If you’re like me, you’ve searched high and low for a good Solyanka recipe…

Hold on…

“What is Solyanka?” you ask?

Well, it is a delicious soup made up of a collection of unexpected ingredients.


Yes, that’s lemon. And an olive.

Like Italian tomato sauce, I think the key to a good solyanka is a variety of meats.  I finally found a good recipe for it, which I will now share with you.


1 lb. beef chuck, trimmed
8 oz. kielbasa sausage
4 oz. boneless ham steak
2 oz. hard salami
4 whole black peppercorns
3 whole allspice berries
1 bay leaf
4 oz. sliced bacon, minced
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
¼ small head green cabbage, cored and thinly shredded
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 tbsp. tomato paste
1 (15-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed
5 cups beef stock
1½ large dill pickles, chopped
1½ tbsp. capers, drained
¼ cup pitted black olives, sliced
1½ tbsp. sugar
½ lemon, thinly sliced
Chopped parsley, sliced scallions, and sour cream, for serving

1. Cut beef, kielbasa, ham, and salami into ¼” pieces; set aside. Place peppercorns, allspice, and bay on a piece of cheesecloth and tie into a tight package; set aside.  (Because of it’s abundance of uses, cheesecloth can be found in the craft section at Walmart.)

2. Heat bacon over medium-high heat in a 6-qt. saucepan; cook until crisp, 4–6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a bowl; set aside. Add meats to pot; cook until browned, 6–8 minutes. Add onion, celery, cabbage, and salt and pepper; cook until soft, 4–6 minutes. Stir in tomato paste; cook, until slightly caramelized, about 2 minutes. 

3. Return bacon to pot with spice package, tomatoes, and stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, add pickles and capers; cook until beef is very tender, 40–45 minutes. 

4. Remove spice package. Stir in olives, sugar, lemon, and salt and pepper. Serve with parsley, scallions, and sour cream.

Adults and kids alike seem to love this soup.  Encourage people on the sour cream.  Like a lot of Ukrainian food, it tastes even better with some sour cream!

As Ben would say…”deeee-licious”!  Sort of like when we did some sensory play with cool whip…

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Hear the plea of the orphan

I posted about Jaxon a little while back.  A boy from Paul’s country, with Paul’s diagnosis, who shares Paul’s birth month and year.  A veritable twin.

I found out yesterday that Jaxon is in Crimea, which you have hopefully heard about in the news.  Russia has done a horrendous land grab and took Crimea from Ukraine.  One of the many results of this is that orphans in Crimea are no longer able to be adopted by Americans (who are the ones who do the most international adoptions, and certainly the most adoptions of children with special needs, like Jaxon.)

So now all we can do is wait and pray.  We do not know what Jaxon’s future looks like, but the horizon became more bleak these past few days.

I also want to show you a little boy who has been on my mind and heart.  He needs a family so very desperately.

Meet Nathaniel.  This photo was taken of him only 2 days ago.


He’s so beautiful.  I look at his face and he can take my breath away.

I know his head is large.  It is scary.  But he is actually doing astonishingly well!  Look at how open his eyes are?  Families who have met him relatively recently, even when his head looked to be about this same size, said that he was alert, and smiley, and giggling.  He would interact with them from afar.

This is miraculous.

But it won’t last forever.

He can’t continue to endure like this.

He will, at some point, probably in the near future, succumb to the effects of his hydrocephalous and his bright eyes will not shine as they do now.  And he won’t interact, or be able to smile and giggle through the pain that he constantly endures.

What will we do for him?

Do something!  Act!

You believe you can’t adopt?  Ok.  Maybe we can talk about that some other day.  In the meantime…

What CAN you do?  Can you get on your knees and pray?  Can you donate $5?  Can you share Nathaniel by e-mailing people about him, or on Facebook?  By the way, Facebook is the reason Paul is in our family, so don’t think a “share” is a trivial thing.

Recently Pope Francis was asked how we are to know if we are on the right path.  He answered:


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Happy Heart Day, Paul.

A year ago, at this moment, I was sitting in a waiting room while Paul was in for heart surgery.  What a long day that was.  Even though is heart defects were not particularly unusual or severe, his surgery went on for hours and hours, such that I was the last person in the waiting room, and it closed before I received the call from the OR that they were done.  I was able to visit him briefly in the CICU before it closed for visitors as well.

Not much reflection on this today, but here’s some photos of our time at Primary’s in SLC.





On Reluctant Husbands and the consideration of adoption

A commenter recently asked that I blog about encouraging husbands to be open to adoption.

I am familiar with this predicament: the Reluctant Husband.  So I’ll share some of my own thoughts, however disorganized this may end up.  I’ll also link to some others who have also tackled the topic.


As was the case in our family, it seems that the woman’s heart is often the first that is moved toward adoption.  God fashioned the feminine heart to be keen and sensitive, with the desire to nurture and care for those who are vulnerable.  I’ve seen these traits in one way shape or form in every woman I’ve encountered, even those who don’t fit the traditional role of mother. Look at Bl. Teresa of Calcutta.  She never bore a child, never adopted a child, but the love, and tender care she gave to those in need were a fruit, an overflowing, of her feminine heart.  She was of course the “Mother” of her religious order, but she was also a mother to the children in orphanages and the poor and homeless on the streets.


Our sensitive heart can act as a compass with which God gives us direction.  This is something that, hopefully, our husbands recognize and honor.  It is a beautiful compliment to the drive, strength, and stamina that they have innate within them.  (Of course, this isn’t to say that these attributes are mutually exclusive, but that as a matter of personal observation, seem to come more easily and with more prominence to husbands and wives as I have described.)

But, with such sensitive hearts, I think some might have concern that we make decisions based solely on our emotions.  I know that when I first felt this call to adopt a child with special needs, and after I had wrestled with it during one fateful night and was left with a firm belief that this was from God, I was in a panic.  This is no exaggeration.  I felt like we should move on it at that moment, and work as quickly as possible.  But Ryan had reservations.  Something I decided to do was to fast from those things that would pull at my heart, that would give me a sense of urgency or emotion regarding adoption and orphans.  So I avoided Reece’s Rainbow, adoption/orphan advocacy blogs, and even certain music.  I let Ryan know that I was doing this, as an exercise to test my sincerity and the authenticity of Christ’s calling for us.

So, I would say this: when approaching the subject of adoption with a reluctant husband, do justice to the inclination of your heart, but take measures to temper any overwhelming emotions.  Doing so helps both spouses be confident that prudence (“the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it”) is being exercised.

I believe that this first step is important for both spouses, but I think it is particularly important for husbands because it gives them confidence that we aren’t just riding our emotions and attempting to make major life decisions in the process.

We must be mindful that husbands will typically approach family decisions with a “provider and protector” mentality.  They often feel the weight of ensuring that all family members are well cared for in all circumstances: physically, through such things as food, shelter, and healthcare; and emotionally, are the needs of a new child, especially one with medical diagnoses, or a difficult social history, going to negatively effect us or our other children? Could it cause serious strain on our marriage?  These are valid concerns that need to be explored.

It is a good husband, father, and head of household who attends to these questions, so I would say: thank your husband for providing for and protecting your family.  Together, consider the effects adoption could have on your marriage and family life, and do so with candor and with prayer. 

The candor part is important.  There have been times when I have thought that we were putting off adopting again because Ryan wanted more time to put into his business.  If we adopted, he would need to return to contracting sooner than we had planned, which I knew he didn’t want to have to do, but I wasn’t sure that was reason enough to delay.  It was only after a couple of candid conversations, during which I gained more insight into not just his business, but the climate of his entire field of work, that I understood his hesitance.  And even though it wasn’t what I really wanted to hear, I knew that his desire to wait a bit longer was more reasonable than I had originally thought, which helped me to accept it.

And of course, the prayer part is important as well.  Without a focus on God and an outpouring of His grace, we would almost certainly tend towards our own comfort and self-preservation.  We must always keep before us God’s model of love, generosity and adoption, through which we become His sons and daughters and partake in His saving act.

By being vigilant in our prayer we can prudently discern adoption, giving proper weight to the practical concerns of marriage and family life, but infused with supernatural grace which inspires us in generous self-sacrifice.

Honestly, without God, I am not sure many couples would find reason to adopt, least of all a child with special needs.  And any child from a foreign country or from foster care, is truly a child with a special need, even if it is not a certain diagnosis or social history.

Lastly, I think an important part of such discernment is education. We must have eyes wide open, both to the potential effects of adoption on our lives as well as to the plight of the children who wait. We need to view, as fully as possible, both sides because they temper one another.  The preservation of a healthy and holy family life is important, but the stakes for an orphaned child are dire and should receive due consideration.

It is important to be exposed to the challenges that a family can encounter when adopting a child with a medical condition, or who grew up in an orphanage, or has some other traumatic social history.

On the flip side, I think it is also important for both husband and wife to know about the dire need of orphans all over the world.  It is much easier to say “no” or even “not now” to adoption when you think of these children in the abstract.  Perhaps something like this:


But they are real, flesh and blood, created in God’s image and likeness.  They have names, and they are alone, often hungry and neglected.  Many are dying.







Real children.  Encourage the reluctant husband to meet them, as best he can through a screen, not for emotionalism, but so that his heart is stretched, so that he is aware of the ones who wait.  Their reality should test our conscience if we discern a “no” or “not yet.”  There are many sound reasons not to adopt, but I think every family, especially every Christian family, should periodically revisit the idea of adoption.  We need to get out of our comfort zones and do the difficult work of discernment. When it comes to the question, “Can we adopt a child?”, millions of children are waiting to hear our answer, so if we say “no” or “not yet”, we should be sure to have good reason.

Paul in the orphanage, 9/2012

Paul in the orphanage, 9/2012

Paul, home for less than a year

Paul, home for less than a year


I think I may have more to add on the subject, so there might be another post coming soon. Here are some links to others who have reflected on this topic (disclaimer: I have not read all of these, they were just suggested to me).  I hope to discover some more posts to share soon!

No Greater Joy Dad: Reluctant Husband Syndrome Series
A Reluctant Husband Adopts
When Your Spouse Doesn’t Want to Adopt

An extra dose of adorable

Hold onto your hats, people, because we have a few heart skipping additions to this blog’s favorite category of waiting children, boys with Down Syndrome, 0-2yrs old, from Ukraine.

First, a boy who, if he were in my family would basically make it so I had triplets.  He’s born in the same month and year as Paul, which happens to be one month older than Ben.  Meet Jaxon, born July 2011:


Yes, a cute little baby picture.  There will hopefully be a more recent photo soon, which I will certainly share with you.

I just can’t help but think of Paul when I look at Jaxon.  Born the same exact month.  Who knows, it could even be the same day.  I still see the scars of Paul’s time in the orphanage, even though he was only there for 15 months, and he’s been home for 15 months.  To think where Paul would be had he not come home…the food issues, the stimming, the lack of development, the sadness and loneliness.  It makes me so sad to think that Jaxon has been hidden behind the walls of an orphanage.  But there is hope, always in our Lord, and now even more tangibly since we know he exists and we can share him with others.  I hope a family will be blessed by him soon, just like we are blessed by Paul.

And now something that will surely make you scramble asking your spouse if you can jump on a plane and scoop up some kids.

At 2 months old…

Born with Down Syndrome…


Meet Simon and Samuel:



Ok, know that wasn’t enough for you people, so let’s go side by side…



They are so. young.  It is remarkable that they are listed already.  A family could be in country adopting them by the time they are 8 months old, perhaps even sooner.  That is a tremendous gift for these boys.  They can receive good nutrition, stimulation and therapies.  They can easily develop healthy attachment.  They can love, and be loved.

So someone, go get Jaxon or (and?!) the twins!

They sure do look alike…

Just as a matter of observation, children who need families and have a good photo accompanying some personal information (even limited information) on an advocacy site such as Reece’s Rainbow fare better than children with a poor photo.

For better or for worse, having a decent photo of a child endears the child a bit more to those who would consider advocating, donating or adopting him/her.  But a good photo is hard to come by.  I mean, this was Paul’s photo:

11214073744 Peyton (2)

I love a boy in hot pink with his tongue sticking out.  Not.  And this was the one they had on file, that we got to see when we received his referral:



The poor kid.

Sometimes we who are sneaky go looking for kids on advocacy sites from their own countries.   And occasionally we find who we believe to be the same child, but with a new or better photo!

So take a look at little Rhys:



Not the best pic.  But a little looking around turned up a little boy, in the same country, born the same year, who happens to look a lot like him:

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Those eyebrows are pretty distinctive, and are what sold me on it.  But the nose, ears, lips, light hair and chubby arms make quite the case that we’re looking at the same boy.

We can’t definitively say that this kiddo is Rhys, but they sure do look alike, don’t they?