Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Large Family Recipe for Homemade Chocolate Pudding * Gluten Free! *

I ran across a really good recipe today for home made chocolate pudding at The Happy Housewife.  (Recipe post by Kristina Ludwig.) It sounded perfect for our snack and dessert needs today. (These little boys need to EAT when they get home from school!  Oh my!)  The only issue is that the recipe makes two cups of pudding.  My five kids laugh in the face of two cups of pudding!  Three of them eat like that means five adult appetites and two littles to feed in this family...well, you can see where this is going.  I needed to super size the recipe.

 Happy's recipe is freakishly similar to another recipe I have in my repertoire from Everyday Food  I began to work the recipe around in my head.  I was tickled that Happy's version did not contain flour because David has been wheat free since December.  BUT I liked that EFS's version could be made with dry milk powder...why use up so much fresh milk if dry will do?  

I sat down with the recipe and decided that my family of seven could eat a gallon of pudding between the afternoon snack and a dessert after dinner...with a small amount left over.  (1/2 cup servings for littles and 1 C servings for the adult appetites.)  So I multiplied Happy's 2 Cup recipe times eight.  (16 cups to the gallon.)  I converted the fresh milk to water + milk powder, and I also made a small change to the sugar amount and used part Splenda Granular. 

Happy's Homemade Chocolate Pudding for a Crowd

1 Gal Milk (or 1 Gal Water plus 3 Cups Milk Powder)
2 2/3 Cup Sugar (I used 2 Cups Sugar, 1 Cup Granular Splenda)
2 Cups Unsweetened Cocoa (I buy big containers at Sam's Club.)
1 1/2 Cups Corn Starch  (Sam's)
1/2 tsp Salt
2 2/3 Tbs Vanilla

In a good sized mixing bowl I mixed up all the dry ingredients. I put 16 Cups of hot water into my 8qt pot and put it on to heat on high.  I added the dry ingredients a 1/4 at a time while I wisked.  Then, still on high, I wisked for about 8-9 minutes until it started to bubble.  It never boiled, per se, but it did bubble and get very thick.  At that point I took it off the heat and added the vanilla.  I have several large plastic containers that hold 1.5 I poured the pudding up into one of those and put the lid on and set it out in the snow to cool.  (An empty icecream bucket would be perfect too.)

The Verdict:  The pudding is very good.  Would it be better with all sugar?  Yes.  Would it be better with fresh milk?  Yes!  Whole milk or 2% would make it infinitely better than the dry skim milk I used.  However the dry milk version still out performs anything you would buy from Jell-o in a box or little cups.  Use what you have...and make your kids squeal.  (This would be a great thing to make on those rare occasions you realize you have too much milk to use up before it goes downhill.)  Enjoy!

~Update:  The kids ALL loved it!  The boys snarfed it up and declared it delicious.  The big kids were equally impressed.   I'm pleased!

Linking up to the Old Fashioned Recipe Exchange at!  

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Affording Larger Families series… Sacrifices in Technology.

***Just so I am absolutely clear... These are things *I* have personally been convicted about, spending wise.  I am in no way passing judgement on anyone who does not have those same convictions. These are things that I believe God would have me release in order to better afford the family we have been blessed with and the things that may arise in our future. ***

I have had such great interest in my first post on How We Can Afford Becoming A Larger Family that I have decided to keep going with this theme and fill in the blanks so to speak on what we are incrementally doing to accomplish just that. 

Late this summer our lease is up on this big beautiful house we have been living in for the last year.  David and I have made it a goal to work on our credit score between now and then so that we can apply for a mortgage and buy an appropriate sized house on a couple acres somewhere nearby.  To do this we have a specific dollar amount to pay off of our outstanding credit debts to bring our credit score up the required range.  (Advice of the sage and my sweet SIL who happens to work in the mortgage business.)  The end goal here is to purchase a modest house that is as large as possible, with some land...and still pay it off in 5-7 years.  I hear you laughing...but we believe it is possible. 

What one other thing could we do for our family that would be better than getting out of debt?  What could possibly insure better security if our boys never are able to leave home to work and start families of their own?  I can think of nothing better than being debt free.

One of the first things I identified to open up our budget a bit to put additional moneys toward debt is to revamp our cellular obligations.  The plan has been in place in my mind for a couple of weeks now.  I willingly walked into the cellular store yesterday and asked about our contracts and what could be done to bring all our phones down to the cheapest point.  Surprisingly they were very helpful and I walked out of the store less than an hour later the proud owner of two unsmart phones and with a bill less than HALF what it was when I walked in.  The cost will come down even further later this year when the third contract on our line expires.  We no longer need it and we will be able to delete it at that time.  (David's company purchased his iPhone 5 and pays his cellular bill.)

The trouble is that before I even left the store I started to feel depressed.  As if I had just lost something hugely important in my life.  (It is not.) Smart phones have become so common place that ‘everyone’ has one.  I began to think how only those who were really inept or destitute DID NOT have a smart phone.  What would people think of me when they found out I didn’t have a smart phone?  (Yes, this thought actually crossed my mind!)

As the evening wore one I realized it was absolutely ridiculous that I was sitting here feeling down and depressed over a PHONE.  Because I have an iPad I didn’t even use my iPhone that much other than for calling and texting…and I can do that on my shiny new ‘stupid’ phone.    Well, I did use it for GPS…and to check Facebook a dozen times a day.  But really nothing important was accomplished by that little device.

It was THEN that I started to feel really bad about how much time and money I wasted on that silly little device.  I started adding it up.  Over the last five years I have wasted $1800 just on the data portion of my cell bill. (What did we blow to purchase the phones themselves?  I don’t remember.)  I kept one of our old smart phones for the kids for two years...that is another $720. Just. For. Data. Another $30/mo for unlimited text for the last $3.5 years. $1260. I'm sick.   

When did these devices become necessities?  How in the world did the corporate “THEY” convince us all of it so thoroughly?  Worse…what ELSE am I nickel and dime-ing myself to death with?

Well just to start…  My iPad has cellular connectivity.  Left on, that charges our bank account $20/month EACH.  (David has one too.)  These we did not purchase with cash.  We bought them with gift card that David received from his former company three or four years ago as a bonus.  I’m pretty sure we bought my last iPhone at the same time…so at least this was not an out of pocket expenditure or purchased on credit. ($40)

I view our internet as a necessary expense because David must have it to work from home…and he does work from home a lot.  Lots of nights and weekends go into being the IT rock star he has become in his industry.  (I know no one else on the planet with the work ethic he has…but I am biased I guess.)  HOWEVER what comes along with that internet bill?  The cable bill.  TV is sucking the life out of me and my children.  I have felt it for years…and I just didn’t know what to do about it.  It too has become this thing that lives and breathes on its own…and quite literally OWNS US.  Depending on whether or not you are high def, how many outlets you have in your house, how many DVRs you have in your house…this bill can be astronomical.  Ours currently runs $171+ with all the taxes and fees total.  Only $54 of that is internet.  I’m going to find out very soon how much of that we can pare down…or we may just pare it off all together.  

Now this is where the rubber is going to hit the road.  My Caffeine addiction.  David and I have consumed about a gazillion cans/bottles of pop and cups of coffee since we have known each other.  We could have financed a good portion of a house with the proceeds.  I just did a quick scribble and figured out approximately what we spend per day in coffee (k-cups) and pop.  Including the half and half we cream our coffee with and the Splenda packets I buy to put in mine.  David and I easily spend five dollars a day between us on caffeinated beverages…even after carefully buying all the coffee, creamer, sweetener and pop cans at the cheapest price we can find we are STILL spending five dollars a day.  That may not sound like much…I mean we have walked into Starbucks and dropped that just on two Venti CafĂ© Americanos…but let’s do the math.  That is $1825 a YEAR for drinks…and that does not count the ones that might creep into the budget at the drive thru, at the gas station or a sit down restaurant.  (Oh boy, don’t get me started on eating out.)  

I am nauseated by this total waste all because I’ve allowed myself to become so spoiled on technology and gadgets.  Whoever though of the Keurig was a genius.  There again we have been lured into believing that speed, convenience and abundance of choice is better.  We spend $25 just on a little whirl-a-gig to keep the little k-cups in for goodness sakes.   

We first purchased a Keurig three years ago after tax time.  (Even using filtered water we are now on our second machine!)  It was a want that was not fulfilled at Christmas, and I made up my mind to have one when our tax refund came.  I soon left my trusty coffee pot behind in favor of the choices and speed Keurig offered.  At three cups a day over three years…I conservatively figure I have dropped no less than $1500 on k-cups just for myself. At the same time I was convinced this was something I needed, something I deserved.  I’m feeling a little humbled by that thought today.  What a waste…and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

What other details of my life can I find to examine?  Many I am sure.  I’ll make some notes and get back to you with that later on.  Enjoy your weekend. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Asia: It's people and History Review and GIVE AWAY!

homeschool geography

Several weeks ago I was presented the opportunity to test drive a geography study called Asia: It’s People and History by Bonnie Rose Hudson. (click her name to see and like her Facebook page!) It sounds strait forward enough.  We can always use some additional work on world geography!  So here we go. (You can follow Bonnie on Twitter too!)

 The very first week I printed out the whole eBook (double sided, draft) and three hole punched it for my binder and I started looking through the study.  It is geared toward children 8-12 so it is broken out into 16 weeks.  Immediately I knew for our purposes we would shorten that considerably.  My learners are 13, 13 and almost 12…and in seventh grade so I knew they could handle the study in a shorter amount of time.  The countries covered in this first volume are: Laos, Bangladesh, Nepal, China, Iran, and Vietnam.  So right away I’m thinking this will be a six week study for my middle-schoolers.  I then noticed the title to the first section in Laos… When Jesus came to Laos.  That made me very happy…I knew this was going to be a little deeper study than just locations and city names and major imports and exports!  

Book Description from  (Kindle Edition is available for $6.95!)
Is the land of Asia a mystery to your kids? Do they know who lives there? Do they know how to pray for them? Asia is home to more than fifty countries and territories and roughly three-fifths of the world’s population. Could you use some help introducing your family to this vast land? This sixteen-week course presents a brief picture of six nations. It is by no means all encompassing. Its purpose is to introduce your students to the people of Asia, share their stories, and spark curiosity.

I pray that the course does much more than that, however. I pray that through meeting just a few of our brothers and sisters who live in cities and villages with names that are hard to pronounce that your children feel more connected with those who are suffering for their faith in Christ. Through stories and activities, we’ll meet the people of Laos, Bangladesh, Nepal, China, Iran, and Vietnam. We’ll get to know the children of these lands and hear about their experiences. Most of all, we’ll pray for them and their families. Won’t you join us? This book is designed with children ages 8-12 in mind but can easily be used with older students as well.

After reading the book’s description on Amazon…I could see this was going the direction I want to teach from in our homeschool.  Yay!  That is exciting.

persecution of Christians

To give you an idea of what each country’s study involves there is reading for each country covering things you would expect like history and what life is like there…but also stories of how Christianity has spread there and how Christians live and operate within their faith.  There are questions for discussion which can be used for oral discussion (younger children?) or assigned as possibly a written work for older learners.  I made a ‘notebooking’ page for each country as we went, and I would print those out for my kids to write out their discussion question answers on.  I’m a visual learner, and I think we stay more focused when things are bright and cheery and colorful…and have maps and things on our pages to remind us what we are working on.  It is a lot more interesting than just writing answers on lined notebook paper!  There are activities that go along with each country.  These pages for each country are located in the back of the book.  

One other thing that I added for each of our countries was mapping pages.  D, B and HJ love them some maps!  They get nearly giddy when I pull out a black line lap for them to work on…finding and coloring the right country or region…and tracing the major rivers in blue or finding the capitols and highlighting them.  For this study I did a few different maps.  I found a ‘world view’ size map that showed all of Asia and the South Pacific.  This was to get a big picture idea of where each country was.  In this case I found both labeled and unlabeled…so they could use the labeled one to help them find and label the unlabeled on.  LOL  Does that make sense?  I printed those back to back on the same page of paper. 

Next I brought the focus in a little closer to the specific country we were looking at.  The map of Southeast Asia for instance was a really good way to see how Laos fit in next to Thailand and Vietnam and that it was still near India.  This is the unlabeled version.  

Lastly I found a black line map of just that week's country.  The first week it was Laos.  I copied it into a new document in Microsoft Publisher (I’m sure you could accomplish this in Word too…) and I made a little worksheet out of it asking for my students to trace the Mekong River (from the reading) on the map in blue and then to also locate the capitol city of Vientiane, identify it’s name and location in red.  This additional little bit of work helps to really cement the location of the country in the minds of my learners…and also brings the grade level up just a bit to a middle school level.  If I had high-schoolers I could still use this study with them…I might just have them do a few additional research assignments and/or mapping and possibly an essay to finish up the study at the end.  I LOVE when you can use one curriculum and tailor it to your learners individual ages/grade levels!  Family learning is always more fun than working on your own in my experience.  

As I questioned my kids about how they liked this particular study I noticed a theme.  -They really love the personal level that this brings to faith.   
-They appreciated seeing the struggle and even persecution that fellow believers are going through.  It makes the places, cities and lives come to life on the page.  It gave them a personal feeling of gratefulness…we are very blessed here in the states…and it also gave them a purpose.  They WANTED to lift up the people of these lands and pray for them.  Their young hearts were literally burdened for them.  It is amazing to see your children grow spiritually from a geography lesson!  
-One little thing that I learned from this study?  I had never heard of the 10/40 Window...and what it should remind us of every day. 

“The 10/40 Window concept highlights these three elements: an area of the world with great poverty and low quality of life, combined with lack of access to Christian resources.” –Wikipedia   

10/40 window

A sobering thought for certain.  How did I live to be 40 years old and not know about this?  It makes me want to study more about the world and missions in general. I think it goes without saying that this study was a total hit for all of us.  We are really looking forward to more like it in the future from Bonnie!

pray for Asia

In addition to the activities included in the pdf/eBook there is some BONUS content HERE!  (Copy work and Puzzles!)  

If you purchase a Kindle, Nook or other eBook version of the book you might want to check out this takes you to the all the printable activities in the book so you don't miss out on that!

NOW, where can you find this book to purchase? 
The Schoolhouse Store  Use promo code 02asia14! To get 25% off until 03/15/14 (pdf copy)
Kindle  (Download a sample of the book to read before you buy!)
SmashWords  (SmashWords supports Amazon Kindle, B & N Nook, iBooks, and Sony reader.)

Finally… I have TWO pdf copies of the eBook to GIVE AWAY!  Leave me a comment below on this post and answer this question to be entered:  What countries would you like to see Bonnie write about in Volume 2?  It is that simple! 


Friday, February 21, 2014

Prayer Request: Adoption Attorney Negotiation

Update:  02/22/14  K & K accepted our terms and we have the best adoption attorneys in Indiana representing us!  So happy!  Thank you for praying! 

Oh glory, please keep us in your prayers today.   

We are negotiating with our former adoption attorney to represent us in this new adoption.  We could take a small time (cheap) attorney who deals with these types of foster adoptions every day, and they would accept the $3k the state will reimburse us for the case.  (In other words, they would be FREE for out of pocket expense.)  BUT… those attorneys have very little incentive to go the extra mile when negotiating per diem fees.  They get paid the same no matter the outcome.

When a special needs child is adopted from foster care there is a negotiation between the adoptive family and the state of what that child needs/deserves going forward.  Often these children are awarded Medicaid until they are 18 years old.  There is often also this daily per diem fee that the foster family gets each month.  The rate the foster child is given is negotiated down by the state for their post adoption rate.  Does that make sense?  These are the things that make an older child and/or special needs child adoptions possible for the adoptive families.  (Please see my previous post on How to afford to become a larger family.  It has a lot of information on how inexpensive this process has been for us up until this point!)

The reason we sought out Kirsh & Kirsh again on this is that we know Elijah and Nate’s FAS/E and ADHD are pretty severe.  We do not know if they will finish high school much less go to college or be able to work.  Because of this David and I felt strongly that we should retain an attorney that was vested in getting the boys everything they are entitled to…so that it can be invested for their future.   Kirsh & Kirsh are THE best adoption attorneys in our state.  They sit down with our legislature and WRITE adoption law.  They know everything there is to know, and they are the best.  Hands down, no question.

Our little guys have a younger brother who’s adoption was final last fall.  His parents have no other children at home and are fairly well off.  They went with one of the recommended attorneys and did not really pursue the per diem angle at all.  He ended up with an amount that was nearly 1/3 what his rate was as a foster child.  That scared me into really praying about this and seeking God’s leading.  I don’t want to pursue this issue out of greed…but I also don’t want to throw away the opportunity to put something away for their future.  Be it college or otherwise.

Anyway…when we first contacted K&K we were quoted a rate that we could not afford.  (Not. Even. Close.) …but when we indicated that to them they came back and said “Tell us what you can afford.”  SO…that is where we are today.  We are waiting to find out if they will accept our offer.   

In the long run we will get everything back in taxes because of the Adoption Tax Credit…but coughing up that much cash up front is the issue.  We do not want to take out a loan if we can avoid it.  

So… please pray for us.  Pray that K&K will be willing to negotiate with us, and a reasonable compromise can be reached for all.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Keeping your children safe online…even from themselves.

We kept our children off the internet for an extraordinarily long time…at least to me it felt that way.  Our three oldest (13, 13 and nearly 12) did not have access to a computer on a regular basis until just about ten months ago or so.  They did not have their Kindles until just about 14 months ago.  

When they did first have these privileges of course we talked about internet safety.  Not talking to strangers, being careful not googling things we don’t really want to see… Last summer I went a little postal on them one day because they were playing an online game and talking to other kids.  I forbid them to do that in the future unless they KNEW the child in real life and was certain that was who they were talking to.  (That whole thing stopped shortly after it started.)  

We have spent much time talking about sex.  Talking about why it is in God’s plan to wait…to remain pure.  Talked about the mistakes that their Daddy and I made when we were younger, less than good choices we made as a young couple.  It has become the family joke…who wants to play Yahtzee?!  (It was during a family game night that the first “sex” talk came up.)  We have stressed modesty and why it is important to guard not just our hearts and our minds but our physical bodies as well.  

I have checked their email accounts…looked at their search history.  I was pretty certain that they were safe from harm…From the harm of strangers anyway.

…and then it happened.  A confession.  Someone has been looking up things on line that are not appropriate for anyone to look at…out of simple curiosity…and it has happened before.  It is unclear to me whether or not this has been ongoing or if it just happened a couple of times…but the reality is…This child’s innocents is lost…and I’m left wondering what I could have done differently to prevent it? 

I trusted them.  They are good kids…by anyone’s standards.  They have been trustworthy in the past.  They have behaved well in the past.  I thought they wouldn’t do anything like this.  I was wrong about at least one of them.  The reality is that I should have done more.  The rules should have been tighter.  There should have been no question what was being done on these computers and Kindles.  There should have been someone looking over their shoulder at all times.  This is not a matter than can be ignored.  Doing nothing insures that temptation is only a moment away from fulfillment.

The offender has no screen privileges at this point.  The Kindle book they are reading at the moment for school had to be found in pdf and printed so that the offender could complete this assignment.  The next book we read will probably have to be purchased in paperback for the offender.  I was fortunate that this current book is old and available in open domain so that I could print it.  So…Moving forward these are our new rules…

The new screen time rules in our house:
1.      Whether computer or Kindle or smart phone, all screens will face Mommy and or Daddy at all times.  No one sits with their back to a wall playing on anything with an internet connection.

2.    Electronic devices are primarily for school use.  All screen time otherwise will be at a parent’s discretion depending on chores and school work being completed.  

3.    No electronic devices on after 9pm.  All electronic devices will be plugged in to charge together in Mommy’s room (power strip!) so they can be seen to be where they belong at the appropriate time.

4.    No electronic devices in bed.  (This is a big bummer because they have really enjoyed having their Kindle to read at night or Netflix to watch a show up until 10pm in the past.)

5.     No gaming during the school week, only on weekends with permission. (This is a rule we instituted at the beginning of the school year because some people were rushing through school work to play.) 

I’ve been quite ill over this for days.  I thought we were doing what needed to be done.  I thought we could trust our kids.  I thought I was keeping them safe from strangers…only what I didn’t realize I was neglecting was keeping them safe from themselves.  Over the next few weeks I’m going to be looking over some books and studies on purity and trying to work out something we can all do together as a family…Because really…this is a heart issue.  It doesn’t matter a bit if they toe the line if the desire to be naughty is still there at the end of the day.