Monday, September 30, 2013

Magic Bread

Making this again...
Magic Bread
3 cups AP flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups water

If you think the ingredients sound easy, just wait til you hear the instructions!

Mix the dry ingredients together, add the water. Mix until all ingredients are moistened.
Cover with plastic wrap and let sit 12-18 hours.
Put an oven-safe covered pot (about 3-6 quart) --minus the lid--in the oven and heat to 450 degrees.
Pick up the very sticky dough from your bowl and knead it gently a few times on a heavily floured surface into a small ball. When the oven is heated, drop the floured ball into the pot (no butter/oil needed), cover and bake for 30 minutes. For a crustier bread, remove lid and return bread to oven for another 10-15 minutes. For the lighter bread pictured above, just let bread cool in the pot after the 30 minutes.

This bread tastes great, is thick enough for sandwiches, makes great french toast, and 
the best news is: this bread loves add-ins. Check the original post for some great ideas, but really, the skies the limit for what you can put in this bread! My first add-in is going to be small chunks of cheddar and fresh garlic. Yum!

Happy Baking!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Care Packages

One day while the kiddos and I were out running errands, we passed a man holding up a sign asking for help. The kids asked why he was there, and I explained that sometimes when people need help, they ask, and it is really up to Christians to answer. But did I have anything to give him? No. That verse about sending people away empty handed and praying for them and thinking wrongly that that is true Christianity was ringing loudly in my head. 
I feel very uncomfortable with handing out money--I have often thought that having $5 McDonald's giftcards or something similar would be a good solution. I determined in that moment that we would not let another opportunity pass us by like that.
Then I saw a wonderful pin on pinterest linking to a blogging momma who had created care packages to keep in the car and give out. Here was a great solution! So the next time we went to Costco, we stocked up and then the kiddos helped me pack the bags. We included a copy of Isaiah 55, my favorite chapter of the Bible right now, because it is essentially a perfect word to anyone in need.
Introducing our first batch of care packages. Including:
Water bottle
Juice box
peanut butter crackers
granola bars
Rice Krispy Treat
Wet Ones
Isaiah 55
This time, I stuck with things that anyone might need--not just if they are homeless.
Other things that could be included:
flash light
toothpaste and toothbrush
chewing gum
other food items
On the way home from the Y the other day we saw a man with a sign asking for any kind of help. I stopped, turned off our Spanish podcast lesson, had the boy climb in the back and get a care package and handed it out the window. He blessed us as we drove away. It has been much easier to remember to pray for the man after handing him a little tiny bit of Christ's love.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How to Adopt

As we get closer to our date to go get our boys, I am realizing more and more that information on adoption is spread out, unspecific and hard to find. One of my goals as we head to Uganda is to be a bit of a journalist and set down the steps and specifics for future adopting families.
First of all, I'd like to share with you the steps for adopting domestically and through Uganda. Yes, these are going to change, and yes, other countries are very different, but at least you'll have some idea of what is to come if you're about to start this journey. Or, you'll have some idea how to pray for us as we continue our journey.
1. Find an adoption agency, such as Bethany Christian Services.
2. This agency will undoubtedly give you a mountain of paperwork including personal questions, questions about your spiritual growth and in-depth questions about your finances. Spend many hours filling that paper work out. (All the while thinking, "Baby, child, baby, child...this is all worth it!)
3. Hand in paper work and have home study visit and interview.
4. Continue adoption education through seminars and classes offered by the agency, on-line learning, and reading great adoption books. The Connected Child is a good place to start.

5. Wait--this is sometimes weeks, sometimes years. Wait until a brave birth mother chooses life for her child.
6. Celebrate and grieve when you are chosen. (More about the celebration + grief later)
7. Bring home a baby or young child and start the rest of the story!

As many of you know, we made it to #5 above and failed to make the leap to #6. I'm not sure of all God was doing with us, but I know one thing, God is in control of the timing and He is good, good God.
1. Find a home study specialist and/or a Ugandan adoption agency to work with. Since we are working directly with an orphanage in Uganda, we had a home study specialist help us with completing a second set of mounds of paper work (we used some of what we had done before as well) and to write up a state-approved home study. (About $2000 for home study)
2. Have your home study specialist complete the home study visit (looking around your home) and home study interview. These will be part of her write-up. Remember to keep copies of all that you give to your home study specialist. Her end product will be a summary of these papers, not necessarily the papers themselves.
3. When the home study is completed, download your I600a form, fill it out and send it in with an original, notarized copy of your home study. (Instructions on how and where to send it.) Right now the filing fee is $670. Do NOT forget to include that fee. The forms will be returned to you and the whole process will be set back. (Ahem. Personal experience.) There is also a $80 fee for each adult in your household. See the instructions for other documents to include with your home study.
**We chose our child from the orphanage before #1. If you are working with an agency, at some point in all of this you will be matched with your child**
**Our orphanage charges a very low rate (comparably) per child for the adoption. This cost covers the court fees and lawyer fees in-country. This fee was about $20,000 (for two children) for us.
4. Send your home study and all documents necessary to Uganda. I was following this list sent to me by the director of the orphanage we are working with:
marriage certificate
divorce decree (if any)
pictures of family and home
copy of passports (about $150 per passport if you don't have one)
copy of birth certificates
physicals signed by a doctor
Police/FBI checks (total of about $100 for 2 adults)
5. WAIT for your fingerprinting appointment (the response to #3 above.) When you receive your appointment date, you do not necessarily have to go on the date specified. We got ours last Saturday. Our appointments were technically for October 9. We went yesterday (to the USCIS office in a nearby city), waited for about 2 minutes, had our fingerprints taken and were sent away. It was almost too easy. 
6. WAIT for your I-171h, the response to #5 above. This is the form you will present at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala when you arrive in Uganda. And they will give you another form and a list of all you need to accomplish before you can come back to them for physical and visa.
7. WAIT for your Ugandan lawyer to send you your affidavit (ours is coming via email) which you will sign, notarize and fedex back. (THIS IS WHERE WE ARE RIGHT NOW Waiting for #s6, 7, and 8)
8. WAIT for Uganda to receive the affidavit and get court date.
9. Upon receiving court date, contact a travel agent who works with humanitarian flights (like Adoption Airfare) and get flights for all who are traveling. Find out where you will lay over, how long the flight will take and when you will arrive in Uganda. Yay! Humanitarian flights have more flexible return dates. *about $1500 per ticket* And figure in another $1000 per one way ticket for your adopted child(ren).
10. Arrive in Uganda a few days before original court date. This is where this Intercountry Adoption website comes in really handy. (There's stuff on it for earlier in the process too.) As much as I can understand here is what must happen in Uganda:
*Upon arrival in Kampala pay visa fee $50 per person
*Our room and board comes together with our guest house $25 per person per night (less for children)
*Go to the embassy and turn in your I-171h and receive forms to fill out.
* File a petition with Ugandan courts (both parents required in person)
*Receive legal guardianship of your child(ren) from Ugandan courts.
*Acquire a Ugandan passport at the Ugandan passport office for your child(ren). $400 per child
*Complete a physical through the US Embassy (details to be given when you go to the embassy when you first arrive.) $100 per child
*Once you have court documents and passports (as well as these completed forms: Form I-600 Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate RelativeForm DS-260 Application for Immigrant Visa ApplicationForm DS-1981 Affidavit Concerning Exemption from Immigrant Vaccination RequirementsForm I-864 Affidavit of Support or I-864W if a fuill and final adoption has been completed in Uganda) you can head to the US embassy for your visa interview. $230 per child Hopefully this interview is short and painless and you can fly out soon after. 
And then go to the US courts (with or without a lawyer) and pay another fee (can't remember how much this one is, maybe around $800?) to finalize the adoption.
And there you have it; simple, huh? 
I'm sure there are things I'm forgetting, but it at least helps me make a little more sense of it to have it all here in one place. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Camping With Young Children

Even though UGANDA looms in our future far before our next camping trip, it's still starting to feel fallish, and I'm still getting the camping bug. I can't wait until we're taking all five kiddos camping with us! Here's what we learned last year at about his time about the wonderful world of camping:

 We've definitely not worked out all of our kinks yet, but we can pass on a few things we've learned in case you'd like to take your kiddos camping as well.
**As for clothing, layers are a must. All the kids and I wore a legging/long underwear layer and then we just put more on as it got colder throughout the evening. The boy wore his long underwear with jeans during the day until he got hot and then he could ditch the long underwear. At night he wore the long underwear with a layer of fleece. The girls were much the same. Layer, layer, layer.
**Food: we love roasting hotdogs and marshmallows, so that usually constitutes one meal. We like to do hobo meals--just wrap some hamburger meat and potatoes and carrots in foil and toss them on the fire. Check them often; they don't take long to cook. (Personal experience talking...) Otherwise, just bring lots of easy food. And I do mean LOTS! Something about being outside 24 hours a day makes my crew very, very hungry. We went through a tub of hummus, a box of crackers, two loaves of homemade bread, a pound of sandwich meat, chips, homemade pumpkin snickerdoodles and loads of hot chocolate in our two (yes, only 2!) days of camping.
**Bring a book. Our favorite thing to do when it gets dark is snuggle up by the fire and read a book (with a flashlight). Last year it was Edward Tulane--the kids loved the adventures of that lovable rabbit as he learned humility. This year we're reading The Hobbit again and loving it, of course.
**Choose your camping area carefully. In warm weather, water is a definite plus. In colder weather, hiking and biking take the forefront with our crew. Playgrounds are a nice plus as well. As I've said, we love the walk-in campsites, which usually gives us a ton of "private" woods for the kids to explore.
**Buy your kiddos emergency flashlights. This year we got the ones with a lanyard for their necks and a whistle (which they got to try out and then were instructed that these were only for emergencies.) I felt much better about the exploring after dark when I knew each kid had their own flashlight and the ability to call for help. $3.50 a kid bought us some safety and peace of mind as well as made each kid a lot more excited about the darkness.
**If you're walking in, pack all your light stuff in one huge tub. Carry the heavier stuff one at a time. Throwing your back out is no way to start out a camping trip!
**Stay up late. Eat more sweets. Relax more. Say yes more. Worry less. 

(Remember in the midst of all that work: "You're having fun!!")

Friday, September 20, 2013

Attitude Jar

Just a little idea for those who are homeschooling or home with toddlers all day...

This little beauty has revolutionized our time together homeschooling.
When we started back homeschooling, we had a really hard time with attitudes. I'm including myself in this, and I really think the attitude jar has helped me too!
I bought this little vase and stones for a fish tank at Walmart. I set it out with a few less stones in it than you see here. Each day I look for willingness to do what I ask, cheerfulness during school, quick response to direction, etc. I reward this kind of behavior with another stone in the jar.
The opposite of that behavior can result in removing a stone or two from the jar. 
I like this because I don't have to fuss or spend any time at all on the discipline except for reaching over and taking a stone from the jar.
When the jar is full, we will pause from our schooling and go out for ice cream!
I have seen that it doesn't take long for bad attitudes to take root in our little classroom,
but I have also seen that it doesn't take long before
good attitudes can become the habit.
This could work in any situation with preschoolers or chores or I've even seen adults rewarding themselves for chores remembered or tasks done in this way!
It's amazing what pretty stones piling up in a clear vase can encourage us to do.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

DIY Spa Day

I had a few hours to myself over the past few days, and one of the items on my ToDo was a few little spa treatments. I'm pretty bad about taking care of my skin and hair because of my efficiency idol--ok, it's really because of my laziness, but I figured that with hours to get things done, this should take some priority.
So I went on a little hunt on Pinterest and I found a few diy treatments that were super quick and easy and that my sorely depleted pantry had all the ingredients for. (Yes, grocery shopping is on the ToDo as well!)
So here's what you need:

An hour
Olive Oil
Brown Sugar
Baby Oil (or use olive oil)
Hot water
Some kind of lotion

And here's what you can do:

First up, HAIR: For an easy moisturizer for hair measure out about 2 tablespoons of honey and 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a bowl. Heat for 20 seconds in the microwave. Carefully (it might be hot!) work into all of your hair. Leave on hair for 30 or 40 minutes.
Second, FACE: For exfoliation and pore shrinking, combine equal parts salt and honey and gently massage onto face. Leave on face for 15-20 minutes.

Third, FEET: Sugar, brown sugar and oil combine to make a great foot scrub. Combine equal parts sugar and brown sugar and add just enough baby oil/olive oil to make a paste. If using olive oil, feel free to add a few drops of vanilla as well. I used my favorite scent in baby oil.

After letting feet soak in hot/warm water for about 15 minutes, massage foot scrub into feet focusing on the heel. Rinse off, and feel the difference! (BONUS: your hands get scrubbed as well!)

Shower off hair treatment and face treatment. (And bathe as usual.) Then apply lotion all over--I used a coconut oil cream that a dear friend made for me. Especially apply the lotion thickly to feet and then immediately put on socks. Leave the lotion treatment on all day! P.S. I also used the coconut oil as a moisturizer for my face, on recommendation from the friend who gave it to me. It felt great after the exfoliation!
If you have time, treat any acne or blemishes with tea tree oil for a few hours before applying makeup.
Happy spa days!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Chocolate Almond Muffins

When a completely healthy muffin can double as a cupcake, you know you've found a winner!
I took these to a party where the dessert needed to be "finger food." Made as mini-muffins with a dab of "Perfectly Chocolate" Frosting and an almond, they made for a fancy cupcake.
But made as regular sized muffins with no icing and a few chocolate chips thrown in, they were the perfect breakfast: looks and tastes like a treat, but actually is pretty healthy!

Chocolate Almond Muffins

3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup almond flour, sifted (I ground my almonds until until they were fine and sticky)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease muffin tin with coconut oil.

2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, oil, extracts, and sugar. Coconut oil will be difficult to mix; just break up pieces with a fork and don't worry about it being completely mixed at this point.

3. In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk or stir together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, and without overmixing, fold until just combined.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cavity just over half way full. The batter should be fairly thin, but not totally liquid.

6. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack and let them cool completely.

7. If desired, spread with Chocolate Icing and garnish with almonds.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Some of What We've Learned About Marriage

Our marriage turns 12 this Sunday. And though I totally expect to look back on this post in future years and laugh at how much I thought I knew, I'm going to risk sharing some things that I feel the hubby and I have learned in our small twelve together. And yes, you are welcome to laugh too. I won't mind. You could even leave some real marriage wisdom in the comments if you'd like.

#1. Love languages matter. It matters that when I think I'm loving him, he actually feels loved. And vice versa. It matters that I know that he needs me to touch his arm and look in his eyes to feel loved. It matters that he knows that I need him to take a few extra minutes with me for me to feel loved. It matters so much that countless arguments can be stopped dead in their tracks if we will just remember that it matters.

#2. Sex does not have to be the best ever every time. Sex can happen in any mood, in any physical state (head aches are really meaningless when it comes to this), and in any emotional state. Intimacy is magic and magic is mysterious and supernatural.

#3. Agreeing is important. The hubby and I are very blessed to agree on a lot of things. We are spoiled really. For the most part we agree on which movies to watch, what team to root for, how to discipline the kids, and what theological standpoint is most likely Biblical. We agree on most things but not everything! I really do not like war movies (sorry, dear) and the poor hubby couldn't eat meatless every night. I think it has been important that we agree on lots of things, but there is room for disagreement as well. This one is really not easy for us. I still can't understand why he doesn't like Shakespeare all that much and he just doesn't get the fact that mountain biking sounds like a peculiar kind of torture to me. And that's ok. We have lots of "agrees" to fall back on.

#4. Our relationship will grow if we nurture it. Such a simple principle! If we give it time and energy and thought and even a little money sometimes (showing that we think it's important), our relationship will grow and mature. It takes prayer and prayer and more prayer and lots of Time with a capital T.

#5. Media needs to be managed. This is a funny part of marriage these days--so much communication could end up via text, instant message and email. So much time could be spent "together" with computers open or with the tv on. I'm not saying any of this is bad! It is great to communicate and being able to send a quick text or IM to a busy husband can be a huge blessing. It just needs to be managed. Don't forget that face time (and I don't mean on your phone) counts infinitely more towards the nurturing of your marriage.

#6. The "Daily" part of marriage is meaningful. Our daily habits together matter. This is another place where the hubby and I are very blessed. He has the kind of job that starts in the morning and ends in the afternoon/evening of each week day. Some don't have that luxury and the Daily gets a bit harder. But for us the Daily means little things like--he doesn't leave without giving me a kiss. I wave to him from the window as he leaves. I (try my best to) give him time to acclimate when he walks through the door, after work, and he plays with the kids if I need to have a few minutes in the evening. I know the Daily looks different for each marriage, but it's something worth thinking about.

#7. Our children are an integral part of this marriage, but their place is not between the hubby and me. Again: spoiled. We are truly spoiled to have had two kids who were naturally independent before we had our more dependent one. So, rules like, "no kids in bed" were super easy to keep because no kid has ever even asked to get in bed with us! I also get to sit beside the hubby at the dinner table and on the church pew just because. We love our kids so much! But our message to them is clear: our marriage is important to us, and we really do like to be close to one another.

#8. Respect is absolutely essential. If there is any area where I do not respect him or he does not respect me there will be conflict in that area. And there is no way for us to change our opinion of the other (whether our opinion is based on fact or fallacy) without the help of the Holy Spirit. I need to ask the Holy Spirit to give me respect for my spouse in every way.

#9. Studying your spouse is a really good idea. What is that passion about? Where does this desire come from? What is important to my spouse? How can I pray for that issue? When I ask questions and really listen to answers, I understand my husband so much better (of course!). And I love and respect him more as an added bonus.

#10. The more we have fun, the more we have fun. Do you know what I mean? If we allow ourselves grace to have fun doing something that is easy (say watching a tv show on Netflix from first season to last in a matter of months) then the things that are a bit more difficult (say cleaning up from dinner or filling out adoption paperwork) are a little bit easier and more fun as well. I don't know why, but it's true. And can I just say, my husband is superb at having fun. Without him, I would be a serious sourpuss most of the time. He can laugh and joke and show funny videos and get excited about sports and be silly with our kids in such an amazing way!

So there you have it. Pretty obvious stuff, I guess. Or maybe just beginner marriage stuff, but we knew so little when we got married, it feels like we've come a long way. I pray blessings for each of your marriages, and happy anniversary to my dear Beloved!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Flying with Kids: The Backpack

We got to talk to our two little Ugandan boys via face time this morning. I use the word "talk" very loosely since we talked with the leader of the orphanage while they started at us and occasionally gave us half grins. But it was wonderful and excruciating and amazing and terrible all at the same time. It took me several hours to catch my breath from the whole thing, and I don't think the ache is going to leave until we get there and hold them in our arms.
So the process of getting there is very much on my mind pretty much ALL THE TIME. I am studying up on every facet of travel, plane flights, Uganda, adoption, etc. etc. etc. and duly recording everything on my Notability App on the iPad. My hobby these past few days has been planning for the air flight with three kids going and five kids coming back.
I have read blogs and articles and looked at pictures and shopped and I'm going to share with you what I've found, because who knows? You might want to pick up and take all of your children on a 20 hour plane ride someday! And it will be wonderful! And you can come back right here and check out what we were going to bring (and probably by then you can check out our after story of what actually got used and that will be even more useful!)
I'm not exactly sure what backpacks we will take on the plane--I didn't get the kids new ones for school this year, so that may be something we need to purchase before we go. I love the quality and the price of this Discovery Backpack from LL Bean, though their generic school backpack is nice too.
Find it HERE
(Though, wow! $40 x 5!)

So now for the INSIDES. This is where it really gets interesting!
Of course the kids will have the ability to use the iPad and the Kindle Fire, though the hubby and I will be transporting those in our carry-ons. And I have heard that most flights have individual screens now with loads of choices for movies and shows. So the screen-time part of our trip is already taken care of. I am of course hoping that the kids will, at some point, sleep. So to help encourage them in this pursuit, each child will have a neck pillow, an eye mask and ear plugs.

I have discovered that kids and adults can often become dehydrated during plane travel and if there's one thing we DON'T need during our travel, it's another reason to feel fatigued and lethargic! So, I bought each child one of these water bottles and we will have the stewardess fill them with water when we can.
Amazon's Price: $31.99 (for three)
We got them at Costco for $17.99 (for three).
Somewhere I read something about how dark the plane could be when it's time to sleep and how kiddos don't necessarily sleep during this time. So I plan to make sure that each kid has a fun flashlight that will somehow magically keep them quiet while their plane neighbors are trying to sleep. I can dream, right?
Find these HERE
These glow in the dark, which I think is very fun.
$7.69 for 2
I mentioned that the kids will have Kindle and iPad available. If, perchance, they all agreed on a movie or show to watch, I'm going to purchase this little device (plus, while we're waiting for 6 hours to see the Ugandan judge, this will be a marvel to keep them all quiet together.)
Find it HERE
(It's a headphone splitter.) $12.07
And I think the little ones will be much more comfy wearing these headphones. (Notice that they are incredibly cheap: I don't expect them to last forever, and I don't want to be the lease bit worried if they get left behind somewhere.)

Find them HERE
Now for the TOYS! 
Some of these ideas are from those many blog posts and articles I read and some of them are spin-offs of those ideas:
I love the idea of being a little outside the box with what we bring to play with. So why not bring a block of this modeling clay? It might get played with on the plane and it'll be great to keep little hands busy during our weeks in Uganda.
You can buy this Modeling Clay in this 3.3 pound box for $23.99. The mom who suggested this says that she just grabs another square of individually-wrapped clay before she heads out the door. I think this is awesome! 
Along those same lines, I think Wiki Stix would be another fun and relatively painless plane activity.
A 48 piece box is $7.00 or I could MAKE MY OWN.
This next one is my most exciting find yet. I spent a lot of time looking at those cling and magnetic activity type books where you use the magnets to decorate a scene or dress a doll. My kids have had those before and they just don't keep them occupied. BUT one thing my kids will do play with is their pattern blocks.
(You can usually find one of these elaborate designs decorating the carpet in our family room.)
But for traveling, I found these Magnetic Foam Pattern Blocks. Yay! I'm hoping to find some very thin magnetic marker board for them to play with them on. Foam=not very heavy; Magnetic=able to play with in a car or plane. Hooray! 
$13.11 for 200 Pattern Blocks
10. and 11. Each kid will of course have crayons and/or colored pencils and/or skinny markers and a few little notebooks for the plane. I bought tiny spiral-bound notebooks and I think I will give them one for the trip there and one for the trip back.
12. And of course, you know our family! Each kid will have paper back books to read in their carry-on (including a Calvin and Hobbes that I've been saving for the boy to read on the plane.) The youngest will have a selection of BOB books that she can really read and some fun princess books to look at.
Maybe a book like this as well:
Don't worry about bulk or price! There's a Kindle Version for $6.12

It has pages like this:

14. Each kiddo will also have a bag of the ESSENTIAL gum, sucker or two, vitamin-C drops, craisins, granola bar, almonds, etc. I usually control when and how they get their snacks, so being able to have their own stash in their backpacks would be a big treat.
15. And we'll also each have one outfit and toothbrush and tooth paste just in case the checked bags get sent to another continent or something like that. (Just in case, right. That doesn't jinx us, does it?)
If you by chance think I am over thinking this plane trip with kids thing, you are probably right! But we also have 5 weeks in a guest house at the end of our flight. Any toys that don't get used on the plane will most definitely get played with while we are in Uganda. And there's always the trip back!
Happy Traveling!