I hope you have all the ingredients...

...because you're gonna wanna make these immediately.

I am s-l-o-w-l-y starting to lock in on recipes. This is a big step for me. I've spent the last eight years of my life experimenting and I finally I see "standybys" emerging. Recipes that work every time, and the taste and texture are just what I am looking for. Hubs has been waiting (praying?) for this to happen, as I think I've repeated dinners and even treats only a few handful of times since we've been married. I think he'd enjoy it if I weren't such a commitmentphobe in the kitchen. Maybe someday, Loverboy.

There are two things I've made a lot of recently that I feel compelled to share. I want to be clear that I created neither of these but they are ridiculously good.

The first are cookie bars, or congo bars, or blondies. You can call them anything you want. I call them "Worth the Extra Time on the Treadmill Bars." This batch below I made at midnight last night - when else, right?

Bakerella told me to stir these by hand, not use my mixer. The first time I made these I almost didn't because God gave us stand mixers for a reason, but out of sheer curiosity I obeyed, and I am glad I did. My arm did not fall off from stirring, and texture is dreamy despite my using whole wheat flour which tends to make cookies and cakes a little drier and coarser.

The recipe, which I found from this post and used several times over the past few months is the best congo bar recipe I've ever tried. I am sticking with it. Go forth and bake!

Scoopy's Favorite Congo Bars Taken from Bakerella
  • 2 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 lb. light brown sugar  * I should mention here that my kitchen scale is out of batteries but something whispered from the recesses of my brain that 1 cup packed brown sugar might just be about 8 oz. I did not confirm via the internet, I just went with two cups of packed brown sugar. Also, I accidentally threw in an entire cup of butter instead of 2/3 cup. And so I added a little more flour and baking powder and salt because I was not about to start over. See, another selling point: this recipe is forgiving. I screwed with it and it was still heavenly.
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 11.5 ounce package milk chocolate chips (I threw in more than this. You can too. I won't tell Bakerella.)

Take yer wooden spoon to the brown sugar and butter. She says add eggs one and a time and stir in between. It was midnight so I just dumped them all in and went to it with the vanilla, too.

I did take the time to sift together the flour, salt and baking powder, and I never regret it when I do. I added it all together with the chocolate chips and threw it in a 9x13 greased metal pan at 350. 33 minutes later I checked, I could tell they were not quite done but that is how I like them. I took them out and let them cool. I ate one for breakfast this morning. I am not proud of that.

Are you ready for the second no-fail recipe? It is highly addictive and really not bad for you, unlike the first one.

Homemade salsa: I like to make in bulk because it doesn't last long otherwise.

The kids go nuts over it. Someone -pictured below- likes to drink it, lick it, slurp it. I hope to slowly build the kids' heat tolerance by adding in more and more jalapeno each time I make this.

I obtained this recipe from Pioneer Woman who provides lots of pretty pictures and instructions. Really, you just throw all the ingredients into the food processor, pulse a few times and start inhaling it. But by all means, go to her site if you need more visuals. A note on the ingredients: Hubs is not a huge fan of cilantro, and this has cilantro. Last batch I made we were missing that ingredient. I offered him a taste and he immediately grabbed the car keys and went to the store to get some so I could add it in. Don't leave out the cilantro, even if you think you don't need or want it. Also, I never once have measured these ingredients. You can fudge all of them and it tastes wonderful.

Scoopy's Favorite Restaurant Style Salsa
  • 1 can (28 Ounce) Whole Tomatoes With Juice
  • 2 cans (10 Ounce) Rotel (diced Tomatoes And Green Chilies) * I will admit, I changed this to a can of green chilies because there was no Rotel at my store. It was fine and I've kept my version going.
  • 1/4 cup Chopped Onion
  • 1 clove Garlic, Minced
  • 1 whole Jalapeno, Quartered And Sliced Thin
  • 1/4 teaspoon Sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1/2 cup Cilantro (more To Taste!)
  • 1/2 whole Lime Juice

Instructions:  Just pulse in the food processor til is as chunky or chunk-free as you like. It makes a lot, so if you don't have an 11 cup food processor, do it in batched and then stir into a bowl.

Well folks, I've done my civic duty. I've shared what I felt needed to be shared. Now I am going to go eat what  needs to be eaten. I have some exciting news coming up in the next few weeks and I can't wait to share. In the meantime, I am sleeping less because I have work to do! Can't wait to unveil it to you.


life lessons from a feeding therapist

A few weeks ago at Brady's therapy session with a nutritionist/feeding guru from Early Intervention she fed him and observed him. She pointed out what he is doing well, what needs work, how to help him eat better and get him excited about using his mouth.

At one point he started grabbing for the spoon. She told me to fetch another, one for him, one for her.

A few bites later he reached for the bowl. She said oh, you want to feel it huh? OK, let's give you some to touch. This is food, honey, go for it.

And then she did the unthinkable. She spooned out a massive amount of mushy baby food onto the tray for him to play with. And he did. He rubbed it, squished it, got it everywhere. His hands, arms, neck, ears, hair and chair. Sticky and stiff and deplorable I was thinking, um, lady, are you gonna stay and clean this child and my kitchen up?

Upon reflection I realized how mess averse I am. Which is laughable and outright shocking if you saw my house.  I exert so much mental and physical energy attempting mess prevention and cleaning messes. And the sick thing is, I am not sure if it does any good.

The messes happen on days where I sit back, turn a blind eye and read blogs for two hours an hour, and the messes happen if I follow the Littles around with a proverbial whip screaming  

              One Toy Genre at a Time! The Legos and blocks and animals and trains are not friends. 
              Put one away before you get the rest out and don't even think about taking the cushions off
              the couch; so help me I will throw away this whole house and you'll never see another 
              toy again as long as you live!!

I think in life we humans spend a lot of time seeking ease, comfort, trying to avoid literal, emotional and psychological messes. We are always trying to get organized, make things easier, make more money, reduce stress. And yet, the messes keep on coming whether we try to avoid them or not. Maybe there is a takeaway from Brady's therapy. The life messes; the hardest situations teach us things. I think when we get in the middle of the mush we develop sensitivity, neurons connect, people connect.

Maybe we should be a little less afraid of the mess. Maybe, like with Brady, the mess is how we learn.


Watching Him

It doesn't matter if he's playing baseball, checking his blackberry, running on the treadmill, taking trash to the dump (oh yes, be horrified people who live in the civilized West: our town doesn't have trash pick up. You have to pay $2 per bag and haul it in your car to the town dump) or in this case, laying mulch -the little people love their Daddy and will scrutinize, no glorify his every move.

It's the Daddy Show. We had a good talk during the presentation.

Samantha: I am a gardener because I planted
Me: Yeah, and Daddy is the landscaper because he's putting down the mulch
Cookie Monster: Yeah, and I a bad guy

During the Daddy Show, someone had a better view of the action.

I checked to see if the little "someone" was upset by his obstructed view.

Does it look like he minds?

I am OK if you think these are the cutest children in the world.


Friday Mixed Bag

We got rid of a two hideously stained and beaten up dining room chairs and replaced them with a long-awaited, long-desired 6 foot solid pine bench.  Instead of two kids on one side of the table, we can now fit five or six. This may quickly become the most functional piece of furniture we own.  Also, it is gorgeous. The little people who don't notice such things as "beautifully treated reclaimed antique pine" will probably mar it soon with forks and I need to prepare myself.

I got this shot off right before the van pulled away, taking my old friend, the hospital grade breast pump with it. I actually got emotional. I need to get a grip.

Babysitter Liz put up this wreath hanger on the inside of my pantry to organize the reusable bags. Before, they were all over the floor of the pantry because I am completely missing the gene that tells you where to put crap. She is a wizard. The wreath hanger was $2.99 from Michaels, and here it is, changing my life.

You just can't have too many play dates with Ethiopian Adoption families. We did five in eight days, and it was gooood.* Update, we actually had six adoption play dates, I forgot one, which was a mixed group of ET, domestic/foster/Haitian adoption at which I took zero pictures. We know how to party.

Blow up Bouncy Thing Place where we finally met in person blog friends for two years Shannon and darling son T.

At Lucy Cafe in Boston with Anne and M who have a private (boo!) blog, and Shannon and T.

Swimming with this many toddlers requires excellent floaties and the grace of God.

My bebes.

Sedating my masses: YouTube.

Hanging out with some other lovely folks

African Festival

It is never too much. Ever. We are so lucky to have Habesha friends so close and who's parents are all so dedicated to forging these friendships. I don't know what we would do without this support network. It means so much to all of us.

Finally, to close off for the weekend, I thought I'd mention something I've read about and mentally scoffed at on other blogs: Traumaversary. I've been reading for years about how children have attachment regression, acting out, emotional freak outs in the same month, sometimes even week or day that some significant trauma happened to them. For some kids it's the day they were relinquished by family and brought to an orphanage. For some kids it's the day they were taken to the US. For some when a parent passed away. But I've read it over and over again where parents cannot figure out what is possessing their kid, and then it hits them that it's the anniversary of something traumatic. It seemed a little, well, voodoo or something. At very least coincidental. Well, I am here to tell you this is real.

Tsega has been a mess for the last week. Last week we hit one year of being home. His emotional stability is at ground zero. He's a clinging, whining, raging, crying mess. I've had witnesses. They've seen the flailing and heard the screaming. He has been waking at night crying, needing love.

What's also interesting is that last year this was a particularly trying time for Cookie and Samantha who essentially lost their mother for about a month, and guess what, they have been wretched. Their behavior, emotional instability, crying, screaming back talking whining is exactly like what it was one year ago when things got really hard. Cookie Monster is even forgetting he can talk and reverting to screaming fits like while he was in speech therapy still figuring out how to communicate. It's like they all lost a year of growing and maturity. They are a mess.

Don't be like me. Don't scoff.  Traumaversary is totally real. Hopefully this weekend we can continually fill up the love tanks and finish riding it out.


In a Jam

It's 3:30am, and of course I am up, breaking my mid-year resolution and my promise to Hubs tonight that I wouldn't be up late.
My problem? I am making strawberry jam from all the berries we picked in the previous post. It's going alright, but I am stuck because I have these still to pulse in the food processor

And these already nicely crushed up

But I am out of containers and pectin already.

I think I have to call it a night and buy more supplies tomorrow. And since we won't have any fridge or freezer space left, we are going to be eating strawberry jam for dinner for the next two months. Come on down.


We Put the Straw in Strawberry and an Ode to Marvelous Friends

Gulp. I have to face it. I am almost incapable of accomplishing anything on my own with the four kids.

I try; I think I can, and then I get there and thank heaven my dear friends plug the chinks in my armor. I always grossly over estimate my abilities. (Or underestimate the kids' needs?) Someone always ends up chasing a running Tsega for me, holds a Brady while I take a big kid potty, straps a kiddo into a car seat or finds my missing wallet. My four beautiful burdens are lightened every time I venture forth by my sweet friends. I am always grateful, and always relieved, because I don't want to stay home. I don't want to admit defeat. I want to play with my kids and my friends, and I am thankful they let me. You know who you are.

This week strawberry picking at Ward's Berry Farm in Sharon, MA ended up being more of a challenge than I thought it would be as I optimistically drove there with singing, smiling children. It was 76 degrees and sunny and we were going to be only thirty minutes late- an embarrassing standard for us as those who spend time with us know too well.

When we got there almost all of them began whining and crying and there were many points at which I almost threw in the towel. And yet, for three hours my friends and their kids helped entertain and watch my children, hold bottles, put back on hats, help me pick my berries, carry my stuff. I need two hands to count the people who helped me survive the outing, and they all did it with a smile, even when I kinda lost my cool around lunch time. {Why can't they just sit peacefully and eat their food without getting filthy and running away or complaining about what I am feeding them? And when I say filthy I mean, I didn't even want to put them in my car.}

After the initial pouting session, Cookie Monster and Tsega found a way to divert themselves:

Despite my clicking away at the cuteness, I don't think I realized exactly what was happening to Tsega's newly cornrowed hair during the straw throwing fiesta.

Once I saw I snapped "Cookie!" And he guiltily turned around:

Aw, forget it. Have fun boys.

Even Sissy got into it

Brady had no use for the straw and focused on the food. Good boy.

This friend saved me big time. And helped me pick. Thanks friend. I love you.

Do you remember? This isn't the first time she's come to my rescue.

I did actually get to pick some strawberries in between holding and comforting the two littlest ones who did all they could to foil my plans.

And my shirt told the story of little sticky juicy hands holding on to me while I picked.

Now, onto making jam. Unlike last time I did this, almost two years ago to the day. Go look, do you think Brady looks like Cookie did, oh so long ago?


Never Speechless

I briefly entertained doing this post without words, but I can't. There is too much. I've never been one to rely on pictures alone and I certainly am not going to start today. Between the nursing-ending hormones and the fact that Tsega has been home one year, today being Father's Day and Brady's first birthday, it's a shocker I am not a blubbering mess.

One year ago our world was turned upside town. A new little man came into our family by way of a 30+ flight home from Ethiopia. And just a few short days later, another little man came into our family much too early.

I remember being on the table during the c-section. I was almost catatonic. I could hear Hubs and the nurses talking to me, but my mind had separated from my body and I couldn't respond. I had retreated. I was in shock. I hate c-sections, this was my third, I hadn't even gotten over Ethiopia jet lag, I had a new baby boy at home, another was coming and I'd had four days of medical interventions, bed rest which is NOT restful at all, and to find out why I was in pain that night, they had just given me an amniocentesis which I did NOT want.

They had to test my amniotic fluid for white blood cells to see if I had a raging infection, which would indicate getting the baby out NOW. As they brought out the massive needle they wanted to shove at my baby I shook with tears. The doctor and team of three hundred salivating residents and interns observing the crazy crying lady, said you need to hold still, you must stop crying. I held my breath and try to stifle the swear words. Not for the doctor's sake, but because my big sister was with me, holding my hand, crying along side me, and she never says bad words.

There was infection, they whisked me into the OR, while I was on the phone telling Hubs to run to the hospital. Hubs took weeks off of work to hold down the fort and practice attachment parenting for us, while I was stuck in the hospital, away from these beautiful children. Tsega was only six months old when he became a big brother and had been in the US for only six days.

Our surprise baby boy was 3 lbs, and breathed on his own long enough to whimper for a moment, but then his lungs gave up and he was immediately intubated.

I have no recollection of the following picture. Apparently they took me up to the NICU so I could see him but I was woozy and drugged. This is our first meeting.

He was so fragile and so pink.

It has been one amazing, full, busy, emotional, hard, crazy, blissful year. You know how pop songs sometimes use the phrase "we almost had it all"? Well, I am pretty sure that  "it all" refers to what I have. It doesn't get a lot better than this. What they don't know when they sing it though is how little sleep and how much pee laundry "it all" entails.

I am so grateful my Tiny One is not so tiny anymore, and is a thriving, happy, learning boy. As I think back on his progress, I remembered something. It took over five months until I heard him cry. That was how weak, sedate, unresponsive he was. Over five months, and then it was only whimpers, we couldn't hear him if we were in another room. Now when he cries he has a voice.

Though he is still learning he has one. He is still learning that he can complain and I will come. That he can jabber and we will respond. He is still learning to laugh, in fact, I heard him spontaneously laugh for the first time this week. Before, it was always sporadic, and most often due do a patient and heroic effort on the parts of Cookie and Sissy. What made him giggle?  He was on my back in the Ergo and we were running next to Samantha to cross a busy street. His laugh was like the sun breaking through clouds.

He's getting there, wherever there is. He is making strides now, instead of microscopic indiscernible changes.  He's scooting around, eating nasty junk on the carpet and knocking down block towers. He is starting to get into trouble.

His primary form of communication for the past six months has been blowing raspberries. We still do this to talk to each other every day.

Thank you to our wonderful Daddy, who at 10pm happily consented to following me to the brightest room in the house and taking a picture of me and my boy before his special day was over. And Happy Father's day to Hubs, who is an exceptional father in so many ways. Thank you to all the people who prayed for him, and for us and helped us over the last year. We needed so much support and received it from so many. I have a lot of karma to repay.

Can you believe this boy used to fit in my t-shirt?

Now look at him...

Happy birthday my Miracle Baby, I am so proud of you. I am so thankful to be your Mama.


I Didn't Even Have to Drug Him

Before the procedure, his wet, lovely, combed through locks.


He didn't cry once. He didn't really even whine. Treats and TV are powerful motivators for my little Habesha. In my limited experience now, I will share the keys to cornrows for babies:

1) Let your kid get used to you pulling on their hair. Frequently moisturize, comb outs, box braids, french braids, puffs, ANYTHING.We've been working on this for the last two months. I built up his tolerance and the time he will sit.

2) Restraining device like a high chair if possible

3) Outlandish treats like getting to hold the entire bag of M&Ms or like Tsega here, the whole huge bag of marshmallows.

4) Dora the Explorer

5) A braider who has done kids before and is willing to come to your house. In our case, my sister in law's neighbor. She isn't a professional, but she does her grandkids' and kids' hair. And she was awesome.

Skip the salon if you can, and pray the baby keeps the satin sleep cap on so he doesn't ruin them after one day. BTW, once she started parting and got going, the whole thing took 25 minutes or so. Not bad at all!

Good luck friends!

** Update the morning after: He kept his satin sleep cap on most of the night, but even still it is obvious that because of his looser texture these babies won't be in for long. They are already fuzzy. Maybe five days tops. Bummer, but next time I will ask her to do more braids so they are smaller and tighter. Right now he has seven, maybe if we do ten or eleven it will help them stay in longer...