Wednesday, November 7, 2012

To Williamsburg! Again...

In early October we drove down to Virginia to meet my family at their favorite East Coast vacation spot, Williamsburg and its environs. We didn't actually tour Colonial Williamsburg, having done so on many occasions before, so this trip we took excursions to Jamestown Settlement, Shirley Plantation and a cool corn maze we found on the way.

Up first: my bottom. I post this here to document the fact that Andrew really likes to take pictures of my backside. How do I know this? As I uploaded the pictures from the vacation I noticed quite a number of photos that looked a lot like this. Either that or he is making some kind of statement about husband oppression and always having to walk behind me.
This is Shirley Plantation, one of the oldest homes in America. It has been owned by the same family for hundreds of years and they are still living in the upper floors of the house. Pictures of the interior are prohibited but needless to say it was old, incredibly fascinating and our tour guide was a charming old woman made as only The South can make them.
This is a field of cotton. I had never seen one before but Shirley is still a working plantation, as it has been for hundreds of years...yup, this place is OLD. It is amazing it is still here, in the same family since the 1600's. How many people can even say that their parents still live in the house they grew up in? Not many.

 Why am I so excited in this picture? I am looking at a root cellar. Strange though it may seem, I find root cellars endlessly fascinating and the excitement engendered by this colonial one could not be restrained.
Up next, Jamestown Settlement. This isn't the actual Jamestown, just a reconstruction and living history museum but really fun for the kids.
Ravenna cooking our dinner over the coals. I think she has squatting down to an art.

This is me on a reconstructed ship based on the vessel that brought John Smith to his New World Pocahontas, except that wasn't how the story really went...Either way, we learned that it majorly sucked to be an early colonist of Virginia. I was mostly interested in the gardens they had on display and the plants that they were growing in them. 
I am not sure if Opa Kevin is yawning or being scary for the camera here but it was too good not to post.

This was the only decent picture from the corn maze. It was a super cool one too but our photographer must have been pooped from our one hour and fifteen minute trek through the maze to VICTORY!
No post on this vacation would be complete without "The Chris Face." This face, demonstrated by his girlfriend Michelle and Andrew, perfectly illustrates his occasionally misanthropic disposition.
But we think that Michelle brings out the best in him.

 Of course, no family vacation is complete without some snuggles with Oma. And this concludes our pictorial journey.

My brother Josh was also on this vacation but this was the best we could get of him:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Alice in Dutch Wonderland

 Oma Leslie gets killer deals at a secret Disney store only for employees and their families so every year she gets the honor of picking out Ravenna's Halloween costume. This year Oma picked out a very appropriate for our curious girl, Alice in Wonderland. Ravenna has never seen the Disney film but she has been to Dutch Wonderland. Whenever anyone would ask her what she was dressed up as she would say very confidently "Alice in Dutch Wonderland" who also evolved into a princess.

Despite the post hurricane cold weather she had a glorious Halloween celebrated with songs of "Three Little Witches", recitations of "Five Little Pumpkin" finger plays with the felted wool pumpkins she made in her Waldorf school and, of course, trick-or-treating until her "bones hurt." From her stash she got to pick four candies ("Because I am four") and the rest went to the dentist for his annual candy buy back and to daddy for his annual "I like to visit the dentist" candy gorge-a-thon.

Mom had some candy too but it unfortunately it ended badly. Curious to try the Nestle chocolate covered peanut confection "Goobers" I made the terrible mistake of actually eating them despite the fact that they smelled like farts. I write this only to warn you from making the same mistake I did. Nestle is evil, just stay away.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


To celebrate Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael, Ravenna's Waldorf kindergarten class made capes and crowns. The capes are silk dyed with marigolds and the crown is wool felt and yarn.

Michaelmas, which occurs on September 29th, right around the Autumnal equinox, is celebrated as a harvest festival and has great significance in the Waldorf tradition. In a letter sent to parents to explain the festivities Ms. Wendy, Ravenna's teacher, wrote,
"St. Michael, by way of the earthly St. George, becomes an archetype of heavenly courage and inspiration. We are not alone in our efforts to meet the dragons of cold, hunger and darkness--be they physical or spiritual. Courage, honor and goodness are spiritual gifts given every human being if one gathers his or her inner forces, cocoons him or herself to enkindle warmth of heart, and lights the lamps of positivity and hope within."
 A few weeks beforehand the children see a weekly puppet show of St. Michael and the Dragon to familiarize them with the story. On the day of celebration the children had to conquer an obstacle course and "fight" a dragon. They dressed as "Star Children" with golden capes and and star crowns and "care for all things good and true."

Jumping up and down to show me how the cape works.
 When asked about the day Ravenna said that she got to be brave and was a hero. How's that for a morning's work?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Watch Out World...

Andrew has a scooter!

This was our answer to the one-car dilemma. So far so good, except for when it rains. Ahem.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The First Day

 Today Ravenna started preschool. We are lucky enough to have a lovely Waldorf school near our home where Ravenna can explore and grow in a warm, gentle environment. She is in a mixed-age kindergarten with children from ages 3-6 which allows her both to learn from and teach her classmates.
 She doesn't look too excited but believe me, she was.

This is Ms. Wendy, Ravenna's teacher. Look at that classroom! I wish I could show you all the cool stuff there is in there (there is even a climbing tower with a slide!). Everyday Ms. Wendy sets up the room to be a little bit different and creates opportunities for imaginative play to evolve. Today she had a few balance boards draped with sheep skins and covered the climbing tower with a cloth just like the blanket forts of yore. 

In the basket next to Ms. Wendy you can see that she is working on some kind of yarn project. She will sit in her rocking chair and work on a project while her assistant teacher whips up a batch of millet muffins and the children play. The idea is that the children will either be interested, or not, in what the adults are doing and the children can, and often do, join in if they are so inclined.

Monday, August 27, 2012

It's Fair Season!

Yay! We love the Elizabethtown Fair! It is definitely the best way to end the summer. Held the week before school starts this is especially so because it is often our last opportunity for time with Andrew before he gets back to the endless grind of lesson plans, grading and sleep deprivation.

This year we decided to go all-out. Andrew said "My parents were lame. They had four kids and we never got to go on any of the rides," so Andrew decided to let Ravenna go on ALL of the rides that she was tall enough for.

Getting ready to ride the roller coaster; a little bit scared.
Daddy is happy
She loved it!

Ravenna had a blast and Andrew had a blast watching her. I went on the Ferris Wheel with her and couldn't wait for it to be over. I am getting seriously paranoid in my old age. When we boarded the rusty, creaky ride I noticed a sign saying that the ride was last inspected in 2008. 2008?! Every time we would go up the shaking and grinding sound would get louder and more pronounced. While I did try to enjoy myself, mostly I was sitting up there fearing that we would plummet to our deaths. Happily, that was not the case but I will not be riding again next year.

A trip to the fair is never complete without a trip to the petting zoo and this...

Homemade rootbeer in a homebrew bottle. We got a  lot of weird looks about this one.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ravenna's First Disney Visit

I like to think I grew up at Disney. Some of my earliest memories are of going to Walt Disney World when I was two years old. Growing up in Southern California, going to Disneyland was almost a yearly event for most of my childhood, and when we lived in Orange County it became almost a weekly event. My siblings and I knew Disneyland better than we knew our own hometown. Many of my happiest memories, including becoming engaged to Andrew, were made while at Disneyland.

 My family is obsessed with Disney! My dad worked there as a teen, as did my brother Aaron, and now my brother Chris and my sister Rachelle currently work there and love it! There are definite perks to being a Disney employee, particularly if you are a relative of a Disney employee. When daily tickets to the park are now close to $100, those "get in free" perks are a definite blessing.

For years my brother Chris has been asking me to bring Ravenna to California so he could get her in for her first visit at Disneyland. When my Nana passed away at the end of February after a long and amazing life, our trip to California for the funeral provided the opportunity.

I cannot say enough about what a great place Disneyland is to visit. Yes, it is very expensive but at least for the price they do a great job of making the visit memorable. If you have food allergies, for example, the employees will bend over backwards to try to meet your needs. The firework show is so magical it brought me to tears.

Ravenna was tall enough to ride most of the rides which was a lot of fun being able to take her on my favorites but wasn't so great when she got totally soaked on Splash Mountain. The poor girl was sobbing, "I do not like that ride!" as she walked past all the people waiting in line. It was so sad but funny at the same time. Luckily I had thought to bring her some extra pants and underwear so a quick run to a shop for an overpriced t-shirt and voila! All better.

Look at that face!
Watching Ravenna experience Disney for the first time was very special for me. Having so many happy memories of one place made seeing her delight in it all the more touching. Seeing her rock-out at a cover-band concert in Tomorrowland was one of the highlights of my life. What a wonderful time!

Thank you to, Rachelle, Chris, Oma and Opa for helping give us such a perfect Disney experience!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Foster Parents No More?

I haven't wanted to update this blog because I wasn't sure what I would say about this very sad part of our lives. I knew that I couldn't skip over it but I needed time to process my feelings. I wrote a blog post in February indicating that it had become extremely difficult to be a foster parent and that we had considered putting in our notice to have the baby removed but that we had felt inspired that God wanted us to keep him in our home for the time being. Unfortunately that time was very short as we did end up putting in our notice only a month after publishing that post.

Our reasons for doing so were many but NONE had to do with our ability to care for and love sweet Baby J. I am deeply resentful of the foster care system in our country and I could talk on and on about terrible caseworkers and guardians who didn't give a thought to what was best for the child instead doing what was easiest for them. BUT I am not going to because when I do I am filled with anger and pain. I can however easily and gratefully praise the diligent and caring workers at our agency who tried so hard to make our placement work. They believed that our home was best for the baby and worked hard to keep it that way. In the end it was our call and on the last day of March he left our home. What it came down to was the stress was too great and it was negatively impacting our family's mental, emotional and physical resilience. 

We appreciate the love and support extended to us throughout the 10 months that Baby J was in our home. THANK YOU! He is such a special baby and I pray continually that he will attach well in his new foster home and that our Heavenly Father continues to bless and protect him so that he can grow up in a safe and loving home.

Many people ask us if we will continue to be foster parents and the answer right now is, "we don't know." We are currently "On Hold" at our agency so that we will not receive any calls until July. I don't know how we will feel when July comes around. We can only wait and see.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Helpful Real Food Cooking Tips

In the past few months I have been reading more and more cookbooks and books about food in general. Some of these books have been duds (The Taste Thesaurus? Blah) but others have been gems. You might be wondering if I have become obsessed with food and you might be onto something. I do like food, A LOT, but cooking? Not so much. Being on the GAPS Diet, also known as the "no processed anything diet" requires me to spend a lot of time cooking. You might think that having been on this diet for 16 months! now I would have acquired a love of cooking given the many hours each day I spend in the kitchen but you would be sadly wrong. If nothing else I probably dislike it more. In my quest to make cooking less painful I have stumbled upon a few very fabulous tips that help me spend less time in the kitchen and help me save money to boot.

The first tip comes from a cookbook that I haven't even read yet and probably won't unless the price goes down:

The author of Well Fed offers a thirty-page teaser preview on her website which was so awesome that I was almost willing to pay $30 for the cookbook; almost. What is magical about this cookbook besides its delicious recipes which include, amongst others, chocolate chili? Melissa Joulwan comes from a family of restauranteurs which means she knows how to cook food FAST. Once a week Joulwan does the majority of her food prep for the week, usually within a day of her shopping trip. In two hours she browns ground beef, cooks chicken breasts and sausages,  roasts sweet potatoes and spaghetti squash, steams broccoli and cabbage, chops up raw veggies for snacks, boils a dozen eggs and much more.

As I read this idea it astounded me. In years past I had subscribed to a menu mailer that advocated such weekly prep as this but it didn't really work for me because I didn't like all the recipes included in each weeks mailers. Joulwan, however, doesn't worry about such things as "recipes". She only makes 2-3 real recipes every week. The rest of the time she makes what she calls "hot plates." Basically, she takes what prepared items she has an assembles them into a meal. She decides what flavor she wants (Mexican, Indian, Asian etc.) and then what protein and throws it all together into a skillet and voila! Dinner. The example she gave for a Mexican dinner was to throw together in a skillet a pound of the precooked ground beef, steamed chopped peppers and cabbage and while that was warming up make some "South Western Cumin Lime Dressing" and she had dinner ready in less than ten minutes. This way you get lots of variety and you aren't stuck with the Chicken curry you had planned to make when what you really crave is Mexican.

I have done this a few times and it has worked famously. I wish I was better at doing it but as with every new skill learned, it takes time to change habits and fit something new into the routine. The chopping and steaming vegetables has been genius. I wash and cut up lettuce as soon as I get it so that I can make an easy salad, grate and steam cauliflower rice, and slice a head of cabbage for "noodles." It is so easy just to steam the already wet from washing sliced vegetables until just soft and put in a container in the fridge until I need it. I also like to make up the week's salad dressing so I have no excuse not to eat my greens.

As for working on those flavor combinations to mix together those hot plates? The Flavor Bible is essential! I cannot say enough about how great this book is. The way it is organized is so perfectly aligned with how my brains works. The only thing that I didn't like about this book is its omission of Sherry for cooking.

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace had such a lovely little gem of a not-quite-cookbook title that I bought it, not even waiting for it to come to the library. I don't exactly regret my purchase but I since I am not eating grains currently, her grain heavy and Italian influenced cooking tips really did not quite hit home with me. She also has a mysterious "thing" with beets which I cannot comprehend. It wasn't that this was a useless books, on the contrary, her tips for stretching your culinary budget are sound and tasty, but Adler definitely needed to endear herself to me with her unflinching praise of fat to keep me reading until the end. The most useful tip that I found in her book was to use EVERY part of the vegetable. The core and leaves of that head of cauliflower? Edible. Yup. Not every part of plant is edible (carrot tops?) but when you are paying for those throwaway bits it is nice to be able to put them to use. I now use the extra leaves and cores of cabbage and cauliflower to make blended French-style potage soups.

Another trick that Adler taught is to use the cooking liquid from cooking vegetables as a base for soups. Yes! Duh, I don't know why it took me this long to figure that one out. For a while now I have always saved the drippings from roasts to use for soups and they really amp up the flavor; using the veggie "drippings" is much same. 

My favorite kitchen tip I have actually been doing for years: boil the bones but what I didn't know is that you can boil the snot, erm nutrients, right out of them for a week before throwing them out. Perpetual Broth has become my new best friend and the very best way to stretch that expensive pastured chicken carcass. It is so nice in the winter to be able to have broth for soup available for meals throughout the week and even with a 1/4 tsp. sea salt, a cup of broth is both nourishing, soothing and delicious after a long day. I very highly recommend doing this.

Those are my tips for now. Any that you are willing to share with me?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pseudo Primary Songs

Ravenna likes to make up songs when she is playing and since she has been in primary, they have similar melodies and lyrics. When she forgets the words she just uses her imagination. Like this gem today based on the first Article of Faith song:
"I believe in Jesus Christ and in his son, Jesus More Christ"
 It was so sweet and yet so hilarious. I was very careful to stifle my laughter so as not to interrupt her pretend play.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Imagining Foster Parenting

Almost one year to today I wrote a blog post publicly announcing our journey to become foster parents and the outpouring of support that we received with that announcement bolstered our courage as we completed the tasks needed to become certified. After we got our first placement of a 14 year old pregnant teen in May of 2011 we were overwhelmed then by the love and generosity shown to us by our family and Church. It is so strange now to look back at what the last nine months have been for us and how different this journey has been than I ever imagined.

I never imagined that the aforementioned teenager would leave our house in the middle of the night with her four week old son. When we found her room empty the next day one of the first thoughts that came into my mind was "that baby will never have a chance." I never imagined that the teen and her baby would be found a mere three days later and the baby would return to our home. At that time I thought "He must be back for a reason."

Now that little baby is a BIG eight month old joy and he is still in our home. He isn't ours. There is a good chance that he never will be. I wish that I could write that the teen parents decided to let us raise their baby and voluntarily gave up their rights to him, but I can't. I wish I could say a million things that I can't.

Being a foster parent has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. Loving a child that probably won't ever be yours is hard. Holding onto the small hope that he possibly could be is even harder. Almost weekly I receive news that breaks my heart and I pray continually for peace and endurance. There came a time a few weeks ago when Andrew and I felt that we couldn't take it anymore. The runaround of being at the beck-and-call of agency workers and the emotional turmoil of investing so much love and energy into a child whose parents just didn't seem to care about him most of the time, wore down our precious stores of patience, faith and hope.

Luckily we prayed and received blessings that confirmed to us that we needed to stick it out with this little one. God has a plan for him, even if we can't see it.

Being a foster parent is hard work. I have seen fellow foster parents totally broken by a system that doesn't work and I have been nearly there at least a dozen times. When people ask us how much longer the baby will be with us I can honestly give no good answer. For a while it was February, then January, then April, and now? Nobody can even say. It changes almost weekly!

"It feels like forever," I said to a friend today at church, but it has only been nine months. If only it could really and truly be forever. Wouldn't that be something?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Für Susanne...

Danke für die Geschenke, Familie Siebert! Letzten Freitag haben wir eine Überraschung aus Deutschland! Susanne hat mir Früchtetee gekauft und ich mag es! Ich habe mit Andrew geteilt aber nur ein wenig. Ravenna und Andrew haben ihre Kindereier geliebt und Ravenna mag ihr Armband und ihre Kerze. Es war so lieb von euch und wir hoffen, euch zu bald sehen. Was möchten sie aus den USA, bitte? (Ich denke, dass die Susanne braucht ein Blog).

With the help of a German dictionary and occasional grammar help from Andrew I wrote that paragraph! It may have taken me half an hour but I did it! Here is the translation: Thank you for the gifts, Siebert Family! Last Friday we got a surprise from Germany! Susanne got me fruit tea and I love it! I have shared with Andrew but only a little bit. Ravenna and Andrew loved their Kinder Eggs and Ravenna loves her bracelet and candle. It was so nice of you and we hope to see you soon. What would you like from the USA? (I think Susanne needs a blog)

Winter Solstice

To celebrate the shortest day of the year I decided to hold a play group/party. I wasn't able to get many pictures because Ravenna was having a rough time but I think the party still turned out pretty well. The kids played, the mom's chatted, sugar plums were made and devoured and a peanut butter was smeared onto pine cones in the hopes of feeding hungry birds. Fun stuff!

I loved this recipe for sugar plums! I even soaked and dehydrated the walnuts beforehand! They were very easy to make, reasonably healthy, and the kids seemed to enjoy dipping them into various substances. We used sugar, coconut and cocoa powder (the least favorite with the kiddos). I think the best part was getting mom's and kids out of their homes on the darkest day and finding something to celebrate!