Friday, December 9, 2011

Things I'm Thankful For

For a few beautiful weeks this year I thought I would be having a baby (girl) this week.  Sunday was my official due date, but I probably would have delivered early, which means if I'd had things my way, I would probably already have been holding a beautiful new child and been in love all over again.  But it wasn't my way.  However, believe it or not, I am actually thankful that this did not turn out my way.  Obviously I don't mean I don't wish for that fourth child.  But this year was clearly not God's timing for that.  And here's a few reasons why.

1. Over the summer, God made it clear that it was time for me to have my gallbladder removed.  I could not have had it out while pregnant (except in the case of an emergency) and I am so THANKFUL that it is gone!  I am almost pain-free in that department, other than some residual nerve issues, and am so thankful to no longer be dealing with the horrible pain that plagued me for years.

2. Since this spring, God has brought significant change and healing to our marriage.  Perhaps this could also have been achieved while I was pregnant, but pregnancy changes things and I'll never know for sure.  So, instead I'll just be thankful to Him for giving us the time and opportunities to make some changes.  God has dramatically changed our relationship in several ways and has dramatically changed me as a person and a wife and I am so thankful.

3. Lyme Disease.  Need I say more?  But I will...not only does having Lyme make one completely exhausted and barely able to function some days, it also is transferable through the placenta to the baby.  If I had had been pregnant when I contracted Lyme this Fall, not only would the added stress on my body from the exhaustion been horrendous, but I would not have been able to have been treated with the first kind of antibiotics that are always used with Lyme and would have had to worry about giving birth to a child with Lyme Disease in her blood.  And I cannot imagine being in the later months of a pregnancy with both Philip and I being so wiped out and still being able to care for our three children and Philip continue working.

As much as I wanted that baby, I am thankful for God's sovereignty on not allowing it for this season.  Instead, our number of children in Heaven exceeds the number here on earth for now.  Who knows how Heaven works as new souls arrive, but perhaps God allowed our last lost son, Luke, who would have turned two this week, to welcome our new little into the presence of God.

His Will Be Done.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Happy...and Sad

This must be a good time of year for lots of folks.  Facebook is full of pictures of weddings and big baby bellies and cute new arrivals.  I have many, many friends having babies this year and next.  I have one friend having a baby as I type right now!  It's a beautiful thing really, especially as for many friends this is their first child, and I am so happy for them.  There is nothing like having that first baby.  I am looking at mine right now...he'll be 8 in a few days.  I was so young when he was born that I think I hardly appreciated the awe and wonder of becoming a mom for the first time.  Or maybe even the second time.  Andrew was a different story.  Losing two pregnancies before having Andrew taught me a lot about how precious each child is and how much of a blessing it is to be gifted with another child to raise.

Even after losing the two babies between Joshua and Andrew I don't remember ever doubting that I would eventually have another child.  I didn't know when it when be, but I knew he was coming.  But now I feel like I am in a different place.  I am honestly and truly wondering if I will ever be blessed with another child via my own pregnancy.  And that is a really hard idea to swallow.  I have lost two more babies since Andrew was born, but that's not really what this is about.  It's more about my body and just not knowing what's going on with it.  First we had to deal with the gallbladder problem and all the complications associated with it.  Now that problem is mercifully gone, but in it's place I apparently have some internal scarring near the surgery site that I wonder what will happen to if I were pregnant again.  And then there is this mysterious sickness that I am currently suffering from.  Perhaps the antibiotics will take care of this and in a month or two I'll read back over this entry and laugh at how faithless and silly I was to doubt that my body would be ok for another pregnancy any time in the near future.  But I am not in that position right now.  And I guess that's not the position God wants me in.

I sense that He's trying to do something in me with regard to my view of more children, but I can't see the end of it yet.  And as is often the case when I'm in the middle of something God is teaching me, it hurts.  It hurts so much that I have actually started crying several times recently as I have looked at Andrew and my heart has just ached at the possibility of never bearing another child.  How far I have come from the years when I just had to get looked at by Philip to get pregnant and not feeling sure I was ready to struggling with being able to conceive and sustain a pregnancy.  My heart has certainly changed and I can now understand to some degree the pain and longing that those who are truly infertile deal with.  The empty arms and the longing heart.  My arms and heart aren't truly fact they are very full with three beautiful sons.  But in my heart I know there are more children that are meant to fill our home and my heart aches and longs for them.

From one of my favorite chapters in the Bible: Psalm 34:18 "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."  Today I am thankful for this promise.

And I am happy for all those new lives coming in to the world.  Those babies have some special parents. :)


Philip and I are sick.  We don't know why.  We wish we knew why.  We hope the antibiotics we're on are going to kill this thing dead.  Forever.  But we might be a little worried that it won't.  We suspect it might be Lyme (although so far the tests are not confirming this, which is probably a good thing).  We thought it might be mold, but that's not looking too probable at this point.  It's responding to antibiotics.  So what IS it?  We'd appreciate your prayers that we're able to identify what this is and eradicate it.  And please pray it's not Lyme.  That nasty stuff is life-altering and I'd really like to have more babies, God willing.  It's more than a little scary not knowing what's making you sick when the symptoms make living life and working at a job challenging.  So we're praying for God to heal us and we're praying for us to trust Him while we wait for answers.   Thanks for praying with us.

Birthday Boys

Philip and Caleb have birthdays 10 days apart, so we celebrated them both last week.  I had been so tired in the days and weeks preceding Philip's birthday (since our Niagara trip, really) that it was destined to not be much to write home about.  I had been planning to make him a cheesecake, but the day before I had to negotiate him down for brownies.  I didn't have the energy to make cheesecake.  His brownies barely even got iced I had so little energy on Thursday.  And we didn't get a picture, so don't ask.  I haven't even written his birthday card yet.  Sad.  The good news is that I started on an antibiotic on Thursday night and by Friday had some energy and by Saturday morning I had enough energy to work too hard and restrain my internal scar tissue from my surgery.  Go Angela.  Anyway, I was able to decorate Caleb's cake in an ocean theme, which is what he asked for, and get gifts wrapped and the house cleaned before our guests arrived at noon.  Sounds like no big thing, but when you've been feeling like death warmed over for a was a big thing.

Philip, Caleb and Joshua went camping with another dad and his sons on Friday night as Phase 1 of the birthday celebration.  Then we all assembled here Saturday for lunch, play time and cake and ice cream.  It was low-key, but everyone had a good time, even the three year olds. :)

I can't believe Caleb is 8 (or will be in a few days).  As they say, the days have dragged, but the years have flown.  There are so many great things about having an 8 year old.  We are really enjoying the greater maturity and his ability to really participate with many activities.  We're so thankful for him!

The birthday boys

Caleb kept laughing and the air from his nose blew out half the candles.  The irony is that when he tried to blow the candles out, he had trouble!  

Playing one of the new games Caleb received: Pathwords.  He loves games that require thinking!  And Joshua, well, he loves being Joshua.

Happy 8th Birthday, Caleb!  We love you!

P.S. I love Philip, too.  We're just not quite as excited at his getting old. :)
P.P.S. I will be making Philip a cheesecake one of these days.  Probably.

It's Back!

Poor Joshua left his treasured "Bibi" (blanket) in his bed at the hotel we stayed at in Toronto.  Note to self: always check the sheets for kids sleeping items before leaving a hotel.  Lesson learned on that one.  We realized we had left it when we reached Buffalo the following evening.  I was really worried at this point as to whether ANY of us would be getting sleep that night since the blanket (which had recently been renamed "Bubba" after the blanket of a character in a book we recently read) was an important part of Joshua's ability to go to sleep.  However, he handled it very well for a six year old and soon accepted one of Andrew's little blankets as an replacement and went to sleep.

Unfortunately, while I was able to call the hotel and immediately verify that they had found the blanket and were holding it in "Lost and Found", they were unwilling to help us get it back.  We would have to send a courier who would provide their own packing materials to come get the blanket, package it up, fill out the customs form, etc.  So much for friendly Canadians. I couldn't believe they wouldn't at least box it up.  The rest would have been easy at the point.  But no. :(  And so we wondered if we would ever get it back.

Enter my local friend Jess whose husband is Canadian and had some friends in the Toronto area.  They were able to locate one who was willing to go get the blanket and mail it for us.  Joshua knew it was coming and for days whenever a package arrived (which was often), he would ask "Is that Bubba?!"  But no, it never was.  Finally on Friday afternoon just as the boys were headed out to go arrived!  Here are the happily reunited pair:

So MUCH for friendly Canadians!  Chris, we're so thankful for your efforts on our behalf!  Don't think we'll ever be staying at the Park Inn in Toronto again, but we sure are grateful for the kindness of strangers.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bakin' Stuff - Sandwich Cookies

This fall, well really the last few weeks, I've been hooked on sandwich cookies.  I made some last at least a year ago...they are just so much more time consuming than regular cookies I didn't make them again until about 10 days ago...and then I remembered how yummy they are.  I first remade the ones from last year: Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies, filled with peanut butter cream and dipped in dark chocolate.

Then I got to thinking.  What other kind of sandwich cookie could I make?  It's fall, so I thought pumpkin.  That got me thinking about this Gingersnap Pumpkin Cream Pie I've made a few times and so I thought why not try a ginger cookie with pumpkin cream filling.  So, I hunted around for a good ginger cookie recipe.  I finally settled on one that I had made a few years ago and deemed good, but kind of blah.  So I baked them up, discovering that I needed to not flatten them before baking if I wanted a slightly more textured (and more attractive) outside.  Then I tried to make pumpkin cream following the same recipe I used in the peanut butter cookies, but subbing pumpkin for peanut butter.  The problem I had was that pumpkin is much softer than PB, so I had to add a lot more powdered sugar to get it thick enough.  I also added some vanilla and pumpkin pie spice and then said, well, let's give it a go.  I made half the cookies into sandwiches (figuring I should leave some plain in case they were a disaster) and put them in the fridge to get the filling to firm up.  Philip and Caleb tried one a few hours later after dinner and both of them went nuts.  Bear in mind, Philip is NOT a cookie person at all.  I made up the other half and put them in the fridge.  I brought some to a get together the next day and everyone went crazy for them, so I guess I am onto something with the combo.

Sorry, forgot to take a picture until there was one measly cookie left.  This is one of the ones I flattened before cooking and doesn't have as nice of a texture.

SO, if you're also hankerin' for sandwich cookies, here are the recipes I used.

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies:
I made the following changes: I used slightly more flour, old fashioned oats and flattened with a glass immediately after removing from the oven.  I also made them much smaller.  Using a regular sized cookie scoop you will yield about 40 cookies.  I felt like that size made the cookie too much once filled and dipped, so I used a tiny scoop and got 65-70 cookies.  I found that 1/2 a recipe of the filling was sufficient.  I used a melted dark chocolate chip (ghiradelli) for the dipping.

Big Soft Ginger Cookies:
I made the following changes: I added 50% more spice and used butter, not margarine. I also used 3/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar.  I froze the dough for 30 minutes before baking.  Again, I used the tiny scoop and I think I got about 60 cookies.  I rolled them in sugar prior to baking...I think next time I'll use a larger grain sugar, not just regular white.  I cooked them on parchment paper and flattened slightly immediately after removing from the oven.  I allowed them to cool on the parchment paper for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then slide the paper onto the counter top to continue cooling.  This helps lock in the moisture.  To make the filling, I used something along these lines:  1/3-1/2 cup canned pumpkin, 1.5 Tablespoon softened butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (guessing on this, just add until it tastes like spices!), maybe 2 Tablespoons of whipping cream and maybe a 1/2 teaspoon or so of vanilla.  This will firm up in the fridge, so you can cool first, or use as is, then refrigerate the cookies.

Good luck!  Let me know if you make them!

Family Photos

We were LONG overdue to have a family picture done.  In fact, the last time we had a family picture "taken" by someone other than a family member, Caleb was about a year old.  And it was at Wal-Mart.  So yeah, it was time.  I kept putting it off for a variety of reasons, including I didn't want to take a picture and a few months later have another child who wasn't in it, but at this point I've given up on trying to schedule around that and figured it was time to just seize the day.  My friend Kristen and her husband lived with us for about six weeks this summer while they were in a housing transition and she's a professional photographer.  So, we figured she'd be a great person to do the pics.  Her prices were reasonable too, so if you're looking to get pictures done, drop her a line.  We went out to a Winery in the middle of nowhere and got some lovely shots.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Those boys o' mine

I just love everything about this picture. :)

Two peas in a pod.

Have You Met...

Mr. Putter and Tabby?  These books have been a hit in our house since we first discovered them a couple of years ago.  Now, we have a new little fan.  Andrew, at 3.5, has officially moved on to stories from board books and just loves Mr. Putter and Tabby.  We usually only read two books at nap time, but since discovering these, he usually starts the negotiations at five and we work our way down from there. :)

Our very favorite one from the series is Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears, but some of our other favorites are Paint the Porch, Stir the Soup, Feed the Fish, See the Stars and Bake the Cake.  Not only are the stories cute and heart warming, but the illustrations are just perfect.  We just love these books and give them frequently as gifts to other little people we love.  The Loudoun County Library carries all of them, so if you haven't read them, go check them out!

School in our House

Not surprisingly, I get asked often about home schooling and how we do it, what curriculum we use, etc.  So, I thought I'd do a post answering some of those questions.  This year is the most consistently we have done school and the most time we've put in each day.  It helps that Joshua is finally ready to fully engage.  We're out on Wednesday mornings, so we typically do the other four days a week from 9:00-11:30 AM, covering five subjects a day.

First of all, here are my students.  Caleb - 2nd Grade and Joshua - 1st Grade

We use the Sonlight Curriculum.  We are currently using our 4th "Core" from Sonlight.  This year the Core focuses on World History from around 0 AD to present.  Last year we did World History, part 1.

The Core from Sonlight (SL) includes Bible, History/Geography, and Read-Aloud books.  In addition to that, we are using SL Science 1 (it took us two years to get through Science K, so we're a little behind!), Horizons Math (2 for Caleb and 1 for Joshua) and a hodge-podge of Language Arts Materials.  We are using SL's program for some of it and then some additional work books.

This year I made each of the boys their own notebook (Caleb's pictured below) to have a place to keep their paperwork and activity sheets.  Joshua is holding the Science Activities book because, other than geography, science is his favorite subject.  Caleb is also holding one of this favorite books A Child's History of the World, which is the primary history text for this year.

 Our Bible this year includes selected readings from the whole Bible, so it has us moving through the text much quicker than last year where we read all the way through both Genesis and Exodus and some of the Psalms, Proverbs and New Testament.  It also has the "Awesome Book of Bible Facts" scheduled, but frankly, for these kids who are already very well versed in Bible facts and history, it's not quite so awesome.  We are also doing the assigned Bible memory work.  Additionally, we are participating in Community Bible Study at a local church and the boys have to complete lessons each week, same as me.  This year we're studying the book of John.  It's been great for them to be in a more classroom-like environment once a week and learn how to study the Bible in the process. 

Here's our history/geography books.  Joshua was determined not to like Window on the World at the beginning of the year, but I think it's actually grown on him.  Each reading highlights a country of the world, talking some about both the spiritual state of the country, and what life is like there.  Then it concludes with giving ways you can pray for that specific country, which we always do.

Here's what Sonlight's Core Schedule looks like it.  This is one of the two main reasons I chose SL.  We don't follow it exactly the way they break it out, for example, we only do His/Geo twice a week, so we cover all five days worth of readings in 2-3 days, instead of five.  But, the framework is all there and I don't have to figure out the pacing or ordering myself.  Beautiful.  The other thing I love about SL is that it is a literature-based curriculum, meaning they don't use textbooks, per se.  I may want another approach when the boys are older, but for now when I just want to focus on broadening their horizons and for them to LOVE learning, this works wonderfully!  They love school time and always complain when we stop reading.

This year we decided to add in a foreign language, so we bought Rosetta Stone Spanish (Spain edition).  Each of the boys does it for 20-30 minutes twice a week.  It's slow going, but they are learning some and at least are being exposed to another language.  

We also decided to add a typing program.  This is the HIT of school time.  The boys had never really done anything on the computer before and the typing program is geared towards kids, so it includes lots of games to practice typing.  This is their favorite part of school.  And it really is helping them learn to type.  They "hen pecked" before whenever they wanted to type something, but are now much more's cool to see.

Andrew, who is now 3.5 years, spends most of our school time just entertaining himself.  We school for about 2.5 hours a day, four days a week, so that's quite a bit of time for him on his own.  He usually stays in the family room with us or the kitchen with play-doh.  Here is his creation from this morning.

And here he is all dressed up and nowhere to go. :)

One of my favorite things about home schooling is that it gives the kids hours every day to just play and be creative.  Joshua's other great love right now is space.  On the wall over his bed he now has huge solar system stickers and a poster or two. And of course, his collection also includes the infamous Planet Mars, of Andrew's Nose Fame.  In addition to that, has created his own solar system for his door.  In case you're wondering that all those extra pieces on the left are, that's the Kuiper Belt (asteroids) that go around the Sun and several of our planets.  He loves his space room and solar system collection so much that he has declared his room to be a museum.  He now has an "Open"/"Not Open" sign on the outside of his door.  I laugh every night when I go into his room to turn his fan off and see the "Not Open" sign. 

 It's not astronauts and space exploration he loves, but the planets and such, but here he is posing anyway in the Ontario Science Museum.  I think he makes a pretty good looking astronaut. :)

Anyway, we love home schooling and are so thankful that it works well for our family during this time of our life.  If you're considering it, I'd love to talk to you!

Our Trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto

A few weeks ago our family took a five day trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto.  No particular reason, we just up and decided to go.  I am so glad we did!  The weather forecast was looking bad as we prepared for our trip, but we prayed and prayed that we would have one nice day at Niagara...and we did!  The first day we got there is started to rain not long afterwards, so we decided since we were already wet, we might as well get wetter!  We took the Cave of the Winds tour where you go down to the base of Bridal Veil Falls (the smallest of the Falls).  You're right there out in the water coming off the Falls and so it's quite powerful water...and pretty wet!  The boys went onto what's called the Hurricane Deck and got soaked.  They were thrilled. :)

Here are the boys at the top of the American Falls right after they got their first view

And on the overlook by the Canadian Horseshoe Falls

The day we arrived was our 9th Anniversary 10-12!

Here we are at the bottom of Cave of the Winds

On the Hurricane Deck.  Looks delightful, doesn't it?

We stayed both nights in a hotel on the Canadian side, so after getting sufficiently wet, we dried the kids off in the car, had some dinner and went over the boarder.  We were all so completely exhausted that *I* was ready to go to bed at 7pm!  I think I managed to hold out until 9, but our whole trip was like that...exhausting!

Thursday was a beautiful day.  Sunny and clear for most of the day and almost 70*.  Here's a beautiful view of parts of all three falls.  Since we went in October, the foliage was incredible, too.  It was hard to capture with my camera, but it was stunning.  

We took the Trolley all through the State Park.  That was a fun, pretty ride.  Our feet appreciated the rest, as well.

Getting ready to board "Maid of the Mist".  Andrew did not want to go on the boat.

At the base of the American Falls

Caleb and Joshua loved it, of course

When we started getting wet, Andrew was not a happy camper. "Get me off this boat!", he yelled!

There were rainbows everywhere.

Here we are lunching right by the top of the American Falls.  It's really quite amazing how close you can get!

Friday morning we drove up to Toronto, only about a two hour drive, even with heavy traffic going into the city.  We spent the day at the Ontario Science Center, where Andrew had a massive meltdown at lunch time. He was exhausted.  Need I say more?  A two hour nap in the car with Philip after lunch seemed to help.  Saturday, it was still cloudy and windy, but we decided since we were there, we would go ahead and go to the CN Tower.  This used to be the highest free standing building in the world, but there are now two higher ones.   I was concerned about paying so much money and not really being able to see much, but as it turns out, the horizon was clear enough that we were actually able to see across Lake Ontario to the city of Niagara Falls and even see the mist of the Falls.  Pretty amazing.  

The Tower includes a "Glass Floor".  Andrew thought it was pretty awesome.  The other boys were like "Let's get out of here,"

Andrew loved being up so high.  He kept saying "Let's to higher!"  This was as high as we were able to go, the Sky Pod about 300 feet above the first observation deck, and about 1465 ft up.  This is the level we could see Niagara Falls from, although we didn't know what we were looking for when we were lower, so it's possible it was visible from there, as well.

After our trip up the CN Tower, we got out of dodge, err....Toronto.  We headed down to Buffalo, NY to stay the night before heading home on Sunday.  Sadly, we realized when arriving in the Buffalo hotel that Joshua's beloved blanket was left in the bed in Toronto.  When I called the hotel, they said they had it and asked when I wanted to come pick it up.  Ummm....we live kind of a long way away, I explained.  They were unwilling to mail it or even box it up, so the situation looked pretty sad until a local friend found a friend who lives in Toronto and was willing to go rescue it for us.  It's been mailed and every time a package arrives, Joshua asks "Is that my bi-bi?"  We're still waiting, but hopefully those two will be reunited soon!

We were thoroughly unimpressed with Buffalo, but the boys were happy to get to visit a second Great Lake, Erie.  It was unbelievably windy and cold that morning, so Andrew and I stayed in the car while the others braved the elements to get close to the Lake.  Here they are on a seawall right by the shore.

And here's the boys right before all three of them went over the wall and got slammed with a massive, freezing cold wave from the lake!  They got soaked!  Fortunately we had almost enough clean, dry clothes left to get them changed.  I say almost because Caleb wound up in recycled socks. :)  But hey, what a story!  Soaked at Lake Erie!  

So, it was a wonderful trip and we're wondering where else we can go next time we get a hankerin' to travel.   Lots of options, I am sure. 

My Recipe Book

I have been forced out of my blogging slump by a friend who wants to see my recipe book.  Problem: she lives in Georgia.  So I thought, maybe I should just blog about it. :)  Whenever I speak to groups about "Strategic Grocery Shopping" (which has been three times in the last three weeks...and once more next week!), I always bring my recipe book along and talk about it because it has been a lifesaver for our family when it comes to meal planning.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I struggle with coming up with meals that sound appealing to me one at a time, nevermind doing it four or five at a time!  If I were left to own devices, we'd be in trouble.  So, fortunately, about four years ago I put together my recipe book.  I like it so much more than the handwritten one I had before (which contained my mom's recipes and others I had collected over time) because that one was not organized.  You know how it goes, spaghetti recipe followed by brownie recipe followed chicken recipe.  So confusing.  So, a few years ago, I typed up all the recipes that I loved from the book, formatted everything nicely, categorized it and created my book.  Of course, it's probably almost doubled in size since that as I've been broadening our horizons.

Here's how my book is organized:

The overall Table of contents.  

Here you can kind of see the various colors for the sections (see above)

This is the Table of Contents for the Chicken Section.  Recipes that are *** are the ones we tend to make most often and those are the ones printed on the colored pages.  A nice theory, but I am not sure that it actually helps me find anything quicker. :)

Those blue chicken recipes.  As you can see, at the bottom of each page it lists what section it's part of and what page number it is.  We created a separate document for each section, which makes it easy to update the table of contents and to print the new recipes.  Simply paste into the document, apply the formatting and print!

Yes, the dessert section is about 3-4 times longer than all the other sections.  This is page one of two...or three.  Who knows.  Anyway, what can I say.  I like to bake dessert.  :)

Some of my fave dessert recipes.  I can post this out where the whole world can see them because I actually modify a few things. :)

And here is the super-technologically advanced way we track our meal plan.  Stunning, huh?  I always have an excess of these long, lined pads, so they work perfectly for this.  I always make a note on the days/evenings that will particularly busy so we can plan for leftovers or for Philip to cook. 

There you have it!  Hope it inspires you to make one of your own!