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Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Musings: Week 13 & Quarterly Report

Today is the last day of March. We're 1/4 of the way through our spending challenge. It's hard to believe Easter is almost here.

Here are my stats.

This week's spending was pretty small. (It's amazing how easy it is to stop spending when your transmission is out and you have no wheels!)

Week 13 Spending
Leah's School Project      
Piano Lessons                  
Algebra text

First Quarter Spending (Weeks 1-13)
Piano Lessons
Hair Care
Discretionary Cash

Here are some thoughts.

Initially, I found these numbers discouraging. Of course, my spending was much higher than I wanted it, and my savings were much lower. Upon a more careful examination, I realized that I’ve reduced household spending by a little more than 33%. I was already operating on a lean budget for a family of 8, especially one with 3 hungry teenage boys. That’s not too bad, but I can do better.

Instead of coming up short at the end of each month, I have money in the bank, including an emergency fund.

After groceries, my area of greatest savings was "Miscellaneous." That's no surprise since I've tried to eliminate all discretionary spending.

My biggest "bust" category was entertainment -- no surprise there either.

If I continue at this pace for the rest of the year, I can save almost $5400. This should be enough to pay for Esther’s orthodontic work which we’re scheduled to begin in April.

My goals for the next quarter are:
·       further reduce grocery spending by only purchasing dairy products, produce, and staples
·       reduce produce spending by growing our own vegetables
·       can or freeze garden produce when possible
·       reduce spending for school expenses
·       limit eating out to once a month
·       find free/inexpensive forms of family entertainment

I’m learning as I go. This move toward a more minimalist lifestyle doesn’t come easily, but I can see the progress we’re making, and I’m encouraged.

Friday, March 28, 2014

David's Adoption Story

The adorable baby pictured here is David, our child #3 and son #2. Today, at 19, he no longer fits in a laundry basket. He has successfully transitioned from the safety net of home education to taking  a 21 credit hour load each semester at our local junior college. David is excelling in school, and is a witness for Christ in his classes and in his role as a volunteer firefighter. He's always ready to laugh and adds a wonderful dimension to our family. I can't even imagine life without him.

It seems like only a very few years ago we received a morning call from our adoption agency asking if Syd could come home so they could do our home study TODAY. It had only been 5 weeks since we had contacted them asking if we could be considered as potential adoptive parents. Those five weeks were a whirlwind of paperwork, meetings, more paperwork, interviews, etc.

The agency director, dear Miss Teri Blanton, arrived early in the afternoon, with a very wet behind the ears intern in tow. We sat in the living room having a cheery conversation while Rachel (5) and Nathan (3) played nicely. I'll never forget the look on the intern's face when Rachel pulled out Eric Carle's The Very Quiet Cricket and proceeded to "read" it to Nathan.

"'Good morning,' said the spittlebug, slurping in a sea of froth," Rachel intoned in her sweet little five-year old voice.

The intern thought Rachel was a genius and I was a wonder mother. In her mind, we had passed the home visit test with flying colors. After wrapping up the formalities, Teri looked at her watch and announced, "Well, we better get going. We have a plane to catch. We are flying to Lubbock to pick up your new baby. He was born this morning."

Shock! Disbelief! Could this possibly be happening so quickly? After trying to get pregnant for 7 years, waiting and waiting for the adoptions of our first two children, we could not believe that the wheels of the adoption machine could ever turn so quickly. But it was, and our precious, precocious, delightful David was coming to join our family.

Today, that precious baby is a 6' 1"almost-man". He has traded soft-as-silk cheeks for scruffy whiskers and sweet, cooing sounds for a deep voice. He towers over me, and I am thankful he is a cooperative fellow, because I don't think I could really make him do anything. He brings his signature brand of laughter and joy to this family. And, while his older sister, Rachel, started our family on the adoption journey, David moved us to new horizons. With David, our family branched out of our 2-parent, 2-children who "look just like their daddy" comfort zone into the life of a multi-racial, large family that garners second looks wherever we go.

It's been quite a ride -- this parenting journey. Most days, I look around the dinner table, and I am in awe at the ways God has blessed us. He's provided for our every need and many of our wants. We have experienced so much joy. But there are other days when the weariness makes my heart ache -- when I feel like I cannot bear another hateful comment, I can't negotiate another peace treaty between siblings, I can't face another day of so many people needing me. I just want to be normal -- whatever that is.

The reality is that it's in the "I-can't-hang-on-another-minute" days that God works on my heart and conforms me into His image. After all, Jesus certainly had more than His share of hateful comments, arguing apostles, and people constantly needing Him. In those times, He made the effort to get alone with His Father and commune with Him. If it was so important for the sinless Savior to have time with the Father, then it is doubly important for me to do the same.  

As we travel on our journey, my prayer is that our lives will bring glory and honor to the One who created us. It's not about us and what a great family we are. It's all about Him and what a merciful and loving Father He is to us. He sustains us and gives us strength to go one living day by day, firmly entrenched in His love and grace. To Him be all the glory -- forever and ever.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wedneday Eats and Treats: Amanda's Crockpot Mac and Cheese

My daughter-in-love, Amanda, brought this macaroni and cheese to our family Thanksgiving feast this year. It tastes great and can be made ahead of time. I served it with crusty rolls, baked ham and steamed broccoli for Sunday lunch.

Amanda's Crock Pot Mac N Cheese

24 oz macaroni -- any shape is fine
2 cups milk
1 cup sour cream
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar
2 cans Campbell's cheese soup
Salt and pepper to taste

** Be sure to spray cooking spray in crock. For faster clean up, I plan to use a crock pot liner next time I make this.**

1.  Cook pasta according to package directions.
2.  While macaroni cooks, combine remaining ingredients in crock pot. 
3.  Add macaroni, mix well. 
4.  Cook in slow cooker on low for an hour or so until sauce sets, only stirring once or twice. (I've cooked this on low for 3 hours while we were at church.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Musings: Week 12

I finally feel like life has settled down some. We safely made the trip to Austin and back on Tuesday. My sister, Claire, and her family were here on Thursday, and Nathan and Amanda were with us from Friday until Sunday afternoon. We celebrated Miriam's 19th birthday with a family dinner including Grammy and Papa, and then nine of us went to the family Fun Center for an afternoon of skating, while Syd, a.k.a. Mr. Fix-It, stayed home and repaired one of the cars. 

Here is my breakdown of spending for the past two weeks.

Food                   $338.41
Gifts                  $9.07
Clothing              $30.39
Toiletries           $22.14
School (Essie)    $26.24
Skating              $64.00
Entertainment   $1.30
Piano Lessons     $10.00
Toilet Seat        $10.59      
Total (2 weeks)  $512.14

My grocery total seems high, but the cupboard was worse than bare after I returned home. We also bought travel-friendly food for the trip to Austin so we didn’t have to stop at any restaurants. Having the birthday dinner and company for the weekend upped the grocery bill since we’d rather grill ribs and chicken than make Nate and Amanda eat Hearts of Palm Casserole. J

It’s been a really long time since I bought beef at the store, and I was shocked at the price of ground chuck. I think it’s time to head to the sale barn to pick up a calf to feed out for next year when the freezers have been emptied.

Skating was $8 per skater rather than the $5 each I was expecting, so that was a bit of a budget buster.

I’m happy to announce that everyone is well this week. I wish I could say the same for our vehicles. Our commuter car has a cracked transmission housing, so we must determine if the value of the car warrants the cost of the repair. With that car out of commission, Syd will be taking the van to work, so I’ll be without wheels. It’s a good thing our calendar is blessedly blank this week. I’m hoping we can get back in our home school routine, and get a lot accomplished here at the Boxed N Ranch.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Building a Family

In celebration of the 19th birthday of our sweet Miriam, I decided to share some of the story of how God created our beautiful family. When we began the journey of parenting, we were clueless to the heights of joy and the depths of pain we would face. Parenting our crew has drawn Syd and I closer to each other and to the the God we serve. I wouldn't trade it for anything, although I'd correct a few many mistakes I've made if I had it all to do over.

For those of you who don't know our history, we have adopted eight children as infants. Five of our children have African American heritage and one of them is Native American. Our first adoptions were termed "touch adoptions," in that we had letter and photo contact that was filtered through our adoption agency. No identifying information was shared, to the point that one child's birthmom had to use a pseudonym since she has a very unique first name.
The day we became parents to Rachel, April, 1989

Rachel (2) and baby brother, Nathan, Summer of 1991

Fast forward a few years. We were a "perfect family." We had a daughter and a son who were 27 months apart in age. They even looked like us, so no one knew we had adopted them unless we chose to tell our story. As we were having a dinner celebrating our 11th anniversary, Syd and I began sharing what was on our hearts. There was room in our hearts and home for more children, and we just couldn't get away from the nagging feeling that God had other plans for us. We prayed and prayed, and when we knew the Lord's direction for us, we contacted the adoption agency. We knew there were children from minority groups who needed forever families, and we asked the agency if we could be considered for one of these children. It wasn't long before David joined our family.

David's first day as a Newman, July of 1994

Seven months later, we were licensed foster parents, were about to finalize David's adoption, and were a shepherding family to birthmoms who needed a place to stay. We welcomed a birthmom into our family on a Monday afternoon, believing she had about 6 weeks until her delivery. Surprise...less than 36 hours later, she delivered a healthy, full-term baby girl in our living room! After the birthmom returned to her family, the agency asked us to provide foster care for the baby. David was only 7 months old, but we loved babies, especially this one, so we agreed. It didn't take long to fall in love with Miriam.

David, Nathan, and Miriam, March of 1995

Many agencies were moving toward open adoption, but our agency wasn't one of them. When we had the opportunity to adopt Miriam, we jumped at the chance, and thus became our agency's first open adoption in which the birthparent and adoptive parents met, formed a relationship, and mutually agreed to the placement. The details of how God worked in amazing ways to make Miriam a part of our family are material for another post, but let me just say that we serve a mighty God and that the fatherless truly find compassion in Him. (Hosea 14:3)

Syd and Miriam taking a nap, March of 1995

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats: St. Patrick's Day Fresh Basil Hummus

I took this to a St. Patrick's Day celebration on Saturday. It received rave reviews, even by non-hummus eaters. The recipe is here, and you can see a video on how to prepare it here.

To avoid a gritty texture, it is essential that hummus is blended until it is smooth. Even though I have a super-sonic blender, I found I had to add extra oil and lemon juice to get the mixture to blend. I did this in a 1:3 lemon juice to oil ratio. Don't be surprised if you have to double the recipe amounts of oil and lemon juice.

WARNING: Unless you are purposely trying to burn up the motor on your blender, do not attempt to double this recipe. It must be made in individual batches. 
Chef John's Green Hummus
recipe image
Submitted By: Chef John
Photo By: Chef John
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Ready In: 10 Minutes
Servings: 6
"This simple, basil-spiked 'green' hummus is a great summer twist on everyone's favorite spread."
1/3 cup firmly packed
fresh basil leaves
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice,
or to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil,
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo
beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can white
beans, drained
salt and ground black
pepper to taste
1.Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add the basil and cook uncovered until bright green, about 20 seconds. Immediately plunge basil in ice water until cold. Squeeze basil to remove excess moisture and pat dry with a paper towel.
2.Put basil, garlic, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, garbanzo beans, and white beans, salt, and black pepper, respectively, in a blender. Cover and blend until almost smooth; add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and puree until smooth.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Musings Week 11

Esther and I returned home late Thursday evening. Friday, the three younger children and I volunteered at the food pantry prep day. That evening, Syd and I took Josiah to Oklahoma where he participated in a Disciple Now weekend. After attending the parent meeting and dinner, we headed back home. Saturday, I was out of the house by 7 (no small task for this night owl!) and worked at the food pantry distribution day. From there, it was straight to a St. Patrick's Day party.

On Sunday morning, we learned that Josiah and several other D-Now participants had fallen to a stomach virus. After church, we rendezvoused with him and brought him home where he languished on the couch for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Syd fell ill around 6 and headed to the bed. Both are better this morning, but not yet back to 100%. Miriam has a doctor's appointment today to look into some weird chest pains she's been having.

On Tuesday, Syd, Esther, and I will travel to Austin for a ceremony honoring Syd's grandfather, Dr. Evan A. Reiff, who was the ninth president of Hardin-Simmons University. He is being recognized for his many contributions to higher education including his role as a leader in the effort to integrate Texas colleges and universities. “Dan-Daddy” Reiff died when Syd was three. I think he would be proud of his oldest grandchild and the way in which he has carried on his grandfather’s legacy.

All of this is to say, I haven't had time to compose a detailed “Monday Musings” post for today. I'll try to get one together for later this week. In the mean time, I wish you a Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats: Delicious Meat Loaf

Meat loaf is the ultimate comfort food. Every year, Miriam requests this meat loaf for her birthday dinner. Combined with mashed potatoes, green beans, and homemade rolls, it's a meal full of deliciousness.
Delicious Meat Loaf

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 1/3 cups Special K cereal (secret ingredient)
2 eggs
1 onion
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pepper
3/8 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. sage

2 cups V-8 juice
1 T. flour
1 can green beans, finely chopped
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Combine the ground beef, Special K, eggs, onion, salt, pepper, mustard, and sage. Mix well, preferably with hands. 
Shape into a rectangle about 1 1/2 - 2 inches thick. Place on a broiling pan and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.
Place the V-8 juice, flour, chopped green beans, salt, and pepper in a saucepan. Dissolve the flour before heating. Simmer over low heat until thickened.
Pour the sauce over the meat loaf and serve.
Serves 8.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday Musings: Week 10

We're still in Nebraska. The weather went from warm on Wednesday to snowing on Friday, and then a sunny 75 degrees on Sunday. It made me think we were back in Texas! 

I'll have to report Syd's spending while we were gone in next week's post. 
Here's a breakdown of my spending for the past week.

Tolls                       $12
Travel Snacks         $8
Food                       $19   
Total                      $39

Rachel has prepared a variety of delicious meals, so we've spent a minimal amount on food. If I'd been able to figure out how to operate her swanky coffeemaker while she was at work, I wouldn't have purchased coffee at the Pump N' Pantry, but my addiction took over. On Sunday, we went to church in Kearney, so I sprung for lunch for Essie, Rachel, and me.

This week I've learned the value of taking a break, being free of demanding schedules, and having long stretches of time to be together with people who enrich my life. Today, I was able to say "Happy Birthday" to dear Clara and hug her neck in real time. My heart was full as I watched Clara and Amelia, who I've known since they were 2 and 3 years old, interact with their own sweet children. They are amazing moms. Saturday, Rachel and I sat side by side, her knitting while I crocheted. We talked a lot, but we enjoyed just being together in the quiet. Wednesday, Lisa and I speed-chatted, catching up on about 100 different conversations and topics. Esther has reveled in the presence of girls and enjoyed playing with her new "sisters-in-law," Jacob's sisters, Margaret, Eleanor, Lydia, and Annie, 

While I appreciate social media, there is no substitute for face-to-face time with those we love. It's time to turn off the screens and tune into one another while we are in each other's presence. It's never been easier to "run away at home" -- to be present in body, but be miles away mentally, to pay more attention to the doings of others than to those God has placed in our own families.

This is the lesson I'm taking home this week. Be present. Be in the moment. Treasure the time I have with the ones I love. Life is too busy, and always will be, until I make a point of slowing down and making meaningful connections. 

We leave Nebraska on Wednesday morning and plan to visit Uncle Dick and Aunt Mary in Woodward, Oklahoma. On Thursday, it's back to the Boxed N Ranch. If you think of us, please pray we'll have safe travels.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Clutter's Last Stand: Bathroom Organizing Tips

I'm in Nebraska visiting my oldest daughter, so I can't be decluttering back at the ranch. Since Rachel's Home of Adorableness and Newlywed Bliss has a tiny bathroom, I was inspired to share these bathroom organizing tips, all of which she has incorporated into her 25 square foot bathroom. (That includes the floor space occupied by the bathtub. Take that out, and she has 15 square feet left for the toilet, sink, and storage!)

If you're serious about eliminating clutter, a good place to begin is your bathroom. Since it's usually fairly small, you can get some pretty quick gratification, especially in comparison to organizing your kitchen or closet. J
This is NOT Rachel's bathroom!
 Here are 7 tips and strategies to get you started.

Clean out and edit.
Empty your cabinets and under your sink and find out what you have. Throw away half-used products. If you haven't used something in the past year you probably never will. For people like me who like to buy in bulk, there is no need to store 8 bottles of the same shampoo under the sink. Gather up all your duplicates and put them in a clearly labelled storage box. Place that box in a convenient place where you can keep track of your inventory.
Move the medicine. 
Don't assume that drugs and medical supplies must be kept in the bathroom. Many medications suffer in the humidity of a bathroom. Pick out the medications you use on a daily or weekly basis and keep those at hand. The rest can be put in a storage bin elsewhere in the house. We use a tool chest with a luggage combination lock for childproofing. Check the expiration dates on your drugs. Expired drugs should be taken to a pharmacy for disposal.
Clear the surfaces.
Nothing makes a bathroom seem messier than a cluttered countertop. Very few bath items need to be out in plain view. Stash them in a drawer or cabinet. Whatever you use most should be easiest to get to. Less used items can be stored in the back of a drawer or under the sink in storage containers. If you simply must keep some things on the counter, corral them in a pretty basket or on a tray. This makes it simple to move them when cleaning your counters
Cut down on decorations. 
If you have plenty of storage space you may have some leftover space for displaying pretty perfume bottles, candles, decorative soaps, etc.. If you get too carried away, your bathroom will look cluttered. I like to decorate my bathroom with accessories that are attractive, but also functional, such as a nice trash can or a pretty soap dish. If displayed with care, stacks of towels and toilet paper rolls can be quite attractive By placing them out on display you free up a lot of space in the linen closet and under the sink.
Get creative with your storage. 
If you don't have much storage in your bathroom, try baskets or bins to hide unsightly products. Invest in a wall-mounted cabinet if you don't have much floor space.
Keep extra toilet paper handy.
You can do yourself and your guests a favor by making toilet paper easy to locate if the current roll runs out. Place rolls in a nice basket on the back of the toilet or stack them on a toilet roll holder.
Corral your hair care supplies. 
Put your brush, hair care products and hair dryer in a single tote under the sink. You can pull the container onto the sink when getting ready and stash it all away when you're done.

If your bathroom is a mess, don't feel bad -- you're not alone. Watch this to see Katie Couric's bathroom and then watch this video to see how professional organizers transformed it.

For lots of clever ideas, search Bathroom Organizing Ideas on Pinterest.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wednesday Eats and Treats: Poppy Seed Chicken Salad

My friend, Christie Pettibon, gave me this recipe several years ago. It's good for church fellowships, showers, and other parties, as well as to keep on hand for easy lunches. We served this as the main dish at my parents' anniversary party last month. It can be prepared ahead of time and keeps well in the refrigerator. It's also great for road trip picnics. I make a batch and then we stop at a nice park while traveling, stretch our legs, and fix chicken salad sandwiches. These little picnics, coupled with a steady supply of snacks and fruit for in-car consumption, really cut down on the expense of traveling.

Poppy Seed Chicken Salad

4-6 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed (4-6 cups)
1 tablespoon walnut oil (Key ingredient!)
1 cup mayonnaise
2 stalks celery, diced
red seedless grape halves to taste
3 teaspoons poppy seeds
1 cup pecans, diced


Mix and enjoy. 
Garnish with fresh strawberries and grape clusters.