Saturday, October 27, 2012

baby books for adopted kids

I've been sick this past week, and with no energy to do anything but sit on the couch and watch Lord of the Rings (Extended Edition) for the upteenth time, I decided to finally finish Lily and Daniel's "baby books".  Yes, they do make them for adoptees!

I bought this beautiful one a couple of years ago, and when we were matched with two kids, I promptly went out and bought another one.  Although it is written with infant adoption in mind, it's flexible enough (just) for older children. A few asterisks and insertions are all that are needed to adapt it. For example, in the section for first words I simple wrote in "English" for Daniel.  First steps... well, we know Lily took hers just days before we came to pick them up. (Damn!)  For Daniel we wrote details about his first bicycle and first scooter.  There were plenty of "firsts" in our first year as a family to fill up both books!

My favorite page is a simple one that prompts, "Our hopes and dreams for you."  It helped to clarify and simplify all the many hopes we have for our children: to be happy, to be proud of their dual heritage, to be independent, to seek out and to give love.

Much care was taken by the authors to respectfully include birthfamilies.  Several pages ask for details about the children's birth history, what is known about their birthdays, how we were matched and the day we first met. On the last page, there are two family trees to complete.

In future I hope that our children treasure these books, and the words we wrote for them. (Provided they can read my chicken scratch handwriting.) I remember pouring over my own baby book throughout childhood.  This morning I showed the kids their finished books.  Lily in particular loves to look at photos of "baby Nini".  Daniel looked through his without much comment. I know he'll ask to look at it again, and ask me to read every word.  His life, I think, sometimes seems very surreal to him, even now.  It helps to have to written down in black and white.

Big girl Lily is still struggling to nap in her toddler bed (although night time is getting much easier, thank goodness!)  I'm doing lots and lots of laundry now that she is wearing underwear all day. These are firsts I happily excluded from her baby book.  May all the tearful, screaming evenings and all the soiled clothing be lost to the dust of history please.

This memory we'll hold on to.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Recipe: Tuesday night Doro Wat

Doro wat is a spicy chicken stew. The following is my own interpretation of an Ethiopian classic. Doro wat is traditionally made for feast days, weddings and other big celebrations. In Ethiopia, of course, (even in the city), to make doro wat requires that you first pick out, butcher, pluck, gut and clean a chicken.  Hence the reason it is reserved for holidays, not Tuesday nights.

We've skipped those steps here. :)  I use chicken thighs because it gives the richest taste. Chicken legs would also work, and you could skip step 6.

Doro wat keeps very well in the fridge for a couple of days, or the freezer for a couple of months. And yes, it is quite spicy! To make a mild version, substitute turmeric and bit of cumin for the berbere.

Please note: I'm the kind of cook who measures only for baking. So, if you need, like, exact times and how many cups and tablespoons and stuff, check out these recipes instead: Monday's Menu

1. Season chicken with salt and pepper and a bit of lemon juice. (I used about 10 chicken thighs)

2. Finely chop 2 onions, 4 cloves of garlic and about 2 inches of ginger. Saute in about 3 spoonfuls of oil (or butter).

3. Add 2 big spoonfuls of berbere, and one teaspoon of cardamon. Berbere is hot! so use carefully.

4. Once this mixture is nice and cooked- about 5 minutes, add the chicken skin side down and cook, covered for 10 minutes or so.

5. Add 4 or 5 canned whole tomatoes and a bit of the tomato juice. Add some water or chicken stock if your sauce is starting to dry out.

6. Once chicken is fully cooked, take it out of the pan and set aside to cool. Once cool, pull off the meat and discard skin and bones. Return meat to the sauce to cook a bit more.

7. Stew is done when it smells so good you can't stand waiting any longer!

* Traditionally doro wat is served with hard boiled eggs.  If you like, boil the eggs separately and then add them just at the end to heat a bit.

We ordered our berbere from our friend, the internet.
after canned tomatoes are added you'll need to squash them a bit

cooling chicken- my definition of cool enough to work with is still pretty hot.

The sauce bubbling on the stove without meat

almost done! Redder = hotter
I usually serve doro wat with some milder sides like potatoes or bread, or injera!

At long last: Injera

Apparently there are folks who have found this blog while looking for injera recipes. Ha ha ha ha ha... I'm sorry dear readers.  Thanks for sticking around, even though the recipes are few and far between. :)

I have at long last begun to live up to this page's name: We made injera!  (And ate it too!)

In between our half-hearted potty training and our desperate sleep training and our attempts to keep our tempers with our sometimes surly little boy (who thinks he's 16 instead of 6 some days), this week we had a hugely successful parenting moment.  As evidenced by the huge grin of our boy, who declared after his first bite "It's tastes like Ethiopia!"  That sentence will feed my soul for weeks and weeks...

Here is the recipe that we followed, by another adoptive mom/blogger and wonderful recipe sharer: INJERA RECIPE HERE

Injera is time consuming.  It is a labor of love.  Injera is made from a yeasty fermented dough (like pancake mix, only with lots of bubbles.) So at least a week before actually cooking the batter you have to make a start.  You can then store your start in the fridge and keep using it (like a sourdough starter).


Note: It is very important to make your start in a super large tupperware. Otherwise when it ferments and doubles you will have a sticky, gooey, hard-to-clean-up mess in your pantry. (Guess how I know that?!)

The morning of the night you'd like to make and eat injera, you use your start to make the batter. The batter needs to sit all day to get nice and bubbly.  I didn't time my cooking and start-making very well and ended up needing to make injera on a Tuesday. Which meant a little panicked rushed batter blending in the morning, and a trip home at lunch time to start making doro wat (chicken stew) because ohmygod, what are we going to eat with all this injera! And a bit of extra snack and TV watching in the afternoon so we could get it all done and actually eat dinner before bedtime. This is definitely a weekend or holiday activity in future.  

Morning of : blending the start, teff flour, and water. 

Our batter in the morning.

This is the teff flour we are using. It is dark and very potent!

Injera batter before we start cooking- see all the bubbles!

Lily tries a taste. Hmm... a little sour?

I was a little terrified about how much batter we were going to be cooking up.

Our injera pan: a dedicated utensil, not sullied by frying eggs or grilled cheese. Yes, it's square. Don't tell anyone.

The top of the injera as it cooks- getting nice and airy. Injera is only cooked on one side- no flipping!

"This is how how you pour it Mommy. You go around, and around and around. Like this."

Injera topped with spicy lentils, doro wat, butternut squash and greens. YUM!

It ended up being a delicious evening. And we didn't have any leftovers! Most miraculously, making injera together helped Daniel remember helping his first mother cook. A precious, precious memory for him, forever enshrined in the taste of yeasty, bubbly, hot injera.

Next I'll write up my recipe for doro wat. It is totally not authentic, but it works well for Tuesday night dinners and if Daniel gobbles it up, it must be good!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Chocolate Problem

Here is a heads up; the moral of this story is: Let's please not buy and hand out slave labor created chocolates on Halloween (or any other day). 

I know, I know... it's hard.  When I start to think about the sometimes sordid or sad sources of my clothes, my shoes, our furniture, our phones, our food, the stuff I put on my face, the stuff I put in our hair... I may as well rend all my clothes, tear out my hair and run screaming from our house.

It's hard. It's hard to live out our deeply held values in this world right now.  Everything we buy, everything we use... somewhere along the line somebody, or some animal, or some planet, gets hurt. We live in a complicated, ultra-connected world.

But using the philosophy that perfect is the enemy of good... or the "starfish" philosophy, it's not that complicated.  We have to start somewhere. Right now I focusing on sticking to our values when I buy what is going in our bodies, with the goal of expanding our conscientious shopping to clothes and toys and on and on...

Every choice I make while shopping, eating, using or re-using has an impact.  Every choice. Some of the choices we make as a family are easy, some not so...

Sometimes when I'm feeling very motivated to eat organic, humanely sourced food a diner menu can reduce me to frustrated tears. Eggs? Nope, those poor tortured laying hens who never see the sun! Bacon? Tortured pigs with their little tails cut off! Pancakes? Now is that organic flour or the mix with all that sugar and additives? Fruit? How far has that melon been trucked?

I'll just have a cup of coffee. Oh dear, that is fair trade shade grown organic, right?

I'll just have a glass of water. Oh, they aren't fracking near the reservoir are they?

You see what I mean? Everything is tainted. Nothing is clean and simple. So I get it. If ordering breakfast in a diner can be this complicated... grocery shopping? Online shopping? Christmas shopping!?!

Here is something very simple:

Most chocolate is harvested and processed by child slaves in Africa.

(Hershey's, Cadbury, Nestle... all the big names do it.  Those kisses started with little African kids picking and pounding cocoa pods. How do you think such a labor intensive food can be so cheap?)

Here is the BBC video about the slave trade.

 Here, here, and here are some great articles and blog posts with lots of details.

We don't need to buy this chocolate. Not when there are wonderful, affordable candies or chocolates to buy.  Like Trader Joes brand, or Whole Foods brand, or these, or these, or these.

So, how 'bout giving out a little freedom on October 31?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Adoption 101

Showing off one of his cool new dance moves.

I blew an adorable little girl's mind today... Twice! While waiting for Daniel's dance class to start, we three had the following conversation:

Girl: Is that your aunt?

Daniel: Noooo! That's my mom!

Girl: But she's white, and you're black! What! ?

Me: Daniel, explain to her why we don't look alike.

Daniel: Um... Cause I'm Ethiopian!

Girl: huh?!!

Me: He was born in Ethiopia, and we adopted him, and his sister.

Girl: What!? You adopted a brown kid! They didn't have any white children!? What?!! Where's his real mom!?

Me (laughing) That's not how it works. Daniel looks like his Ethiopian family.  I am his real mom.

Girl: But what happened!!!?

Me: Well, his Ethiopian family couldn't take care of him, so we adopted him.

Girl: But where's his mom and dad!? What do they do?

Me: Daniel, tell her about your father.

Daniel: He's a farmer!

Girl: Oh, that explains it. And his mom?

Me: His first mother is dead.

Girl: She's dead!? Your mom is DEAD!?

Daniel: (shrug), yeah

By this time every adult in the room has turned to listen and has glistening eyes. I make a joke with the girl about how I've blown her mind with all this new information, and compliment her questions.

Class begins.

I can't stop smiling. Adoption 101. Everyone gets an A. ;))

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

baby face

Lily, Fall 2011

Sometimes I need to take a peek at her baby face. It makes potty training a bit more bearable.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What I've learned about Hunger

our son, then five years old, trying out a turkey leg

Last night we had a family dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The kind I remember from my childhood, with the burning hot pot of tea on the table and that big bowl of addictive crunchy noodles. Daniel has recently come to live Chinese food; he gorged himself on dumplings and fried rice and veggie delight. And like Eric Carle's caterpillar, that night he had a stomach ache.

Here is what I've learned about hunger. It changes a person, forever.  Being hungry, really hungry, for an extended period of time changes the brain's chemistry.  We are all wired to enjoy food, to seek out the sweetest, most nutrient rich food.  When the body has been denied proper nutrition for too long, the brain goes into a high alert state.  It is thinking, constantly, "food, food, now! food". Even after a person has again had reliable nutrition, the brain's high alert can be triggered, easily.

Our kids have both known hunger.  Our daughter was hungry for the first 8 months of her life.  Our son was probably hungry for much of his early life too- such is the fate of most rural Ethiopians.  They eat once a day if they are lucky, and never eat enough to feel full, except maybe during harvest days.

Getting enough to eat is a daily struggle for our Ethiopian family. They are all thin. They are all tiny.

Now our children are home, and they have more than enough to eat. They are Americans, after all.  But they have been changed by hunger.

Our son saw a pumpkin for sale and demanded that we eat it, now. Or at least make a pie. Food is not for art projects. It is food.

When they are hungry, even just a little hungry, their brains go into high alert. Food! Now! Food! Now! They cry, they wail, they scream.  They are starving again, and for them it is oh so very real.

We don't go anywhere without packing snacks. We don't go to the grocery store without packing snacks.  We don't drive without a snack for the car, and I always save a snack for the drive home.  We eat every couple of hours, no matter what.

I never say, oh, let's just wait til we get there. I never say, you'll be okay til we get to the restaurant. You might think, she's soon going to have obese children! But most of the time, a handful of raisins or a 1/2 a granola bar suffices. The brain is quieted.  It has avoided starvation, again.

It is easy for me to help my children recover from and manage their food insecurity. Imagine, though, an entire village, a region, a nation of people who have been hungry, who have nearly starved. Imagine how their brains will always, always, be on the alert for danger.  Imagine how difficult it would be for members of these communities to grow and trust and take risks.  Imagine how easily it would be for corrupt, power hungry leaders to trick their people.  Imagine how challenging it would be to live in an abundant world when you have know such scarcity.

I wish I could say that I have been changed by hunger too. That I never eat too much, that I savor every bite. That I never eat a handful of cookies just because I'm stressed out. I do. I'm still working on my own years in the making (sometimes poor) eating habits and chocolate addiction. But do I think about our Ethiopian family whenever I have to throw out food that simply been in the fridge too long? Yes. Every time.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

On Gratefulness: A Guest Post by Daddy

Last week, as we were leaving a Brooklyn Botanic Garden chili festival event, tired, sweaty, and glad to be out of a larger than expected crowd, Daniel turned to Becky and said, "I had a good time, mom." This was highly unusual; in fact, it was unprecedented.

We had asked Daniel many times before if he had enjoyed himself at some immediately preceding event, and he had always answered "no" very quickly. Or if we asked if he had fun, the inevitable answer was "I didn't have fun," no matter how much we had just seen him smiling and laughing moments before.

My first instinct when he started doing this, after I was able to satisfy myself that he knew enough English to understand the question, was to be a little annoyed.  Because it seemed he was saying that he didn't want to deal with the question at all. Becky had told me that it was normal for Daniel, especially as an adopted child in a new family, to be very focused on the schedule. What am I going to do next? And what will be expected of me? So I interpreted his answers about the immediate past to be something like "I don't want to talk about what I just did! What else have you got for me?"

But then I thought about it a little more, and a different interpretation came to me. "Mom and Dad," he seemed to be saying, "you seem just a little too hopeful and needy when you ask me if I had fun. It is not my job to validate your choices of what we do by giving you a little thumbs up at the end.  I showed up, I participated, I reacted. Isn't that enough for you people?"

In other words, he was rebelling against gratefulness, something which is a very touchy subject for adoptees, as any tour through blogs written by adoptees will quickly reveal.  Of course the desire for an occasional morsel of gratefulness is something all parents feel, whether you are adoptive parents or not, just because the job of being a parent is so damn hard.  However, gratefulness is an especially difficult subject in the adoption world, in that there is a very thin line between desiring gratefulness for the hard work you do, and expecting it because of the adoption itself.  

"Your mother and I spent thirty thousand dollars and went halfway across the world, just to..."STOP RIGHT THERE. You see, everything you can possibly say before, during, and after that includes an element or two that totally sucked for the kids themselves.  It sucks to be removed from your home, even if your first parents were part of the decision to do so. It sucks to have to fight for attention at an orphanage, and it sucks to lose all the friends you made there, and lose your country, just to travel "halfway across the world" to god-knows-where with people you just met. 

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that it's totally natural for Daniel to have a problem with gratefulness, and totally healthy for him to deny it to us, even after a fun day at the park. If we want to know if he's having a good time, we have to pay attention to him *at the time,* which is what we should be doing anyway.

All that aside, when he's 25, he had better call his mother, or I'm gonna have a few words with that young man...

Thursday, October 4, 2012


me with the school girl

UGH. Who hates getting everybody dressed and ready and out of the house in the morning?

Oh good, I'm not alone.

Lately our mornings have devolved into about 20 minutes of nagging, shouting, dragging, pushing, and rushing. It's a frantic, yucky mess. Today after putting a tearful Daniel in the car, and strapping in a yelling Lily and then sliding a shaking, severely under-caffeinated me in the driver's seat, I realized, this. has. got. to. change.

Part of it is that we need to be out of the house by 7:15 or I'll be late to work. And that is EARLY in the morning. Part of it is that Lily has been waking up earlier and wanting to snuggle in bed with me, which makes me later to get up and ready.  Part of it is that Daniel has been waking up later, sometimes as late as 7:00. Yes, 15 minutes before we need to be out of the door.  So, our timing is all messed up. Ideally, Andrew and I would love to wake up early, have a nice quiet breakfast, then deal with the kids. Ideally the children would wake up already dressed and ready to go too... Ideal is not real. But I don't need to be a frantic shouting mess every morning.  I need to get a grip.

Some mornings lately have been so crazy that I've gotten to work without any makeup, jewelry or even a watch on. Some mornings both kids are crying in the car.  Most mornings only one of us has actually eaten breakfast.  A couple of mornings I've forgotten an important item (like my coffee cup!).  And one stellar morning, I locked us all out.

I hate being late to work. I also hate leaving a messy house. I need to work on that. I need to start telling myself: It's okay that there are dishes in the sink. It's okay that there are toys on the floor.  It's okay that the laundry isn't folded. It's okay that the beds aren't all made.

What really isn't okay is having stressed out, sad children in the morning. What isn't okay is feeling like I need something strong in that coffee cup at 7:15 in the morning.

So I here I am, committing to staying focused on having happier, less stressful mornings. Here is to not losing my cool because Daniel didn't pick his pajamas off the floor. Here is to leaving dirty dishes in the sink, and keeping smiles on our faces.

How do you do mornings?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Gross me out!

Tonight I had to retrieve Daniel's new "bey blade" (spinning top thing that all children are obsessed with at the moment) from underneath the refrigerator.  As I lay on the floor with a ruler trying to dig it out from the dust bunnies, old roach traps and assorted crumbs that are also stuck under there (I swear my house is clean!), I thought, "Is this the most disgusting thing I have done as a mom so far?"...

Those writing teachers were correct, inspiration can come from anywhere!

Top Five Most Disgusting Things I've Done As A Mom So Far

5. Fished out a bey blade from under our fridge.

4. Scooped out poop from a bath while restraining two hysterical, soaking wet children. 

3. Cleaned up a wet toddler while also soaked in pee. 

2. Cleaned the car seat. Cleaned under the car seat. Shudder.

1. Collected, put into vials, and labeled giardia-laced stool samples from both children. (International adoptive families, can I get an amen!)

Okay, actually that's not all so bad. Except for the stool samples. That was bad. I really did think I was doing to die, and then I didn't. (But I never collected the other FIVE samples the specialist wanted. The kids are fine, totally fine. I just know it. If the doctor wants more stool samples to make sure, she can come over and collect them!)

Okay- top me! I know you moms of teens can do it. ;)

Monday, October 1, 2012


You remember those kids working on fishing boats in Ghana? Remember those villagers so desperate to have a productive livelihood that they enslaved children?

24 of the children are free. One village is on its way to productivity without slavery.

What struck me most reading this was how many of the fishermen had been slaves themselves. How many of them had been taken from their families, never went to school and never knew a day of rest... and how these same former slaves turned captors gave the children gifts of money and clothes as they left for freedom.  The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.

Read more about it here.