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Friday, April 17, 2015

Vanilla does Chinese (at least we're trying)

One of the things Sunny is always very intentional about when she visits is spending time with each of her brothers and sisters. So last week she and Mimi made dumplings. We had never made dumplings before but I had always wanted to try 'cause everyone loves them and they are currently Tess's favorite food in the whole wide world. Which I think is kinda funny that that my Viet girl chose a Chinese food as her favorite! A lovely blog reader forwarded me a great recipe including YouTube video that told how to fold them up so of course we had to give it a go.

I've been calling the Crazy us Vanilla lately because we made a little video and Sunny calls us a "vanilla" family before the 3 little ones joined our family.  I think she's likely on to something. So now we're vanilla with a side of fish sauce stir fried in a wok. Yum!

First they chopped mixed and stirred the filling up...
 Then they attempted to assemble the dumplings...
 Then they decided it would be good to actually watch the video to see how it was done
 Mimi watched her big sister to see how to put them in the wrapper.
 For only being 5 years old and never doing this before, she was actually pretty good at it! But she's Chinese and all, so I really shouldn't be all that surprised.
We tried 2 different types of wrappers cause I had honestly no idea which ones to get. They say that both were yummy, but the yellower ones were easier to wrap with. I think the lighter one look more traditional though.
I'd like to tell you that the dumplings were delicious but I can't. I didn't get to taste them. I went to pick up the Man Child from school and when I came home they were gone. Not so much as a tiny one was left. But everyone assures me they were crazy delish and made me promise that we will make them again very soon! 

Which I will do because I really would love to try them someday.

The recipe we used for the dumplings is here. It was pretty easy to do too!
The YouTube video that Mimi is watching above is here. It shows a demo on how to fold the filled wrappers. 
Click here for other family favorite recipes.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Photo Gallery (Sunset Dance)

Coincidentally (or maybe not) many of my favorite photos capture Mimi dancing. Here she dances with Jude in front of what I can only describe as a hurry-up-and-grab-my-camera-before-this-sunset-changes moment.
PS - Registration for the next Manual 'n More class is in full swing! Details and registration is HERE and going on now! This class always fills so if you know you want to take it, please don't wait to sign up! No problem if you have a vacation during class 'cause you do the class on your time frame!

This is the class that starts the journey to getting the pics that you already have in your head! And I cannot wait to do it with you!


Monday, April 13, 2015

Registration OPEN NOW for Manual 'n More class

Our little ones stay little for a very short period of time, and I know first hand that one day you wake up and they are grown and gone. If you are letting your camera make all the decisions for you in auto mode, then you are missing out on capturing the fleeting ordinary miracles that are all around you!  Please don't let your big-girl camera sit on auto mode!  Learn to do more with it with your camera and capture the photos you want!

Click HERE to register via Paypal
Class size will be limited and is first come first serve
It's no secret that I love photography and am more than happy to share what I know! Manual 'n More is an 8-week, online course starting on June 8, 2015, for beginning photographers who want to move beyond auto mode and take the photos they've always wanted! It'll teach you how  to shoot in Manual mode so you can capture those fleeting memories around you. I want to give you both the information you need to capture images like the ones you envision and a place to practice what you are learning where you can ask questions, get feedback, and learn from what others are doing and asking too! I'll keep it simple, use easy-to-understand language, and give step-by-step instructions that will help you learn how to really use your DSLR as more than a fancy point-n-shoot camera. There are even a couple weeks built in to the class for "catch up" just in case you have a vacation planned during those 8 weeks. I want you to do the class at your pace.   

What does Manual 'n More cover?
  • Exposure - what it is and why it's critical to understand and how to do it in Manual mode
  • Apertures and depth of field
  • Shutter speeds, ISO and how they affect your photos
  • How to read your camera's light meter
  • Putting all the pieces together to get the photo you envision
  • Different metering and focus modes - what they do and how to know which one to use
  • Studying and using the light correctly
  • Techniques for getting crisp focus
  • And lots more!

How does the class work?
In a private Facebook group, we work together, start with the basics and develop a firm foundation. I'll demystify terms like exposure triangle, aperture and ISO. Then we will put the pieces together and empower you to shoot in manual mode. But this is just the beginning! Then we'll move on to metering, learn some great techniques for getting sharp focus, and study light and how to best use it. There is no need to be online at any particular time because you choose when to check in and work at your own pace. I will be available the whole time to answer questions and provide personalized feedback and guidance to help you! There will be a private forum via Facebook just for our class, where you can share your photos and questions {or not} any time of day. There will be homework, but unlike that chemistry class you took in high school all homework is optional and due whenever and if-ever you want! You can participate during nap time, in the middle of the night, only on the weekends, or whenever you find an opportunity and even skip class entirely during your vacation. I'll be there in my horribly-embarrassing holey yoga pants, so I invite you to pull up your laptop and make yourself comfortable any time of day or night!  

What do I need to take the class?

  • A DSLR camera
  • Access to the Internet and a Facebook account
  • Enthusiasm and time to learn and practice    

How much does it cost?
 $199.  Payment is taken at registration via Paypal (which accepts all major credit cards)  

What do other students think of the class?
I took another class and decided I was too dumb to learn photography. You have given me hope that I CAN.  You make it all make sense and give awesome feedback along the way. THANK YOU!!! ~Jodi

I was following the Ordinary Miracles blog for quite some time before I found the time and guts to take the Manual'n'More class. I was a bit skeptical to taking an online class from my home in Scandinavia, with the teacher in Arizona!! That fear was so unnecessary! The time difference and foreign language did not matter at all!  You can tell Nancy is a teacher deep inside, because she would always find a new way to explain, check if you are following, and she is very patient!  Nancy is truly flexible, always there to give a reply, to answer questions, no questions are ever too silly. She manages to create such a learning environment, online!, that it feels okay to post pics that aren't really that good. She gives individual feedback, and it was just amazing how close she manages to follow up her class! She doesn't keep the good parts of photography to herself, you can tell that she really loves to pass on her knowledge! I can warmly and most definitively recommend taking her class!  ~Lill-Karin

Nancy, thank you for being such an amazing teacher!! I never knew I could have taken photos like the ones I've recently done until I started your class. Your encouragement and constant feedback, in language which a "newbie" like me could understand, gave me the push I needed to feel comfortable to move from auto to manual. Your detailed lessons and assignments set me up for success; each lesson built upon the prior lesson, giving me the foundation, tools and knowledge to realize shooting in manual was possible. I honestly thought shooting photos in manual was out of my reach until I found your class. In giving me the "how and why" throughout the course, you took away the fear and intimidation of shooting in manual. Thank you so much for sharing your gift of teaching and your passion for photography.  ~Amy

Thank you, Nancy! I owe it all to you that I am finally able to catch the beauty of my children in photos. I look at the photos I took before your class and think if only I had known what I know now. My only regret is I didn't take your class sooner! ~Kristen

I am truly blown away by how much I learned in your class. You put everything you had into making yourself and the material accessible to all of us, and what a difference it made. It was amazing to see the transformation in not only my own pictures, but everyone's in the class. I found that learning the appropriate  ways to focus and meter for varying situations was essential to capturing the images I wanted.  I think these essential pieces of instruction are often missing from other basic photography classes.  I also loved your tips and encouragement for finding our own style. But most of all I loved how you  made learning to use the camera in manual mode interactive and fun! I felt like I had a teacher, a mentor, and a friend walking beside me and helping me capture treasured moments and memories. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being so responsive and so willing to share your talent and knowledge. ~Ashlee

Thanks for everything, Nancy. I had to tell you a funny story that happened. I had printed a few pictures off at Walgreens. When I picked them up the teenage clerk said that there was a slight problem and that a couple of the photos looked like a professional photographer had taken them and did I have permission to make prints? I actually had to sign a copyright waiver! It made me feel great that they thought my photos were stolen and I thanked the clerk for his compliment!  ~Cathy

Sound like something you'd like to participate in? Feel free to give me a holler if you have any questions. Hope to see you there... holey yoga pants and all!

Click HERE to register via Paypal
Class size will be limited and is first come first serve

Saturday, April 11, 2015

It still hurts (but in a good way)

This parenting thing often blows me out of the water.  Like, how in the world did I get here? What am I doing? When do I get to that feeling where I don't feel like I'm winging it anymore? and What in the world were we thinking? Parenting is crazy ridiculous hard. It's instinctual. It's amazing. It doesn't make sense, yet it makes all the sense in the world. It makes me smile, laugh and feel joy like I never though possible at times, and others times feel pain like I didn't know I could.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know we had our big girl with us for a whole 7 days. We soaked Sunny in every single moment she was here. She still lights up a room, loves hippos, dances like nobody is watching, sings in the shower, and teaches me a thing or two about loving life in the here and now. And then she left this morning.

Do not get me started on what letting her get out of the car and walk into the airport felt like, letting her go... again. Ya, it was like this all over again. Gut wrenching. I seriously don't know how one is suppose to love on someone else with everything they have, investing almost all their time and energy, investing the whole of their being morning, noon, night, and of course the middle of this night too cause that's what moms do.

teaching, training and guiding
hugging, kissing and holding her hand
picking up the pieces when necessary
bandaging up skinned knees and celebrating lost teeth
writing thank you letters and apology letters
reviewing for first grade spelling test and then high school final exams
holding your breath as they go off to school the first time or drive off in a car the first time
wiping shed tears and laughing and bad jokes
dancing like nobody is watching in the living room together with the music turned up too loud
changing flat tires on the side of the freeway and shopping for bras
giving countless lectures to an audience of one with rolling eyes, then being surprised that she heard me at all and took it all to heart
making cookies. And brownies. And smoothies. And candy. And more
reminding her to do her chores... again... for the 10th time, then later her remind her young brother to do his chores... again... for the 10th time

And you mamas know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. We invest all of our selves into our children year after year after year. How does anyone invest this type of time, energy and love every single day and night for 20 years into another person, and then one day it just literally walks out the door. And is never coming back to stay.

She is gone.

And I still miss her.

And it still hurts.

And almost 2 years later there's still a hole where she used to be in my everyday.

And that's okay, because that's how it's suppose to work. I know if it feels like this now, and I cannot wait for the next moment no matter how far in the future it will be that I can wrap my arms around her again and feel her warmth next to mine again... than I think we've done something right. I'm not going to take for granted that loving my daughter and loving being with my daughter is not a given. (So much for not getting me started with what all that letting go stuff feels like!)
I've had mamas tell me that this feeling never really goes away. That even with time, there is always going to be a hole in my heart where she used to be. I can live with that. That hole is a God-given blessing! And there's great consultation and joy knowing how amazingly wonderfully she's doing out of the nest.  She's so happy to be a wife to her Airman and rocking nursing school at the same time. We're out-of-this-world proud of her! She is still changing and growing even though she is away from us. She's becoming a better her. And ultimately that's everything we prayed for.

God willing if we are lucky we're going to do this 6 more times?
What in the world were we thinking?!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

All she wanted was to feed ducks and chocolate strawberry cupcakes

 We don't do a lot of kid's parties in the Crazy house. We do do it's-your-birthday-and-we want-you to-feel-especially-treasured-on-this-day though. And ya, I just said do-do in a post!

This year for Mimi's birthday, what she wanted was 2 things: to feed ducks and cupcakes with chocolate and strawberries. We threw in eating at her choice of restaurants, (Sweet Tomatoes and she started dinner with ice cream!) and some presents too, and I think she definitely felt special and treasured on her birthday. Because she certainly is!
When asked before her birthday, Mimi couldn't really come up with a single toy or present that she wanted. But her big sister hooked her up with some My Pretty Ponies and her other brothers and sisters got her gifts too. She also got a bike, some puzzles and games.
She's pretty stinkin' easy to make happy. And that's a gift in it's own right!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Together Called 2015 and will we or won't we

And if the Liberty Bell isn't enough, that's Independence Hall in the background!
You know, the actual place the Declaration of Independence was debated and adopted. Being a tourist was so fun!

So as I mentioned HERE Papa and I went out of town last weekend. We traveled to Pennsylvania for a conference. We had a chance to be tourists for a couple days too and the time away with just him and me was so so good. The conference was wonderful too but sadly the time went so quickly, and sadly the time on Sunday he had to go straight to Chicago to work, and I had to go back to the desert to make sure the house didn't burn down. My mom and Livy tended the craziness while we were away so of course I knew it didn't really burn down...  kinda. My mom and Livy are getting medals for blessing us in this way. And chocolate.

Together Called is an annual Christian conference put on by The Sparrow Fund for adoptive couples. It's held in Pennsylvania each year. It's a coming together of couples who have walked in these adoptive shoes and get it. When Papa and I were there, we were no longer the crazy people with 7 kids, but rather a drop in big ol' pool of people that have also probably been labeled as crazy by those who don't get it. There were so many amazing people there, from couples just looking into starting a family, to families that sought out to adopt older children. Or kiddos from disrupted adoptions or children with moderate to severe special needs... or both! To open adoptions or domestic adoption or international or from US foster care.  Every where I turned there was someone with an amazing story. Like a God-has-His-hands-all-over-this story! And I was humbled to be in the presence of such ordinary people who are saying in their actions that 147 million orphans is something that just can't be merely sad about but need to act upon to quench the loneliness that exists in their family
of 2
or 4
or 7
or 9
That they want to add one more... and in turn make one less in the world.

If you are an adoptive family (or thinking about becoming one) and you have the opportunity to go next year. GO! They sell out every year so don't wait too long to sign up either. It's such wonderful, uplifting, celebratory, gritty-real, gathering of people that you don't have to explain what it's like to, that will leave you feeling empowered and connected with your husband to do this thing called adoption and parenting.

Before we even left for the conference, I told Papa that we needed to decide before we left if we were even considering adopting again. It's been on my mind. Usually in the morning right after the breakfast dishes are done and I've started the first load of laundry, I think, ya, we might adopt again.  And right before I go to bed, when I've blown my stack about everyone coming together to clean the kitchen after dinner and that same of laundry is still sitting wet in the washing machine I think, no, I do not think I can possible adopt again. The conference did get us thinking, and talking about whether or not we want to add another child to our crazy mix. And it's pretty unanimous that we have no idea what is in store for us in the future. We also agree that for now, our hands are full, quite literally some of the time with pull-ups and casseroles, IEPs and whisk brooms, hair bows, smelly gym socks, driver's permits and spelling lists, dog food and Lucky Charms, and little hands that still reach to hold mine when we cross the street.
So will we adopt again?
Maybe later.
Maybe soon.
Maybe not.
Add captionA farmhouse in PA. Another pic in the series taken out a car window going 50pmh. Cause if Papa were to pull over every time I wanted to take a photo we'd never get anywhere!  I find myself fascinated with farmland and farm houses and am considering buying myself a tractor just 'cause. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cover Girl!

Did you see?
Did you see that our Tess is a cover girl for the most recent issue of Adoptive Families magazine?
This pic was taken a couple years ago at Little Cabin in the Woods. Before she cut her own bangs for the 5th time.  Yes, the dandelions are huge! And so are our dreams and wishes for her!

Click HERE to see more of this wonderful online magazine.  I think it has gone to a subscription service, but it is well worth the annual subscription fee to have so many great adoption articles and resources at your fingertips!

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.

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