The tree has been trimmed. The lights have been strung. The cookies have been baked…and many of them eaten. Christmas is my favorite thing about winter. The warm glowing lights. The crackling wood in the fireplace. The cozy clutter of decorations. The family time. The advent…the waiting…the anticipation. (Increased this year by the gift of discovering our baby’s gender on Christmas Day.) The dressing up in red, knit and boots. Celebrating the birth of Jesus and all that it meant when God came to walk the earth in human form. (Increased this year by the kicking baby in my belly reminding me often of Mary, young and scared, carrying the most important baby in the world.) The excitement of a small child over every element of the holiday season.
At 5 months old, our first hen started to lay eggs! Meringue the Rhode Island Red (dark brown one pictured below) is our first layer. She started on 7/7/14 while we were on vacation. We missed the thrill of finding the first one in the nest box but my mom collected them each day and saved them for us. They’re a bit small to start out so we waited until the 9th day when we had 8 eggs (before she laid the 9th) and we all enjoyed a wonderful fried egg breakfast. Meringue has laid a perfect, beautiful, small brown egg every day without fail for the past 17 days. It’s bizarre and wonderful to eat eggs that were collected from our own backyard. I joyfully discovered our first two-egg day, which was almost as exciting as the first egg. Sunny S.U. the Buff Orpington (gold one pictured below), my favorite hen, was our second layer starting on 7/19/14. I’m really proud of my chickens and I’m excited for the others to start laying, too. Within a month Poach and Custard (black and orange ones below), the Black Star and Production Red, should start laying. By the end of October we might be getting half a dozen eggs per day, which is good because our family can easily eat half a dozen eggs in one breakfast. The plan is to have plenty to share with friends and neighbors though.
We hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our house this year which actually worked out pretty well because everyone else brought the majority of the food, we just did the turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole and lots of dishes.
‘Twas a beautiful day.
I asked Ali if she would take a picture of Jason and me before anyone else arrived. She’s getting pretty good with my iPhone!
Ali with my parents, Grandma and Grandpa:
Ali with Jason’s parents, Nana and Papa:
Mmm… Jason did an awesome job with the turkey and stuffing. It was delicious.
I didn’t get too many pictures of the actual dinner party but suffice it to say, it was a great day. These two little ladies laughed and played and ate too much dessert. Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite days of the year. I have so much to be thankful for. God is good!
As I spent the month of October preparing for our fourth child, I thought a lot about our first three. I’ve had this idea for a while but finally did it: an 8×10 photo, an initial and a shadow box of significant items for each child. It’s the start of our hallway gallery wall that might one day be full of difference faces and memories.
I also make a necklace in honor of my motherhood to these three sweethearts.
I made a CD of my “songs for the foster mama’s heart.”
I got our next kid’s room ready, including setting up the pack n play in case we get a baby. (And if we do, I’ll probably end up buying a second crib because Ali is still using hers.)
Lots of time was spent reading and praying, usually right in this spot on the couch in the morning before anyone else is up.
I spent half of a Saturday cooking several gallons of soup and stocking it in the freezer.
Sometimes I feel like the house is ready and other times I feel like I need a day to clean and organize. I know it’s ready enough and we have everything childproofed to DCS standards but I guess it’s just a nesting thing.
Then I rearranged the next kid’s room a little bit. This bed seems to only work in this one spot in this room and it kind of drives me nuts. I’m thinking I’ll eventually move it into Ali’s room and get some regular bunk beds that can be switched into twin beds for maximum flexibility.
Then more time has been spent resting, waiting, preparing, breathing deep in the now. A cup of tea on a sunny afternoon is balm to my soul.
One of my goals for the new year, now that we’re in our new home, is to cook more. I’ve never been too much into cooking and really slacked off a lot while we were living with my parents. My mom was kind enough to let us chip in for groceries and still do a lot of the cooking she would be doing anyway—except for 5 people instead of 2. (Thanks, Mom!!) Part of what has held me back from cooking more in past years is the time to plan and shop for meals. Jason (who is a very good and creative cook!) and I would walk through the grocery store together and look for inspiration based on what was on sale. That would usually get us a meal or two and a lot of random stuff. There was a Groupon for eMeals around New Years and after discussing with a friend who as used it before, I decided that this would be my plan for 2013.
So far, I am completely loving it…so much so that I’m writing this blog post! Every Sunday I get a 2 page PDF in my inbox with 7 recipes and a grocery shopping list for my neighborhood Kroger. The recipes are selected based on what’s on sale this week. It takes a huge amount of the planning out it and allows me to get great deals without flipping through ads, cutting coupons or wandering through the store. (Ain’t nobody got time for that!) I love that the shopping list is broken down by section of the store, too. It’s cut grocery shopping time down by half. At least.
It’s also saving us money. The plan we’ve selected is the Classic Family Plan (the only one based on your local grocery store’s sales, I think) for 3-6 people. They also have an option for 1-2 people but my friend suggested the bigger plan because it yeilds a lot of leftovers. That’s where the second half of the time and money saving comes in for me. Often, I’m able to freeze half of the meal either cooked, or partially cooked following the freezing techniques of Don’t Panic—Dinner’s in the Freezer We also have leftovers flowing all the time so I very rarely need to eat out for lunch or take my former staple can of soup to work.
This is Creamy Burrito Casserole round 2 – just after taking it out of the freezer to thaw. The recipe made enough for 2 good size casseroles.
An unexpected result is that we’ve been eating out less. I never really thought we ate out all that much but having a plan for the week means that we’re very rarely going out to eat Monday-Thursday. We usually treat ourselves to a night out after work on Friday and a lunch after church on Sundays. Other than that, we’ve been spending around $40-45/week on dinner/lunch. That does not include things like milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, fruit and other staples but for the bulk of our meals…I think that’s pretty good. The plan adds up to around $85 for 7 meals for 3-6 people. I’ve been choosing 3 meals per week and selecting from a rotation of freezer meals for the other days we’re eating at home.
Another, perhaps more obvious benefit, is that it’s introducing us to a lot of new recipes and new foods. All the recipes we’ve tried have been good, some have been excellent (salmon cakes, swedish meatballs, oven fried chicken, creamy burrito casserole). I’ve discovered some items in the grocery store that I never knew existed (panko, cheese soup). I’ve learned where I/we draw the line to save a buck…white bread sandwich rolls for $1? Head of iceberg lettuce for $1.49? No thank you. I’m willing to pay a little more for something we like better.
It’s time to tell you about my favorite Christmas present from last year, in case you still need an idea for that hard-to-shop-for someone on your list. It’s not the gift that got the most use (that would be our Keurig) but it’s the one that has saved us hundreds of greasy paper towels and time cleaning a grease splattered stove, oven or microwave…which is pretty awesome. Gifted to me by my beloved.
Meet Piggy Wiggy the bacon tray.
Microwave bacon trays are not hard to come by but I was searching high and low for one that had a lid. Without a lid the grease still splatters all over the microwave (or requires lots of paper towels), so what is the point? Then I found Joie Piggy Wiggy. Not only does it have a lid, it has a pink vented lid with a pig-face handle. It’s perfect. The grid on the tray allows the grease to drain off the bacon and everything is contained. No more throwing away 5 greasy paper towels just to cook a few strips of bacon. The grease can easy be dumped into a jar and the two parts scrub clean pretty easily. Did I mention it’s less than $10 with free shipping on Amazon? What are you waiting for … git one!
If you know me in “real life,” you know I’m a tea drinker. (Hot black tea—not herbal, not green—with a little sugar, to be exact. Republic of Tea Mango Ceylon is my all-time favorite and I’m currently out in case anyone is interested.) So naturally, I must teach my daughter all about tea. With a gift card from her adoption day, I decided to order this Green Toys Tea Set.
I was not familiar with Green Toys prior to this Amazon order but I’m very impressed. They’re made from recycled milk jugs, BPA, phthalates and lead-paint free—believe it or not they’re made right here in the USA. And they’re inexpensive. I think this set was a great value. For $19.99 we got a tea pot with lid, sugar bowl with lid (same as teapot’s), creamer, four saucers, four tea cups and four spoons. My favorite thing about it is probably the mix of colors: pink, purple, blue, green and yellow. It’s like Fiestware for toddlers!
I opened the package one evening after Ali had gone to bed and I was so excited that I set it all up…
and, ahem, had a tea party with Lucy…did I just admit that?
Thankfully, Ali redeemed my craziness the next day and indulged me in several tea parties. She seriously played with these toys for hours. She’s not totally getting the tea concept yet but she loves to bite the saucers and take the lids off the tea pot and sugar bowl.
The tea set was such a big hit with Ali that I sent her cousin Iris a set for her birthday. I hope she enjoys it too, and they’ll be ready to have a tea party next time they’re together.
I’ve seen some great DIY play kitchens the past view years. (Here’s a round up from Ohdeedoh a few years ago.) There are also great options for sale, like the above modern wooden kitchen from Melissa & Doug, and of course the many plastic variations. A few months ago while I was yard sale hopping with my mom, I spotted this wooden play stove/oven. The only thing better than a DIY kitchen is someone else’s DIY kitchen. This stove was built by the sellers’ grandfather and I talked them down to $7, knowing it would need a lot of work to get it to a condition suitable for Ali to play with.
Jason is super handy and we often do DIY projects together but I decided this was my baby. I washed it all down and painted it with some leftover wall paint I found in my parents’ garage. I was thinking of refreshing the original white until I found the mint green paint—why not make it mint green like a retro stove? I painted over the black burners, handles and knobs with a pewter metallic craft paint.
I did commission Jason’s expertise for one part. I wanted to add casters to the bottom since this is fairly heavy. I imagine it will spend some time in the playroom, some time in Ali’s room and some time in the kitchen at our new house.
At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it being a stove and not a full kitchen. Then I started thinking up all the accessories that could be used with the oven—muffin tin, loaf pans, cookie sheets, cookie cutters, oven mitts—and with the stove—frying pan, spatula, sauce pan, spoons, tea pot—and I realized the possibilities are still endless. I found the pans and spoons second hand for a few dollars a piece. I spray painted all the pans blue to give them a unified look.
For Ali’s first birthday, Aunt Jess and Uncle Jeff got her a set of soft play food from IKEA. It’s the Swedish style breakfast set that I hinted to my sister about. We’re a quarter Swedish but I consider myself more Swedish than anything else. I love their typical breakfast fare: bread, cheese, sausage, bacon, eggs, fruit topped waffles, cheese, bread, and maybe a cookie for good measure. This set also comes with a cutting board, knife and a few veggies.
We gave Ali the stove on her adoption day. I realize she’s still a bit too small for it but she’ll be big enough eventually. I tried to make some kind of sentimental connection about her importance in our family and a kitchen’s importance in the home. Or something like that. Really, I just found a DIY project I couldn’t pass up and I had an occasion that called for a gift.
Ali seems particularly fond of the knife and likes to crawl around with it in her mouth. What the?!