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Archive for December, 2009

Update on self-help efforts

For my birthday earlier this month, a dear friend of mine in Canada sent me some thoughtful gifts: a recipe book by the owner of an Ethiopian restaurant in Toronto, and two books on how to get over my fear of flying.

There are helpful things in these books to be sure, but I find myself mentally countering much of the info and advice. Like the stuff about how planes never just fall out of the sky for no good reason… (Air France over the Atlantic, anyone?) Or about how birds have never in aviation history taken out both plane engines rendering it useless… (US Airways flight into the Hudson by Superman Sully Sullenburger anyone?) Or the fact that the books were written before anyone knew just how easy it is to blow up airliners and use them as torpedos…

The Northwest flight into Detroit on Christmas day carried a mid-west family bringing home two adopted children from Ethiopia. They thought it was all over. One failed detonator means they — and all the other passengers — got to live. But it was a close call. (Read the story of their experience here.)

As you can see, efforts to get-over-my-fear-of-flying are not coming along so well. Sadly, the vodka and rosary plan is still in effect.

On a brighter note, I sent our social worker a link to the article about Australia suspending their Ethiopian adoptions and she responded in her usual honest and positive way. While we can never know, I remain hopeful that the U.S. will not halt adoptions from Ethiopia.

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Nerve-wracking

Australia has suspended adoptions from Ethiopia — primarily due to new requirements regarding community development aid and Hague issues. But part of Australia’s decision seems to rest in fears about corruption, something increasingly popping up in Ethiopian adoptions. Austria suspended its adoptions earlier this year, and a large adoption agency in the Netherlands did as well. The Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) — a US-based adoption service provider organization — announced a review of Ethiopian adoption practices and made a trip to the country, but has yet to file its official report.

Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR) is urging caution to parents beginning an Ethiopian adoption right now, and lists a timeline of documented concerns on its site.

Generally speaking, these are troubling trends that can’t help but make me (and many others) a little nervous.

From what I can tell at this point, a few agencies in Ethiopia are operating unethically, jeopardizing the entire process for all. Here’s a story just this week of a family who suspended an adoption of three siblings because, after hiring a private investigator, they discovered their agency coerced the birth parents into relinquishing the children.

This is all very maddening because there are many agencies working in Ethiopia with the highest level of ethics, and many children in need. But the more stories that come out about corrupt or questionable practices, the more countries will be pressured to halt adoptions.

I tend to agree with Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet that adoptions should not be shut down completely when corruption is uncovered. In an address she made before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in November, Bartholet argued:

… that restrictions on ethical international adoption violate children’s basic human rights by condemning them to damaging institutions or to the streets. She added that every child has a right to be placed in a nurturing permanent home, whether that home is in the country of birth or abroad. Adoption abuses should, Bartholet says, be addressed through enforcement and strengthening of laws prohibiting such abuses, not through closing down international adoption and thus denying homes to children.

I don’t know why it can’t be a simpler process — just kick the bad agencies out of the country and that’s that. But apparently it’s not that easy.

As I’ve stated before, we have no idea what we would do if adoptions from Ethiopia were suspended. There really aren’t any other countries (for which we’re eligible) that draw us at the moment. Plus, there are the financial considerations. We pray that all will go well and we’ll just deal with things as they come.

You can probably see what I mean by this being a roller-coaster ride… Yesterday morning I was excited our dossier had landed in Ethiopia and today I wonder if we’ll ever get there.

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Another little step

I received word today that our dossier arrived in Addis Ababa, just before Christmas. So it is now in the hands of our agency’s staff in Ethiopia.  Another step in the waiting process.

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Christmas

All four candles are lit... Christmas is here!

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

I love Christmas… the traditions, foods, trees, lights, decorations, carols and hymns, gift-giving, cozy gatherings with loved ones. Above all, I love the Christmas story… God becoming one of us; arriving as a vulnerable, dependent baby. Born in a cave. Laid in a manger. Visited by the least of society — shepherds. And the wisest of men who could read the skies. Even before I was a Christian, I found the story hard to resist… there’s so much there that’s wonderful.

Our day was quiet and lovely. It began with Midnight Mass at the Baltimore Basilica — very beautiful and packed to the brim. The orchestra, choir, and flowers delighted the senses, and the Mass was intimate, joyful, and reverent.

When we returned home, we were wide awake, so out came the Baileys and a couple gifts were opened before heading to bed… at 3:15AM. Needless to say, we were not up bright and early to see what else Saint Nick had brought. Since we figure this could be our last kid-less Christmas, we decided not to feel the least bit bad about that.

On the menu for brunch: Boozy Baked French Toast… (recipe here) made with a little Grand Marnier and Baileys, and ooooh, was it good… served with a winter fruit salad, and farm sausages.

We spent the afternoon by the fire, opening gifts and speaking to family members by phone. Which always means a lot of phone time — my mom, my dad, Brian’s parents, and most of my brothers and sisters. One sister was getting on a ski lift with her kids in Lake Tahoe; another was prepping her beef brisket in Philly; one was enjoying Christmas with her first-born baby in Halifax; and yet another was sleep-deprived and trying to let go of all she couldn’t do because of a brand new baby and three other little ones. Another — a nurse — had to work. And this isn’t even half of the clan.

Although we enjoy making our own family traditions and avoiding hectic holiday travel, we sure miss our families at Christmas.

Dinner tonight: a marinated roast that Brian cooked in the rotisserie oven, herbed mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and pineapple, green salad with roasted beets and shallots, and creamy horseradish sauce. (I love the stuff.) Oh — and some Petite Syrah, which we thought was only so-so.

Unfortunately, we didn’t even get to dessert — Brian’s favorite: a Zoe-style Mississippi Mud Pie… Indeed a strange title given that I’ve never stepped foot in Mississippi. But come to think of it, my train to New Orleans six years ago may have stopped there, so there could be some connection after all.

I can get wistful at Christmas… thinking of the people I love and miss, wishing every day could be this cozy and happy, and feeling sorrowful for those who lack the basics when we enjoy so much. Gratitude is what I’m always left with… for what we certainly don’t deserve, but humbly receive .

Truly, we are spoiled; blessed beyond measure.

A Christmas Eve tradition: Nova Scotia-style fish chowder...

... and buttermilk biscuits!

Baltimore Basilica's main altar.

Our blue peacock tree top.

Baileys amidst stockings.

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Me walking up our street.

At the park on the way to sledding.

Here I am trying to use a garbage bag.

Still trying.

Slumped over, pretty much defeated, while the children laugh.

Here's our friend, Abby. Not sure if she's singing to God, explaining something to her son, trying to eat some flying snow, or has just lost a grip on the dog.

A fuzzy shot of my love in the snow.

On the way home, the wind was strong, and the sights were pretty…

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Snow in Charm City

Here’s me and my hubby having fun in the snow this evening. Unless you live in a bubble, you probably know that the entire mid-Atlantic region is being hit with a nor’ easter. I’ve never seen this kind of snow in Maryland, and I’ve lived here for about nine years,  so it’s very exciting… unless you’re a woman in labor, having an emergency, or stuck in an airport, of course.

There’s something magical about a snowstorm in the city. And I had to get out in it. So after baking some banana cranberry bread and making some creamy potato leek soup, I trudged through the snowy streets to the shops in our neighborhood, many of which were opened.

Brian and I then joined some friends at the park around the corner overlooking downtown. It has an amazing hill for sledding. I brought a garbage bag, which I didn’t have much luck with. But I sure tried. I’ll post some pics of my attempts later, but here are a few to give you a taste of just how things look around these parts:

our street this afternoon

our car is under there somewhere!

sledding with friends and neighbors

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More about the cake

Inquiring minds want to know more about my elaborate birthday cake so I thought I’d share some of the process here… minus the running to the store for ingredients we forgot.

This was a great project for a duo since there are numerous steps involved. The photos don’t even come close to Deb’s at Smitten Kitchen because my camera stinks, and well, she’s a professional. But you’ll get the idea. And  just looking at it will add a few pounds so be forewarned…

First, we made the crust in the food processor… chocolate wafers, bittersweet chocolate, brown sugar, and melted butter:

Then we pressed it all into the bottom and along the sides of a spring form pan:

Next up was the chocolate ganache: heavy cream, lots of chocolate, dark RUM. (Goslings, to be exact.) Yummy…

This needed to be poured into the crust and placed in the freezer for 30 minutes. Believe me, it was hard not to dip a few fingers in this as it oozed out of the pan:

Next came the main filling. This is where the cream cheese gets whipped with Kahlua, espresso powder, ground coffee, vanilla, sugar, and a few other things. Then it’s poured into the cooled pan over the ganache:

While the cake is baking for over an hour, you make the topping — a simple and slightly sweetened sour cream. This really makes the cake in my opinion. The tanginess cuts the sweetness and adds a cooling texture,  balancing the entire cake:

Then the cake goes back into the oven for 15 minutes and after it cools it looks like this:

We didn’t have a piping bag with proper tips, so we cut a small plastic baggie at the corner and lined the top of the cake with the left over ganache and garnished it with chocolate espresso beans. The finished product is in the post below, but here’s a piece:

If you find yourself chomping at the bit for an ambitious and extravagant dessert, check out the full recipe here.

I would make this again, but I think when all is said and done, I prefer a simpler cheesecake, and one I can have more than a few bites of without worrying that I’ll be awake all night. Still, this was a lot of fun to make and perfect for a birthday cake!

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