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Archive for May, 2010

Summer fare

The plan is to get a new camera this summer — one that will take shots as nice as the ones Mags took at our courtyard party a couple weeks ago. For now, I have to subject you to these awful pictures, but I suppose they’re better than nothing…

I grew up on rhubarb. We used to rip it out of the ground, wash it, then talk my mother into giving us small bowls of sugar in which to dip it. Yum! There was always lots of rhubarb jam, rhubarb sauce over ice cream and yogurt, and strawberry-rhubarb pie. I have since discovered a delectable rhubarb cake. The concoction above is a strawberry-rhubarb crumble I made last week with no white flour and almost no sugar. I based it on this recipe. It was delish!

Then along came this…

Salsa, baby! Mags made it first, she gave me some, I got hooked, then made it myself. It’s easy and beats anything from the store. (We can’t take credit; it’s Pioneer Woman’s recipe.) I put some of it into a recycled marinara sauce jar, created a home made label, and tied some twine around it. Then I bought a bag of the best salsa chips and brought it to a Memorial Day barbecue as a gift. They better like it or I’m going to steal it back.

My final show-and-tell item is the one that really shouts SUMMER HAS ARRIVED:

I dug out the Great Nova Scotia Cookbook and found a shortcake recipe. The strawberries came from an Amish farmer and they are sweet, sweet, sweet. The cream is from another Amish farmer, whipped up to perfection with a little vanilla. This was basically dinner tonight, though I did have a plate of delectable asparagus with lemon, olive oil, and goat cheese first, just to pretend I’m a grown up.

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Culture clashes

So we thought it would be fun to start reading one of the books we recently bought for our kids. When the World Began: Stories Collected in Ethiopia is billed as a children’s book, full of ancient Ethiopian myths and fairytales. The American author spent time all over Ethiopia, recording stories native to many different villages and tribes.

The first story is about two sons who are told by their father to build two homes so he can visit. One son clears some land and gets busy building some very fine huts. He works very hard, using the best of materials, paying attention to details. Eventually he creates a lovely compound. The other son doesn’t build anything… instead, he visits other peoples’ homes, making friends with them, eating all their food, ingratiating himself so he becomes like another member of their family.

We were all ready for the father to laud the efforts of the first son and be a little upset at the second. But, no.  The second son is commended because when the father joins him at the other families’ homes, he gets to eat lots of wonderful food and enjoy their fine hospitality. But at the first son’s home, there’s no one living in the new huts, and there’s not much food, so the father doesn’t enjoy his stay.

In our culture, the second son would be considered lazy, a mooch, living off the kindness of strangers, not honoring his father’s wishes.  The first son would be complimented for his virtues of industriousness, craftsmanship, and effort. But different values shine in this story — relationship building, kinship with strangers, hospitality. These are of much greater importance in Ethiopian culture. We found it fascinating to notice just how surprised we were about how the story unfolded.

Things got stranger for us, however…. some stories made no sense at all. For example, there’s a very short one about a monkey, a hyena, and a fox who are trying to prove which one is older so one of them can get a prize. The fox proves he’s the oldest. The end.

Huh?

Most of the stories are also very violent. In a tales of two sisters — one very kind and generous and the other very selfish and lazy — the bad sister eventually gets torn apart limb by limb and beheaded, her head slowly rolling into her family’s home.

!

In another story, beating a child seems the normative way to get his attention.

Many of these stories would have terrified me at four — and maybe even at 14! I still can’t stop thinking about the sister’s head rolling into the family compound.

I understand these tales are old; they come from generations of tribal people who live with the sounds of wild animals outside their huts, and early death, and physical violence that is normative to their way of life. Grimm’s Fairy Tales out of old Europe are even more sinister and scary, actually. Ancient cultural fairytales and myths are not often pretty.

Whatever respect we have for ancient Ethiopian fairytales, I’m afraid this little book will be staying in a closet until our kids are ready for college. Or at least junior high school!

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The hard stories

I visit many blogs of adoptive moms and moms-to-be (and a few dads, too). I feel a solidarity with these sister sojourners… all of us waiting to be united with children half way across the world who will eventually be ours forever. For many parents-to-be, the waiting is agony and it can’t get here fast enough. (Unlike bad people like us who keep thinking we need just a little more time to get ready before a tornado hits our life!)

Then one day it’s here…  these moms and dads fly off to Africa (or another continent) and come home one, two, three weeks later with their new additions. Transition time begins.

My observation, which may not be accurate, is that about half the families or more have bumps in the road in the first few months, rough patches, challenges, a tough but manageable adjustment period. I’d also say that about a quarter of the families seem to have pretty smooth sailing… exhaustion and messiness, sure, but bonding happens pretty quickly and things go well from the get-go. When you talk to these parents — and I’ve spoken to a few — you begin to assume this will be your story, too.

But then there’s the other 25%, or maybe it’s less, or maybe more — hard to say. But when these families arrive home all hell breaks loose. Well, maybe it starts before they even get home. The child is constantly throwing tantrums or screaming, behaving in frightening ways, bonding is not happening, everyone’s at their wit’s end, things look very bleak.

I’ve read a number of these stories now. In fact, a woman I know from our regular Ethiopian dinner gatherings is having just this experience. She came home with a toddler girl recently and they are all struggling mightily.

I admire the parents who write about these trials. It’s so hard to talk about this part of adoption, the part where you come home and the balloon you were ready to float away on as one happy family has burst and fallen to the ground with a sickening thud. How painful it is to admit you don’t really like this little creature who’s now your child, you don’t feel any affection for him or her, you just want your old life back. (Attachment is just as important for moms and dads as it is for children — sometimes it’s easy to forget that.) I’m glad more parents are talking about this experience so others don’t feel so alone and so horrible when it happens to them. It also helps people like us to be better prepared for what we might face.

It’s scary to read these accounts. I have friends who tell me they think it will all go just splendidly for us. Well, maybe they’ve got a direct line to God or maybe that’s just a nice way of wishing us well. The truth is, we have no idea what our story will be. Every family is different. Partly out of self-protection, I want to prepare for the worst. I figure if expectations are low, they can only be met or exceeded.

Recently I saw a picture of a little guy who will soon be adopted. His face had the startled, scared, sad expression I’ve seen in other little orphan pictures. I’ve never seen this look on other children’s faces. It’s heart-breaking. Just to imagine what it must be like to have your life ripped apart, and turned upside down and backwards before, perhaps, you can even speak. The patience, love, energy, and faith that an adoptive parent must have is daunting.

I said at the very beginning of this process that adoption wasn’t for the faint of heart. It truly isn’t.

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Over the past week we received some good news, some bad news, and some sad news. The good news is financial — and heaven knows, every bit helps these days! The bad news is related to a family member’s health, which leaves us with heavy hearts. And the sad news is that my sister’s family — the only family that lives reasonably close to us — is moving next month to the mid-west for a better job.

Joys and sorrows, joys and sorrows. They are interwoven through this life. Some people seem to get more than their fair share of the bad stuff, and sometimes it comes in bunches; but no one escapes it.

I’ve learned how important it is to acknowledge and feel the emotions that come with hard stuff, as well as to make a conscious choice about how to approach it. I don’t often have a choice about what happens to me or my loved ones, but I do get to choose through what lens I’m going to look at it: Despair? Hope? Entitlement? Gratitude?

I find myself coming to gratitude a lot. It’s hard when bad things happen. But if I can sit with it long enough, meditate on it, make it a prayer that penetrates, things really do shift. You have to do it without stuffing or negating the feelings — not easy, but possible. It’s not a matter of being grateful for the tragic or awful part in any way, but for what came before it, what’s around it, and what can come from it.

Perhaps that’s just me coaching myself. But I really do believe Saint-Paul in Romans when he writes that God works all things together for good… somehow… even when we can’t see or understand.

And now for some age-related mishaps… Or maybe they’re just Zoe-related mishaps… This afternoon I finally made a Turkish lentil soup I’ve been wanting to try for a while. It was supposed to be part of our supper. I enjoyed a quick bowl of it before running off to the gym for an abs and Zumba class. When I returned, a weird smell hung in the air. Could… it… be… a burnt soup kind of smell?

Unfortunately, I had left the burner on low and the soup had evaporated down to about two inches, burning the sides of my favorite pot. I’m losing my mind already and haven’t even become a mother yet! So depressing. And so much for the soup. Hubby hadn’t even gotten around to trying it. And now we all know what a good thing it is that we have working smoke alarms.

Speaking of feeling old, let’s talk about the Zumba class… I hate most exercise… running, using stationary equipment, whatever. I’m even tired of yoga now. I make myself do a variety of things to stay relatively fit, but it’s mostly a chore. Dancing, however, I love… it never feels like exercise because it’s fun. I’m willing to do just about any dance-like form of exercise, no matter how dorky I look.

I’ve had a lot of dance training in the past… ballet, jazz, tap, ballroom, Latin, belly dancing, folk, modern. No flamenco, sadly, and not much hip hop or crunk. Still, you’d think with my dance background, I could actually get my body to do something that slightly resembles Zumba. Um, no.

My body just won’t do things I tell it to anymore, dammit! There were at least 50 other people in class making spectacles of themselves, too, and thankfully paying no attention to me. But if you want to get an idea of what I was trying to pull off, have a look here at my teacher, Shakira, I mean Adelicia. This is a little video she made after a class. Keep in mind, this is just one dance of about 15 that make up the 60 minute class — and this is one of the easy routines. Adelicia truly has hips that don’t lie. Mine have lost their honesty, I tell you.

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The Buna Problem

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, which is called “buna” in Amharic. The luxurious brown beans are Ethiopia’s most valuable export and they are woven into the fabric of the culture there. Like tea in Japan, coffee in Ethiopia has an entire ritual around it, which symbolizes and evokes the Ethiopian values of community, hospitality, and friendship.

I’ve now experienced a traditional coffee ceremony a few times — and I love it… the smell of the beans roasting in the pot over the burner, how everyone gathers around to watch, the little cups in which the coffee is served, the aroma when you inhale…

There’s just one little problem. I don’t like coffee. Or I should say, coffee doesn’t like me. Caffeine is not my friend. I can handle some in chocolate, and in some teas. But for some reason coffee — and I’ve tried many kinds — makes my naturally fast-beating heart race, and makes me terribly anxious, and gives me… well, let’s call it… “bowel issues,” and leave it at that.

This is a sad plight because I actually love the actual taste and smell of coffee. My favorite flavor of ice cream growing up? Coffee.

Anyway, this has me a bit nervous because when we travel to Ethiopia we’ll experience at least a couple of coffee ceremonies and it will be rude to refuse. Kind of like showing up at an Italian mama’s home and saying no to all the courses she keeps laying out in front of you.

I don’t want to be rude. But I also don’t want to have a racing heart and “bowel issues,” thank you very much.

There is one glimmer of hope here… Brian loves coffee. And if he doesn’t drink too much of it, he feels just fine. So the plan is, I’m going to pull one of those quick slight-of-hand moves and switch my little full cup with Brian’s empty cup at these ceremonies. Not sure it will work, but we’ll see.

Speaking of buna, Brian and I plan to watch the documentary Black Gold soon. We’ve heard excellent things about it. I’ll report back afterwards.

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Books

We’re book people. They crowd our house. This weekend, we’ll go through four more shelves to fill boxes for storage and we’ll give many more books to a little used bookstore down the street. It’s hard to say goodbye to them, they’re like friends.

I always loved reading, though I couldn’t sit still for long when I was younger — I preferred activity and conversation to hours alone with a book. I became more of a reader as an adult. These days it’s mostly non-fiction and over the past few years I’ve devoured a lot of historical non-fiction. Get your hands on any book by Vincent Cronin. You’ll thank me.

I’ll read on just about any subject if the writing is good — politics, religion, psychology, current events, you name it. Right now I’m finishing a book about bacteria called Good Germs, Bad Germs. It’s very compelling, but not always the best thing to read before bedtime. I’m also reading a book about heaven by philosopher Peter Kreeft.

I really love a good novel, too, and discovered people like Willa Cather, Graham Greene, Shusaku Endo, and Ron Hansen only in recent years. I sure was missing out! I’m wondering if I’d like Isabella Allende. I feel like I would, but maybe not. I don’t like overly poetic prose, for me it gets in the way of the story.

My husband, on the other hand, is a great lover of prose and has encouraged my reading. He’s a bookaholic if ever there was one. He also happens to be one of those fortunate people who retains a good deal of what he reads. I love the guy, but sometimes I try to hate him for that.

Brian credits his parents for his great love of reading. He likes to tell the story of how they always encouraged his learning, and never considered books as toys. He sure didn’t get everything he wanted, but if he wanted a book, they never refused him. This taught him to treat books as something serious and special. Of course, as an introvert, he was drawn to the worlds books provided, and as a smarty-pants with a genius IQ (no kidding), reading was bound to become a natural love.

Given all this, I think it’s fitting that the very first thing we’ve purchased for our kids is books. Brian is leading the charge. We’ve been particularly drawn to stories that might be extra special for our family  — Ethiopian tales and adoption-related books. Brian surprised me with the first one around Christmas: A Saint And His Lion: The Story of Tekla of Ethiopia. It’s darling, and I bought one for some of my nieces, nephews, and God children.

Others books have trickled in and the latest is below. It’s called When the World Began, Stories Collected in Ethiopia — lots of fairy tales and myths native to Ethiopia with sweet illustrations.

It will be fun to put these books in the kids’ room eventually.

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Last night, before finding out that we moved up a notch on the waiting list and freaking out, we hosted a party in our lovely green courtyard for a group we’ve been working with at our church. Doesn’t that spread look fabulous?

It was a potluck with the theme “traditional family favorites.” Which I suppose is why I made Pastor Ryan Somebody’s Mexican Lasagna — a recipe I found on one of my favorite mom blogs. If you haven’t met me, let’s just say no Mexican has come even close to one of my ancestors. However, I have a secret love for many things Mexican, and I share my birthday with Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the recipe is enough to feed a mariachi band, so I figured it could work. There is such diversity in our group, there was potential for dishes from the Philippines, Korea, Haiti, Italy, and the South. Not to mention Canada, but that girl brought an enormous Mexican dish for some reason. Ahem.

The drink below was a big favorite. Margaret found the recipe on one of her go-to blogs and then we spotted the straws at a fun shop in town and just had to make the drinks to go with the straws. The home made ginger ale turned out really well. Mixed with homemade strawberry sugar syrup and served with a lemon slice, strawberries, and an optional shot of Tito’s vodka, it was yummy! By the way, Mags took these great shots. And I am going to get myself a nice camera like this soon.

It is drinks like this that will get me through the next couple of months.

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