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Friday, March 27, 2015

Brooke's Red Cake Recipe

Please say howdee to my good friend, Brooke!

I met Brook a couple years ago at a photography workshop.  We hadn't met each other in person until the workshop, until we were roomies that is.  Then I met this sweet woman and had the opportunity to stay up way to late, talk in bed till the wee hours of the morning and yak about photography and adoption and all things life.  Brooke is a southern gal, Alabama to be specific. Like complete with a big ol' thick accent. I luv that part of here.  And just as sweet as sweet tea too.  Because of this southern-ness, I know she knows good food already.

Back then, she was trying to hard to be patient while she was waiting for her sweet Jack to come home to her from his South Korea.  It took a lot longer than they expected it would, but y'all familiar with international adoption know how the unexpected in the norm.  Jack is home now an watching him bloom in pictures is such a treasure.  Brooke's family blog is here.

So here is Brook and her gorgeous Jack sharing her grandmomma's Red Cake recipe that I will make, for sure, without a doubt.  I know the kids are going to enjoy not only eating it but making it too!

And ya, she actually use words like grandmomma. She's that kind of southern!  Luv her so!

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Spring has officially sprung.  And with exception of our little one day teaser last week, Alabama apparently forgot to check the calendar.  So, we have really been trying to embrace the rain and make the most of our time indoors.
I have been letting some monogramming I needed to get done pile up because, frankly, Jack Cruz is still pretty much my shadow, and sewing with a two year old isn’t exactly a piece of cake, but it came time to bite the bullet and thread the needle. 
My Grandmomma is most famously known for three things:  she’s the baby whisperer, the sewing guru, and the mastermind behind this beautiful thing we like to call Red Cake.  So, while we crashed her house for me to sew (that’s where all the sewing supplies are), Jack Cruz and I also decided to ask her to help us whip up a little Red Cake yumminess!!
After his very first bite, Jack Cruz declared, “TACOO’S CAKE!”  I think its safe to say he loved it just as much as the rest of us do!
Red Cake Recipe:
1 box strawberry cake mix
1 box cherry jello
4 eggs
¾ cup corn oil
¾ cup water
Put strawberry cake mix, cherry jello, eggs, corn oil, and water in mixer.  Beat on low for 2 minutes, scraping sides of bowl.  Pour into greased and floured tube pan.  Bake in 325 degree oven for 1 hour.
½-1 box cherry jello
½ cup hot water
2 Tbsp butter
2 cup confectioners sugar
Dissolve the jello in hot water.  Add butter and confectioners sugar.  When hot cake is taken from the oven, punch 100 holes in cake with ice pick (or chopsticks work too!), punching through to bottom of pan.  Pour icing mixture over hot cake.  Let stand in pan until cold. 
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Thank you so much, Brooke!  I cannot wait to try your grandmomma's Red Cake! And it's totally obvious from your pics and how you describe Jack Cruz that you are raising the perfect southern gentleman.  
And thanks for sharing it with us, Brooke!  
Missing your wonderful company and staying up late in the night talking,   

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When is it ok to leave the kids?

Way back when, before the invention of the wheel, circa we-just-started-having-kids, Papa and I got the memo that it's good and important to have "couple time."  Time for just husband and wife to be together separate from the children.  We love them to pieces, but if left up to mama instincts we'd spend every hour and ounce of energy on raising up our children and put our marriage on the back burner. It's too easy to do.  But we gotta fight that urge sometimes and put our marriage first, and parenting responsibilities second.
***insert record scratch here***
I hope I didn't shock you with that last statement. Yep. My marriage comes before my children. Because if my marriage isn't strong, the foundation that we raise children on is weak. Let's face it, children as time and energy suckers, and we all know that the act of raising children has a way of rocking one's foundation.  So marriage comes first here in the crazy house.

Maybe it's just 'cause we're really self-centered people at heart, but Papa and I have always done a pretty good job of "dating" even as the children have come.  We still go out about twice a week with just the lovely two of us.  Sometimes it's just a trip to the grocery store.  Or Costco.  Sometimes we talk.  Sometimes we don't say much at all.  Often it's going to the movies which is one of my favorite things to do ever.  (ps-did anyone see an off Hollywood movie called What We Do in the Shadows?  We are still laughing so hard!  If you did see it, I have just one thing to say.  Ya, some of our clothes are from our victims. You might bite someone, and then you think, "Oh those are some nice pants.") And these little experiences and time alone that we share, come together to bring us closer together in the midst of a crazy loud chaotic life raising 7 children.  It's so important, and we try our best to make it happen.

But there's this one thing that Papa and I do not do, that we know we should. I'm using too broad a paint brush again.  It's actually something I constantly resist, where as Papa totally encourages it, and I find 10 reasons I can't.  Overnighters together. 'Cause a couple hours to get away with your husband all to yourself is great, but folks, a marriage needs more time than that.  It needs overnighters, a whole weekend away at a minimum every so often!

Our goal as a married couple is to be alone together for at least one weekend per year. Well, that's my goal, but it honestly doesn't come close to that.  He tries to plan something, and I remember an IEP meeting or a little league game that shouldn't be missed. I want to go, but sometimes going is just more work than not going. You know what I mean? The scheduling of caregivers and carpool.  The packing and unpacking. And who's gonna study that ridiculously hard 1st grade spelling kist with Tess and Jude?  (And do not get me started on Common Core and how inappropriate it is for Kindergartners an 1st graders to be pushed to the point that they want to give up and have so little time to play!)

So all this to say that Papa and I are heading out of town. Leaving is something that I just do not do well. I'm really looking forward to it, and I'm not at the same time.  We're headed to an adoption conference in Pennsylvania, and we're gonna get there a day early to meet up with a friend and do a little exploring around Amish country. I'll feel better about it as soon as we're on the plane, 'cause I know there are plenty of wonderful folks that are here to watch and shuttle the kiddos around.  That ridiculously hard spelling test is not going to get a very good grade this week, and I hope Jude will be okay with that. Chances are better than not that some of the children may not wear underwear every day, cause they think it's just too hard to put on on a regular basis. We're going to miss Patch's track meet, and I'm not sure if anyone will cheer him on. I'm gonna have to be okay with that. But I have to tell you myself, that this getting away to be husband and wife alone is really really important to do anyway.

I have a couple awesome guests post that will be coming while I'm gone.  Including one that has a recipe that made me want to drop everything in my life, run to the store, buy the ingredients, and make it.  I didn't do that because I'm trying to pack, but your better believe that I wanted to!

So I have a question for you. How do you keep your marriages strong in the midst of Little League games, science projects, cell phone drama and all things relating to kids and parenting? Do you get away regularly? Is it easy for you to do?

And because you know that I can not have a post without a photo, here's one I call Timeout at the Park. It was day #296/365

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


So right this very minute I have a flat tire, and I find myself on the side of the road by a hospital cancer treatment center. Isn't it amazing that I can publish a blog post from the side of the road! And as I'm waiting for AAA to arrive, (and they're 20 min past due) I've had two older gentleman come offer me help. I told both that I've called AAA, thank you so much but I'm doing okay.

And it's pretty obvious I have a flat tire. So to both I said it's just life and in the grand scheme of things everything is great. Life could be worse. Both have nodded their heads so knowingly, and I then realized where I was parked, by the cancer treatment center.  The first gentleman commented that he was currently dealing with cancer.  The second man said it was his wife who was battling cancer, and they were just on their way to their appointments.

And I am reminded again how a flat tire is nothing.

And my life is so good.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Somebody is turning 5 years old today!

And it's Mimi!
Oh sweet girl, almost every moment I see or even just think of you, one of the first thoughts that cross my mind is how crazy wonderfully lucky I am to be your mama!  You fill my days with smiles and enough sweetness to last a lifetime.  You're my muse.  My wrinkled and crinkled up nose smiler.  My independent, dress-twirling, already-snores-in-her-sleep, artichoke-loving, crazy beautiful girly girl.  My beloved and precious daughter!
Happy birthday baby girl (who really isn't a baby any more!)  The world not only awaits you, but can use someone just like you who makes the world a brighter happier place just by being you!
Mimi's wishes for her birthday include chocolate strawberry cupcakes and a visit to feed the ducks.  Ya, we can do that, sweetheart.  Anything for you!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Photo Gallery (Spring Fever)

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!    ~Mark Twain

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Where have the Crazy 9 Highlights been?

I was just thinking that it's been forever since I've done Crazy 8 Highlights post.  Not forever actually but surely a couple of years. So long that it's actually Crazy 9 Highlights!   Ya, that's a long time.  Life happens that way, especially when you blink.   

So without further ado, here we go with the plain ol' living of life here in the crazy house.  

This little man hasn't been feeling well lately.
In my cumulative 96 years of parenting, we've never had a single case of strep throat... ever.  Until this morning that is.  Nobody in this house has ever had it except the above sweet boy who hasn't had a good night's sleep (nor have the parental units for that matter) in several nights.  Low grade fever, no appetite, and a sore throat that just would not go away.  Let's also confirm at the doc's office this morn that he has mild asthma, and his petite frame has lost 3 pounds which isn't a lot until we consider that he only weighs 39 pounds.  Well used to weigh.  Now he weighs 36 lbs.  I think I'd better start drizzling olive oil on his meals again, and feeding him spoonfuls of peanut butter at snack time.

Boo is now taller than me.
I'm not short.

Papa and I are heading to the Together Called conference again this year.  So we are leaving our 75 degree perfection to head to Pennsylvania's winter in just a few weeks.  We're beyond thrilled to meet up with other adoptive parents who are walking in our shoes for a weekend of worship and just being together with people who get it.  But I'm hoping the weather will be kind to us desert rats because I don't really have a "coat."  Or appropriate foot wear.  Oh well.  Speaking of which, I'd like 1 or 2 guest posts when I'm gone.  I'm thinking a family recipe would be great to share.  Anyone want to write a post with a recipe that they'd like to share?  Or I'm game for suggestions.  It needs at least a pic or two.  Cross posting with your own blog is okay, and I'll even link to it if you like!

Wrestling season came to a close, and the manchild is now cruising along in track season.  As a high school sophomore he's found his place in athletics.  Let's just say that school work isn't exactly always at the top of his priority list.  But athletics absolutely are, and some genius decided you gotta do okay in school to participate in sports.  Yeah!  This mama is no longer the bad guy, and Patch works as hard as he needs in order to compete.  I can live with that.  After those 96 years of parenting one thing I've learned (then forgotten and relearned multiple times!) is to pick which battles to fight.  And there are many o' hills that I've been surprised to learn that I'm not willing to die on in order to win the war.  Sometimes parenting is like war.  And sometimes it's like paradise.

Did I mention that Boo is now taller than me?  We measured a few days ago and confirmed it.  He's 12 and I'm 5'7 and 1/2 inches tall so that doesn't seem right.  Seems we only grow them really big or really small in CrazyToWn.

The next Manual 'n More class is coming.  It's going to start in early summer, and I've been getting several inquiries.  Be sure to leave me your email address (in a comment here of via a private email or message) if you want notification when registration opens up.  That class fills up fast.  The details are HERE.

Speaking of photography, on my 365 day challenge I'm currently on day #284.  I'm kinda shocked that I've made it this far!  And surprised that I've learned quite a bot about my skills behind the lens and my photography crutches.  Here was today's post with one of my favorite pics of Mimi.  Black and white images have been calling to me lately.  And you gotta love the desert in the winter when you can go in a sleeveless dress.
Nursing school is kicking the bums of both Sunny and Liv, but they are both doing well in their classes and we are so proud of them.  It's an odd place as a parent to send my big kiddos out to the big ol' world and see them fend for themselves.  See if we've done a good job or not of preparing them for reality.  And simultaneously still be making PB&Js and inspecting proper brushing and flossing techniques while someone is sure to crawl into your bed in the middle of the night and grab your hand as we cross the street.   I find myself living on at least 2 different parenting fronts.  In a way I do think that helps me keep it all in perspective.  It helps me remember what really is important in the grand scheme of things.   On a more self-centered note, I have high hopes that I'll be well taken care of in my senior years with 2 daughters that are nurses.

And lastly Boo has grown taller than mem and that's just wrong.

Friday, March 6, 2015

I'm sorry. Really I am.

I hear many of you using scary words like snow, ice, cold front and freezing.
I'm sorry for this never-ending winter that you speak of.
We desert rats know of no such things.  In early March we use words like barefoot, flip-flops, spring, sunblock, lemonade and perfection.
If I could, I promise you that I'd box up my sunshine and 75 degree weather and send it to you, sweet friends.  I am sure (although inexperienced in such things) that y'all are D. O. N. E. with this winter.  Done with cold feet and your kids that are inside endlessly.
How 'bout if I send you flowers instead?
If you're stuck inside 'cause of the snow, or barefoot running in the grass or somewhere in between, have a happy weekend all and be sure to see the little ordinary miracles that are all around!

(My little miracles have come in the form of the back side of gerbera daisies lately.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

3 years ago today...

... she came.
This is what happened 3 years ago and then on the day after. 
3 years holds a lot of time to examine hindsight.

In hindsight, she looked so very little in those photos.  So much littler that that other little girls, who were the same age by a few weeks. She didn't look 24 months old at all.  Rather she looked like a baby.  Not a toddler.  I remember the feeling that we set out to adopt a toddler and got a baby instead.

She never again had a bottle.  Ever. Not that we didn't try.  I was told she has one 2 times a day but the moment she was handed off to us, she never had one again.

It took almost half a day to get off all those pee-soaked clothes.  I knew that I was suppose to leave them on her, to let her have even the smallest piece of her past and herself.  But the pee... even when it dried... was just too much for me, and so I coaxed her out of 5 layers of clothing in the next 24 hours.

Her constant scratching was most certainly not from scabies or eczema, but from fear.  3 years later she still does it when she's anxious, scratching the tops of her shoulders.

Her grief was so so awful to witness.  I said at the time, it wasn't screaming really, just constant grief, looking for someone not there, frequent and unknown triggers that brought her silent tears.  I remember one of the children in our travel group, saying to us, Your baby cries all the time. She did.  It was heartbreaking.

She started to emerge from "shut down" mode slowly.  Within a few days we got smiles, but she was still far from the 2 other babies in our group.  With in a couple weeks we could see her personality more clearly.  Within a couple months I can say that she was feeling "at home."

And her special need?  Hmmmmm... I was confused then too.  If you don't remember the story, we went to China not really knowing what her special need was.  Mimi was in the traditional China adoption program, when at 12+ months when she was pulled from the standard program, evaluated, and put into the special need's adoption program.  When we looked at her file, it was a list of symptoms, not a diagnosis.  After consulting with docs that had reviewed her file, we had several things it could be, but still no diagnosis.  Brain damage, mental retardation, mild CP... So there was a huge leap of faith going on when we said yes to her file.  But within a couple days of her being placed with us, Papa and I said the unthinkable out loud... what is her special need?  We still couldn't put our finger on it. She was significantly delayed, and like I said even more so than her peers of the same age at the orphanage, but she really didn't present like there was a definable special need. Then again she was on total shut down mode, and we were confused.  And totally in love.  And it didn't seem to matter much.  In the weeks and months that followed, Mimi opened up and showed us her silly, feminine, stubborn, beautiful self.  And it became obvious, even before we took her to the doctor, that there was no. special. need. at. all.

How does that happen?  How does a a non-special need adoption happen in the special need's program?  I don't have any idea.  After talking directly to both the China orphanage director and our agency, we have several theories how it happened.  And we know that this type of thing although very rare, does happen in the China adoption program.  But really, we will never know.  Was it all on the up and up?  Again, I have my theories, but no concrete answers.  Such are the unknowns in international adoption.

But here is what I do know.
3 years ago today I fell in love with this child so so so much, and that never changed.  =

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Annual top 10 photos - 2014 edition

Ya, it's late.
Like so so late. 
I run on late these days.  
Am I sounding like a broken record?  Papa is still traveling weekly.  He just got home from Las Vegas and next week he's off to Kansas City.  (Anyone from Kansas City that wants to recommend a great place to eat?  Papa thinks he's a foodie.)  If I count the big kids, our kids are in 6 different schools.  Luckily I only have to carpool to 4 schools... only.  If you read a bit of sarcasm in that sentence then I've written it correctly.  The amount of time I'm spending in the car is crazy.  I am well versed in all things reported on by NPR though!  As I reminded Papa recently, the things that matter most to our family are all getting done though.  Like training up children, and we even all seem to like each other these days.  The teenagers are being pretty awesome and not yanking my chain too much.  And that's not a given by any means.  So my apologies are with you my bloggie friends.  I'm sorry I'm behind on my Q&A posts and family favorite recipes, and just plain ol' life posts.  I'm sorry.  We knew it was going to be a year of crazy busy, and I am so ready for May 22nd, the last day of school this year, when I'll be high tailing it to Little Cabin in the Woods and done done done with this busy year.  
86 days and counting... not that I'm counting or anything.  
But I am so counting! 

So onto my top 10 pics for 2014.  After 2013, 2012,  2011, and 2010 I don't want to miss this tradition.  And it's also a tradition that I go way past 10 pics.  We had a lot of big stuff happen this in 2014 and as usual narrowing it down to 10 just wasn't going to happen.  So here it goes no particular order. 

Liv's 18th birthday, highschool graduation, trip-of-a-life-time trip.  This is looking through a glass door at St. An's Orphanage in VietNam.  The children stole our hearts.  I miss it.  So much.  I love this pic because Liv is doing one of the things she does best, loving on the children there and giving of herself.  But I also love it because I can see myself, with a baby on my hip too, in the reflection of the glass.  My time with my daughter on this trip was so special.  
In order to go to VietNam I sadly missed my favorite pow wow.  Thankfully my papa took me to an itty bitty pow wow in my home town and it was different and still wonderful.
I'm photographing this gorgeous young lady again later this week.  It might be one of my favorite BWs that I've ever taken.
Kids in the mud?  What can go wrong.  Well Jude was NOT happy with me at all for making him get dirty.  I'm not sure he'll ever forgive me or forget the horror of this moment.  The girls had fun though!
I love love love this pic.  I might in my top ten of all time.  I love how it empowers little girls. specifically my little girl.  Yes, I miss FireDog so much.  But our 24/7 ninja is awesome too.  If Tess could do anything this is where she'd be all day long, in the air, fighting off evil with a sword.  She is the best ninja ever!
This pic is special to me becuase I remember my papa doing this exact thing to me in my home town, lifting me up to see the Christmas display.  Now Papa does it for Mimi.  ***sigh***
I discovered a deep love of my macro lens this year.  Like I love this lens.  And I love these little lips.  Heaven  Pure heaven.
I had an occasion to shoot my first birth in 2014 too.  It was the most amazing experience ever!  And I'm excited that I'll get to photograph another one in April too!  I love the details in this shot.  The vernix on her finger and the blood drop on the blanket and skin.  So very new was this gorgeous baby!
If you've followed my photography for a while, you know I love color.  Mimi in orange and on orange is pretty much the best thing ever!
Oh how much I want to be back here!  I love that turquoise house in the background.  I love the oxen in the rice fields.  I love the red tile roofs.  I love this country.
This little one was a pre-schooler when this was taken, just a bit older than Mimi.  I saw her sitting in this doorway and it took my breath away even before I took the pic.  And I remember thinking as I walked over to take the pic, oh please don't move before I can get the shot.  Thankfully she didn't.  And the image turned out just like I hope it was.  That doesn't always happen.   This time it did.
More VietNam?  Ummmmm, YES!  I have this one blown up on canvas.  The yellow was behind her is the outer wall of St. Ans.
I think this is the same little one that is in the pic 2 above this one in the door way.   She really is a gorgeous child.  And I love all the peachy tones in this image.  Not to mention the little top notch on her head.  All the children were just this gorgeous!
This next pic was a finalist for Adoptive Families annual contest!  And I love it too for the way it shows how Jude is the consummate big brother, teaching his littlest sister how to twirl.  Those little cheeks of hers and the way her dress and pony tail fly out are pretty awesome too!
VietNam in HaLong Bay and one of the floating villages there.  In just a few moments after I snapped this pic, we hopped on board that orange boat and got the tour.  Ya... it was that freaking amazing!
Seriously, a pic of me made it into my top 10?  Oh yes it did!  My good friend Kate took this pic of Mimi and me.  I love everything about it, and it's just how I still feel about this little Chinese princess of mine... giddy! And I even love the urban background setting.  If I die this year, someone please tell my family to use this photo at my memorial service!
Oh my goodness this child just amazes me!  She isn't stereotypical Viet looking, but I love how God has created her with her own unique look, and it's a gorgeous one at that.  Flash forward... she's gonna be 17 someday.  Someone help me when we get there!
This pic made it into the top ten because it's one of my favorite places on the planet, about 90 min from my home.  That's water coming down from the top and 5 of my kiddos on the bottom.
Yep, she did it!  Sunny got married and this is the pic I have to show for it.  But the words are better than I could have ever chosen. united to his wife... So they are no longer two, but one. And we are amazing proud of both Sunny and her Airman!  We love you both!
Ya the love affair with the macro lens continues!  Waiting and waiting for the honey bee to be in just the right place.  Those little suckers are fast!  Let's just say it was an exercise in patience.
Their first day of school.  Tess wasn't happy with me.  Sometimes that's just how it is.  And he's usually got his eye on her all the time to be there when she needs.
More macro.  I'm not a carnation kind of gal, but I'm thinking that maybe I am now!  Carnations never looked so delicate and pretty to me.
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