Saturday, November 15, 2014

Three Days Until Takeoff, Just Keeping It Real

dirty sock dance

Remember that post about messiness, in which I said that I was able to keep my house cleaner now? And how I said that I wouldn't be less of a person if my house were messy again due to life circumstances? Well. Life and its circumstances have happened. But I think that it's far more important to show you this adorable photo of Elvie "doing the laundry" (yes, those are dirty socks she's wearing on her arms) than it is to wipe out the evidence of the leak in our laundry room, the cats' half finished dinner, and the sheets that are supposed to be folded and stored.

The creatively wrapped gifts get a pass, because Zinashi bought that paper and tape (and one gold bow!) with her own money, then found things to wrap up as Christmas gifts. In fact, I probably shouldn't have blurred them out so much, because how adorable is that? And kind and loving and giving? Before now, you may have been thinking that it was too early to be thinking of Christmas, but can you say that now? Can you look my generous seven-year-old in the eye and say that it is too early to be planning for the gifts that go under our tree? I bet you can't. You'd better just get started with your holiday shopping and decorating.

I have actually done most of the holiday shopping for the girls already. As much as I am looking forward to being in Ethiopia again, I am also looking forward to being back in London and enjoying the holiday season as a family, with all of the big happenings of this year behind us. So I took care of what is, for me, the most stressful part of the holiday season, so that we can come back and focus on the tree and the decorations and the holiday lights in the city and simply being together in a time that is not rushed. Because so much of our year has been rushed, and right now in particular feels like we are in a big rush.

Tomorrow is our big packing day. Monday we will get the house in order and do hair. Tuesday we will fly out in the evening, and on Wednesday we will find ourselves in Ethiopia. It's getting real.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Our Responsibility

where my first baby comes from

We are leaving for Ethiopia in one week. I have never been so poorly prepared for a trip. By now I usually have most plans firmed up and the bulk of the packing done. But life these past six months has been anything but slow, and I feel like November snuck up on me. I am trying to roll with it. We have had little time to dwell on the particulars of what this visit means, and maybe that is for the best. As the time to depart draws closer, we get more anxious to get there. Tonight it took Zinashi until 11:30pm to fall asleep. This trip is such a big deal for her, and for her family in Ethiopia*, which is why we are doing it even though we are not as prepared in the practical sense as we might like to be.

It is National Adoption Awareness Month, and I have so many thoughts about that. But I think I want to just focus on one thing, which is that I feel that we, as adoptive parents, have been given far more power within the adoption triad than is just. We get to decide what we tell our children about their origins. We get to control contact with first families as little or as much as we please. We get to have our kids in our homes while others are missing them, and we often don't treat that like the profound honor and responsibility that it is.

I know that there are instances in which a maintaining family connections is not possible, but if it is, I think we should fight for it. I think it is our responsibility to relentlessly pursue the truth of our children's stories and the fullest relationships possible with their first families. It should be at our expense - financially and emotionally - that our children and their families retain close ties. We chose adoption, but our children did not. The weight of this burden should be carried by us as much as possible. There is so much we can't change for our children and their first families, but we can do this. And so we will.

*It is also a big deal for Elvie and her family, of course. I think I just feel the weight of Zinashi's need in a more pressing way because she has so many memories of Ethiopia and her home there, and because we already have established a relationship with her family. This first visit with Elvie's family will begin the relationship we hope to maintain with them throughout the years. We intend to pursue as much contact as is possible with both girls' families so that they both may grow up with all the people who love them as regular fixtures in their lives.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Heading Home

ethiopia 2012
In Addis Ababa in 2012. Who are these tiny people?

Two weeks from right now, we will be on an airplane en route to Addis Ababa. It will be our very first time in Ethiopia that we are there just to visit, and the first time that we venture out of Addis Ababa. Though we were there with Zinashi for a month while we waited to complete her US visa process, we wanted to keep our life together predictable and without a lot of new, overwhelming experiences. We felt that her transition into our care - though we loved her, we were still strangers - was more than enough for her to handle. So we stayed in the guest house and the surrounding area, mainly. I am so very glad we did; I think it was what we all needed then.

When we went for Elvie's adoption, it was all a jumble of unpleasant health discoveries and medical appointments and trying to keep her fed and as healthy as possible until we could get her back to the United States for medical care. We spent quite a lot of time holed up in our hotel room, as far as possible from potential germs that might like to spread to our fragile baby. I found this photo that Jarod took on our last day in Ethiopia, and it is representative of how tiny and sick Elvie was and how worried I was in the face of that. At the end, we were feeding her with a medicine dropper, and all I wanted was to get her through the travel portion and into a the capable hands of her new doctors.

the face of worry
I would not relive those last days, not for a million dollars.

So to say that this trip will be different than the others is possibly stating the obvious, but still I say it. It will be so different, so refreshingly different, and I cannot wait to see Ethiopia without a cloud of worry hanging over my head. We don't have long in country - just ten days - but in some ways I feel like I will be seeing everything for the first time.

I am excited most of all, though, for my children. Elvie asks every day if we are going to Ethiopia; she knows where she is from, and she wants to go. Zinashi will return to her village for the first time, and the magnitude of that is beyond what I can express. This trip is the first trip time that we will be there with the singular goal of reconnecting with what both girls lost when they became part of our family. I hope it is just the beginning of a connection that will grow and flourish with each visit. Ethiopia is home. It is always good to go home.

Friday, October 31, 2014


I'm not Halloween's biggest fan, but I love costumes, and so do my kids. We'd heard that trick or treating isn't as big of a thing here in the UK as it is in the US, but a little light Googling revealed four neighborhoods that get in the Halloween holiday spirit.

halloween 2014 1

I'm not sure what made me start making Halloween costumes instead of buying them, but I'm pretty sure that it just seemed like a fun idea. Then it became about the principle of the thing, about Halloween not being something for which my kids get yet another thing bought for them. I want it to be fun, and I want the costumes to be something that I do for them or that we do together. So this week, as has become my custom, I stayed up well past my bedtime every night, making costumes. I was a bit worried that we wouldn't fit in to how Halloween is done here, but both girls got endless compliments on their costumes, so I think we can proceed as we have always done without my girls feeling out of place. Which is a relief, despite how many times I cursed the feathers as I sewed them to Zinashi's costume wings.

halloween 2014 2

One of the things that I really love about making costumes is that anything is an option. Zinashi took a long time figuring out what she wanted to be, settling on a fox that flies because it is both unique ("I bet no one will have my same costume") and, frankly, cool. I mean, look at her:

halloween 2014 8

Elvie kept mentioning names of Harry Potter characters, without really knowing much about Harry Potter, but when I asked her if she wanted to be someone from Harry Potter or an animal, she immediately said, "A AMIMAL!" When I asked which one, she gave a little hop as she made the elephant sound. Barooooooooo!!! 

halloween 2014 4

We spent the day at the zoo, and handily enough, one of the neighborhoods that Google found for us to trick or treat in was within walking distance. We went, we collected candy and a little bit of fruit, and we were done in an hour. That bit right there was magic for me. I felt like it was just enough. The kids were happy, and we were at home in time for a dinner that wasn't too much later than normal. It was perfect, really. I am so glad.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Zinashi Fashion is Always My Favorite

zinashi fashion

Zinashi has been dressing herself for awhile now. There just came a point at which I felt that arguing about what she should wear was pointless, and that if she wanted to wear eleven layers and have none of it match that well, then it was not only better than arguing, but also pretty entertaining. Plus, there's something about her that makes it all seem so natural, as if pulling knee socks up over leggings is the right thing to do, and perhaps more of us should try it. And on that same note, why shouldn't those knee socks be worn with sandals? If there's not snow on the ground, sandals are the obvious choice. You can see more of the sock that way, you know.

Now she is choosing her own hairstyles, too. While she will sometimes entertain a suggestion from me when she is having trouble deciding, mostly she has a fixed idea of what she wants, and I am expected to execute it properly. That doesn't always work out, but I am trying. Because really, she looks fabulous when she wears things the way she wants to, and who am I to get in the way of that? I can only encourage it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Our Family Whole30: What We Eat

our family whole30 is delicious
Elvie does not feel deprived on our family Whole30.

I've had quite a few requests to elaborate a bit on what we are eating during our family Whole30. I have a feeling this will vary quite a bit from family to family, but I can tell you what works for us, and you can adjust as necessary. I'll just break it down into meals and snacks, then talk a little bit about what you can do long before your family Whole30 in order to be more ready.

Breakfast We basically have the same two choices for breakfast all week long: scrambled eggs cooked in ghee or toasted cashew bread* with fruit spread. Either choice can be served with fruit, and I offer whatever fruit we have available. I don't really like fruit with breakfast, so I just have coffee.

Lunch One word: leftovers. I rarely have to deviate from this, and when I do, I make scrambled eggs. 

Dinner I do my best to keep this simple. Meat plus vegetable equals dinner. Done. The end. Pretty much every Monday night we have chicken and roasted potatoes. I like to make soup or chili on Saturday, since that's easy for the night that I wouldn't normally cook. Meatballs in the crock pot are super easy (load 'em with vegetables instead of bread crumbs) when we're going to be out of the house until dinner, and I love sauteed spinach on the side (are you sensing a pattern with the sauteeing?). Ham and sweet potatoes taste amazing together. Sausages can be cooked quickly in the oven while brussels sprouts are being sauteed on the stove. Pick a meat, pick a vegetable that sounds good with it, and you're done.

If you get tired of that, how about some lettuce wraps? Speaking of lettuce, use it to make a sandwich roll up or sub it in as the taco shell on taco night. Eat that burger without a bun. Add lots of herbs and spices. Make friends with ghee. It really doesn't have to be hard.

Snacks Most of our snack option are fruit and nut based. I mix together cashews and pecans, then add whatever dried fruit I can find that doesn't have added sugar (currants, currently). This is super portable and also super easy to throw in a bowl for Elvie when she gets a little hangry. We also love fruit with almond butter. Apples are my favorite, but it's good on pears and bananas, too. I keep a lot of fruit in the house, whatever is in season and on sale. This is a great time to get apples, and I use those to also make applesauce in the crock pot (just apples and cinnamon is all you need - cook until they're falling apart, then blend). I try to make meals hearty enough that not much snacking is necessary. If all else fails, Zinashi has been known to grab a few bites of leftovers from the fridge.

Before you start a Whole30 as a family, I recommend starting by cooking dinners that are Whole30 compliant. Make a habit of eating the Whole30 way for dinner most of the time, and then it won't seem so stressful or completely new and different when you begin your thirty days. Try to make other small, manageable changes as well, such as serving water as the only drink at meals and introducing Whole30 compliant snacks, and you will be good to go. It won't be easy, but it won't be nearly as hard as if you plunge everyone into it without transitioning a bit.

Finally, decide before you start what your goal is. Our goal with our family Whole30 is to figure out what is bothering Zinashi's tummy, but also to make a habit of eating well at home. We've got a few things in the freezer we'll need to eat up once our Whole30 is done, but my goal is to have only Whole30 style food when we eat at home after that. We'll save the sugar and cheese for when we're out and about, and we'll savor it all the more when it's a true treat.

I hope that is helpful. Please feel free to ask me more questions. I'll be writing another post once we get to the food reintroduction phase, and I'd be happy to give more information to make this more possible for more families.

*The recipe for the cashew bread we eat can be found here. I sub in full fat coconut milk for the yogurt to make it dairy free. If toast is a go to breakfast item for your family, I'd recommend either not having this as an option at all or trying it out beforehand and being honest about whether or not you would eat this if you were not on the Whole30. If you wouldn't, and this will just drive you back to whole grain bread when the thirty days is done, then don't do it during the Whole30 itself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Good-bye Sugar, Farewell Cheese: Our Family Whole30

whole foods happy dance
The Whole Foods happy dance is a common occurrence.

I am a big fan of readiness when it comes to taking on a big endeavor, or the semblance of readiness, at least. Can anyone ever be truly ready for the kind of shenanigans we've been through these past two years? Probably not. But at least I like to try to be ready. And truth be told, I wasn't ready for this. We'd just gotten into our groove after having houseguests and starting school, followed by having our washer broken for four days (a huge deal if one does not have a dryer, and we do not have a dryer), when Zinashi came up to me and said, "You know that thing that you and Ababi did, that...thirty whole thirty thing or something? I want to do that so my tummy won't hurt anymore."

And well, even though I really wasn't done self-medicating with Galaxy Honeycomb Crisp bars at night after the kids went to bed, I said yes. Because when your particular eater* asks you for a Whole30, you say yes. She's been having tummy aches from time to time during meals for weeks now, and I have gently suggested that it might be something she's eating, but I didn't push her to eliminate foods. I figured that for it to stick, she needed to make that call, and if the one who was most affected was her, then she would eventually figure out what to do. Eventually didn't take very long in showing up.

So I gathered the ingredients we'd need together and worked on getting non-compliant foods cooked and eaten. (Listen, I'm not going to waste food, even if it isn't optimal for our health.) (Except in the case of aspartame. Jarod accidentally bought diet soda, I poured that nastiness right down the drain without guilt.) We started last Thursday. It is now the end of day seven, and we are doing just fine. But we've made some exceptions, and I want to talk a little bit about that.

If you are new to Whole30, my recommendation is that you do it exactly as proscribed your first time and any time you are doing it on your own or with other adults. Exactly. As. Proscribed. NO CHEATING. NO EXCEPTIONS. And do not do it for the first time as a family. Don't even try. Finish your first go succesfully, and then, if you would like to proceed as a family, figure out how to do it as closely as possible to the real thing, while guaranteeing you will all stick with it. We have made some very specific exceptions in order for this to be something we can all do together. 

While we won't get the full benefit of the program this way, we will still reap the majority of the reward. Is doing it the pure way the best for optimal health? Yes. But is doing it with very specific exceptions to the rules better than chronic stomach pain and continuing my chocolate habit? Of course. If you feel that you cannot do the full program as a family, I encourage you to take a look at it and see if you can do most of it.  Perhaps, like us, you just need to make a few small changes for it to work for everyone in your family.

Here are our changes:

1. Injera. We are still eating it twice weekly - once fresh with wots on top, and a second time as firfir. It is all teff injera (just teff and water added to the starter each week), and the wots are compliant. The only thing non-compliant is the teff, which is a non-gluten grain. But we cannot abandon Ethiopian food, even for thirty days. It is a huge part of Zinashi's connection to her first three years of life and a major factor in her feeling at home and at peace in our family. Injera means home to her. It's not just the food; it is the ritual of preparation, the smells in the kitchen, the whole process. You cannot eat Ethiopian food without injera. We are keeping injera. But only all teff injera, and only wots that are compliant.

2. Two condiments. I'll admit that we probably could make our own ketchup and mayo or figure out meals that won't require them, but it's just too much for me to tackle with all the other things we have going on right now. I will be absolutely honest that this one has more to do with me than anyone else in the family, and it is strictly for my convenience. But unless someone else is going to show up and cook at least two nights a week, then I've got to have some of our standard favorite meals, which are compliant in every other way except that we eat a little ketchup and mayo with them, to fall back on.

3. Juice once per week. We are not big juice drinkers, but when we go to Whole Foods, I've always allowed Zinashi to choose a fun drink or gluten free treat to have. This seems like a totally random thing to get hung up on, but it's just part of our weekly errand tradition, and something that I sensed that might make a huge difference to Zinashi in terms of her wanting to continue for thirty days. She's not always pleased to be doing things the Whole30 way, but this small thing signals to her that we haven't changed everything fun that involves food or drink. We found some juice drinks that contain only juice, water, and ginger, and she loved what she chose. I will allow her to choose one of those drinks every week.

4. Heavy cream and honey for my coffee. Okay, okay, so this one is only for me. No one else gets this exception. Selfish! But do you remember how I wasn't at all ready to do a Whole30? It wasn't just about my chocolate habit. Because I am the cook, grocery shopper, and meal planner in our family, doing a Whole30 increases my workload quite a lot. When I thought about it, I realized that I could do it if I didn't have to change my morning coffee routine. I know this is somewhat silly. But as the one who would be doing the lion's share of the work for this endeavor, I wanted this one thing to remain the same. I might be busting it to get homemade applesauce and cashew bread** made, but I've still got my usual coffee. I can do this.

And that's it. No more exceptions. We are sticking very close to the program, and I will be reintroducing foods with Zinashi very strictly. We will find out what makes her tummy ache, and it will get better. It's already better. I call that a win.

*My kids aren't picky, exactly. They eat a wide variety of foods, but they just like them the way they like them. They take after me in this respect.

**There is a thing referred to as "SWYPO" on Whole30, and the meaning of this is that you should not try to just make all your old favorites with compliant ingredients, as it will just send you running right back to those once the thirty days is up. This is about changing your habits! Around the time I did my third Whole30, I realized that cashew bread is something that I like as well as any quick bread, and not something that makes me crave the non-Paleo version. In fact, I prefer it to other breakfast options. So it works for us, but it might not be the right thing for everyone.

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