Sunday, February 27, 2011

Can you beat 39 cent tacos?

Driving home last week, I saw a Del Taco ad for 39 cent tacos on Tuesday nights (as opposed to 59 cents regular price). Coincidentally, I was making tacos that night for our family also. Some have claimed that at such a low price, making tacos at home would be more expensive. So just for grins, I did the math. 

Not only that, but my numbers are based on using organic ingredients exclusively. These are not only healthier because they do not contain questionable ingredients such as preservatives, genetically engineered foods, and (in the case of ground beef) excrement, but they also taste so much better.

1 lb organic ground beef: $6*
1/3 lb organic shredded cheese from raw milk (Cheddar and Jack blend): $2
2 dozen organic corn tortillas @ $.99 each: $1.98 
1/2 cup organic sunflower oil for frying tortillas: $.96
1 head organic romaine lettuce: $.50
seasonings: $.25

TOTAL: $11.69 for 24 tacos


$.49 each

So, on all days but Tuesday night, cooking at home using organic ingredients is still cheaper than this "deal". Using conventional ingredients would cut the cost in half, to about one quarter per taco, making home cooking cheaper any day of the week.

Eating out even the cheapest, junkiest foods is more expensive than one might realize. This calculation does not even account for the expenses associated with poor health, an inevitable side effect of eating fast "food". Cooking dinner at home is better on every level - nutrition, taste, and cost.

* It is possible to find organic ground beef for as low as $4/lb, but we prefer to buy ours from a small local organic rancher. Had I used the less expensive organic ground beef, the total cost for the meal would have been $9.69, or a little more than 39 cents per taco - virtually the same price as the Del Taco junk food.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Great local organic co-op

I have blogged about Bountiful Baskets before. Any readers living in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington or Wyoming should seriously consider giving them a try, if they have not yet done so. 

In Arizona, they only offer the organic produce basket every other week. We just got ours today, so the next available date will be Saturday, March 12th, with an order cutoff date of Tuesday, March 8th. Sometimes our family of 8 orders two baskets, but usually we only get one, and buy the rest of the produce we need at the store. That way, because we never know what will be in the basket until we get it, we can still pick up any specific produce we need and fill those gaps.

Other than not knowing what produce we will get, another downside of a co-op like this is the early pickup time (by 7 am at most locations). Also, participants are expected to volunteer several times throughout the year, since the baskets are assembled at each location from wholesale produce cases delivered by truck. Personally, I really think this is a great motivation to get up early and get some exercise (LOTS of picking up, bending, and carrying heavy loads). 

One nice benefit is that sometimes, we get a new or exotic ingredient we may otherwise never have tried, or are encouraged to eat more produce simply because it's there and we already paid for it. The main advantage of course is the abundance of fresh, organic produce that we get to enjoy at close to wholesale price. Organic produce is free from artificial pesticides and herbicides (think Round-Up), and artificial fertilizers. They are never genetically engineered (think Round-Up again, and Frankenfoods), and are not sprayed with chemicals after harvest to prolong their transportation and shelf life. (Side note: Once, when I was volunteering at BB, I was put on the conventional side for putting baskets together. After having helped assemble over 100 baskets over the course of an hour, my hands were covered in a strange waxy substance that made me break out in hives on both arms and itched like crazy. While many produce waxes are often plant-based, they usually also contain preservatives. YUCK! I now no longer volunteer on the conventional produce side.)

Look what our $25 got us today:

From left to right:

10 oz box of cherry tomatoes
1 lb sweet peas
5 zucchini
1 large bunch broccoli
8 bananas (they always come green like that, and turn yellow within a few days)
1 bunch spinach
1 head lettuce
1 pineapple
4 lb bag + 3 extra grapefruit
2 mangoes
8 kiwis
6 oz box of blueberries

That's a whole lot of green for our "green"!

I see some really great green smoothies coming this week! One reader recommended mixing pineapple, bananas, strawberries, coconut milk, and spinach - which sounded really yummy, and now I have the pineapple to make it.

Any great recipes you can share for using the sweet peas and grapefruit? I love to eat both of them raw, but the rest of my family doesn't. Also, readers from other states, please chime in and leave a comment below if you have a similar resource where you live.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Previous birth stories - Part 1

With all these birthdays recently, I have been reflecting upon each of my "birth stories". I love reading other ladies stories, so I thoughts I'd share mine. I have already blogged Becky's and Anna's birth stories before. 

 a few minutes after birth

Solomon, our firstborn - wow, we were so young, and knew so little! The thought of home birth crossed my mind once early on in pregnancy, wondering if anyone still gave birth at home in the 21st century, and if so, why they would want to do that. I also was under the notion that if anyone were to attempt a home birth, they probably had to have an ambulance waiting in front of the house, ready to rush to the mother to the hospital if needed.

I saw an OB early on in my pregnancy who was morbidly obese, but very friendly. Her weight would have made me doubt any nutritional advice she would have given me, but she never gave me any advice, nutritional or otherwise. My appointments took a few minutes each, and basically consisted of recording my weight, blood pressure, and temperature. Later on, we moved to the other side of town and I switched to a different OB, but my appointments with her were pretty much the same other than the fact that I suddenly weighed 9 lbs less because obviously one of the two offices had a scale that was way off. 

Instead, the popular "What to expect when you're expecting" became my main source for learning about pregnancy (we didn't have internet). What I didn't know was that pregnancy in mainstream America is a very strange adventure. But not to me, who had little else to compare it to. One night, my husband remarked that I had been reading the book so much I had probably committed it to memory. He was joking, but I told him I probably had. Just for fun, he picked it up and started reading a sentence, and I finished it word-perfectly. In disbelief, he did that a couple more times, and sure enough, I knew how to finish those sentences, too. Pathetic, huh?

The pregnancy was very uneventful, other than suffering from debilitating morning sickness at first. A couple of weeks before my due date, I started having prodromal labor: my contractions would pick up and be regular and painful, only to stall out again. What I didn't know then was that I am prone to have labor drag on like that, and that Solomon was facing the wrong way ("sunny side up"), which was causing these false contractions. My OB was either not skilled enough to palpate the baby's position and teach me how to get him to turn, or she didn't bother to inform me of it.

After two weeks of having painful contractions that accomplished nothing other than to rob me of sleep, I was induced early in the morning on my exact due date by having my water broken and being put on pitocin. Ugh, to think how little I knew about what I was getting myself into! This being our first, looking back I realize how much God was watching out for us by not allowing this to turn into a needless Cesarean for "failure to progress" - many induced first time births end in one. 

The pitocin immediately made me violently sick to my stomach. I had secretly eaten one of my husband's Arby's roast beef sandwiches when the nurse wasn't looking, and it suddenly and violently decided to turn around and come back. Funny thing was, my husband and I were only concerned about hiding all evidence of my getting sick, as it would have exposed me as having had food against hospital policy. 

The pain from these synthetically generated contractions was unbearable right from the start. Pitocin is like a storm in a water glass - it makes labor feel like transition the whole way through. Not wanting an epidural, I finally gave in to one half dose of some intravenous dope they shot me up with. It took effect within seconds, and I literally felt tipsy and like I was floating above the bed. Somewhere in the back of my mind I felt that surely this was no different that recreational drug use, and that I shouldn't be doing this, but I was too "happy" to really care. I was still in just as much pain, but in an altered state of mind where I didn't care so much.

Of course, that didn't last very long. The drug had completely worn off after about two hours, and I soon asked for another half dose. Again, it didn't take the pain away, it just drugged me up to where I no longer cared about it. By the time that dose wore off, it was evening and I was dilated to a 7, so they would no longer let me use the drug because of how it could affect the baby that close to birth. Too late to get an epidural (which I had been against all along), I was now suffering the full effects of a posterior baby - back labor at its worst. I must say that the labor nurse that was helping me was really nice. She showed me how to change into a position on the bed that would alleviate some of the pressure on my back, and also encourage the baby to turn around (which he never did). From this point up until I finally started pushing hours later all I remember is being in horrible pain and screaming uncontrollably with each contraction. The poor moms in the other rooms must have really hated me!

Pushing was surprisingly easy and relatively painless. Solomon's head was soon on the perineum, about to be born, when my OB (in full battle gear, with a plastic shield covering her entire head) announced that I needed an episiotomy. I knew that this was not good, and tried to argue with her, but to no avail. The second the doctor cut me, Solomon slipped out immediately and flopped onto the bed that I was pushing on, but I did not see him because I was reclined. They held him up briefly, cut the cord, and then whisked him off for a few minutes to do their little song and dance. Solomon was screaming the whole time, until my husband started talking to him and he took a break to listen to that familiar voice. Finally, he was handed to me for the first time, tightly wrapped in a swaddling blanket, as seen in the picture above. I still clearly remember the feelings that swept over me as the nurse placed this little bundle in my arms. My life was changed forever in that one instant.

My recovery from the episiotomy was quite painful, but we were beyond elated with our newborn son, and our little family. Breastfeeding was a bit bumpy at first because Solomon was quite tongue-tied, but we soon got the hang of it.


two days old

Isaac was our first home birth, but we did not go into this pregnancy planning one. I was going to go back to the same childless OB who I felt had not given me the best of care the first time around, but I didn't know there were other alternatives available. Solomon at the time was 7 1/2 months old, so at my first appointment, the OB told me she would for sure do an episiotomy again on me for this second birth because the births were so close together she was afraid I would tear along the scar from the first birth. I had read enough about natural birth in the meantime to know that this was ridiculous, so I started looking for another OB. Our HMO health insurance only had 4 other female OBs that were still accepting patients in our area, and for various reasons, none of the other doctors would work out for me. One of them actually interviewed her patients before taking them on for care, and she would not take me on unless I agreed to stop nursing Solomon immediately, something I would not do. 

My husband, who didn't really see what the big deal was, would have been fine with me staying with the same doctor. I continued to see her for prenatal checkups, while trying to find an alternative. There was a birth center across from the hospital that was run by midwives, but our insurance wouldn't cover it and there was no way we could afford the cash rate. I was feeling more panicked as time wore on - the prospect of having my perineum butchered was scary at best. Then something wonderful happened. My husband met a young couple while out soulwinning one night. They were already Christians, but looking for a church, and they started attending our church after my husband's visit. The lady was expecting their third child, so of course I immediately asked her about which hospital she was going to deliver at. To my utter surprise, she told me that she was planning a home birth, and that her first two had also been born at home. Wow, she might as well have been an alien! So people DID still have babies at home!

I immediately brought the idea of home birth up to my husband, who dismissed it as entirely crazy. He was concerned about me bleeding to death at worst, or a horrible mess to deal with at best. As I kept bringing it up to him, he really didn't warm up to the idea at all, especially because of the cost of it. While we paid several hundred dollars a month to have me on his insurance plan through work, the insurance would not cover out of network providers such as homebirth midwives. Their cash rate  for midwives in the area was $3500 to $4500 for the entire prenatal package, which was utterly out of our budget - my husband only made about $2000 a month back then. The thought that we should drop my health insurance and instead pay for the midwives or get different insurance never once crossed our minds.

A couple of midwives I had called took pity on me and offered to do all the prenatals and birth for $1200, and after much pleading with my husband, he agreed to go ahead with the home birth and paying the midwives $50 each month on our balance (which we paid off in full within a couple of months after the birth when we got our tax refund).

The day I went into labor, my mother-in-law had come to our apartment to pick me and Solomon (who was only 16 months old) up and take us out for lunch. I still remember going to Jack in the Box and having to grip the back of the chair during contractions. We also stopped for dipped cones at Dairy Queen on the way back home. I remember my contractions really picking up intensity and wanting to get home quickly, but my mother-in-law was driving painfully slow, or maybe it just seemed that way. It runs in my husband's family to slow WAY DOWN during a conversation, so it was probably a combination of both.

Once my labor progressed to the point that I had to call the midwives to the house, grandma took Solomon to her house for the rest of that day, and night. We filled the birth pool (which was actually a water trough for horses that was being used "off label") in the living room of our tiny one-bedroom apartment. We like to joke that this started Isaac's love for horses. My labor was fairly easy up until 6 or 7 cm dilation. For no apparent reason, I was not able to progress past that point for several hours. My midwives finally suggested that breaking my water would most likely speed up labor, but it didn't. In exhaustion, I finally left the birth tub and lay down on our bed, where I fell asleep for the next hour or so except for the peak of each (excruciatingly painful) contraction. Suddenly, I woke up very alert, and felt the urge to push. Oh, what a relief it was! I have always found that the hardest part of labor is over once the pushing starts. Not sure how long I pushed for, but probably not more than 10 minutes, give or take.

Isaac looked slightly blue for a few seconds after being born, which is perfectly normal, and then just started breathing without crying. I thought for sure he was dead, but my midwives assured me that he was perfectly fine, and that a lot of babies don't cry much. After another minute, he did start crying. I had no tearing whatsoever, and didn't require any stitches. What a different recovery I had!

Upon inspecting the placenta, it was discovered that the reason I had had such a hard time fully dilating was because of the baby's failure to fully descend. The cause of this was a relatively short cord, and the fact that it was wrapped around his thigh and back in three loops altogether to make it even shorter. It just took a long time to get it to stretch long enough to be born. I do remember the cord appearing stretched thin when he came out.

Just a few weeks later, another lady I knew was having her first baby at the hospital. She had an almost identical situation with her cord (short, wrapped around baby, stalled in transition) and ended up being given a C-section. I was so glad that I was at home for Isaac's birth, because I would have been begging for a C-section at the hospital - labor was just so overwhelmingly painful and slow. I was very glad to have been able to have a natural birth at home, and felt confirmed in our decision to do so. 

To be continued with John and Miriam's birth stories...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Church nurseries - good or bad idea?

About two years ago, I blogged on "Why I hate church nurseries". Seeing that our church has grown a lot in the meantime, and that we now have a lot more young children and babies, as well as several expectant moms who will contribute to the steady addition of more little ones, I thought I would share a little update of what church is like when there is no nursery.

This past Sunday morning, we had a total attendance of 68 in the service. Of these, 11 were in the newborn to 4 year-old range (the typical age at which children are put in the nursery). That is a relatively high percentage of babies to adults. The sermon was, as usual, about an hour long, bringing the total length of the service (with congregational singing and announcements) to somewhere around an hour and a half. 

So, how did it go? Contrary to popular belief, it was not a circus. The children were not loud and disruptive. Our family was the largest one in attendance, with six children ages newborn to 9 years old, all of which I was able to care for singlehandedly without disruptions/outbursts, or having to leave the auditorium. Is this unusual? Hardly - all the children in the service were from families who attend regularly week after week.

How can this be? I believe there are several factors that make having babies and children in the service enjoyable for all those involved. 

  • Start young:  We all know that babies are able to hear while still in the womb. Those of us who go to church 3 times a week, have all experienced that our newborn babies are usually soothed to sleep by the preacher's voice - a familiar sound to them. I have heard of expectant parents reading "Cat in the hat" to their unborn children during the last months of pregnancy, so that they would then be able to soothe the baby after birth by reading something that has become familiar to the baby. Surely, preaching not only can have the same effect, but be more beneficial on a spiritual level.
  • Accommodate mothers: Having comfortable seating options in the auditorium for new moms is a very welcome luxury. We currently have only two gliders set up, but I have been meaning (and needing) to purchase more. Why? This will allow them not only to cuddle their youngest and rock them to sleep, but also accommodate...
  • Breastfeeding: Yes, you read that right. Our church does not ban mothers from feeding their babies in the service, or anywhere on the premises for that matter. I feel weird even writing this, but sadly, the reality is that in most churches ladies would be ushered off the premises if they fed their child, notwithstanding the fact that most states give mothers the right to feed their children in any location in which they are legally allowed to be themselves. Now, I am not at all in favor of ladies feeding indiscreetly. I am currently nursing our sixth baby, and have never yet had to expose myself in public in order to do so. There are many options such as slings, cover-ups, blankets, etc. that help make feeding in public discreet - I won't go into that in this post. Why people find the act of feeding itself offensive I cannot understand - there is nothing sensual about it. Personally, I find bottle nipples (note the name) a lot more explicit and suggestive than a lady who is covered discreetly. It sure is a lot less revealing than the clothes worn by many ladies in church these days, such as tight-fitting and low-cut tops. Why does breastfeeding in the service make such a big difference? Because it keeps babies asleep and happy. Because nurslings and moms suffer when they are separated - physically, as well as emotionally. Because it helps babies go from sleeping through the service, to sitting through the service quietly by associating preaching with a time to settle down and be quiet. 
  • Provide an alternative: Of course, there will be times when children behave in a disruptive manner. If that happens, they should not be left in the service to distract the preacher or those listening to him. For times such as this, we have a "Mother-Baby Room". Ours looks out into the auditorium through a large window in the wall, and the preaching is transmitted into the room. In the room, we have a swing, a playpen, an exersaucer, and some quiet toys such as board books and soft toys. For the mothers, we have the most comfortable sofas ever. However, this is not a nursery, because every mom is in there watching her own child(ren). Another big difference is that this room is used as necessary, rather than three times a week regardless of whether the child is being disruptive or not. Typically, I find myself using this room most between about 9 months to about a year and a half. By two years of age at the very latest, children are old enough to be taught to be silent in the service. They may not sit down the whole 90 minutes, but they know that church is a time to be silent. This takes work and training on the part of the parents, which is certainly harder than simply dropping a child off at a nursery, but the rewards of children learning the Bible and hearing real preaching from the womb are well worth those efforts. At our church, men are not allowed in this room, so when Dads take their children out of the service, they usually stay in the foyer, which is open to the auditorium so they can still see and hear the service perfectly well. 
  • Be tolerant: It is amazing to me how much disruption we can put up with from adults, but not children. If an adult has a coughing fit in church, we probably will start digging through our purse looking for a cough drop to help the poor coughing person. Men often yell "Amen" and similar other statements during the service, and nobody seems bothered. Other more inappropriate, but real, distractions are cell phones going off, someone going to the bathroom, hard candy being unwrapped, whispering back and forth, etc. Usually, people just put up with these without saying anything. But woe to the baby who dares coo in church, or smile at a person sitting nearby. I have literally heard pastors saying that babies should not be left in the service even if they never make a peep because their cuteness is too distracting to nearby ladies. Ha! He must have been thinking about my babies! :) Jesus said to "suffer" little children to come unto him, and not to forbid them. 

Now why, you may wonder, would any mother want to keep her babies and young children in the service with her, when there is such a "convenience" as a nursery available? I have found that those mothers who love their children so much that they feel uneasy surrendering them to the care of others during the preaching, are the same who love their children enough to teach them how to act right in church. Those who are slacking in their parenting, or who are new believers and have not brought their children up in church, may certainly prefer a nursery. But there are definite advantages to NOT having a nursery:

  • Everyone is in church: Church is the assembly of believers. If everyone is split up in various groups all over the property, that is NOT church. Especially for families, it is vital to serve the Lord together, rather than with peers outside their family.
  • Children learn the Bible from a young age: Sure, every nursery prides themselves on the fact that the ladies in charge teach Bible truths. The problem is, that these are the most impressionable and important years. I do not want our children to think that church is a place where a friendly lady shares a positive, loving message week after week. I want them to hear real preaching from a man of God. It is amazing to me how much even our youngest ones pick up from the preaching. Even if they only understand 1 or 2 % of what is being said, that is a lot more Bible truth than what they would get from a cute little coloring picture and a positive pep talk in the nursery. 
  • It is safer: Thinking back on the workers in the nurseries that our children attended back before we knew better (about the first 2 years of our parenting), I would say that about 50% of them I have since found out such horrible things that I would never even want to leave our dog in their care. No doubt, there were also many loving, kind, helpful ladies, but the risk is just too great to me. I am not just thinking of something as grievous as molestation. I don't even want our children to be cared for by someone who is an adulteress, or otherwise sets a horrible example. 
  • It is more sanitary: I am not going to elaborate on this point. Think daycare - kids always get sick there. Back when our oldest two used to go to the nursery, they would get sick all the time, causing me to miss many services and making us miserable as we would all get sick from them.
The most common concern about babies and children being allowed in the service is that they will disrupt the preaching, keeping those in attendance from hearing the gospel, or applying the sermon because they will not reach a state of "conviction". 

For starters, church is not for preaching the gospel - that is something that should be done door to door, or before or after the service if there are unsaved visitors. The sermon is for the edification of believers. Even so, I would venture to guess that our church sees more people saved per capita and has members with stronger convictions than any church I have ever seen or heard of. Over 90% of our members go out door-to-door soulwinning regularly. Almost all have high standards in their personal lives, such as having no TV, homeschooling, and men who support and lead their families while the ladies stay home and raise the children that God blesses them with (as opposed to using birth control and pursuing a "career"). Almost all of our members are people that we reached - the "unchurched" - rather than transplants from other churches or those who have grown up in Christian homes. Apparently, having babies and young children in the service did not keep them from hearing and applying the preaching, and making substantial changes in their lives.

I am not saying that having or utilizing a nursery is a sin (although I do think that having a mandatory nursery policy is very wrong). But I am saying that it is unwise. It is also a waste of such a perfect opportunity to attend church as a family, and to just sit and cuddle/nurse your baby for and hour and a half three times a week - I mean, when else would I ever be able to do that in the middle of the daytime? Families thrive when they are allowed to be in church together.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Two unlikely words to go together

Those words are "green" and "smoothie". There, I said it. :)

While some people probably think I have already taken healthy eating way too far, there are many things that I am not willing to do or try, no matter the purported health benefits. "Green smoothies" used to fall into this category for me. I mean, it even sounds weird. 

Then we all got sick last month. The only thing worse than being sick, is being sick and having six sick children to care for. I knew I needed to get better ASAP, and have enough energy to do what needed to be done. Leafy greens with their abundance of B vitamins always make me feel great and full of energy, but I really do not much enjoy eating them, especially raw. So, I figured these smoothies were at least worth a try. I had been reading about them repeatedly on another blog.

Well, I'm here to tell you that not only did I live to tell the story, but they actually taste GOOD. They really do. Even my husband likes them, as do several of the kids. To be honest, it tastes just like a fruit smoothie, and not "green" at all.

Since then, I have been making a green smoothie most mornings, and splitting it with whoever was interested in having some. 

I usually combine in the blender, in this order:

1 apple, cored
1 orange, peeled
1 banana, peeled (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup blueberries, blackberries, or strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1 to 1 1/2 cups ice
1 to 1 1/2 cups water
2-3 cups spinach leaves 

This makes enough to fill about three tall glasses. It is a very quick and tasty way to get several servings of fruits  and leafy greens. Personally, I do not like eating breakfast, and really do not have time to sit down and enjoy one. As a result, I often do not have food until about 11 am - but I have enjoyed sipping on these smoothies during my busy mornings.

If you have never tried a "green smoothie" (I still cringe at the name), give them a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Easy brown rice pudding recipe

Our family loves rice pudding. The only problem is that it can get pretty pricey, considering it takes about three tubs of Kozy Shack rice pudding to feed us at snack time (more for breakfast). Also, I would rather use brown rice instead of white, less sugar, and milk from cows that are not a walking pharmacy.

Most rice pudding recipes I have found call for either using already cooked rice, which is then baked in the oven in a casserole dish, and/or using eggs. I don't like any of these methods.

Below is an adaptation of how we used to make rice pudding back in Germany when I was growing up. It's easy, quick, inexpensive, nutritious, and really yummy!

1. In a large, heavy saucepan that does NOT have non-stick coating (e.g., stainless steel), combine one part rice with two parts milk (anything from 1% to whole). For example, using 1 cup rice and 2 cups milk will yield about 3 cups of rice pudding. If you can remember to do this, start the night before by combining the rice and milk and soaking it overnight in the saucepan in the fridge.

Any rice will work, but my two favorite ones to use are short-grain brown rice, or brown sweet rice

2. Heat milk and rice over medium to high heat until the milk just barely starts bubbling. Reduce heat to low, making sure the milk is still simmering, cover with a lid, and cook until the rice is tender and has absorbed most of the milk. Stir occasionally.
3. When rice is tender and almost all milk has been absorbed, turn stove off, but allow the pot to sit another 10 minutes with the lid on. Add sugar to taste, stir, and serve. Some delicious toppings are pineapple chunks, pitted cherries, and cinnamon sugar.

If you try this recipe, please let me know how you liked it.

Edited to add: Depending on your tastes, you may wish to add vanilla extract to the finished rice pudding. Another version is to add cocoa powder and extra sugar to make chocolate-flavored rice pudding - refrigerated, it makes a nice dessert. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Happy Birthday Isaac!

Birthday Boy is on the far left

Isaac, our second oldest, turned 8 years old on Friday. He is such a little ray of sunshine. His name means "laughter", and it really suits him perfectly. Not only does he always have a happy disposition, but he is usually up to some funny mischief. He has been audibly laughing since the day he was born.

As usual, the kids woke up early, excited to watch Isaac opening his presents.

He has wanted a state quarter collection ever since we started learning about the different states this year.

A felt breakfast set to feed his stuffed bear, "Douglas".

For breakfast, Isaac had requested "palacsinta", which are basically the Hungarian version of crepes. He was busy playing with his gifts while I cooked, but Solomon took an interest in learning how to flip the palacsinta in the air after seeing me do it. I still remember learning how to flip them, and the excitement of it. He figured it out after only dropping one.

I love this picture! 

As usual for a day like this, it took us until about 11 am to have everyone cleaned up and dressed, lunch packed, baby fed, etc. until we pulled out of the driveway. We were going to the Arabian Horse Show in Scottsdale, because Isaac loves anything and everything to do with horses. All the children really enjoyed themselves there.

This is one of my favorite pictures of Isaac. It looks so much like my husband did at that age. He wanted to sit in the seat with the number 8 because it was his 8th birthday.

All six of them

Don't let this picture fool you - she insisted on being carried pretty much the entire time we were out.

Anna loves being held by Solomon, and he likes being the big brother and carrying her around. 

The crowd at the show was definitely an interesting one. We kind of stood out with our "large" family, and several dozen people commented on how beautiful and well-behaved the children were. That is, until a couple of them started running back and forth on the mostly empty bleachers in the back while I was nursing Anna and handing out sandwiches to the other kids. An elderly couple quickly got up and looked for seats in the next section, and really, I could totally empathize with them. Later, another lady rolled her eyes at me repeatedly for having six kids, and taking them all out by myself, especially with a "newborn". It didn't offend me at all - in another life, I would probably have felt like her. Funny thing is, she can probably handle keeping 6 rambunctious colts in line at the same time, something I could never do. To each his own. What did stand out to me were all the people there who treated their dogs like babies. We're talking strollers and sling-type carriers. These weren't teacup chihuahuas, either - all mid-size dogs, including a bulldog. A bulldog, in a stroller? Really? I am surprised these people have not yet come up with some way to diaper and breastfeed their dogs, too. Oh, that's right, they now have dog diapers. But I digress.

After several hours there, we headed home in the evening, but not without making a pit-stop at Krispy Kreme for Isaac's free dozen of birthday doughnuts. Oh, I know it is NOT a good place to eat. I am afraid if I do not allow the kids to continue this unhealthy, but traditional yearly indulgence, they will write me off as a health food fanatic when they grow up. What's doughnuts once a year, right? :)

Back at home, it was the usual bedtime routine (i.e. loud and chaotic), but Isaac got to stay up for a good hour past his siblings. I asked him if there was anything else he wanted to do to make his birthday better, and he said he couldn't think of anything. He is always such a sweetheart. So instead, we just sat on the sofa and I told him about the day he was born.

We waited to make his special birthday dinner until the following night, so my husband could be there for it. He had asked for hamburgers, fresh fries, and fried onion rings. 

We didn't do a party for Miriam and Isaac this year, but we are going to take the whole family on a quick trip to Legoland in CA later this month. 

This concludes the birthday season in our family for the next 7 months.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Valentine's Birthday Girl

Miriam was born on Valentine's Day, four years ago. Our first daughter, after three sons. She is the perfect little love bug, so this birthday suits her well.

We had a nice, quiet day celebrating her birthday. After she opened her gifts, I fixed her breakfast of choice - bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, and toast. Such a simple gesture, but it made her so happy. She is very easy to please.

 I made a box of sweets from felt as a gift, because she loves playing with pretend sweets.

 This bow holder will come in very handy for her growing collection of hair pretties. I made it for her birthday, along with all the clips that are on it. 

Around 11, we finally manged to make it out of the house. I took all the kids to an indoor play town, something they had been asking me to do. Sadly, since we last went (at least a year ago), Solomon has grown up so much that he had little to no interest in playing there, and Isaac was starting to not be as interested as he used to be. They didn't complain or say anything, it was just evident by the way they sat there, just watching their younger siblings playing. How sad is that? I used to be a mom of babies. Then I had babies and young children. Now, there are older kids and younger ones, and babies. It's easier in some ways, but it's harder in other ways. Watching them grow into adults right before my eyes is one of the sadder parts of parenting. Then I smell Anna's baby head, and kiss her soft cheeks, and life is wonderful no matter what.


We headed back home around 2 for a late lunch of Miriam's choosing (hot dogs, of course), and then skipped nap time in favor of picking up the free dozen doughnuts at Krispy Kreme that they give out to everyone on their birthday. Wow, how much junk food can we possibly cram into one day???

Back at home, we spent a quiet evening of building Legos, storytime, and the usual bedtime routine. Because it was her birthday, Miriam wanted me to read "Cat in the Hat" to her. She knows I don't much enjoy reading it because I have read it probably over 500 times in my life, and have it practically memorized. That was all she wanted - she didn't even ask to get to stay up late because it was her birthday. Still, I put her in bed last of all the children, after lots of cuddling on the sofa, and telling her about the day she was born. She again insisted that she wanted to stay living with us when she grew up, and never get married, because otherwise she would miss me too much. What a little sweetheart! She really has a heart of gold.

Life has its ups and downs, but these little precious souls have a way of putting it all in perspective. They make every day special just by their presence. I'll say it yet again: they grow up too fast. You blink your eyes, and they are no longer babies. You blink again, and they are almost as tall as you. One more blink, and they will be adults. I used to wonder why God didn't equip children with an "off" button. Now I wonder why there isn't a "rewind", or at least a "pause".

Ah, birthdays are so bittersweet.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Recent happenings

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. Below are some pictures from a field trip we took to the Wells Fargo Museum in downtown Phoenix. It was so much fun. The museum offers many hands-on activities for children, such as printing their face on money or an old newspaper, using a telegraph, riding in a replica of a stagecoach, and many more. The kids had a blast. Best of all, it's free! If you live in the area, or come for a visit, you should definitely visit it.


The kids have SO LOVED getting cards, letters, and even some packages from others across the country (and even one from Canada). Thank you all so much! We are sending everyone who included their sending address a card back, so be watching your mailboxes for that. This picture was taken last week, so not everyone's card is included in it.

And then, boy, oh boy, we have all been sick with a bad cold/flu since Monday last week. While at it's worst it only lasted about 24-36 hours, we got sick one after the other, so it's been dragging on. My husband was the first to come down with it, and the last one to get well - he spent a whole week unable to even get out of bed, and is still feeling tired and sick, but getting better. He didn't even preach last Wednesday night, or this last Sunday morning. Tonight, he preached, but his throat is hurting badly again now. The rest of us didn't get it near as bad. There was one day last week when both of us parents were too ill to even want to get up, but three of the kids were also sick and had to be cared for (in addition to a needy newborn). It was a pretty long and shall I say terrible day. Other than my husband, the only one who is still sick is Becky. She is very congested and has a cough, but I started her on a natural cough syrup this morning that is doing wonders for her. I am so thankful for medical professionals who actually know what they are doing, and know how to help the body heal itself.

Because everyone wanted to lie on the sofas, and there was limited space, I dragged the girls' little beds out to the living room for several days. That way, they were not too bored alone in bed in their rooms, and it was easier for me to keep an eye on everyone and bring them what they needed. Only one of their beds is shown in the picture, but I brought both out. Becky has been keeping me up a lot the last couple of nights. Not only does she cough loudly, but she also asks for water throughout the night, or for me to put her blanket back on her just so. I am understandably tired. The boys have been super good about helping me by reading to the girls to keep them entertained, helping with chores and laundry, and leaving me sweet and encouraging notes.

It has been unusually cold for Arizona this last week. In fact, we even dipped below freezing for a couple of nights! The water in our spa had a thin layer of ice. Sadly, frost kills the lemons on our lemon tree, and any blooms that it already had. I was able to pull several buckets of the lemons off the tree before the frost so we could juice them and freeze the juice. But normally, the lemons stay good on the tree until late April or early May, giving us fresh lemons for half the year.

Well, I'm off to bed. I hope everyone has a nice rest of this week.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Biscuit recipe

These biscuits are super easy and quick to make - 20 minutes from when you pull the ingredients out until they are ready to serve. Better yet, they bake up fluffy and light, and taste just as great served alongside soup at dinner as spread with butter and jelly for a quick breakfast.

Originally, I discovered the recipe here. The only changes I made were to convert from self-rising flour to regular, and to substitute with half whole wheat instead of white.

1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (preferably soft wheat/pastry flour)
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Dump dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Pour cream in, starting with the lower amount. Knead, adding more cream if necessary to achieve a soft, elastic dough that pulls together into a ball, but is still a bit sticky. How much cream you need will depend on how thick your cream is.

If you have a KitchenAid stand mixer, use the paddle attachment on speed 2, and slowly pour cream into the mixer as it is running. 

Stop kneading as soon as the dough reaches the desired consistency. Roll out on a floured surface, about as thick as your index finger. Cut into rounds using a biscuit cutter or drinking glass, and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Re-roll and cut out scraps, trying not to incorporate too much extra flour. 

Bake for about 8 minutes, or until biscuits just start to turn golden. Best served warm. This recipe is enough to make one large baking sheet full of biscuits (about 20 small biscuits as seen above, or a dozen large ones).

If you try this recipe, please leave a comment below about how you liked them, or any changes/suggestions/improvements you can share.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Natural remedies for the cold and flu

Someone recently asked for how I treat the usual cold/flu that goes around this time of year. Below are some of the things that have worked for us.

  • Stay away from sugar and refined carbs: This may seem obvious, but germs will thrive if you feed them simple sugars.
  • Eat healing foods: Fresh citrus in the form of lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit provides lots of vitamin C. Garlic is a "miracle cure" for most infections. Ginger reduces fever, and calms nauseous stomachs. Cayenne pepper "turns up the heat" on the germs that are causing the illness. Try to think of fresh foods that combine some of these ingredients, such as guacamole made with fresh garlic, a bit of lime juice, and cayenne pepper. 
  • Soup made from scratch: Not just chicken soup, although that is always a great option. The warm, salty broth is both soothing to the throat, and gentle on upset stomachs. 
  • Garlic/ginger lemonade: In a blender or food processor, mix a couple of cloves of garlic, or a 1-inch piece of ginger, with half of a peeled lemon, about a quarter cup of honey, and a half cup of water. Blend until smooth. Pretty strong stuff, but very effective.
  • Honey: Local, raw honey can both soothe sore throats, as well as help fight the illness. Raw honey is usually crystallized, and can be a bit hard to find. Beekeepers often sell their honey at local farmer's markets or through craigslist.
  • Cough syrup: I make a very simple, yet highly effective cough syrup by slicing a large onion, and heating it in a little pot with an equal amount (by volume) of honey over the lowest heat on my stove. The syrup is ready after a couple of hours, but becomes more potent the longer it simmers. Usually, I give a tablespoon every hour or two. Surprisingly, this syrup is actually quite tasty, and our kids have never complained about taking it. After a few hours on the stove, I refrigerate the syrup to keep it from spoiling, and use it over the next couple of days, if necessary. It usually works very quickly.
  • Vick's vapor rub: I love using this at night for coughs that are making it impossible to sleep. I rub it on the chest and back, and then bundle my "patient" under warm covers to enhance its effectiveness. If you are using it on a child, be sure to explain to him/her that they should not touch the ointment, as they may otherwise accidentally rub it on their face or eyes. 
  • Ricola cough drops: While sugars are really something to be avoided, these particular cough drops are very effective at quieting coughs and soothing throats.
  • Elderberry Zinc lozenges: These are pretty tasty, and very effective. During cold season, our health food store regularly sells out of them, so others must find them helpful, too. 
  • Super Lysine Plus Extract: Directions are given on the bottle. A very potent immune booster, I consider this one of the "big guns" of my natural medicine cabinet, and use it only for more severe illnesses, such as the flu, a sinus infection, strep throat, etc. The extract also contains other highly effective supplements, such as echinacea, goldenseal, and propolis.
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE): Another highly potent natural supplement. Use as directed on the bottle, or research suggested treatment online.
  • Garlic Mullein oil: A great remedy for ear infections! There are several brands on the market, but my favorite is the one made by Herb Pharm. Directions are given on the bottle.

Remember, I am not a medical professional. Educate yourself about any treatments you read about online, or are suggested by your physician. None of the above mentioned remedies are appropriate for infants and babies.

Personally, when our kids get a cold or flu, I observe and treat them at home for about 24 to 48 hours. If they are not significantly improving by that point, I take them to the doctor to make sure they dont't have something more serious than a bad cold or flu. Thankfully, none of our children has ever had anything more serious than that, but I was still glad to have taken them in the couple of times that these remedies didn't heal them right away.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Evolution Art Contest

Please head over to my husband's blog to read about (and hopefully participate) in his Evolution Art Contest.

You can listen to the Sunday night sermon in its entirety here, or watch it below.