Monday, April 30, 2012

IEP x 3

Tomorrow begins our week of IEPs.  We have two at 10 and 2 tomorrow, and one at 10 on Thursday.  Please send chocolate.

Pampered Chef fundraiser

My sweet friend Jan has offered to do a Pampered Chef show for us, in which her commission is donated to our adoption fund.  The show will run through May 25th, so if there are any Pampered Chef goodies you've been holding out for, please take a look at the online catalog:

Pampered Chef

Any Pampered Chef freebies that we may receive will become part of our big giveaway that will be coming up in a month or so.  We're busy amassing fabulous prizes for this event.  :o)

As of today, we've raised about $6620!  Slowly but surely!

A glimpse of the future

Last Thursday, Zoe and I packed up and drove across the state to Missoula so she could attend a college tour and orientation at the University of Montana.  We had been adamant that she stay here and attend school for two years and then transfer somewhere else, but once we got there and learned more about the campus and programs, I began to realize how perfect the place is for her.  It's hard to think that she may end up there and be so far away from us (I know 7 hours isn't a big deal to some people), but I think she'll be happy there and do well.  She wants to study dance and either anthropology or archeology, and UM has great programs in these areas.  Their fine arts program is amazing.  I was so impressed.  She will also get a small scholarship for participating in the marching band (Zoe plays piano, percussion and trombone).

It's hard to think that as our family gains a new family member, two have already flown the coop and Zoe will be close behind them.  Our oldest daughter works and goes to school in another city, and our oldest son will be leaving to serve a two-year mission for our church this summer.  He lives in the dorms and will be graduating with his associate's degree this May.

It's weird to be entering this phase of my life.  It seems like just yesterday that I was nursing babies and chasing toddlers.  When I think that grandchildren could be a mere 5-10 years away, I feel downright panicked.  Ain't nobody better call me grandma!  ;o)

Anyway...  Zoe and I had a great time.  We explored as much as we could in the amount of time we had and ate ourselves silly.  UM is very accommodating of vegans and vegetarians in their food service establishments (we're talking full-on vegan entrees) and their little grocery store.  And we had great sushi downtown one night, yummy Italian for lunch the next day (where I was provided with a special vegan dish that the chef created from scratch for me), and Mongolian barbecue the next night.  We were also able to meet Joshua in Livingston to watch his soccer game and then bring him home with us.  It was a blast.  :o)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Weekly menu

This week's Bountiful Baskets bevy (say that ten times fast) was even better than usual.  A, for the first time in forever, we didn't get lettuce - very exciting, and B, we got lots of yummy produce and extras.  Here's what I have to work with this week:

Tomatoes: 15
Small apples: 3 bags
Mini watermelons: 3
Bananas: 17
Coconuts: 2
Mangos: 5
Key limes: 17
Kiwi: 24 (12 are from last week)
Plantains: 2
Mini pineapple: 5
Strawberries: 11 quarts
Vanilla beans 2
Sugar cane strips 2

Beets and greens: 5
Broccoli: 12 stalks
Cauliflower: 3 heads
Green beans: 3 bags
Mint: 2 bags
Avocados: 3 (from last week)

And 2 packages of flour and corn tortillas

As you can see, I got a boatload of strawberries so I could make jam.  I don't can, but I make mean freezer jam.  ;o)  Since we got vanilla beans in this basket, I was inspired to switch things up a little bit and make this recipe:

Strawberry-vanilla bean freezer jam

As for the rest of the week, there's some easy stuff and some harder stuff.  I won't post the Haitian recipes for tomorrow unless someone really wants them because I do it from memory.  The sauce for the seitan is mostly tomato sauce with some citrus (orange and lime), garlic, cloves, onion, red pepper flakes and a little vinegar.  The beans and rice have kidney beans fried with bell peppers, cloves, salt and garlic in a little oil, and the bean mixture is mixed with coconut rice.  The plantains are fried once, flattened, fried a second time and then sprinkled with salt.

Tempeh sloppy joes are super easy and yummy.  I steam my tempeh to get rid of the bitterness (about 10 minutes), and then crumble it into a crockpot.  I add a couple of jars of chili sauce and a couple of diced bell peppers and cook it on low for 4-6 hours.  When it's dinner time, we ladle the sloppy joe mixture onto buns and serve.

Our falafels on Thursday will come from a boxed mixture, just because I don't have time to make all this stuff on a weekday.  The boxed kind we buy is actually REALLY good.  I can't recall the brand name, but it's sold in the Jewish section of our grocery store.  My tzatiki sauce will use strained plain, unsweetened soy yogurt, and a bunch of the fresh mint that came in our baskets.  The tabouleh will use up a bunch of our tomatoes and more mint.  I may make fresh hummus, or I might use store-bought stuff, depending on the way the week goes.  Maizie, my 10-year-old, loves to make hummus, so I may put her in charge of it.  We'll see.

Tzaziki sauce

And on Friday, we'll be having an oh-so-healthy dinner of scones (the deep-fried variety!) and strawberry freezer jam.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

In defense of the name

I've had a couple of people ask me about why we decided to give Song Guo a different name, so I want to explain our decision.  This is a hot topic in the adoption world, with strong feelings on both sides of the issue.  I don't expect to change anyone's mind, and that's fine.  It's our decision and we're comfortable with it, but maybe this explanation will help those who've wondered about it.

For starters, we can definitely see this issue from a variety of perspectives.  We have not changed all of our children's names, and in many cases, I've urged others to consider keeping a child's name.  In most instances, it was because the child was older, but "older" is a pretty broad term, and there are other factors to consider.  I don't think there's any right or wrong answer, but I do think it's important to give it a lot of thought and consider all the possibilities.

Our first adoption was of an 8-month-old baby, and there was no question that we would give her a name, in part because that's just what everyone did (we were part of a 12,000+ China adoption community on Yahoo, and it was definitely standard operating procedure), and in part because she was a baby.  We kept her Chinese name as her middle name, and as she has grown, we've told her she's free to use either name. We've told her, for example, that when she is older and may come to find herself living among more Asians, she might decide then to go with that name.  For a while, she asked us to call her by her Chinese name, and we obliged, but very quickly she wanted to go back to her first name.  It's also important to understand that the names given to children in Chinese orphanages very, very rarely are their original given names.  Because babies and children are abandoned (there is no legal way to place a child for adoption in China), it is the orphanage workers that assign a name to the child.  In some cases, there is some significance to the name chosen, but more often than not, it's simply a name chosen out of necessity, sometimes from a rotating list.  These are not names that are given by loving family members.  On top of that, our experience has been that the kids are rarely called by those names anyway, and are instead referred to by nicknames which DO have some basis in the nannies' affections for the children.  Maizie/Yun Gui was called "Yun Bao Bao," for example.

When our next daughter came along, a toddler, we followed the same process as before, giving her a new name and keeping her Chinese name as a middle name.  She was known as "Xin-Xin," and that nickname stuck with us for a long time.  She was not referred to by Tian Xin, her orphanage-given name.

Our next adoption was of three children from Haiti, and our first experience with an "older" child of 7.  In this case, we did not change her name.  It had been chosen for her by her birth parents and was thus very meaningful.  Although our daughter initially expressed that she'd like to be called something different, she soon changed her mind and her original name stuck.  In the cases of the two toddler-age children that we adopted at the same time, we decided to change their names.  In this instance it was partially a desire to keep with our same approach (new name, old name used as a middle name), but also a desire to deal with some challenging names.  Our then-toddler daughter has albinism, and her birth parents had chosen to give her a name that referenced her coloring.  We felt uncomfortable with saddling her with a name that was likely to cause additional teasing, so we dropped that name altogether, and I don't regret it a bit.  We chose instead to use her birthmother's surname as a middle name.  With our then toddler-son, the decision to drop a name was also made.  His name was a girl's name in this country (without exception - not something like Brooke or Chris or Morgan), so we chose to use his birth mother's surname as his middle name.

Our next adoption was an almost-8-year-old girl who came to us from a disruption, but was originally from China.  Even though the name her previous adoptive parents had given her was not one we would have chosen, we kept it because of her age and because it was given to her out of love.  They, however, had dropped her Chinese name altogether, so when we formally adopted her, we restored it following the same pattern as we had with our other kids.

Next came our kids from Ethiopia.  We did not change our daughter's name because of her age (she was a teen), and might not have changed our then 15-month-old son's name, except that it was extremely similar to one of our other children's names.  In fact, when we were trying to fly home, we found we were short a ticket because they thought our two sons were actually one person with the name slightly misspelled.  We used our son's name as a middle name, and we chose a new Ethiopian name for him - Bekele.

So that brings us to Song Guo.  Song Guo is 7, so technically within the "older" child range, but we also know that with her Down syndrome, she has significant cognitive and communicative delays.  We expect that she is probably referred to by some nickname (likely Guo-Guo), and if that's the case, we'll continue to call her by that nickname and slowly transition her to the new name.  In her case, I can't really put my finger on the compulsion we felt to give her a name of our choosing.  It just feels right.  Knowing that we agonized over choosing just the right thing, and finally found a name that has a meaning so suited for her, speaks of our love for her.  Her orphanage name is cute (and will be kept as her middle name), but it wasn't chosen by people who LOVE her.  I'm sure they must love her now - who couldn't?! - but I just want her to have a name that her mommy and daddy chose for her.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

14 hours for 21 minutes

Yesterday we left our house at 8:00 am and returned home at 10:00 pm.  All that driving for a total of 21 minutes spent at USCIS getting fingerprinted.  Bleh.  Thank goodness it's done, though.  Now I can wait for our approval and finally get this darn dossier outta here!

Tomorrow Zoe and I are making a 7+ hour trek to Missoula for us to tour the university campus there.  I wish these two trips didn't have to end up in the same week, but I'm looking forward to spending the weekend with Zoe.  On the way back, we'll get to stop in Livingston and watch Joshua play two soccer games there, so that part worked out perfectly.  He'll be able to come back with us instead of with his team.  Unfortunately, it's supposed to be cold and rainy, so I might be watching the games from the car.  I hope my hiney will recover from all the sitting I'll be doing this week!  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Maybe I'm on a roll?

I never win anything.  Ever.  But last week I entered an online giveaway on my friend's blog, and I actually won!  I got some really cool software called "Cook'n" that I downloaded this morning.  I've been playing around with it, and it's pretty awesome.  It has its own search engine, so when you search the internet from within the program, only recipes are returned.  From there, you can "capture" the recipes, and this process converts them into a standardized form.  The program pulls out the list of ingredients and directions and recognizes keywords and phrases to plug in details like prep time and yield.  I've had to do a little bit of fine tuning with the recipes I've tried so far, but it's remarkably accurate.  Once the recipe appears how you want it, you can add different themes to the recipe page and add it to customizable cookbooks.  You can organize all your recipes according to type, print them, export them, add pictures, and tweak them however you want.  They retain the original source, so you can always refer back to where you found the recipe in the first place.

I don't get anything in return for saying that I like the software.  I was just super excited to actually win something!  If you want to check it out for yourself, you can see it here.

So, since I had a little luck once, I decided to try again.  My friend has teamed up with several other bloggers to offer a KitchenAid stand mixer.  I know the chances are slim that I'd win, but if I did, I'd add it to our growing list of prizes for our adoption giveaway.  I've had a KitchenAid stand mixer for about 11 years, and I don't know how I survived without one.

If you want to enter (and diminish my chances, grrrrr...), go to Give Oh Giveaway.  :o)

The care and keeping of a large family - recreation

The last thing I want to touch on is what we do for fun, and how. People often express sympathy for me because I must never get any time to myself. That always makes me laugh, because I think of those 4 morning hours and how much I'm able to get done, and I know I never accomplished anywhere near that level of productivity when I was working full time. But I think what they mean is that I don't get, and for that matter, my husband doesn't get, much time to "veg."

Lucky for me, I'm not good at vegging out and never have been. I'm nearly incapable of napping, and I can't even sit down to watch a TV show unless I can be doing something constructive simultaneously. That's probably why I rarely turn on a television. I need to be busy, most of the time.

Still, I do like my down time as much as anyone, and my favorite activity is reading. I stay up reading quite late many nights. :o) As I said in another post, our evenings tend to be pretty relaxed because of the preparation and planning that go into making them so, so from about 7 pm on, things are pretty laid back. Usually I read and Curtis gets on the computer.

On the weekends, Curtis and I always go out on some sort of date, and I always look forward to this. We also very often go out for breakfast one day a week when he works a short day. Because our kids go to bed at a decent hour, we have the evenings free to talk with each other and just be together.

Because of my schedule, I have a little more free time than Curtis does, and am able to do things like go shopping or out for breakfast with my sister or mom. I can also fit in the odd lunch or movie with friends, but I don't do too many things like that.

As far as family time goes, we've unfortunately reached the stage in our lives where our older kids are very often gone. They work, they're on sports teams, they're in after-school activities, and have music lessons. In spite of this, we usually have the vast majority of our family present for dinner each night, and it's a good time for us to hang out and relax and talk about the day. On Sundays, however, we can count on everyone to be home all day, and I love that. We are a Sabbath-observing family, so no one works and our kids don't plan activities away from home. We very often have their friends over for lunch, but our evening time is for our family.

For recreation, we go on walks and bike rides, have movie nights, go to our kids' activities and sports events, and we also plan day trips to Billings from time to time. We'll do a little shopping, go out to eat, see a movie, go to the zoo, or some other fun activity. We also try to have a family vacation each year, although since we started Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace program a few years ago, our vacations have been less flashy than in years gone by. Still, we go somewhere to have fun together and get away from the day-to-day drudgery for a bit. This year we'll be going to Yellowstone with some friends of ours. :o)

Most of our recreation occurs spontaneously - wrestling matches with Dad before bed, Xbox dance-offs, and heated Pictionary contests, hair and nail parties. Honestly, those are some of the best moments, and the ones I'll miss when they're all grown.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The care and keeping of a large family - chores/kids as helpers

This is a subject I have strong feelings about. As much as I admire the Duggar family, my one big complaint about them is the way they use their older children in parenting roles to the younger ones. (And if I'm being honest, I don't like the way they divide chores down gender lines, but more about that later.)

The Duggars refer to their children's assigned roles and responsibilities as "jurisdictions." It's a nice word, but to me it connotes authority and ultimate responsibility, and that's not something I feel is fair to put on a child. My husband and I feel strongly that as it was OUR decision to have a large family, and not our children's, it would be unfair to rely on them to help us in our parenting roles. That isn't to say that they aren't expected to babysit or do chores - certainly they are expected to do those things. But we try to put those tasks to them in the same way they would be done in a smaller family. There is no reason for one of my children to be doing laundry for the whole family, or to assume near-total care for a younger sibling. WE are the parents. Having a very large, multi-racial family makes them different enough, out in society, and we won't further burden them by expecting them to help us do our jobs.

What that means is that Curtis and I have had to make some sacrifices. It means that we don't spend much time with friends, or in pursuit of individual hobbies or interests. We hope that when our kids are grown, we'll be able to travel and spend time with friends and develop skills and hobbies, but right now, our family is our world. We chose this. :o)

What our kids do do is regular chores. They are expected to put their clean clothes away each day (doesn't always happen) and keep their rooms clean. They're expected to help clean up the dinner mess, empty the trash and dishwasher - that sort of thing. On Saturdays, everyone cleans his or her own room thoroughly and gets assigned one other big job (bathrooms, vacuuming and dusting, etc.) The older kids take turns mowing our very large yard, for which they get a little extra allowance money. The older kids also take turns babysitting when Curtis and I go out, also for additional money. Because we have so many older kids, it means they only have to do it about once a month. Mostly, they're expected to help out when asked and take care of their daily and weekly chores.

The nice thing is that my kids often surprise me with their willingness to go above and beyond, just because. As I mentioned in a previous post, my teenage daughter will often go to the grocery store for me, and she does an awesome job. My oldest son will sometimes come and pick up a sibling or two and take them out for ice cream. My BMXing son Ethan will take his little brother Jackson to ride bikes at a nearby school. Older kids will take younger kids along when they walk the dog. Jonah will frequently walk his younger brothers to their hip-hop dance class. All of them, boys included, are perfectly capable of making meals (and some specialize in certain meals and desserts) and usually do so willingly if the need arises. All of these things free up my time and take pressure off me, but more importantly, they are acts of service to their family members. Big kids don't like to tell each other too often that they love each other, but I'm content that they show it like this. It makes me one proud mama, indeed.

Weekly menu

This week's Bountiful Baskets were interesting.  We got winter vegetables like leeks and beets, plus some weird black radishes that I've never seen before.  I'm going to save the radishes and put them into a potato salad next week.  We got lots of great stuff, but the winter veggies had me stumped for a while, especially since it's going to be pretty warm here this week.  I didn't want to make a soup or stew or something.  Thankfully, I found Monday's recipe that sounds like a nice warmer weather dish.  

Curtis and I are going to be driving home from our fingerprinting appointment at dinnertime on Monday, so I planned something easy for the kids to make while their grandparents are watching them.  Curtis will be cooking both Thursday and Friday (he usually cooks on Thursdays) since Zoe and I will be at a college tour on the other side of the state.  The pizza will be easy to throw together after the piano recital (which I'm going to miss - boo hoo!) and will use up any remaining veggies that didn't get used during the week.  All of the produce you see on the menu is from Bountiful Baskets with the exception of today's berries and the carrots and sugar snap peas for Thursday and Friday's lunches.  Usually I don't have fill in with anything, but this week's baskets were pretty light on things that work well as school lunch options.  I didn't think anyone would want to eat a baggie full of leeks or black radishes.  ;o)
Sunday's recipe is one of our family's favorites.  We eat very little honey, but I do make an exception for this one once in a while.  We also eat it made with agave nectar.

Honey Curried Crock Pot Chickpeas

2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons butter (I use Earth Balance)
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder (we like it hot)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

Cook on low for 4-6 hours, or on high for 2-3 hours.  Serve over steamed Basmati rice.

Beet and lemon vinaigrette quinoa - I'll be using leeks in place of the scallions in this recipe, just because I need to use them up!  I'll also be adding walnuts, because I think this recipe screams walnuts.  It will also use up our beets and lemons.
Pesto risotto with roasted zucchini  - In this one I'll be using the rest of our Thai basil from last week to make some cheese-less pesto, and I'll also finish up our zucchini and summer squash from last week.  I have tons of pine nuts from Costco, so this will be a good way to use a bunch of them up.  I'll also be adding diced Roma tomatoes (also from last week) which I need to use up.
Vegan Zombie burgers - These are one of my husband's specialities, and he departs a little from the actual recipe.  They're always amazing. The sweet potatoes are from this week's organic basket.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

She has a name!

Thalia Fearn SongGuo Whicker :o)

It's Greek and means "to flourish" or "to bloom," which is exactly what we wish for her.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fingerprint notices

We got an email on April 9th that I-800A was received, and today we received our fingerprint notices.  The appointments were scheduled for May 1st starting at 8:00 in the morning, despite the letter I included in which I explained that we have a 6.5 hour drive and can't get there in time for a morning appointment.  Thankfully, I had also sent another letter ahead to our local USCIS office in which I explained the same problem, so they called me and gave me a number to call once our appointment notices arrived so that we could schedule them at a more convenient time, if needed.  I called today and they scheduled our appointments for Tuesday afternoon - a full week early.  That means we're a week closer to Song Guo!

I'm dreading the drive, but looking forward to getting this step over with.  We're so close to getting our dossier to China!

The care and keeping of a large family - errands/schedules

As I mentioned, I get asked all the time how I do "it." This is usually followed by something like, "I can barely keep up with my two!" My usual answers are that God helps me, and that you just sort of get used to it - and that's the truth!

One HUGE advantage over the earlier days of my parenthood is that I am now a stay-at-home-mom. I have a friend who works and has a larger family than I do, and I wonder how she does it, but I suppose the answers to that question would be a lot like mine. You just rely on God and do it. Still though, I credit my at-home status as a big reason I am not in the funny farm. And as much as I loved and miss homeschooling, having those 4 free hours each morning until my kindergartener comes home makes a huge difference for me. During those hours, I get my laundry done, get meals made and prepped, generally pick up the public areas of the house (no major cleaning), and run errands. I don't know how I'd manage if I suddenly didn't have that time available.

One other thing that helps me a lot is that I've gotten much better at using my time wisely, and a crucial component of this is my phone. When I got my iPhone for my birthday last year, I felt guilty and like it was an unnecessary indulgence. Now, I don't know how I lived without it. There is so much I'm able to do in little chunks of time that I would never be able to do without it. When I'm sitting in the car and waiting to pick up children from school or various activities, I can do anything from pay bills, to plan meals to work on my Sunday School lesson. The calendar feature is particularly helpful to me. When I make any appointment, it goes straight into my calendar with the appropriate reminders to occur later. I also use my alarm clock feature to remind me of all kinds of things - to go over spelling lists on Mondays, to get the kids to practice their instruments each day, to take kids to dance, and even to have our evening scripture study and prayer. If I'm sitting in the doctor's office, I can pass the time by reading, record my check payment when I leave, and enter my follow-up appointment into my calendar. Those little things would stymy me before my phone. I was always forgetting things!

And my kids' schedules? No way could I keep track of all that I need to without my phone! I used to use Managers of their Homes and make a printed schedule at home, and it was helpful, but when I was out of the house I was helpless unless I brought my big schedule folder along. Now, each Sunday night when we have our family devotional, we take ten minutes and talk about everyone's schedules for the coming week and make note of anything unusual coming up. This is the time when we go over track meet times and science fair projects and the older kids' work schedules. I tell my kids all the time, if it doesn't go in my calendar, it ain't gonna happen. ;o)

Routines are a big help to me, and I try to do things in the same way each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. It's harder to forget things that way, plus I find I do things more quickly when I do them in a familiar sequence. Routines are settling for our kids, too, particularly those who came from orphanage settings and whose caregivers and schedules and surroundings were always in flux. They take comfort in knowing what to expect each day, and in being able to look at the menu and see that dinner really is coming. Being a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants parent would not be good for the kids we have.

Since I get most of my work done in the mornings, my afternoons are pretty free to deal with homework and getting the kids to their various activities. I usually need 20-30 minutes to throw dinner together, and then most of our evenings are blissfully pretty uneventful. I'm usually in my room by 7, and then I can relax for a while. We have prayer and scripture study each night around 8, and then our elementary school aged kids go to bed. The older kids put themselves to bed around 10. I remember when we had only 6 kids that our evenings were often complete chaos with varying bedtimes and overlapping activities and homework crises and emergency trips through the McDonald's drive-thru. It's very rare that anything like that happens to us anymore.

The care and keeping of a large family - laundry

Laundry is another subject I often get questions about. People always assume we're buried in it, and well, in the mornings, we are. I'll be honest and say that I haven't yet figured out a great way of managing the mountain of laundry that springs up each night when people get ready for bed. It ends up out in the hall of our second floor until it's gathered up the next morning. I just cross my fingers that visitors won't want to come upstairs after 9:00 each night. ;o)

In the morning, we haul it all down, sort it and start it. I have only one washer and one dryer, envious of the Duggars' laundry room as I may be. I usually do about 4 loads a day, with more on Mondays (sheets and towels), but the key is that I do this EVERY DAY (except Sunday). I usually have all my laundry done and folded by noon, and it gets put into each person's cubby whereupon they are supposed to put it away after school. Some kids are better about it than others, but even though it doesn't all make it into closets and drawers each day, it's at least clean, folded, and organized. If I had the space, I'd do what the Duggars do and have a family closet so everything could be put away in one room, but I'll settle for a curtain that pulls in front of the cubbies and hides the piles when I need it to. You'll rarely find laundry on my laundry room floor after 1:00, thankyouverymuch. ;o)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The care and keeping of a large family - meals

In the previous post in my little series, I talked about how my grocery shopping has morphed into something completely new over the past year or so. Now I'll address how I actually turn all the stuff that I buy into meals for our family. People frequently express their sympathy to me that I have to cook for so many. ;o) One man said it was like I ran a small restaurant, and in some ways, I'd have to agree with him. Really though, I don't think it's that much harder to make meals for a crowd, it just takes a little longer. I think most of my friends with big families would agree. A lot of it is about organization, planning ahead, and making the most of your time.

My meal planning starts on Saturday afternoon, right after I've picked up my Bountiful Baskets. I inventory everything I have, and then sit down and figure out what meals that produce can become. I have tons of vegan cookbooks, but I also use the internet to help me find good recipes. Next, I make a menu, such as this one for this week:

Once I have my menu figured out, I start processing all the produce. I cut up anything that can be cut up and get it ready for whatever recipe it will be going into. I also bag up snack-size bags of veggies for school lunches for the coming week, as well as some of the fruit (most of the fruits, like apples, bananas, pears, and oranges go into the lunches whole). I have bins in my refrigerator that hold all these bags. The other prepped veggies go into storage containers until I'm ready for them.

Each morning, while my kids are at school, I do any prepping for dinner than I can and get the lunches made for the coming day. Sometimes I'll also make up a big batch of pancakes or muffins or breakfast cookies to put in the freezer for breakfasts. So for today, I'll make sure the pineapple and all the veggies are ready and get out the noodles. My husband always cooks on Thursdays, so tonight's an easy night for me. :o)

Most of the lunches I make for the kids are very simple, and I rotate through pretty much the same 15 or so main items. They get pb&j, the occasional "turkey" sandwich (made with Yves deli slices), brown rice and soy sauce, hummus and pita or falafel chips, salads, cold cereal (which they think is fabulous), bean burritos, bagels and cream cheese, peanut butter crackers, spaghetti or other pasta, pancakes, chips and salsa etc. Their lunches always include a fruit and a veggie, and on Fridays they get some sort of treat.

Since we run a vegan kitchen (and again, not all our kids eat vegan outside the home, but some do), I focus on making sure our dinners are balanced with fruit, veggies and plenty of protein. I always laugh when people ask where we get our protein because we get PLENTY. I log my meals (which are what everyone else eats) into my My Fitness Pal app, and protein is never a problem.

For snacks, our kids can always have fruit after school, but sometimes they'll have nuts or dried fruit or a piece of toast or leftovers. I don't keep treats in the house except for the ones they get on Friday, but sometimes they'll walk to a nearby small grocery store for a treat with their allowance money.

When I plan my menus, I consider which days of the week work best with certain meals. I always need easy meals on Wednesdays, for example, because most of my family has church and need to be able to eat quickly. I can get away with harder things on Mondays, and I try to keep things easier for my husband on his Thursday cooking nights. Sometimes I hit him with some doozy recipes though. ;o) Sunday lunches are our big meal of the week, and it's the only day I make a dessert.

Gone are the days when I would throw open the cupboards at 5:30 to figure out what was there to eat, only to order a pizza 15 minutes later. Planning means that I always know what's for dinner, and preparation means that I'm, well, prepared. But I also keep a well-stocked pantry and basement, and that means that if a quick substitute needs to be made, I still don't have to resort to calling Pizza Hut.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The care and keeping of a large family - food shopping

When people ask me how many kids we have, the second question I invariably get (after they've recovered from their shock) is "How do you do it?" I thought I would do a few posts on that subject, starting with my very favorite subject - food. ;o)

Those who've known us for many years know that I used to be the queen of the coupon. I could feed our family of 14 on $500-800 a month, and that included diapers, pet food and household stuff (cleaning supplies, detergents, toilet paper, etc.). The problem was, even though we ate a fair amount of fruits and veggies, we were still relying heavily on prepackaged and convenience foods because I could get them for next to nothing. Here's a picture from my old couponing days (this photo comes from our kitchen remodel post).

I would spend a couple of hours each week getting my shopping lists and coupons together, and then I would shop 2-3 times per week at multiple stores. I definitely saved a lot of money, but it wasn't the best diet, and it did take a big chunk out of my limited free time.

Since we cut meat and dairy out of our diets, the way I purchase groceries has COMPLETELY changed, and it's so much nicer! For one, my grocery trips are limited to one every week, and I can even stretch it to two weeks. The grocery store is now just a fill-in for me. I buy things like chips and cereal and bottled items, plus our household products, but that's about it.

This is how I do my shopping now:

Once a month

Once a month I go to Costco and buy primarily stuff for my kids' lunches. I typically get lunch packs of Veggie Chips, dried fruit/nuts, pita chips, hummus cups, juice boxes, nori snack packs (my kids love these!), granola bars, etc. I also buy Kirkland organic salsa and chips, bulk bags of organic rice, quinoa, oatmeal, etc. Sometimes they have vegan veggie patties, egg rolls, potstickers and stuff, so I buy those on occasion. I always buy cases of organic rice and soy milk, too, because it's cheaper than anywhere else. While I'm in Billings for my Costco run, I also stop at my favorite health food store and stock up on soy yogurt for the month.

Another monthly grocery option we take advantage of is the Azure Standard delivery truck. This is where we get most of our specialty vegan products. Their prices are very competitive (much cheaper than Whole Foods, which we don't even have). I typically order coconut milk yogurt, ice cream, cream cheese, sour cream, and Daiya shredded cheeses, plus Clif granola bars, bulk flours, grains, and sweeteners. I get 25 lb bags of organic whole wheat pastry flour and big bags of organic oatmeal from them, too. Some of these products can be purchased locally, but Azure's prices are much better. The only thing they don't have good prices on is produce, although their produce is very good. Anyway, everything is delivered here on the first Monday of each month and it takes all of 10 minutes to grab our boxes from the truck and get them home. It's worth checking to see if they have a drop in your area. Very often the stops are made at Seventh-Day Adventist churches. You can contact Azure (link above) to find out if/where they stop in your area.

A third thing we take advantage of Amazon's Subscribe and Save offerings. I have several things mailed to me each month, including Amy's chili, lunch cartons of chocolate soy and almond milk, dishwasher detergent, toothpaste, hair spray, and other household items. I buy cruelty-free cleaning products from them for much less than I can buy them locally, if they can be found. (I do get Ecos laundry detergent from WalMart for a good price, though.) Shipping is free, and the prices are great!

Once a week

I order three Bountiful Baskets each week, and I alternate conventional and organic baskets every other week for variety and to help keep the price down. I try very hard to plan my meals around the produce we get so that I don't have to run to the store for any fill-in items. Once in a while I have to, but usually I don't. We get enough that we have plenty for a fresh fruit and vegetable in the lunches each day, as well as fruits and veggies for each dinner. For those not familiar with Bountiful Baskets, it's a co-op in which each participant pools his/her money with other participants to purchase fresh produce. S/he also agrees to donate time periodically for unloading the truck and distributing the produce. The conventional baskets are $15, and organic are $25, with each basket being roughly 50% fruit and 50% veggies. You don't know what you'll get ahead of time, but that's half the fun of it for me. :o) Bountiful Baskets also offers various add-ons, which change from week to week. They offer Mexican and Asian packs, cases of single fruits or veggies, tortillas (the most amazing things ever!), granola, olive oil, bread (also amazing), as well as special add-ons around the holidays (cookie kits, hostess packs, gingerbread houses, etc.) For $15, you get a GIANT basket of food. I've priced it out on occasion and it has always saved me a lot of money. Especially when I end up with 20 avocados or something, I feel pretty darn good about it. ;o)

Here are a couple of examples of what I bring home each Saturday (but again, we order three baskets, plus occasional extras like the case of oranges below).

And as I mentioned previously, I go to a real grocery store once a week, but mostly for household items and odds and ends and for things the kids need. I keep a menu posted on the fridge (which I'll talk about in another post) where family members can jot down anything they've noticed that we're out of or that they need for school.

Shopping this way has revolutionized my life. When I had a smaller family, I would wander the aisles of the grocery store with no list and no direction, randomly throwing stuff into my cart and trying to remember to get the rest of the ingredients for a particular meal once I decided on something. I invariably forgot things, and because I never gave any advance thought to it, I never felt like we had anything to eat in the house. I was always throwing away spoiled food, and we ate out WAY too much. We rarely eat out now, but if we do, it's generally because we've planned it.

In the next post, I'll talk about how all this food turns into meals for my family! :o)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Watermelon gazpacho

I'm not a big fan of watermelon, but I'm going to try this this summer. :o) It's a Blendtec recipe, but I think most blenders could handle these ingredients.

Watermelon Gazpacho


4 C watermelon, diced and seeded
2 oranges, peeled*
⅓ C light agave nectar**
1 C ice cubes
½ C small diced seeded, peeled cucumber
½ C small diced jicama
½ C small diced avocado
½ C small diced mango
½ C small diced hulled strawberries

Add watermelon, oranges, agave and ice cubes to WildSide Jar and secure lid. Select “Whole Juice.” Pour gazpacho base into serving dish, add diced ingredients, stir and chill 4-8 hours until ready to serve.

To prepare in the FourSide Jar, add watermelon to jar and secure lid. Blend watermelon until liquefied. Add oranges, agave and ice cubes secure lid and select “Whole Juice”.

*Before peeling orange, use a paring knife to remove some of the zest to add to your blend.
** Depending on the ripeness and sweetness of the fruit, adjust agave or sweetener accordingly especially as summer approaches.

Serving Size 1 cup
Calories 160
Fat 3.5 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 0 mg
Carbohydrates 33 g
Fiber 4 g
Sugar 28 g
Protein 2 g

Potentially fabulous news!

For the last year, we've been struggling with the fact that our deaf daughter has had no interpreter services at school. The "interpreter" she had last year wasn't certified and had no formal experience, and after she quit over the summer, the district wasn't able to find anyone else. We live in a pretty small community, so it isn't like there's a big pool of them to choose from.

Thankfully, an interpreter moved to a neighboring town about a month ago and has been able to work with Lily a bit at school. Since this woman lives an hour away and homeschools her own children, she can only come a couple of times a week. (That's definitely better than nothing, but still not ideal.) She'll be working with Lily over the summer, too, now that we got the district to agree to an extended school year for her. I've been grateful to have something more than we've had, but we know that without a full-time interpreter, Lily is never going to be able to learn to use an interpreter the way she'll need to in college.

So, yesterday I got an email from our outreach teacher of the deaf, and in this email she said that she was forwarding the contact information of an interpreter who may be interested in moving to Montana. I emailed the woman right away, and this morning I got a phone call from her. You could have knocked me over with a feather! Not only does she have the option to live in any town in Montana (since her husband will be traveling all over the state for work), and not only does she not care about the pittance of a salary she'd be paid, she's also certified in Signing Exact English! Since Lily is oral, we have always used SEE with her. (For those who don't know the difference, American sign language is a conceptual language with its own grammar, it is not merely a representation of English in another modality. It is truly another language. On the other hand, SEE is simply manually coded English, with everything in English word order, use of tenses, word endings, etc.) Since Lily speaks, we want her signing to fit with her oral skills. As she gets older, we can introduce more ASL as a foreign language option for her, and that will help her be better prepared for college.

I know there are still a lot of "ifs" to overcome in this scenario, but this woman said she is "very, very interested" in the job. This will be such a huge answer to our prayers if everything falls into place. :o)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Weekly menu

Our Bountiful Baskets were bountiful as usual today. :o) The only produce I'm purchasing elsewhere for the week is broccoli, berries, baby spinach, sprouts, and a couple of jalapeƱos (which I'm kicking myself over because I just chucked a couple that didn't get used from our last Mexican packs). Everything else is from this week's conventional baskets with a few odds and ends from last week's organic baskets.

The recipes:

Roasted vegetable/bean/rice burritos are a copy-cat version of the grilled vegetable burritos served at Q'Doba. Since Bountiful Baskets started offering those fabulous giant flour tortillas of the same type served at Q'Doba and Cafe Rio, these burritos have become a staple at our house. To make them, I chop up a bunch of veggies (in this case, the summer squash and zucchini that came in todays baskets), put them on a baking sheet, spray them with olive oil, and roast them at 425 until they just start to brown. Meanwhile, I cook up a bunch of white or brown rice with lime juice substituted for part of the water. Cilantro lovers can add chopped cilantro to the rice, but most of my family can't stand it, so my poor husband sprinkles some on top. If I haven't given all the cilantro away. Which I usually do. ;o) I also cook up a big pot of black or pinto beans, and when the veggies are done, we load up the tortillas with veggies, rice, beans, and guacamole (this week's guacamole is coming from last week's organic avocados). Oh, and to steam the tortillas, I get a clean dish towel wet and lightly wring it out, wrap up about 4 tortillas at a time in it, and microwave them for about 90 seconds. They come out hot and stretchy just like at the restaurant.

The sweet potato-tofu curry will be a variation on a recurring theme at our house. My basic recipe for 4 people is a can of coconut milk, a couple tablespoons of curry paste (red or green), some ginger, some onion, some chopped Thai basil, some garlic, a little salt, a little sugar, and some heat of some sort, along with veggies and a protein. I also make my own "fish" sauce from steeped kelp or other sea vegetable. For the protein I very often I use chickpeas, but sometimes tofu. This week I will be using broiled tofu (do your tofu this way and no one will be able to resist, I promise!), cubed sweet potatoes (left from last week's organic basket), Thai basal, green onion, ginger and bok choy (all from this week's Asian add-on), and sliced mushrooms that I'll have to purchase. I can't get kaffir lime leaves or lemongrass around here (those neat little squeezey tubes at the supermarket have whey in them), so that's why I rely on jarred curry pastes. They have all the right stuff without sneaky dairy products. :o)

Wedensday's Brussels sprouts-kidney bean penne is still a work in progress in my head. It will involve halved, roasted sprouts (just like I roast the veggies in the first recipe - I roast pretty much all veggies), kidney beans, whole wheat penne, lemon/olive oil, some red pepper flakes, salt, possibly a sprinkling of Bac-os, and maybe some pine nuts or almonds.

Lo mein (I'll be adding Gardein beef less tips to this) It will include our BB napa, remaining bok choy, green peppers, green onions, and sugar snap peas. It will be mostly green, but that's OK. :o) I'll be using organic buckwheat soba noodles.

Friday's pizza will be a way to use up any leftover veggies. We'll pile everything high on whole wheat flat-bread. There may be a little veggie pepperoni and vegan mozzarella. There will definitely be marinated artichoke hearts, olives and Roma tomatoes on mine.

If you're looking for more recipes for your Bountiful baskets, click

Friday, April 13, 2012

Homeschooling fundraiser moved to eBay

Over the last couple of days, I've worked to get our remaining homeschooling items from our fundraiser (plus many, many new items) listed on eBay. I have most of it done but plan to finish up in the morning. If you're a homeschooler, please take a look, and if you know anyone who home schools, please pass this post along. We'd be very grateful!

In other news, we received confirmation that our I-800A has been received. It's not much, but it's a small step.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cora's 7th birthday

Our little Cora turned 7 on Friday. We celebrated by going to Billings for the day to have lunch together and run a few errands. It was a wonderful day in spite of the fact that we got rear-ended shortly after we arrived. Argh! Even though the accident was an inconvenience (no one was hurt, including the driver of the other car) and did a number on our van's bumper, we are considering it a blessing since the van is still fully operational and the insurance money can go straight into our adoption fund. :o) We have some friends who are also adopting a child with Down syndrome, and they got into an accident recently too. When I said that we were going to put the money toward our adoption, they decided they might do the same thing. Funny how these things work.

Cora requested "taquitos and broccoli" for her birthday meal today, but I talked her into altering her proposed menu just slightly. ;o) We had taquitos, lime rice, and super yummy black beans. We were supposed to have strawberries and blueberries, too, but we forgot to eat them. It's just as well because we were completely stuffed. We haven't even eaten Cora's birthday cake yet. I guess we'll be having a healthy dinner of cake.

Here are some pictures of Cora and her loot. She was SO happy with everything she got. She is such a sweet, quirky, endearing kid. Every year on her birthday I think about the emergency room doctor who examined her when she was being escorted home from Haiti by our friends. (A flight attendant had kicked them off their connecting flight because Cora was crying with an ear infection and he thought she was deathly ill. I'm still bitter about it.) Anyway, this doctor asked our friends if we knew that the baby they were bringing to us was "mentally retarded." He made this determination based on her nystagmus (a feature of her albinism and nothing to do with cognition) and because she had pretty serious orphanage delays. I wish he could see her now. Other than being legally blind, there is absolutely nothing "deficient" about the bundle of sweetness and enthusiasm that is Cora. Humph.

Weekly menu

This week we're drowning in pineapple and sweet potatoes. ;o)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

USCIS happiness :o)

Yesterday I was FINALLY able to mail our I-800A to Texas. It was such a relief! I've been a little worried, though, about the fact that the fingerprinting appointments are now handled by a central office, rather than the local USCIS offices. I was sure they'd send us a morning appointment time, not realizing that it takes us 6 hours to get there. We did not want to have to stay overnight, and we also didn't want to have to wait to reschedule the appointment once we got it. I decided to write a letter to our "local" office to alert them that we had mailed our application, but that the appointment time was going to be an issue for us. Today (the next day!) I got a phone call from our office. The man I spoke with gave me his phone number (anyone who's ever dealt with USCIS knows that's huge!) and said that he wants us to call as soon as we get our appointment notice, and he'll change it for us. He said we could come pretty much any time we want to. I am so excited about this because it will avoid our having to stay overnight, ensure we can go at a convenient time, and most importantly, it will shave a couple of weeks off our wait time. Bonus!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Weekly menu

This week's menu has a salad bar repeat since we didn't end up having one last week. The roasty soba bowls with miso tahini that we had today were amazing, and I'll definitely make them again. I love any vegetable roasted, and the sauce was so good! It worked out perfectly because we got a boatload of cauliflower from Bountiful Baskets yesterday.

kitchen catch-up

Since it looks as though there may continue to be some progress on our kitchen in the coming months, I thought I'd do a picture post to show how far we've come. Three years seems like forever to wait for this project, and I was amazed as I looked back through old photos to see how young the kids looked when we started.

To help you get your bearings, this is what we are going for:

The dotted line shows the size of the original kitchen (although the ORIGINAL original kitchen of 1910 was about half that size and was bordered by a butler's pantry where the oven wall is now, and a pass-through pantry between the kitchen and dining room). In any case, the kitchen was tiny, had almost no counter space, and very little cabinet space for a family of 14. We resorted to using a storage room in our basement for storing most of our food, with just a 24" wide upper cabinet that would hold packages and cans that we needed for meals for a given week. It was not fun. The cabinets were falling apart, the green laminate countertop was chipping and breaking, the carpet (yes, carpet!) was fraying and coming apart, and the false 7.5' ceiling made the place feel like a cave.

Here are the big things we did:
  • Moved the north wall 30" into the too-large dining room
  • Knocked down the east wall (see dotted line) that separated the kitchen from the old laundry/mudroom
  • Relocated the powder room to a large coat closet in the center hall
  • Moved the laundry to the old powder room location

This is the view into what's now the pantry. It was a small office (originally the "sewing room") and we knocked out the wall that separated it from the kitchen, and closed up the doorway (just to the left of the radiator) that used to access it from the dining room (see next photo). Our washer and dryer used to sit right where Cora (purple shirt) is standing when there was a wall there.
This doorway went into the old office. Kitchen is to the right.
In this photo, you can see the old door to the office behind Curtis. The backside of the old kitchen wall hadn't yet come out. We were crammed in the dining room along with tons of construction materials.
Here's a view looking the opposite direction
And here's the dining room now. The paneled wall idea came because originally the dining room had paneled walls and a beamed ceiling, but it also helped cover up the old doorway to the office (which would have been on the far right of the photo). The kitchen is just to the right.

As for the kitchen, most of my old photos are saved on our external hard drive, so I did my best to find a couple that would show what it was like. I look just lovely in this picture. ;o) It shows what my counterspace was like. There was 24" to the left and right of the sink, and then we had this little rolling cart (which we called "the island" - ha!). On another wall, there was a tiny bit of counterspace, but that's where we kept our mixer and microwave, so it wasn't usable prep space at all. In this picture I'm making tamales for our Christmas Eve dinner. You can also see how low the ceiling was; it came down to the tops of the windows (which were just panes of glass, by the way - great for the times I would burn things and couldn't even open a window!)
And this shows our tiny eating area. We used to cram some of us around this and some of us on stools around the "island." (The food is from my heavy duty couponing, pre-vegan days.)
Now here are some early demo photos:

Just before the old wall separating the kitchen and dining room was torn out. There is a radiator "bench" just in front of it that we would use when sitting at the table.
And here is the wall gone, revealing the new wall behind it. (See the radiators that we used as a bench?)
Here the old mudroom wall that stood behind the fridge is gone, and the ceiling has been ripped out to its full 10' height.
This wall borders the garage and is where the stove/cooktop will be. See the hutch-shaped outline along the wall toward the left? That's where a hutch stood in the original butler's pantry. We covered over that window since an attached garage was added on that side of the house in the 30s and it wasn't a nice view. ;o)
Now here are some progression photos of the new kitchen. We still have a long way to go, but we're getting there.

This one shows the awesome soffit that our contractor built. We had to have a soffit here to cover up some needed pipes on the right, but I didn't want a standard 1990s soffit. I love how it turned out. There will be a pendant hanging over the sink. The windows were replaced with casement-look (but they're really awning-syle) that match the rest of the windows in the house.

We put in honed slate flooring with black grout. To save money, we ordered 18x18 tiles and cut them down to 9x18. The wall with the plywood is where the garage window was. The pantry (old office) is just to the left.
Since we couldn't get away with much color on the walls, we painted the ceiling green. It's unexpected and I love it. Our contractor framed out cheap steel doors with oak to match the oak doors in the rest of the house. The one on the left has a chalkboard center and leads to the garage.
This shot shows the grey-blue we used for some of the cabinetry (including the backing center cabinets in the pantry) as well as the laundry room on the far right. The laundry room is where the old powder room was, and is now a pass-through to the center hall. It also has built-in cubbies on the right side and separates from the kitchen and hall with pocket doors.
We agonized over countertop choices. Neither of us is a fan of granite and after years of living with green laminate (here and at our old house), we really wanted something more durable. We settled on Beleza soapstone. We were able to order slabs and have them shipped here for our contractor to cut and install, and it was FAR less money to do this than other options we looked at. Since soapstone can be cut with regular woodworking tools, many homeowners do it themselves. Other bonues are that you can put hot pots on it, it doesn't have to be sealed, and if you scratch it (our variety is pretty hard), you can buff out the scratches. Since we were cutting it ourselves, we chose to have it 30" deep around the sink and have it run right into the windows instead of having a sill. I will plant herbs back there, I think.
This is one of my favorite things about the kitchen. The doors don't have glass yet and aren't installed, but this will house our display stuff. Right now I just have cookbooks in it. (The contractor is building a dining room hutch to match the originals that were ripped out of the dining room in the 20s or 30s, and that will house our ironstone).

Here again is the garage wall with the ovens and cooktop, with the pantry (old office) to the left.
The green tape shows where the island will go.
This is my spice drawer. I got these little jars super cheap online from a restaurant supply place and I love them!

Behold, the island! I've waited more than 3 years to see this in real life and not just in my head! It will be stained and sealed on-site, likely by moi. We picked out this countertop and had it shipped with the soapstone. It was less than half buying and having it fabricated locally. There will be two big pendants hanging over it once all the lighting is installed.

This is the island sink. It was just installed and I can't wait to use it once the island is done. Our contractor is coming back for a three-day weekend in two weeks, so hopefully it will be all stained and ready to go by then!

The pantry (old office) is one of my top five favorite things. It's hard to photograph since it's so small. This left wall is where the doorway into the office once was. I keep most of our food on the left, and on the right is my baking center. I have baking supplies in the cupboard, and flours, sugar, etc. on the shelves above. My mixer sits on the far right. It's all just to the left of the ovens, so it's super handy.

Hopefully I'll have more photos to show soon!