Friday, August 31, 2012

surviving the heat: summer update from our home

my little butterfly. will we have one or two
more little butterflies to join her soon?

a lot has happened this summer, though many things that i thought would happen did not, and many things that i didn't think would happen did.  overall, i am more godly than i was three months ago (by God's grace), and more thankful (by God's grace).  and did i mention that i am ready for the heat to end and the rain to come?

our veggie garden is exploding with cherry tomatoes.  we are also getting some melons, swiss chard and bell peppers here and there, and many fresh herbs.  but the cherry tomatoes have been the most prolific.  i have been making tomato basil salad (basil also from the garden), salsa and pasta sauce with it.  if there is one home grown veggie i love the most, it is definitely tomatoes and i am very glad for the blessing of thriving tomato plants.  i am also making plans for and getting excited about next gardening season, but also a bit discouraged by our lack of full-sun garden space.  with better planning and execution, i expect next year to go better, even with our lacking full-sun garden space.

when we first moved here, i was fine with no rain. but now i really, really miss the rain.  our grass is parched!  our gardens are getting by (with the help of recycled dish water).  but i really want water to come from the sky, and not our bank account (water is expensive here!).  needless to say, i am not a so cal girl natively or at heart.

we really actually will probably get another foster baby (babies?) in october/november. this whole summer its been a never ending cycle: 1. we are almost re-certified! 2. oh wait not yet, we need to turn in one more piece of paperwork! 3. ok, we turned in the paperwork! (back to step one).  someone said that the paperwork/logistics behind adoption is a hugely sanctifying process and i would have to agree!  fortunately, we trust in a God who is over all, and we know that he is preparing us for the right kid(s) to take into our home, and he knows that right timing.  but we are more impatient.

a couple weeks ago we thought that we were really, truly done with it all.  and then our social worker called.  "i am ready to give your home study to the matching social workers. [the ones that match foster parents with babies].  we just need one more thing... esther's immunization records".  actually, esther doesn't have any records because she hasn't gotten any vaccines so far.  so, looks like we will need to get some vaccines at her next appointment in early october.  part of me is really sad about this, but more than anything i know that it is an act of trust in God, that He will protect her from vaccine damage as we take a step of obedience to follow Him in this.  could you stop and pray for a minute that God will protect esther and our foster babies from vaccine side effects?

so, after she gets vaccines in october, we can get another placement.  right now we are debating whether to take in one or two babies (if it was two they would have to be siblings, so either they would be twins or born really closer together like our last set of four foster kiddo siblings).  most likely we will tell them we'll take 1-2, and see what pans out.

surviving the heat has been a theme of the past few weeks.  we do have one AC unit, but it is very expensive to run.  so i am trying to be creative... swimming at friends' houses, going for looooong trips to the store, etc.  mostly, i am trying to get work done in the mornings and keep the hot, hot afternoons low key (by reading, sewing, etc).  i am gaining a better understanding of the concept of a fiesta as i conk out during the mid-afternoon heat even though i hate taking naps.

one more month(ish?) of heat and then it will be done.  i can't wait!!

Monday, August 20, 2012

God's grace through my daughter

there was a day earlier this month when i was crying about something.  esther was there, sitting at my feet.  i didn't want to cry in front of her but i didn't know what else to do and i wasn't sure how she would react.

her reaction was truly God's grace to me.  she started laughing. and she wouldn't stop.  i think she thought i was playing a game or something because she laughed harder and longer than i have ever heard her laugh before.  each sob brought a new wave of giggles.

you can imagine that its hard to cry when you have a laughing, joyful baby at your feet.

my crying session didn't last long.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
(Psalm 127 ESV)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

do you want more?

for those who don't know, this blog now has a facebook page.  the theologista facebook page allows me to share more content with you than i can on this blog.  on my facebook page i link to other articles, recipes and videos or post quotes that you may find helpful.  sometimes i link to this kind of stuff from this blog, but increasingly it is just happening from the FB page [including times when i don't really post anything on the blog].  i know i'm biased, but i think i link to some pretty sweet stuff :)

also, if you already follow the theologista page, facebook made some changes (shocking!) which means you might not be getting updates in your news feed.  if you already follow the page, go there again and click on the "like" button and make sure "show in news feed" is checked so that you get the extra goodies that i post there.

join in to get all the extras.  that is all.  thanks friends!

Monday, August 13, 2012

three reasons to pump extra breast milk

i have pumped extra milk almost daily since esther was born.  the main reason for this is because we hope to adopt a baby (though we thought it would have already happened by now) and i wanted to keep my milk supply up so that we can give him/her breast milk, as well as have a stockpile in the freezer of extra milk so that we will have extra cushion to aid with the transition when s/he comes.

to be honest, pumping is a sacrifice, and its not my favorite thing in the world.  that being said, there are many reasons i am really glad that i have done it, completely apart from being able to give our next baby the best milk.

in case of emergency. if you were to have an emergency surgery (such as an appendectomy) or have to be on certain kinds of medicine for a time, you wouldn't be able to give your milk to your baby for a time (what lots of people call "pump and dump".  the thought of dumping liquid gold is heartbreaking... but i digress...).  if you have a stockpile of extra milk in your freezer, you baby wouldn't have to adjust to a different kind of milk during this time (which can really mess with their digestive systems).

this was especially in my mind recently when i had a kidney infection and had to go on really strong antibiotics.  fortunately i was still able to breast feed during this time, but it was easy to imagine having to find an alternate way to feed esther if i had been prescribed a non-BFing friendly med.

to give away.  there are so many babies who could benefit from your extra milk!  i was thankful to get several donations of breast milk for our first foster baby girl. in addition to giving to adopted/fostered babies, you can donate to milk banks, which give the milk to premature babies who's mothers cannot (or choose not to) produce breast milk.  lastly, you can give milk directly to mothers who can't (for whatever reason) produce enough for their own babies.  i have had the honor to give extra milk to three different mamas i know.

since i have also been on the receiving end of breast milk, i can tell you that there is no better gift than to give breast milk to a mama who wants to give her baby "liquid gold".

to keep your milk supply up.  i notice big changes in my milk supply at different times, relating to hormone changes (ovulation, etc), stress, and dietary changes.  thankfully, if my milk supply is low, esther still gets enough to eat, but i just can't pump as much during those times (say, 1-2 oz per day instead of my usual 4-6).  pumping helps me to have extra cushion in my supply, which gives me comfort to know i will always have enough for her.

similarly, if you have a stockpile in the freezer, you can always supplement with this stockpile if your supply is too low to sustain your baby for a time (for example, some women can't produce enough milk while they are on their period and supplement their babies with extra milk pumped at other times of the month).

do you pump extra milk?  what do you do with the extra?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

birthday thankfulness

today was my birthday.  i turned 27.  although [inadvertently] i have been telling people for about 6 months now that i am 27.  when you get this old [haha] the years start to blur a bit and i forgot what my true age was.  maybe its because i am one of the youngest moms i know, so my brain was telling me that i needed to be older.

though the enemy was trying to get me down a bit this morning, this turned out to be one of my favorite birthdays for the past several years.  august is usually a busy time for me/us, so its easy for me to brush by my birthday without much celebration [which is fine.  but sometimes its fun to do something special].  but today was nice.

alex and i went on a long bike ride to/along the beach, played crossword scrabble, stopped at starbucks to say hi to a friend who works there and ended up getting a free birthday frappuccino, got some free yogurtland fro yo, went swimming at a friend's pool (esther's 3rd time swimming this week, and last saturday was her first time ever.  she loves it!) and read a new book i got from the library about home schooling for a couple hours.

our little joyful girl, on a swing for the first time ever this weekend
but even better than doing fun things today, God really reminded me about His mercy in my life.  i have a loving, God-fearing husband.  i have a smily, joyful daughter.  we have a safe home.  we have 3 delicious meals each day.  God is a shield about me (psalm 3).  through the abundance of His steadfast love, i will not be cut off, but i will enter his house (psalm 5).  i have lived to see 27 years (i would guess that most people in the history of the world have not lived to this age, especially if you factor in miscarried babies).  i have an amazing church. i laid down last night and woke again this morning, for the Lord sustained me (psalm 3).  He has showed me that there is a God (psalm 10) and i worship that God, and have true life through him.

and i haven't even checked my 2834 birthday wishes on facebook, reminders of the many friends God has blessed me with (and also those people i haven't talked to since high school who are also wishing me a happy bday :P ).

"you have put more joy into my heart than they have when their wine and grain abound" psalm 4:7

Monday, August 6, 2012

learning from our first round of parenting

i consider our year with our first four foster kiddos to be a testing ground for parenthood.  we learned a lot.  i am thankful for that time because one of the results is that i have been able to think through what went well with them and what didn't go well, and what i will change for the future.

some of the changes i would like to make have been on my mind this week.  they include:

memorizing more scripture and singing more jesus-centered songs, especially hymns.  we did both of these thing with our four foster kiddos, but it could have been a WAY bigger focus than it was. it breaks my heart to think that if we had done things differently, they might have gone back to their birth mom with LOTS of scripture written on their hearts.  with esther i now make it a point to sing hymns and recite scripture while i change her diaper (and at various other points during the day).  i want these to be the first words that are on her heart, and some of the first things she learns to say.  the added bonus is that reciting helps me to keep memorized scripture ingrained on my heart and mind (it is too easy to memorize scripture and then forget it soon after), and helps keep my focus on jesus and the gospel throughout the day.

think that toddlers can't memorize scripture?  think again.  watch this cool video of a toddler reciting psalm 23:

handling disobedience. too much of my parenting was influenced by my work as a behavior therapist for kids with autism, which i did for about a year before becoming a mom.  it was easy for me to handle disobedience from a behavioral psychology standpoint (how do i fix this behavior?), rather than focusing on the heart, the root of all disobedience.  something i would like to change in handling this when it comes up is to pray with and for my children when they disobey (i did this occasionally with the older two boys, but not nearly as much as i wish i would have).

i also want to help them to see what is going on in their hearts when this happens.  for example, when they are fighting over toys, instead of "solving" the problem by making them take turns (we used to set a timer and have them switch back and forth) i would want to help them see the selfishness overflowing from their heart, resulting in their lack of desire to share.

working on heart issues takes a lot more time and energy than just teaching them (or forcing them) to behave "correctly".  working on the heart also paves the way for the gospel to infect their hearts and do the true, deep work that will lead to real life change and actions that are truly honoring to jesus.

teaching chores early. not only does teaching kids to do chores at an early age help them take responsibility, it will also help things run in the house more smoothly (especially important if you plan to have a big family, as we are).  furthermore, it helps teach them life skills and even gross/fine motor skills.  many parents buy toys to help their children learn certain skills (for example, sorting) when typical chores could teach this (for example, putting away silverware).

the problem with teaching chores (and the reason i didn't do it nearly enough before) is that it takes time.  i am too focused on efficiency, and getting things done quickly, which means doing things myself. the problem is that i failed to see how i would be saving time over all (as well as loving my children well) by teaching them to do things around the house.  here is a good list of suggestions for basic chores that children as young as 18 months old can do.

one chore that i was good about having them do: pick up their own toys!  i really miss having kids who can pick up their own toys, especially with hurricane esther doing her thing in the living room every day :P

by God's grace (and not our own wisdom/knowledge) i think we did a lot of things well with our previous four children.  but i am praying that God really strengthens us and improves our parenting in the ways i mentioned above.

and may He get all the glory!

Friday, August 3, 2012

tips for feeding a crowd

ever since i learned how to cook and bake on my own, i have loved making food for others.  in high school i would make cookies and bring them to school to share with my friends.  in college i would have friends over for dinner at least weekly.

my senior year of college i stepped up the game and started hosting a dinner every friday that 15-30 people attended.  when i worked as a missionary in germany for a year i was in charge of food for one of our conferences of about 100 people.  for a while we had four foster kids plus my mom in the house, which meant making breakfast, lunch and dinner for seven people on a daily basis.  more recently, i make dinner almost every week for our community group (about 10 people) and lunch after church (5-10 people, depending on the week).
'365 x29 Dinner Plates of Faith' photo (c) 2009, David Masters - license:
needless to say, i love hosting and i would certainly say that it is a strength of mine.  not only do i love feeding people delicious and healthy food, but i love the connections that people make over meals.  i love discussing theology, life, economics, politics and hardships, and it seems like this happens so naturally over a good meal.

because of this, i encourage more people to host others for meals.  and the more the merrier, which is why i have come up with some tips for feeding a crowd.

keep it simple.  when i first started hosting, i would try new recipes and make elaborate meals.  but this can lead to weird meals (when you try out a new recipe on someone) and added stress.  now i try to keep it simple, especially when i am cooking for more than a few others.  i usually just make one main dish (something i am familiar with and make often) and sometimes a side dish to go with it (often the side dish is either something i made ahead of time or something quick to put together, like cut up fruit or a salad).  things like soup or casseroles are easy to make in large quantities, and they don't have to be eaten as soon as they are ready (when you invite lots of people over, someone is bound to be running late).  sometimes i make a dessert when we have others over, but certainly not all of the time, and especially not if i am feeling crunched for time.

make more food than you think you need.  i can't tell you how many times i thought that i made way too much food and later found that it was just enough.  furthermore, making extra food gives you the flexibility to invite someone over last minute.  if you happen to have more leftovers than you think your family could finish, you can always give some to one of your guests to take home (single guys in particular will rarely turn you down on this!).

ask for and accept help. this one is difficult for me and i have had to learn this the hard way.  it is prideful and dishonoring to God to try to be a superwoman who does it all.  when people ask what they can get to contribute to the meal, take them up on the offer.  when they arrive and ask to help, think of something for them to do, even if its just setting the table.  this will lighten your load and give them ownership of the meal they are about to enjoy (and help appreciate the work that went into it).

prepare as much as possible ahead of time.  things like dessert, salad, or side dishes can usually be made the night before.  sometimes i even chop veggies a few hours before the meal so that when it is time to cook, all i have to do is add ingredients to the pot/pan, rather than try to rush around chopping as i am adding things in.

keep convenience foods on hand.  this is helpful in case you realize last minute that you didn't make enough food, or if several people show up unexpectedly (this happens a lot when you have a lot open-invite events like we do).  even though i am really into cooking from scratch (for health and for cost reasons), i try to keep a few convenience foods on hand, such as mac n cheese and some canned goods.  its harder to keep homemade convenience foods on hand (since they tend to spoil unlike preservative-filled store bought packaged foods).  but i do try to keep homemade crackers around (since they can last for weeks without going bad), and i also keep the freezer filled with things like biscuits that i can pop in the oven to heat up last minute if need be.

plan ahead.  at the beginning of every week, i sit down and write out a meal plan for the week.  though i am generally a planner, i actually don't enjoy meal planning and i usually have to force myself to do it (because i am always happy to have the meal plan after i have done the work to plan it out).  this helps me to make sure that i have all the ingredients on hand that i need for various meals.  since i make so much from scratch, i will sometimes need to start something the night before for the next day's dinner (for example soaking dry beans or making bread dough).  this will also help you to plan out what you can make ahead of time (dessert, salad, etc).  furthermore, you will know what to tell people to bring when they offer.

remember jesus.  he fed thousands of people with a few fishes and loaves, and he can easily stretch your food for a couple extra people too.  sometimes i get stressed out when we have just barely enough food, and then i find out that one or two extra people are coming that i didn't expect.  it is helpful to remember that when you are hosting people in order to honor jesus, he will gladly provide enough food. we have always had enough food for people that we have hosted, even when it seemed impossible (jesus is in the business of doing miracles, and he has done way bigger ones than provide enough food for a few extra people).  if need be, i serve myself last and take a small portion to make sure everyone gets enough, knowing that i can always eat more of something else after they leave if i didn't get enough for myself.

have flexibility and a sense of humor. this is vital in any type of ministry that you do.  people might come late, forget to bring something they promised to bring, bring something weird to contribute that doesn't go with the meal that you prepared, or show up unexpected/uninvited.  at these times it is important to remember that you are hosting to honor jesus and help people have a good time, and they don't need your critical/judgmental comments when they mess up your "plan" (and your "plan" isn't as great as you envisioned it anyways!).  and since you can't develop these things in yourself on your own, you will need to ask jesus to give you the flexibility and sense of humor.

what hosting tips do you have to share?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

frugal wedding series update

its been humbling and encouraging to hear all of the feedback that i have gotten from my frugal wedding series from a few years ago.  i still send it to all of my friends when they get engaged :)  and the post from the series remain some of the top read posts i have ever written.

the reason that i am most encouraged for the positive feedback from my writings is because so many people are rethinking the american norm for what a wedding should be like.  there is no inherently right or wrong way to have a wedding (the bible doesn't give any commands as to what a wedding should be like).  you could have a $500,000 wedding and honor God.  you could have a $1,000 wedding and be very self-centered.  the cost might not distract from jesus as the center, but often times it does, especially when we do weddings the same way everyone else does (spend more! do more! get more!) because that is what we are told that we are supposed to do.

anyways, i recently made a discovery, which i wanted to share with you all, another idea for how to save money on a wedding dress.  a friend of mine is getting married next year and we are ordering our bridesmaid dresses from etsy.  the dresses we are getting are going to be custom made to our specific measurements, plus we get to choose the fabric color we want and they are going to only cost $80 a piece.  that a pretty good price for a bridesmaids dress, especially one that (should) fit perfectly.

i was poking around on etsy and i found some really good prices on wedding dresses.  casual, tea length dresses started at under $100 (if i had to do it again i think i would have worn this kind of a dress), and full length, more formal dresses started at $150.  one of the reasons that dress prices were so high for years is that there was a limited number of places to buy dresses, and they could keep the prices artificially high.  now etsy is opening up the market to tons more dress makers, and the added bonus is that you get the personal touch of someone hand making a dress just for you (and you are in turn supporting a small business).

do you know someone who is planning a wedding or soon to be engaged?  send them a link to my series to help them get the right foundation for their wedding, with useful tips to keep costs low.