Happy Birthday Samuel!

Today I nearly could have said, “Happy Birthday Peter!”

When Samuel was born, Russ and I were houseparents at Alpha Phi sorority at Cornell University.  Russ was doing his graduate work and we had all kinds of crazy jobs to support ourselves.  We remember our time at Alpha Phi with fondness, including the crazy memories of Samuel’s birth.  Samuel was born the day before a blizzard

Happy Birthday to Our Sweet Pea

Sweet Pea and Mimi

Today is Sweet Pea’s birthday!  Sweet Pea lives in Seattle where she is a second year medical student at the University of Washington.  She loves  Jesus, her family (that’s us!), medicine, ministering to the sick, P.G. Wodehouse, literature of all kinds, cooking, baking pies, singing, playing the piano, gardening, arranging flowers, knitting, and so many other things.

We are excited that she will spend her third year of medical school in Spokane, which is much closer to home.  Fortunately, with all of the trips we make to Seattle for therapy, we get to see her quite regularly.

Sweet Pea is spending her birthday with my Mom and her childhood best friend – the friend who opened all of Sweet Pea’s presents on her first birthday.  They are going to the opera and out for a special dinner.  It sounds lovely!

Interestingly, after living in New York, Colorado, and Idaho, she will also spend her birthday only blocks away from where she was born.  When Russ was an undergraduate at the University of Washington, we managed an apartment building on 4th and Virginia.  Hannah was born at home in our sixth floor apartment, with the help of a wonderful midwife.  She was my urban baby.

We’ll celebrate her 23rd birthday when she is home over Spring Break.

Happy Birthday Sweet Pea!


How About Recipes?

Forever Day 2010

Many of us have the daily task of feeding our families and it is a lot of work.  Most nights I cook for eleven to thirteen people, and often more.  I can’t say that I love to cook, but I do love sitting at the table with my family and enjoying a good dinner…and that means planning, shopping, and cooking.  Noah does my grocery shopping, which is a lifesaver, and just think of all of the good preparation it is giving him toward living on his own.

I got an email today from Chris, a reader who recently brought home two new children from Ethiopia.  She said,

…we’re now a family of 8 kids.  Growing into a larger family, I am now looking at cooking a bit differently. (smile!)  I was wondering if you, or your readers might be able to share some of their favorite meals that they make for a crowd?  Of course with lots of young kids, I’m not able to spend lots of time in the kitchen, so any quick fixes are always a great find!

It is hard for me to choose one recipe; however this is a more recent favorite.  We love burritos, but it takes a long time to pass each item around the table for people to build their own.  My friend, Beth, shared this recipe in our church cookbook and it is a huge hit with my family.  I serve this in warm, soft tortillas and then each person adds lettuce, tomato, salsa, and other fresh ingredients.

Beth’s Tostada Bake

1 lb. hamburger

1/2 c. chopped onion

1 pkg. taco seasoning (I use chili powder, garlic salt, and cumin)

8 oz. tomato sauce

16 oz. refried beans

4 oz. chopped green chiles

2 1/4 oz. sliced olives

1 c. sour cream

1 egg

2 c. shredded cheese

Cook hamburger and onion.  Stir in taco mix, tomato sauce, refried beans, green chiles, and olives.  Spread into 8 X 8 baking dish.  Mix cheeses, sour cream, and egg.  Evenly spread cheese  mixture on top.  Bake 30 min. at 375 degrees.

I double everything except the meat and bake it in a 13 X 9 pan.  It takes minutes to throw together. I like to cook hamburger in large quantities and freeze it in quart bags (approx. 1 lb. each) for quick dishes like this.  Put this in warm tortillas and you can’t go wrong.

Let me know if you try it!

Let’s each take a few minutes to share a quick, yummy recipe that a busy mom (or her helpful kids) can fix for the family.  We can encourage each other and make our families happy at the same time.

If you would like the recipe for the Honey Curry Chicken we had on Forever Day, you can find it in THIS POST.  I’ve adapted it quite a bit, substituting olive oil and chicken broth for the butter, and my family loves it both ways.   We top it with green onions, chopped red peppers, peanuts, coconut, and anything else that sounds good.  It is another easy meal for a busy day.

Let’s have fun with this.  Which recipe will you share?


Family Favorites: Picture Books

A friend suggested that I do a series of posts about our Family Favorites. I’m not sure that anybody will care much about our faves, but on the other hand, it could be fun. Plus, you can add your family favorites in the comments and then we’ll have a nice resource going for everyone.

We are a book-loving family, so I decided to start off with something that my kids could participate in, Favorite Picture Books. We’ve got a hefty collection of them and have spent hours reading these old favorites. A few have been loved so much that we are on second or third copies.

Rusty decided to get technical and set up an online poll which made my survey feel much more official. We brainstormed a list of picture books we have enjoyed over the years and I emailed the poll to all of my big kids. The younger six don’t have email accounts, but I helped them add their votes.

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Here they are, in order:

1. Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes

This is a funny book for all ages, even adults. We bought our first copy in 1991 and have not grown tired of it.

2. Officer Buckle & Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

This is another funny book, and is extra humorous to us because my brother-in-law is a police officer. We gave this book to our nephew, Jack, for his second birthday.

3. The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

I love the message about extended families featured in this book. I’m not a huge fan of the illustrations, but the story is good enough to make up for them. Some of my kids love the silly illustrations, which may explain why they voted it #3.

4. Island Boy and Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Lovely illustrations and touching stories are featured in these two books. Island Boy is Russ’ all time favorite picture book. Last year I found a hard copy being sold by a man in Maine who included a personal note and a photo of the actual location of the story. I was so excited to give it to Russ for Christmas. Miss Rumphius is a long time favorite; we always think of the Lupine Lady when we see lupines.

5. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Another favorite by Kevin Henkes; I guess we appreciate his sense of humor! This is a perfect book for children who have unusual names.

6. The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward

Originally published in 1953, this book probably wouldn’t be a Caldecott winner today due to its non-PC storyline…but we like it! The illustrations are especially wonderful.

7. Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Both of these stories feature kind relationships between people and animals that will make you smile. When we lived in Ithaca, NY, we traveled to Boston where we saw the sweet little duckling statues in the Boston Public Garden. I have photos of Sweet Pea and Mimi sitting on the backs of the ducklings.

8. Jamberry by Bruce Degen

This was Eby’s favorite book for the first year he was home and I read it many, many times.

9. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff

Dimples likes this book!

10. The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook by Shirley Hughes

I love all of the books in this list, but I can still remember the day many years ago when I discovered the books of Shirley Hughes tucked on a bottom shelf in the Ithaca library. Her sweet illustrations and simple stories appealed to me and before long we had read all of the books available. We own at least four of her books and I always look for them at books sales and in used bookstores.

It was downright painful to limit myself to ten favorites (and I managed to squeeze in two extras), so I am compelled to include the other books from our original list: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Angelina Ballerina, Angelina’s Birthday, Corduroy, Curious George Goes to the Hospital, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Honeybee wanted to vote too, but didn’t know all of these books. She voted for a few and then added two of her favorites, Green Eggs and Ham, and Laura’s Christmas. Both are for much younger children, but she loves reading Dr. Seuss to the little boys and has been drawn to Laura’s Christmas and other books in that series since she arrived home.

I have a few personal favorites that didn’t make the cut, mostly due to the fact that we found them after our older kids were beyond picture books. Boo and I love Flora’s Blanket and checked it out from the library many times when she was three and four. We also have enjoyed THE GUINEA PIG ABC, a slightly quirky ABC book, but it is out of print and not always easy to find.

I recognize that I haven’t listed the books that are new to us since our Ethiopian children joined our family, especially books featuring black children, African culture, and adoption. I think those deserve a post all their own. If you have suggestions for that list, send them my way.

We also haven’t touched on Bible storybooks, chapter books, non-fiction, my bookgroup reads, the list goes on and on. I love books, I only wish I had more time to read…

I hope you’ll find a new friend on this list that you can pick up next time you go to the library.

Leave a comment with your favorite picture books!

Coming up next week: Favorite Bedtime Songs


Helping Kids Work

Four year olds love to do chores, especially if the task involves a spray bottle of Windex, but another chore Eby likes is emptying the dishwasher. He is still “in training”, but nearly ready to manage it “on his own” which means having a helper close by.

In 1994 when we bought our first home in Broomfield, Colorado, my new friends came to help me unpack. As I began to put dishes away in an upper cupboard, Michele said, “Are you sure you want to put them up there?”

She pointed to a lower cupboard, “If you put them down here the kids will be able to empty the dishwasher.”

Lightbulb moment…I had never thought of that! Down into the lower cupboard went the plates, bowls, and plastic cups. Glasses and mugs remained in an upper cupboard due to space limitations. It worked great. The kids could empty the dishwasher with no help. The youngest ones stacked the glasses and mugs on the counter for me to put away, while the older ones got the footstool and put them in the upper cupboard. Another benefit was that the kids were able to set the table independently.

We moved to our current house in December of 1999 and I knew just where to put the dishes.

My friend, Signe, has limited cupboard space, so she stores many of her dishes in the large drawers in her kitchen. As a guest in her home, it is great to open a drawer and find it full of colorful Fiestaware. If I had time, I would zip over to her house and take a picture for you, but you’ll just have to imagine it.

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Dimples and Boo are eager for me to change the chore chart and officially turn much of the dishwasher responsibility over to Eby. With a little more practice, I think that will happen and he is going to be happy…at least for a little while.

Have a great start to your week. Mine is going to be wonderful because I finally got the bins of summer clothes neatly stored away. A ridiculous burden has been lifted off of me and I hope to never get this far behind again.


Finding Financial Peace

Having a large family is a costly endeavor. I clearly recall, when I was in my mid-twenties, telling Russ that it wasn’t expensive having lots of kids. For heaven’s sake, I washed cloth diapers, baked my own bread, and bought all of the children’s clothes at yard sales. Those folks who said that raising children was expensive just didn’t know what they were talking about.

Then those children grew older…and more little ones came after them. Their homeschooling needs grew along with them and before I knew it I was spending hundreds of dollars a year buying books and supplies. I no longer had time to hit yard sales on Saturday mornings because I was supervising morning chores; fortunately we were blessed with many hand-me-downs. Not so fortunately, our seven children by birth inherited my orthodontic challenges, so that increased our expenses. There were also occasional medical needs, including surgeries, a complicated pregnancy, and a serious illness.

Before I knew it, those young children were taking Driver’s Ed, playing sports at the local school, taking online Great Books courses, and meeting weekly with their calculus tutor. They were costing us some serious cash. By now they were buying their own clothes, so at least we didn’t have that to worry about.

Then we added four more children….

Thankfully, God gave me a financially conservative husband who has always managed money very well. We have never had debt beyond our mortgage. Some friends had a large debt that was burdening them so they took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course. They made a plan for getting free of debt and are working toward that goal. The more I heard about Financial Peace, the better it sounded.

Those children of ours are now becoming young adults and as preparation for adulthood, we asked them to complete Financial Peace University. We also urged them to take the course prior to considering marriage. Russ and the five oldest kids all did FPU this summer. Sweet Pea wasn’t here, but she listened to the course on CD.

Not only were they exposed to great information on money management, but the course prompted many interesting discussions. Russ and the kids all agreed that Dave Ramsey is a very engaging speaker and they thoroughly enjoyed the course. I was able to see two of the lectures and wish I could have seen them all.

The course is offered at thousands of locations all over the US for a reasonable fee. I believe it is $119.00 for a lifetime membership which provides you with workbooks and other materials to help you change the way you manage money. Being debt-free is a legacy Russ and I want to leave our children. We never want them to be suffocated by debt that burdens them and could stifle their ability to serve God. It is tough to become a missionary if you are saddled with huge monthly credit card payments.

We are still working with the revised budget we created during the course and while it isn’t perfect, we are making progress on using the money we have in better ways. Our three oldest kids also have budgets and are making them work.

Check out DaveRamsey.com and see if there is something there for you.