Friday, September 30, 2011

Apple-onion tarts

There was some disappointment yesterday that I didn't post the recipe that I changed.  Since I'm spending the day making apple sauce, I'll share it with you since it's an easy post.  Here is the original Martha Stewart recipe I used.

And here is my version. (I don't feel as though I changed it all that much, but judging from the comments, if you follow it exactly it takes forever to make.  Mine didn't and it still tasted great.)

Apple-Onion Tart (the easier way)
As usual, I'm giving you the large family proportions.  You can reduce, or invite someone over to join you, or I imagine it would freeze quite well.

4 apples, sliced sort-of thinly depending on how tired I was of slicing apples... I didn't peel them.
8 onions, thinly sliced
a couple TBSP of olive oil
a couple TBSP of butter
a pinch of crushed rosemary (you could add more if you like rosemary)
3 TBSP apple cider vinegar
Grated Parmesan cheese

Pie crust for 3 single crust pies (I made enough for two double crust pies and froze one).  If you want to get extra fancy, you could cut in a little grated Parmesan cheese and crushed rosemary to the crust.  I was going to but forgot.

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onions.  Cook until they get soft and cook down enough to add the apples.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the apple/onion mixture is brown and caramelized.  Add the vinegar, Parmesan and rosemary and cook for another few minutes.  (This step takes long enough that you will have plenty of time to make the pie crust while it cooks.)

Preheat over to 425 degrees.  Line three pie plates with the crust.  Spoon in the apple-onion mixture.  To get the rustic, chi-chi look, instead of crimping the crust around the edge, just fold it over to the top of the tart.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Turn down heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.

It was really good.  Just be warned, it took a while to do all the chopping.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Not Martha

Last night we had a dinner which I based on a recipe on the Martha Stewart website, though I had to do some fiddling with it to make it into a reasonable recipe.  Which has made me do some thinking about good ol' Martha.  I will 'fess up and admit that off and on throughout my adult life I have subscribed to Martha Stewart Living magazine.  There are some things I like about the whole Martha-thing.  I have found some of her more reasonable ideas useful, the photographs are lovely to look at, and I have always been amused by the whole over-the-topness of it all.  But over all, I find her a bit hard to stomach and I am not sure but that she has done more to injure the pursuit of homemaking than to aid it.

The MS empire has made homemaking into a hobby... and an expensive one at that.  Homemaking is shown to be something that unemployed wives do to fill their endless hours on frivolousness.  There is no depth to it; they only point seems to be to impress others.  It is all about the person behind it.  Real homemaking is about others... focusing on what will make the home function and be a place of nurture.  While one focuses on what the neighbors will think, the other focuses on what is best for the family and guests.  Even though all white furniture may be touted as the newest "look", is it really appropriate for a family with small children?  It becomes an unrealistic image and one that will ultimately cause contention rather than peace.  (A side note... if you happen to inherit  a white couch, you can cry uncle and just cover it up with a throw.)

I believe that this competitive homemaking has also caused a decline in hospitality.  We now have this image in our heads as to what makes a decent home.  (And in fairness MSLiving is not the only culprit... many of the shelter magazines contribute to this.)  The homes we see featured are pristine.  We forget that when  magazine comes in to feature a home that they bring their designers with them and will set the house.  This is not how the majority of the home owners live.  It is an unrealistic picture.  Yet, we see it so much that we start to believe it.  We start to believe that this is how everyone but us lives.  And how could we possibly invite someone to our home when it doesn't look pristine?  I'll tell you right now, my home is not pristine.  On good days it is relatively neat and more or less clean, but not all the time.  There are days when life has spiraled out of control and taking care of the people in the house takes precedence over the house itself.  But all this does not stop me from inviting people over.  I believe that hospitality and good company trump setting anytime.  This isn't to say I don't care about what my home looks like.  I am just unwilling to sacrifice other things in order to try to achieve a perfect home.

The MS magazine peddles fantasy.  The message is that we can live a life like MS's if only we will buy what she sells and do exactly what she does, but without the staff.  We'll probably not see a magazine dedicated to real homemaking, though.  Reasonableness, frugality, and simplicity do not attract advertisers and don't sell magazines.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"No one seemed to believe me that I learn because I want to learn."

I was chatting with M. today and the title of this post is one of her sentences which really stood out.  She was relating a class discussion based on the professor's question of what each of their reactions would be if he didn't give grades to them.  She spoke up and said that it wouldn't matter.  It was how she was used to functioning and didn't need grades to motivate her.  Apparently what followed was a rather lively discussion with M. being the only student (who spoke up) to support the non-grade opinion.  At least one of the pro-grade supporters indicated that he needed grades because otherwise he would have no motivation to do any of the work.

This whole discussion leaves me with mixed feelings.  I am thrilled (but not surprised) that M. was willing to take a stand for a minority view.  It is not an easy thing to do.  I am also thrilled that she has thought about what it is she is doing at college.  It was a conscience decision made after looking at the different options available to her and not just the non-decision of going because that was what came next.  She is there to learn, and having made that decision needs no coercion to do so.

I am also very saddened.  Having the luxury to go to college is not always appreciated by those who are there.  And it is a luxury.  To be able to take four (or more) years of your life to just study and learn (sometimes with a little work on the side) is something that is not available to everyone.  Yet so many young people take it for granted.  Going to college is just what happens.  It is assumed that a young person will go and it is often treated as a continuation of high school, but with better social opportunities and fewer adults.  You can hear it in the words chosen:  grades are the carrot held out to the student to get them to do the work assigned in class.  The grade becomes an end in itself. The student does what is required to get the good grade and the idea that the purpose of it all is to learn something is lost.

And if you're curious, we don't grade our children.  If grades are used to determine the degree of a student's mastery of a topic, then all of mine get A's all the time.  It's not because they're all brilliant, but because with such a small group of students we can continue to work on a subject until it is mastered.  It may take months of practicing borrowing, but eventually borrowing is mastered.  Grades are also used to communicate to the other adults in the child's life how they are doing in their classes.  I know how my children are doing.  I work with each of them everyday and am well aware of their strengths and weaknesses.  I know far more about what my children know and how they learn than a grade could ever tell me.
_________________
To brag about my oldest just a bit more, she has some photos on her blog of the most recent project she completed for her 3D art class.  I think it's cool.  Go take a look at it:  Magpie's Shiny Objects

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Isaiah

Not much time to blog today.  First there was school all morning, followed by a stock-up run to the big box store for paper goods and peanut butter (will all the apples in the house there has been a run on peanut butter as everyone really likes it on apples), and now I need to prepare for the group of girls who are heading to my house in about an hour.

For the past three years, I have led a girls' Bible study, starting out with M. and her friends.  Nearly all of them have moved on and I am on to the next generation, so to speak.  These are younger sisters of the original group plus a couple of other friends.  It has been a wonderful experience getting to watch these girls grow and mature in young ladies.

And this is a serious Bible study, so is good for me as well.  Last year we worked our way through I and II Kings and this year we are diving into Isaiah.  That's right, I will be spending my Tuesday afternoons leading a group of 13 to 17 year old girls through Isaiah.  (As I said, it is good for me as well.)  The reaction from the girls has been very positive.  They like studying something 'real' and have been filled with good questions and observations.

All this could lead me into a nice long rant about our American tendency to feed pablum to our young people, but I don't have time. Sorry.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Flying monkeys

My son with the trauma history can be very, very anxious about things.  Anything.  Even things that most children think are fun.  It's as if he cannot differentiate between the internal feelings of excitement (as in looking forward to something) and anxiousness.  It's all one and the same to him.  And then when you throw in the build-up to a birthday, an event which carries with it its own cause for worry/anxiousness/excitement, you get a child pretty constantly hovering over the abyss and parents who wish the virtue of patience came in injectable form.

One thing I have discovered on this journey toward my son's healing, is that not only is patience a virtue, so is humor.  (Humor at the situation and not directed at the child, I might add.)  On my good days, I can remember to step outside myself and look to see what I can find funny in the situation.  (On my not-so-good days?  Let's just say it isn't pretty... or humorous.)  Being able to laugh at a situation is far better than either getting angry or despairing.  And sometimes humor can be healing.

This past week, I have been inundated with the "What if...?" questions.  These are the earnestly asked questions, which stem from his anxiety, but have no real answer.  At least not the answer he needs.  For instance, "What if a train jumps its track and goes through the middle of our house?"  I know that the question stems from insecurity and the need he has for me to tell him over and over again that he is safe, but it becomes trying.  Especially when the answer of, "That's not going to happen."  doesn't suffice.  Nor does, "Even if it does, we'll keep you safe."  No, he wants the actual emergency plan... who is going to go where and do what.  I am badgered until I either distract him or join him in his alternate universe and make up details.  Once I can handle, even twice perhaps.  But multiple versions of the "What if...?" questions in one afternoon will guarantee that I'm hovering over the abyss right along with him.

In desperation I tried a different tack.  Every time I was bombarded with one of these questions, I would make up a similar question of my own, except it involved flying monkeys.  For instance, "What will happen if flying monkeys come and take away our washing machine?"  They were crazy enough that he knew there was no point in asking what would happen, but it had the beneficial effect of distracting him from his original question.  Later that afternoon, long about my fifth flying monkey question, he finally looks at me and says,"You know, Mommy, I'm getting really tired of these flying monkeys." said with the same tone of voice that I hear myself use when the patience is almost all used up.  It was all I could do to not double over in laughter.

It also had a very positive side as well. I was able to use his tiredness of the flying monkeys to describe how I felt when he asked the endless "What if...?" questions.  That they were equally as fanciful and unanswerable.  And to assure him that ultimately, God watches over us whether the flying monkeys decide to attack or not.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Apple picking in the rain

Today was our planned day to go and pick apples.  It was raining off and on, but when it comes to fruit, we don't let a little water get in our way so off we went.  We met our friends and enjoyed their company and picked a lot of apples (3 1/2 bushels).  We also ate quite a few.

G.

 L.
K.  (with an apple nearly as big as his head)

P8, TM and L.

Now, I don't know about you, but even picking 7 bags of apples does not take us very long.  It's a shame to drive so far only to turn around and go home, so we packed lunches, headed to a park, and enjoyed the now sunny weather.

TM and P8
A good day all around.  Of course now I have to do something with all these apples...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Time to take a deep breath and a well-deserved nap (A synopsis of our adoption timeline)

I just got back from sending our dossier to our agency.  For those who like to keep track of these things, that is almost exactly 9 months from when we received pre-approval to adopt H.  A really long and stressful 9 months. I am very glad to be on this side of them.  We now enter into another period of waiting, but there is a darling girl waiting for us to come and get her at the end of it.

I know I have readers from many different walks of life and that not all of you are familiar with the lingo or with how international adoption works.  Here is a very brief explanation (edited to say, well, maybe not so brief) so you know what I'm talking about when I bring these things up.

In Ch*na, prospective adoptive parents can go about adopting a child in two ways.  The first is to complete your homestudy, compile the dossier, send it to Ch*na where it is logged-in, and then wait for a referral of a child.  This method has you waiting a shorter amount of time with an actual picture in your hand.

The other way is how we have gone about it; essentially we did it a bit backward.  We identified the child first, and then had to back up and do all the paperwork.  So in December we saw H.'s picture and in January we filed our 'Letter of Intent' (LOI) with the CCCWA (the Ch*nese agency which governs adoptions).  After some back and forth, they issued us a 'Preapproval' (PA) to adopt H.

We then compiled all the paperwork needed to complete our homestudy as well as being fingerprinted and meeting with our social worker more than a few times.  After the homestudy was written, it was sent to the state for their approval.  (It's only we in Illinois and maybe a couple of other states that have to do this extra step.)  If you remember right, that took a while and required us filing a 'water safety plan' for how we were going to keep our children safe because we live so close to Lake Michigan.  (Close is evidently a relative word; we live 1/2 mile away from the lake.)  But, finally after over two months, the homestudy was approved and we were free to file our I800a application to the US immigration department.  That also meant we had to be fingerprinted again.  (US government agencies never learned the kindergarten concept of sharing and are very selfish about their fingerprint records.)  After 59 days, we received the long awaited I797 form, which is the pre-approval for H.'s visa.  It was the last piece of paper we needed to complete our dossier.

All the paperwork in the dossier needs to be notarized, certified, and then authenticated by the Ch*nese consulate.  This is what I spent my week doing... making endless trips downtown to sit in government offices. In the end, I came home with 12 documents all officially sealed and ready to submit.  After much photocopying and adding the required photographs, I sent the whole thing off.

What comes next:

When my agency receives it, they will double-check that everything is as it should be and then bind the dossier and make it look nice.  There will also be a small amount of translating done.  It is then shipped to Ch*na where it is fully translated and eventual logged-in (LID) to the system.  The next thing we wait for is the 'Letter of Acceptance' (LOA) which tells us that we are officially approved to adopt H.  The average wait time between LID and LOA is about 77 days.  When we receive our LOA, we must then send in the I800 application which is asking the US government to issue a visa to a specific child, in this case H.  Once the US government approves her visa, they send a message to the Ch*nese government (Article 5).  After this is received, we are issued our 'Travel Approval' (TA) and we can then make travel arrangements.  The average timeline between LOA and TA is about 68 days.  With an average timeline of five months from LID to travel, my best guess is that we will be travelling to bring H. home around March.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if she could be home by Easter?

So, if you're still with me and haven't completely glazed over after all that, I applaud you.  I sometimes can barely think about it and I have to.  The short version of all that is we just wait.  Wait for our dossier to be logged-in and wait for our official approval.  I'm getting fairly good at this waiting-thing.  Maybe I'll get back to some sewing.

One last question I receive a lot is if H. knows about us yet.  No, she doesn't.  She won't know she has a family until we receive our travel approval.  I'll make a photo book all about us for her to look at when the time comes.  I can completely understand and support this way of doing things.  How horrible would it be to have to tell a child who thought they had a family that something went wrong and they don't?  Still, she has another five months of watching other children receive photo books about their new families and watch friends leave.  After two or three years of that, she must be thinking that her turn will never come.  And that breaks my heart.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cooking challenge

I have a real challenge for all of you out there.  As well as posting about the Hunger Challenge, I also contacted the food bank which was sponsoring it and have been corresponding with a very nice woman.  In our discussions about the very real difficulties of surviving on very little money, she pointed out a difficulty that had honestly never even crossed my comfortable middle-class mind.  Many of the people whom the food bank helps have very little by way of kitchens.  More than a few people are trying to get by with just a microwave and a hot plate.  (Now I know high-rent studio dwellers do this all the time, but I'm sure even they will agree that it is a very different experience.)  She asked me if I had any simple, low cost recipes that she could share with her clients.

And frankly, I'm stumped.  I've never had to cook this way, and it would be a very steep learning curve to be able to do so.  While I'm going to continue to try to come up with some ideas, I have a feeling that some of you out there can help.  What are some recipes that could be made to feed one, two, or three people that use inexpensive ingredients, but can be made using just a microwave and hot plate?

To me, this impaired ability to prepare food is as big a hurdle as obtaining the food.  So much low-cost cooking requires making things yourself.  And to make things, you need a way to do it.  I feel completely humbled by the richness of my very functional kitchen.  I have always been thankful for it, but am thankful in a very new way.

So how about it readers?  Share your best recipes and I will forward them to the food bank.

_______________
Believe me when I say that I am completely aware of the irony in what I'm about to share.  I have a new article up at the web magazine I write for about my experience cleaning out the abundance or toys in my house. Feel free to click on it... and you don't even have to read it if you're tired of hearing me go on and on about this subject.  Toy Clutter:  How One Mom Regained Control

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Indian fry bread and Navajo tacos

Since my mother had sent me a new Indian fry bread recipe to try, I decided to take a deep breath and give it another shot.  I think people must have difficulties writing out fry bread recipes, because this one had a significant typo as well.  (Mom, I'm pretty sure the amount of shortening is off... I ended up adding significantly more.)  But with my past disaster in mind, I decided to go by looks instead of slavishly following the recipe.  And... we have success!  They turned out just like I was imagining.  It also turned out to be one of those wonderful dishes that fills everyone up.  I made about 24 pieces of fry bread, but ended up with 6 leftover, and that was with everyone eating their fill.

I have a feeling that I am not the only one who was having difficulty with fry bread recipes, based on the number of hits the blog received from people searching for it.  They must have been terribly disappointed to find yet one more recipe that wouldn't work.  So, here it is... an accurate recipe for:

Indian Fry Bread  (makes ~2 dozen)

6 C flour
6 tsp baking powder
1 C shortening
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 C warm water

Oil for frying

Measure dry ingredients into a deep mixing bowl.  Add the shortening and cut in until the dough is small pea-sized pieces.  Add the water and mix until the dough is smooth.  Knead for 5 minutes and then let rest for 30 minutes.  Form dough into golf ball size balls and then flatten until they are about a1/4 inch thick.  Heat oil in a pan that will hold 1 inch of oil and heat.  Fry on both sides until they are a light golden brown.  You can then eat them with honey or powdered sugar, but we used them as a base for Navajo tacos.

Navajo Tacos
(Ample topping for 24)

1 lb ground beef
2-8 oz can of tomato sauce
1 TBSP (or more) chili powder
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp crushed dried hot chilies
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
4 C cooked pinto beans (or 2 cans if using cans)

Brown the ground beef until cooked through.  Drain.  Add tomato sauce through salt.  Mix well and simmer until the sauce beings to thicken, ~10 minutes.  Add the beans and heat through. Serve on top of Indian fry bread and top with grated cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and salsa.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hunger challenges and food deserts

I came across The Hunger Challenge sponsored by the San Francisco Food Bank and the Marin Food Bank yesterday and it got me thinking.  The challenge was to spend a week eating on a food stamp budget, which in the San Francisco area is $4.72 per person per day.  The point being to raise awareness of hunger in the United States by asking people to live on less than they usually do and instead live on what others have to.  I was curious, so I did some math.  $4.72 times 10 (the number I regularly feed) is $42.72, times 7 gives me a week's grocery budget of $330.40.  I actually did the math twice because I wanted to check that total.  Let's just say it would take some effort on my part to spend that much each week, because it is more than twice what I usually spend.  Even if I divide up and add in what I spend on the semi-annual bulk orders and the side of beef, it is still a generous $100 over my usual budget.  In reality, I spend (on average) $2.87 per person per day.

Why is this?  I'm not particularly frugal; there are a lot of ways I could cut back if need be.  We eat well.  No one goes hungry.  Granted we don't eat out a lot, but we do sometimes.  None of us feels deprived.  (Well, except perhaps the children who love breakfast cereal.)  But if I think about how one person, living by themselves and cooking for themselves, would live on $4.72 a day, I realize the problem.  It would be very difficult to have my entire food budget be just $33.04 a week.  It's an interesting phenomenon, isn't it?  One person can barely feed themselves for that much, yet I am able to feed 10 people well on $2.87.  (And let me be very clear.  There is really nothing special that I'm doing, it's just the fact I'm feeding so many.)

We humans don't do well in isolation.  We need others and when we have a good social support network of family and friends, we are better able to navigate the challenges which life throws at us.  Evidently this is true with money as well.  Wouldn't everyone be better served if people who need assistance and are on their own could be encouraged to share a kitchen?  Think about it, one single mom trying to raise a child could agree to share cooking with another single woman.  Instead of each having a weekly budget of $66.08 and $33.04 respectively, they would have a combined budget of $99.12 to feed three people.  Anyone can eat well on that budget.  Plus the sharing of a meal would provide stability for the child and companionship for the adults.  We've all read the studies about how children do significantly better when they eat dinner together with their family, but why can't we assume that it is good for adults to sit down and share a meal together each day?  It wouldn't solve everything, but it would be a start.

As I mentioned earlier, the point of the Hunger Challenge was to give people who don't have to worry about their food budget a chance to experience how others live.  And I keep italicizing that word because I am not entirely sure that people who do and write about these things, really believe that those others are real people, who are not stupid and have just as much potential as anyone else.  Why else in the FAQ's would these two questions and answers appear?

Q: What if someone offers to take me out for a meal? Can I go?
A: Not if you want to play fair. A person on food stamps probably wouldn't have that opportunity.



Q: What if I'm invited to someone's house for a meal?
A: If you want to stick strictly to the Challenge, take your own food — or suggest that you all plan the meal around a food stamp budget. It could be an interesting experience!

Yes, I know that many people on assistance probably don't have a social network of others who are taking them out or inviting them over to eat.  But it just feel paternalistic to me.  As if someone is saying, "I know all about those people who are on assistance.  I know what they do and what they don't do."  But to say someone participating in the challenge shouldn't accept is to say that this NEVER happens, and if it did, the person on assistance would say no.  Yeah, right.

It strikes me the same way a recent article about food deserts in various areas of Chicago did.  Paternalistic and out of touch.  (I am in no way making light of the fact that it is indeed a problem that many people do not have access to healthy food.  In a perfect world, everyone would have equal access to what they need.)  To summarize the article (in case you don't want to jump over and read it), there is a new grocery store which has opened in a neighborhood which has very few options for fresh food.  But, it seems, there are not a lot of customers and everyone is wondering why that is because previous studies has shown grocery stores were what the residents all wanted.  I think I can help them figure it out.  First, there is an Aldi in the neighborhood, which does sell fresh food, and it is not included by the author of the article as being a 'grocery store'.  I'd like to know what it is then.  Half of my weekly grocery budget is spent at an Aldi.  Residents also said they often went together to another neighborhood where there was a cheaper grocery store and did their weekly shopping there.  Just as I choose to drive to the stores in another city rather than go around the corner to my local store to shop.  Why?  For the same reason the residents said they didn't frequent the new local store in their neighborhood... it's cheaper than the regular chain grocery store.  I don't want to donate my hard earned dollars to some chain's healthy bottom line, I want to make them stretch as far as possible.  What is baffling about that I want to know.  It's not that residents don't want to buy fresh food, it's that they don't want to pay through the nose for it.

Really all of this tells us far more about the 'haves' in our society (and I'm including myself) than it does about the 'have-nots'.  Wouldn't a far better challenge be to cut down your own grocery budget and help out someone else with the difference?  Do you know someone or a family on assistance?  What have you done for them?  If you don't know someone on assistance, how are you going to meet some?  Having a real face and a real story to think about rather than all those others, is the real challenge.  I know I am convicted if I think about it in these terms.  Eating very frugally for a week in the end doesn't really do anything except make the participant glad they don't have to do it all the time.  Meeting someone who has hit a rough patch, or never had the same advantages and has struggled from the get go, and then getting to know him or her as a fellow human being has lasting consequences for all involved.  We all have the ability to teach each other something we didn't know and we all have the ability to help one another... if we just started thinking in terms of relationships instead of dollar signs.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Notary disasters... or why labor is easier

"It isn't much fun for One, but Two
Can stick together," says Pooh, says he.
"That's how it is," says Pooh.
                   from "Us Two" in Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne

Going downtown to have adoption documents certified and notarized isn't much fun by yourself, but if a good friend volunteers to go down with you and help you navigate the Ch*nese consulate for the first time and then have lunch, it's a lot better.  It is especially nice to have that friend along when you find out that the notary you used for some of your paperwork wasn't really a notary at all and the Secretary of State won't certify the documents, because then you are not as tempted to go cry in a corner over the lost time and future expediting fees.

So, my fantasies of being nearly done with the dossier were dashed and I find myself looking at a third trip downtown, redoing 6 documents, and paying the more expensive expediting fees on top of it all.  I guess we're going to claim this week as our fall break and go a week later than I had planned when I did my schedule.

This is worse than being sent home from the hospital with false labor.  At least then all that needs to be done is sit and rest, drink some blackberry leaf tea, and let people wait on you.  This is just a royal pain... and not the productive type, either.

I don't think I can manage any optimistic or hopeful things to write right now.  I'm tired, angry, have bills to pay (which this will not help), and feel as though this adoption is never going to come about.  I am so tired of roadblocks.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

It seems fitting...

to include a rare picture of H. while I work on all the dossier stuff.  The end is in sight.  I'm now to the double and triple checking part as well as doing lots of photocopying.  I realize that adopting three times makes me responsible for single-handedly wiping out an entire forest of trees.  There is so much paper!  And it's all over my desk.  I need to get it sorted into piles so that I can see what I'm doing.  I will go to sleep a happy (and more relaxed) woman.

H. (in an outfit I'm a little partial to)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Enjoy some pictures while I work

We spent the morning at the Field Museum seeing the special exhibit on whales and then headed downstairs to the Crown Family PlayLab, which we had never visited.  Well, everyone enjoyed it, but G. and L. loved it!  There was a lot of hands-on things to do... such as a little forest area which they liked:

L.

But what they loved was the pueblo exhibit where they could pick corn:


And take the corn inside the pueblo and cook the corn...



which they did over and over and over.  Plant, pick, cook, plant, pick, cook.  It was sad to leave until we told them we were going to have lunch.  It was a good morning.  I even got a close-ish metered spot on the street.  (Oh, and a complete aside:  Please visit the Field whenever you can.  They are one of the area museums who still have a large family friendly member policy.  You can mention how much you appreciate that when you visit.  It can't hurt.)

Now I'm back at my desk organizing adoption stuff and working on some articles which are due.  I'm doing a lot of writing, just not for the ol' blog.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Could it really be possible?

Guess what came in the mail today?





I'll give you a hint... it's very good news.





Any guesses?






OK, I won't leave you in suspense.  It's our approval of our I800a visa application!  The last piece of paper we needed to be able to submit our dossier!!  I will be spending the next few days getting everything ready to take down to the secretary of state's office for certification and the consulate for authentication next week.  (It's one of those times I very happy to live an el ride away from downtown Chicago.)

So, if you don't hear much from me in the next few days, you know why.  I'll be up to my eyeballs in paperwork.  Maybe this adoption is going to happen after all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Catching up on pictures

I have a few pictures to share from the weekend.  First, we celebrated P.'s birthday.  She didn't want cake, just vanilla ice cream, so B. had to hold the candles for her to blow out.


L. and K. waiting for the present opening to begin.

This book is from TM and D.  They spent their own money at the local books by the pound store and bought a book in a series she really likes.

Walkie-Talkies from Grammy and Grandpa

On Sunday we celebrated the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (Tet Trung Thu) with friends.  (Yes, we were a day early, but it's what worked in our schedules.)  Everyone had lanterns with candles except for G. and L. who had cute little battery-operated ones.

L.

G.

Everyone waiting for it to have their lanterns lit.

Friends with L. and G. in front

And any photo essay of the weekend would be incomplete with a couple of pictures of baby gerbils, the three little creatures that have totally consumed A.'s every waking moment.  This weekend was the moment when, joy of joys, they could finally be picked up.


And while their eyes won't open for another week or so, they can certainly scoot around,


Pet gerbil anyone?  There is a strong possibility that a new litter could be on the way and I can guarantee that each and every little gerbil will be very well socialized and hand-trained within an inch of its little life. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The lost sheep

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."  Luke 15:4-7 (ESV)

Last Sunday had an inauspicious beginning.  A child fell back into an old habit that we had hoped was broken.  When I discovered it, I have to admit that I did not respond well.  I was angry, though if I was honest with myself, the anger was really a convenient emotion when what I was really feeling was fear and despair.  The child, in turn, did not respond well and was also angry, though that too was most likely more from fear than from anything else.  The child was sent to bed and I sent myself to take a shower.

While in the shower, as I alternately spend some time praying for the child and justifying my own feelings of anger, the parable of the lost sheep came into my head.  I know it was from the Holy Spirit, because it was an odd jump from my current thoughts, and I remembered being surprised by it.  Figuring it was something I should pay attention to, I thought over the parable.  While I knew the story, it was not a parable that I had spent much time really thinking about. 

It's just a nice story, isn't it?  Shepherd loves his sheep, one gets lost, shepherd finds it, everyone is happy.  I don't know about you, but the whole lost sheep business never gave me a turn.  I always imagined that one day as they were walking, the flock went one way and the lone sheep missed the turn and went another.  The whole parable seemed to be based on a navigational error.  No wonder everyone tends to skip over it and the lost coin to get to the story with the real drama, the lost son.

But what if the sheep left under his own volition?  What if the sheep had been so unpleasant to everyone that the herd was just as happy to see him wander away?  What if the sheep had made some pretty serious mistakes?  It changes the story doesn't it?  A human shepherd might just give up on such a sheep, figuring the sheep was far more trouble than it was worth.  The question came to my mind, "Had I let one of my sheep wander away without trying to go after it?"  The second question came hard on the first, "What if Jesus suddenly decided that I was more trouble than I was worth and stopped coming after me to bring me back again and again?"

It was a much more contrite mother who exited the shower that morning.  There is nothing like having to come face to face with one's own ugliness to be more understanding of someone else's.  And I immediately went and sought out my child and told that child of my love.  Because I want to be like Jesus.  I may be a difficult sheep, but He comes after me time after time.  And so I will continue to go after the sheep in my own little flock whom He has entrusted to me.  Time after time because they are each worth any amount of trouble.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Block City

Poem by Robert Louis Stevenson (from A Child's Garden of Verses)
City by D.

What are you able to build with your blocks?
Castles and palaces, temples and docks.
Rain may keep raining, and other go roam,


But I can be happy and building at home.


Let the sofa be mountains, the carpet the sea,


There I'll establish a city for me:


A kirk and a mill and a palace beside,


And a harbor as well where my vessels may ride.


Great is the palace with pillar and wall,
A sort of a tower on the top of it all,


And steps coming down in an orderly way
To where my toy vessels lie safe in the bay.


This one is sailing and that one is moored:
Hark to the song of the sailors on board!


And see on the steps of my palace, the kings
Coming and going with presents and things!


Now I have done with it, down let it go!
All in a moment the town is laid low.


Block upon block lying scattered and free,
What is there left of my town by the sea?


Yet as I saw it, I see it again,
The kirk and the palace, the ships and the men,


And as long as I live, and where'er I may be,
I'll always remember my town by the sea.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Happy 11th birthday, P.!

Today is P.'s birthday and we will be celebrating with a family party tonight.  And I don't have to bake.  True to form, P. has chosen vanilla ice cream as her birthday dessert.  (She's just not a dessert kind of girl.)  She also picked steak salad for her birthday dinner, so a pretty easy celebration from my end of things.

I think this next year holds great things for my P.  As one of my children who often needs super-titles above her head to clue us into what she is thinking, it's not always easy to guess at what is going on in that pretty head of hers.  But we have started to see some real maturity happening and I think she is starting to grow into herself.  She has some activities she is excited about that she is involved in for the coming year and thanks to our block party, has discovered a girl friend around the corner.  They have hit is off quite well.  While she has two very good friends who are boys, having a friend who is a girl and whom she can have sleepovers with has been a constant desire.  I'm very excited to see what she does and how she grows this year.

So, I love you very, very much my dear daughter.  You are beautiful and talented and I am very proud of you.   Happy birthday!
________________
For those of you who haven't noticed it, I put a new page up at the top of the blog marked 'recipes'.  This way it will be easier to find the specific recipe you (and you know who you are) are looking for.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Eggplant Parmigiana

One of TM's favorite meals is eggplant parmigiana, so I finally agreed to make it the other night.  My memory of it is that it is a lot of work, but then when I make it, I am reminded that it is actually fairly simple... at least the way I have worked out this version.  It really is quite tasty, so I thought I'd share it.  This recipe makes two 9x13 pans.  You could halve it if you only wanted one, but I would go ahead and make two and freeze the other.  It's not really anymore work and you'll have an entree in the freezer.  (For freezing, line a 9x13 with heavy-duty foil, with quite a bit hanging over the edges.  Make the entree as directed inside the foil, but instead of baking when done, cover lightly with plastic wrap and put into the freezer.  When it is completely frozen, lift it out of the pan, wrap in several more layers of foil and LABEL!  I also include cooking instructions on the label.  When you're ready to eat it, unwrap the outside layers of foil, drop it into the 9x13, thaw and bake as directed.  Easy!)

Eggplant Parmigiana (serves 12)

4 small to medium eggplant
Bread crumbs (I use panko, found in the Asian food section, but you can use regular ones as well)
Canola non-stick spray
at least 4 garlic cloves, chopped
18 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
3 jars marinara sauce (72 oz)
grated Parmesan cheese

Preparing the eggplant:  Instead of frying the eggplant (which does taste good, but is messy, time consuming, and not so healthful), I bake them.  Slice the eggplant into slices.  My slices are usually about 1/4 inch thick.  Lightly coat in bread crumbs.  Since I don't dip in egg first, 'lightly' is all that can be done.  Lay the crumbed sliced on a baking sheet sprayed with the non-stick spray.  When you have all the eggplant done, spray the tops of the slices with more non-stick spray.  Bake at 375 for ~30 minutes.  Remove from oven.

Assembling the Parmigiana:  Spray two 9x13 pans and then begin layering your ingredients in this order:
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic (I am very liberal with the garlic, especially since I use the pre-minced stuff out of a jar)
  • Cheese
  • Sauce
Repeat this order one more time and then top with the grated Parmesan.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  I usually let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Grosse Point Lighthouse

Since we are studying lighthouses, it was the perfect reason to go and tour the Grosse Point Lighthouse right here in our own city.  But, even though I travel with many children, we were a touch short of the 10-12 people required for a tour.  So we invited some friends... and the friends' mother agreed to watch my under 8's in return.

Here the crew is on the steps of the keeper's house, waiting for the tour.


The history of the lighthouse was interesting, but what everyone really wanted to do was head up into the lighthouse itself.  After an introduction to the lighthouse and a short film, we climbed up the 141 steps to the top. 

A., B., and P. in the area just below the actual light.  The black box houses the some of the gear mechanisms which needed to be wound in order to make the light turn (and consequently flash it's correct pattern).


When we arrived at the top, I had one of those moments of asking myself, "What was I thinking bringing four eight year old boys to the top of a lighthouse?!"  They all did fine, but as you can see from the picture, we were very, very high up in the air.  The small platform we are standing on is very, very small and though you can't really tell, there is no railing on the inside because that is where the Fresnel lens (which we MUST NOT TOUCH) is mounted and is open to the floor below.  And I develop vertigo when I am up high and if I feel a bit dizzy, then surely everyone must feel that way and any moment all the young children I brought up with me are going to plummet to their death and how on earth am I going to explain this to their mother?!?!


These are the children who are laughing at me plastered against the side of the glass as I continually tell the boys ahead of me NOT TO MOVE... JUST STAND THERE!  I was evidently terribly amusing.  I can laugh about it now.  On the ground.  With all the children in one piece.

Here is a picture of the lighthouse, so you can appreciate just how high we were.


Afterwards we spent a few minutes walking around the grounds and on the dunes.



A lovely field trip and we had wonderful views from the top... at least those of us who could relax enough to look out of the windows.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

This is a what?

video

Here is a short video from Monday night at our Labor Day party.  This is what happens when nine 13-19 hear olds sit together.  (They were actually much louder than the fourteen 2-10 year olds in the kitchen.)  It was hilarious to watch them.  They are playing the game, "This is a what?"  Have you heard of it?  It's a lot of fun, but terribly difficult to explain in writing.  Here goes:

Have the players sit in a circle and collect a pile of small objects (the same number of objects as players) which can be passed around the circle.  The first player picks up an object, turns to the player on her right and says, "This is a fork (or whatever the object happens to be)".  The second player then asks, "A what?"
Player 1: "A fork"
Player 2:  "A what?"
Player 1:  "A fork"
Player 2:  "Oh, a fork!"

At this point Player 1 picks up a new object, turns to Player 2 and says, "This is a spoon." While at the same time Player 2 is showing Player 3 the fork and saying, "This is a fork."  After having said this, Player 2 turns to Player 1 and says, "A what?", turns back to Player 3 and says, "This is a fork" turning back and forth in the rhythm of the game until it's time to say, "Oh a spoon!" finally identifying what the player to the left is holding.  Eventually everyone is showing the player on their right an object and saying, "This is a _______" and then turning to the player on their left and saying, "A what?" as the objects slowly make their way around the circle.  The object is to keep everything moving without saying the wrong thing or breaking the rhythm and once everyone gets the hang of it, it can be sped up. 

Got it?  Now go back and watch the clip again and what is going on at the table might make a little more sense.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Back to school

We have successfully completed the first day of our school schedule.  I am happy to report that the schedule seems to be working as I hoped it would.  Everyone had enough time to do what they needed to and we were not having to race from activity to activity keeping one eye on the clock.  Relaxed and productive.  My plan for occupying the smaller set even worked pretty well.  All three of them enjoyed their activities and the special toy I brought out kept them all busy while I was able to work with the older ones.  L. got a little squawky toward the end while I was trying to read aloud, so I will have to fine-tune that, but on the whole I was pleased.  I'm hoping I have enough toys and activities rotating through that it will take a good long while before they get old and stop keeping the littles attention.  The best part for me was being able to open up my notes and see what I had already planned.  It was bliss to not have to think constructively at the spur of the moment.  I'm thankful I spent all those hours doing the hard thinking a month ago.

But there was one decision I made that I think was key to our relaxed morning and one I should have made several years ago. Want to know what it is?  I purposefully put a note on the computer saying we wouldn't be turning it on until after lunch when our work was done.  This was really much more for me than for my children.  I find it far to easy to check my email quickly between activities (because there might be vital and important matters happening - insert sarcastic emoticon) and then discover that in answering "just one email" I have lost 20 minutes.  The temptation was proving too great, so I decided to pull the plug, so to speak.  (I had already decided to not answer my phone during the morning a long time ago... that helps as well.)  To further reinforce my decision, when I did look at my email after lunch, there was really nothing there that demanded my immediate attention.  It feels good to wrest some control from the machine.  As a result, any posts on this blog will be much more likely in the afternoon these days.

Of course, hiding away on the computer is very, very tempting when I have bills to pay (and which I have put off having to face to the point of feeling ill) and trying (desperately) to retain a calm and composed attitude in the face of a child who is spiraling down, down, down in anticipation of the dreaded birthday anniversary which will be approaching, though not soon enough for my taste.  I am feeling beset by the father of lies again... it must mean that we're getting close to actually sending our dossier in for H.'s adoption.  (And my anxiety has returned as well.... even typing that and knowing that I still have some more paperwork to deal with causes very real panic to well up inside of me.)

On a lighter note, we are finishing up with our Australia books this week as well.  Is anyone interested in a detailed list of what we did?  I'm happy to write it out if it would help someone, but sometimes it's difficult for me to judge what people want to read about.  I'm going to tackle those bills now and be able to cross one stressful thing off my list.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Block party 2011

Yesterday was our block party.  The fire engine came:

K.

D.

K. was thrilled to be able to climb all over it.  Fire trucks are a very close second to all things Cars for him.


And the fire fighters sprayed the hose.

D. is in the white t-shirt in the center

(l-r) P., TM, a friend and A.

G. and L. were content to watch from a distance.

G.

The little girls preferred the bounce house for small people.  (There was a also a bounce house for bigger people.)

(l-r) G., K., L.

And there was bobbing for donuts... a neighbor hung donuts from their tree and the object was to be the first to eat the donut without using your hands.


K. didn't quite get the "without hands" part.


After it was over, G. wanted to try.


L. preferred hers in her hand in Mommy's arms.


K.'s donut aftermath.


Of course, one of the best parts of a block party is being able to play in the street.


The dessert table was also popular.


Because they're cute.

G. on left, L. on right

You will notice some children are missing from the pictures.  That is because they were riding their bikes up and down (and up and down and up and down) the street the entire day.  G. and L. didn't have bikes to ride, but they enjoyed a ride in the (garbage-picked!) wagon.

G. in pink, L. in green

Today, we will actually be laboring.  Cleaning and straightening is on the docket in preparation for the beginning of our school schedule tomorrow.  All the hard work will be followed by a potluck dinner with a few close friends.  (All 18 of them.)
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