit implication that our children are somehow not normal. All of the statements completely negate all of the hard work which J. and I put into training our children.

By implicating genetics or luck or abnormality as the cause of children's good behavior, it then becomes something that parents do not have any control over. Can I just say I think this is an enormous cop out? Sure there is plenty about parenting about which we have no control: a child's inclination toward obedience, a child's energy level, a child's self-awareness. Really, just about everything. But this does not give us an excuse to accept poor behavior or to abdicate our responsibility in training our children. If anything, it makes training that much more important because there are no guarantees about how a child will behave if left to him or herself.

Perhaps the problem lies in really not understanding the needs of young children, their abilities, and what is harmful to them. We set them down in front of the television at a young age... when what they need is interaction and conversation with adults. We read them books that are drivel because they are about a favorite cartoon character... when what they need are books that expand their vocabularies and stretch their imaginations. We hand them innumerable worksheets... when what they need is contact with the physical world. We entertain them constantly... when what they need is to learn to make their own entertainment. We allow them to call the shots because it's easier... when what they need are definite boundaries and limits so they can feel safe. We make other things gods and attend church when it fits into our schedules... when what they need is the love and saving grace of the Savior who made the universe.

By taking the path least resistance, we stunt our children's abilities to think, to listen, to understand, do difficult things, and, yes, sit still. (Well, relatively still...I am the mother of four boys. I can handle a little wiggling.) In effect, we set the bar too low for what a young child is able to manage and then act surprised when our teenagers are still behaving like three year olds. Thirteen is too old to begin to train your child.

But parenting is work... hard work... nearly constant work, and I am baffled by parents who don't understand this. Yes, it's difficult to train my child to sit through a worship service and to get something out of the sermon. Yes, it's frustrating to have to practice first time obedience over and over and over. Yes, it's tiring to correct the child every time he whines. But you know what? I don't recall anyone ever saying it was going to be easy. And really, parenting is not about the parent. It's not whether the parent is too tired or too busy to parent. It's not about whether the parent feels something is 'their time' or not. It's about raising children to be thoughtful, considerate, Godly, functioning adults. Parents can retire when their job is done.

Now, before you frantically hit the comment button, telling me about why your child should be given a pass in the behavior department, let me be clear. I am fully aware that some children have challenges that most do not have. I am not implying that if these children's parents just parented better, their children would be fine. But even for these children, parents are still called to be parents and to help them reach their full potential, it's just that it will look different for them than for others. And we as fellow parents need to extend grace to those families. I am addressing the parents who have either abdicated their responsibilities or have never been trained themselves in what is possible for their children. So, be the grown-up. Set the bar high for what you expect of your children and then help them to achieve that goal.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When you have nothing to say, just post some baby pictures

Here's G. (moving and blurry) -- I have to remember to change the camera settings to capture motion.
And here's L. -- She is wearing a dress I wore as a baby, though I think I had a bit more hair.
They are now 11 months old. I think back to how pregnant I was this time last year and am so thankful I'm past that and now have these babies. Just last night, when I lay down in bed, I suddenly remembered how I couldn't even do a simple task such as getting into bed without great effort. It's probably best most of the past two years is a blur.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Any reason to dress in a costume

I've mentioned before how much our children love to dress up in costumes. There have been many mystery parties, and shows, and more shows, and history feasts. P17, is now P18, having celebrated a birthday earlier this month. To surprise her, her friends planned a mystery party, set in the '30's. Here is the group (yes, M. is dressed as a boy...the game was for 4 boys and 4 girls...M. graciously volunteered to take one of the male parts):

Then today, A. had a mystery party of her own to go to. Some younger sisters of the group above, no doubt not wanting to be left out, planned and wrote their own. It is set in the '20's and A.'s part was as a young widow:

Someday we adults will have to have one of our own. Listening in (which we get to do, since they are always here) it always sounds as if everyone is having a fabulous time. Plus, they usually involve pretty dresses and lots of food...what's not to like?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Make it stop!

The whining, that is. K. has reached the terrible twos a couple of years late. K. continues to catch-up developmentally and we've found that he is hitting all the milestones that he should, just on a delayed schedule. He is definitely making up for lost time, though, because he moves through the developmental stages at a faster rate. I hope that this holds true for whining as well. For the majority of our children, the year of being two wasn't so bad, but three....? Let's just say it's a good thing they were cute. K. is right on schedule, really. The worst always seems to come when a good grasp of language has emerged and also an awareness of the world around them that wasn't there before. They know that they want to do things and can't, either because they are unable to or because some parent or brother or sister won't let them. And since they know that language can effect change, they use its most annoying form. But knowing why the whining happens does not make it any easier to bear. And it's exhausting. From experience, the only way to stop it is to be consistent in addressing the whining every time it happens. There are some times when I wish I could just pretend I didn't hear the whining (as if!) and let it pass. But every time I do this, I know I'm lengthening the torture because anytime the whining works, it is further encouragement to the child to whine the next time. You know that Lamaze breathing that is taught for labor? I think it's completely wasted on childbirth. I find it far more useful in the parenting of young children...breath in, breath out, focus on the breathing, really it's not a buzz saw drilling into your skull, focus on the breathing...

Friday, May 14, 2010

History at the Art Institute

One of the things I love about homeschooling are the opportunities to take field trips whenever it fits into what we are studying. We can often schedule them to avoid crowds and have frequently had whole museums to ourselves. This morning was not one of those times. We went down to the Art Institute for our history co-op class. The topic was art in the Enlightenment and the two girls presenting had prepared their class based on the holdings in the Art Institute. It was very crowded, both with school groups and large groups of adults with conference-type name badges. I'm not sure which groups were louder. But we had a nice time despite the crowds and the larger families having to become slightly nasty about exactly what a family pass means. (Note to the Art Institute of Chicago: You cannot call a free family pass a 'family pass' is you are then going to limit it to four children under 13 and no children over 13. Especially if you do not print any disclaimers on the pass itself.) It's not the actual raising of the large family that makes me weary, it's the constant defending of my family to others that is tiresome.

Afterward some of us picnicked in the park across the street and enjoyed the incredibly beautiful weather. I have to say, living where the weather is often not great, I think we appreciate nice days far more than others where the weather is often postcard perfect. M. and her friends stayed behind to see more of the museum and took the train home.

While our time with Enlightenment art was pretty quick, we will be solidifying everyone's knowledge of the major works in a couple of weeks. The last time we studied this time period, we resurrected the old pastime of putting on tableaux. For those who don't know, this was the practice, done for entertainment, of dressing up like famous paintings or important moments in history. It was always something I had read about and thought, "These people must really be needing something to do!" But, then we tried it. Each person or group of people chose a painting they wanted to portray and brought the correct costume pieces and props. They then posed and we took their pictures. It was really a lot of fun. The children all became very familiar with "their" paintings and loved comparing the real paintings with their own versions. It was so much fun, we are going to do it again, five years later.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

That will be a table for 25 please

This is the third post I've started in the past two days. I'm pretending I don't have a head cold, but I still can't talk myself out of the vaguely underwater feeling I have. It doesn't make for very coherent thinking...or writing.

Today was the annual lunch trip that we and two other families (the P Family and the H-S Family...I write about them all the time) take to our local hamburger restaurant. It started out as a four times a year event and we did it to celebrate the birthdays that occurred in our three families in the past three months. The birthday children get the treat of a milkshake. Over the years as we've all added more children, it has become a once a year event and everyone gets a milkshake. For a while, the same waiter worked there for several years and got to know us and didn't panic when we all walked in. But he has since moved onto better jobs and we have to break in a new waitress every time we visit. Someday I'll take a camera so I can document the abject panic that 22 children and just 3 adults elicits from the unsuspecting server. But we have a system. We seat the children by age groups, with the youngest five sitting with the adults. (It's a big day when you are old enough to sit at a table sans adults.) Today, that gave us five different tables...the oldests (15-18), the older middles (12-14), the younger middles (8-9), the youngers (5-7), and the adults and littles (the babies, 2, and 4 year olds). Everyone knows which group they're in, so there is no bickering about seating. Secondly, only the mothers order or have interactions with the server. Can you imagine waiting while each child tried to do their own ordering? Since some haven't been in the US for very long, there is also the whole language issue as well. This way we can keep each family's order straight and it makes it easier to pay the bill at the end. Thirdly, all three of us mothers have perfected 'the look'. The 22 children are pretty well behaved, but if someone forgets him or herself, often it only takes the corresponding mother to give 'the look' to bring back order. Here is a picture of some of the children at some of the tables:

In other news, yesterday I went to help teach healthy cooking at the local woman's shelter. There were ~30 residents there and we managed to get enough dinner prepared and on time for all. I'm not sure how much actual cooking was learned, but the healthy food was popular. By far the most popular food was the homemade ranch dressing we served along with the salad. It was so popular that the tripled recipe ran out before everyone made it through the line. I thought since everyone liked it so much I would share it with all of you. It's from the La Leche League's cookbook, Whole Foods for the Whole Family (one of my favorite cookbooks, by the way).

Buttermilk Salad Dressing (just like ranch)

1/2 c. light mayonnaise
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 t. dried parsley
1/4 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. onion powder
1/4 t. salt
dash pepper
dash paprika

Combine all ingredients in bowl, mix well. Chill before serving. Yield: 8 (1 oz.) servings.

Oh, and thank you to everyone who commented on my last post. You can all go back to lurking again, as I am feeling slightly more balanced. In my next fit of self-absorption, I'll just go back and re-read the comments.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Yoo Hoo...

is anybody there? I really don't mind if no one comments, but it's nice to know if other people are reading. Oh well, I'll just go on talking to's not as though I don't do it all the time anyway.

The biggest news around here is that A. got her hair cut. She was able to donate 10 inches of ponytail to Locks of Love. Here's the new 'do:

I really think it's cute, though it makes her look a lot older. She is very happy with it and it is still long enough that she can change her hairstyle every couple of hours just like she did with the longer hair. P. is now waging a campaign to get her haircut as well. I'm not sure I'm ready for that considering she just had her very first haircut a year ago. Perhaps we'll make a 'short haircuts happen at 12' rule around here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Further adventures with prawn crackers

Remember when I accidentally bought the uncooked prawn crackers? Well, encouraged by fellow adoptive mom, April, we (J.) decided to try cooking them. Our (J.'s) first attempt didn't turn out so well. This is what happens when the oil is too hot and the crackers are left in too long:

But we (J.) persevered and kept trying. Here are the results of further attempts:

Much better, huh? It is pretty amazing to watch. These little round disks are put in the hot oil (J. discovered that using a small wire colander lowered into the oil makes it very easy) and in less than 3 seconds they puff up and need to be immediately pulled out. In our (J.'s) defense, the instructions on the package weren't exactly clear:

They were pretty good...nearly everyone enjoyed eating them. Here is TM enjoying one of his favorite snacks:

And because they're cute and I haven't posted about them much recently, here is a short video of the babies. G. loves to talk and talk, though is a bit soft spoken, especially when compared with the louder L. and K. (in the background). They were being fed some dinner, so are a little on the messy side.

Oh, I also wanted to mention the new addition to my sidebar. How one goes about feeding so many people on a regular basis is one of the most common questions I get. I thought some people might be interested in what our dinner menu looks like. Plus, if anyone is like me, sometimes when it's time to make the weekly menu list, I feel as though I completely forget everything I know how to cook. Looking at other people's menus often helps me to make my own.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A good mail day

When you were young, didn't you love getting mail? I don't know about you, but the mail has lost some of its cache for me as an adult, what with bills, tax notices, jury summons, and all that. But every so often, there is a 'real' letter in the mail and I remember again why mail can be exciting. That is always how I feel when we receive a letter from our sponsored child. For over two years we have sponsored a child through Compassion International. He is 9 years old, just like our P., has six brothers and sisters, and lives in Ethiopia. For me, the neatest thing about how our sponsorship works (other than with our help he can go to school and have good nutrition, of course) is that we have gotten to know each other through the letters we send back and forth. He tells me what he is learning in school, how he celebrates holidays, and how he spent his birthday money. He also asks me questions about our life here. He was very interested to know how we named the babies and what their names mean. I send him pictures and stickers and he sends me drawings and pictures he's colored. I have even been sent a copy of his report card and so I was able to encourage him in his studies. If ever I find myself in Ethiopia, I have a standing invitation to come and watch him in one of the plays he is in. (A good match for our family, don't you think?)

Above all, our correspondence makes him a very real little boy, living a very real life and not just a picture on a page or an anonymous statistic. And we are real people to him as well, not just some unknown person who helps to provide him food. It is a joy to be in relationship with him. You can have this joy as well. For just $1.25 a day ($38 a month), you could sponsor a child as well and have the joy of having a relationship with some small, real, child in another part of the world. I'll even make it easy...all you have to do is click the Compassion button in my sidebar. You won't even break a sweat. I promise.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Lap books

I love lap books. They are such a great way to combine everything a child has learned about a subject into one place. And they are so cool when they are done...flaps that open, little books to look at, all the little hidden things that need to be explored. I know there are many companies that offer all the makings for lap books on different subjects, but I've always enjoyed helping my children make each little booklet themselves. The lap books may not look quite as nice, but I think my children learn a lot more. Plus, they can honestly say they made it all themselves. The other thing I love about them is how each book can be tailored to the age and ability of each child. As a group we can be working on the same subject, but the older children are asked to do more than the younger ones. We've been making the little booklets and pictures that went inside for the past couple of weeks and today was assembly day. Here are A., P., TM, and D. all busily working on putting the books together:

And here is a picture of the four lap books all assembled:

You can sort of get a sense of how they open. Each is made out of file folders and has multiple pages. A. and P.'s have more pages than the boys' because they had more written work to include.
So, what's next? Well, we're going to continue with our study of geography, having covered the basics of how the world itself is put together. Our next stop is Holland. It is the setting of the book, The Wheel on the School (highly recommended), which is our current lunch time read aloud. It's a wonderful book about a group of school children who work to bring storks back to their village. There's so much we can dikes in the backyard, draw tulips (maybe even go to a tulip festival), wooden shoes.... We'll probably also cover storks and other migrating birds as well. I'm already thinking that since storks migrate from Africa, that that will be the next stop in line.
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