Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sick of Pasta

There have got to other frugal folks out there reading this blog.  You know who you are - you who make sure each meal has a "filler" food like pasta, rice, potatoes.  Something cheap, filling, and not terribly bad for you. 

(Please don't lecture me about the glycemic index, lack of fiber, etc. of above mentioned food.  I said not TOO bad.)

But I feel burned out on pasta and rice.  Potatoes are super cheap when you get a good sale - sometimes less than 30cents a pound.  But they can take a while to prepare, whether baking, mashing, etc.  On busy days, I'm in favor of convenience.

So, this post is about the beauty of make-ahead potato dishes. 

First, you know you can freeze mashed potatoes, right?  Just prepare them how you typically like them.  Add whatever butter, milk, sour cream, or whatever you normally put in.  Then freeze flat in a ziplock bag.  Before reheating, thaw the potatoes.  They will look a little runny, but don't worry.  They will cook up thick and nice.  Then, just microwave till they are hot.

One of my favorite freezer potato recipes is gnocchi.  This costs a ton in the store, but is super cheap and tasty to make at home.  I plan to have a bunch of this stocked in my freezer, ready for when we return from our trip to China to bring home Levi.

Here's the recipe.

Kristin's Easy Freezer Potato Gnocchi


  • 2 lbs whole baking potatoes
  • 2 beaten egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • Pinch of salt
 Double, triple or quadruple the recipe as you need.  I usually make a ginormous batch at once.

Most gnocchi recipes have you boil unpeeled potatoes, then peel them when they are still hot.  The peel keeps them from getting too waterlogged.  That might work for one small batch, but when you make enough to freeze for a few meals, it is too time intensive.  Instead, you can bake them.  Just scrub up those potatoes and stick them all in the oven till they are tender when poked with a fork.

Once they are cooked, slice them each in half to help them cool faster and, when cool enough to handle, scoop out the potato from the skins. 

(If you don't want to be wasteful, you can rebake the skins, topped with cheese and cooked bacon.  Then sprinkle with green onions and top with sour cream for a yummy snack or side dish)

Most recipes call for the potatoes to be put through a food mill.  (NOT a food processor, which will turn them to a gloopy mess).  Since I don't have one, I just mash it with my potato masher and it works just fine.  Then you mix in the egg yolks, flour, and salt.

Keep mixing till all the flour is incorporated.

Next, you roll it into snakes about the diameter of your finger.  Cut the dough roll at 1 to 2 inch intervals, depending upon how large you want your dumplings.  Traditionally at this time, gnocchi is rolled onto a fork to give it those pretty grooves that hold in sauce.  You can do that.  Or you can poke your finger into the raw dumpling to give it a dimple to hold sauce better.  Or, if you are making giant batches, you can call it a day and be done with it.

The rolling is a fun step kids can help with.

You can either cook them now or freeze for later.  To flash freeze, place gnocchi on a cookie sheet in a single layer.  If you are making lots, you can put a roll of waxed paper over the top of the first layer of gnocchi and put another layer on top.  Freeze till solid, then store in a ziplock bag.  They will remain separated, so you can take out however many you need when you want to make them at a future meal.

Try to keep the sizes fairly uniform so they cook in the same amount of time.

To cook - Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil.  Drop some frozen gnocchi in the pot, bud don't crowd them too much.  When they float to the surface after just a couple of minutes, they are done.  Scoop them out with a large slotted spoon.  After all the gnocchi are out for that batch, boil up another batch till you have cooked as many as you need.

This is good served with pesto over the top, a marinara sauce, browned butter, or anything that is good on top of hot pasta.   

I like fresh shredded basil on top of mine.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I have no words.

Mourning and weeping with those in Newtown, Connecticut.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Levi Update

We just received our first (and probably only) update on Levi.  This is the first information we got about him since we saw his file in July.  The information in the file was already a couple of months old when we saw it, so I guess this is the first updated information since he was 8 months old.  He is 15 months old now.

First, the best news - he seems to be healthy and where we expected him to be developmentally.  That is such a relief.

Second, he is just as cute as ever.  The picture was taken two months ago, not long after his 1 yr. birthday.  Isn't he the cutest baby you've ever seen?  In both of the other pictures we have of him, he has that same "What do you want from me?" expression. 

He's going to love this picture of him in ruffles and pink flowers when he hits the teenage years.

Now, the not as good news.  My baby is little.  He's tiny.  He has gained only 3 pounds in the last 7 months.  He probably fits into 6 month clothes.

Some people have tried to reassure me that he will get bigger once he gets home.  Once we get some more food into him, he'll grow.  But I already know that.  I'm not terribly worried about him staying so far at the bottom of the growth charts that he is not technically even on them.  Although if his genetics have him always stay on the smaller end of things, that's just fine with me.

What has this Mama's heart aching is the knowledge that he will get bigger when he gets home because of better nutrition.  Once his calories go up, he'll be getting bigger.  That's what is so sad about it.  I am sitting here, half a world away, knowing that my baby is hungry.  At that size, he is probably hungry most of the time.

I'm so ready to bring my sweet boy home.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Poor Kitty

Please don't call Animal Protection.

Yes, that is a sherbet lid around my kitty's neck.  And yes, I may have thought it was a good idea to put it there.   And, perhaps it was my hand that squeezed it over the poor cat's head.

You see, we are dealing with an unfortunate case of ringworm.  There is a small tuft of fur missing on the kitty's shoulder (hidden by the homemade e-collar).  She needs to wear the collar so that she doesn't lick off the ringworm medication, get sick, puke all over, and die.  But, cheap that we are, we didn't want to shell out $10-$15 for the official, fancy-pants, "real" e-collar.  Hence a perfect example of at-home, redneck veterinary care.

Do you see how the poor cat has hung her head in shame?  Is she wishing a different family, one that will buy a blinged out e-collar took her home from the Humane Society?  You know.  The kind all the cool cats get when fighting off a fungal infection. 

I admit to feeling pity while looking at her.  She looks like those pictures of wildlife that get their heads stuck in plastic rings and end up starving to death because food is too restricted to get down to their belly.  Once again, please don't call Animal Welfare.  The ring is temporary and not too tight. 

I am glad that there was not a larger patch of ringworm that she would be able to get to with such a small collar on.  I would have hated to go to the enormous ice cream pail lid size.  Now THAT would look downright silly.

I also feel bad that this is her online debut.  Our cat Yoda Bob met an unexpected end a few months back.  So, with the relatively new addition of this cat, we are up to two cats again.

Let me formally introduce you to Miss Ninja Snugglebug.  With this many people in the family, sometimes unusual compromises need to be made on pet names. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Sometimes it takes a good friend to tell you the things you really need to hear.  Thank goodness I have good enough friends to tell it to me straight.  I got a little dose of tough love that I needed today.  Like a vaccine, it stung initially, but long-term it will be good for me.

So, one of my shortcomings as a friend is that I tend to talk too much.  I have so much I want to say and share, that I have a tendency to cut people off or monopolize a conversation.   Sometimes I will go weeks without thinking about this.  Then, I'll be with some of my friends and realize that I am a conversation hog and get embarrassed.  I will make a conscious effort to be a better listener.  But, eventually I slide into my bad habit.

Confession time:  Tonight, I was talking to one of my favorite people in the world.  We were discussing something that we both felt strongly about, but didn't necessarily agree completely on.  In my rush to debate the issue I cut her off.  Several times, I am embarrassed to admit.  Finally, she called me out, as only a real friend can and said, "You never let me finish." 

Ouch.  Sting.  That's the shot I needed.  I can't let my enthusiasm overtake the common respect I should be giving to anyone nice enough to have a conversation with me that doesn't involve Legos, Star Wars, or Princesses.  Her words were not intended to hurt, but to help our friendship.   I am pretty lucky to have friends that will say the tough stuff in a loving way, and with forgiveness and no grudges.

Please tell me I am not the only one with a personality trait or two that needs tending.  I hope I am not the only one who continues to struggle with a few annoying quirks that haven't quite gone away.

This is something that I have struggled with for a long time.  I prayed about it once a few years ago.  God answered that prayer a little too well. 

I had prayed, "God, please help me be a better listener.  Please?" 

This prayer took place less than a week before Ben and I were going on a long weekend trip to Duluth, MN.  (We try to take one 2-3 day trip alone each year).  I hadn't been sick at all, but the day before the trip, I lost my voice.  I couldn't speak louder than a whisper, and even that took a lot of effort.  And I am a girl who never loses her voice.

So for 3 days, I had to listen, truly listen to my husband.  I listened to him for a 2 1/2 hour car ride up and back.  I listened to him at restaurants and museums.  By the end of the trip, I think I was listened out and he was talked out.

This experience proves that God answers prayers, and that He has a sense of humor.

Hopefully, I can continue to have friends loving point out how I can improve in the friendship arena so God won't have to work as drastically to get the point across to me.  To all my friends I have cut off - I'm sorry and I'm working on it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thank You, Readers

So, its been about a year and half since my first official blog post, and I've got to say I'm surprised!  My expectations were fairly low as to who might be interested in my family.  I assumed my mom would read this (at the library, of course, because they don't have internet at home) about once a week.  Maybe a friend or two would pop on in every few weeks.

Imagine my surprise to hit 25,000 views.  It can't all have been spammers, right?  

I remember the excitement I felt the first time someone from another country viewed my blog.  (Thanks, Canada!)  I have been keeping track of the countries that have been viewing my blog, and so far people from 74 countries have popped in to sneak a peek at my life.  Hey there, Gabon, Pakistan, Luxembourg, Chile and the rest!  And, hello to my US readers.  I'm continually fascinated with how everyone else lives, so would if any of you would be willing to share your blog in the comments, I'd love to stop by and have a non-creepy voyeuristic look.

I've had two main goals all along with this blog.  

     1. I've wanted to keep a record of some of the details of our family life and a journal of sorts about my thoughts and opinions.  I'll look back on some of the things I have written later on and wonder, "What was I thinking?"  

     2.  I also want to be an encouragement to others.  I am hoping that I have been honest about my life (including my shortcomings) so that other people will have a realistic idea of how other families really live.  It is so hard when I read other people's blogs and there is only talk about their perfect lives, perfect kids, perfect houses, perfect vacations, etc.  I want to share my joys with you, but I want you all to know that life is hard and messy sometimes, and that is okay, too.

 In my first post, I said of my blog, " Please maintain low expectations and I will do my best to meet them."  I hope I have fulfilled my end of the bargain and that you will continue with your low expectations.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mama's Lap is Never Empty

Have you ever noticed that you've been in a streak of ungratefulness?  I don't mean overt or conscious vocalizations of displeasure.  I mean the way you settle into life and forget to look around for a moment and be thankful.

I realized that I had drifted over to that land of entitlement.  The one where things are going fine, so I take for granted the amazing blessings in my life.

Fortunately God snapped me out of it.  It happened in church, which is really as good a place as any for God to get a message to me.  Assuming I am in a focused prayerful sort of mind, and not a "Quit poking your brother" saying, sippy cup retrieving, or boo-boo kissing mode.

So my family and I were lined up in our pew, listening to the sermon.  I had Veronica on my lap first.  Then she wanted to sit on her daddy's lap.  Connor immediately sat on my lap.  When he came down, Riley looked expectantly at me and asked if he could sit in my now vacant lap.  Remember now, Riley is 8 years old.  He's fairly small, but even a small third grader can get pretty heavy.

I hoisted him on up, knowing that there won't be very many more times when he will do this again, especially in view of his growing-more-important friends.  But, still.  This time he wanted to be close to his mom.

And it was as if God spoke in my ear and reminded me, reminding me that I have not had an empty lap in over a decade.  I have been blessed beyond measure with five beautiful children and another child waiting in China, soon to be sitting on my lap.

People are often unsure of the benefits to having a larger-than-typical family.  While I don't think my family is that huge, especially compared to families a couple of generations ago, I know we are an anomaly in our area.  But if they had over 10 years of snuggling with a child always eager to be in their lap, wrapping their arms around their children and breathing in the sweet smell of child (break in the nostalgia - They don't always smell sweet.  Sometimes they smell like spit-up or little-boy dirt), those doubters would know the blessings.

It took nearly 60 pounds worth of an 8 year old boy to remind me to be thankful. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Favorite Accessory

My favorite accessory?  My "I Voted" sticker, of course.

I have intentionally kept this blog pretty apolitical, but those of you who know me know that I tend to get fired up about politics.  Don't stop reading.  That is NOT what this blog post is about.

Instead, I'm going to tell you what I am fired up about.  I am so proud of the engagement of my fellow citizens in the voting process.   I'm especially proud of my state of Minnesota, who has had the highest voter turnout rates in the last three presidential elections.  My home state of Wisconsin (always close to my heart) came in with the second highest turnout.

So, why is voter turnout a big deal?  Why do I encourage all my friends and family to vote - even when I know their vote will often cancel out my own?

It is the ultimate expression of faith in our country and government.  It shows that people believe they can make a difference and that their government will take into account their best interest.  Yes, even when I disagree with a politician or their proposals, I don't doubt that they have the best interest of our country at heart.

Do you realize how incredible this is?  Have you stopped to think that this feel-good "I voted" sticker represents what hundreds of millions of people around the world long for.  It is what people dream about and die for.  This is my chance to change the world through my vote.

Tomorrow, the results will be in.  Some people will be rejoicing.  Some people will be grumbling about how long the next four years will be.  But today.  Right now, we are joined together as a country, all taking part of this democracy.

Yes, I did wear the red and white striped shirt because it was my most "patriotic" looking one. 

Indulge me in a little bit of idealistic optimism here.  As we speak, millions of people are shoulder to shoulder, with only a flimsy plastic divider separating their secret ballots from each other.  They did not go through metal detectors to get in that booth.  They did not pass armed guards silently representing an oppressive government hosting symbolic elections.  They did not risk their life to vote, nor are they in fear that their life will be in danger if their choices are discovered.  They believe that the system will run as smoothly as possible.

And they know that tomorrow, whatever the result, our country will continue with no threat of civil war or cataclysmic disaster.  What an incredible country we live in.

God Bless America and God Bless the World!

Please, please get out and vote.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

L O A !!!!!!!!!

I know I had taken a brief hiatus from this blog, but I am back.  And what better way to restart this party than with great news?

Finally, on Day 94 of the wait, we received LOA, which stands for Letter of Acceptance from China.  The wait time to get this document varies tremendously.  In the last couple of months, people have waited anywhere from 12 days to 163 days to get this paperwork.

What does this mean?  This means that not only are we another step closer to our sweet Levi, but we can send a care package and request an update.  It also means that I can publicly share pictures and information about our newest little one.

Here he is!!!  Levi QingHai

These pictures were taken when he was 8 months old and he turned 1 on September 1st.  He is from Shanxi province and is from Yuncheng SWI.

I can't wait to get this sweet boy home.  Usually families travel about 3 months after receiving LOA, however that is right around the time of Chinese New Year.  Government offices close for a week in celebration, and that could delay our travel till the end of February.

Admit it.  He is just about the cutest thing you have ever seen - isn't he.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Power of the Pause

There is power in a pause.  As in

Hold your horses!  and
Give me one cotton pickin' minute!

Sure, I make my kids wait while I am speaking to another grown up, going to the bathroom, backing the truck out of the driveway, and trying to count how many cups of flour I have already dumped into the bread dough.  (No, I am not doing all of this at the same time - that would be multitasking overkill)

I expect that my children will wait.  I expect them to realize that the world does not always revolve around them, their wants, and their whims.  But that is not the powerful pause I am referring to today.

I meant, I get to pause.

Sometimes I am just too worn down to be fun.  My first instinct when my kids ask to do something is often, "No".  I can go through streaks where "No" becomes as automatic as saying "ouch" after I stub my toe.  It is instinctual.  Afterwards I don't even realize why I said no. 

It is also lazy parenting.  Now, those of you who have followed this blog long enough or know me in person know that I am a fan of some benign neglect for my kids.  I am not their cruise director.  I am more than willing to let them be bored for a while till they come up with something to amuse themselves.  Fortunately lazy parenting like this can be sold as enhancing the creativity of my children. 

But I can take it too far, especially if they ask me at an inconvenient time.  And once I say, "no" I mean it.  That's it.  So I need to remember to reserve my "nos" for when they are necessary, not habitual.

For the last couple of years, one of my favorite parenting phrases is "I'll think about it."  when my kids ask me something.  This gives them an immediate response so they stop repeating the questions as if I had suddenly lost my sense of hearing.  It also gives me a chance to finish what I am focusing on.   I have time to think about whether it would be too inconvenient to set out the slip and slide or have a play date with a friend.  I can consider whether they can watch a TV show or dig out some very messy craft before supper.

I am not a girl who loves change.  If I had a plan for the day or morning, I can struggle to shift gears and reevaluate their request.  This gives me a breather to think through my answer.

My children know that "I'll think about it" does not mean yes or no.  It is a maybe.  However, if they continue to ask, the answer is an automatic "NO!"

Some requests take only a couple minutes to consider.  Some may take a day or more.   I feel so much more confident about my decisions when I know they are thought through, and my children feel better knowing their request was given full consideration.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hurry Up, Adoption Documents!

We are currently waiting for yet another very official and very important document for our adoption journey.  For those of you in the know about China adoption lingo, we are waiting for LOA.

For those of you not as much in the know, LOA stands for Letter of Acceptance.  This means that after rigorous screenings about our suitability to parent on the US side, China is officially giving us permission to adopt.  This is after they have already reviewed our documents at the Chinese Consulate, and reviewed our documents when we submitted our dossier, and reviewed our documents when we submitted our Letter of Intent, which says, YES!  We really, really, want to adopt this sweet boy.

Please don't be misled into thinking that the arrival of our LOA means we get to travel to China anytime soon. We are still a few more documents away from that.  Our government and China need to continue to send seemingly duplicate pieces of paper back and forth to each other for a while.  We are assuming we will travel sometime around January.

So, for the various reasons, we are praying that the paperwork speeds up.  First, obviously, we want to meet our new son!  I'm in the 3rd trimester of this paperwork pregnancy and am getting impatient.  And the nesting has kicked in, but I don't have the funds to indulge those impulses.

Second, is more pragmatic.  The Adoption Tax Credit is set to expire this year.  This is a significant chunk of change ($13,000) that we would love to get back to immediately turn over to the hospital for Levi's needed palate surgery (and probably another surgery for Veronica) next year.

Finally, I am just anxious to get my son home from the area he is from.  His hometown (which will remain nameless until we have permission to share after LOA) is located about 75 miles from Linfen, China in Shanxi province.  This is acknowledged to have the most polluted air on the planet.

According to one World Bank report, 16 out of 20 of the world's worst cities for air pollution are found in China and Linfen has the highest levels of pollution. This city is at the center of the nation's coal industry. Here, emissions from vehicles and industry have created an atmosphere where people literally choke on coal dust. The rate of birth defects in Shanxi province is 6 times higher than China's national average, which is already high by global standards.

There is a video on Youtube called Lost Children of the Coal about this area and focuses on one particular woman who has taken in many, many orphans who have been abandoned, most likely because their family couldn't meet their medical needs.  You can see the general conditions of the area where my boy is from.  It is absolutely heartbreaking.

Here's the link:       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QijM72iwSs

Picture from the video Lost Children of the Coal

Please indulge me in one political plug.  There is a bipartisan supported bill in the US House of Representatives that would make the Adoption Tax Credit permanent.  Please, please, please if you are so inclined, contact your representative about supporting this bill.  This helps to make adoption a financial possibility for many families.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Exercise Inspiration

Finding time to exercise with 5 kids in the house is a little like finding time to fill a swimming pool with a Dixie cup.  It just isn't going to happen on its own.  You have to be deliberate and find tricks that work. 

I know many of you dear readers have memberships to the YMCA or other gyms that have free childcare.  What a great opportunity!  I like to think I would be in marathon shape if someone were watching my kids so I can exercise.  In reality, I'd probably still do the same amount of exercise, but stretch it out over a loooong time to take full advantage of that babysitting.  Maybe I'd even shower and blow dry my hair during the hiatus from parental duties. 

But, since I don't have any memberships, I make due with what I have.  And what I have is second hand (most of it free) free exercise equipment found on the internet - a treadmill, Nordictrack, and weight machine.  I find that if I don't early in the morning, it just isn't going to happen.  I'm exhausted by the end of the day.  So, pre-daylight works best. 

Unglamorous post-workout sweaty girl.

Here are some friendly tips for exercise inspiration, beyond the whole "You'll feel better and live longer and fit into skinny jeans" inspiration.

1.  Don't exercise while the kids are right by you.  Our treadmill is in the basement, along with the kids' toys.  I have found that shouting out, "Stop fighting!" and regulating toy sharing negotiations with the kids while trying to jog really messes with your breathing.  If I have to exercise while the kids are awake, I have a rule that if I have to stop the treadmill to deal with their misbehavior, they will be in time out till I am off the treadmill.  Harsh, yes.  Longer than the usual 1 minute per age, yes.  But a healthy Mommy is important. The kids are also not allowed to shout, "Faster, Mommy!  Faster!  I can run faster than that, Mommy!"  while I am on the treadmill.

2.  I reward myself with computer games.  I am not a huge video game kind of girl, but I love a good game of Scrabble or Boggle (Do you hear that, all my elementary teachers who gave me mediocre spelling grades.  I have improved.)  I only allow myself to play them after I have exercised.

3.  I know everyone has heard the advice to lay out your clothes the night before.  But it is so true.  If I even have to open a drawer in my sleep deprived stupor, it seems like too much work and I will just go back to sleep.

4.  The best advice I have is child guilt.  I have told them many times how I exercise to stay healthy so I can take good care of them for a long time.  I then challenge them to ask me EVERY DAY if I exercised.  If I have, they jump up and down and shout "Hooray!"  Alright.  Just the younger ones do that.  The older ones stick with high fives.  If I haven't exercised that day, they put on a grave face and say, "Mommy.  You should exercise to keep healthy.  You need to take care of me."  There is nothing like a guilt inducing scolding from a four year old to get yourself on the treadmill.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Goodbye Grandma

So much has happened since my last post; I hardly no where to begin.  I'll address some of the other things later, but the most important change is that my wonderful Grandma passed away. 

Of course I am sad that she is gone.  Saying good-bye (for now) is never easy.  But, this incredible woman had what we all want.  She lived a full life and finally went to be with Jesus at age 96.  She was married to a wonderful man and had children that loved her.  Many, many children.  Fourteen children.  Thank goodness she didn't think double-digit children were too many as my mom was number eleven.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in the same town that my grandma lived in.  I remember going to garage sales with her, my mom, and my aunts from my Barbie acquisition days.  She (bless her heart) actually wanted to go to my childhood band concerts.  Now anyone with a 5th grader who plays the clarinet knows that is a whole lot of love.  She kept special treats separate for us for Halloween and always acted surprised when we revealed our true identities.  She took care of me when I had the chicken pox and I felt very loved laying on her couch watching The Price is Right.

Honestly, I am so blessed to have had her for a grandma.  Those of you who knew her know exactly what I mean.  Those of you who hadn't been fortunate enough to had that privilege, let me tell you.  She was amazing.

Four generations together

Grandma with Veronica

Grandma with the four biggest kids.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Daring Rescue

"Mom!  Connor's stuck in the tree!" 

And so began my daring rescue.

We have several trees large enough to climb in our yard.  Inevitably, our children, neighbor children, possibly even random children climb up into our trees every day.  The tree that Connor got himself stuck in (shown below) is great for climbing, but is a little high up to get into.  So my ingenious husband crafted a rope ladder to climb in.  Unfortunately my six year old couldn't climb out.

Mom to the Rescue!

First I tried to talk the boy down.  That was a no-go.

Then, I changed from my skirt and flip flops to my super hero saving outfit - otherwise known as shorts and tennis shoes.

It wasn't till I reached my leg up into the first (rather high) rung of the rope ladder that I realized I hadn't climbed a tree in a couple of decades.  I hadn't quite considered that something so very easy to me as a child would be so awkward as an adult.  The audience of neighbor kids thoughtfully giving me encouragement didn't actually help.

Once I put my full weight onto the old, weather worn rope ladder, I prayed, "Dear God, please don't let this rope break and have me crash on my butt with all these witnesses."  I think the child who recently got his own cell phone was prepared to document my rescue operation.

I got into the tree and climbed up a couple of branches to get to my son.  I braced my back against the tree trunk and planted my feet as firmly as I could on one of the branches.  First I calmed him down with the whole "You can trust Mommy!  I'm going to help you.  Don't worry.  You'll be fine." speech.

I will admit that I didn't actually know if that was true.  My boy is getting heavy.  He could make crazy sudden movements.  He could freak out and just let go.  He could get me off balance and we could both fall out of the tree.  I had no idea if I could actually get him down safely.  But, he didn't need to know that.  I figure, with five (going on six) kids, one of them will break an arm someday.  Maybe today?

His crying quieted down enough for him to hear where I wanted him to put his hands and feet.  Finally, he let go of one branch and crouched down so I could lift him down from one branch to another.  Then, I was down as far as I could go before getting out of the tree.

And I realized, I didn't know how I was going to get out.  I couldn't quite get foot into the rope ladder right, and was again worried about it giving way in front of the spectators.  The suggestion to just jump out of the tree was suggested by many children who were used to bearing all their weight on their arms - a feat that I had not even thought to attempt for years. 

Finally, I managed to hold onto the rope ladder and do a very un-Olympic like dismount.  Not elegant, but not injured.  I convinced Connor to slide himself out of the tree and into my arms.

I walked back into the house with a little swagger, I will admit.  Once again, mom saves the day.  And with no insurance deductibles spent.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


This past Sunday, our church celebrated the retirement of our pastor.  He has been in the ministry for 44 years and had been with our church specifically for nearly thirty years.

As part of the celebration, people from his former churches as well as family and friends from the past wrote letters and traveled to let him know how Pastor had impacted their lives. 

In fact, during one part of the celebration, those who came were asked to stand if Pastor had affected their lives in one of several key ways. Then, our pastor and his wife were able to look around and see an entire church full of people whose lives they had positively impacted throughout their life's work.

Most people don't get to see a lifetime's worth of  friends and family this side of heaven.  Of course, people will come to funerals to pay respects, but I would venture to say that most people don't get to witness such a powerful celebration of their lives.

But, I've thought about this before.  Have you?  Have you wondered what kind of impact you have really made on people?  Have you wondered what kind of legacy you will leave? 

I realize I am only in my mid-30s and it is probably maudlin to think this way.  But I still wonder, especially now that I am an at-home mother.  I don't come into contact with as many people.  A Pastor - well that really does put you at the center of people's lives during all kinds of joys and sorrows.  That is the kind of job that can have a huge impact when people are most vulnerable. 

Please don't misunderstand.  I realize being an at-home parent is important and I am impacting my children's lives.  I just wonder sometimes what kind of impact I have on others "out in the world" beyond my front yard.  Have any of you wondered the same?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Another Boy!

On Tuesday, we accepted the adoption referral for a baby boy!  I realize that everyone wants to see pictures of the sweet little boy, but we are not allowed to post pictures or identifying information online until we get our formal LOA, which means "Letter of Acceptance" from China in about 3 months. 

So, imagine the cutest little boy you have ever seen, and that is what he looks like.

Here are some things we can share now.

Name - Without disclosing his last name, his first name is Qing Hai (pronounced "Ching-hi") which we were told means "Celebrate the Sea".  Hai is a name often given to boys to symbolize their desire for the child to have a big heart and a broad, open mind.  So, like Veronica, we will be using his Chinese name as his middle name.  And our new son will be named:  Levi Chinghai.  Doesn't that sound wonderful?

Age - He is only 10 months old. (We aren't publicly disclosing his birthdate to protect privacy until our LOA) We were rather surprised by this as we expected that he would be about a year older than that.  We requested a child a year younger than Veronica so they would be in a different grade, and our newest baby will be two grades behind. It will be rather nice to maintain the every-other-year grades for all our kids in school.

Location - He is living in Shanxi province in China.  (Once again, not disclosing the city yet).  This province is located in North Central China. 

 Cuteness - Oh my word is he cute!  The pictures we have were taken when he was 8 months old.  He had no hair.  He is a small but cute little boy.  He has beautiful brown eyes.  In both photos we have, he has an expression like "I'm a little confused about what you want from me".  He's wearing the cutest orange pants with suspenders in the pictures.

Health - Like Veronica, he was born with a cleft lip and palate, but he has already received the initial lip repair in China.  We anticipate him having his first cleft palate surgery about two months after he is home. 

And, the million dollar follow up question we keep receiving - When will we travel to get him?  We anticipate traveling probably in January, but will keep you posted as we pass the upcoming paperwork milestones.

I'm so ready for another little boy to love.  Our house has been filled with joy and anticipation for our newest member.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stop. Breathe. Repeat.

Somehow I slipped into stretch of weeks that didn't afford me a break.  You know how it happens.  Each little commitment I made seemed like not-a-big-deal.  Then, add in the Hubster's commitments.  By the time I actually got around to transferring all our obligations from random scraps of paper and vague recollections to the calendar I was slightly appalled.

You see, I am not THAT person.  I am not an over-scheduler.  My sweet, wonderful husband loves the thrill of racing from one event to another, but I need a breather between commitments, even fun commitments.

I am a firm believer in Gandhi's quote, "There is more to life than increasing its speed."

I always feel slightly sad for my friends and acquaintances who sigh and reply "Busy, busy, busy." when asked how their summer is going.  I admit to feeling a twinge of smugness at my calmer schedule.  Now it is time for me to eat some humble pie as I whine about my busyness.

Don't get me wrong.  All the things that occupied my days were worthwhile.  I had back-to-back trips to Christian camp for a couple of my kids (Each of the four drop off and pick ups was a full day of adventure with me and a car full of kiddos).  There was t-ball, soccer and baseball for the kids.  There were church commitments, youth group commitments, adoption commitments, medical commitments, speech therapy commitments, social commitments, softball team commitments, blah, blah, blah...

I apologize.  If it was boring for me to write that, it had to have been boring to read that.

And the sad truth of it is, I let almost three weeks slip by while running on "I gotta do it" mode instead of "I get to do it" mode.  When I am over scheduled, I wasted so many chances for feeling the joy of the moment because I am mentally too busy crossing things off my to-do list.

So I am publicly announcing my re-commitment to keeping a restful Sabbath and my daily lunch hour (I'll explain more about these on a later post).  For now, I'm going to sign off, pour myself a mojito and plunk myself down on the couch with a good mystery book.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Monopoly and Other Board Games to Test a Parent's Patience

I feel like I should start this post by saying, "Yes.  I really do love my children.  Honest."

But I am afraid I might not love them as much as my husband.  My dear, sweet, wonderful husband not only agrees to play Monopoly with a 10, 8, 6 and 4 year old (Veronica just watches), but he enjoys it.  He's even suggested the kids break out the Monopoly board for a game after supper.

I am not Superparent.  I do not play Monopoly with them.  I guess there are limits to my love.

Do any of you out there have children in this age range?  Can you possibly fathom how incredibly frustrating it is to have a child consistently decide not to buy properties because he wants to save his money, but then complain at the end that he doesn't have properties? 

And the whining.  Oh the whining.  A different child will jump up and down enthusiastically with a taunt on his lips when someone lands on his property and dissolve into that awful scream-cry when he has to pay up. 

All this negativity is not to suggest that I can't admire some aspects of the game from afar.  I do enjoy that my oldest child has declared herself "The Mayor".  This is a self-appointed position that only she can hold.  Basically, she has determined that she has the power to hand out money from the bank to anyone she chooses.  It is all based on her extreme sense of power generosity.  Perhaps she has a life in Chicago politics waiting for her when she grows up.

At the risk of revealing even more parental shortcomings, I am going to admit that I have boycotted Candyland since Child #2.  Even with the first kid, I was cheating and not counting those stupid black dot spaces.  I'll sit for a game or two of Hi Ho Cherry O, and will enthusiastically play some Uno, but negatory on the Candyland.

Don't even get me started on Chutes and Ladders. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

1 Year Adoption Day Anniversary

Last week we had a family day celebrating Veronica's 1 year anniversary of her adoption day.  It has been 12 months since we adopted her, about 1 1/2 years since we first saw her picture, almost 2 1/2 years since we applied to the agency, 6 years since we began actively saving and planning for her adoption, and a lifetime of God preparing us for this incredible blessing.

Here's the first picture we ever saw of Qin Ni who became Veronica QinNi

Sweet girl at 14 months
Veronica - home one year

Monday, July 2, 2012

Vacation Recuperation

I am coming off of a week long vacation "Up North" (For those of you not from the northern states in the US, "up north" is a colloquial term for any area of a higher latitude that is covered in pine trees and deer.) , followed by a short anniversary trip to San Antonio with the hubby, followed by a week of catching up with housework and trying to survive the sweltering heat. 

It has taken me a while to get back to this blog-o-rama.  Honestly, it just took me this long to find that stinkin' cord that lets me upload pictures from my camera to the computer.  And then summer procrastination rolled in.  So, this post is just a few weeks late.

We spent a week with a menagerie of Ben's family at his parent's house.  At one point, there were 12 children in my parent-in-law's home, with my 10 year old being the oldest of the bunch.  It was a fun, loud, exhausting time.

Let me share a  few highlights of our Up North vacation:

1.  Boating, Fishing and Swimming - This is the trifecta of Up North vacations.  My in-laws have a boat, so that met the first requirement.  Everyone has a fishing rod.  My sweet hubby managed to snag a 7 pound, 32-inch Northern, the prize fish of the trip.  And boy did that thing taste great fresh off the grill.  I'd show a picture of the enormous swimming beast, but the pictures are on my in-laws camera.  I know.  That sounds like the ultimate fishing lie.There was also a small beach close by to fulfill the swimming requirement. 

2.  Mosquitoes - Normally a negative part of the vacation experience, we were able to turn it into an incredible positive through the power of bug zappers.  Not just any bug zappers.  These puppies were shaped like tennis rackets.  The giddy kids waved these through the grass and air creating a chorus of "zzft" noises and beautiful little sparks that lit the night.  Yes, it was a bit redneck-y, but it brought so much joy.  How fortunate for us that this year was heavy with mosquitoes.

Watch out Skeeters, we're ready.

3.  Homemade Deliciousness - Isn't food really the best part of vacation?  This year was a endless parade of wonderful nibbles.  From the pizza pudgie pies cooked in the cast iron camp cookers over a bonfire, to homemade ice cream (hand cranked by several of the kids and adults), grilled ribs, homemade waffles, and too much yumminess to list.

I was able to sample a couple new delicacies, too.  I feasted on rabbit and squirrel.  Now I'm no vegetarian and I am not opposed to trying new things, so I kept an open mind.  Really it wasn't too bad.  I guess it tasted like chicken.  The only time I had a hard time swallowing was when I was told that it was so tender because the animal was so young and small.  I immediately thought of every cute, fluffy bunny I had ever seen.  I didn't eat much after that.  It is never wise to envision the living version of the animal you are eating, especially if they have made an appearance in a Disney animated movie.  Sorry Thumper.

Just finishing a meal of squirrel and rabbit.  And With a BB gun and good aim, you could have some, too.

Outside breakfast after camping out.

I think someone forgot his table manners.

4.  Togetherness - There was no way we weren't going to spend time together as a family. We slept all seven of us in our bedroom.  Sure we didn't sleep much, but no family ever reminisces years later about the good sleep they had on vacation.

5.  Girls Day Out - Ever year when we get together with Ben's family, we have a girl's day out.  This usually involves trips to several thrift stores, antique shops and a nice lunch that isn't interrupted by the needs of several children.  I felt like I hit the second-hand jackpot this year.  I picked up a bunch of great books.  I have a mild obsession with vintage cookbooks, parenting books and advice books.  I also found a ginormous stock pot.  I have been looking for one for a while, but they cost about $75 new.  I found one that had been used probably only once or twice for $10.  I admit, I squealed loudly in the store.  My mother and sister in law thought I was either injured or had lost my wallet or something equally horrendous for me to make such a sound in public.

6.  Road Trip Music - Ben drives nearly all the time.  He claims he gets carsick.  I like to drive, but co-pilot has its perks, too.  For example, I could read magazines for the nearly 3 hour long trip Up North.  The navigator also is in charge of the radio.  I pull out my alternate persona of DJ Jazzy Kristin and listen to some truly uncool (yet child appropriate) music.  I sing loudly and off key.  No, we do not listen to children's music.  We listened to a lot of Beatles, 80's music and Country.  There has to be some perks to being a grown-up and choosing the tunes is one of them.

Sure, there was more we did on vacation, but it tends to blur together from lack of sleep.  We are now all trying to recuperate from the fun.

Helping Grandma fill the bird feeders.

Pit stop at a playground.

Piggy back rides.

Playing in the sand.

Playing with bubbles.

No vacation is really complete without a chance to play in the dirt.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Kindergarten Graduation

I don't get it.  And, at the risk of sounding like a giant stick in the proverbial mud, I will declare publicly that I don't understand the point of preschool and kindergarten graduation.

Yes, the children are incredibly cute.  Yes they all look positively adorable getting their "diplomas".  Take a look at my sweet Connor on his kindergarten graduation day.  I certainly won't argue that it isn't endearing.

I love clip on ties!

But I truly am not sure what started this tradition.  Is kindergarten that big of an accomplishment?  Most children continue on to 1st grade at the same school.  Some children aren't quite ready for the next level of schooling and repeat kindergarten.  No big deal.  It just doesn't seem like an enormous leap of maturity to celebrate.

Our children's school goes from preschool through 8th grade.  On Sunday, the church and school commemorated the graduation of preschoolers, kindergarteners, and 8th graders.  The 8th grade graduation I understand.  Because this is a Christian school, the students don't all just funnel into the same high school.  They will scatter to the Lutheran high school affiliated with our school and various high schools throughout the metro.   I understand the solemnity that a graduation gives to this occasion.

But preschoolers and kindergarteners?  They aren't continuing on to another school.  They aren't tearfully signing yearbooks and promising to keep in touch.  They aren't pledging to be BFFs in an attempt to hold on a little tighter to the security of friendships fostered through years of schooling together.  They aren't mourning the inevitable demise of crushes and puppy love romances - at least they better not be.

But at some point in time, little children who have not yet learned which hand to shake with are being feted for their cutting and gluing skills. And once a tradition like this is established, who will try to end the pageant of cuteness?  Who will try to shut down the parade of little boys with clip on ties and little girls in pigtails with bows?

Not me.  I'm not going to make myself a social pariah over this opinion.

I am not morally opposed to this mini procession of pomp and circumstance.  All I'm saying is I just don't get it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Let the Sloth Begin

Today is the first official day of summer vacation at our house.  The two youngest kiddos have been out of preschool and ECFE for a bit, but today is the first day with all five kids off of school.  Yesterday, we celebrated the day with the annual all-school picnic for families at our children's school. 

Today we continue with our summer traditions, and this one is not quite as wholesome.

I allow my children one day each year (the first day of summer vacation) to be of complete and total sloth if they want.  I don't make them change out of their jammies all day if they don't want to.  They can watch TV or play video games all day if they choose.  They can eat snacks (within reason) and fall into a sugar induced stupor if they want.

Of course I don't make them do this.  They can go outside or play board games or read if they choose.  But, for a Mama who has tight control over screen time this is a day of pure joy they look forward to all year. 

Normally my kids watch about 30 minutes of TV a day.  Maybe more if we have a family movie time or it is a lousy weather day, but usually no TV if it is a nice day.  My usual phrase is, "Go outside and play or I'll find some work for you to do."  Unless they are reading.  Then I'll say, "Its a great day out.  Go read on the porch."  Video games are usually a once a week event, for a fairly short duration.

But I imagine what it would have been like to have a day like this when I was a kid.  Or even now.  To be able to do absolutely anything I wanted with no responsibilities.  Because my kids are normally so limited with screen time, the anticipation for today is almost more exciting than the day itself.

But trust me.  Tomorrow, the TV will again go dark, and again my neighborhood will be filled with the shouts of several kids climbing trees, riding bikes and playing in forts.  And maybe you'll hear the near silent sound of pages being turned by a reader on the front porch.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Chinese New Year - Late Posting

As I was looking through some pictures to put in the kids' scrapbooks, I realized that I had never posted about our first Chinese New Year Celebration as a family.  Yes, I know it was back in January, but the pictures are still cute.  The kids have sure changed a lot in the last few months.  Riley and Bridget have gotten orthodontics and now Veronica can get all her hair in pigtails.





All my cute kids!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Muscially Inclined - Or Not

The three big kids just had their Spring music concert, and I'd have to rank this one a solid B+ for my children.

First the good - Bridget sang.  For the first concert.  Ever.  At least her mouth moved in an approximation of singing.  Close enough.

To those of you unfamiliar with my child, she is not a fan of the spotlight.  She does not enjoy thinking that everyone is staring at her. 

This concert was quite a transformation since her first public singing performance when, as a preschooler, her class sang for church.  My daughter was terrified.  I told her she didn't actually have to sing, but she did need to be polite and stand and sit with the rest of her Sunday School class.  She did.  However, she turned her back on the entire congregation while the song was sung.  I praised her bravery in standing up.

This led into standing without singing, yet facing the right direction.  Another achievement.  She backslid a bit during her first Kindergarten school concert where she stood crouched behind the student in front of her and flipped all of her hair so that it covered her face.

She eventually settled into a routine at concerts of staring at the ground or covering her face while not singing.  Advance the mental montage of her lack of concert singing to yesterday.  She sang.  I take partial credit.

My daughter is in 4th grade.  In 5th grade, children have the option to take choir or not.  Judging from my daughter's lack of desire to sing publicly, I'm pretty sure you can guess that she is ready to high-tail it out of Tra-la-la land.  She will be starting band next year, so hubby and I are okay with her exodus.

However, I felt like Bridget had not quite done her best in the last couple of concerts.  There was no effort.  And doggone it, I wanted to see her lips move once.  So I told her that she needed to show that she had learned the skill of singing in public before I'd let her out of choir.  If she hadn't learned how to put forth an effort singing she would have to learn it next year in choir.  And no, I did not push it so far as to suggest she actually do the motions that go along with the songs for this concert - heaven forbid that embarrassment for her.

A slight nudge out of her comfort zone and Boom!  She gave the appearance that words came out of her mouth.  She could have been lip synching.  I'm not picky.

More good from the concert for my children - Riley and Connor sang with enthusiasm as usual. 

Also, and perhaps the best of all, this was the first concert in memory in which none of my children publicly "adjusted themselves" repeatedly, picked their nose, pretended to hang themselves with their tie or fell off the riser.

Why then, you may wonder, did I only rank my children's performance a B+ instead of an A?  When I couldn't catch one of my children's attention to give them the across-the-room death stare for misbehavior, I had to do the parenting walk of shame to correct this child's behavior while they were waiting off stage for their chance to sing.

All in all, an excellent concert, with the highlight being the 3rd and 4th grade classes playing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" on their recorders.  Get ready Orchestra Hall, I think you've got some talent coming your way.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Addition to the Collection

Just in time for Mother's Day, we've got a new mother at our house and her name is "Puffy".  She is about 2 feet tall and apparently comes and goes as she pleases.  She joins the new dad we have had for about 6 months now.  He is named "Yellow Haired Dad".

Sawyer doesn't mess around and created not one, but two imaginary friends for himself.  And parents no less.  When it was just Yellow Haired Dad, I thought it was pretty funny.  I'll admit, my ego isn't as fond of his second mom.

Puffy and Yellow Haired Dad follow in a long tradition of imaginary friends.  The first to join our house was "Mr. Nobody".  Mr. Nobody was Riley's buddy.  Riley was quite enamored with Mr. Nobody.  That is, until Bridget claimed Mr. Nobody as her friend and determined that he was no longer Riley's friend.  Older sisters can be very persuasive (and sometimes ruthless).  Undeterred, Riley then discovered "Mrs. Nobody" and all was well at our house.

A couple of years later, we added "Little Guy" to the mix.  I believe Little Guy was a sibling group creation for Connor's enjoyment.  Little Guy was some sort of fairy or sprite, or Tom Thumb kind of character.  One of the older children would see Little Guy on a flower or ceiling fan and try to direct Connor with where to look.  Sometimes he found Little Guy, sometimes he was tearful that he was the only one who couldn't seem to see him.  Eventually, Connor claimed full rights to Little Guy and was fortunately able to find him wherever he was hiding. 

Several months ago, Yellow Haired Dad joined the family.  Sawyer loves to tell us about all the adventures that he has had.  Apparently, Sawyer flew his own plane to the North Pole and  petted a giant tiger at the zoo with Yellow Haired Dad.

And now, enter Puffy, his other mom.  Puffy is not related to her appearance, although I can't help but imagine her in a down-filled vest.  I admit to feeling slightly jealous of Puffy's ability to take Sawyer on adventures around the world without my being invited.

Last I heard, Puffy took Sawyer on a Fire Truck ride all the way to Grandma and Grandpa's house three hours away.  She had the siren on for the whole trip.  Actually, I think I will let Puffy have the noisy adventures with Sawyer.  She hasn't claimed bedtime reading yet, and I'm willing to fight her for that.

Friday, May 4, 2012

My Job Is Not To Make My Kids Happy

I cringe every time I hear a parent say, "I just want my child to be happy."

This is usually part of a very well-meaning, earnest conversation in which parents talk about how they don't have any preconceived ideas about what their child should do in terms of career, sports or hobbies.  I understand the sentiment.  I do.

But I think happiness isn't what we should be striving for.  Instead, it is the end result of what we instill in our children.

We all know parents that just hate to see their little snooky-wookums upset and give in to temper tantrums, requests for more "stuff", and all-around unpleasant behavior.  This is in an attempt to make their children "happy".  I have seen these parents shrug their shoulders at the ridiculousness of the situation they find themselves in.  They throw up the their hands and offer a trite comment such as or "she's got her daddy wrapped around her little finger" or "I guess this is the terrible twos.  It must be the age."

I hate to tell you this, but you can't give your child lasting joy.  Happiness is not a goal to be reached.  It is the result of reaching your goals.  I believe that ongoing joy is the result of having certain character traits planted and tended in your soul.  In my case, my faith shapes those character traits and how I instill them in my children, but people of all belief systems value pretty much the same things.

When deciding which behaviors are acceptable or need correction, I try to focus on the character traits of empathy, respect, hard work and self control.  Anyone who has these four traits will be able to successfully navigate both professional and personal situations.  I think this is the biggest key to long-term joy as opposed to short term happiness.

Not offering assistance to a child that has fallen and is crying does not demonstrate empathy.  Allowing a child to be sassy to me or lying does not foster a strong sense of respect for others.  Half-hearted attempts at homework do not show a strong work ethic.  And slamming doors and screaming during a fit does not display any form of self-control.

Now, I realize that children (and adults!) cannot perfectly demonstrate these four character traits at all times.  But, children need to know what to strive for.  I have found that it is easier to pick and choose my parenting battles based on these four principles.  I think it helps me distinguish between the annoyances that every parent faces and the issues that need to be addressed and why.

No, my goal of parenting is not to make my children happy.  My goal is to help them become kind, thoughtful, hard working, respectful people who have a strong enough sense of self-discipline to make wise choices for their life.  That will require a few tantrums and rages along the way (my children's tantrums - hopefully I will be able to demonstrate self-control better than that.) when they don't get what they want and are unhappy.

They will utterly dislike me at times.  I will never be the cool parent, and I am okay with that.  Instead, my long-term goal is to be like the woman in Proverbs 31, verse 28.  "For her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, he praises her."  And I am not going to get there by focusing on trying to make my children happy.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What NOT to Say to Someone Who is Adopting

People say some crazy things when they find out you are adopting.  Here's a tongue-in-cheek video that I made of what not to say to someone who is adopting. I guarantee that everyone who has adopted or is in process to adopt has heard a few of these things.

Unfortunately, I had a tough time importing the video to this blog post, so you'll have to click here http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/13341272/adoption-conversation to get to the video.