Showing posts with label Recommendations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Recommendations. Show all posts

7.24.2013

Something for me, Something for Them

I know pinterest and FB are overrun with photos and recipes for green smoothies. It's the craze. It can feel like overkill. Here is the thing though: turning your life over to raw foods in high quantities becomes a quasi-religious experience, and thus preachable, because it makes the drinker feel nine trillion times better than they ever have.

I am here to say that the fad isn't a fad, and that there has been no greater contributor to this family's overall health than sucking it up, getting a fancy pants can-split-the-atom blender, and going nuts.

This first thing I'd like to share is for me. I don't exercise as much as I want to. I have not figured out how to make six kids and home schooling and muscle tone all work together. I keep trying and have not found a rhythm. But I am here to preach that in part due to these babies, I still feel good, and I weigh less than when I got married. I am not a doctor or a nutritionist, I am not suggesting anything I do is for anyone else, but knocking down these once or twice a day has changed my life.

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Ingredients vary slightly from day to day, but I always have spinach and kale, cucumber or zucchini, parsley or mint, an entire lime peel included, a pear or an apple, raw goats milk or raw cows milk yogurt, a handful of almonds or chia seeds, pineapple or watermelon, and some ice. Sometimes I add honey if I am out of pineapple to give it a little more sweetness. I drink half, and put the other half in a jar in the fridge to save for lunch or dinner.

My kids love it too, though they prefer smoothies wherein I add berries and bananas. I can tell my body is happier when I give myself the gift of green smoothies. Period. Now that you have had to suffer through this sermon, I will tell you what I recently bought for my kids.

I hate toys. I hate plastic. I hate messes. I hate new toys entering my home. I do not own one toy that makes any kind of noise in any way whatsoever. No toys that move due to batteries. In any way, whatsoever. I prohibit the buying of toys for my children by relatives in any way whatsoever.

Do you get what I am saying? I am crazy about not adding new toys to our life. (CRAY to the Z)

Um, last week I bought a toy.

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They are called Playstix. You can buy them here. They are like legos meets lincoln logs. For awhile now I wanted to find something for my little boys (ages 5, 3 and 3) to build with and be creative with that didn't involve tiny, sharp legos that would require my help. These Playstix fir the bill and are truly awesome, even coming with booklets with ideas of things to build.

What I didn't anticipate was how much all six kids would want to play with them. I bought two sets, thinking that would be fine, and they are such a hit I may at some point try to acquire one more set. The kids sit almost silently, building. I love these suckers. Even when they get dumped...well, we will see how long the honeymoon lasts.

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What do you do for you that's working? Or what have you done for your kids recently that you'd like to preach? Share away!

12.21.2012

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:
cereal
crackers
yogurt
ice cream
bread
condiments like BBQ sauce and ketchup
juice
packaged foods like boxed macaroni or frozen dinners
cake mixes
canned soup
all store bakery desserts
cookies
flavored oatmeal packets
peanut butter
jelly
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

9.01.2012

tied up with strings

A few things I am really loving right now

Skype
Today we skyped for the second time with Hubs and our two darlings in Ethiopia. By the way, I think it's high time they have official blog names. Our twelve-year-old will hereafter be known on this space as Mimi and our six-year-old will be Fikir. This morning and last night there was singing, giggling, pointing, tongue-sticking-out, alternating shyness and kissing the computer screen, showing off English and Amharic skills. A hundred 'come soons' and 'ewudehallo/ewudeshallos' from both sides of the internet. The miracle of skype I most appreciate today beyond seeing smiles and hearing laughter, is moving the camera around saying look, here is the kitchen, there is the shelf that holds our school books, there is the table where we eat, here is the bulletin board where we have your picture... As traumatic as this whole thing is, I love that tiny things we have been able to do to prepare them for their new life and home. There are only three children left at this orphanage, and two of them belong in this family. In four or five days I --hopefully-- will get an email from the US Embassy in Addis saying we are free to come get them. And just as hopefully their buddy, M's parents will get an email that same day and we will all go together and the kids go home the same week. Praying and hoping for this. Soon soon, and not soon enough.

Totoknits
This company employs and benefits extremely talented Kenyan women who knit gorgeous sweaters and accessories, and the shocker is how it is not wildly expensive like many free-trade companies. I am looking at a few pieces for Halloween and winter on its way. You must check them out, as it is always a pleasure to know one's money is benefiting those in need, making a living with their their skills and talents.  


 

This knitted hood and stripey knit pants are in my "cart" for my youngest child this year. The animal sweaters are so darling I just had to share!

soleRebels

This company shows what selling shoes can really do in a third world country: the designers, the owners, the marketers, the materials ALL from Ethiopia and each shoe is handmade by Ethiopians. The entire business model builds communities, lifts people out of poverty,  by buying material from local farmers and artisans, recycling tires for the soles, employing "unemployable" workers to hand make the shoes. These babies are gorgeous, they are a revolutionary endeavor as the first free-trade shoe company in the world. And they are awesome, each pair is sold with 100% satisfaction guaranteed.  Here are some I have my eyes on.



Tsega
Yesterday a little girl came up to Tsega and me snuggling at the lake and said You adopted him, a half statement, half question. I looked at my boy, tickled him and asked Tsega, were you adopted? My amazing boy smiled and said Yeah, I am Opia! 

It is miraculous to me that over the past few months of gently, slowly trying to tell him his story and connect him to his beginnings, he is understanding the words and who he is. His identity may be sixty years in the making, and go through many cycles of grief and processing, but seeing his unflinching comfort level with the few words he has is relieving, to be honest. Even being able to connect the question about his adoption to "Opia" is huge. Today he asked I wear my 'Opia shirt? And we dug out this one.



He also is displaying with his new found chattiness an understanding about his sisters' adoption. This week while Hubs is gone he's asked several times
Mimi coming home? Mimi come Opia home Dada?

When I explain that they are not coming home with Dada, that Mama still has to go out there, he nods, and accepts. I can't believe he is getting this on some level. I love his enthusiasm for his sisters and the growing love. I am thrilled that none of these three precious children from Ethiopia will be alone in the family. That they have people that share their past, their heritage. We have never wanted any of our children to be "alone" like that in our family and we are feeling a bit more complete.

Almost. Almost complete. I think. (Shhh, don't tell Hubs about the "I think" part.)

6.30.2011

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.)

Directions:
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.

6.24.2011

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.

12.15.2010

HOLIDAY GIFTS FOR FAMILIES LIKE OURS

Don't think I forgot that I am trying to exercise and fit into my Skirt of Dreams by this weekend and post about my progress.

I just don't want to talk about it.

Today was harder. In that my children staged a merciless mutiny and it was impossible to do some highly essential tasks let alone "nice" things like eating, drinking water, exercising, feeding, pumping and heaven forbid peeing. That's right. The one time (count it, uno) time I escaped to pee someone was able to get hurt enough to draw blood.

I completely failed at Lindsey the Personal Trainer's challenges in that I didn't eat dinner when I wanted and so I ate late and it is close to bed time and I did not drink even close to the perscribed amount of water or do more than twenty burpees. I also failed at being a nice mom. I want a do over.

But on to a much more fun topic! Don't know what to get for the family with a child who was adopted, is a different race from his or her parents, or specifically from Ethiopia or other African country? I am itching to share some of the little things that we love around here. Some we received as gifts ourselves and I want to pass on. Get ready to go to make the season bright!
Music we love:



Books we love, starting off with the Twelve Days of Christmas set in various African countries:



We read this one every night


















You can also buy a lovely books directly from Ethiopia Reads, like one of our favorites Fire on the Mountain, and the proceeds help build libraries and get books to remote areas of Ethiopia.

For the grown ups on your list:


I consider this the best parenting book I've ever read, and it doesn't just apply to children who've experienced trauma and loss.


One of my favorite reads in the months before we traveled to Ethiopia


Winter is here, and if your Ethiopian is anything like mine, his skin is a complete and utter disaster. This will be be a post unto itself, but suffice for now to say one of the only things working to keep his hands and cheeks from cracking off is Shea Me Some Love from Give All for Love. I have tried cocoa butter, olive oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, combinations of all of these. I haven't come up with anything better than what they sell, and it's less messy than all my other bottles and jars lying around. The best part besides getting a fantastic skin and hair product, is that 50% of the proceeds go to you choice of three Ethiopian charities. This gift would be a sure winner!

On my wish list are these hand embroidered pillowcases sold by Amharic Kids.

The purchase of these traditional beauties create jobs for Ethiopian women who weave and dye and embroider the cloth and make each pillow case unique. They would look awesome on my couch.

Also on on my wish list are the Amharic Flash Cards. Wish I had these last year when I only had two kids waiting for our referral and feeling at a loss with my dictionaries.

I have a big project in early stages that would be a fantastic gift for an Ethiopian adoptive family you love, but unfortunately, it's going to have to wait a few months to hit the shelves. I can't wait to move forward, and when I am ready to unveil it, you'll be the first to know. Believe me, you're gonna want this, especially YOU, adoptive-parents-who-are-working-on-paperwork-or-waiting for your referral/court/travel.

For now, happy shopping! And as always, Amazon links may offer a pittance of a commision to me if you purchase, the other links are pure love.

7.30.2010

CELEBRITY EMAIL

She'd laugh at this post title, humble as she is, but today I received a happy email today from a woman admire so much. Jane Kurtz is a renown children's author as well as one of the founders of Ethiopia Reads, and I was lucky enough to be CC'd when she decided to help spread the word about a new children's book for Ethiopian adoptive families.

Author Melissa Fay Greene writes in the introduction, “Love and family are enough to help a child thrive in almost every way but this one: the human need to feel part of a deeply rooted, vibrant, and growing family tree….The message we relay to the children who are ours by adoption needs to be: You came from somewhere. You came from good people. You came from this spot on the globe.”

The illustrator, Jan Spivey Gilchrist is highly recognized as she has won a Coretta Scott King award for her art and has illustrated over fifty books. You can see more of the pictures and content as well as purchase the the book at http://www.amharickids.com/ Can't wait to get a copy for our family!

7.10.2010

ETHIOPIA TRIP PART III

I wanted to post about the rest of our Ethiopia trip, because I am realizing as time passes life is not feeling easier yet, it's just getting busier, and I don't want to forget Ethiopia and our experiences. The once subdued and quiet Tsega is showing a little demanding side - which thrills us. This boy is learning that if he raises a stink, someone will come arunning, and that is a great blessing. I am almost healed enough from surgery to take on my goal of carrying him a lot of the day in the Ergo. And by the way, adoptive parents, (or any parent for that matter) if you don't have an Ergo Carrier, go get one, then come back and finish reading. So with the demands of the four kids, (read: out of control laundry), I am gonna spit this out as comprehesibly as I can.

Day four of our trip was Wednesday, and all of the families in our group (save one who was there for their newly-required court trip, not their second trip to bring home their daughter) had decided this afternoon would be the final one our children would spend in an orphanage. We were all itching to take custody of the kiddos and were forced to kill time that morning. We did so with a really cool visit to a sister orphanage outside the city.

Hubs and I finally had our first glimpse of life outside of Addis, the capital of Ethiopia, and even more impactful, a glimpse of life inside an orphanage. The one where Tsega lived was kept strictly off limits, but for some unknown reason we were given the opportunity to see Toukoul II, a newer facility housing children eighteen months to about six years old. Interacting with these children broke my heart. It touched all of us. I wanted to stay there. I wanted to love these children. They were so hungry for attention. The dozens and dozens of kids we saw and met either had no parents, or their families had to relinquish them because they felt they'd be in better hands in the care of the the orphanage, and the sick thing is that one could call these kids "lucky," because most of the orphans in the world are going hungry, have no opportunity for education, clean water, a soft bed. These children had that, and yet, they are entitled to so much more. Despite the clean beautiful rooms, the class rooms filled with books and art supplies and a teacher chanting days of the week, it was devastating. Their faces haunt me.

On our way out of the city, we passed my favorite spot in Addis: the random herd of cows eating trash under the high way.
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This man made me cry
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Girls walking to school:
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Views in the country:

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What is your house made of?
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I love donkeys
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Especially when I chase after them and get them riled up (please note Hubs' petrified face in this shot)
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Here I am at Toukoul II, teaching the kiddos how to trace their hands on paper.
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I wanted to bring him home with us
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and him
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ok, all of them.
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The hardest part of visiting the orphanage was seeing the special needs kids. Children with HIV and developmental and physical handicaps were out sunning when we came to say hi. The nannies, though loving, had no idea how to improve the lives of these special children. They aren't physical or occupational therapists. They don't know how to work with kids with cerebral palsy, or Aspergers, or Downs Syndrome or epilepsy. They merely made them as comfortable as they could and swatted flies away from their faces for them.

I wanted so badly to convey love, to connect to some of these special children, but the few I stooped down to talk to cried out in fear. For all I know my white face and massive tummy was terrifying. It was so hard to see children who needed special care to reach any of their potential and there was no possible way for them to receive it. I hated the injustice in the world.

We left with heavy hearts and a ton of hand sanitizer. We were all over the kids and they were all over us with hugs, hand holding, high fives, etc. and every single one of them had a runny nose, a rash, a cough, or some kind of something that I was nervous about bringing home with me. Both in Toukoul II and Tsega's location, there didn't seem to be one child that wasn't afflicted with major chest congestion among skin issues. I can't imagine trying to keep that many children healthy.

I've mentioned the problem before, but the pollution and fumes were too much for me on this drive. It was like sucking on an exhaust pipe for 90 minutes. I was very ill after our drive home an couldn't sit up to the table for lunch. I was really light headed and woozy, and needed a nap. Luckily, I started feeling better and was able to get my spirits up for the best part of our day:

Around 3pm we all headed to Toukoul to take custody of our children. I think I'd read too many Gladney or Wide Horizon's blogs, because at Toukoul, I was surprised to learn there is no "goodbye ceremony." The day we took Tsega away was totally uneventful. We were given a final opportunity to grill the nurse, Tigist and the pediatrician Dr. Tsege about the kids' care and schedule, but found once again, not much helpful information.

Two more notes for future traveling families: The docs at Toukoul, and other families recommended not bringing formula and getting the Nestle brand of formula that the babies have been on at the orphanage when there. We didn't follow this. I bought Enfamil Soy based stuff to help his tummy out. We switched right away and he didn't care at all. His first bottle from us was the new kind of formula and he didn't skip a beat. So, it's a small sample size, but really, I wouldn't worry too much about the brand.

Second note: based on the information we received from Nurse Tigist, he was eating about half of what he eats right now. I think he was pretty hungry. I won't get into how this scares me that he may have been going hungry some/any/much of the time because of the effects of malnutrition on everything about development, but I will say, take copious notes like I did about sleep and food, and then don't be afraid to throw it out the car window on your way out of there.

As far as what it took to gain custody of T, Hubs signed some papers -I wasn't even there, I was in another room holding Tsega . We were given a bag with a handmade traditional Ethiopian outfit which we love, and a file with all his medical information (far more than we'd received in our monthly updates) and that was that.

Leaving Toukoul
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All the new families!
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We were all free to leave at that point. No pomp. No circumstance, no coffee ceremony, no one to come and cry and say "I will miss you, Tsega." In fact, it made me mad. I didn't get one glance from a soul who had cared for him that was sad he was leaving. Maybe they steel themselves to the children leaving, and make themselves scarce the day we leave. Maybe they loved him and his beautiful face and easy going disposition. I just wouldn't know it, or anything about anyone who had rocked him to sleep, sang him songs, held his hands. Without good reason, I felt a little angry. I wanted to be able to tell him he was loved there.

And as much as I wanted to feel sad about taking him from all he had known, it was beautiful to leave that place knowing that from that moment forth he would have a family to care for him and love him. It was amazing. We prayed he would feel our love and not be scared. As it turns out, he seemed less scared of us and far more terrified of the car (he hadn't been in a car maybe since he was a few weeks old) and went into a state of shock and fell asleep. It was pretty obvious it wasn't that he was tired, but rather needed to go to some "happy place."

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That day, we also left the guest house where we were staying and headed over to a different hotel in another part of the city. My back was killing me and we wimped out with the slightly more humble accomodations at the guest house. It was lovely, but I was pregnant, and we had a new baby and comfort started to become a high priority.

When we checked into the hotel, we immediately stripped of T's clothes and gave him his first bath (from us, anyway). He was a very very happy little fish!

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I was horrified by the open sores and diaper rash he was living with. I have never seen anything so upsetting. Thank you to my friend Shannon who sent me this:

It is far less harsh than traditional Desitin. I would have never bought this because I am totally turned off by the brand name, but it saved T's poor little bottom. I am now a believer.

Once in his new jammies he posed like this for me:
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Until I realized it was WAY past time for a bottle and and sleep.
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That night and the next he slept beautifully (minus a few impressive pooping sessions). He loved being rocked to sleep, loved the attention from his parents, and did insanely well. Non stop happy until he was hungry, really. However, we completely jacked up his schedule with the flight home and the first few weeks at home and as we approach closing our fourth week home, we are close to a decent night time schedule again. Napping is another story, but we are messing with him so much by having older kids and needing to get out of the house and run errands we have not been very respectful of a decent day schedule so it's our fault, not his. Luckily, he seems to be pretty flexible and that is how it will have to be with this many little people about.

So, new parents of babies from ET, the nannies will have them on a rigid schedule, but if it gets horrible for awhile, it seems par for the course.

Still not done, so more to come...