Thursday, September 30, 2010

Squeaky shoes and sunny days

I think I mentioned how my friend brought the babies some squeaky shoes from China.  In case you don't know what they are (shoes, not babies), they are children's shoes with a squeaker in the heel, much like a squeaky dog toy.  When the child walks, the heel is depressed and the shoe squeaks.  With each step.  Every single time.  And L. loves her shoes.  Heck, she just loves shoes in general... to the point where she took a pair of shoes to bed with her because she didn't want to let them go.  I think I foresee trouble ahead with her in that department.  Here is a video of L. walking around in her squeaky shoes. 

Some days are so nice that you just have to cancel your regularly scheduled school activities and head outside.  Yesterday was one of those days.  (Though, A., who is reading over my shoulder as I write this, would like to point out that she did all of the work she had scheduled.  Perhaps it was just me that cancelled stuff.)  But when it is warm and sunny and you know that those type of days are drastically numbered, you really need to take advantage of them.  So we headed outside.  The babies played on the slide while B. took their pictures.  Other children were draped various places reading books.  Some were in the tree you see hanging above the van, you just can't see them because of the leaves.  I'm even sitting outside and enjoying my newest library find, Amigurumi Knits, because who doesn't need to know how to knit a toy angler fish or garden snail?  G. is in white and L. is in pink.

G. demonstrating the princess wave.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dinner for eleven

As I have mentioned before, we eat dinner together every night.  During last night's dinner, several thoughts passed through my head that I thought I would share.

First, I think everyone is in a growth spurt.  (Well, the children, that is.  J. and I don't need to have growth spurts.)  It used to be that if I cooked two pounds of pasta, it would give us plenty for dinner and also some leftover for lunch the next day.  The past couple of times we've had noodles, there has barely been enough to satisfy everyone at dinner, much less have any left for another meal. Actually, leftovers in general have been few and far between.  I'm afraid the bad news is that it is time to go from doubling to tripling when I make dinner.  (Or depending on the recipe, to go from tripling to quadrupling.)  It makes me think of the picture book, The Seven Silly Eaters.  There is a line in it about the children growing, but their appetites growing with them.  I need bigger pots and pans.

Secondly, it occurs to me that we don't have calm and sedate dinners.  They tend to be loud and boisterous, with many people trying to talk at once despite our reminders not to interrupt.  I am glad that everyone has things they want to share, but I do wish the volume could be turned down a bit sometimes.  In order to keep a rein on the chaos, we have the 'no singing at the table rule' (which is often broken, sometimes even by the parents who made it), the 'no knock-knock jokes at the table rule', the 'no touching your feet at the table rule', and the 'no touching your hair or face because the babies will copy you rule'.  Our topics of conversation cover a huge range, and we've been told by people joining us for dinner that they can be fairly unusual.  It all depends on what someone has read or heard that day, for example the story about parasites J. heard on the radio or the book B., M., and I read (Farm City) about raising pigs on scraps from dumpsters in the inner city.  And with all that talking, dinner takes a while.  We will be at the table for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour an a half if there's dessert.  No wonder K. sometimes falls asleep if he hasn't had a nap.

Thirdly, I want to learn more about Elizabeth Fry.  For our family devotions after dinner, we have been reading through volume 2 of Hero Tales.  One of the people in this volume is Elizabeth Fry.  I knew a very small bit about her, mainly that she worked with women in prisons.  But reading the brief stories about her makes me want to find out more.  For instance, did you know that she gave birth to eleven children and that she wrote a small devotional book for mothers to encourage them during the busy years of raising young children?  If I find a good biography, I'll let you know.

There you have a small snapshot of dinner at the big ugly house.  At least it's been a while, maybe even a whole week, since we've had to remind someone not to use the tablecloth as a napkin.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The clothes situation around here was getting truly dire.  TM and D. have grown so much that they had very few clothes that fit.  They were showing a lot of ankle.  Yesterday I finally bit the bullet and went shopping for them. 

Now the key to clothing so many people is to never buy anything at full price.  And if you can get things at a thrift store or a rummage sale that's even better.  So, my first course of action when clothes are needed and I don't have them in my basement is to head off to my favorite thrift store.  Mondays are always half price so it's the only day I go.  It was a particularly fruitful excursion.  Here's what I found:

This pile contains:  11 pairs of pants (both jeans and dress pants) for TM and D.; 8 long-sleeved button-down shirts (both casual and dress) for the same boys; 1 pair of pants for K.; 3 button-down shirts for K.; 3 pairs of boys' dress socks; 2 skirts for A.; 2 skirts for E.; a skirt, a jumper, a blouse, and a long-sleeved for the babies; and 2 pieces of fabric, each several yards long (it's in the bottom left corner).

And the best part?  It all totalled just $59.29!  That averages a mere $1.66 per item.  And while that's a really expensive pair of socks, it's a great deal on everything else.  I love my thrift store.

Now I need to wash it all, go through the boys' and babies' dressers and pull-out and box the outgrown clothes so there is room for the new size.  This is a chore I dread and is probably the one thing I dislike about having a large family... having to do this x9.

Monday, September 27, 2010


If children came with parenting manuals, life would be so much easier.  While life with TM is relatively easy now, there are still times where his past trauma rears its ugly head and I feel as though we are back to square one.  We have found that if we can head off these moments before he reaches absolute meltdown he can regain control and not disappear.  (During these times, when it is really bad, he does seem to disappear; he's just not there.)  There are a couple of tricks we have started to use which seem to help. 

First,we deal with some of the presenting problems and not the impending fit.  When he is starting to completely lose control, his feels his skin itching so badly he begins to claw at himself.  I know it must really feel itchy, but I also know that it is a symptom of mental distress.  If I express concern about his skin itching and carefully rub lotion on it, it can often calm him down enough to begin to see reason.  His muscles will also often feel as though the are cramping during these times.  We have a lotion which smells like root beer (which he loves) that is designed to help muscle cramps, so we will carefully rub this in also.  He has always loved good smells, so I bought some essential oils to make some pillows (or something soft) that we can hand him to smell when he is upset as well.  When I get them made, I'll let you know how it works.  He doesn't always want our care, but if we remain calm and continue our ministrations, he will often calm down.

The other piece we have recently discovered is that these periods are often tied to when he gets too hungry.  Now, since both B. and I are very susceptible to low blood sugar, you would think that this would have occurred to me sooner.  But because our reactions are so different (we just completely shut down; having a fit would require too much energy) it never crossed my mind.  But a little while ago I read this post by One Thankful Mom and something clicked in my head.  I am positive that TM never experienced great hunger, so I don't think that is at the bottom of all this, but it did cause me think that perhaps it could be hunger related.  TM has been growing like a weed these days, so it would make sense that we would be seeing more of this type of behavior in the middle of a growth spurt.  To sum up, when he gets too hungry, his brain starts to short-circuit.  I have been experimenting with giving him some high protein food whenever I see the spiral start and it seems to be working.  Like B. and I when too hungry, initially, he doesn't want food.  When you get too hungry, it becomes difficult to recognize the symptoms of hunger.  But, if I can get it in him, in a few minutes we can see a return to rationality.  TM and I were even able to talk about it this morning and he is going to try to pay attention to feeling hungry so we can take action.

I think I'm going to to have to go back to carrying power bars with me.  When B. was little this was a huge part of our lives.  One moment he would be fine, the next he would be immobile.  As he has gotten older he has become much better at self-care and we don't see the plunge quite so often.  But when B. was little, I needed food available immediately.  Perhaps this time, I'll investigate making my own power bars...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Apple picking

Today, we spent the day in Michigan with our friends the P. Family and the H-S family apple picking.  It was a bit overcast and cooler than it has been, but it didn't rain and there were still lots of apples on the trees even though it was late in the season.  Here are some pictures from our day:

M. with G. and A. with L.  (The big girls volunteered to carry the babies in the backpacks.)

Picking apples... and eating them.

E. and A. with L.


E. (In my ratty black sweater that doesn't come off from September through May.)

After we picked all the apples we could manage, we found a place in the orchard to have a picnic.  It was a beautiful orchard and not nearly as crowded as some we have been to.

Some of the picnickers

More picnickers

The babies strapped in their chairs again.

But, since it wasn't muddy or wet, they were let loose for a while.

The big kids had fun, too.  Here is A. holding her father, J., and baby G.

We came home with 7 half bushels of apples:  1 of Macintosh and 6 of Jonathan.  Here they are all lined up in our mudroom behind baby gates.  G. and L. were quite fascinated with the bags of pretty apples and we had visions of them doing a "Ramona".  You know,Ramona the Pest where she goes to where the apples are stored and takes one bite out of each apple.  When her mother asks her why, she replies that it is because the first bite is always the best.  (And yes, a baby without molars and only a few front teeth can do this because A. at the same age did exactly that.)

I see much time spent with apples in my future.  As well as being for eating, these are going to be turned into apple sauce and pie filling and maybe even I'll be adventurous this year and dry some.  Oh, yeah, I also came home with three more pie pumpkins.  Hey, they were cheap.

Pumpkins? What pumkins?

I don't see anyone hoarding stocking up on pumpkins.  Oh, these?  These are just a few things I picked-up at the store yesterday.  J. called me obsessed in the store.  (It's become our big date recently, going to the store together.  Are we wild, or what?)  I blame it all on the after-effects of last year's pumpkin shortage.  I'm not going to be caught-out again.  What you see is what I consider to be the bare minimum in pumpkin reserves.

So what are we going to do with all this pumpkin?  Well, the pie pumpkins are going to be cooked into puree to be used in pumpkin pie.  (I think pumpkin pie made with fresh pumpkin is the best.)  Have you ever used a pie pumpkin?  The food blog, Annie's Eats has a great tutorial complete with pretty pictures and everything.  So, I'll just send you there instead of recreating it myself.  As if.

Other things we make with pumpkin around here are, of course, pumpkin bread and pumpkin cookies.  But there are also pumpkin scones which are incredibly yummy.  And, if you like that big coffee chain's seasonal pumpkin spice latte, you can use your pumpkin to make it yourself.

Friday, September 24, 2010

English muffins

One of the things M. really loved about her time in Samoa this summer were the English muffins which her team leaders made them all for breakfast.  She raved about them so much that I asked her to get me the recipe.  Yesterday was the first time that I had enough unplanned time to try them.  Here is how they turned out:

I tried one to be sure they were edible and they are indeed very yummy.  They are particularly good with cherry butter.  (I have gallons of the stuff, you know.)  Want to make them yourself?  I'll share the recipe with you.  Actually, I'll give you the recipe as it was given to me and then I'll give you the recipe the way I actually made it.

First, the original way:

6 pkgs. yeast
3/4 c. very warm water
2 TBSP sugar
3/4 c. butter
5 1/4 c. milk
6 tsp salt
18 c. flour

Dissolve yeast and sugar in water.  Melt butter in milk, add salt when lukewarm and add to yeast.  Add 12 c. flour.  Beat batter well.  Cover and let rise one hour.  Punch down and add the rest of the flour until dough is stiff.  Knead thoroughly.  Let rise until double.  Punch down.  Pat out 1/2 inch think.  Cut into rounds.  Dust both sides with cornmeal.  Let rise until double.  Heat griddle or skillet, grease slightly.  Brown on both sides.  Makes 36.

OK, now my version.  This is if you have a large capacity mixer which is capable of kneading dough and can hold that much flour.  I have a Bosch and it managed with no problem.  I also use SAF instant yeast which is different from the little packages of yeast you buy in the grocery store.  That said, here goes:

Use the same ingredients as above, except instead of regular active dry yeast, use 6 tsp. instant yeast.

Melt butter in milk and add salt when lukewarm.  In mixer, place milk mixture, very hot tap water, sugar, 12 c. flour and place your yeast on top.  Pulse to mix and then run machine until the ingredients are well combined.  Cover and let rise for an hour.  Pulse to punch down.  While mixer is running, add flour until it cleans the sides of the bowl.  Mix on a higher speed for five minutes.  Turn out on a greased counter and flatten dough to just 1/2 inch thick.  (I found this easier to do if I split the dough in half.)  You can use your hand, or I used my roller-tool-thing (I'm sure that's its technical name) in the picture below.  I also used a biscuit cutter, also in the picture, to cut out the muffins.  I ignored all the other instructions to let the dough rise again.  It took a while to cook them all, so the dough had plenty of time to rise without hanging about waiting for it.

I used a small bowl of cornmeal and lightly patted the cornmeal on each side of each muffin.  I followed the rest of the directions as they are written, though it took a bit longer to cook them than I thought it would.  I was using pretty low heat so that the muffins wouldn't burn, but yet they would be cooked all the way through.  Oh, and it makes far more than 36.  I was able to get at least 46 and I could have rolled the dough a bit thinner. 

This will get us through three breakfasts if we are vigilant about limiting people to just one or two.  I realize that most families don't go through food at quite the same rate we do, so if 46+ muffins seems a bit much, I would think they would freeze quite nicely.  I'm not even going to bother... they'll be gone by Sunday.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tet Trung Thu

Last night we (us, the P. family and the H-S family) celebrated the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.  We had Vietnamese cucumber salad and ginger chicken, Chinese dumplings and a beef stir-fry, and the not-so-traditional spinach lasagna for the people who preferred not to eat Asian food.

The moon, which very kindly made an appearance.

After dinner we began lighting lanterns for the lantern parade.  (The H-S family bought them on their visits to China and we supplemented with some bought in Chinatown.):

Yes, we are using real candles.  They are votive candles and they are hot-glued to the lanterns.  Plus, the grass was pretty wet if one happened to drop.  The lanterns were more likely to go out on their own, though, and we had no accidents.



Many children walking around with lanterns.  This was taken with a flash.  It really looked more like this:

After the lantern parade we had pineapple-filled moon cakes which were very good.  Those who thought they might not enjoy eating a moon cake had the knock-off version of Ding Dongs.  (They're round, like moons, you know.)

It was a late night and we're all getting a slow start this morning.  I suppose I should finish my second cup of coffee and get some small children dressed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

15 months

The girls turned 15 months old a week ago today.  L. is walking everywhere all the time and G. is starting to take more and more steps... no doubt to keep up with her sister.  Here are some baby pictures from yesterday.  (I can still call them babies, right?)  L. is in blue and G. is in orange.

In other family news, M. has decided that she is going to teach herself cake decorating.  Here are her first attempts at decorating cupcakes.  Not bad, huh?  I think that her brothers and sisters are going to like this new hobby of hers very much.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vietnam adoptions

I wasn't really planning on blogging about this.  But between Ann's comment (not that there was anything wrong with it... it just made me think) and various posts I've seen on the Adoption from Vietnam Yahoo group, I guess I am going to anyway.

Recently, The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism requested information through the Freedom of Information Act regarding adoptions from Vietnam.  (If you want to read about it, head here.)  Following that was a follow-up article based on this information.  What comes out is the hideous under-belly of international adoption.  Whenever you combine desperate Westerners, huge amounts of money, greedy humans, and vulnerable children, the results can be devastating.  Reading through these reports is heart-breaking and the only people who win (if you can even use that term) are the ones who walk away with the money and are never prosecuted.  It is not the birth parents who were lied to in one form or another, not the adoptive parents who really only wanted a child (though often they become unknowingly, or sometimes knowingly complicit because desire has a way of drowning out reason), and certainly not the children who were taken away from birth families and have had their whole early history erased.

My heart lies in Vietnam, both because two of my sons are Vietnamese and because we fell in love with the country and its people.  But I don't hold out much hope that adoptions from there will resume soon.  The corruption was so widespread that I just don't see how it can be remedied easily or quickly.  As much as my heart breaks for those children who are genuinely orphaned, even one child illegally placed is too many in my book to make it worth while.  And before you argue with me, picture your own child and imagine that he or she was the one child out of all the other legal adoptions to be illegally place with another family.  Picture his empty room or her empty spot at the table and then tell me that it is worth it because so many other children have found permanent homes.

My point in all this?  I have started to see the beginnings of adoption-related activity.  I'm starting to hear dates... maybe in 2012.  Maybe Vietnam will sign the Hague Agreement next year.  Maybe it will all move quickly after that.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.  I'm hearing people say that they are going to adopt from Vietnam... that they have found an agency... that they are looking for home study agencies to get ready.  Imagine me screaming at the top of my lungs:  Don't do anything yet!  Don't give any agency any money!  Do your research and listen to what experienced adoptive parents have to say!  Don't tune out the ugly stories of corruption and greed because you don't want to hear it!  Do not be one of those people who because you are so blinded by your desire for a child that you look the other way or don't do due diligence because it is too uncomfortable.  (And may I humbly add that those last three commands apply to anyone looking into adoption in any country.)

And lastly, since I am obviously feeling crotchety about this, if you are adopting because you have a heart for orphans; because you want to give a home to a child who needs one; because you want a child to love; then look for the children who have given up hope.  Those would be the children who are older or whose medical conditions make it less likely someone would choose them for a son or daughter or possibly who are part of a sibling group.  It is not the healthy infant girl as young as possible.  Just sayin'.

Monday, September 20, 2010

On my mind

As I was thinking about what I should write, I realized that what I've been obsessing about these days is adopting again.  Yes, I know I have nine children.  But I still feel as though someone may be missing. It is a kind of yearning that feels much the same as what I felt before we began TM and K.'s adoptions.   And there is always room for one more, isn't there?  Heck, I still have four empty seats in my van.

But, seriously, this has to be a God-thing from the beginning.  There are so many hurdles, I can't even begin to imagine how it would all work out.  Shall I list them for you?
  • Our family size.  We do not qualify for many types of adoption.  In Illinois we have exceeded even the expanded capacity limit for a foster care license.  And without that license, we cannot adopt out of foster care; cannot have a birth mother choose our family to place her child, even if that child has special needs and could be difficult to place; cannot adopt out of disruption, even if the placing family were to choose us; and cannot adopt from a country where the adoption is either not final or the child comes home on the wrong visa.   I have contacted many agencies and every one of them has confirmed it:  The state of Illinois would rather have children in temporary foster care placements than consider a large family for permanent placement.
  • Finances.  This leaves us with very few options.  We would need to adopt from a country which allows large families to adopt and makes the adoption final in country, thus allowing the child to come home on the correct visa.  From what my research tells me this leaves us with two choices:  China and Ethiopia.  China has been granting waivers for family size if the child being adopted is either older or difficult to place due to  health issues.  But, we still run into not qualifying under their income requirements.  I haven't heard of both income and family size requirements being waived in the same adoption.  This leaves us with Ethiopia.  ('Leaves' is probably an unfortunate choice of verbs.  It implies that I see it as a second-best choice, which is not my intent.  At all.)  With Ethiopia, we would be required to make two trips.  That's a lot of plane tickets.  Plus, I just don't know what we would do for childcare arrangements while we were gone.  Though that worry is putting the cart before the horse a bit.
So there you have it.  Only God can overcome a list like this. 

Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

On a vastly unrelated note.  I have one of my posts listed in this week's Homeschool Showcase at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Salt dough maps

Since we're studying the Mississippi River, I thought it would be fun to have everyone make salt dough maps of the river.  Plus, it would give us an excuse for making salt dough, which is always fun to play with.  First we made the dough:

We made blue for the water and green for the land.  While I was mixing in the food coloring into the dough (no, I did not let the 7-year-old boys help me with the food coloring), each child was given a piece of cardboard, upon which they sketched the Mississippi River, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and the Gulf of Mexico.  Once that was done, they took the salt dough and filled-in all the spaces they had sketched.

A. helping K.



Want to make your own salt dough?  Here's the recipe that I used.  (It's from the book, Kids Create! Art & Craft Experiences for 3-to-9-Year-Olds by Laurie Carlson.)  I doubled this recipe and it gave me plenty for five children to play with.

1 cup flour
1 TBSP salad oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup salt**
2 tsp cream of tartar
food coloring

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan.  Use a wooden spoon to stir over medium heat.  Stir constantly to prevent sticking.  The mixture will be soupy for several minutes and then suddenly it will stick together and can be stirred into a ball.  When it thickens, remove from heat and continue stirring.  Turn the hot ball out onto a floured surface, and begin kneading as it cools.  This is when I divided the dough and added food coloring.  I used quite a bit to get the color I wanted.  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

**If you are using a lot of salt for a project, either making lots of salt dough, or perhaps mummifying a chicken, I would suggest you buy it at Aldi if you have one close.  It's a lot easier to justify 33 cents a carton when you need a lot of them.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Painting at the zoo

Some friends (the usual suspects... the P family and the H-S family) and I decided to take some of our children to the zoo yesterday afternoon.  So we piled the middles and littles in the vans headed down.  (The oldests were in rehearsal.  Well, except for A. who wasn't in the scene which was being rehearsed.)  Our first stop was the children's area.  It was an incredibly quiet day and we nearly had the place to ourselves, so we decided we could manage the climbing area.  After you see what it looks like, you will understand why it is not much fun when there are hoards of children present.


Some of the 15 children we brought climbing in the structure.

More children in the climbing structure.

And what did the babies do while everyone was climbing?  Pretty much this:

G. on left and L. on right

After having climbed to their hearts' content, we headed off to other areas of the zoo.  We saw some lions:

TM on right

And then we headed to the wild dog exhibit which was our 'real' destination.  We have been studying wolves, foxes, and dogs this fall, so I thought it would be fun to watch the real thing and do some painting.

One end of the line-up.

From the other side.

P7, P6, and TM

And what did the babies do while everyone was painting?  Pretty much what they had done the entire afternoon:

Although this time I broke out some toys for them.  That was good for, oh, about as long as it took me to take this picture.  Let's just say it was not their favorite part of the day, and a very good thing one of my friends always travels with cheddar sharks.
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