little changes

You know that thing where you are trying to let someone in on your life by sharing a little, and without knowing it they question your insight about your situation and children and imply you are making a big deal out of nothing and you realize that you can't talk to that person anymore about the challenges in your family  because they don't live it and don't believe you when you talk about it? That thing. The learning in whom I can confide. It's not about anger, or shutting certain friends out, it's about picking one's audience. Being choosy about who a support person is or isn't is a practiced skill I am discovering.

A few other little changes are afoot besides me learning to hold my tongue (a little). Cookie's long locks into hawk. New hair clippers are pulling their weight around here. Though cliche to say so, 'tis amazing what a difference a good tool makes. I've used this puppy on all three boys now and I can safely say I am in love with hair clippers. I never thought I'd use those words.




Snip snip on Fikir's adenoids. Which were, according to the surgeon, "incredibly substantial." No more snoring, no more interrupted sleep, no more nasally voice, better pronunciation, more talking. It's beautiful what one hour of surgery can do for a girl. She was a brave little thing, and faced some big fears, and recovery was a slice of cake. What was just as cool was Mimi writing a letter to the their mom about the surgery and reassuring her she was better and how well she's doing. It took us almost an hour to compose seven lines of Amharic text but it was a great exercise. She and I will be getting better. Gmail is pretty cool to offer a way to type in English and it come out in አማረንያ።

This bit starts off with a sigh, because despite what I am about to share, the past few days have been fraught with destruction around the house. But on to the positive: When the safety factor keeps going down in one's house, one must get creative. Tsega doesn't have the ability to leave cords alone.  He plays with them, he unplugs them, he wraps them around things, and worst of all, wraps them around people. It was (and still is) debilitating how much time Hubs and I spend trying to stay a step ahead of a kid with serious issues about safety. The road is long and nowhere near ending. Our new intervention is thankfully working to alleviate a small particle of the stress. Phase one is pictured below.

Phase Two of Slightly Safer Tsega was taking out the bulbs from the over-head light. Tsega had been waking up several times a night (despite melatonin) and wandering around his empty room trying to come up with dangerous stuff to do. He had success often. We took out the lights so he can't turn them on and stay up all night, and on that high shelf (more than seven feet up) there is now a white noise machine, and a small lamp. Between having no cords and no lights to play with, he is sleeping better. I check on his room a few times a night and he is staying in bed more. It's a small miracle. When the going gets tough, the tough starts thinking outside the box. Sure, in a few years when we try to sell the house potential buyers may wonder why there is an outlet by the ceiling. It's the new hip thing! Everyone is doing it! At least everyone with kids with sensory processing issues!

Get on it, friends. All the cool people are doing it...


fear in the way

I should be writing about our lovely Christmas, and how well the kids are doing on vacation week without classes and therapy. They have held it together, and for the first time in several years, Christmas has really not been stressful. Hubs and I are beautifully in sync, which is awfully nice. We have pretty polarized roles in the family, and I will admit personal struggles with co-parenting. He travels a lot, works long hours, and I am Queen Bee, buzzing around the hive with lots of moral but distant support. This sounds tiring in theory, but in practice, making decisions sans input from another person is quite simple. I do my thing, in my way, and much of the time, it works. On vacation weeks, or heck, even weekends in the past, we have our clash moments. When he is being a (wonderful) father and I try to steer the wagon because I don't know how to let go of the reigns.

But this week has been nothing short of relaxing. We are a team, a good one. The girls' first Christmas with our family went off without any large hitches. Well, almost. Remind me to write later about how I accidentally gave away one of the kid's only Christmas gift and discovered my mistake at noon on Christmas Eve and spent hours calling stores trying to find one and couldn't.

Last night, long after the children were in bed, Hubs and I lounged on the couch, touching hands, cozy and drowsy. Hey love, our tenth anniversary is coming up. We need to make it happen. Let's do this. He wants to go to Puerto Rico, Key West. Something warm, something soon. I was about to entertain the thought of going...

All of a sudden, I was seventeen again. I stood in a room, holding the hand of a little boy, about five years old, while he explained who the woman in the picture was. This little boy, and his younger sister were my weekly babysitting gig. And the woman in the picture on his dresser was his mother. He looked just like her, they both did.

She and their father had gone on an anniversary trip to Hawaii, and she never came home. There was an accident. Like-from-a-movie tragic horrible accident, except it was real. Nauseatingly real. These babies never saw their Mama again. Their father remarried, fairly quickly, a sweet, first time wife and mom to this greiving family, and she was doing an awfully good job of filling empty shoes. She was Plan B for all of them, but this was her life, her Plan A. And I loved her. She was a wonderful mentor and example to me of how to step in, love, make broken things whole. She was a tough cookie and a capable mother. And though way back then I had no idea about kids who have experienced pain, trauma, there was a seriousness about that house, about those kids that I now recognize in my own house. Underneath and behind the giggles and love, in the corners and shadow of stillness, there was loss.

They were a wonderful family. Yet I couldn't help but experience my own second-hand grief every time I saw that picture. That mother did not get to raise her children. Another woman was doing it. She left on vacation and she was gone. The experience working with this family changed me. It planted a seed. A paralyzing fear within me that has only been realized fifteen years later.

It happened in a flash, remembering my need to go vomit every time I went into those kids' room and saw the picture of their mother. But now, I was back on the couch, with Hubs, wiping tears from my eyes. Hot, unbidden tears I tried to scrub away before Hubs noticed my Insta-Freak-Out. He throws out key trigger words like beach and getting away and in seconds I am beating away memories and pushing sobs back down my throat.

I am terrified of leaving my children. I dread something happening to me, and them losing me. Even now as I type I choke down horror. The only time I have been apart from my kids for more than twelve hours since becoming a mother six years ago is when I went to Ethiopia to bring more children to our family. And the only way I could stomach that separation was believeing that God could not let something happen to me on such an errand; that in my act of becoming a mother to children who'd already lost theirs, they could not also lose me, the universe would implode with unfairness or something. I told myself it was impossible.

Of course, it wasn't impossible. I could have died. Certainly on my first trip there while six months pregnant with a risky pregnancy was an act of aggression against the odds. But I willed myself to believe that because what I was doing was not selfish, because it was for my children, I would be protected. I held onto all the mysticism and faith I could muster to get me through those weeks away from the children at home.

But a vacation? There is no mysticism there. Faith flees. All bets are off. There is no universe imploding threat. And every time I contemplate plane tickets, white sand, lotioned legs and me alone with Hubs, who is so very dreamy and fun, something happens: I instantly see the woman in the picture frame. And her fate comes between me and the jet way. I don't know how to get on a plane and leave my children.

Here we are in Grand Cayman, from this year. We brought the four kids we had at the time, and my lovely mother so we had extra hands. Photobucket

I don't fear much, almost nothing. If anything, I walk this earth with too much confidence. But it is with a small, pitiful, cowering, soul-wrenching truth when I whisper I don't want to be her. I don't want to be in a frame on a dresser.


Six years worth of steps

A few emails came in after my post about starting to drink raw milk in our house inquiring about my progression to a tree-hugging wacko food journey and how we manage to eat healthily with such a big family.

I think it's worth noting the obvious: there is no such thing as eating perfectly. There is also no end to the rabbit's hole of whole, natural foods eating. There are probably a hundred things I eat that some folks would think were disgusting abuses to my body. I am certainly not an expert and I do not think I am particularly radical. Case in point, after that post about our breakfast time conversion, a reader pointed out to me that agave nectar is being marketed as a natural sweetener, and we had been consuming it, when in fact, it is not great for you. I am now sticking with local honey or real maple syrup in our oats. I am continually tweaking and making little steps to improve the health of our family. And based on the prompts and questions from some of you, dear readers, I will give you a peek into this process.

Some of the ways we eat and philosophize about food will not work or be appealing to everyone. It took me the last six years to make all these changes, one or two at a time. Slowly adapting, slowly overhauling how I shop for food and what is important to me. And I will submit that with each one, the effects I felt in my well being, saw in my waistline or on the scale, and the peace of mind I experienced were in their turn, noticeable. I feel better when I do these things, period. It has been a bit rocky when on vacation or when visiting family. Food can be divisive, and everyone has to figure out how to feel good and not offend the heck out of everyone around them.

If you are a big brand shopper, especially because you depend on coupons to make a budget work, many of these suggestions could be difficult to pull off. Many big brand foods contain things that I believe are harmful to my health when consumed regularly. If you are on a tight budget, there is no two ways about it: quality, whole, natural (as in, not modified in a lab) foods cost more. And I am not even talking about purchasing all certified organic foods because that is even more expensive. It is hard. And I think everyone needs to do the best they can. I don't think anyone should apologize for doing their best to be healthy and feed their family and that is going to look different for all of us. This post is not a guilt trip.

Rather, it is look at some of the baby steps I, as a non-doctor, non-nutritionist recommend based on my own personal journey towards eating whole and natural foods. Have I tripped all over myself disclaiming enough? Yes? Have at it, take what you will, or throw it away. Twenty six small things I do, and maybe you can, too.

Step 1) Start reading labels of things you buy. Look at the ingredient list on these items in your fridge and pantry:
ice cream
condiments like BBQ sauce and ketchup
packaged foods like boxed macaroni or frozen dinners
cake mixes
canned soup
all store bakery desserts
flavored oatmeal packets
peanut butter
salad dressing

Does the food have more than five or six ingredients? Do you know what all of them are? Ask yourself, was this food grown, or was it created in a lab? (Hint: if an ingredient has more than five syllables, there is a good chance it is a substance not found in nature.)

2) End the soda habit. Or limit it. Or just end it. There are no positive physical effects of drinking soda and so so many bad ones.  Your liver and your brain with thank you.

3) Decide that High Fructose Corn Syrup is poison. When you see it on a food, teach your brain to recoil in horror. This helps motivate one to find a different brand. This pervasive, nasty sugar is pumped into everything. Even hotdog and hamburger buns and ketchup. Heinz has an alternate brand with no HFCS, Annie's is a brand without it, if you look, you can find it. If you live long enough without this sugar, and then accidentally eat it, you will actually be able to tell by how the food tastes if it has this as an ingredient. (And you may feel sick afterwards.)

4) HFCS's best friend is hydrogenated oil. Decide this too, is a poison. If you find this in any of the foods listed in Baby Step number one, find a new brand. For me, in order to decide to switch from 90% name brands meant deciding the ingredients in the food were too gross to consume. I knew how I felt when I ate it, and I didn't want that anymore. And if I didn't want to eat it, then I had to find alternatives.

5) Avoid aspartame, or Splenda (sucralose) like the plague. This is in all diet sodas and a lot of yogurts. Yoplait and Dannon cram their yogurt full of this stuff.

6) Change your grandma's pie crust recipe. You don't have to use the Crisco. It doesn't matter what she claims, cold cold butter will work just great, and the natural fats found in the butter and not as bad for you as the processed, hydrogenated, so stable it could-make-it-through-nuclear-war-unscathed shortening. If you are desperate for a shortening, Earth Balance is a brand that has a product that might work for you without the bad stuff.

7) Invest in a really good blender. If you can afford a Vitamix, a Ninja or BlendTec, do it. They are worth it. Research them, save for one, buy a refurbished one, hunt craigslist. But if you can't afford one of these, you can still reap the benefits. See, you want a good blender because you can use it to add way more raw fruits and I veggies to your daily meal plan. I have a smoothie full of vegetables and fruit every day, and my children too. See how I do it here. I contentiously fill up on vegetables so I don't have room for other things. I have friends who manage this with a hand held immersion blender, though it's a little more work and a little less "smooth." The infomercial that hooked me and sold Hubs on a good blender is here. Please watch this, it is fascinating.

8) Work hummus into the dip of choice for vegetables instead of Ranch dressing. Hummus tends to have a respectable amount of olive oil in it, but it has protein and is better for you than Ranch, which, incidentally has a lot of sugar and  unpronounceable ingredients. With every lunch and dinner, I serve my kids chopped up carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes and they love hummus, which has no sugar.

9) The cheap syrup, name brands and store brands for your pancakes and waffles are usually made up 100% HFCS and other modified-in-a lab dyes and flavors. Switching to real maple syrup is vastly more expensive, sadly. But it's a step.

10) Make your own bread. It scared me the first four or five times. Yeast is terrifying. But home made bread tastes good, and doesn't have the loads and loads of unnecessary sugar and stabilizers and preservatives that store breads do. Natural breads in the store are WAY too expensive. It's insane how much they cost, so making them makes sense for us. Though, if you are blessed enough to live near Trader Joe's, I recently found their sprouted bread is not ultra-expensive and tastes awesome. When I need to buy bread because of time constraints, this is my number one go-to bread. Why sprouted? Read here.

11) Peanut butter. Oh my land. If you have the fancy pants blender, you can make your own nut butters with almonds, sunflowers, peanuts, cashews, etc. If you don't, Jiffy finally came out with natural peanut butter that doesn't have hydrogenated oil. Costco's all natural peanut butter is fantastic as well. Check the label, and never get the regular stuff again. There should only be two ingredients in your peanut butter: peanuts, and a little salt. Period.

12) Whenever you serve anything that is a conduit for carbs and cheese, add as much greens as possible to it. Examples: never make a quesadilla or a grilled cheese or pasta without adding spinach. Make it a habit to always have spinach in the house no matter what. If I have made spaghetti for dinner, I put a large handful of raw, uncooked spinach or arugula in the bottom of my bowl, then add the pasta to it and stir it up. The steam from the pasta wilts it just a little and now half of what I am eating is actually good for me. For me, filling up on something green each meal is a worthy goal. I have never told my kids they have to do this too. Sometimes I insist on a few bites of salad, but most of the time, I worry about me and let them learn. They see me grab the greens and add it to everything I eat. The power of example is starting to work. Some of the kids are asking for it. I don't make a big deal, I just say "Sure!" And pass the bag of spinach.

13) Don't buy Cheetos. Don't buy Capri Sun. Don't buy Doritos. Don't buy Oreos. If the junk food isn't in the house, no body eats it. If it's at a birthday party, lucky kids or you. A few times a year never killed anyone.

14) Meat. Whew, this is a big one. When you can, when there is a good sale purchase organic, grass fed beef. And organic free range chickens, though even those labels can be misleading sometimes. This article is helpful. 

15) To better understand the disgusting mess that is the poultry industry and a lot about the problem with the food we eat, please watch Food, Inc. Here is the trailer.

16) Always have a bowl of apples and pears out. I buy apples and pears 8 lbs at a time and my children have at least one a day, each. (Yes, we go through 5-12 apples a day.) Hungry kids are whiny kids. If they are hungry enough, they will eat the proffered fruit and he happier.

17) Make your own crud-free popcorn. All natural kind is very expensive in the microwave bag. I do my own version with straight up organic popcorn kernels, a little salt and olive oil in a brown paper sack, microwaved for 3 minutes. It helps to soak the kernels for 1 minute in a little water, as more of the kernels pop when they have a little moisture. The bag overflows with popcorn, and there is no nasty fake butter or too much salt.

18) Instead of pretzels or chips, pistachios and cashews or peanuts. My kids love high protein snacks and I buy boatloads of raw or lightly roasted salt free nuts. It is the perfect pre-dinner or on the run snack.

19) Water at every meal. The kids do not need that much milk. They don't need juice. Both, especially the good kind, are expensive. We have water for every meal except for holidays, with so far, no exceptions.

20) Meal style: we get away with this because 1/3 of the food we eat is Ethiopian in origin, but we do a lot of "ethnic eating style in our house." That is a fancy way of saying, we eat with our hands a lot. I know this would drive a lot of people nuts, but I have found my kids are engaged and excited and more relaxed eating when they can eat with their hands. Ethiopian food is not meant to be eaten with utensils. If kids are picky, trying a new food with hands could improve the experience. I know mine like to feel it out, literally, with a pinch here, a sniff there. I have a huge problem with chewing with mouth open, but hands on eating, I try not to mind because I see it improves their willingness to eat new things.

21) Fast food. You you can live without it. Like the trans fat, like the HFCS, if you can convince yourself it is akin eating toilet bowl cleaner (or something) the temptation goes away.  It can become a fun record to see how many weeks, then months than years one can go without eating fast food. I am closing in on nine or ten years (I have lost count, sadly) and I have never been tempted.  Also, this is the best stand up bit about MacDonalds ever. Watch it and weep with laughter. (It largely makes fun of me.)

22) Before going out to dinner or to a work party or some place where there will be excellent food, likely prefaced by a huge bowl of bread, eat half an apple, or some carrot sticks. Take the edge off of hunger, so you don't face plant into the bread when it comes out. Going in there starving can mean if you're humanoid it will mean overeating the on the nutritionless bread. A word about bread. * I actually don't eat it much. When I was 12 I read an article about Cindy Crawford. She claimed one of her secrets to keeping trim for her job was eschewing bread. I had never heard of not eating a specific food, but now as an adult, I completely agree.  That bread I make is mostly for the kiddos. I make wraps with tortillas, or skip it all together and turn whatever I was going to eat into a salad. Bread really hurts the female butt region after age 30 I realizing, so learning to skip bread and pasta and use them as a treat once or twice a week is a good habit.

22.5) I TOTALLY have a huge problem over eating injera and the not-healthy Ethiopian food. I do still keep with my habit of adding raw greens and tomatoes to almost every bite of Ethiopian food, so I am filling up on healthful things too. I make a compromise because this food is important to our family culture, and darngit, I am getting good at cooking it, so I eat it enjoy it, and make sure I am still offering the raw veggies with those meals.

23) Cream of Nothing. If a recipe calls for "cream of chicken" or "cream of mushroom" do not buy it. Do not use it. It's better to buy a pint of cream from the dairy aisle and add a little chicken broth or a few minced mushrooms than that stuff. The amount of sodium in that stuff is disgusting, not to mention the use of the bad soy. The kind that is not meant to be consumed.

24) Rice, beans, lentils. These three things bought in bulk (cheaply) can be tweaked a hundred ways to make filling meals. I haven't bought canned beans in a few months. I buy black beans and kidney beans in bulk and soak/boil them in water to get them to the soft "canned" consistency. It is astronomically cheaper, there is way less salt and frankly, we have so many people in this house one can of beans is only enough for one or two people. Not helpful over here. And contrary to popular belief, those beans don't have to soak five hours or overnight. In a pinch, you can boil those suckers for 1.5 hours and have perfectly lovely beans. Yeah, that's a long time, but I used think it was an all-day process to use dried beans and it's not.

25) Organic.  If you are lucky enough to live in a place where things grow, joining a CSA or co-op can dramatically reduce prices on local, organic produce. We don't eat all organic produce for the same reason you might not: holy expensive batman. For those of us on a budget and who need to prioritize any organic purchases, here are the types of produce that have the highest pesticide residues—and which do not.
 12 Most Contaminated
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes
12 Least Contaminated
  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Corn (Frozen)
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Bananas
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Papaya
26) Before we stopped buying cereal, I discovered this brand. Mom's Best. These cereals are devoid of HFCS and hydrogenated oil and imitate the fun, yummy cereals kids and adults love. They taste even better than the real thing. When we do buy cereal, Mom's Best, Three Sisters, Cascadian Farms granola,  and Kashi are the best tasting all natural brands in my opinion.

I hope these steps and ideas and philosophies are helpful.  What do you do in your house to improve overall nutrition? What is your favorite "health tip" or philosophy around food? What should be Step 27?  Do you have an questions? Now it's your turn.

And if you need to come back and remember


What they wanted for Christmas this year

Last year my kids gave up their Christmas so Mom, Dad and "Santa" could donate to an important cause, one far away in Ethiopia. This year, we worked hard again to down play Santa's role and influence by strongly suggesting they need to give it up again this year and help others who need some love.

* Disclaimer
I know the previous and the following might sound high and mighty. I don't know how to talk about how much I love our new Christmas tradition without being obnoxious. So please, friends, if you play up Santa and do Elf on Shelves and all the stuff that goes along with it, great. I do not judge you. For us, Santa makes so little sense for a few reasons. 1) We have two children who have celebrated Christmas for years and years with zero mention of Santa. Are we supposed to concoct a lie about how he only visits the US and somehow consistently forgets Ethiopia, and try to come up with another lie to explain why so many books and Christmas movies readily profess he flies ALL over the world, which is obviously not true? 2) We are Christian, we heavily celebrate Jesus' birth. The commercialism and materialism that accompanies the Christmas season feels to me in conflict with much of Jesus' life and teachings.  3) Perhaps most influential of all of these is that some of the kids respond very very poorly to New Things. New things in our house and breaks from routine cause anxiety, fighting, uncertainty and tension. A day filled with Many New Things can be a bit of Nightmare on Scooping it Up Street. With all these factors combined, Christmas has steadily been getting smaller every year that goes by. If you are a family that can have balloons in your house, because this is "normal" and "fun," you may not have any idea what I am talking about. If you have children that cannot handle things like balloons because they cause raging meltdowns for hours, days or if balloons stick around long enough, weeks, you will understand why eliminating most presents (and all balloons for the next five years) on Christmas is important to us. This is what we need to do.

PS. Hubs grew up loving the Santa tradition and is not as hell-bent on just coming straight out and telling the kids he is a hoax and getting on with life as I am. He skirts the edge and dangles the magic a little. I have no idea how to do this as my parents never "did" Santa. To me it is all very uncomfortable and I appreciate his willingness to downplay and replace Santa for the most part. In summation: I will not begrudge you your Magic and Santa, as long as you let me share about our almost-Santa-free version.

* End of disclaimer

This year, our Christmas Cause hit a little closer to home, helping children in our own backyard. Some who really needed to feel joy.

The back story: Every week we have the immense delight in visiting the best library in the world.  Best in great part to the amazing, generous staff who welcome my busy, screamy, running brood with forbearance and gentleness every time we come like a hurricane through the elevator doors. Look at this place. It is like a church.

They nurture my children.

Support their interests and talents.

The angel women who work here and share love of literature with our family held a book drive for children in transition. Kids who have lost their homes, are living in shelters; kids who need Christmas. Getting my children on board with this effort was an easy sell: We have at least two hundred books in our house. Maybe more. We check out twenty or more from the library each week. Daily, almost hourly we are blessed by access literature, and wanting to share this magic inspired my little ones. With care, and a feeling of responsibility, the kiddos combed through the books we have, carefully removing the newest ones  (Because we can always buy them again or check them out from the library, these kids need them more! They So got it.) We also ordered a gigantic cartload of our favorite books from Amazon to donate. This money would have been our kids' Christmas from their parents or Santa and we gave it away. The children were so proud and excited to bring their treasures to the library and tell their favorite ladies what we had for them.


They rained literature into the arms and laps of the librarians and felt glorious about what they were able to give up, and give.


And thus, this is how we get rid of stress during this important season. Christmas is truly calm and bright  when my children do not write letters begging for gifts and expecting them. Those things just caused chaos, melt downs, and anxiety in the past. Now, they have a good feeling of giving, and zero expectation of the day besides singing songs, making cookies and hoping for enough snow to go sledding. It will be fun to surprise each of them with (shhhhhh!) their very own clip board so they can color and write anywhere in the house and they don't even have to share! And each their own new book by way of thanking them for being willing to give so many of ours away. That is it. That is how Christmas has evolved here.

Thank you again to our wonderful librarian friends, who gave us the idea for our Christmas Cause, and of course, without whom I may never have ventured into a library again after the five or so really bad experiences at the library in our town. We are so lucky. I wish every kid had this place, these people. Another thank you to a few good friends who read about this on the Scooping it Up FB community who pitched in and donated books as well. Thank you for making our pile bigger. You rock.

Final note, if you have kids that seem to freak out every Christmas due to similar factors as some of mine, don't be afraid to just end the madness. Tell grandparents and cousins that certain gifts cannot and will not be given to the children. That this day needs to be slow, with very very few things to open. Taking this holiday by the reigns has taken a few years, and warranted a lot of conversations with the mantra in my head "Just Say No." After a few years of negotiations and explanations, both sides of the family are supportive and help the sanity level in this house. If that is something important to you, I hereby give you the nudge to make Christmas what you want for your kids.

I hope the next few days are fairly calm and happy!


Inside and outside these walls

Here is one I bet you never considered:  My daughters from Ethiopia, here in the US for three months now, were raised by a strict and loving mother, who like many mothers in Ethiopia, the US and all over the world enforced consequences when her kids acted up. I won't pussyfoot around it: they have admitted they would appreciate if I would hold down the fort a little better by spanking them and the other kids when they are disobedient. My discipline style, to them, is hilariously ineffective much of the time. They actually feel better, more secure when I come down hard on them everyone. This therapeutic parenting thing, on the surface anyway, seems a joke to them. One time, in exasperation with one of the girls I jokingly asked What do you want from me, spankings? I kid you not, eyes perked up, smiles, Yes Mom, that is what we need.

My girls were told by their nannies at their orphanage as we left for those doors for good, Watch out. You have a baby mother. (As in, That woman there is not old enough to be your mom). And though they show me a great deal of respect, I can see that sometimes they doubt my ability to control the chaos because I don't use corporal punishment. But here is the thing, I will not tell them it's a bad way to go, because their mother used it and they are obedient, respectful, motivated, good girls. They feel like it worked. And obviously it worked. I will never say anything that speaks ill of their mom including her capable parenting.

I was starting to actually doubt myself on the no-corporal-consequences-thing until tonight the woman who helps me tackle the mess a few evenings a week said the sweetest thing: When I am a mother, I want to do it like you. You talk to your kids, in Haiti, we don't obey right away, beating, not words. I like your way.

I know now for certain hindsight is not 20/20. Rather, it is generously tainted by current circumstances and perspective. For example, today my brain is attempting to tell me that the Golden Yesteryear of Four Children was "easy."  I know my brain is lying. I know it was actually not that different than it is now with two more children. That time had really sick hospitalized babies and feeding tubes and breast pumps and terrible sleeping from the kids. That time wasn't any easier. That time was Falling Asleep on the Toilet Tired. This, now, is complicated. Every moment of the day is orchestrated. It is mentally exhausting. But that was too. Hindsight is trying to make me fret and I am not going to fall for it.

Speaking of a few months ago, I can barely remember what it felt like when the girls weren't here, but sometimes I still have that nagging feeling we all do when nieces and nephews or friends' kids are over: so fun, but watching the clock for their mom to come so things will go back to normal. I am not saying I don't love them and want them here. But I look forward to a time when it feels more solid. I think all the children have melded beautifully. I mean, it's like a Fairy Tale Adoption ad every time we sit down to read stories. The toddlers sitting on the laps of their older siblings, everyone holding hands or snuggling and laughing together. They feel and look very cohesive together. But me, pathetic little me, seems to be taking some time setting up. Like a bad batch of jello that just keeps wobbling even though it's been in the fridge for three months now. I have to keep reminding myself that if I am feeling wobbly in my attachment to the girls, they are feeling it too. So thus, I have to excuse and forgive all three of our inconistencies and weirdness and sharp edges. It's like we got married and didn't know each other yet. We are committed, there is no pre-nup. But, well, it's not easy. It's awesome. I will preach it 'til the cows come home, but it isn't easy. And man, feeling not securely attached exposes my worst behavior. Thus, Scoopy learneth the painful and obvious lesson that when her children are showing their worst behavior, there is a strong chance they are doing so out of feeling insecure and lost in their relationships. Just like their mom.

My little brood had the pleasure of being models in an African fashion show several weeks ago. All the other models were college students, but my kids took their turn on the runway and (obviously) I think they stole the whole show. They practiced their walks, debated what they would do at the end of the catwalk. They were ecstatic about this gig. Their grace under pressure was astounding and I loved seeing them push through nerves towards the beckoning promise of ice cream when it was all said and done. Hubs said that Mimi almost couldn't make herself go she was so nervous, so he literally shoved her out on the the catwalk through the curtain, where she beamed and strutted and gave a few little esksta shoulder pops as a nod to her traditional Ethiopian look. The place went wild for all my beauties. And speaking of attachment, when Fikir came out on the runway, strutting like a pony, grin her face, completely owning the place, I cried a little: it was one of the first moments where I felt that strong maternal That's my baby feeling. Look at them, I tell you, just look at them.

getting ready

back stage


Why time outs don't work in our family: The person who helped land you in Time Out continues to engage in activity that resulted in Time Out. Minus actual stockades to separate them, it's completely pointless. Please note the classic "I'm not touching you" flailing hands.

This tiny one loved the limelight and the fun. He has always enjoyed a crowd. Sadly, he didn't end up on stage this year (last minute Tsega nerves where Hubs had to help him out and Brady was stuck backstage) but he can't wait until next time.

Under the lights





So much fun. So proud. I know, I am gagging you a bit.

Mine. Putting them on. In a crappy twist of events insurance is back pedaling in the attempt to deny coverage for a therapy (remember the hippotherapy discussion?) I and at least three other professionals believe Tsega needs. And I have been taking it slow, figuring out my best strategy to fight this. I think I have everything I need. They still may say no. I am praying. My kiddo needs this therapy. I believe it down to my pinkie toes. If insurance gets away with the Great Escape, I am gonna need to take on a few more violins students because Mama is paying out of pocket which is sobering, barfy feeling. But I don't even care that much. That is how much he needs this. It makes me crazy because he could have started two weeks ago but we are in a little holding pattern. Did I mention I am praying we can push this through? I won't make any dramatic sweeping statements about society here, I am not a position to do so, but my kid needs help. My entire function right now as his mom is to do my darnedest to get it for him.

In the event you could not stomach this insanely long post and wished I had given you a Wordless Wednesday installment instead, here you go, maybe my favorite picture of 2012. These boys who get into so much trouble love each other so much. In between the breaking and punching, of course.


Ch'chebsa: Comfort Junk Food and Truth Serum

Several nights ago the children were engaging in full blown ugliness. Even the oldest ones, normally capable of amazing keeping-it-together-ness were bickering, caterwauling and fighting. The toddlers were screaming their heads off and I was in that state where I try to explain to -apparently zero people because no one is listening in the slightest- If you don't leave me alone, you will not eat. It is so simple. Food requires you to let go of my body and shut your mouths. 

Somehow amid the mutiny uprising, one or three of them begged me to make ch'chebsa, an Ethiopian dish that has almost no nutritional value but tastes like candied awesomeness. It takes at least an hour to make start to finish for this many people and I didn't know how I'd make it through (Read: put on Dinosaur Train) but I tackled the dish and somehow the promise of this food made everyone chill out. The mere idea of this food acted like a natural sedative.

As soon as it was done, they came running. It was like they were sprinkled with magical pixie dust of Kindness and Good Will Towards Mother. The children who had just been fighting pulled a 180 and may have been skipping and holding hands on their way to dinner.

So how to make this unhealthy, delicious snack? Give yourself 1.5 hours to 2 hours. If you are making it for two or three people, much less time. But if you have a crowd, plan on being on your feet for awhile.

UPDATE: I learned a much more authentic way to cook this, and for instructions, hop over here to the updated post with video instruction!



Eventually, the babies found out what was going on and they came running too. Tonight, dinner had no forks. No plates. They all ate out of one bowl and I was thrilled to not watch them chew. I let them at it. Incidentally, the following picture is my new favorite of my kids. And now they will be able to answer in the affirmative if anyone ever asks were you raised in a barn? Look at how I let them eat...

One interesting side effect of cooking Ethiopian food for my children, even the ones not born in Ethiopia is that it opens up the door for discussions. Topics come rolling out without guidance from me.
Let's move back to Ethiopia
Maybe Mom and Dad can adopt __________ (the name of the girls' mom) and her come here!
Maybe she can adopt the white kids, because Mom adopted the brown kids. That way everyone has two moms.
Maybe our neighbors will move and then we will have Ethiopians move in. I wish whole town just our family with white people, everyone else Ethiopian.
Yeah! That would be awesome! 

The food brings up memories of their time with their parents, their friends at the orphanage. Tonight I learned names of people and details about the past I'd never heard. Ethiopian food is the catalyst for healing, connection with the new family and with the first family. It opens the floodgates of contentment and memories. And for the kids who haven't been or do not remember Ethiopia, food is part of their pathway there.

It should be noted, once I realized I'd fed my children solid fried bread for dinner, I quickly chopped up an entire head of collard greens and steamed/sauted it with garlic and a few spices to make gommen, another favorite Ethiopian dish. It is fast and healthy and as you can see, all my kids eat it.


I sometimes wonder if I have the only four-year-old boy in the universe who demands we buy collard greens at the grocery store. The six children ate almost two pounds of collard greens in this sitting. The bowl was empty when they were done.

I have discovered that Ch'chebsa is the ultimate comfort food. It is a royal pain to make, and worth every minute. Maybe it will bring a little happiness to your house this week, too.


Bending the rules

Last night Hubs and I finally made it to see Skyfall.  It was a much needed non-Lowes or Sears related date. We only see two or three movies a year, and this one has been on the list. In fact, we have attempted to escape a few times to see it, but failed bedtimes and sold out theaters have thwarted us previously. Tonight, luck and melatonin prevailed and we slipped into the theater during previews. It felt like a miracle. We unwrapped smuggled-in cookies and leaned back and contemplated napping, that is, until the feature began.

How did we get out, you ask? Here is our "secret" which has so far worked three times and not worked twice: We put the toddlers in bed and hope it takes, and the older four are allowed to hang out together and read and color past normal bedtime, under the promise they will be nice to each other and be asleep in bed before we return. Since they love getting to stay up and have no idea when we are returning, they do a great job putting themselves to bed.  The sitter has never actually had contact with our children while she is here. We pay her to clean the kitchen and call 911 should something warrant it.

The movie was wonderfully entertaining.  I reflected that it made me want to work out more. Obviously, because in the event that Hubs should suffer an untimely death and Daniel Craig wanted to marry me, I would feel weird being so mushy and out of shape in comparison to my new husband.  I appreciated the effort on behalf of the director to make sure the audience has the opportunity to witness his chiseled bare back as many times as possible in the film. On second thought, maybe I should get on the treadmill right now, just in case.

We returned home giddy to have our car not towed since we parked in a partially legal spot, and we found  six sleeping little people. However, the older ones did tweak the rules a little; we found them engaged in an unauthorized sleep over.


We still are going to keep the kids in separate rooms for awhile; it's the smart thing to do. It's important to have rules and keep everyone safe. It's hard to keep our guard up when things seem to be going so well, but we know it's for the best still. I do love how they love each other so. It is so lovely to behold.