Wednesday, February 27, 2013

real life stories: fostering and adoption {the smiths}

[this is the second post in our real life fostering and adoption series.  today we are hearing from the "smith" family, which is a pseudonym to protect the identity of a family in a hard situation.]

Tell us about your family (how long you have been married, where you live, ages of your children, 


I've been married to my highschool sweetheart for 20 years and we have four biological children (14,
12, 10, and 7 1/2) and one foster baby (Baby Z who will be two in March). We homeschool our children  
and run a small hobby farm. I love to refinish furniture and living in a hardworking, century-old home!
 I'm typing in the kitchen with Baby Z on my lap and my seven-year-old singing silly renditions of “Old
MacDonald” over his math book. My 10-year-old is making dinner (sausage from the pigs that we 
raised and eggs from our hens). My oldest is out in the barn reading to her animals (think Fern and 
Wilber), and my 12-year-old stole my kindle and is snuggled up somewhere reading Little Women 
(this only after years of vision therapy and many struggles over reading). My passion is literature and 
my greatest love is the Word of God! "For it is no empty word for you, but your very life" (Deuteronomy 32:47).

What got you interested in fostering/adoption? Why did you decide to do it?

I didn't start out wanting a big family or desiring to homeschool. Or always knowing I'd one day seek out adoption. And when we started praying about adoption, fostering was the farthest thing from our minds! But when God changes your heart, He also changes your want-to. “…for it is God who works in [me], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). This is what I need more of: God to work in me to desire to do what pleases Him!

Has anything surprised you about the process?

It’s hard to know what to say and how to feel when a woman is holding her baby and her baby reaches for you and calls you “mommy.” You wonder at the sinking look you must have as you reach back for the baby and mumble an apology and something about “she must learn it from the other kids.”

But in reality, for all practical purposes, you think and feel like you are the baby’s mother and you wonder if birth-mom can see right through you?

You wonder if she knows you have forgotten that you only birthed four of them. And you get confused when people ask you how many children you have. And you’re not sure who’s your youngest anymore. And you started using phrases like “where’s your sister?” And you can’t shake the haunting feeling that she’s napping or playing in the other room or in the church nursery or—the dreaded of all nightmares—that you left her somewhere, when she’s really at the agency visiting her birth-mother.

It’s hard to live with equal parts overwhelming joy and deep, gut-wrenching sorrow cause you know she’s going to leave but you love her so much, more and more even, every day and every minute she’s with you, even though she is a frustrated little girl that loses her temper and pinches her own checks and bites and throws toys and grits her teeth hard and lays herself out flat on the floor when she doesn’t get her own way and sometimes smears unmentionable substances in unwanted places.

But you can’t imagine living without the big-eyed little girl that folds her hands at dinner and prays “thank you welcome, Jesus” and snuggles in your arms at bed time and begs you sing “Tis so sweet” ONE. MORE. TIME. by repeating over and over “more Jesus, more Jesus.” And she tries on the little pink boots at the store with the tassels and balls and bats her eyes and says, “Pleeease, Auntie.” Yeah, you had to teach her to call you something else because mom was upset that “she doesn’t even call me ‘mommy’ anymore.”

It’s these, and a million other little things that surprise me.

How have you/your family/your spouse grown in this process? How have your biological children 
handled it?

When Baby Z first came to us we didn’t know how to pray for her. We desired to keep and fold her into our family forever, like God did for us. But we also wanted so desperately to see her mother healed—to see what was broken become a whole and healthy family, saved by the grace of God. We were (are) very conflicted.

God is changing the way we look at all of this and giving us prayers for this little one.

First we prayed that the cycle would be broken. Whether with us or with her birth-mother, that the generational pattern would end here and a new way of life would begin! We prayed from Psalm 40 for Baby Z and her birth-mama… “draw them up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set their feet upon a rock, making their steps secure. Put a new song in their mouth, a song of praise to You, God. That many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord”!

Second, through the example of a friend, He gave me another prayer as Baby Z leaves our home. I pray that God would send her places I will never go, and that she would know people I would never know, and that she takes the gospel with her the entire way!

Of course there are a host of other little prayers in between (safety, healing, healthy attachments, growth in the knowledge and grace of God, etc., etc.). Do I still want to keep her? Yes. And in my most honest times with God I ask Him, from a broken heart, to let her stay. But He is teaching me to be totally surrendered to His sovereign will and to trust Him completely. My constant song is “Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus” and the refrain is my constant prayer, “O for grace to trust Him more!”

What difficulties or frustrations have you faced in the process? What motivates you to keep going 
on in spite of this?

We can only continue because we believe in a sovereign God who works all things according to the council of His will and knew the end when He laid out the beginning. We can only continue because we believe that our God—the One who breathes out starts and speaks entire worlds into existence and even the seas and the lightening obey Him—that THAT God humbled Himself to be born as a man and did what I couldn't by walking a sinless life and then laid it all down to be crucified on a cross. And that He didn't stop there but that He rose on the third day and conquered sin and death and He did it all for me while I was yet a sinner, dead in my trespasses, a hater of God (Ephesians 2:1-10).


Because He loved me first.


And because of this, He bids me come. But not to a life of ease and comfort, not my "best life now." But to lay down my life and follow Him. And in doing so I choose suffering and I know it will cost me everything. And I do it for this little girl that didn't ask for all this—because He did it for me. He didn't look at the cross and count the cost and walk away. He faced it, sweating drops of blood, calling out to Abba Father to walk it with Him and give Him the strength. He did it because He was obedient and I do this cause I want so desperately to be obedient to my Father, too (Hebrews 4:7-10).

He came for the poor, and the captive, and the blind and the opressed. The outcast. And that’s who these kids are. They’re the ones you have to give back—and truth is, those are the ones that nobody wants ’cause they won’t ever legally belong to you. So like Jesus did in Luke 5, we recline at the feast in Levi’s house with the tax collectors (the sick and the sinners) and people look on and say, “why are you doing this?” Some days I think I don’t really know. What are we doing? But in the end, I just wanna be like Jesus.

Do you have a relationship with the birth parents? What does that look like?

Yes, we do. It’s a slow growing relationship. We’re unlikely co-parents of sorts, like you would find in a divorced couple’s situation. We both understand the feeling of loving this kid and having to give her up. I have the freedom at this point to call and text and send pictures and even take her and the kids to the zoo or library, etc. We haven’t done a lot of this yet but I’m hoping to as we get to know each other better. We live about 40 minutes apart so scheduling is tricky. She has expressed that when she gets Baby Z back she would like us to still be a part of her life, so I’m curious how that will look and practically work out. If she wants Baby Z back, and Baby Z is going back, than I want her to be successful. I want to support her. I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be, but I want to live life beside her and show her what it looks like to do this laying-down-your-life-thing called motherhood. I want to show her what a life sold out for Jesus looks like. I’m not sure we have the typical relationship between birth and foster parents.

What advice would you give to other couples considering fostering/adoption? (What questions
should they ask? How should they seek out support? etc)

Stay grounded in God’s word every day, gather around you prayer support, stay connected with a Bible-teaching church. Proverbs 14:4 says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Be prepared to get dirty as you work for the harvest of God’s crops. It’s gonna get messy.

[view the next post in this series here]

Monday, February 25, 2013

prayer and bible reading for the busy mama

when i was in college (and all the way up until having children), i had the joy of getting to spend deep, long times in the Word and prayer.  i loved going to a coffee shop and spending three, four, five or more hours journaling, praying, reading the bible and other christian books.  it was like sitting next to a well and drinking deeply over and over until i was more than satisfied.

'Open Bible with pen' photo (c) 2010, Ryk Neethling - license:
since having kids?  not so much.  mostly i am just sad to miss out on these sweet times, but when i am tempted to feel guilty, i remember this important quote from a theologian i really like, d.a. carson:
"Martyn Lloyd-Jones once spoke with a group of medical students who complained that in the midst of their training and the ferocious work hours they really didn’t even have time to read the Bible and have their devotions and so on. He bristled and said, “I am a doctor. I have been where you are. You have time for what you want to do.” After a long pause he said, “I make only one exception: the mother of preschool-aged children does not have time and emotional resources.”
It is important to recognize, too, that there are stages of life where you really don’t have time to do much, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Children will sap you. If you have three children under the age of six, forget serious reading unless you have the money for a nanny. When our youngest finally went off to kindergarten, we celebrated that day—I took my wife out for lunch. Only then could she get back into reading again. It’s the way life is. You have to be realistic."

so i recognize that this stage of life is only a season.  but i also don't want to grow lazy and make excuses to not pray and read the bible, because i DO think its possible.  however, at this stage of life, it will look more like sips here and there and not sitting down to drink deeply from the well.

here are some of the ways that i am intentional to get bible and prayer times (even if just sips) into my day.

go on a walk - we are fortunate to have lots of stores and several parks within walking distance.  we usually go on walks several times each week.  during our walks, i usually bring index cards with bible verses on them so that i can memorize and meditate on scripture while we walk.  these index cards also work well at the park, as i can look at them while esther is running around and playing.

walking is also a great time to pray.  i find that i can focus better on pray while walking than when i am sitting in the house.  the added bonus is that the kiddos also enjoy the walk. :)

pray with your children - when i get a text or email from someone asking for prayer, i try to always sit down with esther and pray for that person or situation.  not only does this help me to actually remember to pray for whatever request i have gotten, but it models to her the importance of prayer, even though she doesn't understand it quite yet.  when i pray with her, its easier to pray right from the heart (more so than when i pray with adults).

listening to the bible - any time your hands are busy but your ears are free is a great time to listen to scripture (like i mentioned about sermon listening).  i like to use the esv study bible website (which you can only access if you own an esv study bible) but you can also listen to the bible for free at bible gateway.   right now my community group is studying philippians and listening online has been a great tool to help me with scripture memory and becoming very familiar with the text. i would estimate that i have listened to philippians at least 30 times in the past couple of months.

recite scripture to your child during menial tasks - any time that your hands are busy and your mouth is free, use it as an opportunity to recite scripture to your kids (while changing diapers, giving a bath, carrying them to bed, etc).  not only will this help you to focus on scripture and maintain memory of verses you worked to memorize, this will also help your kids learn scripture and see the importance of it for every day life.

it kinda reminds me of deuteronomy 6:6-7:  "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."

get a friend or family member to babysit - every once in a while when i really need to get some bible and prayer time, i will get someone to babysit for an hour or two just so that i can get away to a coffee shop and focus for a longer time.  it still falls short of the 3-5 hours i would love to spend, but its enough to refresh me and keep me going.

have a morning family devotional time - one suggestion that i have heard (but haven't implemented, i think our kids are still too young) is to model daily bible time to your kids by having it each morning with them.  you can do it together or individually, whatever is best for you and your children.  for individual time, you can have children who are too young to read listen to an audio children's bible while they follow along in a book.  this allows you to also have a few free minutes to read your bible (while modeling this to your children).

sacrifice your free time -  any mother of young children (especially when you have multiple littles) knows that any time your children are all sleeping at the same time is *golden*.  for me, its the time of day when i scramble to get chores done, get on the internet, make phone calls, etc.  since i am very task oriented, i usually try to get as much work done as possible during this time.  but several times a week, i try to be intentional to use this time to sit down and pray and read the bible for a bit- even if it means ignoring piles of laundry and dishes.  because time with jesus is worth it, and i don't want to be guilty of being a martha (luke 10:38-42).

i also love the idea of the 5:00 club.  i have done this at points in my motherhood when we didn't have babies waking up at night (right now is not one of those times, unfortunately).  waking up early is a sacrifice but let me tell you, it is sooooo worth it (but make sure to go to bed at a good time so that you are not nodding off over your bible!).  it reminds me of the proverbs 31 women who, according to verse 15 rises while it is yet night.  while i can't realistically get up that early right now, i do try to read my bible while eating breakfast, especially if esther is still asleep at that time (and fortunately baby girl rarely cries first thing in the morning).

how do you fit bible and prayer time into your motherhood?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

cloth diapering: the good, the bad and the ugly

i've had many people ask me about cloth diapering (CD'ing) in the past few years, so i feel like its about time that i write my thoughts down.

esther at 28 days old sportin' the cloth!!
i am no cloth diapering expert, but i have cloth diapered four children and i have used five different brands of diapers as well as numerous other cloth diapering supplies.

so, here are some of my thoughts about my experiences thus far in the CD world.

the good - i LOVE cloth diapering.  love love love it.  yes, there are some drawbacks (see below) but over all i much prefer it to disposables (and i have plenty of experience with those too).

the main reasons that i love cloth are:
1. we are saving *so* much waste from the landfill by CD'ing
2. we have saved so much money in the past few years by using CDs (like i said... FOUR kids in diapers... thats a lot of diapers!).  this site estimates that you save $20 per month with cloth.  that means if you use one set of cloth diapers for two children two years each, that means a total savings of almost $1000!!  i'll take that kind of money any day!!
3. fewer harsh chemicals next to our babies' skin.
4. less diaper rash.
5. fewer "blow out" diapers (i feel like just about EVERY messy diaper with disposables is a blowout).

the bad - some people ask me if CD'ing is a lot of work.  i would say that it is more work than disposables, but it has become so much a part of my routine that i don't even notice it.  in practical terms, it means that i do an additional load of laundry every week and diaper changes take a bit longer (because you have two layers to put on baby... absorbent diaper layer and diaper cover) and every once in a while swish a dirty diaper (more on that below).

another drawback is that sometimes babysitters/husbands/grandparents or other care takers can be nervous about cloth.  fortunately we haven't had much resistance from people in our lives about cloth, so this hasn't been an issue for us.  it also helps if you use a type of diaper (such as an all-in-one or pocket diaper) that are very similar to disposables.

another drawback (this one is pretty minor in my opinion) is that most baby clothes these days aren't made to fit "fluffy" bottomed babies, as disposables are much more trim.  i have found that often times babies pants will have to be a size larger than their shirts to account for the extra padding.

the ugly - some people are nervous about CD'ing because you come in closer contact with unwanted bodily fluids.  this is a valid concern.  but lets be honest, with babies, there is no avoiding bodily fluids, whether you use cloth or disposable.  in fact, when it comes to these things getting on babies' clothes, cloth actually does a much better job at containing mess than disposables.  any time one of our babies has had a messy disposable diaper, i just automatically assume it will mean i have to change their clothes as well.  this is rare with disposables.

exclusively breastfed babies' poo is similar to yogurt, and doesn't need to be rinsed.  but the diapers of formula-fed babies or babies eating solids do need to be rinsed briefly in the toilet before getting put in the diaper pail.  this is one of those things that is so routine to me that it doesn't even phase me.  i don't love doing it, but i also don't mind it.  just one of the many tasks of motherhood.  if this is a concern to you, you could look into diaper liners.  we used these for about a year.  they are basically really thing pieces of papery cloth (hard to describe... kinda like a dry disposable wipe?) that you put in the diaper and when the baby messes, you can just throw the liner in the toilet and flush.  it does make it easier (and like i said we did use them for about a year) but right now esther has most of her bowel movements on the toilet, and its just too much work to remember to put the liner in every time we change her diaper, so we don't use them any more (and baby girl is still exclusively breastfed).

so that's the good, the bad and ugly of cloth diapering from my experience.

what are your experiences with cloth diapers?  what do you love and hate about disposables or cloth?

[read the next post in this series here]

Thursday, February 21, 2013

foster parenting is...

... clearing your schedule for an hour after your baby comes home from visiting her birth mom, because you know that she will be screaming the whole time, though her cries are assuaged a bit by being in your arms.

... getting frustrated enough with "the system" that you want to walk away... and then remembering that if you walk away, who else will care for all the little ones who did nothing to be placed into the broken system?

... realizing its more important to pray that the little ones in your home will join your eternal, spiritual family than that they will join your temporary, earthly family.

... remembering that i need jesus just as much as their birth parents do (and vice versa).

... enduring the obviously judgmental stares of strangers who are apparently thinking "don't you know there is a way to prevent that?" when they see you with four very young children.

... remembering that God's truth never changes when he says that children are a blessing, even as you sacrifice your body, time, sanity and life to care for them.

... trying to figure out the best answer to the question "are they all yours"? (can we define "yours" please?)

... being willing to risk everything to love someone who may never love you in return.

... wondering who this stranger is who moved into your house, who likes to scream their head off at 4am... and then remembering its jesus.

... seeing the raised eyebrows of the person asking questions about your two babies, knowing that they are thinking that the babies must be from two different dads since they have two different skin tones ('yes', i want to add, 'and they are also from two different moms').

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

real life stories: fostering and adoption {the olivers}

[today is our first in a series about fostering and adoption.  to kick it off, we have an interview with my cousin Debbie.  enjoy!]

Tell us about your family (how long you have been married, where you live, ages of your children, etc)

My name is Debbie Oliver. My husband, Mark, and I have been married for five and a half years. We live in Dayton, Ohio, and currently have three children: E is 9 years old (foster daughter), Owen is 2 years old, (we will be adopting him at the end of the spring), and Elijah is 20 months (adopted son). Mark is a computer engineer for the Air Force, and I am blessed to be a stay at home mommy!

photo credit: abigail k photography
What got you interested in fostering/adoption? Why did you decide to do it?

Mark and I always had a desire to adopt, but wanted biological children first. We definitely had different plans than God did! After 18 months of trying to start a family, we contacted our county’s children services, interested first in only adoption. We had researched private adoptions and were devastated by the cost, so we turned to waiting children through our county. Mark also had a strong desire to only adopt domestically. Our children services organization said our best bet for adoption would be to foster to adopt. We prayed about it and thought about it for a couple of weeks, and decided to go ahead and foster to adopt. On a side note, the day we got test results back that told us that we could not have biological children was the day we got our phone call for our first placement, Owen. Praise God!

Has anything surprised you about the process?

Mark and I struggled through our classes. We didn’t realize the various behaviors these kids can and do display, and it really discouraged us. God gave us strength and assured us of our decision, and we decided to go through with it. Also, we have been really surprised and disappointed by how broken the foster system is, at least here in Ohio. Birth parents are given SO MANY chances, and it is so detrimental to the children. We fought for two and a half years for Owen, and by the grace of God, Owen’s parents actually gave up their rights. If they hadn’t, we may have not been in the process of adopting him at this point.

How have you/your family/your spouse grown in this process? 

Mark and I have definitely grown. God has allowed us to grow closer to Him and each other as we face hardships together. Actually our current placement, E (9 years old), has revealed to me how ugly I can be. My attitude toward her reveals the sin I still struggle with so badly. Her behavior issues have shown me that I still need to come to the Cross daily and that God will only see me as righteous through the blood of His Son. Also, God has taught me to trust Him completely in everything through several
difficulties in my life prior to fostering. Fostering has completely affirmed that trusting in Him is the only way peace can abound in my life.

What difficulties or frustrations have you faced in the process? What motivates you to keep going on in spite of this?

One of our biggest difficulties is not being able to discipline our kids effectively. It is very hard to raise a stubborn 2 year-old without being able to spank. It is also very difficult to train a 9-year-old who has not been properly parented for 9 years, and who has been ruined for even basic discipline. We also are very frustrated with how little involvement in the court process we are allowed to have since we are the people who are in the thick of it with these kids.

Our motivation to continue is the kids. We started this process to grow our family, but ultimately to help kids who need temporary or permanent homes.

Do you have a relationship with the birth parents? What does that look like?

We keep in limited contact with Elijah’s birth parents through emails and pictures. We talk to Owen’s birth parents by phone periodically and possibly visits once a year or so, but we will see how that goes in the next year. We are in good standing with E’s dad, but are limited to how much contact we have as E still has supervised visits. I do get the sense from him that he is comfortable with the care E is receiving at our house.

What advice would you give to other couples considering fostering/adoption? (What questions should they ask? How should they seek out support? etc)

I would suggest that couples find out the process their agency uses completely before deciding. Be sure to understand that the agency will give you approximations, but each case is different, and the system DOES NOT WORK. It is disorganized and frustrating. Be sure to understand this before fostering. But, understand also that working with these kids far outweighs the frustrations of the system.

As far as support goes, God has given me two great foster mom friends, not to mention Sarah, my cousin, who is a foster mom, too! This is HUGE. Keri, my very, very, good friend, and Elijah’s first foster mom, is my go-to for venting, encouragement, and questions in general. Saying all this, I suggest finding other foster parents for friends. This could be through the people you meet through your training classes, or even ask your agency for other foster parents’ information if they allow you to have it. This not only is a possibility for play dates, but just another person with whom to commiserate.

[view the next post in this series here]

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

exciting new series

for the past couple weeks, i have been working on a new series for this blog.  i'm so excited to finally get to share it with you all, as it will be starting tomorrow.

through comments and feedback i have heard from you all, i have discovered that for many, this blog has become a place of learning for you about foster care and adoption.  many of you are excited to learn more, even considering this step for your own family.

'Patrick' photo (c) 2012, Jody Roberts - license:
as i have journeyed through the foster care system, i have discovered a dearth of resources for foster parents (especially christian foster parents).  yes, some resources exist, but they are not plentiful, and they don't cover some of the topics i would like to hear about.  (adoption resources, on the other hand, abound.  the best one i can recommend is russell moore's "adopted for life".  an EXCELLENT book)

personally, i have always been encouraged and spurred on in my life through the stories of others, whether biographies or personal testimonies.  what better way to learn more about foster care and adoption that through the personal stories of those who have done it and (especially) those who are still in the trenches?

this is the inspiration for our series "real life stories: fostering and adoption".  we will be hearing the stories of at least five (and possibly closer to 10 or 15... i'm still in the process of contacting people) foster and adoptive families.  some of these stories are joyful.  some are painful.  many are raw.  most of all, these stories are REAL, which is what needs to be shared.

our first story tomorrow will come from my cousin.  she and her husband started fostering about the same time as alex and i and they have been blessed to have been able to provide a home for four foster children, two of whom they have been able to adopt (one adoption finalized, one in process).

would you like to share your foster or adoptive story?  email me at theologista (at) gmail (dot) com.

want more?  follow theologista on facebook for more content on motherhood, recipes, fostering/adoption, theology and other fun things.  (make sure to click "show in timeline" under the settings button if you want the updates in your timeline).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

january's goal: sourdough bread baking

well, i am happy to report that my new year's goals are getting off to a good start.

january's goal was to learn how to bake a good loaf of sourdough bread.  it took me almost half way through the month to get started, but since then i have already baked at least 10-15 loaves.  some of them were better than others, but none were so bad that they got fed to the chickens or chopped up for bread crumbs.
sourdough country loaf

i have tried just three recipes, because i felt like it would be easier to learn if i focused on perfecting just a few recipes by making them over and over.  here are the recipes i have used:

sourdough whole spelt bread- the main reason i tried this recipe is because spelt is lower in gluten than wheat, and we wanted to start with a low gluten flour as we introduce gluten into esther's diet after suspected gluten intolerance.  we really liked this recipe.  it came out quite like a sandwich loaf one of the times i made it.  not only was it delicious, but it was also pretty easy to make... it didn't even require kneading! (instead it called for a technique called stretch and fold, which is explained in the video).

sourdough country loaf - this is the first recipe i made. i chose it because it calls for mostly white flour and a little bit of whole wheat flour (gasp!  we are going to die an early death because we consumed some white flour!!) which i knew would help with a good rise and good texture.  i didn't want to bake a bunch of bricks of bread for my family and have them scared to keep trying my sourdough creations.  also i knew it would give me more confidence to start out with successful loaves.  the flavor was good and the crumb was light and airy.  i tried different proportions of white to whole wheat flour, and though i didn't taste a difference, my mom liked the one with the most WW flour the best (it was 50/50).  i also want to try this with 100% whole wheat flour.

sourdough spelt/rye bread - rye is also low in gluten so i also wanted to try this recipe for variety.  honestly, i wasn't that impressed, and i plan to find another rye bread recipe for next time.  it was ok to eat, but the bread was crumbly and dense.  i think part of the reason is because the baking temperature was lower than the other loaves, so it didn't pouf out beautifully.

things i have learned about sourdough bread baking:

*wild yeast loves warm temperatures.  well, i already knew this, but i was able to see a big difference between dough that i let rise in a warm oven verses on a cold counter.

*bread baking isn't scary and is even a bit fun.

*there are so many bread baking tools that i could own.  i bought a scale (makes measuring ingredients more accurate) but i would really benefit from a baking stone, dutch oven, scoring knives, stoneware bread pans and a proofing basket (ok, that one isn't really a need... they just look cool :) ).  if i keep up with baking bread, i'm sure that i will at least get some better pans.

*a loaf of store-bought bread can last for weeks at our house.  most of the homemade loaves have barely lasted a day!  in other words, they have been a hit :)

*the best way to know if bread is done is to measure the internal temperature.  i measured with a meat thermometer.

*the number one mistake newbies make is too add too much flour (yes, i think i made this mistake a few times in the past.  now i know better!  turns out a really sticky dough is actually a good thing!

*many bread recipes don't require kneading!  though i enjoy kneading, it can be time consuming (20 mins or so per loaf).

february's goal: cheese making!  this goal will probably also have to wait until halfway through the month as the next two weeks are pretty busy for me, but i hope that making cheese goes as well as making sourdough bread!