Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Love is better than food dye...

If you know me, you know I have a few   some  a lot of hang-ups about food (I can hear my friends laughing right now).  I am an avid label-reader and I watch very carefully what my family eats. We don't eat food dyes, HFCS, and I limit refined sugar. I buy organic as much as I can (though not as much as I'd like to because it is just so dang expensive) and we avoid preservatives at all costs. We recently, to my husband's dismay, gave up deli meat because as my friend's pediatrician put it: "it is not food. please don't put it in your child's mouth."

And to keep things balanced, I focus on the times when I CAN control what my kids eat. That way at birthday parties, I'm not freaking out over the yellow #5 that's all over the birthday cake (well, at least not out loud).  My kids know they are allowed treats and sweets on special occasions, but they also know why we avoid a lot of things.

For the most part, it works! My kids really do like healthy foods and even my fussy, just-as-stubborn-as-her-mother three year-old happily eats quinoa, wheat germ, flaxseed, and broccoli. The kids know what soy flour is and how it makes whole-wheat bread even healthier and my oldest will at least consider turning down candy if he knows it has food dye in it.

So... imagine my face when the therapist we met with today recommended giving Amani (and the older two) some Skittles! What? Doesn't she know that Skittles represent all that is wrong with the world!?!?!? just kidding. kinda.

Here's the story:

We met with the attachment therapist today and I was beyond thrilled to get to talk with her.  I didn't have any major concerns, just a few things in particular I wanted her to address.  Really, I just wanted to meet with someone who knows attachment and have her evaluate Amani and give us advice.

I cried when she told us what a good job we are doing.  Amani's doing great, and I know we are doing everything that we know to do in order to care for him.  But that mama-heart of mine is always worrying, always wondering are we missing something? Did that moment when I was frustrated set him back? Are we really doing everything we can for him to fill in the gaps in attachment that happen when your child joins your family at 15 months old instead of at conception?

It was the most wonderful balm to my soul to hear that we are on the right track and that he is doing great!  Praise God!!!

So I know you are still wondering about the Skittles, right?  She did give us some ideas on some more things we can be doing to help with attachment. One of which is her little Skittles-trick.  She said we need for Amani to see that all good and sweet things come from Mommy and Daddy. No candy from strangers, ladies & gentlemen!  I laughed when she said that because I have hardly let Amani have any sweets at all (see above food neurosis).

So the trick is to call his name and when he responds, touch his face, look him in the eyes and tell him how much I adore him. And pop a Skittles (a Skittle?)  into his mouth.  And just give him a moment of pure sweetness: candy and cuddles all together, knowing how much he is loved by Mommy. She said do this maybe once a day.  And she even gave me a little package of Skittles to take home with me. She said it would be a great thing to do from time-to-time with my big kids too.

So guess what? I'm gonna do it.  This woman who has declared an all-out war on food dye and refined sugar has some serious plans to give some to my kiddos.

Because love is better than food dye. And if I can have another tool in my attachment tool belt that helps Amani know how how much he's loved, I don't really care if that tool puts a little food dye in his system (okay, that is a lie, but I'm going to keep saying it until I believe it! Or I'll just give him chocolate chips instead).

I'll write another post soon about some of her other recommendations. She is AWESOME (and was trained by Karen Purvis and Jim & Charles Fay - the Love & Logic guys! whoo hoo!).  If you're an adoptive family reading this, I really recommend checking-in with an attachment therapist shortly after coming home. If anything, she has saved my sanity (at least for another few days).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Preaching to the Choir

I think we use the expression "preaching to the choir" when we're saying something to someone who already agrees with us, but sometimes I think the choir needs to hear the message anyway.

At least that's what happened to me today. And I was the choir.

My two oldest were bickering in the car this morning on the way to school. I'm not even sure what in the world they were fighting over... something about Allyn saying words and Riley not wanting her to.  Sheesh. So we spent time on the way to school talking about God's gifts. I reminded the kids that God only gives good gifts. And to Riley, I said "God has only given you one sister. She's the only one you have." To Allyn I said, "God has only given you one big brother, that's it."  Then to both of them: "And if God only gives good gifts, how are we treating this gift God has given us in our family?  Our family is a gift from God and we should be so thankful that we have one another." I reminded them of the fun they have together, of the things they both love to do together.

Riley got it. He got quiet for a minute and said that he really is so thankful he has a sister and a brother and how glad he is that God gave us our family. Allyn just stayed quiet. I'm never sure with her just how much she's understanding (she is only three, after all).

But you know who got the most out of my little sermon this morning?  Me.

I had gotten really frustrated with the kids on Saturday. REALLY frustrated. I was trying to do a pinterest (ha ha) craft with them and they weren't as into it as I was.  And by that afternoon I was just annoyed with my kids that they weren't appreciative of the time and energy I was trying to spend with them. And Allyn peed on the floor. I'm not the most patient with accidents that happen looooong after potty training is done.

Sometimes in the midst of the craziness of parenting three kiddos, I forget what an amazing gift my children are to me.  Even on days when they don't appreciate my efforts, they are still gifts.  And if I truly believe what I teach my children, that God only gives good gifts, I need to recognize my gifts even in moments when those gifts are testing my patience.  

Some days I'm not sure how I wound up where I am. I always said I didn't even want to consider marriage until I was 30. I always said I wanted kids but not until I had really done everything I wanted to do in life. God had other plans for me: I was married at 24 and by 30 I had two kids and we were starting the process to adopt a third. So much for sticking to my plans!

And I am so glad God knows me better than I know myself. I can't imagine life any differently. Now my celebrations and challenges are much more domestic in nature. This weekend I was thrilled because I made yogurt in the slow-cooker and made some pretty soy candles to give as gifts.  I celebrate potty achievements and kids being "good listeners." If you'd asked me when I was 20 if I'd ever find joy in that, I would have laughed at you.  

My family is my gift from God. The opportunity to be home with the kids during the week is a gift. Motherhood is my gift from God.  And I thank God for the opportunity to remind myself of that this morning while thinking I was teaching my kids. Sneaky... but I think I needed the lesson! :)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ethiopian Food: Alitcha Aterkik

Our whole family LOVES Ethiopian food so I thought I'd do a little series posting our favorite recipes!
In case you missed them, here are the first two:
Nit'ir Qibe

And now we're on to Alitcha Aterkik. This one is another one I got from my friend Lina's blog.

This used to be my favorite Ethiopian dish. Now I'm really not sure what my favorite is!  But is is my daughter's favorite by far.

The yellow in the middle is our Alitcha
Alitcha (or aletcha) Aterkik is a yellow split pea dish and it is not spicy in the least.  I made this for my oldest son's preschool class when their class was studying Ethiopia.  The kids who were brave enough to try it really liked it!

Alitcha Aterkik
3 cups water
1 cup dried yellow split peas
olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece fresh ginger (peeled, finely chopped) - sometimes I use my bottled ground ginger and I use 1 tsp
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt

Place 3 cups water (I often do 2 cups chicken broth, 1 cup water) and the yellow split peas in a large saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat.  Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until most of the water has absorbed, about 30 minutes. The peas should be fairly soft at this point.

In the meantime, saute your onion until translucent, 4-5 minutes. Then add ginger, garlic, and turmeric and cook 1 minute.  I put a splash of water or chicken broth in the pan and cook a little longer on low heat.  Add to the cooked peas.  Add a little more water and simmer again until the peas are very soft (maybe another 20 minutes more).  

Just before serving, stir in 1 tsp salt.

**Make sure NOT to use wooden or white plastic utensils in making this dish. Turmeric is also used as a natural yellow dye for a reason! I have a couple spoons that will forever have a yellowish tint because I forget and use them while cooking my alitcha aterkik!

Up next... SHIRO!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The definition of beautiful

We just had our first post-placement visit for our adoption agency and it got me thinking about what my life has looked like for the past five months.

Five months ago this week I walked into an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to finally bring my son to live with me. I carried him out in my arms, on our first step towards being together as a forever family.  And now he's been home with our whole family for over four months.

I would love to paint you a beautiful picture of the last four months, one in which he basked in the love of a family and everyone was always joyful and hopeful. A family where dinner was on the table on time every night and rooms stayed orderly and neat, to help him avoid any further chaos in his life. Where we sit by the fire each night and sing songs of worship as we listen to a family devotion.

Amani, however, is a real child and was adopted by a real family.

That means the last four months have been messy. We have had moments of amazing joy, full of smiles and laughter. We have had moments of utter chaos, with a screaming child and two older children seeking shelter in their rooms. Rob and I have had moments when we looked much more like sleep-deprived, frustrated zombies than our usual selves.  Amani's had two surgeries, the second of which gave us a night of trying to comfort a child who was writhing in pain (and a frantic call to the hospital on-call anesthesiologist).  We've had days where clean laundry sat in the living room in an ever-growing pile.  I have learned how to get dinner on the table every night in an (almost) timely fashion.  But it doesn't always mean there won't be a meltdown.  And while the older children are doing remarkably well, we do see some ripples in their behavior because of the changes over the past four months.

And that is beautiful. Because through the mess, God is creating a family.  Because now that I have some time and space between the day I carried my sweet boy out of the orphanage and today, I can really see and appreciate his progress.  He is loved and he now knows it. He has a Mommy and a Daddy and he knows it and can call us by name.  You should see the bond he has with his big sister.  His face lights up every morning when she wakes up and comes out to see him. She has been so attentive to him, and is so sympathetic about his surgery pain. He wrestles with his big brother and says his name over and over in the car on the way to pick him up from school. He has started requesting hugs and kisses. Real hugs in which he squeezes tight.

There is joy in our mess. Joy in our chaos.  We might all show up to church with toothpaste on our shirts (really happened, just last Sunday... me included), but my kids know they are loved by their parents and by their Creator.  Beauty is not perfect families with scrubbed-children in their Sunday best saying "yes sir" and "yes ma'am." Beauty is when my children get to see God mold us into a family, mess and all.

My favorite moment this week was Wednesday night. Rob is teaching the AWANA school-age kids about Swaziland and they are raising money to provide goats to Project Canaan there. This week he taught them the song "Akekho Ofana No Jesu" (There's no one like Jesus).  I got to stand on the side, with Amani close in the sling and sing to him in Siswati about his Savior who loves him. I love that song and of course Amani doesn't know Siswati (they speak Amharic in Ethiopia), but I was filled with joy knowing the plans God has for my family. We hope to bring all our children back to Ethiopia one day and we plan to bring them to Swaziland someday to serve with us there as well. And for now, we're teaching them about this God we love; praying they will grow up to serve Him too!

I have no clue how I ever deserved the amazing life God has given me thus far. I don't deserve it, but I am so honored and humbled to be a part of what God is doing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ethiopian Food: Gomen

I love to cook Ethiopian food and thought I'd share the recipes I've been using for the past couple years. In case you missed it, here's the first one: Nit'ir Qibe.

Gomen is the green stuff! 
I LOVE Gomen. L-o-v-e.  Gomen is Ethiopian Collard Greens and the hardest part of the entire recipe is chopping the collards. And if you're lucky, your grocery store will sell you a bag already chopped. I'm usually someone who would rather do something myself than pay extra to have it already done for me, but that goes out the window with collards. Chopping them just isn't my favorite thing to do!  Now, I have heard you can substitute spinach for the collards and I imagine that would work pretty well too, I've just never tried it.

I love the story behind this recipe. I first learned how to make Ethiopian Gomen from my friend who is Lebanese! My friend Lina has a really cool blog where she and her husband post recipes they've tried/adjusted. They posted their adventure in Ethiopian food here. They even attempted injera, which I have yet to do!  Her family owns Ghassan's, our very favorite Mediterranean restaurant and that is where we met!  So my arrival at one of my favorite Ethiopian dishes was a rather international route!!   I've since made a few adjustments to the recipe she used, but my first attempt at Gomen was a success, thanks to Lina.

Whenever I make Ethiopian food for people who have never had it before, Gomen is always one of their favorites!  Ethiopian food can look intimidating to those who have never eaten it, but I've made it for several friends and family members and every single one has loved it!  Even my not-so-adventurous friends! Gomen's a good one because you can make it not-so-spicy. And Ethiopian food is awesome for entertaining: you only use one plate total, and zero utensils! Clean-up is a snap! :)

So here you go for Gomen!

1 lb collard greens, washed & coarsely chopped
Nit'ir Qibe or regular butter
1 red onion, diced
a few cloves garlic (however much you like), minced
several green hot peppers, thinly sliced - this part is really up to you. If you love super-spicy foods (which I do), get some really hot peppers, like serranos.   However, my kids don't like spicy so much, so I just use 1 much milder pepper.  Most recently, I used Anaheim peppers and it was hardly spicy at all.

Boil your collards for 10 minutes or so, until they've softened a good bit.

Once your collards have been going about 5 minutes, put a big ole chunk of your nit'ir qibe in a hot skillet. If you didn't take my advice and make this amazing butter, you can use regular butter or oil, but I feel very sad for you right now.  If you did take my advice, bask in the amazing smell you now have permeating your house and pretend you are actually in Ethiopia! :)  And wait for a spouse and/or children to come out of the woodwork, wanting to know how much longer till dinner's ready!

Saute your red onion in the butter, about 4-5 minutes, stirring often to make sure they don't brown. Drain your collards, and then add them along with the garlic and peppers to the red onion. Lower the heat and cook it down until the collards have really wilted, stirring frequently.  Taste it as you go and add butter/nit'ir qibe until you like how it tastes. I like to taste a little bit of the bitterness from the collards. I usually end up adding about the same amount of butter I started with.

Serve with injera, and enjoy!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ethiopian Food: Nit'ir Qibe

So proud to say this is the dinner I served to some good friends last night!

Have I mentioned that I really love to cook? I would love to go to culinary school and actually learn to cook, but for now, I content myself with my little experiments at home.

Food is such an integral part of culture, so when we first decided to adopt from Ethiopia, food was the first aspect of Habesha culture that I dove into!  And over the past two years I've been learning more recipes and getting slowly better at making the food from my son's homeland.

And I thought I'd share some of my recipes with y'all over the next few weeks! Some have some good stories to go along with them.

And I'll start with something I just recently learned how to make: nit'ir qibe: Ethiopian clarified spiced butter.

Honestly, I wish I had learned this first. It is a staple of Ethiopian cooking and Ethiopians will tell you that no matter what you do, you just can't quite get it right here in America. Something about our cows not being right. But I made my first batch and gave some to an Ethiopian friend, who said it was almost as good as hers! Well, that is good enough for me!!

My recipe is from the book "The Soul of a New Cuisine" by Marcus Samuelsson. His story is really cool: he is Ethiopian and was adopted by a Swedish family, so he grew up in Sweden. There, he became a chef and eventually moved to NY, where he encountered lots of Ethiopians and began to learn more about the food in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. It's a cookbook, but I actually took it to bed with me and read it like a regular book. My mother-in-law gave it to me for Christmas and it really is awesome. It would be a great gift to give a family adopting from Ethiopia!

Before you decide this is "just butter" and that you'd rather skip right to the real Ethiopian recipes, let me tell you: this butter is amazing! And it really made a difference in my Ethiopian dishes!!  And it makes a LOT and keeps for weeks.  It's a little bit of work, but totally worth it the minute you smell it melting in your saute pan. Heavenly!! Rob gave me the best compliment yesterday - he came home and said our house smelled like Oziopia, the wonderful guest house where we stayed for our first court trip!

Nit'ir Qibe
1 lb unsalted butter
1/2 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3-inch piece ginger, peeled & finely chopped
1 tsp fenugreek seeds (this was what my Ethiopian friend said she omits - choose your own adventure here)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cardamom seeds (I used 1/2 tsp ground because I already had ground and cardamom is expensive!)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
8 basil leaves

This part takes forever: melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently. As foam rises to the top, skim and discard it.  You can be doing a million other things while you do this, since you just have to check in every few minutes to skim the foam off the top and then stir again. I think I was folding laundry at the same time. Go ahead and be impressed with my multitasking skills (just kidding!).

Continue cooking without letting the butter brown and no more foam appears. At this point, you've made clarified butter!

Add the onion, garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cumin, cardamom, oregano, turmeric, and basil and continue cooking for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat and let stand until the spices settle. Strain through a fine sieve before using.
Store in a tightly covered container in the fridge.

I asked some Ethiopians if they ever use this butter as a spread and I got a resounding NO... but my dad and I put it on some toast just to try it out and it was pretty good! :)

I used this butter to make gomen and  tibs... two recipes I'll share soon!  So go make it and you'll be all ready to go for my next post! :)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ode to my sling...

I am an avid baby-wearer.  For the past five and a half years, I have had a child tied, strapped, or attached to me in some way. Honestly. I was still wearing Riley in my maya wrap when I was 9 months pregnant with Allyn. And we still had the sling in the car and used it regularly with Allyn until I packed it up to bring it to Ethiopia with me. And Amani just might spend more of his waking hours in the sling than out of it.

People almost always comment on my sling when we are out and about. And I routinely tell people that if I could have only one baby item, the sling would be it!  It is my saving grace, my sanity, the way I am able to bring all three kids anywhere our little hearts desire us to go. It's how I can pick Riley & Allyn up from school and carry all their school stuff, and their still-wet artwork and notes from their teachers while still carrying Amani down the stairs, through the building, and out to the car without breaking a sweat.  When Amani wouldn't let the nurse put that finger-thing on him (you know, that thing that checks his pulse and his O2 sats?), all I had to do was put him in the sling first and then he let them do it without much fuss. I'm telling you, my sling is magic!

And guess what?  No sling for a week!

Commence panic.

Because of, ahem, the nature of his surgery, Amani can't be held on my hip for a week. Plus, he has a catheter for a week (lovely).  Which means no sling (and no riding toys either!).  I honestly feel as if I have lost an arm!  Because I can't put him on my hip, I pretty much have to use both arms to carry him. Usually I use NO arms to carry him (because the sling is just that awesome).

This will be a week of creativity for me.  I have just two hours until it's time to pick the big kids up from school and as of right now, I have no idea how I'm going to manage it. Ha ha!  I kind of need to go to the grocery store too.  Not sure that's going to happen. Thank God the other mamas at preschool are wonderfully helpful. I have a feeling I'm going to need some assistance this week.

But we'll get through. I'm not (too) worried.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The blessing of surgery...

Amani's 2nd surgery is today. Ugh. I know what to expect this time in terms of pre-surgery stuff, but that doesn't make it all that much easier.

And so far, he is NOT very happy with this whole "no food at all" thing this morning. I woke him up at 11:30 last night and fed him a banana. Which was a pretty funny experience. He kept looking at me like, "I like this banana, but what the HECK are you doing!?!?"  But this morning, I'm not sure it's really made much of a difference.

Anyway, we sure could use some prayers this morning.

And you know what? Today is a blessing! We have the opportunity to make sure Amani's health is the best it can be. When you leave yourself open to adopting a child with "medical needs" you never really know what you're going to be facing to take care of your child.  We are SO thrilled that Amani's issues can be handled with something as simple as a couple surgeries. Surgeries that would never have happened had he spent all of his childhood days in an orphanage in Ethiopia. And here, they really are fairly simple procedures. Amazing.

So, while I am not-at-all looking forward to the rest of my morning with my hungry son screaming and wondering why in the world we aren't feeding him, I rejoice in today, thankful for the opportunity to take care of my sweet boy!  And I praise God for wonderful friends (especially you, Jenn) for watching my older two so that I don't have to go it alone today... hooray! Rob can come with me! :)

Thanks for the prayers, y'all! :)

UPDATE: He came through the surgery wonderfully and didn't fuss even for a minute about being hungry once we got in the car to go to the hospital! I can't say enough wonderful things about Baptist!  I think recovery's going to be harder than last time and he was in some pain when we got home but I can't begin to tell y'all how wonderful it feels to know we are done with surgeries! WHOO HOO!