Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fun with the girls

Last week, my husband and all the boys went to Sacramento, CA for a couple of days, where he was a guest preacher at our friend Pastor Jimenez' church

Most all of my husband's family lives in the Greater Sacramento area, so the boys were thrilled to go along and get to hang out with their cousins and other relatives.

The girls were equally thrilled about being home with just Mom, no boys. They do enjoy traveling with Dad, of course, but it was the boys turn this time. Baby Stephen doesn't really count in their mind, because he is younger than they are, too young to stop them from doing girly stuff, plus they love mothering him. 

We had a quiet three days. My oldest kids all help a lot around the house, but even with almost half our family gone, my days were actually easier, in spite of having to do a lot of chores I am no longer used to doing (such as taking care of chickens, hauling out trash, etc.). 

That gave me extra time to do things with the girls we don't normally have time for. The first thing they wanted to do, of course, was to play "beauty salon." I painted all their finger and toe nails and then curled their hair. They loved it! In fact, early the next morning, Becky snuck out of bed silently and put her hair in curlers by the time I got up. 



 Anna - if you can believe it, her behavior is every bit as angelic as she looks. In this particular picture, she reminds me of my husband's mom.

Becky - this little girl could be my exact clone! She looks and acts just like I did at her age. It's like I am raising myself.

 Miriam - I cannot get over how quickly she is growing into a young lady! She has my color hair and complexion, but is her Dad's spitting image in all other aspects, including his big brown eyes.


The next day, we spent some time planning meals to make for after the baby comes, and then precooking and freezing some of them. With the guys gone, I was making quick, simple foods for the girls and myself at every meal, which gave me extra time to prepare some freezer meals.


Peanut butter, bananas, and raisins on toast - gotta love Pinterest!!!

I can't remember the other fun things we did during those days, and since I didn't take more photos, I don't even have those to bail out my pregnant brain. But I do remember that we had a great time together! :)

New Documentary on Bible Versions

The latest documentary by filmmaker Paul Wittenberger and my husband, "New World Order Bible Versions", was released on DVD this month, and is now also available to view, in full length, for free, on YouTube.




To buy copies of the DVD, please click here.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Airshow in Phoenix

Last Saturday, I took the kids to an airshow at Luke Air Force Base. I had never been to an air show in my life, so when I found out about this one, it sounded too good to turn down, in spite of the fact that my husband already had plans for the day and couldn't come with us. 

My friend who told me about the air show had warned me that there would be a huge crowd - thousands of people, long lines, lots of walking. At 31 weeks of pregnancy, I wasn't sure if I could handle it, no matter how much I wanted to. The kids all promised to be good, the older ones offered to help, so I decided it was worth a try. We arrived early enough to beat the worst crowds on the way in, although it was still a long walk to get onto the tarmac at the base (probably 2 miles from where we had to park in a field off-base).


The kids were all wearing matching bright orange shirts. We brought two double strollers: one for Anna and Stephen, and the other one for Becky and, if she got tired, Miriam. This also gave us tons of room to stow enough water bottles, snacks, and sack lunches for everyone, as well as diapers, wipes, and other gear. In addition, we brought the Snap 'n Go base loaded with nothing but four folding lawn chairs, so the kids who did not have a stroller seat could sit in those and watch the air show. 

John was pushing the stroller base with the chairs, Isaac and Solomon were taking turns with one of the double strollers, and I was pushing the other. Being "tied down" this way and having such a large caravan, it made it easy not to lose track of the kids or each other.

But oh, did I mention how much WALKING there was???


Both before the air show, as well as during it, we toured a lot of the stationary airplanes on the ground.  The lines were long, but we figured we could watch the airshow while sitting on the tarmac, or we could watch the air show while waiting in line to tour an airplane, so why not wait in line?






As usual, the sky was cloudless, and even though the temps were "only" in the 80s, it felt pretty sizzling being out in the bright sun from 9 AM until 4 PM. The kids all had a great time and were really happy that we got to go, so it was definitely worth the trouble and walking (did I mention I walked MILES and MILES that day?).


To reward the kids for not getting lost, being on their best behavior and having good attitudes, helping with all the little kids and the strollers, and never once asking me to buy them any food or treats out, we had ice cream sundaes when we got home late that afternoon.


I love all these sweet little faces!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Freezer meals for after Baby comes

Today marks 33 weeks of pregnancy for me. Yay! Only three more weeks and I will be considered "full term." I cannot begin to tell you how weird it is to have made it this far, and have no complications whatsoever at this point, after all we went through in November and December. TWO fetal surgeries, first to fix twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome and to separate the fates of the boys should one die (as he, sadly, did three weeks later), and then a second surgery to patch my ruptured membranes.

I have held off getting ready for the baby's birth for a  number of reasons. First, I was worried he was going to pass away like his brother, not an unlikely scenario. I still worry about that - for no known reason, absent of any medical or scientific explanations, even perfectly healthy surviving twins have a much greater chance of suddenly and inexplicably passing away in the womb. Personally, I think losing their other half is just too much for their little hearts to handle. 

Secondly, I figured that if I held off preparing for birth until it was actually safe to go into labor, it would mentally help keep me from going into premature labor. This was a very real concern when my water broke at 18 weeks, and didn't stop leaking for almost a month, even after surgery to patch the membrane. At this point, this really is no longer a concern, and less and less so as time goes on. In fact, I have a feeling I may go overdue with this little one, something I certainly want even less than any other time. Once he is full term, I'd rather he came as soon as possible, so I can stop worrying, and we can just close this chapter and move on.

This past week, with the temperatures rising, my fatigue increasing, and time running out on the remainder of this pregnancy, I started preparing for the inevitable arrival of this little one. Part of that is planning, and then precooking and freezing meals for after the birth. I absolutely LOVE having about 4-6 weeks worth of meals fully cooked and ready to go, which will not only cut down on time spent in the kitchen, but also on trips to the grocery store. 

In fact, my "Spend Zero in March" challenge was largely motivated by the fact that my freezers are bursting, and I realized I did not have enough room to spare to freeze hardly any ready meals.

I should add here that my husband and mother-in-law are both incredibly helpful whenever I have a baby, and would gladly cook for the family. But it's just easier for everyone involved when we can simply shelve that chore for a few weeks. I have a hard time sitting back and doing nothing while everyone around me is doing my work for me. And let's be honest - they just don't cook the way I do! ;) Likewise, the ladies in our church are wonderful about bringing meals to families that just added a new baby, or are going through a hardship such as illness, etc. With this pregnancy alone, they have already brought meals to our family for at least 3 weeks. I don't want to take advantage of their generosity and time any more if I can help it by pre-freezing meals. Plus, our family eats as much at one meal as others eat in several days, making it quite expensive to take dinner to us. 

Here is a list of the items I am hoping to cook ahead of time. The list is not complete, yet - I would like to find a few new recipes that my family will love, and that are freezer-friendly. But there is enough here to keep me busy until I come up with more meal ideas.

Breakfasts

quiche
cinnamon raisin bread
chocolate chip orange scones
waffles
ready-to-bake biscuits
French toast
Breakfast burritos
Oatmeal cake
Lemon poppy seed muffins
pancakes
cinnamon crumb coffee cake
topping for fruit crumble (use canned peaches or cherries)
German apple cake w/ yogurt glaze
croissants (ham & cheese, plain, chocolate)
cream cheese danishes

not frozen:
oatmeal mixes
muesli
granola

not premade, but easy to throw together:
eggs
toast (w/ butter, honey, or PB)
yogurt parfaits w/ fruit and granola

Easy lunches (if there are no dinner leftovers):

PB&J sandwiches
ready-to-grill cheese sandwiches
meat, bean & cheese burritos
shredded cheeses (for omelettes, quesadillas, pizza)
ham and cheese pinwheels

not premade, but easy to throw together:
wraps, sandwiches
salad (w/ ham, eggs, cheese)
omelets
tuna salad

Dinners

spaghetti sauce (make spaghetti fresh)
sloppy Joes
chili
meatballs in sauce (make ziti fresh)
taco meat
salmon burgers
meatloaf, gravy, mixed veggies (make potatoes fresh)
chicken and dumplings (ready to cook in crock pot)
taco pasta bake
orange chicken (ready to cook in crock pot)
mandarin chicken

Desserts

cookie dough balls (ready to bake)
pecan tassies
cheesecake

Other

oatmeal cookies for lactation
pizza dough and sauce (for pizza, bread sticks, calzones, mozzarella sticks)
hamburger buns
corn muffins
bread
tortillas (corn & flour)
breaded mozzarella sticks
chow mein
garlic bread



Yesterday, I was able to bake French bread and turn it into garlic bread, pre-make and freeze the dough for about 6 dozen cookies, bake a double batch of pecan tassies and freeze most of those, and assemble 5 quiches, four of which went into the freezer.



Note on changes I made to the recipes: Cookies: cut the sugar and chocolate chips in half, use white and dark chocolate chips, and use whole wheat pastry flour in place of white. Quiche: use smoked mozzarella, sharp cheddar, and creamy jack for the cheeses, add smoked turkey breast and broccoli to the filling; make my own pie crust. French Bread: use 3 cups all-purpose white flour plus 1/4 cup gluten in place of bread flour, and also omitted the whole wheat flour since my starter is 100% whole wheat and I wanted the crispy crust and fluffy crumb that only white flour can provide. My sourdough starter is very active, and some of the kids don't like the sourdough taste to be too strong, so I only let my dough rise for 6 hours.


Today so far, I have made a huge batch of spaghetti sauce, most of which will be frozen, as well as several family-size servings of chow mein. In my big crockpot, about 5 lbs of chicken breasts and thighs are simmering away, covered in salsa and cilantro pesto. Tonight, when it is cooked, I will shred the meat to use in a couple of different dinners such as tacos, enchiladas, etc.

By making double batches of meals we are currently eating, and combining recipes that use similar ingredients so I can chop and dice everything at once, cooking extra really does not take much longer than my daily cooking.

What are your favorite meals to precook and freeze? Please share in the comments below! I am still looking to bulk up my meal list, and welcome any good suggestions. 


Monday, March 17, 2014

Large Family Tip - Matching Socks

All of us are probably too familiar with the never-ending chore known as "laundry." In our house, we tackle "Mount Foldmore" somewhat like this:

1. We have hampers for dirty laundry in strategic spots around the house, that get emptied and sorted at least daily into the hampers in the laundry room. (Solomon or Isaac can sort, all the younger kids make sure dirty laundry gets put in hampers.)

2. In the laundry room, as soon as one washer load is ready to be run, we run it. (Solomon or Isaac)

3. Once the laundry is washed and dried, it gets sorted into baskets of clean "foldables", "hangables", and "socks". (John or Miriam)

4. John and younger fold and put away all the "foldables". Isaac and Solomon hang up and put away all the "hangables". This happens almost daily. With an average of three loads a day, that really is the longest we can go, or our clean hampers will start piling high. Once a week on Saturdays, I try to get every last piece of laundry washed and put away, as a sort of "reset" button. 

All this is done in the office (next to our laundry room), and taken to each room once everything is hung/folded. While they work, the kids enjoy listening to audio books, or occasionally watching something educational on the computer if there is a lot of work to do.

Only 13 years into marriage, thanks to having lots of little helpers, I can say we have the laundry monster mostly tamed. (Of course now that I said this, some major mess will happen and put me behind, like kids throwing up all over their bedding.) But, the one aspect that has continued to be a major thorn in my side is SOCKS. Every mother would agree, I know!!!! 

Let's do some math. We have 9 people that each wear socks, every day. 9 pairs per day, or 18 socks. In a week, that makes for 126 socks. But that would be in a perfect world. In reality, most of my kids go through TWO pairs of socks each per day, either because they take off the first pair and lose it, get it dirty, decide they need to change styles in the afternoon, etc. Realistically, we go through about 15 pairs of socks per day, or 210 individual socks per week. 


That's over 200 socks that have to make it from the kids' feet, to the hampers, through the washer and dryer, into the sock basket, and then be paired up. The possibilities of what can go wrong are endless. For every 10 pairs we wear, we probably get 5 out after the wash, and the rest are "singles" for a season until we clean out under beds, between the washer and dryer, in shoe cubbies, etc. Frustrating? YES! For every dozen socks we own, we probably average two complete pairs.

I have tried to come up with different ways of keeping socks together during the laundering process, which would eliminate the need to try and find pairs. For a while, we tried safety pins. It worked ok, but there were several problems: my younger kids needed help with them, the bag of pins would get left out and spilled, open pins would be left lying around, the pins corroded in the wash over time, it was hard to get everyone in a habit of "pinning" their socks, etc.

Then, some months back, I found a "basting gun" at Jo-Anns in the quilting section. It is a very simple device, similar to a price gun for affixing price tags. This seemed like a better, easier, quicker, and more interesting way of pinning socks with their mate before throwing them in the laundry. Initially, the kids were so excited they were motivated to pin their own socks, as soon as they came off their feet. 



When the excitement wore off, I told everyone to fold their dirty socks together before throwing them in the dirty hamper. While they can't go through the wash folded, it does make it easier, because at least the socks can still be kept together in an instant, no tools required. Then, when the hampers get emptied and sorted into the laundry room hampers each night, whoever is doing the sorting will unfold the socks, baste them together, and then put them in whatever dirty hamper they belong in. 

Once the socks some out of the wash, we toss them, still connected, into the "single socks" hamper. When one of us sits down on Saturday to match socks, it's as easy as picking connected pairs out of the basket, removing the little plastic (easy enough to be done by hand), folding the socks into a pair, and tossing them into the "paired socks" hamper, ready to be sorted into each child's sock drawer. 

This system is not foolproof - socks still disappear because our little kids have a tendency to leave their laundry wherever they happen to pull it off. BUT it has been a MAJOR improvement in conquering the sock matching challenge. Several months into it, my older boys (who do the laundry sorting) still think it's fun to use the basting gun, which is permanently stored in the laundry room. 

Some tips for using the basting gun:

- I would NOT recommend this for basting a quilt. But it does great with socks!
- I highly recommend using a 50% off coupon if you are going to buy one. 
- Keep it out of the reach of little kids. The tip is very pointy and sharp.
- It's a little tricky to learn how to "baste" together two items on the first try, every time. But if you follow the instructions and make sure the layers of fabric are flush against the gun, it works like a charm.
- When removing the plastic "pins", work over a small trash can so you don't end up with little red plastic pieces everywhere. 
- Socks seem to fare better when they are pinned in such a way that ends of the pin are on the outside of the fabric, rather than the inside (where they are more likely to get caught on the elastic). 

How do YOU tackle the laundry / sock monster? 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Renaissance Festival, and other fun stuff

Earlier this month, our family went to one of the "student days" offered at the local Renaissance Festival. It was a beautiful day, and much more enjoyable than the time we went on a weekend open to the public. 






Since the tickets were bought several weeks ago, this did not violate my "zero spending" policy for March. I packed a generous sack lunch for everyone, and we resisted the temptation to give in and buy any of the goodies there - even when the chocolate-dipped fruit went half price at the end of the day! 

The kids wanted to do the bungee cord / trampoline thing, and had brought their own money to pay for it.


Isaac doing a back flip

Isaac, who is Anna's "buddy", surprised her with a wooden sword he had bought out of his own money. She loves sword fighting with him, but she didn't have her own sword. These two crack me up - Isaac is absolutely wonderful about taking care of her, and she simply adores him. Her favorite thing is when he lies down in bed next to her for a couple of minutes when she takes a nap or goes to bed at night.




In spite of sun hats, we all got a little sunburned that day. As one would expect in early March, no? 

Of course, that also means that swimming season is starting. The pool is only about 70 degrees right now, so still a good 20 degrees too low for me to dip my toes into, but the kids are ready to go swimming every day (something I am NOT yet ready for). On Saturday, after all the chores and laundry were done, they were more than eager to jump in!





Little man, busy with his tools.


Life is definitely never dull around here!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Update on "Zero Spending" March Challenge

A week and a half into my "spending zero in March" challenge, I must report things are going exceptionally well. If you remember, my only exceptions to the "zero spending" rule were:

milk, cream, cheese
produce
animal feed
essential toiletries
any medically indicated expenses
gas, vehicle repairs
To be honest, it has been so easy that I have hardly even noticed any difference yet. As far as groceries, dairy and produce is all I have bought so far this month: milk, some bananas and ginger from the store, plus my weekly produce co-op I organize. 

2 bunches of chard, 2 pink grapefruit, 10 Granny Smith apples (about 3 lbs), 1 bunch asparagus, 9 avocados, 3 heirloom tomatoes (about 1 1/4 lbs), 2 pints miniature heirloom tomatoes, 10 oranges (about 3 lbs),4 mangoes, about 4.5 lbs mild Hungarian peppers - all certified organic

Can you believe all that came to only $23/share?? The avocados were beautiful and just perfectly ripe. We had 4 of them with guacamole and homemade corn chips for an appetizer that night. The rest, I pureed, mixed with lemon juice, and froze to have on hand for whipping up guacamole in the future.

In other exciting produce news, the warehouse had sweet Hungarian peppers last week. This may not mean much to anyone but me, but this is a very, very rare treat, and even more so in organic. In all my years of living in the US, I have only found these Hungarian peppers less than a half dozen of times, and only for the second time in organic (peppers tend to be sprayed heavily, so it's definitely worth it). They made me equally homesick and happy. Nothing brings tears to the eyes of an expat like smelling Hungarian peppers! You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. 

 
Since my freezer stash of these peppers from last year was virtually gone, I sprang for an entire bushel of them, for an extra $17. John helped me wash, seed, core, and slice the peppers. In all, we ended up with 5 gallon-size freezer bags, plus left some fresh for eating right away. The kids kept snacking on them all morning while we were working with these.


In addition to getting a great deal on the produce basket, I scored a killer deal on some organic raspberries and blueberries by the case. I bought one of each, and the kids ate most of them (that's 12-6 oz clam shells of each) fresh, though I was able to get some of the raspberries in the freezer.

Plus, I have been gifted this week with homegrown turnips, carrots, beets, mustard greens, oranges, French baguettes (made by a real French person!), and extra raw milk and cream from a friend I don't ever even get our milk from. I have been busy making my own kefir, yogurt, sour cream, and quark from the extra milk. Later this week, I may try my hand at making fresh mozzarella - something I have been wanting to do for a while now.

In all, I have spent less than $140 so far this month on food, and neither our pantry, nor the fridges or freezers are even any leaner than they were last week, all while we have been eating just as well and as much as ever. At this rate, I will be able to keep this challenge going for a whole lot longer than a month - at least in the grocery category, which is our biggest expense each month.

Tonight, as I was putting in my (very minimal this time) order from Azure Standard for the aforementioned items that are excepted from this challenge, I learned that they started a program several months ago where they give their drop point managers a certain percentage of their drop point total in purchase credit. Talk about a pleasant surprise! Since I didn't know this credit had been building up for the last several months, I have enough to mostly, if not fully, cover whatever little I was going to order to keep me going until the May delivery.

My spending on things besides food has been minimal. I have gotten gas once, and also bought dog food. While I never recruited my husband to participate in this challenge, he has been mindful of how to help me with my goal of spending near-zero. For example, our kids typically participate in a weekly P.E. class for homeschooled kids. In March, there were only going to be 3 classes instead of the typical 4 because of spring break, and we missed one of those last week because of a different field trip we were going on. Not wanting to spend a full month's tuition for half as many classes as usual, we decided to skip the P.E. classes this month. Instead, he took all 7 kids on a bike ride this morning to make sure the kids still go their exercise, and I got my much-anticipated weekly break. Cost: free, and the kids had a blast.

God has really been blessing this challenge in exceptional and unlikely ways! If nothing else, it has been exciting and fun, but I am also very happy about the money we are saving. In addition, I am learning how to make some new things I have been wanting to try. For entertainment, we are pulling out crafts and projects that we already have in the house, or participating in free activities and field trips. My husband and I had an "at home" date night on Sunday night complete with a candlelit 3-course steak dinner.

It always cracks me up to see what blog posts of mine people will go all crazy over. Well, the March Challenge was definitely an unlikely candidate, but boy, did it draw some hateful comments! I guess saving money and using what one already has is a little-regarded skill these days. Some were suggesting my husband get a second job instead. Every economist will tell you that saving money is much, much more effective than earing more, because the latter always leads to people spending more, and having a bigger overhead in general. Others were accusing me of working too hard, when in reality I saved myself major time and trouble by hardly going to any stores all week. Making bread at home is a snap, and something I do all the time, not just this month. The kids are benefiting from the less-than-usual running around (on errands), and so is the house because I am here all day making sure boisterous little kids don't trash the place while I am at the store.

I am hoping to give you another update on this challenge in a week or so.


Honestly, it has been a great experience all around so far. There are definitely some changes I will keep incorporating even when this month is over, and I may keep the "eat your pantry" part going well beyond March since our stores are not even running any lower yet, at all.



Friday, March 7, 2014

Miriam's 7th Birthday

Miriam turned 7 on Valentine's Day. It's always so surprising how fast time flies. Miriam, our fourth child, is our oldest daughter. She was our first child born in Arizona. In fact, she was born in the very room that is now the girls' bedroom. She shares her birthday with my late grandfather on my Mom's side, whom I loved very much.
 
  2 days old, with Solomon (5)


 Isaac is only 4 years old in this picture!

 John was just barely 2

1 year old

2 years old

3 years old

4 years old

5 years old

6 years old

Miriam's birthday breakfast this year, again, consisted of "palacsinta," the Hungarian version of crepes. Our kids traditionally try to eat as many crepes as their age in years, but few of them ever manage.


Miriam is one of our late sleepers. As such, she is our only child that does not get up at some insanely early hour on her birthday, eager to open gifts. A fact I really appreciate, as I typically wrap gifts late the night before. 
 
Solomon gave her this card

 Isn't he a sweet big brother?

 She got a real porcelain tea set from us, which came in a beautiful case to keep it safely stowed away.

 

Later that day, my husband and the kids went to the Valentine's homeschool skate. Isaac stayed home with me that day, because his asthma was acting up, as it often does that time of the year. In the afternoon, Miriam went on a date to Starbucks, just her and Dad.

We decided a couple of years ago that we would do birthday parties for the kids every other year, and a fun outing for their birthday every other year. This year is the "year of the parties". Miriam's birthday is the first one of the year, closely followed by Isaac's (more on that in a separate post). 

Her birthday party was on Saturday, the day after her birthday. We decided to have a tea party, since she had been enjoying doing tea parties with her sisters so much. This turned out really nice, and even though it looks like it might have been a lot of trouble, it turned out to be pretty easy and budget-friendly, as we already had all the supplies, and the food was simple yet elegant. 

 The invites - never mind that I got the date wrong on them... :)



 Fruit cups and PB&J finger sandwiches

 Orange chocolate chip scones and decorated sugar cookies

 Miniature cupcakes with pink almond buttercream frosting










 One of the activities was to make an edible necklace from "fruit loops"



 Another activity was to build structures or pictures out of sugar cubes
 
One of the favors: shortbread cookies made to look like tea bags 
 (idea here)


The other favor: tea party inspired hair bows for each girl 
(ribbon here - I greatly recommend this store)


 For the littlest girls, the bows were fastened to head bands



Including the babies and latecomers, we had a total of 15 girls at the party. It was a blast! Only 6 more birthday parties to go this year!! :)