Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Family of Seven: Staying Organized

I've been wanting to do this series for awhile.

Probably the second most asked question, right after, "Are they all yours!?!" is in regards to how we make this thing run with so many little people.

I like to think that organization is one of my spiritual gifts, which is good, because it's critical to making sure we get to where we need to be on time with smiles on our faces!

I'm going to take you on a tour through some of the key areas of our house, so that you can see what we've done to make our home run efficiently.

I love a pretty house - I really do. One day when all of the kids are grown and gone, magazine pages will be a reality. Today, function has the highest importance.

Tip #1: Choose Function

Every weekend, I sit down and look at our 7-day calendar to map out meals and clothes. Weather and events always effect the outcome.

We'll talk about meals later.

I lay out (and coordinate) clothes for each kid for the week ahead (Monday through Friday). This brings GREAT freedom in the mornings. We also put other specifics to the day in these bins. For example, the boys keep their library books in the weekly drawer that they need to remember to take them back to school. It's liberating. I don't have to remember who needs money on this day or which boy has gym on that day. I do this, without fail, every week.

While I don't layout my own clothes for the week, I do choose my next-day outfit, every night, before I go to bed.



Tip #2: Clear Expectations

We have posted charts for each boy that gives them clear directions on what they need to do each morning, afternoon, and night. Our charts are eye level and plastic-coated. When we first started this, last fall, they used a dry-erase marker to check each box, every day. Now, the charts serve more as a reminder. Only one of them needs to still use his, diligently, because remembering is not his strong suit.


Several months ago I lost it over a crumpled towel on the floor. I was so angry at....well, me. The boys couldn't reach the hooks on the back of the bathroom door, so what else were they supposed to do, but throw it on the floor for me to rescue? I made it my job to find hefty bathroom hooks to suit our family. Now, the boys can be responsible for hanging their own towels after every use. Sigh.



Tip #3: Everything Must Have a Place

With seven people in this house, everything must have a place or we would be overtaken with clutter. I am a fanatic about this rule and keep a large stash of hooks and velcro on hand for those pesky things that try to sneak-attack. Fly swatters to soap bars, everything has a peg, bin, or cupboard. No exception. It's the only way to stay tidy.



Because our mudroom only accounts for half our family, the littlest Pinchbacks have hooks for their coats and backpacks outside their bedroom door, at their level. Every morning, Edie gets her own coat and backpack on. She's only 2, but she knows the routine and we've made it easy for her!

Toys and school work seem to be the biggest culprits around, here. Some of my solutions include homemade clipboards for artwork (these only cost me a few dollars each to make - we have several around the house).


My favorites gets printed (Artsonia) and framed in one of our picture galleries. You'll see Cisco's sweet owl below in the far right.


We have a command center in the kitchen for notes, cards and reminders. The bins below the corkboard organize our mail and papers into neat to-do piles.



My kitchen is not large and we don't have a pantry. Space is a premium. When the kids daily folders and art supplies started exploding, I had to find a solution. The re-org required me to part with items that we don't use, daily, like my waffle maker. Sure it's a bummer every three months when we think about it, but the freedom from clutter is WELL worth it. I'll see that large salad spinner again...in a decade or so.




I heart refrigerator and food organization, too, and keep our snacks at little-people grabbing levels.



While we're in the kitchen, let me show you my favorite nook. Yes, the bread is placed in its properly marked container, but my favorite item, here, is the velcroed-to-the-wall chalkboard that serves as our 10-day menu planner. Above it, I keep a very official sticky note for items we need at the store. Milk 
is always on the list.



For toys, we keep it very simple. I think it took me about 3 1/2 kids to realize that we had way too many. We are intentional, today, with the gifts and toys we buy, so that we don't create waste.

Edie and Hunter have a kitchen set in their bedroom with preschool-like picture labels to tell them where items go. With a little help from an older brother, Edie is getting really good at picking up her room.


I use our TV cabinet in the living room to hide our most played with (Hunter proof) toys - Kid K'nex, Magna Tiles, Duplo Legos, and miscellaneous baby toys.



 And these awesome IKEA shelves hide all the big-kid toys in the basement playroom. They started out with pretty, clean white labels on each bin, but Edie has taken to slowly peeling them off when she gets a chance. Stinker.


The playroom also has our well loved and worn play clothes. This is probably the most visited center by the four oldest. The boys are most often in capes, but Edie gives preference to her inner ninja turtle.



I'll end with this. My kids are collectors - all of them. Inevitably, where I see trash, they see treasure. They each have their own special bin. They can keep anything - and I mean anything - they want in their bin. I am not allowed to meddle, organize, or color-code their special place. It's just for them. There's only one (sneaky) mom rule. When the bin is too full to close, he/she must go through it and prioritize which items to keep versus toss. I can't even tell you how many arguments and tears this saves.



I understand that not everyone loves to straighten as much as I do, but I hope these tips will give you as much freedom as they have me. And maybe a boost of confidence that you, too, could add one more foster care lovie to your home....


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Adoption Day - 05


Driving to the courthouse was, understandably, familiar and stirred quiet reflection in our hearts. Ben held my hand and asked if I remembered our first adoption agency visit. We walked out deflated. It felt like we were never going to be parents. That was eight years ago.

It's almost too much to take in. The pain and adventure of the last several years have rooted two truths into our deepest places - 1) God redeems all things; 2) Marrying each other was the most significant life decision we made (second only to salvation). Nearly every day, Ben lays his head in my lap and says, "I couldn't do this with anyone else."

Our dating relationship wasn't remarkable. It looked pretty similar to everyone else around us. I would like to say, I had some divine revelation that Ben was the one for me or that I had wisdom beyond my time when I walked the aisle at 20. Sure, I was crazy about him and I knew he loved Jesus, but I had no idea the magnitude of treasure buried under his heart's surface. It wasn't until we hit hardship, years into marriage, that I discovered what a gift God gave me.

Nothing about our life, today, is ordinary, and I am grateful every day to be married to a man who says yes to our Father - even when he wants to say no.

I don't know what the next chapters hold, but we are settled in the closing of this one. There was something affirming, knowing this was our last adoption. Something fresh in the possibilities ahead and rich in the experiences behind.

The judge allowed everyone present an opportunity to share the meaning of the day. When I looked across the sea of faces, I was moved by the love and tears woven into all the words spoken. Days like today aren't specific to our team of seven. They inspire a greater community and encompass the many, many people who walk beside us, every day.


The presiding judge noted how difficult the morning had been and the joy she found in the goodness of such an event.


We had the opportunity to also meet the judge that was on our last three foster/adoption cases over the past two years. He hugged me tight and said in fourteen years of service he had never been able to keep three siblings together. He was, genuinely, grateful and found peace in meeting all three kids that until, today, were only a number in a file.


A friend noted how normal adoption has become over the last several years and that it's not until she talks to people outside our influence that she recognizes the gripping qualities of fear. Sadly, it's instinctive and limits the lives of most.

I am so thankful for God's gentle pressing and every yes along the way. From Rebekah's doorstep to each previous foster family to my growing interactions with Sweet Mama. Each relationship gives me glimpses into the true heart of God.


It is a great privilege to introduce you to the newest member of our team.

Hunter Samuel


True to our conviction, we kept Hunter's first name, but chose Samuel for his middle name because Samuel is my absolute favorite person in the Bible. Not only did the desperate prayers of his mother mirror my heart at one time, but I am hopeful that all of my children will grow in the presence of God and be quick to respond to his voice.


I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord for his whole life.

Samuel 1:27-28

Friday, March 4, 2016

FF: Super Soups & Garlic Parmesan Skillet Bread


Before the cold leaves us for good, I have to get-in all of our new favorite soup recipes of the season! Each one is Pinchback-Family approved (Ben included). And you must try - I mean MUST TRY- the Garlic Parmesan Skillet Bread!


Ham and Bean Soup:
Soup #1 (Great for freezing!)
Ham and Bean Soup from Jamie Cooks it Up!

And you don't have to wait for a holiday to buy ham for your ham bone - I like to rotate ham in every few months! In fact, buying a spiral ham during the off-season is quite inexpensive.

This recipe fed our family twice and was just as yummy from the freezer, months later!




Soup #2  (Ty's favorite)
Pasta Fagoli  from Mrs. Hines' Class

This is a HUGE recipe. It is supposed to be an Olive Garden copycat....but I think it's way better! We cut it by half and still get three meals out of it. If you want to freeze it, you can, but need to cook your pasta separately each time you prepare it.



Crock-Pot Chicken & Dumplings
Soup #3 (Ben's favorite)
Crock-Pot Chicken & Dumplings from Crock Pot Ladies

This is SO easy. 10 minute prep. 6 hours to cook. Perfect for a chilly weekend!



Garlic Parmesan Skillet Bread - refrigerated biscuits chopped and tossed in butter, garlic, italian seasoning and parmesan cheese. Baked in a small iron skillet. Great with pasta. Can also use as an appetizer with some warm pizza sauce. YUM!! I can make a meal out of this yummy bread!
Now, for the Ahhhmazing skillet bread. My boys weren't just lick'n fingers. I had a chorus of compliments: mom-you're-the-best-mom-ever; mom-open-your-own-restaurant; mom-I-want-this-every-night-of-my-life... It's that good. And so, so easy.


Don't freak if you don't have a pretty skillet. I didn't either. I just used one of my stones. Any sort of casserole dish would do.

Garlic Parmesan Skillet Bread from Plain Chicken

Enjoy!!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

I was in Prison and You Came to Visit Me

Over the last several weeks, I have had many well-intended people question my decision to visit Sweet Mama in prison. I know the concern is for the protection of our family. I understand their unease. I, too, have sought the Lord multiple times, this week.

How did we get, here?!?!

With each question, the Holy Spirit would answer with Matthew 25:35-36.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
My friend and I made the long drive together. She gripped my hand, tightly, and prayed for God's presence, before I walked in. I didn't have the slightest bubble of nerves.

I had to wait in a holding room for two hours before I could see her. I didn't have my phone or a book. I just sat there and prayed. I listened to the sad stories around me. There were many family members visiting prisoners that day and the mood was heavy.

The air was so thick, I pushed through tears, all afternoon. 

I had called the facility earlier to make sure I would be able to see her after making the long drive. The officer on duty said, "You must be Rebekah? You're the only person on her list."

Those few words broke my heart and set the tone for the hours before our visit.

I made eye contact with her from across the room while I was stopped at the third security station. When I passed the final inspection, I nearly ran to her and grabbed her as tight as I could. She sobbed and hugged me back with all her strength.

She kept apologizing for her tears, but I told her I wasn't in a hurry. She could cry for as long as she needed. She asked me a hundred questions in rapid succession. We started with Cisco and exhausted every topic on all three kids. I was happy to share our life with her, as I can only imagine the loneliness that eats through her days.

She asked me if it was hard to say yes to bringing home another baby when the agency called about Baby Brother. I only know how to be genuine, so I shared my heart and the emotions that came before our "yes".

She interrupted me halfway through and said, "I'm glad you brought this up." 

I didn't.

"This is what I have been wanting to talk to you about."

I braced myself for one of the many questions Ben and I imagined she would ask.

"I would like to have him back...what I mean to say is, I am going to fight to take him back."

[Silence]

I was shocked speechless. We, literally, sat staring at each other for a minute without a word. 

When my life - turned TV movie - started playing, again, a thousand thoughts rushed through my head. I am a confident girl who is not afraid of silence - uncomfortable or otherwise. So, I just sat there. I really didn't know what to say. Mama started in about the attorney she is meeting with, her hopes for a strong case, the brokenness in her heart, and the guilt she fights.

I never took my eyes from her.

After her ten minute monologue she looked at my face and said, "How does this make you feel?"

It took everything in me not to laugh. The humor was not in the seriousness of the conversation. I had to push down the giggles because of all the many questions Ben and I prayed and prepared answers for, THIS WAS NOT ONE OF THEM.

I took a breath and very lovingly and kindly said this. "My mama heart understands exactly why you want to do this and even respects your desire to fight. But, I am his mother, too. And as hard as you are going to fight, I am going to fight harder. Your kids have experienced trauma, but they find security in each other. If you saw the love that exists between them - the rolling, belly laughs that only Edie can get from Baby Brother - you would never try to pursue this."

Tears started streaming her face.

"You asked me to always be honest with you, even if the truth would hurt your heart. Baby Brother's adoption will be final in a few weeks. There is nothing you are going to be able to say or do to have the judge reverse his decision. If you follow your heart on this, you are only giving yourself false hope and I don't want to see you even more devastated on the other side."

I took her through the judge's instructions at the end of the termination trial to help her remember that her decision was irrevocable. That she agreed she was not impaired or coerced in any way to sign over her rights. I asked her if she remembered when the judge told her that "changing your mind" is not grounds for an appeal and that the time for filing an appeal has long since lapsed.

She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. I just sat, quietly, and waited.

After several minutes, she calmed. With puffy eyes, she said, "Okay. I won't fight. Hearing you say that you would fight harder, reminds me that you love him as much as I do. I won't fight. You can be his mom."

Looking back, I understand that this is EXACTLY the scenario that keeps adoptive parents bound to fear. But, if I gave in to all of the [completely] rational fears I have had over the last several years, I would have limited God's ability to move in my life. I, certainly, wouldn't be mother to five, and I would have been settling for a pretty mediocre supply of blessing.

I want to live in overflow - every day.

There was absolutely a part of me that wanted to get up from our meeting, walk out on Sweet Mama, and never look back. It would be easy (and justifiable) to convince myself that she is not worth the energy.

But....if I had done that....how would I reconcile Matthew 25? How would I make an account that the Lord asked me to go to him in prison, but I was too uncomfortable?

Our [admittedly] crazy conversation strengthened our friendship. If I had turned my back on Mama, I would have missed my reward. I wouldn't have been able to offer her hope or stomp on the lies of the enemy or hear her parting words, when we hugged:

"Thank you....Thank you for being the only person that treats me like a human being."

I hope this challenges you to increase the depth of your love.

Shove your fears into a closest.
Pray for wisdom.
And invite someone in.

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.
 - Jesus




Friday, February 5, 2016

FF: AHHHMazing Chicken Pot Pie


Thank you for all of the kind words and prayers for today. I will be heading out at lunch time to visit Sweet Mama. My girlfriend is making the trip with me and sent me a text, yesterday, that started with "while you're in prison..." I told her I didn't like the sound of that!

The good news is that no matter what difficulties the day holds, I get to come home to my family AND this feel-good dinner!

Although, this recipe comes from The Pioneer Woman, I give the most credit to my sweet friend, Casey. I was near tears with a new baby when she pulled in the driveway with this beauty. Most of our go-to meals don't show themselves for 7-8 weeks, but this one is on a 2-3 week rotation. It's that good!

My second favorite thing about this pie is its versatility. This morning, I made three. One for a new mama (been there!), one to half bake and freeze, and one to half bake for dinner. I will give you the half-bake instructions if you want to add this to your freezer list.

FF: The Pioneer Woman's Chicken Pot Pie


Ingredients:

3 celery stalks, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large yellow onion
4 TBSP of butter
2 cups cooked chicken breast, diced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup heavy cream
2 sprigs fresh thyme or a sprinkle of dried
1 tsp salt
Black pepper
1 store-bought box of pie dough (2 rolls)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 and set your pie crust on the counter to warm while you prepare the filling.

Melt the butter in a fry pan/dutch oven over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, and onion. Saute the vegetables for a few minutes and then add the chicken.

Sprinkle the flour in, stir, and continue cooking for a few minutes. 

Add the chicken broth, chicken bouillon cube and frozen peas, stirring for a few minutes.

Pour in the cream and allow the mixture to cook over low heat, for about 5 minutes, so it can thicken. Season with thyme, salt and pepper. 

Line your pie dish with the first roll of crust and pour your filling into the pan. You want to make sure you have about a half inch of crust showing, so that you can add the top dough roll and get a good folded seal.

Place the second roll of crust on top and fold the edge under, pressing it together with the bottom layer. Doing this will, naturally, form pretty edges. Place a few slits in the top for steam to escape.

If you are baking the pie to eat, you'll bake it for about 35 minutes until the insides are bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Make sure to let your pie sit and thicken for a few minutes before breaking into it.

If you plan to freeze the pie or deliver it as a meal to your neighbor, you'll want to half bake it at 400 for about 15 minutes. Half-baked refrigerated pies take about 20 minutes to warm. Half-baked frozen pies take about an hour to bake.

All of our kids, including the two littles, go crazy for pot pie night!





Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Preparing for Prison

Stand Firm.
Let nothing move you. 
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord 
because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

[I Corinthians 15:58]

This week, I committed to spending concentrated time in prayer and reading my Bible. On Friday, I will be visiting Sweet Mama in prison for the first time. The closest I've ever been to prison is a juvenile detention center that I used to visit to lead a young women's bible study. I don't expect this visit to be anything like that.

Given her security level, we will be able to speak face to face, but the list of visiting rules is long. I got the shakes reading them because...well... I am a rule follower and will certainly forget that hand touching isn't allowed when tears are trailing her cheeks.

Recently, I gave Sweet Mama my phone number and accepted her call for the first time a few days ago. I happened to be putting Edie to bed, so I switched the phone to speaker when we picked up. As soon as I said, "hello", I could hear the longing in her voice. She is desperate for friendship and desires so much more than I can give. Edie assumed it was Ben on the other side and, immediately, started chatting about her favorite jammies and snuggling her bunny.

I heard the awe before she broke to tears, "Is that...?"

"Yes! We're both, here. I was just putting Edie to bed." I tried to keep it light, "Isn't she a little chatter box?"

Sweet Mama only muffled sniffs. I let Edie talk and listened to Mama cry.

Before our time ran out, I told her that I would be visiting on Friday. The phone went dead before we could say goodbye.

The weight in my heart is not loaded by guilt or charity, but rather genuine compassion. The only difference between the two of us are the families we were born to. Without radical intervention, she doesn't have a fighting chance for a better life. Her world is too narrow and bound by love for a man that has brought her to ruin. 

I fill pages with Truth and encourage her to think big, yet her only dream is to "get out" and find him.

My commitment to prayer, this week, is in effort to squash the natural negatives that flow through my heart and to remember that love always hopes. Every time. In every situation.

Most of my nerves stem from the questions I know are coming. For weeks, Mama has been telling me that she has a few important "things" to discuss with me, but that she must do it in person.

I trust that God will give me the answers when needed, but Ben and I have been discussing one question at length. I am certain she will ask if she can see her kids, again. In prison or otherwise.

I am concerned for her heart after I share mine. Although my kindness may point to wide-open rainbows and ever-after castles of friendship, I am also a protective mama. And happen to be raising traumatized babies. Genuinely, my hope is that one day she and Cisco will both be in healthy, secure places, where a meaningful relationship can really blossom. But we're not there, today. 

After two years, we have finally tipped the scale in the slightest margin and are starting to see real victories with Cisco. Every week, I see new slivers of trust that allow him to inch his toes across the attachment line. I DREAM of the day, he jumps that divider and runs full force into our love. 

Mingling his fragile heart and Sweet Mama's irregular stability is a disaster that we're not willing to risk. And I know that will break her heart. 

I have also discerned an important perception through her last several letters. Sweet Mama questions God for the atrocities she's faced and hates that drugs ravaged her life. But sadly, her reflections are self-focused. She doesn't make the connection that drugs didn't just alter HER life, but nearly broke three little spirits, too. 

My prayer is that I will be able to share difficult truth with her, even though it will be painful to deliver and hear. If she doesn't make the connection between her choices and her kids' sacrifices, she might not ever break the cycle.

Friends, pray for me. 

I am desperate for wisdom as the light and darkness of our worlds are about to collide.



Friday, January 29, 2016

FF: Crunchy Pork Chops



Even though we have a pretty diverse list of family favorites, I was feeling bored when I sat down, last Sunday to form my two week grocery list. I dusted off The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (the only cookbook I kept when we moved) and decided to make 14 new meals, that we hadn't tried. We're about five in and would you believe that EVERY new recipe was a huge score for the family!?! That makes me excited for the rest of next weeks' dinners!

Again, there was no thought to a picture...but you'll have to trust me on this. The boys told me this was the best "chicken" they had ever had!

FF: Crunchy Pork Chops
Serves 4
Prep Time: 5 minutes; Cook Time: 40 minutes

1 5oz box of Melba toast broken into rough pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp sugar
6 TBSP mayonnaise
4 6oz boneless rib pork chops, 3/4 - 1 inch thick

Put your oven rack in the middle position and heat to 425 degrees. Place the Melba toast, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dried thyme, and sugar in a large zipper-lock bag. Get your days worth of frustration out and pound the Melba toast until you have coarse crumbs the size of small pebbles.

Add 2 TBSP of mayo to the bag and work it into the crumb mixture. Transfer your mixture to a shallow dish.

Working with 1 chop at a time, coat with about 1 TBSP of mayo, using your fingers (it's totally gross), and then roll it into your crumb mix. Press the breadcrumbs into the pork chop to make sure they adhere. If you want gooey-bottomed pork chops, you can lay them right on a baking stone/sheet. If you want them to be crispier, put a wire-rack in your baking sheet, and put the chops on top. I didn't want to mess with the rack, so I just laid them on a baking stone.

Cook them until the outside is golden brown. 22-25 minutes. For best results let them sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting into them.

I made warm apples to go with the pork chops. I just threw 8 apples into my dutch oven with 1/2 cup of water and a sprinkle of cinnamon for about 20 minutes.

I received rave reviews from the critics and made a note to double the recipe next time!