Thursday, April 27, 2017

Free Bees

Did I tell you that all five of our colonies died this winter?  That seems to be our pattern- one year several overwinter and make it to spring and the next year, they're all wiped out.  This year, we think we know what happened.  Last spring, we were busy caring for a little baby so we didn't manage the hives as we should've.  They grew too crowded so they raised more queens and swarm after swarm left our bee yard.  We were able to catch a couple of those swarms but mostly this meant that their numbers were depleted so they didn't go into the fall and winter as strong as they should have.  That's our guess anyway.

It wasn't for lack of honey.  Out of those five hives we harvested over 8 gallons of honey in February (we sold most of it).


We were discouraged at the loss of bees and vowed to skip beekeeping for a year.  But then Jamey got the itch and put our name on a waiting list for a new package this spring (they run $130 a piece in our area).

But lo and behold, he got a call from a friend who had a swarm in one of his trees.  Jamey happened to be off work so he ran over and knocked the ball of bees into a small hive box (a nuc) and brought them home.  He then transferred them to one of our hives and we crossed our fingers hoping they'd like their new home and stay.

 unloading bees from the car (only a few escaped on the way home)

The bees had already started clinging to the bars of empty comb in the box so it was a matter of transferring them into the full size hive.

Instead of using smoke, he used a sugar syrup sprayed on the bees- this occupies them as they clean it off themselves and discourages flying off (as does plugging up the entrance with grass).

 Dumping in the remaining bees- if the queen is in the hive, they want to stay with her.

Not only did they stay but a couple days later when Jamey was checking on them, he noticed that another swarm (from who knows where) discovered one of our other empty hives and moved in!

Suffice to say, we didn't buy that package.  And now we're headed into the summer with two healthy colonies already filling their hives with nectar and brood.  What a gift.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Oh, How Far We've Come

I felt so much gratitude this morning in what might seem to be such a normal, routine event.  Our little foster boy was sitting, reclined on my lap drinking his first sippy cup of formula of the day.  We recently switched to a new spout and he was intrigued.  He'd take a few gulps, stop and breath due to a stuffy nose, look at the new spout and grin at it, then latch on for another few gulps.  Smiling at his milk is HUGE for this little guy and in that moment I was overwhelmed with how far we've come.

Almost 16 months ago, at about two in the afternoon, I received a call from social services.  There was a preemie baby boy in the hospital, ready for discharge who needed a home.  He was not eating well on his own so he had a gastronomy tube placed in his little tummy a few days before.  "We need you to get him well," is what the social worker said.

In the days and weeks and months that followed, we spent countless hours trying to encourage this little guy to eat.  He did not like his bottle at all- sometimes even putting himself to sleep (a defense mechanism) to avoid it- waking himself up minutes later after the bottle was put away.  So most of his formula went in via the feeding tube.  It took an hour.  Every three hours.  Even through the night.

It took months and months for me to release control of his eating.  I wanted to make him well. Right then.  It was not in his timing, however, so we had to learn patience and to let him lead.  Slowly (painfully slowly) he began to eat more and more- often in increments of milliliters.  Later than normal (due to his issues), we introduced solids and that went slowly as well (he easily gagged and choked).  It seemed as if we'd never "get him well".

Fast forward to today.  Not only is he smiling at his sippy cup, he rarely gags on his solids anymore.  In six days, we've been given permission by his specialist to stop the night-time tube feeds (we were able to drop the day-time feeds months ago).  If he does well and maintains (and gains) weight, we could be looking at removing the g-tube for good.  Tears come at the thought.

So my thankfulness overflows.  Not just from the fact that he's made such strides but in remembering all the people who've helped us- making it possible for us to take care of him.  I think of all the meals our church and close friends brought to us. I think of neighbors who came and held him daily so I could take a shower or do some laundry.  I think of other friends who drove us to the children's hospital weekly for months because I was worried that I was too sleep-deprived to stay awake behind the wheel.  I think of those who watched and cared for our three kids while I went to SO many doctors appointments and family visits.  I think of his home health nurse who came every week to check on him and encourage us.  I think of our two doctor friends who made house calls or let us run him over to their home when we had more urgent questions and concerns.  And all the prayers- so many people prayed for us.

Not everyone is called to foster but those of us who are can't do it alone.  Today I thank God for His protection, guidance and healing.  And I thank Him for prompting the hearts and minds of our friends and family who reached out to lend a hand, an ear and loving arms.

To God be the glory.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Projects & Buried Treasure

Warm days have lured us outside.  What a gift! The girls have been very busy re-establishing their outdoor world of houses (in trees and on the ground), a bakery, play fire pit, hideout as well as new and improved baby transportation.

We've been working inside for some better mudroom organization.  Jamey built and I painted.  Using plywood for much of it kept costs down and cheap storage bins hide the hats, gloves and bike helmets.

For Christmas, we gave Sam a metal detector.  He can't go a couple feet on our property without finding metal but most of his finds have been nails, stakes, a few wheat pennies and plenty of canslaw (detector-speak for shredded cans and metal).  BUT a couple weeks ago, not a few yards from our back porch, he unearthed this:

Makes sense since it is thought that our house was built in the 1890's.  I've hinted that my birthday is coming up and I could really use an antique ruby necklace or some Confederate gold.  He said he'd see what he can do.
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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Day in February 2017

I force myself up soon after 8am when I hear the toddler stirring in the next room.  I want so badly to be a morning person but I am not.

Get dressed, start drinking my cup of coffee and check email.  Ready toddler's milk. Ready toddler's family visit diaper bag- making sure it has diapers, wipes, snack, milk with a cold pack, a few toys and a change of clothes.

Retrieve now fully awake toddler from crib and give him a bath since his hair smells like he spit up during the night.  Get splashed by the happy little boy in the tub.

Get toddler dressed and let him play with Miriam (who is now up, too) while I call to make two necessary medical appointments for toddler.

Feed toddler breakfast while I eat my yogurt and granola and drink some more of my (now cool) coffee.

Wake up big kids and give instructions for the morning.  Run upstairs and change into town clothes.

About 9:45 am, run toddler into town for his family visit with birth dad.  Make conversation with birth dad in waiting room until social worker comes out.  Pass toddler to his dad and try not to breakdown as he cries and lunges for me as I walk out of the building.

Drive home and check on progress of kids' school work.  Do school with Miriam.  Reheat same cup of coffee and drink some more.

At 10:45 am, take Miriam and go pick up toddler who is very happy to see us.  Miriam thinks it's neat that a police officer held the door for us while we were leaving the office and later tells her sister he was handsome. Pile back into van- hand sanitizer all around.

Drive directly to toddler's doctor's office for appointment.  Miriam and I chase toddler all around waiting room and exam room trying to keep him out of trash cans and from putting things in his mouth.  Leave doctor's office- hand sanitizer all around.  Phone home and ask Sam to start lunch.

Once home, call social worker to give updates on doctor's appointment and other appointment scheduled.  Give extra cuddles to toddler who is often very clingy the day or two after his visit.

Almost 1:00 pm, eat lunch together. Put toddler down for nap.  Pray he sleeps longer than an hour. He does! Get dishes into the kitchen.  Finish school with Miriam.  Start school with Sadie.  Finish cold coffee. Work on school until mail comes and Sadie's first American Girl doll arrives (which she saved up for herself).  All bets on finishing school with Sadie are off.

Fold the last load of laundry (with toddler "helping") that didn't get folded from the laundry spree the night before.  Eat some cookie dough from the freezer and then throw the rest away to keep from eating more.

Finish washing up dishes (while toddler keeps a handful of my skirt in his little fist). Start to think about dinner and decide I need to document one of these days so one day I can remember what life is like right now.  Start to type this post on the way to the pantry to get tomato sauce.

Assemble supper (baked pasta with meatballs).  Jamey gets home from work.  Say brief hello and give instructions for baking the dinner.

Drop Sam and Sadie off at choir and drive to the grocery store.  Park the van in the parking lot, recline seat and BREATHE for 5 minutes.  Fill up my grocery cart, wince, pay, and head home.

Unpack groceries while cooking peas (baked pasta almost ready).  Eat dinner with Jamey, Miriam and toddler.  Fill Jamey in on our day.  Pack up some supper for Sadie.  Kiss toddler good night.

Take Miriam to her music class and pick up Sadie.  Sit with Sadie while she eats.  Sit in on Sam's choir rehearsal until Miriam is done her class.  Drive the girls home and watch a new episode of The Incredible Dr. Pol together.

Hug girls goodnight, discuss next day's plan (Jamey has off!), watch a TV show, greet Sam when his ride drops him off at home. Send him into the kitchen to find dinner and snacks.

Check email, read a few articles, check out what friends are up to on facebook, watch some PBS Masterpiece and head to bed.

Things I did not include:
- times I let the dog in and out of the house
- times I loaded and tended the wood stove
- diapers changed
- times I scolded myself for not drinking enough water (I had my first kidney stone this summer which was ALMOST LIKE LABOR)
- times I asked the kids to be quiet because the baby is sleeping
- photos because I didn't even think to take any

These days I experience many moments when I'm fully present in the now.  But there are also moments when I'm on the verge of panic over what the future will bring for the little boy who has started calling me "ma".  And, what our life will feel like without him.

Thankfully, the present-moments out number the panic-filled ones.  And thankfully, this particular day is (usually) the busiest of our week. Pin It

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Christmas Letter to You

Dear Friends,

It's been two months since I've written here and that feels like an eternity.  A few of you have even sweetly reached out to check in on us-to see if everything is okay- and I am very thankful to say that it is.  We are fine.

One lone pig resides out in the pig yard.  The honeybees are (mostly) hunkered down in their hives. Our chickens are no more (thanks to culling the elder ones and a predator).  We have plans for starting the flock over in the spring with many fluffy chicks.  The garden is where we left it and our CSA has been over for months.  We're (miraculously) keeping up with school and choir, sign language lessons, and church activities.  We're healthy overall and thankful for a good job, a warm house, full cabinets of food, kind neighbors, loving family...the list goes on and on and on.

I could say that I haven't been writing because we've been busy and that's true.  But ever since starting this blog (8 years ago?), I've always been busy.  So I guess it's more accurate to say that my head and heart are busy as I pour myself into caring for our family- husband, three kids and one (newly-turned-one) sweet-as-can-be foster child.

Our little guy is still with us but over the next couple months, major decisions will be made about his future.  This takes up much of my head space as I strive to stay in the moment and, at the same time, try to prepare our family (and myself) for his departure from us. Prayers are welcome.

In light of all this, the season of remembering that God willingly sent His Son to us and then gave Him up is SO not lost on me.  

The tree, the lights, the gifts, activities, and cookies are all very nice but let's not let them become Christmas idols- distracting us from the reality of the season.  What a sacrifice.  What a love.  It seems to defy all reason, all natural ability and that's because it does.  It's supernatural and cannot be thought of, celebrated, or lived through without acknowledging that it occurred only because GOD was in it and through it.

May we see Him in everything this season and trust that He is always in everything- the good, the bad and the seemingly impossible.

"Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out."

John 1:3-5, The Message

So I want to wish you a very happy and Merry Life-Light-mas.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Simple Math Help

My days are full of baby care and supervision (he has finally caught up, developmentally, and, at almost ten months, is everywhere) as well as kid care and homeschooling.

It's all day, everyday- back and forth between the two, sometimes attempting both at once.  I know some of you are in the midst of this now, too.  Bless your tired hearts.

Reading (outside especially) can be fun but Math is a bit more challenging for some of us.  I've written about some multiplication and division tools we use here.  But it goes beyond drilling facts.  It seems that around 4th and 5th grade, the new concepts are endless- hitting us like snowball after snowball with no chance to shake off and prepare for the next hit.  In an effort to simplify things and create a tool for review and to be used as a resource when memories fail, I started a Math concept card ring for Sadie, now a 5th grader.

We use Saxon Math and really appreciate their format for each lesson- new concept, new concept practice, then review, review, review.  For each new concept this year, I make a 3 x 5 card that summarizes the skill.  I then punch a hole in the corner and thread it onto a ring (like these). This is not rocket science.  I'm sure others do this.  It is working really well.

Sadie uses the cards for reference as she does the new concept practice problems as well as when completing the review problems that she needs a little help with.  Some days, I have her read through the cards before we start math.  The goal, of course, is for the cards to become obsolete.  In the meantime, they're at her disposal.  I'm also hoping they're prove to be a nice review now and again throughout the summer.

Maybe they will help one of your kids, too.  What do you find is helpful for your math scholars? Pin It

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Simple Ways to Use Your CSA Produce

Our very first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription just ended last week.  We LOVED it.  As most of you know, we usually plant a large garden ourselves and therefore have no use for additional vegetables each week but this spring/summer proved different.  In January, we began caring for a special needs foster newborn and thus our garden meeting a month or so later consisted of us going online and signing up for a CSA instead of placing seed orders.  Our focus needed to be on our kids that the baby- not on our garden.  Thank you to all the CSA farmers out there who make this option possible!

I believe that because we have a lot of experience using garden produce (of our own) we found using up our CSA produce easy and fun.  Here are some tips to getting the most out of your CSA box should you ever choose to subscribe to one:

1) Anticipate the box's arrival and set aside some time to "process" it right away.  Put it on your calendar even. Our box arrived Wednesday afternoon/early evening.  It was always on my radar when it was coming so I mentally carved out some time that evening to go through it.

2) Deal with your produce ASAP.  Don't let the box languish on your counter for days on end- this will lead to spoilage and you'll end up with expensive compost. Set tomatoes on a plate on the counter to finish ripening.  Tear, wash, and spin lettuce and toss it in an open plastic bag in the fridge.  Place any veggies that should go in the the fridge (reserving one of your fridge drawers at the bottom works well).  I kept a canning quart jar (without a lid) to toss garlic heads into for easy access. Storage produce like potatoes and winter squash should be transferred to their new home (cool, dark places indoors- the bottom of your pantry/closet works well).  Then, shake out the box and put it in your car or by the back door so it's ready to be returned or picked up the next week.

3) Make Salads.  There were only a few weeks mid-summer when we didn't get lettuces in our box.  With the other produce on hand, it was always easy to make a side salad or add some meat to a larger salad (taco salad, Caesar salad, etc.) to serve for lunch or dinner.  If you're not a salad person, shred it and heap it on to top of burritos and tacos.

4) Make salsa or bruchetta or both. Often. When the tomatoes start rolling in, likely the onions, garlic and peppers will, too.  Chop them all up for fresh salsa (picture below, scroll to bottom of link for recipe) or my friend's amazing bruchetta (although I fancy spreading goat cheese on the toasted bread before topping each piece with the tomato mixture).

4) Roast everything.  I had heard from some friends that they often googled new recipes for CSA produce they weren't used to using in their cooking.  I didn't really have time for that, so we roasted, roasted, roasted almost everything.  You can roast asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, peppers, corn, onions, garlic, beets, radishes, butternut name it.  And it's delicious.  Roasting brings out the sweetness in vegetables and is a nice change from boiling or steaming them.

I often chopped up a huge bowl of roastable veggies (all mixed together and in similar sized pieces), coated everything with oil and then sprinkled salt and pepper over it all.  Sometimes, I used a dried herb seasoning mix as well.  A drizzle of balsamic vinegar over top makes it divine.  I placed the veggies on greased cookie sheets and roasted them for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees, tossing them and checking them for doneness once or twice.  Leftover roasted veggies can be stirred into soups, sprinkled on salads or added to casseroles.  Our kids like to dip them in ketchup.  So be it.

5) Make soup.  A few of our favorite soups are Peanut Butter-Vegetable SoupVegetable ChowderSweet Potato & Sausage Soup Black Bean & Butternut Squash Chili (photo above over cornbread).  All of these call for veggies you'll often find in your CSA box.  Make a large batch of any of these and freeze the leftovers to eat when it's cold outside.

6) Do a little preserving.  Don't have time to use it all up before your next box arrives?  Lettuce isn't as forgiving but veggies like tomatoes, zucchini and peppers can be washed and chopped and frozen in storage bags for use in soups and casseroles during winter when those precious boxes full of veggies are no longer arriving.

What will we do next year?  Good question.  It was certainly strange not growing a big garden for once.  And yet having all those beautiful vegetables washed and arranged so gloriously each week? Well, that was just what we needed. Pin It

Friday, September 16, 2016

Made by Pade Winner

A big thank you to all who visited my friend Patty's Etsy shop and facebook page.  Doesn't she make cute things?!

The randomly chosen winner who wins their choice of crossbody bag is...

I also FB liked

Congratulations, Purl2562!!  Please email me ( with your mailing address and which crossbody bag you'd like and I'll get your information to Patty.

Thanks for entering and have a great weekend!


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Monday, September 12, 2016

Made by Pade Giveaway!

Hello, friends!  It's been quite a while since I've hosted a giveaway.  I am so excited to host this one for a dear friend who I worked with many years ago.  I'll let her introduce herself and tell you a little bit about her craft.  See below for details on how to enter to win one of her awesome crossbody bags!


Hi! My name is Patty Reali, and I have an Etsy shop named "Made by Pade." The name comes from a nickname I accrued in college - one of my roommates had a younger sister who was in first grade and wrote her a really cute letter. It read, "Howdy dude Torri (My roommate)! Hows life at the aprtmt (apartment) and how is it with Vike (Vicki - other roommate) and Pade (me!)?" To my college friends, I have been "Pade" ever since. So, when I started my Etsy site, this seemed the perfect name!

I have loved creating things for as long as I can remember. My parents taught me to sew when I was very young, and I spent some time making counted cross-stitch and other hand-stitched items. My crafting went dormant for a while in high school, but in college I took up knitting and also hand-sewed my first quilt! (Still have it - it's a bit of a mess, but has lots of sentimental value.)

In more recent years, I have made clothes for my children, sewn baby carriers (a life-saver! Any of you with young children who have never used a carrier of any kind should look into it), and made purses for myself and as gifts for friends and family. I have also recently taught myself to crochet, which is great fun, since I can do it any time and any place!

On my site, you will find a collection of purses, zipper pouches, hand crocheted shawls and scarves as well as several other hand-crafted items. I hope you enjoy checking them out, and one lucky winner will get to choose his or her favorite crossbody bag! 

How to Enter:

Jane here.  Usually when I host giveaways you are only allowed to enter once.  This time, you can enter twice...

one entry if you you check out her Etsy store here and come back to tell us in the comments which is your favorite item...


one entry if you like her facebook page here (and tell us in the comments that you did)


you can just choose one of these for one entry:-).

I (Jane) will randomly choose one winner sometime this coming Friday and announce it here.  Make sure to leave your first name or initials so I can identify you as winner.  If you win, you will need to email me so I can pass your contact information and crossbody bag choice to Patty.  Happy entering!

Best of luck to all!
Jane Pin It

Monday, August 29, 2016

And All Was Right with the World

It was 10am on a weekday.  Jamey had the day off and was with Sam at the library checking out books and looking up articles for the upcoming start of Challenge B.  Sadie and Miriam had been begging for harder chores that I'd pay them a little something for since big brother Sam has recently been doing some odd jobs for a neighbor.

Sadie was down below me in the front flower beds- pulling up the remaining roots of bushes that Jamey and Sam had extracted this summer.  Her task was to rid these beds of weeds and roots and level them out so grass could take over.  I am SO not into flower beds these days.

Miriam was inside reorganizing our DVD and game cabinet that had been ravaged over the summer- no small task for a seven-year-old as game pieces and DVDs needed help finding their homes.

Where was I?  The baby and I were snuggled into my new porch hammock/chair*, swinging gently.  The air was still cool, the porch still in the morning shade.  Sunflowers and hydrangeas swayed and bent in the breeze as a flock (no kidding- I've never seen so many) of barn swallows swooped and darted in the yard and field in front of me.  The baby, usually climbing all over me- attempting to eat my face and finger my earrings- was calm and tender as he played with my arm and was mesmerized by the swallows, too.

Out of the blue, a feeling of peace and genuine thankfulness overtook me and brought me to tears.

I haven't been experiencing many of these moments lately and I didn't realize how starved I had become for them.  Fostering this time around has put me in intimate touch with another world- a world of mental health issues, poverty, chaos, and violence.  It's hard to shake off and fully live in my own safe and quiet life.

A month or so ago I was trying to describe this feeling to a new friend (who also fosters infants).  I told her it felt as if I was sitting on the seat of a dunk tank.  Sitting up on top, I live in my world.  It's a quiet life.  I think of myself as a fairly sheltered Mennonite girl- I garden, can, attend church and homeschool my kids.  I have supportive and loving family, friends and neighbors.  My husband is my best friend and we enjoy our (fairly) quiet life.  

But then---Bam!  A ball hits the target (I take the baby to a family visit, get a call from his social worker or check his birth parents' facebook pages- I highly recommend you not do this) and I'm plunged into this other world.  And it's scary there. ( I try to imagine living there- what if my reality was a birth parent’s reality?  Not knowing when and if I’d bring my child home with me.  Not knowing if I’d make rent or have enough gas to get to work or whether my partner will stick around or if I’ll end up in jail again.)

I'm hauled out, dripping wet, and try to re-engage in my life.  But I'm shivering and shaken up and it takes hours and sometimes days to recover before I'm dunked back under.  This.  This is why these moments of peace and bliss aren't bubbling up for me as often.  I'm pulled down and hauled up.  Dunked under one second and then scrambling to dry off the next.  Attempting to engage both worlds for the sake of this baby.  Trying to get my footing in my world and brace myself for the next entry into the other.

I was starting to worry that fostering was callousing me to the point that I wouldn't be able to see God's handiwork as readily before me as in the past, that I wouldn't as often feel His calming touch and caring presence that reassures me that He loves me and is for me.  I've been too busy trying to suppress a panic attack- which creates stellar knots in your neck and shoulders, by to the way.

That instance of peace- when all was right with my world- was all the sweeter because it was isolated.  It was as if God knew I needed it but wanted it to be special...treasured.  I know there will be more and I look forward to each one with longing.  For an instant, it was just me and God and the dunk tank was nowhere to be seen.


*Side note: I highly recommend considering purchasing one of these hammock chairs (or something similar). Not only do babies love to gently swing but a chair like this has forced me to sit, enjoy the outdoors and SLOW DOWN.  Our front porch has become the new place to be because of it- mom is relaxed and not distracted.  I can be more present for everyone.  Plus, it's sturdy enough that the girls like to take turns sitting with me in it, too.  Who would have thought a silly chair could do all that?

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Season Shift

I've been meaning to write this post for weeks.  Instead, I've be continuously thinking of and reeling from a tragedy that some dear friends are living through.  Their sweet 4-month old baby boy passed away.  Please remember them in your prayers as they and their little girl grieve this enormous loss.  Thank you.

I'm still here (more or less).

The past couple months have flown by in a blur of baby and kid care, cooking from CSA boxes, trying to stay cool, birth family visits, a week of vacation, lesson planning, and day to day summer life.

In one week, we will start school as best as we can.  I recently read an article encouraging homeschool moms to think of their plans as "guesses".  I needed that.  Life is unpredictable and I am forever learning that I can't hold so tightly to my neatly structured plans.  Naps, appointments and feeding schedules are sure to change.  Lord, help me flex with them.

A summer without a huge garden of produce was, to be honest, so very nice.  Tomatoes came pouring in from our garden last week and I managed a large batch of canned, chopped tomatoes and a batch of tomato soup with one more go at soup planned for this week.  Thankfully, I have enough tomato sauce from last year to carry us over.

Since this was our first experience with a CSA (a full share) I wasn't sure what to expect.  Several people told us they found themselves trying new recipes to use up produce they usually don't buy.  I don't think I tried one new recipe.  Instead we roasted or ate fresh almost every single item.  It was a breeze...and so delicious.  If you don't have the space or time to garden, I highly recommend you look into a CSA.

The little boy with us is 8 months old already.  He is happy and healthy- a real joy.  It appears he will be with us for awhile yet.  Where he goes from here is still uncertain.  We welcome prayers for his sweet life and those who will care for him next.

I've missed writing here.  I've started a million blog posts in my mind these past few months- many about foster care.  The feelings and ideas are so hard to put into words- too complex and fragile all at the same time.  Maybe one day I can put these stories down.  For now, we live them out and do the very best we can with God's grace and strength holding us up.

September, ready or not, here we come!  Blessings to each of you as you make the transition, too.


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