Shadows in Adoption, part 2: Food

A while ago I wrote a bit about those “shadows” that you find in adoption.  I was not, and am not, talking about those big monster issues that sometimes are part of the whole adoption process: RAD, or serious attachment issues, and such….rather I’m talking about those remainders that snag here and there.  I want to shine a light, again, on those little flickers of shadow that cross our days or behaviors here in our house with some of our kids.  Because I suspect that they might well have flickered across a few of  yours as well.

So, this post is going to address that gnarly issue that so many of us struggle with: food!

Ah, food issues.  They are legion, no? Yes.  For so many of us, myself included, food has issues.  Some good, some bad, some snarly, some prideful and snobby.  It’s all over the map.  But for our adopted children, especially our children who might have been adopted a bit older (or a lot)….those food issues can be complex and run DEEP.

When we first brought our Gabey home he was 18 months old.  And he had the standard food-transition issues.  First he wouldn’t really eat, only wanted bottles of milk. So many many bottles of milk.  It was total comfort food and we were happy to provide that. In fact we did, and took him BACK to the bottle so we could cuddle and rock and feed him and have that eye contact as much as possible.

He dug it.  But, soon enough he decided that real food was appealing too, and quickly branched out.  He impressed us with his instant taste for spicy salsa (but, hey, he’s Ethiopian, we figured he had some exposure…) and his happy joy in smearing ketchup and gobbling fries and pasta and all the usual toddler  yummies.   After about six months, he seemed very much just like any toddler, some days picky, some days voracious, always up for a cookie.

So, we didn’t pay too much attention to it for awhile.  I mean, he was a busy busy toddler, seeming to be tracking on all counts.  Language?  Yup, gaining at warp speed.  Gross motor? Yup, very fast agile busy little guy; could keep up with big brother, no problem.  Fine motor? Yup, paid attention to tiny details and was in normal zone for a toddler.  Cognition? Oh my, very very sharp, figured things out fast and great memory.  No worries.

But one thing was a little skewed and it was his eating.  Over the past few years, his drive to eat has gained momentum.  And that is an  understatement.  This boy is DRIVEN for food.  He is kind of fixated on it.  Not to the exclusion of everything else.  He loves to play and go wherever someone else is  going, he wants to be in on any activity.  He will follow his uncle around like a puppy; hoping to  help with those cool tools and be allowed to use that wrench or drill or oh any tool he can grab.  But, if he’s not distracted by some fun, if any whisper of boredom hisses, he is begging for food.  Relentlessly.  And when he eats, he will eat to bursting if we let him, asking for seconds, thirds, fourths…. Unless it is green veggies or carrots. No problems there…gross.  Don’t get all shocked, we cut him off -but by redirecting the urge.  

This evolution into this obsession with eating, more more more, initially had me presuming he was simply,  um….gorging.  Then I realized that it’s more than that.  Deeper.  It’s as if his “Off” switch is broken.  Or at least gets stuck.  It is as if he is impossible to fill.  Sometimes, now and then, he will say, “I’m full.”  But not often.  Watching him ask with such need and such a push to the request has sounded a tiny bell in my head.

This boy, my boy, I think he was hungry.

I don’t know.  Not for certain. I don’t have documentation of his being hungry and I don’t want to project drama or be unfair.  But, I think he was hungry.  Not starving maybe.  But the hard facts are that he was unable to be raised by his family.  He is an orphan.  And, the government orphanages and even the best care centers aren’t exactly overrun with funds for the abundance of every nutritive need.  It doesn’t work that way.  And my boy, well, my mama heart has to wonder.  Was he hungry?  Just some? Enough that now, way deep down, he might worry about being hungry again?  Even though we have, thankfully, an abundance of food and no one goes hungry in our house (unless they are putting on a hormonal girl drama, by their own choice and standards of Oscar worthy merit).  

So, what to do? I don’t want him to become obese or unhealthy.  And, truthfully, he is getting really stout.  But I want  him to know, for now and for ever, that he will not be hungry.  Even if he doesn’t know that he needs to know, now.  He does, it seems.  Karen Purvis says, “Never deny food.”  And so, I won’t.  I can’t.

So how do you provide the security/food your child needs and requests while at the same time keeping them healthy?  Well, here is what I’ve got, so far.  [If any of you have other brainstorms, please let me know in the comments!]: I do NOT deny him food.  And yeah, go ahead, tell me to only offer him celery.  Right.  Look at that face and tell me again. 

Ha.  Rather, what we say is “You bet.”  But we also say, “First, finish your dinner (not with extra helpings).” And we also say, “Let’s count, have you counted five fruits today? Or veggies? How many? Two? How about an orange? ”  We go for fiber and produce to fill the need if we can coax him into it.  But, honestly, some days, as he comes home from school and asks for a cookie I just say, “Yup.

Because if I have to pick, I’ll pick attachment and bonding to this boy.  Easy choice, slam dunk.  That security in our love and his safety here in our family is more important than “husky” size pants.  Will I encourage him to move and run and jump and play sports? Yes!  Will I encourage him to eat healthy choices? Yes!  But will I also withhold food when he tells me his tummy is hungry?  No.  I will not.

It’s a shadow.  But one that I think is best to see in the light.  And maybe, with time and yes, good healthy cooking, this one might fade away.

Siren Calls

So, this is the danger season.  It’s the crazy season for me.

How? Well, yeah, I’m in the birthday blitz season (seven months straight of birthday-o-rama and the ensuing  exhaustion).  But, no, I’m referring to the danger zone of the holiday season…but MOST specifically the danger zone of THIS holiday.

Yeah, there’s a reason Halloween is so scary:


It’s the candy, babeee.  If you’re a sugar addicted craving monster mama this season is nothing but danger.  Sure some folks go overboard with the sugar plums of Christmas or the laden tables and pies of Thanksgiving…but me, it’s the candy….the cheap mass produced childhood memory attached candy.  Don’t get me wrong, I can get all snooty about fantastic european chocolates or local foodie-gourmet specialties like this amazing wonderful addictive YUM of toffee (UPS passes my house every day, just saying, hint  hint…)  

Mmmm, candy.  It’s my major weakness.  Really.  (Ask my kids or coffeedoc, they’ll confirm….).

Just walking the aisles of the grocery stores this month is like a mini epic of Jason and the Argonauts sailing through that ocean passage, waiting for the Sirens to start their call. {Remember that movie?? OH wow, talk about a blast from the past, I watched that movie so many times as a kid, laying on the floor in my family room in front of the plaid sofa and being scared silly, but still, I had to watch.  An oddly formative movie, which I’m sure explains so much to you all now….}

So, yeah, nowadays my modern Sirens are named “Snickers” “Reeses” Sweet Tarts” “Baby Ruth“….the list just goes on and on.  But the queen of them all, perhaps Persephone herself, is this one:

Yeah.  “Candy Corn.”

Yup, it’s the queen of all cheap junk candy.  It’s pure sugar, sqooshed and molded into utterly unorganic form: dayglo orange and/or yellow, artificial brown anchoring the non-corn nib shape.  It’s seventies hip, and it’s pure sugar crack zing.  Which is why it so surely, so enticingly,  calls to me this month, every year.   And, as you can see, today I had no Orpheus to read me poetry and silence those sweet songs luring me at the market today.  I couldn’t be tied to a mast to prevent me from leaping overboard… I had to steer and load the darn cart.  So, yes, I fell overboard.  And yes, I have minor regulation insulin issues….ahem…..  And now, I have to hide this from myself, much less the kids.  Sigh. And yeah, I know all about the healthy bananas and fruit on the counter behind these lethal sweet nibs, it’s my kitchen, I took this shot…. but really I’m blind to them.  Because it’s the sugar calling……

Happily enough, and in an ironic twist of fate, I’m old enough that I forget, daily, where I stow things.  So, let’s hope it works before I succumb again, and again, and again……well, you get the idea……

>Turn-Keys in Adoption: Family Dinner

> Ah, the family dinner.
A subject that greater minds and bigger hearts than mine have explored and pondered for many years. Indeed, it’s  a fixation of modern shelter magazines and cable shows; how to cook and create a wonderland of fantasy meals. 

I’m not gonna attempt to lay down new paths or thoughts; that’s above my pay grade.
This post is my ongoing consideration of dinner, supper, and what it means to the family, especially one built through the often messy process of adoption. 

In fact, I have come to believe that the seemingly simple concept of dinner is really, for us at least, a turn key in attachment.
Yep, this is another one of those posts.  I have a series of them, sporadically put up as I need to process things or I start stewing about stuff {go here:trust, touch, transitions, schedules, Christmas, prayer}.

I think that the whole idea of family dinner is one that is super easy to brush off.  We’ve heard it all before, from our own parents to the modern beta parents on tv: Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Spock, Judge Judy…heck, everybody’s got an opinion.  But this forum is mine and thus this blog post is about my meandering musings down the dinner table.

Now, I’d love to say that our family has beautiful Rockwell quality dinners.  That we all sit down in a calm and mannered fashion to an elegant and/or chic table every night and linger easily over interesting and savory local, foodie creative meals that nourish our bodies and souls.  Right.  But if I did, I’d be lying.

Ramare Bearden, Color Screenprint, 1993

 Our dinners are often a jumble; kids needing to be called to the table, fetched from outside,  hollered for repeatedly (yes, we/I holler, it’s not my proudest moment).  Kids race to snag the primo chair; which designation will ever remain an unfathomable mystery to us parents.  {Sometimes it’s a mystery to the racers too, but the race is on, nightly, nevertheless.}  This frequently leads to some sulking about not claiming said spot and  having to sit in the “stupid” spot.  Dinner is considered and often declared “gross” or “yuk” and the sulk extended.  We parental types try to regain calm by lighting a candle or two and then beginning with prayer, going around the table to nudge each kid to come up with something, anything, to be thankful for this day…all the while reminding the wild small boys to sit on their chair, hands off their legos, cars off the table, sshh, with significant looks and the not infrequent verbal cue.  After that, we try to have real conversation as we dine (ok, we eat).  This effort rarely succeeds; what with two teenage girls and two preteen girls, any variation thereof who can often be found nursing some level of mood. Occasionally, one of the girls might be working an angle to get some yet unknown advantage and thus launch a bright and superficially charming conversational gambit.  Those nights the repartee is especially exciting for the unknown results and volatility.  Otherwise the conversation can be rather stilted attempts at extracting details of the day at school (yes, much like pulling teeth, actually) and continuing to referee sulking players; all the while leaving us two over forty craving scintillating discussion of current events or politics or heck, number theory…anything at all to change it up. (I lied, I will never crave discussion of number theory, evah.)

 Jean Foss, “Family Dinner”

Often enough one or three kids will thank me for the cooking, signaling the end of the meal; a truly lovely and appreciated gesture (always Marta, sweet habit) and then bolt to the beyond of upstairs to escape the ensuing chaos that erupts after dinner.  Then the dishes are clattered to the counters and sinks, reminders of dish night assignments handed out, and the dinner comes to a close as I try to scoot/race the little boys up to the bedtime routine.

Thus we have three phases to our dinners: preparation, partaking, and cleanup.   All of them are key to our family dinner and to the foundation that is laid.  It is the whole of the process that makes the family dinner so important, and yes, a turn-key to adjustment.
I want to say that again: I think the whole of the process: the prep, the sitting/eating, and the aftermath, is important to the bonding and attachment found in the family dinner.

The importance of this meal, it’s function as a key for us, is coming more and more clear to me; especially over these past few months of our adjustment to our newest daughter Marta.  She has a need for a very defined order to her days, she counts on it, it is her safety zone.  And the dinner routine, as close to ‘no  matter what’ we can get, is key to her sense of well being, and thus, attachment.
I daresay it is the same for our other children, young and old, bio or adopted. 

Family dinner counts.

The time to prepare it shows our newest daughter, without words, that this time is important to us as family.  She sees me, as do all  my kids, thinking about it in advance, shopping, preparing it, prepping the table for it.  If it wasn’t important I wouldn’t bother.  They all know it.
If I can get it together during the day, I try to have the table set and dinner planned and begun to prep as she/they arrive home from school….yes, it’s very Donna Reed, but it’s very very comforting and secure.  All of my kids, each and every one, ask me, every day within minutes of seeing me after school: “What’s for dinner?”  Each one of them need that answer, sometimes I say “I don’t know!” But, if I name a meal,  it’s an almost visible sigh out of them to hear the answer – even if it’s not their favorite.  Because it signifies that I am on it and life is secure.  Now, they won’t say it that way, but I see it that way now…because of my newest daughter.  Her life was not secure and dinner wasn’t a guarantee or even always an option.  So, yeah, this is important stuff…for all of them, but absolutely critical for her. 
It is a turnkey on so many levels: food, primal sustenance, comfort, family, routine.

Peter Blume, Vegetable Dinner, 1927

The sitting down together is a coming together, a pause in the day to nourish our bodies and us as a group together, to nourish our sense of family.  The kids can’t see that, sometimes it’s just a chore…for me too.  (I can easily, if I were to choose, skip the eating of dinner, most any day…..)
But beyond that obligation and duty lies great unspoken meaning: family, it’s important and this is ours.
And happily enough, that meaning is not reliant on the context of perfection or glossy fantasies of “should be” or “looks like.”
I will go out on a cyber limb and even say that the very chaotic mess of our dinners, and it’s own particular kind of standard chaos, defines our own family culture and is a feature of this key to attaching into our family. 

The cleanup, well, its not nearly the pretty part.  Not that any part of our dinners every really are so much…but cleanup is a mess and a job.  But by having the kids all take part (they rotate dish duty) and their dad usually giving them a boost of help…they learn that they too are contributors to the family. They don’t only take…they too give to each other and the family.  Giving back is part of the key to attachment.  Unless you are invested in something or someone, by serving them in some form (time, attention, effort), it’s very hard to have a two way attachment. Now, that’s just my opinion…but I hold it close.  I think you love by doing.  I think the best way to help a child learn that they are an integral part of the family is to  have them pitch in and help that family, just the same as the other kids (or to their ability).  

So, who’da thunk it?
Family dinner, be it vichyssoise or burgers, means ever so much more than the calorie count.  And really, it’s not even about the actual food or the quality of it; be it fancy french or sub sandwiches.
It’s about the whole process of the dinner, as a family.
I think it’s one of the better keys in your tool belt as a parent.  
I think that so much of what we do, we feel we have to follow the perfect script or recipe or rules or recommendations.  But the beauty in the messy chaos and routine of the family dinner is that it allows for our unique seasonings and tweaks and settings.  It is our own. 
It is in the very making and prepping and sitting and tastings of it, we find our own selves and each other. 
This is a turn key to attachment for each of us, adopted or not, for healing and blending together as a family.  It is a key that is not a hard metal bit to be clanged about…rather this one is as a red ripe tomato, bursting with goodness, begging to be savored.

Jos van Riswick, Tomato 15×15

>Eureka! Now that’s yogurt!

>I did it!
What is my happy new discovery?

I made Strawberry Yogurt!!

I know, kind of a let down, not what you might have been expecting.
But in this house, and my kitchen, this is a long sought after product.
No, not the kind you buy at a store…we’ve spent a small fortune on those little cute cups O yummy expensive goodness.

I’m talking about the extra delish extra healthy homemade kind of yogurt, but flavored.

Ah, now that’s exciting!
I’ve been making yogurt for a few years now. I’ve used the yogurt machines, starting with the simple ones that came with the oh so fetching individual glass jars. It worked great.  But we zipped through a batch of those in no time.

We could spoon those jars clean in one breakfast.  So, I graduated to the yogurt maker that made a quart or some big amount at a time.

But it was unsatisfactory, I didn’t like the kind of awkward design of the appliance and the container.  So I didn’t really use it enough. I gave it to my sister in law. Yes, I am picky that way.  I can’t help it.  Don’t judge me.

Finally I read a way, online, to make it in a slow cooker.

Hmmm.  Really? A slow cooker? I thought it would be yet another complicated science experiment sort of deal where my kitchen became a grade school science lab.  But no…in multiple forums on the net, I read of this.  Why hadn’t I seen this before? Is this a new fad? A foodie wave of trendoid frenzy? Well, if so, count me in! I wanna try!

Now, the whole deal was kind of intriguing and yet a little nerve wracking to boot (I have a very active imagination and have had too many go rounds with food poisoning…so I’m a tad paranoid).  But I figured all that probiotic bacteria is supposed to be good for you and that the whole point of yogurt is to get the good stuff, the natural way, and that yogurt has been made in yurts for centuries with no ill effect.

So I gave it a try.
My first mini-eureka! It worked.  It was as good or better than my machine yogurt, and as easy or  more so to boot.  I was sold; and I already had the slow cooker.  Perfect!

So I made batch after batch of my standard vanilla or plain yogurt.  The family did the usual stir-ins of jam if they wanted some jazzy flavor.  But ya know….it just bugs me that I never could make the flavored yogurt without it curdling or not setting up.  In the back of my mind, I keep thinking about it, every time I make a batch.  So, I decided to give it yet another try, but with the slow cooker.
I thought about how to get the flavor in there before it was made, a new mode.  And…it worked! And, if I do say so myself, it’s really good!

So, for all you who are not blindingly bored and are still reading, here is how I did it.  It’s the basic yogurt recipe, and the strawberry part is a riculously simple add in, but who knew? Maybe you did, but I didn’t.  So, here goes, for any of  you ‘yogurt challenged” folks out there:

Slow Cooker Yogurt: Plain, Vanilla or Strawberry

Pour 1/2 gallon whole milk (NOT ultra pasteurized!) in slow cooker
Whisk in 1 cup sugar (if you want it sweet, I like it plain too but my kids rebel)
Add in  1/4 to 1/2 c powdered milk
For Plain yogurt: add no sugar or vanilla or anything else
For Vanilla yogurt: add 1 TB vanilla
For Strawberry yogurt: add 1/4 cup Smuckers Strawberrry Syrup (ok maybe not SO healthy, but surely to goodness healthier than all the stuff you pay a fortune for in the store. and that’s  1/4 cup for 1/2 gallon worth of yogurt servings…divide it up/do the math….geez)

Whisk well.
Now turn to low for 2.5 hrs.
Then turn off for about 3 hrs, until temp (instant thermometer) is between 110-120 degrees.
Once temp is in range, take about 3/4 c of milk/yogurt from cooker in large measuring cup.
1/2 cup plain  yogurt (homemade or purchased).  This is your “starter” and gets the yogurt to become all it’s yogurty goodness.
Then whisk it like mad so it’s smooth, and pour this mixture back into the cooker.
Cover and wrap the whole slow cooker in a bath towel for at least 8 hours, though I’ve left it overnight (don’t freak out, it’s ok).
Then after that, put ceramic container from cooker into fridge to chill.
After it’s chilled, eat and marvel at how good yogurt can be.  And how cheap.

No scalding milk and pouring from container to container, splashing your golden yogurt to be on the appliances and countertop and eliciting cussing.  No extra pots to wash out the scummy scalded milk.  No cute but slippery glass jars to wash out, rotating endlessly and counting if enough have been eaten to make another batch, or biting your tongue to keep from cussing when you can’t find their lids.

Now this is not only yummy, it’s “green.” In fact, it’s about as green and crunchy as I probably get…so, I’m putting it out there as evidence that I’m not totally soulless.  But more, I’m putting it out there because it’s easy, cheap and, most importantly, good.

Simple.  Easy. Low tech. Yummy.

You’re welcome.

>Lets Talk Chocolate!


cc photo by Kirti Podar
This is a frivolous post about a serious subject: chocolate. Well, maybe not so frivolous after all.  Folks get pretty worked up over chocolate loyalties and the almost primal memories and reactions it dredges up.  So, we all love chocolate right? Right.  Ok, maybe not all of us, and if not, then this post probably isn’t for you….unless you are of a mind to thrill someone you know who is especially nice and deserving of a faboo treat.  Then, by all means, read on!
Tis the season…by which I mean, Lent – almost Easter.  And while Lent is now in it’s most difficult phase – the last week and the beginning of Holy Week –  it is also high time to do some prep work for the fun part.  Yeah, you know what I’m talking about: the chocolate!
Here is my feeling about chocolate.  It’s practically divine.  And if you’re gonna indulge, just like with most anything but especially ice cream and chocolate, for heaven’s sake indulge in the good stuff!  Don’t waste the money effort guilt and calories on the kind of pasty mouthy filmy stuff.  Now, that’s just my opinion, but still…unless you are gonna possibly, right now, hurt someone for a choco fix and need something immediately, wait for the best. It’s worth it!  {And yes, I am diabetic but gosh, that sweet dark chocolaty goodness calls to me, with the choir of  most sugary yummyness joining in, all the time.  I can’t help it, this craving. I can only work hard against it, and fail too often….}
That said, here is something I have to put out there.  Two things, actually:  
First: See’s candy for Easter baskets, the jelly bird eggs (Ok, I know, not chocolate, but SOOO Easter), and the Scotchmallows….May very well be the best candy ever!!  
Just.  Yum. 

Second: Here is my not so secret secret score for the best caramels: Monastery Chocolates.  Oh my goodness.  If you like just a simple pure chocolate covered caramel, well, these babies are for you.  I can’t resist them.  (I think the dark chocolate is best, IMHO ).  They are very simple, don’t look too fancy, but they are just about perfect.  Which makes total sense as they are made by lovely Sisters, in the Monastery (hence the name, it’s real)…who have ample time to also hold up the world in prayer AND perfect these taste treat delights.
What’s not to love?
So, I’m just saying….these are the best for pure caramel yumminess.  The scotchmallows are the best for pure Easter delight (ok anytime, really, hint hint).  And I just kinda had chocolate on my mind this morning.  
‘Nuff said. 
Dear Lori talked recently about “joyful things.”  These are some of my tasty tangible ones. 
Enjoy, or prepare to enjoy, Easter approaches!