November 29, 2011

Divas, Dolls and Beer Bread

I know a lot of REALLY talented people.
One of them is my mother-in-law, Maggie.
I would put her picture {HERE} but she might not speak to me again if I did. So instead, I'll just show off some of her handiwork.

Last year, I was going to throw a princess party for my girls. With the help of my hubby and mother-in-law, my simple idea was morphed into a giant event that involved turning our living room into a castle and princess dresses for every girl who came.

Maggie made about 14 dresses in various fabrics and colors. Enough for each girl to try on several and decide which one they wanted to take home. She absolutely LOVES kids and loves to see them have fun. So she started making more dresses, and pairing them with girly things like beads and rings and tiaras.

And, Divas and Dolls was born. These little ensembles make great Christmas gifts for the little princess in your life. Come see all her creations this weekend at the Gallery of Gifts in Volga on Saturday!

I'll be there too. I have a few creations of my own. Unfortunately, I'm not a seamstress like my mother-in-law. But I am a pretty decent cook. So we'll also have some fun little mixes if you're feeling the urge to bake during this holiday season.

I'm still working out all the details, but I'm hoping there'll be some dips and spread mixes too. I'm currently experimenting with a yummy cinnamon walnut spread.

And if I get REALLY organized, I'll have a super-sweet-and-chocolatey dessert mix too! The Gallery of Gifts event is in the high school gym from 10:00 - 3:00 this Saturday (Dec. 3). There are a few other things going on that day in Volga as well as they begin to celebrate Christmas. For more information, click {HERE}. All of our proceeds from this event will go to our adoption fund. Hope to see you there!

November 21, 2011

Let the Paperwork Begin!

It's here.

Actually it came last Wednesday, but it's been a bit busy around here.

Isn't that a well-designed piece? I've had a lot of freelance work lately...I think I have design-on-the-brain...

Inside was the beginning of our paperwork. We've made a pretty big dent in it already; physicals for all five of us are scheduled, proof of health insurance signed, address of all places of residence from birth until now - found! Drug tests and fingerprints for background check scheduled...what am I missing?....oh yeah, a couple forms that only needed signing (phew!). That takes care of the first half the folder anyway!

We recently found out that currently, the adoption tax credit (set at over $13,000) is set to decrease slightly and become non-refundable (meaning you get it based on your tax liability over a maximum of 5 years, as opposed to one lump sum) in 2012. This isn't great for us, because the lump sum would have been extraordinarily helpful. And in 2013, it's set to go down to $6000. Also not great. Even though with an upcoming election year anything could happen, it's making it look really appealing to try to finalize in 2012 and take as much advantage of the tax credit as possible.

Then I was reminded on Sunday that we serve a GREAT God. One who is far above forms, goverment regulations and tax credits. And tax credit or not, we won't be deterred from the task at hand, because I'm pretty sure God can handle that. He loves this little one immeasureably more than we do, and we're praying that He'll wrap his arms around him or her, until we can get there to wrap them in ours.

November 17, 2011

Vitacost Deal!

I've been hearing a lot about lately. One friend of mine deals with some very significant food allergies in her family and is constantly ordering her specialized health food from them. So I thought I should check it out. Turns out, it's a really great place to find some good prices on healthy food! And I discovered that as a first-time customer, they offer a coupon for $10 off!

Saving money is always a good thing and $10 is a pretty decent coupon, so I started shopping around their site. They've got some great products, including.....COCONUT OIL! They even have their own brand which is really reasonably priced. This might be a great opportunity for those of you who were curious about trying coconut oil. They've got a 54 ounce jar for $18.08, minus $10, plus $4.99 for shipping (or FREE shipping if order over $49) makes it $13.07. That is a STEAL for that much coconut oil!

Here's the HERE to sign up through the referral link. You'll get a $10 credit, and if you make a purchase, I'll get a $10 credit for referring you. Then, let your friends/family know about it and when they sign up and order, you'll get another $10 credit for each of them as well ( can even refer your spouse if he/she has a different email address!). Looks like a great way to save some money to me!

They have lots of great products other than coconut oil, and some of their prices are better than Amazon's. Just a note - after you sign up, you'll get a separate email with your first $10 coupon. It doesn't come immediately, so keep your eye out for it, and be sure to check your junk mail box. Happy shopping!

November 15, 2011

Plight of the Orphan

Sometime soon, I really want to write about why we want to adopt. I feel like I need to take some serious time to choose my words carefully so I can explain it as accurately as possible. However, I know that no matter how well I write it, there will be people who choose to criticize our decisions; either the "how," the "why," or the "where."

And I'm not real good with criticism.

It's an area where God's working on me. I tend it care a lot about what other people think. I have a certain way I want people to see me, you know? Mostly, it seems to involve decision-making and character and that I don't want people (especially those that I highly respect) to think I'm a complete fool. That's probably why I hesitated so much about starting this blog...putting all your thoughts out there always invites criticism!  But God says, "People look at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7b).

Thanks God. I needed that one. He knows what our motivations are and where our heart is. And it's what He thinks that matters.

Amazingly, several people have told me they are enjoying reading the posts. And I couldn't be more thrilled! (I honestly didn't know if anyone would) So if you do, thank you!! And if you follow lots of blogs (like me!), or just want a reminder, fill out the "follow by email" section at the bottom and they'll get sent right to you :)

So while I'm trying to figure out the perfect words, I'll leave you with some orphan statistics (taken from Sometimes, we just don't want to think about it. We don't realize how rich we really are. It's easier to live our comfy, cozy lives than to think about those who have nothing...not even someone to hug them. But when I look at my own kids and think of them not having someone to love them, it breaks my heart. And I can't help but break for the orphans too...

What is the need?
* Over 130 million children have lost one or both parents.1
* Every 18 seconds another child becomes an orphan, without a mother or father.2
* At least 16.2 million children worldwide have lost both parents.3
* Every 14 seconds a child loses a parent due to AIDS.4
* Conflict has orphaned or separated 1 million children from their families in the 1990s.5

Where are they?
* 43.4 million orphans live in sub-Saharan Africa, 87.6 million orphans live in Asia, and 12.4 million orphans live in Latin America and the Caribbean.6
* 1.5 million children live in public care in Central and Eastern Europe alone.7
* At any given point there are over 500,000 children in the U.S. Foster Care system.8
* In some countries, children are abandoned at alarming rates, due to poverty, restrictive population control policies, disabilities or perceived disabilities, and cultural traditions that value boys more than girls.9

What happens to the children?
* Children are profoundly affected as their parents fall sick and die, setting them on a long trail of painful experiences often characterized by: economic hardship, lack of love, attention and affection, withdrawal from school, psychological distress, loss of inheritance, increased physical and sexual abuse and risk of HIV infection, malnutrition and illness, stigma, discrimination, exploitation, trafficking, and isolation.14
* Orphaned children are much more likely than non-orphans to be working in commercial agriculture, as street vendors, in domestic service and in the sex trade.15
* Unaccompanied boys are at high risk of forced or 'voluntary' participation in violence and armed conflict.16
* Orphanages, children's villages, or other group residential facilities generally fail to meet young people's emotional and psychological needs.17

What about foster care?
* On average, children stay in foster care for 30 months, or 2.5 years.18
* 118,000 children were waiting to be adopted on September 30, 2004.19
* On average, those children waiting for adoption have been in foster care for 43.8 months, almost 4 years.20
* Each year, an estimated 20,000 young people “age out” of the U.S. foster care system. Many are only 18 years old and still need support and services.
Of those who aged out of foster care:21
Earned a high school diploma: 54%
Obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher: 2%
Were unemployed: 51%
Had no health insurance: 30%
Had been homeless: 25%
Were receiving public assistance: 30%

Is there any hope?
* Yes. There is One who infinitely loves each orphan and calls His people to join Him in caring for the fatherless. Each one of us can Show Hope to an orphan.
* If only 7% of the 2 billion Christians in the world would show hope to a single orphan, looking after the child in their distress, there would effectively be no more orphans. We can each do something.

November 10, 2011

My New Best Friend

About a year ago, I fell in love. I was really getting into researching various aspects of food and the food industry and had spent some time digging into oils and fats. In doing so, I discovered something that's pretty popular in the Real Food world. Coconut Oil.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm pretty much obsessed with coconut. I love the taste, the texture and the smell. I love shredded coconut, chipped coconut, coconut extract, coconut milk and cream of coconut. And candles and air freshener that smell like coconut. And anything else coconut. I add it to everything it can possibly be added to. BUT, I'm also very skeptical. And so I wasn't about to feed coconut oil to my children unless there was some good reason to.

Do a quick google search on coconut oil and you'll discover it's 90% saturated fat. "What!?," you say...."I thought it was supposed to be good for you!" Well that all depends on your view of saturated fats. I'll have to save an in-depth post on that for another day, but we can do a quick re-cap. Head back to the 1950's when an American food scientist named Ancel Keys made the accusation that the heart disease epidemic at the time could be related to hydrogenated oil. That sent the commercial oil industry spinning (remember this also the decade that fast-food is becoming popular). Rather than take a huge hit economically, it was easy to shift the blame and vilify saturated fats instead. Fast forward 50 years and we've learned that TRANS fats are the ones we should be avoiding like the plague. More about saturated fats another time. Moving on....

Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat. Of this 90%, 50% is lauric acid - a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA). MCFA's differ from long chain fatty acids in that they pass through your digestive system without the requirement of modification. Your body does not have to work to metabolize them. But that's just the beginning. Lauric Acid has anti-bacterial, anti-virual and anti-fungal properties. The body converts it to monolauren, which is a monoglyceride that can destroy lipid-coated viruses and bacteria. What are those, you ask? A few recognizable ones are:
Hepatitis C
...and many others. It has also been found to inhibit cancer growth and provide excellent thyroid and heart health support. And because it's absorbed into the body directly through the small intestine, it is used as energy and not stored as fat.

And that's just the short list. Are you interested yet? I definitely was. But being a busy mom of three, I needed to know that I could cook with it easily and that it tasted good so my kids would eat it.
Here are a few reasons why it works well in the kitchen:
- Can be substituted 1 for 1 for other fats
- Because of high saturated fat content, it is not easily oxidized so works well for higher temperature applications.
- It melts at 77 degrees. So you can easily use it in solid form, or melt it to use in liquid form. For example, it works great to "cut-into" recipes like pastries or biscuits when it's in solid form. Or just melt it on the stovetop for granola coating or baked goods.
- Very subtle coconut undertone that complements many foods

Now, in regards to that last comment, as a coconut lover, this works well for me. Melt that stuff and pour it over die for! Last week, I used it in place of vegetable oil in a pan of boxed brownies. (Boxed brownies is definitely considered a huge "compromise" food here. But I had one left in the pantry for a quick throw-together when company was coming). And that chewy chocolate with just a *hint* of coconut was phenomenal. Now I just need to try it with a homemade brownie recipe...

If you aren't sure if that subtle coconut flavor is for you, I'd still encourage you to try it. I feel it's less strong than the flavor of olive oil and it usually seems to pair well with most foods I've tried. However, there is another option. There are two main types of coconut oil:

1. Virgin
2. Refined.

Virgin (or extra-virgin) oil is created from the first press of the coconut. No mechanical processes are involved. It should be cold-pressed (not heated for extraction) to produce the purest oil with the most nutrients preserved. It has a slight coconut smell and flavor.
Refined oil is typically heated for extraction and then goes through a process called RBD (refining, bleaching and deodorizing). This process may disrupt the fatty acid balance. In the end, this oil is odorless and tasteless, so it will add NO coconut flavor to foods.

For the highest quality, stick with organic extra virgin or virgin. Organic refined is still a better choice than other oils like vegetable or canola. Refined oil is wonderful for cosmetic applications, however. In addition to all the health benefits, coconut oil is wonderful for skin and hair. It works well as a moisturizer and as hair conditioner. But, that's also a post for another day.

Organic extra-virgin coconut oil is not cheap. But since we eat significantly less fat overall than we used to, I've been able to make it stretch. My last order lasted about 5 months. So far, the best value for the highest quality product seems to be for a 2 pack of 54 ounce jars from Amazon. If you sign up for Subscribe and Save, it comes to about .37 per ounce (and you can cancel your subscription as soon as you get your shipment).

If anyone decides to give it a shot, or if you already use it, I'd love to know what you think or what your favorite use is. I know I love it, and I'm not sure if those immune-boosting properties are true, but I do know that not one of us has been to the doctor since I started adding it into our diet. So for now, I think we'll stick with it!

November 8, 2011

Adoption Process Timeline

A lot of people have asked where we are in the adoption process, how long it will take, what the next step is, etc. All good questions! Unfortunately, we don't know all the answers since there are a wide variety of factors. But I thought maybe a rough outline of the process might be helpful.

Back in early October, we filled out a preliminary application. There is no cost for this, and basically it's just to find out if you even qualify for adoption with any countries that your chosen agency serves. Each country has it's own requirements regarding age, marital status, income, etc. We qualified for several. Then we had a meeting with Bethany to further discuss these results to determine if we wanted to move on with the process.

At this point, we filled out a formal application. This is where the fees start accruing! Maybe that's what makes it "formal" ;) Currently, our formal application has been accepted. We have several forms to sign, a payment to make, and then we'll begin the Home Study process.

The whole thing SHOULD go something like this:
*Preliminary Application
*Formal Application - processing takes about 1 week.
*Home Study - a series of 3 meetings done by our agency in our home. I'm told to expect about 2 months for this. We will finalize which country we'll adopt from during this process.
*Dossier - the dossier is a compilation of massive amounts of paperwork that is submitted to the country you're hoping to adopt from. This includes things such as medical records, marriage license, birth certificates, letter of intent to adopt, all home study materials, financial information, post-placement agreements, and many, many other documents. The gathering of this information takes around 5-6 months, then review by the agency and mailing time; about another 2 weeks.
*Referral - being matched with a child. After the Dossier is logged in with your country's government (often referred to as the LID - Log In Date), you start to wait. Since we are looking at a "Waiting Child" program (for children who have special needs or do not fit into the "healthy infant" category), we can expect the wait to be about 6-12 months. But it varies greatly depending the country and the special needs you're willing to accept.
*Travel - after you accept your referral, travel to your country typically occurs in about 3 months. Again, this can vary. But by then end, you'll have your child!

As you can see, it's a pretty long process that we aren't very far into! Thankfully the agency walks you through every step and so far things have been very clear and organized. We were told by Bethany that we can expect it to take about 12-18 months. Honestly, we were surprised it could be that fast because we were expecting about 2 years. And it still could be that long, or longer...we just don't know.

Please pray for us as we continue to move through this process - that the Lord would prepare our and our children's hearts for another child, for a smooth and organized process, and for the finances to keep things moving as they should.  Jon and I were talking a few nights ago, and were struck by the realization that since we are hoping to adopt a toddler, chances are that child is already alive today. Suddenly everything felt more real and imminent. We started feeling the urge to rush and move through the paperwork and process faster than the leisurely pace we have been so far. And we even felt a connection. Somewhere, our child is being cared for by someone else. So if you're willing, please pray for that child too. Hopefully, he or she will have a home soon!

November 7, 2011

REAL peanut butter

The first time I had REAL peanut butter was at the Natural Food Co-Op in Sioux Falls (a great little health food store on 33rd and Duluth...they have an awesome bulk section) and it was like an instant addiction. I'm talking REAL, not like the kind on the shelf at Wal-Mart, but the freshly-ground-from-roasted-peanuts-right-into-my-jar kind. makes the jarred stuff taste like cardboard. So we loaded up a little container of the honey-roasted kind (since you have to buy your containers if you don't bring your own) and went home, planning to bring an enormous jar back next time.

Apparently, it was on sale the first time I had it. Because when I came back with my gigantic peanut butter jar, I discovered the price had almost doubled. Not cool. So like I often do when I don't like the price or ingredients of store-bought food, I tried to make my own. Turns out, it's pretty easy.

I took it back one step further and decided to roast my own peanuts so I could make it just about as fresh as possible. I started with raw Valencia peanuts. Normally I get them from Azure Standard, but they were out this month so these came from Amazon. Valencia peanuts are a bit sweeter than other varieties and the most common type used for commercial peanut butter.

One pound of peanuts = about 3 cups, which will make 1 pound of peanut butter.
For honey roasting, melt about 1 1/2 T. butter and stir into about 1 1/2 T. honey. Pour over 3 cups of peanuts. (I tripled mine so I could make 3 pounds at a time). I leave the skins on because I like texture it produces. You could take them off if you really wanted to. Or, you could just buy pre-roasted peanuts without the skins and skip the roasting process altogether.

Spread the peanuts evenly on a baking pan. Ideally, they'd be spread in a single layer.

Roast at 350 degrees for about 15-25 minutes. Mine took about 25 minutes because I was using stoneware, which seems to take longer. Stir at least twice during roasting. Remove from the oven and let them cool completely.

Then, plop those babies in your food processor fitted with the chopping blade and let 'er rip! After just a minute or so, it will look like this, kind of lumpy and grainy:

But keep blending away and eventually it will become creamy. It may take up to 10 minutes or so, depending on the size and strength of your food processor. Because I left the skins on, I added a little heart-healthy coconut oil to smooth it out. After that, add salt, to taste. I usually end up using about 1 tsp per pound of peanuts.

I like to use Redmonds RealSalt because it's completely natural and unrefined. No yucky anti-caking agents or anything else that's not supposed to be there. Plus it has wonderful flavor and still contains all the natural minerals.

Give it one last spin to get the salt mixed in and you've got homemade peanut butter!  And it's hydrogenated oil and additive free!

Want to try some before you go out and buy a 10 pound bag of peanuts? Just let me know. No bread required....I'm eating it off a spoon, right now. (Suggested donation $8 - proceeds to adoption fund).

November 5, 2011

Formal Application Accepted!

We received word yesterday that our Formal Application was accepted (yay!) by Bethany Global (that's the national office of Bethany Christian Services; the agency we are using).

I was actually a little nervous about it, not because I didn't think we filled it out well, or that we didn't give the right information, but I think I felt like if it was denied it would be like God was closing a door. Like maybe I'd misunderstood and that this really wasn't the direction He wanted us to go.

We've been so blessed in our 8 1/2 years of marriage, to have such a relatively easy life. We've had three great kids and a steady income and perfectly adequate house and are close to our extended families. God has always provided for us and protected us. Now it's like we're purposely introducing a situation into our lives where we'll just have to fully trust the Lord. And although it's just a little bit like navigating uncharted waters, I think it will be good for me. Probably, for all of us.

November 2, 2011

Pictures, anyone?

Most of you know that I lucked out when I picked Jon because he's super-talented in many areas. He's re-shingled our garage and installed our whirlpool tub. He's more than happy to entertain the kids from sunrise until bedtime so I can have a day with my friends. And, he cleans up the kitchen after supper. Every night. Yep...he's pretty awesome.

But, his favorite thing to do is take pictures, especially of people. He believes everyone should be able to have nice pictures of their family and children, and it should be affordable so they can do it often. Because kids change fast.

[Sunday Snapshot Photo Tip: I found a wall downtown with some neat texture, and place my little model next to it.  I would normally have composed this image with him on the right side so the image would show more of the area where he was looking.  However, the wall coming at the camera here made me reconsider and recompose.  I placed a 24" softbox with a Canon 550EX to the left of the camera (note the shadows on the wall behind him) and remotely triggered it with the AWESOME Pocket Wizard Flex TT5, Mini TT1, and AC3 zone controller.  50mm prime lens @ F1.8, 1/640th, ISO 400]

How cute is that little guy? Jon has a knack for capturing the "cuteness" of kids.

There's still some gorgeous colored leaves around and a few nice days left. If you need some pictures taken, Jon would love to do them for you. All the images he gets are yours to take and print however you wish. All for the low price of.......a free-will donation that will go 100% toward our adoption expenses.

Ni Hao Yall

November 1, 2011

The Scariest Halloween

I've never been a huge Halloween fan, at least not in the last few years. It's pretty much a healthy mom's nightmare, and spending money on fancy costumes to wear for one night just doesn't make a lot of economical sense to me. I guess it's good my kids' grandma's think they look cute in fun costumes and so deliver one on occasion so my crew will have something to pick from when the day arrives. But I have to admit, I do love seeing them all dressed up anxious to head out to the neighbors in hopes of a sweet treat. And I even enjoy it a little bit when they're all excited about their massive plunder.

Aren't they cute? And not too scary at all. Buzz Lightyear, Jeff Gordon and a bumble bee were definitely not the reason this was one of the scarier Halloweens. This one was scary because we did something we've never done before. This year on Halloween, we submitted a Formal Application for International Adoption.

It's been coming for a long time. Almost six years, in fact. So long, that we weren't sure the time would ever really come at all. But then God made it clear; "I want you to do it now." So we said "OK." And we're thrilled. And excited. And pretty scared! But we're trusting that He's got this, and we can't wait to see how it turns out.

I always wanted to start a blog about food and the "unusual" way we eat, since people often seem to find it interesting. And I would have included posts about my unusual homemade laundry detergent and the unusual way we choose to spend money. But I also wanted document the adoption process, and then I realized, that that's not exactly ordinary either. So this blog might just include some of all of the above......the things we do that aren't so ordinary.