Life on the far side of crazy

December 3rd, 2017

Many of us began our adoption journeys with the belief that we had a stable, happy and healthy family to share with a child who needed one.  Some of us brought our child home and found the transition easy.  Maybe that encouraged us to try again.  For many of us, at some point after we brought a new child home, whether the first, the third, or the sixth adoption, so much chaos and turmoil ensued that we wondered where our formerly stable, happy, and healthy family went and whether we’d ever see it again.  This was our experience after we brought Tom-Tom home in the summer of 2013.  Since his death the following summer, God has wrought extensive changes in us, our marriage, and our family.

Having Josie join our family two years ago was one of the biggest blessings that God has ever given us.

December, 2015~



She is a joy to our family, bonding with us and giving back so much love that nothing we pour into her is truly a sacrifice.




Of course, the entry of her needs into the mix also started off a practical and logistical chain reaction in our household that is reverberating down to this fall and beyond. We’re grateful to the Lord for those who have helped us in practical ways, especially to my big brother, the men in our church, and those among our friends who gave of their time, energy and money to see the addition project through to completion.


The finished retaining wall~



Phil Funk made that beautiful bench for us out of some of the cherry wood he removed from our property!  It needed a place of honor.



Phil also dug a swale across the hill behind the house to divert the streams of water that come down that hill during heavy rains.



Standing on the swale and looking down at the house and wall.



Looking back up the hill from the left side of the house.  It was an all-day project for the four boys and me to rake the rocks down out of the dirt mound, then the men came home from work and helped us finish.  Joshua planted grass seed, spread the straw, and fertilized the area.  The grass is up now!



In bad weather, we can back the van up and lower the handicap lift right onto the porch!




God graciously provided the desperately-needed space and just enough breathing room necessary to get very organized before this new season arrived with its triad of drastic challenges–first, the loss of Laura’s help, then, the necessity of rising at five o’clock each school morning, and finally, the addition of ten regular monthly appointments in addition to the random routine medical and dental appointments already on our calendar.  If we were trying to navigate our current life with the physical and emotional tools we possessed three or four years ago, we would again be swirling the drain, unable to keep up, with severe sleep deprivation and stress levels off the charts.

But we’re not swirling the drain.  Oh, we haven’t climbed every mountain and forded every stream yet, but in contrast to where we were four years ago, we are adjusting to some hefty changes with relative ease.

Here’s how one super-sized, Christian, home-educating, public school special-educating, special-needs adoptive family is managing to thrive on the far side of crazy.



Our change in perspective has been so far-reaching that it would be impossible to even think of everything in this category.  But it is at the top of this list because it is the single most important factor in the health of this family.

We are willing to let go of our former lifestyle.  We used to have so many lofty ideals and entrenched preferences about so many things.  We are over a lot of them and have amended our perspective on the rest.

We no longer ask, “How did we handle this in the past?”  Life has changed so dramatically for us since “the past” that our former strategies are obsolete.  Furthermore, too often we forced unworkable things to work by leaving my needs out of the equation, a sure recipe for failure in the long term.

We have let go of the desire to always do everything together.  We have discovered that the only way we can make our family work is by being willing to tag team.  Tag-teaming means some of us miss out on things that we would otherwise be enjoying together, but it also opens opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have.  Almost everything I will write about below applies only to the nine children from Katie on down.  Of those nine, two are preschoolers in need of close supervision and four have life-altering diagnoses that mean they need much more from me than typical kids of their respective ages.

We also have five young adults living with us, however, we are not micromanaging parents to our older kids.  Jane, at almost sixteen years old, is the most involved every day, but I give her a lot of freedom.

I keep as much of the load off Jane as possible to reserve her strength for the times it’s not possible.  She needs hefty breaks for rest, silence, and solitude to be at 100% when she’s supervising and caring for the younger crew.  She also needs plenty of opportunities to read, study, build friendships, and participate in activities she enjoys, such as working with her plants and being in the ultimate frisbee league with her older siblings.  She needs to feel connected with me, know that I’m on her side and trying hard to make sure her needs are being met, and hear from me how her help makes a difference.  I let her know as far ahead as I can what we’ll need from her, and I give her as much flexibility as I can when asking her for help, both in giving her tasks that she enjoys and in giving her space to decide when to accomplish them.  For instance, I might say first thing in the morning, “We’ll need you to make laundry soap at some point today before you leave for ultimate frisbee.”

It’s important to Joe and me that we make the sacrifices necessary to meet each other’s needs for breaks, rest, friendships, and doing whatever else God designed us to do.  Thanks to Jane, Joe and I recently attended the wedding of our Amish neighbor girl who cleaned our home weekly for over four years.  Now that was an unforgettable experience!

Would you look at these two ol’ fuddy duddies, dressed for the Lancaster Chorale~



We are willing to let go of activities that cause more stress than they’re worth or simply don’t work at all any more.  The examples are numerous.  Spending hours browsing at used book sales is a pleasant but very distant memory.  I’ve let go of Girls’ Night or other evening outings that involve kids during the school year.  I’ve let go of making lotion bars to sell in my friend’s shop, and passed the whole micro-business on to her married daughter.  I was unable to be part of a local Day of Pampering for special needs moms this fall that I could have attended last spring.  After giving activities a fair attempt, once I can see it’s not going to happen, I’m determined to let go freely, with an open heart…and…

Capitalize on what IS possible, and find opportunities to make the most of what IS part of our lives now!  Does an appointment mean losing a day of homeschooling?  Then we’ll throw ourselves into making it the best appointment day ever.  Am I on the road with one child?  That’s a wonderful opportunity for one-on-one time that rarely happens otherwise.  Do I have a chance to rest?  I will throw myself into resting as thoroughly as possible. I may be unable to take children on evening outings during the school year, but I can read to them or play games with them! I may not be able to manage church on Sunday mornings, but I can be creative in connecting with the family of God in other ways at other times.  I am not a martyr, nor am I a slave.  God is the one who has put our family together and freely given us all the resources we need to parent them wisely.  I choose to wholeheartedly embrace this life God has chosen for me, with all that entails.



When at all possible, and sometimes it isn’t, I keep ongoing appointments to twice a month rather than weekly.

When at all possible, and sometimes it isn’t, I schedule appointments for the beginning and end of each week to preserve a homeschooling flow Tuesday through Thursday.

One of my special needs adoptive mom friends mentioned to me her genius survival idea of taking regular vacations from appointments.  As I work through next’s year’s planning, I’m marking out a week per quarter to be appointment-free.  One of these breaks will be longer and include family vacation, but the rest are just planned to be ordinary weeks of living but without appointments.  Aaaaahhhhh!

I take as many children as is practicable to each appointment.  It’s part of that tag team mentality.

On one particular day recently, we had three appointments at duPont in Wilmington, and I had Josie, the four boys, Verity, and Benjamin with me.  There were about four hours between the last two appointments.  First, we killed a bunch of time by eating lunch in as leisurely a manner as we wished, for a change.  Then we spent as long as the children wanted to in front of the interactive wall, for a change.  The children played outside on the playground as long as they wished, for a change.  (Josie and I half froze just walking them out to the playground, so we went back inside and watched from behind a glass wall!  No photos!  But I laughed to see how our kids looked so much like a party that other kids kept tagging along and playing the games my boys thought up.)  Then we went to the waiting area for our next appointment and kept ourselves occupied with whatever they had provided to keep kids occupied.  About the time the first child asked when it was time for the appointment, the tech called us back.  It was unexpectedly a very pleasant day, with plenty of time to fully enjoy each activity without the typical need to rush along to the next thing.  I was particularly proud of Verity, who behaved perfectly appropriately the entire day.  Based on her size and behavior, one would have thought she was a typical five or six-year-old.

What could these kids be doing??



The one in the middle with striped pants is not ours!











I blurred his face and his grandmother’s face to protect their privacy, but this young boy had some cranio-facial differences familiar to anyone who hangs out on Reece’s Rainbow.  He asked Stephen to play with him.





Some sort of Angry Birds game.  














I am essentially unavailable from 5 to 9 am each school morning while moving the three school girls and myself through our morning routines and putting them onto their buses.  I do have fifteen to twenty minutes between putting Katie on her bus and waking Verity to begin her routine, and I use that for laundry and a quick cleaning and tidying that didn’t happen after I went to bed the night before.  On a normal school day, with no appointments, from 9 to 10 am I care for Nathaniel, then catch up on household work and supervise the four boys as needed, sometimes dealing with disability-related duties.  From roughly 10 am to 12 noon, the four boys work on their math and English (John Michael has completed the Shurley English program and has moved on to formal logic).  I always have a variety of other responsibilities that need attention by mid-day, so I usually skip lunch and keep working on those while the children eat.  After lunch and clean-up, Nathaniel is put to bed, and I go through the phonics flashcards with Ben and send him up for rest time with quiet activities for an hour.  On a good day, the four boys and I’ll do history together from 1-ish pm to 4:15 pm with zero to minimal interruptions.  That usually means reading and discussion and sometimes an oral quiz, maps and timelines.  Often, I can only manage an hour of history, and that hour comes hard won.

This year, instead of breaking up our time into smaller categories daily, I’m planning to finish history for the year and then focus on science in the afternoons.  I incorporate teaching on an extensive list of subjects with the teaching of history.  I also combine the teaching of spelling and writing with other subjects.

Of the five boys I’m homeschooling, two of them usually need constant supervision or assistance to accomplish their “independent” studies.  One has a smart, differently-wired brain combined with some related struggles which are still being evaluated and identified (so far, high-functioning autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety), and the other has a smart, neurotypical brain combined with a mile-wide stubborn lazy streak, ahem.  Anyone reading this who has personal experience parenting a pre-teen boy with high-functioning asd will understand when I state the fact that we have increasingly seen the need for outside help as adolescence approaches.

My current favorite quote~



Why am I including Ben as a student?  Benjamin is four-and-a-half.  He asks every weekday if he’s doing school that day and is overjoyed when I say yes, usually two or three days each week.  He’s almost finished working through the same set of Rod and Staff preschool workbooks all our other typical kids used.  He’s a verbally precocious and highly motivated kid who went from mastering the alphabet and letter sounds this summer to memorizing the phonics flashcards and reading more and more fluently this fall.  Having had several other children who learned in this seemingly effortless manner, I am plum grateful for another one coming down the pike.

I call a Reading Day on Friday when needed.  The children spend half a day on assigned independent reading, and the other half with me reading and discussing history aloud with all four.  I also often assign several children to take turns reading aloud to the little boys.

When one or more of the girls is home from school either due to a scheduled day off or illness, it can be ultra challenging to accomplish even the basics.

A photo I sent Katie’s school teacher to show her why I was keeping Katie home~



This sick-enough-to-stay-home-from-school thing occurs more frequently than the inexperienced might imagine, as a result of living in the cross-hairs of contamination from three different schools.  So we must always maximize our learning time.  We rarely attempt fancy homeschooling extra projects.  If we’re going to do a hands-on project for history, it is an edible one, so it doesn’t leave anything behind.  Imagine the typical history craft times four boys, times thirty-six weeks of school?

My secret weapon against homeschooling burnout is field trip days.  When Joe takes the children, he also takes Ben and Nathaniel along, so I get a completely quiet day and a desperately-needed break to catch up on things I’ve had to push off.  When I take the children, I leave Nathaniel and sometimes Ben at home to go through their routine under Jane’s supervision.  What does she think of that arrangement?  Last time I asked her how the day went, she said, “It went well.  They’re nice people to spend a day with!”  When I take the children on an educational trip, the change of pace provides a much-needed break for me, especially when we take a homeschooling friend of theirs along.

 Trip to Indian Echo Caverns~





We had a family membership to Lancaster Science Factory this year.















John Michael solved this brain puzzle so quickly I could hardly see his hands, they flew so fast~



Brain wired differently doesn’t equal dumb.



We began our school year early this year and have pushed on through what feels like overwhelming odds every day.  There is no easy way to home educate under our circumstances.  Thankfully, we’re not looking for easy, just doable, and this is what’s working for us right now.  We passed the halfway point at the end of October. If we are able to continue, our final day of homeschooling for this academic year should fall on Good Friday, the end of March.  The plan is to use the remainder of the girls’ school year, minus a 25th wedding anniversary trip and family vacation, to start a vegetable garden, rehabilitate our property to a sustainable place, and maybe add some chickens.  Maybe after family vacation, add a dog?  I said, “Maybe.”


Daily routine

Joe rises at 6:30 am and makes a breakfast tray for Katie, Nathaniel and me before giving Josie a bear hug goodbye as her bus comes up the driveway and then leaving for work.

Katie gets home from school at 2:15, Josie at 3:15, and Verity at 4:15.  I put them on the buses in the mornings, and Jane takes them off in the afternoons, so that I can continue to read history.  Katie and Josie join us in the living room, and I keep reading until it’s time to stop for the day, usually about the time Jane walks in the door with Verity.  Josie always sits right next to me, because she likes to see the book; also, the others have had access to me all day.  Katie goes back and forth between my lap and her favorite chair next to the toy bin (with all the noisiest toys removed until I’m finished reading).

At that point, I get Nathaniel up from his nap and put Katie on her potty, catch up with all three school girls’ communication books, attend to other school-related responsibilities they brought home, make sure their outfits and other supplies for their morning routines are laid out, do Josie’s stretches with her, and on Wednesdays, help her with her homework.

We moved Josie’s stretches from before school to after school.  I can usually give Josie the option of showering before supper to gain forty-five more minutes of sleep the next morning.  Otherwise, she just gets into her pj’s when appropriate for the evening, so she doesn’t lose out on any of the evening’s family fun!

We keep a strict bedtime for our four littles, Katie, Verity, Ben and Nathaniel, of no later than 8 pm.

Katie has been home for six years now!



Verity is doing well at school; that is my next planned post!  Here she is “reading” at home.






And Nathaniel’s silly camera face~



The drawback to my current sleep schedule is that Joe is sleeping when I rise in the morning and I’m sleeping when he comes to bed at night after seeing that the four boys are in bed, the laundry is folded and the house is generally tidy. However, because of the work God has done on our marriage, we are closer with less interaction time now than we were in the past with far more interaction. We end up talking out necessary issues past my bedtime or fitting them into random times where they really don’t fit.  I also miss the regular interaction with our older children that happens in the later evenings.  Occasionally I stay up late to hang out with them anyway, in spite of knowing I’ll feel like I will surely die when the alarm rings at five the next morning!


Weekly routine

Monday night is Work Night for repairs and similar projects that are difficult to fit into the rest of the week.  This is when Josie likes to do her extra chore–cleaning out under the cushions of the living room furniture.  Blech.  When she told her class about this chore, she mentioned that she finds chicken nuggets in the living room chairs, so of course we heard about that later!  We will be remembered fondly by Josie’s school team as the family with chicken nuggets in their furniture.  If you care about your reputation, don’t have children.  Haha!

Tuesday night is Date Night/Quiet Night.  Date Night for us looks like me stopping history early and working hard to fit five hours’ worth of work into half the time, so that once Joe has had his shower and comes up to our room with our supper trays, my days’ work is done, my pj’s are on, and I can hug and kiss the children goodnight, “Bye, kids!  Love you!  We’re leaving for the night!  See you tomorrow!”  For their Quiet Night, we have the children choose activities they can do quietly in their rooms, with the four boys taking turns to stay downstairs with Josie to keep her company, since Laura is usually still at work.  To make it special without breaking the bank, Joe usually stops at the grocery store on the way home from work and chooses amongst the discounted sandwiches and salads and adds a few other inexpensive extras.  We keep a Date Night stash of good chocolate on hand to enjoy together, too.

Wednesday is Kids’ Night/Dad’s Night Off.  While I put the four little kids to bed after supper, the middle kids (Josie, John Michael, Peter, James, and Stephen) clean up the kitchen.  Then I either read to the middles or play a game with them.  We plan a special treat for them that night, maybe marshmallows to go in hot chocolate, or soft pretzels, or some such little thing.  This gives Joe a chance to catch up on his stacks and stacks of paperwork.

Thursday Night is Reading Night/Mom’s Night Off.  Every other week, my Thursday afternoons usually look like my Tuesday afternoons.  On the other weeks, I stop history even earlier to ensure I can have my work done before leaving with a child for his regular 5 to 6 pm appointment fifteen minutes from home.  My weekly night off is typically from 6:30 or 7 pm to 9:30 or 10 pm or whenever I can’t keep my eyes open anymore, and again, I typically kiss and hug everyone goodnight, get ready for bed, close my door, and use this time for emailing and/or other writing.

Friday Night is Movie Night.  We don’t do movies throughout the rest of the week, so other than the 1 to 1.5 hour weekly computer turns Josie and the four boys are allotted, this is their screen time for the week, and we do it in a big way!  It’s the much-anticipated relaxing end of a long and exhausting week!  Peter and Ben set up the equipment (laptop, projector, speakers, wiring, and sheet hung on one wall) and the living room (moving some furniture and covering it with picnic tablecloths).  James puts supper in the oven, always chicken strips, fries of some variety, and applesauce, while I work at my evening responsibilities.  Jane helps me by putting pj’s on the three littlest, Josie gets into her pj’s and robe, and I pj Katie and myself.  We aim to begin no later than 6 pm.  If I don’t have it all together and am delayed in coming downstairs with Katie, Joe will play an episode of Studio C or a Piano Guys music video or some other such light fare.  He always makes a supper tray for Josie and one for Katie and me.  Ben and Verity eat their applesauce at the kitchen table, but otherwise the kids eat in the living room while watching.  Our movie night extravaganza features Signing Time and a fun video like Thomas the Tank Engine for the little kids, then an educational (science, history, geography, etc.) video, then we break to put the littles to bed while the middles get themselves a treat.  We follow this up with a feature for middle kids, then they go to bed while whichever olders are home get their bowls of ice cream before watching the feature we’ve chosen for parents and older kids.  We’ve been doing this for years.  Since our new schedule began, about half the time I’m so exhausted I can’t keep my eyes open and head to bed after taking Katie up.  Otherwise, I go back down and doze off and on through the evening.

Each Saturday, I sit with my calendar and a simple planner and write out the next week’s schedule, then transfer it to the giant glass whiteboard on our downstairs wall.  With weekdays like ours, there are always more tasks for Saturdays than fit into Saturdays. Joe is gone all day running errands, and then he studies to teach Sunday School until late into Saturday night. I work toward the goal of going to bed Saturday night with the children ready for Sunday and the house ready for Monday morning.  I rarely meet that goal, but it doesn’t bother me any more.  I work until I can’t keep my eyes open and then go to bed.  I have done my best and with that, I am content.  It’s time to rest.  The end.



Our meals have definitely suffered the most during this season.  I rarely cook, as it takes time directly from child care or homeschooling, either of which should take precedence.  At this point, in order to prevent the supper from being late and having a negative domino effect on the whole evening, Musser meals have to be able to come together in fifteen to twenty minutes or be made by a child or group of children, use a minimum of pots and pans while being made, and not cause a huge mess while being eaten by many children of dubious table manners.  When planning meals, I choose from a short list.  Some of the simplest meals, such as slow cooker spaghetti, are anathema to our children because of overuse during too many survival seasons.  The meals I considered simple six months ago are now too time-consuming.  Any ideas from those with experience?  I always welcome recipes that fit our criteria!



Each boy begins his school day by addressing ten zones, so we’re not wasting potential education time reorganizing chronic trouble spots.  These ten zones are as follows:  Make his own bed, scan the bedroom floor for his own items and put them away, check the laundry room counter for his own clothing pile and put them away, tidy his own clothing bins in their shared closet, check his own school shelf and tidy, check the side porch and then the back porch for his own items and put them away, check the cellar way for his own items and put them away, check the old basement and the new basement for his own items and put them away.  Each boy’s bleary morning eyes only need to look for his own items.  This system is working as chronic trouble spot prevention.

After making, eating, and cleaning up from his own breakfast, each boy has his own daily chore to accomplish before beginning his morning school work.  Remember, I am largely unavailable during these morning hours, so although I wake the boys at 7:30 am when I wake Verity and start her routine, our goal to begin morning school is 10 am.  If that seems like a long time to accomplish the ten zones, breakfast and morning chore, you are absolutely correct.  It is.  We’ll get there someday, truly we will.

We used the Mom Bucks system for nearly a year until I had trouble keeping up mid-fall and wasn’t able to provide the privileges they typically work for.  So we’re taking a break until the new year and will re-evaluate.

We had an Amish neighbor girl come and clean weekly for over four years.  She stopped a year ago, and as mentioned above, Joe and I recently attended her wedding!  In her place, a girl from church kindly cleans floors and bathrooms (and usually a few extras) for us every other week, and Jane takes the alternating weeks.  We pay both girls the same rate.

Lo, how my housekeeping standards have fallen!  With as many people as live here full time, the girls’ Thursday cleaning job is undone within two days.  This means that even with a daily sweeping, our floors and bathrooms are usually dirty.  It’s hard for me to function with visual clutter, so I am continuously tidying between all my other tasks.  The net result of these factors is that our house is usually generally tidy or within fifteen minutes of being tidy, just not what you’d call clean.  I do take a Norwex EnviroCloth to all kitchen surfaces a couple of times a week.  There are nearly always dishes in the sink waiting for the dishwasher.  And that’s in spite of our liberal use of paper products.  I’ve learned to tune out a lot of what I can’t change and isn’t important enough to fight for.


Phone calls, desk work, emails, paperwork

No spectacular solution for this problem yet.  It would take me a full two days each week to catch up on this list, but I give a half day during the school week to the most urgent stuff that must be handled during office hours and a half day Saturday to the most urgent stuff that can be pushed to the weekend.  Hence the need for strategic procrastination.

There’s survival procrastination and strategic procrastination.  I’ve lived through lengthy periods of survival procrastination, meaning I had NO choice but to push things off, and let me tell you, that is stress- and anxiety-producing!  However, I now have a choice, and I often plan my procrastination carefully.  The risk of this method is that occasionally, all the procrastinations seem to come due at once!  As long as one is prepared for the risk and knows how to breathe through stressful situations!  There’s a definite benefit to pacing oneself, but you have to weigh the risks with your eyes wide open.  The great thing about procrastination is that some things really just go away when they’re ignored, and nothing bad results!  It’s a beautiful thing!  I’m getting better at tossing the non-essentials without a second thought rather than letting them molder in the dark corners of my fridge, I mean to-do list, of course. I realize at this point that I may be talking past a large majority of my audience!  Haha!

An older friend from church asked if she could come and help occasionally as she’s able; lo and behold, she taught BiblioPlan to her son during his final few years of homeschooling!  She spent most of her first day here reading history to the boys for a few hours while I knocked half the phone calls (six) off my list!  What a huge help!  Words cannot describe!  Not only that, but she texted me later to say she enjoyed it!



We’re so thankful for the ability to have two sets of washers and dryers in a second floor laundry room, because we do an average of six loads of laundry per day.  Sometimes two and sometimes ten.  Our record high was sixteen loads in one day.

Mindy, Jane, and the older guys do their own laundry (sometimes I move it through if I need to start some of our loads), and Laura folds her own clean laundry and puts it away.

This is eight or nine loads waiting to be folded, with Mindy’s hamper over on the left.



Laura and Josie’s clean laundry waiting to be taken down to their room~



Jane enjoys making the laundry detergent. We resumed this practice to alleviate my allergic skin reactions after a break of many years. Even though we make the stronger version, use two ladles-full in each load, go through a five gallon bucket in less than two weeks. and wash everything on the Heavy Duty Hot Water settings, it frees up so much money to use the homemade version.  The brand name Free and Clear variety is so expensive and doesn’t get all the stink out of our laundry.  We use white vinegar in lieu of fabric softener, and keep wool dryer balls in our dryers to help fluff the laundry.

What’s been working best for us in this season is for Joe to fold laundry last thing at night, and for me to put all but the four boys’ laundry away between 9 and 10 am before beginning our homeschooling day.


Shopping and other errands

Joe does all possible errands all day Saturdays, taking one of the four boys with him each time.  Ben goes along with them twice a month.  I schedule their studio birthday photos for Saturdays, so Joe has handled those himself for years now.  The only categories that are my exclusive territory are clothing and home furnishings.

There are four thrift or consignment shops within fifteen minutes of our home, but it’s still hard for me to find time to shop for clothes for the family.  I don’t try to combine appointments with other errands, as I am always eager to get back home to relieve Jane, put things back to rights, and salvage as much school time as possible out of the day.  But occasionally, I run out while all the children are settled at the table eating lunch.  I try to keep the list short, so I can run through it quickly.  Since I consign when possible, if something is waiting to be dropped off, I can grab that bag on my way out the door.  It’s nice to have a little store credit to apply to our purchases.

Obviously, we do as much shopping online as we can, and use the automatic delivery option whenever possible.

Katie’s insurance pays for her diapers (briefs and inserts), so those are delivered once a month.

We utilize the free home delivery service of an area pharmacy.  Every time I call with several prescriptions that need refills, say, “These are to be delivered,” and hear a positive response, I feel like a miracle just happened!  This has happened on a near-weekly basis over the past three years, and it still seems too good to be true!


Wrapping this up

Anyone who has read to the bottom of this exhausting but non-exhaustive blog post deserves a medal!  I’m tired, too, as you may be able to tell!  Instead, here’s one more photo, with my sincerest thanks!

Benjamin reading “Each Peach Pear Plum” aloud to Nathaniel~


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28 Responses to “Life on the far side of crazy”

  1. Kat says:

    So glad you are blogging some again and sharing your life with us! These are a couple of my favorite recipes to feed a crowd, hope they are simple enough :)

    Layered Enchiladas

    Boil and shred chicken (or pick meat off a store bought rotisserie chicken). Slice and cook onions and bell pepper in a skillet, then add a can of Rotel. In a big casserole layer like lasagna: canned enchilada sauce, chicken, veggies, tortillas, and repeat. Layer it up to about 3″ deep (or until you run out of ingredients) and bake at 350F until bubbly. I usually use green enchilada sauce. You can add cheese on top or in the layers, too.

    Chicken Pot Pie

    Boil and shred chicken or pick meat off a rotisserie one. Mix chicken and frozen or canned veggies in a big casserole: onion, celery, garlic, peas, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, corn. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a good dose of poultry spice. Stir in 1 can each of condensed cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soup. Bake at 350F for about half an hour. Take it out and cover the top with refrigerated canned biscuits (I cut them into thirds with scissors and scatter the pieces around the top). bake until the biscuits are done.

  2. Dara says:

    I loved every word as I am always looking for ideas and ways to improve our schedule. If you have a moment and are able-I would like to hear what works for you for Katie’s diapers. We have one on the verge of growing out of size seven diapers and as it is we must double diaper to help with leaks. Our insurance will not cover this item so I’m doing lots of homework to figure out the best option.

  3. Kris says:

    Hi Susanna, I have been a longtime reader of your blog. I don’t remember how I found it, but I live in York Co, so I enjoy reading ‘local’ blogs. You asked about easy dinners. I have a family of 5 so I don’t know how practical this is, but here goes:

    I make a ‘cheaters’ version of lasagna with stuffed shells. First I cook a package of frozen spinach (the stuff in the box, Giant/Weis have it on sale for $1 from time to time). In a 9×13 pan I layer spaghetti sauce, frozen stuffed shells, the (now) cooked spinach, another layer of spaghetti sauce and top with mozarella. Put in the oven at 350 for 1/2 hour or so.

    I also allocate a once a month trip to Gene Wenger’s in my budget. Again, with the size of your family it may not be practical, but I find their frozen meals to be a real time saver and well worth it. You get a lot of food. My family does like the ham loaf, but we find the ham balls easier. We also buy the chicken cordon blue (again, huge amount of food) Everything can just be put in the oven from frozen. Super easy.

    thanks for sharing your time on this blog

  4. Carol says:

    Thanks so much for this incredibly detailed post, Susanna. It’s so beneficial (and fun!) to look inside someone else’s life and see how they manage. The new perspective you have reminds me of a quote I came across recently and have been pondering frequently:

    “At some point you have to let go of what you thought should happen and live what is happening.”

    I find this letting go is something I have to do so often, sometimes on a big picture level and sometimes moment by moment with the little things in a day that don’t go the way I think they should. It’s important to me to acknowledge and grieve the losses that those relinquishments represent and then move into the freedom of living in the confines of the limitations and richness of my life. This includes the limits and richness of who I am, who my husband is, who my children are, our house, our location, our church, etc. It’s so encouraging to hear from someone who has had to give up so many things from the past but who is doing so with whole-hearted commitment and joy rather than soul-crushing bitterness and resentment. I once heard that the biggest decision facing those at our stage in life is whether they will choose gratitude or bitterness. It’s obvious what your choice has been.

  5. Joanna says:

    So enjoyable to read a busy family’s schedule. I have not accomplished much extra this year being busy with nursing twins. I hope to fit more into our schedule as they near their first birthday. Homeschool and little ones is a challenge! One of my favorite school day lunches is a crock pot of pinto beans that cooked overnight seasoned with taco seasoning, served with cheese and tortilla chips.

  6. Nancy says:

    I enjoyed, and marveled at, your daily routine and amazing schedule for your large family that includes kiddos with extra needs. I also respect how you have sought God in sorting out the necessary and essentials, and being able to let go of expectations and do what’s best for your family. No small task, nor easy as a mom.

    I recently made a skillet of Spanish rice. My own version is too simple…no real recipe. I searched just now and found some recipes that sound easy and delicious, if your family likes a bit of spice. You can add the peppers, onion, corn, or veggies your family prefers. I’ve always added ground beef to mine, which is an option. Its pretty simple, easy to adjust to your family, and can serve a lot or people. Veggies could be cut ahead of time and put in fridge a bit ahead by any kitchen helpers you might have who can wield a knife. One recipe used chicken broth and Salsa or Rotel. Trick is you can make a large pot of it and feed a large family. Cornbread would be a great way to add to ththe meal and fill up the troups. Here’s my great Uncle Buddy’s cornbread recipe. You can mix the dry ingredients, put that in baggies or jars, and add wet ingredients when you’re ready for a batch. Ialways make a double recipe in a 9×13, so this is for that size pan. It’s more moist than many recipes.
    Uncle Buddy’s Cornbread
    Mix together inbowl:
    2cuos cornmeal
    2 cups flour
    5 tsp baking powder (I don’t quite double this from original single recipe,, leaving out one tsp)
    1/2tsp salt…I seldom even add this or I reduce it.
    2/3 cup sugar (you can adjust this a bit, according to your intake of sugar)

    (At this point you can set this aside for awhile to use at a later date…or make a batch. I’ve given 5is much to some of my college kids or to daughters with busy families.)

    Add to dry mix:
    2 eggs
    2 cups milk
    1/2 cup corn oil

    Beat with a spoon until mixed well, but don’t over beat.
    Bake at 425 * forabout 20 min, until knife inserted comes out clean. I take it out before it’s barely browned, but you can bake it until it’s browned if you wish. Grease only the bottom of a 9×13 pan and pour in the batter.

    I’ve gotten a lot of compliments over the years for this version. We like butter and honey on it, but you can reserve the honey or make that “dessert”!

  7. Deanna Rabe says:

    I can tell from you post that this way is working for you. I can sense peace and I’m really glad of that. I believe we must embrace our lives – the ones God has given us uniquely. No two families will look alike and that’s a good thing. You are in a season, but before you know it you the kids will be grown, married, and on their own. Your season will change and while you will still be caring for those who will always be at home with you, your pace will slow.

    Can’t wait to see you and the girls on Thursday for tea!

  8. I’m in awe of all the things you fit in during a day…I am a working mom of one (admittedly quite active) four year old boy and lately I have had to adopt some of the same mindsets–that there are some things that I will just not have time for, and to let it go. Like cutting my husband’s hair–saves money, right? Except when am I going to do that? I’ll pay a professional for the time being. I’ve learned to make the most of every moment and find time that I didn’t know I had.

    You sound at peace, even if you’re busy. I know that peace is hard-won, and also a gift from God. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  9. Christie says:

    Love reading the blog again!
    my favorite once a week crockpot meal: ( in fact I am eating it now as I type)

    canned french green beans
    canned crushed tomatoes
    chopped fresh carrots
    broth ( what ever is on hand)
    chunks of nice stew beef
    other veggies that need used up ( but no raw onions, they stay hard in spite of cooking all day)
    a few shots of red wine vinegar
    salt and pepper.
    serve with crackers to crush up in the bowl.
    I use a largeish ratio of beef, and 2-3 cans of green beans, to 1 large can of tomatoes. you know the portion sizes you require…..
    Blessings on your family!

  10. Teej says:

    I don’t cook for a large family, but I had a few ideas of fairly easy dinners that I think could easily be doubled/tripled.

    jambalaya – use the zattaran’s boxed mix with sausage as the protein. We add canned black beans, rotel, and mexicorn, which really fills it out. We like to top ours with cheese and sour cream!

    calzones – we use the pillsbury pizza dough as the dough. For the filling – a mix of ricotta, mozarella, and parmesan cheeses (I’m not sure the ratio really matters because cheese is cheese is cheese is yummy) and then you can decide on other fillings on even a more individual basis – if you have any picky eaters. Easiest would be pepperoni and canned or fresh veggies. I love mine with olives and artichokes!

  11. Cassandra says:

    I once read where Mrs. Duggar’s (forgot her first name) regular Sunday dinner is popcorn with slices of cheese and fruit. I just can’t imagine my big boys seeing that as anything but a good snack but it gave me pause.

    Another idea you’ve probably already done is to make a huge portion of pancake batter. It stays very nicely for several days in the fridge. Sometimes I use that, add sausages, applesauce and call it a night. We do a lot, a lot with chicken. Sometimes I simply add the grilled chicken to a large salad that might include almonds, raisins, croutons, and cheeese. We just use oil, vinegar and sea salt on every salad. Sometimes I put cheese and pepporoni on tortilla shells and pop them into the oven for a few minutes. This is pricey, but there is nothing easier to make than fish. Just add a little salt and pepper and it’s done in a few minutes. I grill most vegetables in the oven after I’ve tossed them in some olive oil and sea salt. The kids especially covet the Kale done this way.

    I’m enjoying reading other people’s insight into how they make their life work.

    What has always drawn me toward your blog is your transparency. I love that you don’t mind saying where you are strong as well as the areas of your life where you feel less mastery. I’m so glad you are practicing the habit of being present in your own life. The older we get, the more “bad” stories we collect. I’m a pretty empathic person, as you also seem to be. Life can feel too hard at time so I presently I am at place in life where I must discipline myself to believe that God is who He says He is.

    Then there is this: The body keeps score even when our mind does not. One way to sustain physical/mental health is to trust what your body is telling you.
    For instance, last week I found myself to be weepy, constitutionally weak, which is so not me. I slowed down a bit and it was a good thing as the next day I had the flu. Indeed, the body keeps score.

    I eagerly read this post and would have been happy to continue reading. Fascinating to me. And humbling. As well as empowering.

    p.s. – I’ve never heard of somebody using trays so often. Cool. Also, how does Mindy continue to fit into the picture?

  12. Kara says:

    Susanna, I am always in awe of how your family has grown, adapted, shared, thrived and ultimately healed from the many changes and hurdles you and yours have been through. It is lovely to see you posting again and learning how everyone is doing.

    I have one, favorite easy, healthy and filling meal your family may like – we do and we have it at least twice a month (there are not as many of us to feed as you have in your house!) It is a big crockpot of pinto beans and a pan of cornbread. The pinto beans are the Pioneer Womans crockpot pinto beans – (you might have to make 2 pots full depending on how many bigger people you are feeding) One of the reasons I love it is because it literally can sit in the crockpot cooking for 9 hours and with a stir or two can stay in the crockpot for close to 10 hours and it just gets better if you make it the day before and reheat it or use the leftovers.

    I make cornbread with buttermilk, green chilis and a bit of shredded cheddar (sorry no recipe, its just the way my grandma made it and I do it by memory) but its delicious with the beans.

    Blessings to you and your family!

    With love and prayers, Kara

  13. Bri says:

    Thank you for giving us updates <3. I know your life is busy, but we do enjoy hearing from you so much. I don't comment often, but I read every post! While I was reading what you shared about meals, I thought I'd pass along this meal we love:
    It takes maximum five minutes to throw in the crockpot in the early afternoon, and then at supper time you just boil noodles while you either steam veggies or make garlic bread, shred the chicken (I use a potato masher, haha) and stir the noodles in… so it only takes as long as the noodles take!

  14. KMT says:

    Whew, I made it to the end of your post! As I read, I started getting that over-whelmed feeling I’ve had for a couple days now as I look around and try and figure out what to do first.

    I just keep telling myself I can only do as much as humanly possible, but it’s never enough. I don’t have any help. I’m dying for some real practical help or just a really good friend to help keep me focused.

    A lot of my time over the past two weeks was devoted to nursing my little cat, Henry. He wasn’t able to heal this time and passed away two days ago. It’s been a hard loss for me because with his birth defect, he required a lot of special care and his special talents were giving love in abundance and being so very, very brave and cooperative with all his care, even when it involved needles.

    Now, I’m trying to get back into the swing of things, but we’ve just come through Thanksgiving, two birthdays and I’m trying to get into the Christmas Spirit, but I’ve had our tree for nearly a week and just got lights on it tonight and 10 ornaments, plus the angel, and that’s it.

    Meals. Meals. Meals. I’m so tired of cooking! We went out tonight. We don’t go out to eat as often as before because I’m tired of restaurant food and tired of driving at the end of the day when I’m the most tired.

    When it comes to meals, having a plan is essential. Finding the time and energy to plan in another matter entirely, but when I do it, it’s worth it. I have an electric pressure cooker and I can’t do without it. It’s SUPER, SUPER, SUPER fast! We are mostly vegetarian, but add a little meat here and there and that keeps things simple. If you like meat, throw some frozen boneless/skinless chicken thighs into your crock pot with whatever seasoning you like (someone put us on to Pappy’s) or, just add teriyaki or barbeque sauce when it’s done cooking and serve it over rice, done in a rice cooker, of course, because that’s super simple.

    I’ve been making broccoli soup in my pressure cooker. I throw in a bag of florets, about 1/2 pound of baby carrots, an onion cut into chunks, a few stalks of celery cut into 3″ lengths, add salt, pepper, Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning and 21 Season Salute. I sometime add a clove or two of crushed garlic. I soak a cup of raw cashews in a cup of water while I do all this. I put the pressure cooker on for 4 minutes. When it’s all done, I run it all through my Vitamix blender, sometimes leaving it a little chunky, sometimes making it all creamy. Lastly, I put the cashews and water in the blender and make it all creamy and smooth and add it to the soup. I guess most people add cream, but I use cashews instead because it’s healthier and give it a lovely flavor.

    I make a veggie shepherd’s pie, too, that’s tasty and satisfying. I put whatever veggies I have in the pressure cooker, usually carrots, celery, cauliflower or broccoli, peas, corn – whatever. In a large pan on the stove I sautee garlic, onion and, this last time, a green and red bell pepper. You could add it to the pressure cooker, but it might be a little mushy, which is fine with us sometimes. I also added zucchini to the sautéed bit this last time, too. While all that’s going, I mix a can or two of cream of mushroom soup, or one can of that with a can of cream of celery soup, some milk ’til it looks right, then add all the veggies and mix it all up. If we’re really hungry and can’t wait, I put it back into the sautee pan (or make enough for two casseroles so half goes into the sautee pan and the other half into a casserole dish), then I make some instant mashed potatoes and put them on top. We’ll eat it from pan to plate or baked casserole to plate. Sometimes I put fried onions on top if I bake it. Last time we didn’t bake it, I crumbled crackers on top for the kids. I don’t wash the pots and pans in between. The pot I mixed the soup in, I used for the mashed potatoes.

    Definitely make enough to freeze or have another meal or two out of.

    If your budget allows, go with salads already put together in bags, then add a fresh tomato, sliced apple and sunflower seeds when you serve it.

    Frozen veggies are frozen in a way that preserves many nutrients these days so we do mixed frozen veggies often.

    We also split Cup of Noodles and have it with an Asian salad in a bag from Costco. If you have leftover frozen veggies, add them to the cup.

    Take quesadillas one step further. Instead of just cheese, heat some refried beans, salsa and cheese in a pan and spread that on the tortilla. Add diced tomato if you like; we do. Turn that into full-fledged burritos by adding sautéed bell peppers and onions. If your little ones don’t eat burritos well, just put it all over rice. Add some tortilla chips, too, which makes it into fancy nachos.

    Soups and stews are fast and easy in a pressure cooker or crockpot. Pasta in a pressure cooker is super fast. I can make awesome tortalini alfredo in 4 minutes: Bag of tortaini, tsp butter, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp garlic powder. Put all this into the pressure cooker for 4 minutes. You can add diced ham or frozen peas, too. After it’s done and you release the pressure, add a block of cream cheese and about 1/2 cup Parmesean cheese and about 2/3 or 3/4 cup of milk. Mix it until it’s creamy and serve with one of those bags of salad. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll have two pressure cookers and the other will be doing broccoli in one minute.

    These are our staples. They are good, but I’m ready for some new recipes.

  15. susan says:

    This life sounds so very familiar to me! Hugs from me here in the North Georgia Mountains! Ya”ll are doing a wonderful job carving a God honored life for yourselves and your whole family! All the Glory to God!!

  16. Bri says:

    I thought of another meal you might enjoy! Throw however many chicken breasts would feed your family into a crockpot, and add a corresponding number of cups of salsa, cook on high for 4 hours. Serve it with rice, sour cream and cheese :)!

  17. Susanna says:

    Thank you, all of you, for your encouraging words! We also appreciate the sharing of meal ideas and know they’ll be a real help!

  18. Aurelia Dalek says:

    What a post! I love reading about your family.

    Have you considered sending John Michael to public school? Same for the child with the “stubborn lazy streak?” I’m not saying you should send either to public school, but it sounds like you’ve had good experiences with public schools for some of your other children, so I wonder if this could help? Where I live, the public schools are quite flexible; parents will often have a child attend just for reading/math in the morning, although you have to arrange for their mid-day transportation if you do that.

    I also wonder if your church family could help. Maybe you could form a homeschool co-op with others? You obviously do a good job with history, and maybe you could swap time with a family that focuses on a different subject, or somehow share time by grade level?

    It sure sounds like it would be challenging to get all of the children to focus if one child is distracting the others, plus possibly unfair if a single child needs too much of your attention.

    Sometimes I wonder if a change in setting is what’s needed when you get into a bad rut, and I think you have more options here that you could explore.

    All of this is just my two cents; there are obviously a lot of nuances and family dynamics that I’m not privy to, so take this with a grain of salt.

  19. Kathy F. says:

    Thank you so much for your post. I love reading it because you write with such honesty from your heart. You are doing a wonderful job serving God in your home, I know he will continue to bless you and your family.

  20. Jacy says:

    Thank you for sharing your life with us! I am amazed at how much you get done in a day.
    Here are a few of my family’s favorite go-to recipes for when we needed a fast and easy meal. Living on the other side of the world now we don’t make most of these anymore as most of the ingredients are not readily available. :(

    ~~ Castle Plate (named by one of the younger ones…not sure why that name.)
    Layer in casserole dish in this order: (amounts can vary, I’m including them to give you an idea)
    Torn pieces of tortillas (flour or corn) 3 or more
    Refried beans (canned) 2-3 pints
    Corn (we used frozen) 2 C
    Salsa 1/2 C
    Green onions (optional) 3/4 C
    Shredded cheese (optional)
    Bake until everything is hot, about 30 minutes at 350 F. (Maybe add cheese toward the end? I’m not sure cause we usually skipped it.) This only takes one pan (or as many as needed to feed your family) and just a few minutes to throw together.

    Some variations that come to mind (I’ve never tried them, but they sound good):
    –Spread a layer of cooked ground meat over the top of the beans. For a while I would cook bunch of ground meat ahead of time and freeze in whatever size portions I expected to want it in. If your freezer has room for it, you could have a kid spread the meat in a thin layer on baking trays or another flat surface and freeze, then put into a freezer bag after it’s frozen so you can use it straight out of the freezer and not have to try to remember to take it out ahead of time. (Something I’m not good at!)
    –Swap the corn for a bag of frozen peas, or peas and carrots, or peas, carrots and corn. Or add one of those in addition to the corn.
    –Swap salsa for canned tomatoes or tomato sauce.

    ~~Salmon salad:
    Can of salmon, drained
    Bag of frozen peas
    Dill weed
    Apple cider vinegar (optional)
    Chopped celery (optional)
    Chopped onions or green onions (optional)
    Adjust amounts to taste.
    Mix everything together and serve.
    We would often have this with rice, you could also do bread or cornbread. We would usually also grab a bag(s) of frozen veggies and cook in a bit of water, and add salt and butter.

    ~~Some others have mentioned this already, but one main go-to for us when busy was a crockpot of pinto or other beans cooked all day (and soaked the night before) or cooked in the electric pressure cooker if I forgot to start them soon enough. We added cumin, salt and coconut oil (or butter), or chili powder and can or more of tomatoes. And served with a pot of rice and maybe a salad or cooked a bag(s) of frozen veggies.

    ~~Egg Casserole (we call it Egg Pie) This one takes just a bit more work to prepare, but I think your kids could do it, and it’s great for messy eaters.

    12 C (3lbs frozen) veggies (broccoli is our favorite)
    6 Tbsp (I never measure) coconut oil or butter
    Add a little water and cook till almost soft.

    In another bowl mix:
    2 dozen eggs
    Some onion and garlic powder (originally called for fresh, sautéed before cooking vegetables, I can’t remember how much powder we used)
    3 Tbsp Dijon (or other) mustard
    1 Tbsp dried Basil
    1 Tbsp dried Oregano
    1 Tbsp dried Marjoram
    2 1/2 tsp salt (3/4 tsp salt per dozen eggs if using salmon)
    Cayenne to taste (optional)
    Pour veggies into baking dish, spread optional cooked ground meat, or non-ground, or canned drained salmon over/into veggies. Pour egg mixture over all (mix up a little right before pouring.) One 9×13 dish per dozen eggs works well. Bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes, until the eggs are cooked through.
    We always have this with baked potatoes, sometimes a salad.

  21. Brianna D. says:

    I really enjoyed this glimpse into your daily life. Thank you for sharing!
    I am not as busy as you, but I am busy with 6 children, ages 7 and under (including a set of 14 month old twins). I’m also always on the lookout for fresh ideas for simple, easy, healthy AND fugal meals, which sometimes it can be hard to find meals that fit all of the above!
    We like a simple meal of black beans with rice:
    Saute chopped onion in butter or coconut oil; add a generous amount of minced garlic (from a jar), cumin and chili powder. Add cooked black beans with the liquid, and (optional), some canned diced tomatoes. Simmer to blend flavors.

    We also frequently have scrambled eggs for dinner; I like to saute chopped yellow or orange pepper in the pan first. To make it more filling, add turkey sausage. Ground turkey is not too expensive, so I season up 2 or mo

  22. Brianna D. says:

    Sorry I did not finish that! I season and cook 2 pounds of ground turkey then freeze it to use in eggs or Pizza.
    I am glad to hear that you and your husband are being intentional to have a date night. Good for you!
    Satan hates Godly marriages and he is out to destroy them. So keep protecting your marriage. It is a beautiful picture of Christ and His church.

  23. Danielle M says:

    Praying for you Susanna. I think of you often.
    You are doing a great job!

    My favorite dinner? Cereal and toast and fruit. :)

  24. Nikki says:

    I’ve just learned that you are blogging again and am thrilled! The children are beautiful and so are you!

  25. Jamie says:

    Ground beef:diced tomatoes
    1T taco seasoning/# gb
    Cook gb. Drain. Add other stuff. Simmer. Done.
    I’m in survival mode right now. 😊

  26. MamaV says:

    We had to make big changes and let go of some things when we brought home our second child from Pleven… it quickly became clear that the child to adult ratio (5small and needy children to 2 parents) was going to drain us fast. So… we asked our friends with two children to move in to our house. It has made things possible that otherwise would never be able to happen, like mom’s nights out, dad’s night out, dates with my husband, etc. Sharing a house (especially a kitchen) isn’t for everybody, but it has worked beautifully for us. It has taken a lot of pressure off of both families and allowed us to focus on loving our kids, prayer, church, and important things like that. I am so thankful for our fifth child. Without him we never would have been brave enough to share our home like this!

  27. corrie says:

    I know you guys like sweet potatoes, and I usually use this as a side, but you could really use it as a main course.
    This is for an 11×14 pan: chop 5 small or 3 giant raw sweet potatoes into bite-ish chunks. chop 1/2 to 1 lb raw bacon into bite sized chunks. Chop 3-4 raw apples into whatever shape or slice you like. :) sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. drizzle with apple juice or honey and bake at 375 until every thing is soft, usually 45 min if your pieces aren’t huge. If you don’t use bacon, a little butter dotted on top helps.

  28. Susanna says:

    Corrie, huh. Never would have thought of this combination, but it sounds like a winner to me! Thank you!

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