The 15-passenger van in Carla Hofstee’s Twin Lakes driveway suggests a large family; the conference table in the dining room confirms it.
There are 12 chairs, one for each framed 8-by-10-inch face hanging on the living room wall, and subtle signs of a big population - a custom-made triple bunk bed, a string of color-coded laundry baskets.
But Hofstee wears only one sign of the 12 children she’s mothered for so many years: happiness.
“I’m fulfilling my dream,” she says. “I love kids. They’re my life.”
At 43, Hofstee is fit and stylish. She exudes energy and confidence. She’s also relaxed, as if someone is helping to shoulder her load.
God is, she says.
“We have so many miracle stories,” she says.
Many mothers consider Hofstee a marvel. Not only has she raised a dozen children, eight of whom are adopted, but she’s written a book on organizing life and shares her experiences at free seminars.
“She’s just an amazing lady,” says Liza Wilson, of Spokane Valley Nazarene Mothers of Preschoolers.
Hofstee was the guest speaker at MOP’s January meeting.
“She has so many great ideas, like you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. I couldn’t take notes fast enough.”
Even as a child, Hofstee wanted a big family.
“I would listen to the nursery rhyme ‘Little Old Woman in a Shoe’ and I wanted to be just like her,” she says. But her parents stopped after their third child.
At 20, Hofstee volunteered in a Bahamian orphanage and left knowing she wanted the children no one else did.
“It ripped my heart out,” she says. “It was the beginning of my journey.”
She asked every man she dated how many children he wanted. The favorite answer was two.
“I wouldn’t date them anymore,” she says. “I was that serious.”
Then she met Jim. He was tall, handsome, blond and said he wanted at least a dozen children.
“My heart skipped a beat,” Hofstee says. “I knew I couldn’t do it alone.”
The plan in her head, for which she credits God, advised her to have four biological children first to help her learn how to be a mother. Then, she could adopt.
Life was as wonderful as she’d envisioned with her first two daughters. But after Hofstee gave birth to twin sons, life fell apart.
“I’d always been very organized, but the house was a disaster. I was overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted,” she says. “I began to wonder how I could ever adopt.”
Her mother saved her. She sympathized, then suggested solutions.
They made a schedule and planned menus. Hofstee hired a young girl to baby sit and iron for one day while she organized the house. It was the breather she needed.
When the twins were 4, Hofstee was ready to adopt. The pull was so strong that she’d weep whenever someone mentioned adoption.
She chose the Tulare County Adoption Agency, which handled foster care and adoptions in Visalia, her home in central California.
Her first call came in 1987. A 5-year-old boy and his new sister, born addicted to cocaine, needed a home.
“We were so excited,” Hofstee says. “I thought I would rescue these children, love would conquer all and we’d live happily ever after.”
Experience was a demanding teacher. The baby was in drug withdrawal. She couldn’t hold down food or tolerate lights or crowds.
A week after she arrived at the Hofstees’, her brother arrived. Hofstee’s son told her in front of the boy that he didn’t want her to adopt him after all.
“I said: ‘Where do you want me to send him? He has no mom, no dad, no house or family who wants him. When you can answer that, let me know,”’ she says.
Her son was silent, but later in the day she found him in his bedroom with his new brother. The memory still brings her to tears.
“He was helping him unpack his clothes,” she says. “That was our toughest moment. They’re very close today.”
A year later, a 7-year-old girl arrived at the Hofstees’. She’d moved seven times in four years. The Hofstees lived in a three-bedroom house. Case workers made an exception to the rules so the child could move in.
Jim Hofstee built a triple bunk bed. Carla Hofstee prayed for a bigger house. A year later, the house the nine Hofstees were renting sold. They had a month to move when case workers notified them of 12-year-old twins who needed a family.
“My heart was bleeding,” Carla Hofstee says. “That challenged our faith as it had never been challenged before.”
Jim Hofstee found a 3,000-square-foot house that had everything Hofstee wanted. The owners were moving the day the Hofstees had to vacate their rental.
The twins arrived on moving day. Three of their siblings followed them to the Hofstees over the next few years.
The problems the children brought were unthinkable to Hofstee and and her husband. The last five to arrive had lived alone, scrounging for food, until neighbors called authorities.
They expected the Hofstees to desert them. They assumed Jim was one of many men who’d stay with Carla.
“One daughter asked if we’d make her move if she did something wrong,” Carla Hofstee says. “I said, ‘No, this is home. We all make mistakes.’ She challenged me for years - lying, stealing.
“I never considered moving any of them an option.”
With patience and consistency, the Hofstees taught the children how to live in a healthy family. Every one responded.
“We all kind of share and it helps us deal with kids at school because we have so many at home,” says 14-year-old Daniel Hofstee. “There’s a lot more order in our house. Kids in other families are lazy and let their parents do all the work.
“And Mom and Dad talk to us a lot, not like other families.”
“Family is such a big thing,” says 18-year-old Nichole Hofstee. “A lot of families aren’t as close as I thought. We get together every weekend; any excuse to have a party.”
When only one baby remained at home during the day, Hofstee still wanted to help children. Her home was full, so she recruited parents for the adoption agency.
Parents called her at home for advice so often that Hofstee started an adoptive-parent support group, then decided to give a free seminar. She was astounded when 250 women showed up.
“I loved it,” she says. “I felt I should share my experience. If everyone would give their gifts away, the world would be a happier place.”
Through skits, friendly lectures and a workbook she wrote, Hofstee taught mothers how to distribute household responsibilities, set daily goals, plan meals, schedule activities and still find time for themselves.
Her seminar was so popular, Hofstee was speaking five days a week. She worked only during school hours.
Family needs pulled the Hofstees from California to Priest River in 1994. Hofstee cooked and froze 30 dinners for the trip. Each child had a wardrobe box out of which to live on the road. They moved onto an old dairy farm Hofstee found impossible to organize.
“I cried a lot,” she says.
They stayed 18 months, put the dairy up for sale and moved to their 5,000-square-foot house in Twin Lakes Village. Jim went to work for Northwest Venture Farms, raising St. John’s Wort. Hofstee opened Anchor Property Management with her sister in Coeur d’Alene.
Five Hofstee children have left the nest now, leaving Carla Hofstee time to work full time and start her seminars again. She’ll teach a class “Put Your House In Order Before 8 a.m.” at North Idaho College March 7 and March 12.
Her life, she says with a smile, has been perfect.
“I felt truly led to walk the path I’ve led,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about life and myself. I just wonder what’s next.”
To reach Hofstee about her seminars, call 765-8923.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo