Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pot Stickers, Noodles and Sauce, Oh My!

Nothing tastes as good as home cooking like your mom used to make.  Unfortunately, Veronica isn't getting those delicious homemade memories of her foster mother's cooking.  So, I tried to recreate some of the fabulous food we had in China.

I took on potstickers.  And making supper took over two hours.  And it was so worth it.  They were awesome!  I also improvised a noodle dish with bean sprouts, cilantro, ginger, etc. that I think replicates some of the flavors we had in China pretty well.

Although the pot stickers prompted Ben to declare that he now loves me even more than he thought possible (Hooray for that ego boost) the best part was seeing Veronica's joy.  She has always been a good eater, but her enthusiasm was huge today. She was a giant blur of excited, chopstick-waving waving hands

**Please ignore the bleeding head wound.   Concrete is very hard and rough. 

Even though I can't pull out her foster mom's secret stash of family recipes, I am hoping that some familiar flavors will help her feel connected to the woman who loved her so much for so long.  I'm also hoping that my attempts at replicating Chinese food will linger with her and build the happy memories that only Mom's home cooking can.

Pot Sticker Recipe
I modified a recipe I found.  Here's what I did:


•    1 1/2 pound ground pork (not sausage) cooked, crumbled and 
•    1/2 small head cabbage, finely shredded
•    3 green onion including green part, finely chopped
•    1/2 Tbs ground ginger
•    1 can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
•    2 teaspoons salt
•    1 teaspoon white sugar
•    2 teaspoons sesame oil
•    2 packages wonton wrappers
•    vegetable oil for frying
•    1 cup chicken broth for cooking

1.  Mix pork, cabbage, green onion, ginger, water chestnuts, salt, sugar and sesame oil.

2.  On each wrapper (keep them covered with a damp paper towel so they do no dry out) place about 2 tsp of the mix and seal the edges, use a bit of water on the edge, try to press out all the air and ensure they are tightly sealed (At this point you can freeze them individually on a cookie sheet and them place in a plastic bag. They will keep for a month. Defrost in fridge before continuing).

3.  In 2 large skillets heat 2 Tbs oil, fry 8 dumplings in each pan (don't crowd them) for 1 minute or until golden on one side. Add 1/4 cup of stock into the pan, reduce heat to low, cover and cook, without turning for about 7 minutes or until the dumpling is translucent and most of the liquid has evaporated Uncover and on medium heat cook for another 5 minutes.  Drain put on a platter and keep warm.  I put them in a 150 degree oven.

4.  Repeat for the remaining dumplings.

Note:  These are called pot stickers for a reason.  You'll need to use a bit of scraping to get them off the bottom of the pan.  I did NOT use teflon pans.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tips to Stock Your Freezer

Since there was a lot interest in my previous freezer post My Freezer, My Friend , I thought I'd also post some tips about freezer cooking.  I'll share some freezer recipes in an upcoming post.

 Having extra meals in the freezer really isn’t very hard.  Many times I just double a recipe I’m making.  You’ll save a lot of time on the serving day because of minimal food prep, but also because you don’t have to clean all the cooking dishes. 

There are so many things beyond soups and casseroles that you can freeze that you may not have thought about.  I’m sure your family has its favorites and you can easily find recipes for different types.  

I buy hamburger in the 3 pound containers.  When I brown hamburger and onions, I cook the whole thing and put it into 3 separate freezer bags.  When a recipe calls for a pound of hamburger, I save about 15 minutes by having it pre-cooked.

If you use noodles in casseroles you intend to freeze, undercook the noodles or they will get mushy when you thaw them.  It is even better to just freeze the sauce and cook the noodles fresh on the day you plan to serve it.  Rice in casseroles freezes fine, though.  And plain cooked rice can be frozen separately, then just heated with a few drops of water added.

If you buy family-sized packs of chicken, separate them in meal-sized portions in marinade (even just Italian dressing).  When they are thawed, they will be well seasoned and extra tender.  Having the chicken frozen in a marinade also helps prevent freezer burn.

Try to eat the food you have stored within 3 months for best quality.

Label what is in the bag AND how to prepare it with a Sharpie.  Then you don’t waste time looking for the recipe and others will also know how to cook it.

Be sure cookies are cooled completely before freezing or just freeze the raw cookie dough instead.

I wrap banana bread, cranberry bread, etc. in aluminum foil and then put in a Ziploc bag to freeze.  This helps keep it from drying out. 

Cooled bars and brownies can be cut and frozen.  Freeze in bags and thaw overnight to serve.  This works well when your family can’t eat a whole pan of whatever you make before they go stale or get sick of them.

Buy freezer bags, not just regular zip-top bags.  They are thicker and prevent freezer burn.  Generic work fine.

Most recipes can be frozen in a zip-top bag.  Lay flat so they freeze into a notebook shape.  When frozen, stack on their sides like books on a bookshelf.  They take up less room and are easier to retrieve.

If you are making meatloaf, lasagna or something that can’t be frozen in a bag, spray your container, line it with heavy-duty aluminum foil and spray the foil.  After the meal is frozen, the foil should slide out so you can use your pan while the food is still in the freezer.  When you need to cook the item, put the frozen, aluminum wrapped item in the same container in which it was frozen.  Let it thaw and then heat.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Rookie Parenting Mistake

Is it possible to unlearn parenting wisdom?  I think I did, but fortunately I came to my senses.

You see, this whole adoption thing threw me a curve ball.  Up till this point, I had been feeling pretty confident about my parenting.  Sure, there are always glitches along the way, but I felt like I could follow my mommy intuition and things would work out alright.  Or, if it was beyond my base of knowledge, I had family, friends, and outside resources to help me find the right path.

Let's have a little flashback to set the stage for my gained, lost, and regained parental wisdom amnesia.

It happened when I became a mother for the first time.  The low parenting moment occurred when my husband headed back to work a few days after we got back from the hospital and my little girl, Bridget (now a 9 years old and currently at sleep-away camp for the first time) and I were home alone for our first full day since she was born. 

I had just changed, fed and rocked her to sleep.  I was going to take a quick shower so I took the baby monitor into the bathroom with me because clearly being in the room next to baby was too far to trust my ears.  I had just finished lathered up the shampoo when she began to cry.  I panicked.  "WHAT DO I DO NOW!?!"  Should I leap out of the shower immediately?  Did I have time to rinse out the shampoo?  How about conditioner?  Could I condition?  Instead of reacting calmly, I froze in panic and cried a little myself.

I must be a slow learner because it took me a couple of weeks after that to figure out my little baby wouldn't die in 5 minutes.  "Of course!"  you may say.  "Physiologically your child will survive."  You can insert an optional exasperated sigh and "Duh" here if you wish.

I carried that knowledge through the following three kids.

And then there was the adoption.

I found that the more research I did on adoptive parenting, the less confident I felt in using my own judgement and trusting my maternal instincts.  I became indoctrinated into the adoption lingo of bonding and attachment.  Some of the recommended books will give you nightmares.  The Weaver's Craft about toddler's adoption would keep anyone up all night.  

While I believe knowledge is important, I began to think that every moment was a crucial bonding moment.  Every time there was a pause in meeting a need or comforting my child, attachment would be set back months and months.  I forgot that a good mixture of knowledge, common sense and compassion would take me far in this mommy business.

Please don't misunderstand me.  I try to meet Veronica's needs as quickly as possible.  If she cries, I comfort her.  If she wants to be carried, I oblige.  If she needs a snack, out come the generic crackers.  All these things are rational.

What isn't logical is the stress I was feeling if she grew frustrated at anything.  If I was cooking supper and she fussed in the high chair for 5 minutes while I finished I would freak out thinking I should be somehow holding her and mashing steaming potatoes at the same time.  When she cried in the car on the way back from Target I wondered if she felt abandoned in the seat a foot and a half behind me.  Fortunately, Veronica isn't very fussy, but when I couldn't immediately help I stressed out.

And then I remembered she wouldn't die.  And she is only one.  And one-year-olds get impatient sometimes.  And my daughter is resilient.  And she will still learn to love me if I make her wait until I have both contacts in before playing ball with her.  And I meet her needs promptly 95% of the time.  And its going to be okay.  It is really going to be okay.  For both of us.

So, I'm going to cut myself some slack and call it a rookie adoptive parenting mistake.  Since my delayed epiphany, life has been much better.

Now I don't have to worry about chopping vegetables and emotionally scarring my child at the same time.  I just have to chop the vegetables, smile at my sweet girl and tell her, "Everything is going to be all right.  Mama is here.  I am right here and I'm going to take care of you just as quick as I can."

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Gratitude Police

Have you noticed that when one child goes on a bad attitude streak, the rest fall into line behind?

I had been dealing with a stretch of negativity from one child that infected the rest like head lice at a preschool.  I was sick of the whining, complaining, deep sighs and eye rolling.  I am always sick of the eye rolling.  I was not willing to let this fester into something stinky, rotten.  I needed lay down the law. 

So I have become...The Gratitude Police

Every time I hear negativity coming from any of my children, I have been requiring them to tell me three things they are grateful for and why.  If the negativity continues, they have to come up with more.  They can't recycle answers, either.

With a deep sigh and a dramatic shoulder slouch, my first unenthusiastic participant came up with a toilet, toilet paper and underwear.  I agreed that those were definitely things to be grateful for.  Within an hour or two the kids had run through all their possible potty-type answers and had to get more creative, but still didn't branch out far.  They were grateful for TV, ice cream, legos, etc.

It took a couple of days (we have been at this for nearly a week) before I think they really had to dig deep.  They began to acknowledge why they were grateful for beds to sleep in, trees to climb, car seats, the library, etc.

And, the crazy thing is, I think this is working.  The kids have been pulled out of their cynical, entitlement funk and thought about how fortunate they are.  Or maybe they are just sick of the Gratitude Police.  Either way, I'm happy.  I'm hoping this change of attitude has some staying power.

A very wise mom friend of mine summed my intent up better than I could.  She said that her children don't have to be grateful to her for everything they have, but they do have to be grateful to God.  And isn't that what we are striving for as parents? 

We want to raise children to think beyond themselves and their own wants.  I want them to acknowledge all the blessings they have, both the obvious and less obvious.  I want them to remember that they have incredible gifts from God all around them, not because they are entitled, but because they are God's beloved children.  I pray that they move beyond thinking about what they have and want from God and see that we are all God's beloved children and that they are able to share their gifts accordingly.

After a few days of seeing the change in my kids attitude I came to the horrible realization that I had been a bit crabby and feeling sorry for myself with laundry piled up, floors needing a good scrubbing, and a child with an unfortunate case of diarrhea.  So I tried it myself.  Who knew it would work on someone who's age is in the double digits? 

Perhaps I'll need to deputize my kids into the Gratitude Police patrol.

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Freezer, My Friend

What to thaw...what to thaw.

Let me tell you a little secret, folks. If you come to my house for supper, you may end up eating 2 month old cheesy mashed potatoes or 3 month old fruit soup. I head to the freezer and thaw, baby, thaw.

When times get especially busy (adding another kidlet to the family counts) I fall even more in love with my deep freeze. My husband is okay with this.

The people we bought our house from were kind enough to leave a behemoth of a deep freeze in the basement. This thing could be an emergency boat for our whole family if there were a flood. As the freezer is the same mid 60's vintage as our house, it isn't the most energy efficient of appliances, but I choose to consider that a cute character quirk. I love it just the same.

Tonight we had a wonderful spinach fritatta that all my kids love. Even Veronica had seconds. We also had a cheesy garlic bread. Both were from the freezer so I could enjoy the summer day with my kids and not have to worry about what to make for supper. I also didn't have to spend a fortune on unhealthy take-out or fast food.

Taking the risk of getting too Stepford Wives, I am going to declare that I love my freezer!

Here's a picture of the beauty, all stocked up and ready to go:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Seven of a Kind

I've heard that the longer you live with people, the more you think alike and look alike.

While getting ready for church yesterday, I commented that two of the boys picked out blue shirts and khaki bottoms. My darling daughter picked up on the theme, threw on a blue shirt and khaki shorts and picked the same look for the other brother. She picked out a dress with blue flowers for our littlest.

Then the kids begged Ben and I to also wear blue. We did.

Now, those of you with smaller families might not think much of this turn of events. Perhaps those with larger families have a clearer picture. As a visual, we take up most of the church pew now.

It felt slightly obnoxious in a Von Trapp family twirling in matching curtain clothes singing "The Hills are Alive" kind of way.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Conflicted Feelings About Surgery

When people first see Veronica, they usually ask if and when her lip will be repaired. I can't blame them. Whenever anyone has a medical condition, people are always eager to have modern medicine fix the situation. Before we got her, I intended to have her lip repaired as soon as the doctor recommended and we will. Her surgery is already scheduled for the end of September (to allow for a couple months of adjustment and additional bonding time).

I hadn't anticipated feeling conflicted about it.

When my other children were born, I studied their little faces intently. I looked over their hands and feet, the shape of their heads, the creases in their wrists. I watched their expressions - the way their eyes crinkled before crying, the pursing of their lips as they dreamed of eating. I felt compelled to commit every detail to memory.

Now I am doing the same with Veronica. I want to study every part of her. And the longer I look, the more I love what I see. And the sadder I will be to see it go.

Obviously surgery to repair her cleft lip and palate are necessary. I do want her to have clear speech, an easier time eating, and the ability to go out without people staring at her (other than because she is so cute). But the decision isn't the emotionally conflict-free situation I thought it would be.

I am sure she will be just as cute after her surgery as she is now, but I have fallen in love with her cleft smile. That cute little gap in her lip and gumline makes her smile look even wider. I have confidence that her surgeon will do a great job, but I think about the beautiful face God gave her, the face I fell in love with, and know it will change forever. This isn't a gradual change like the way friends get a few crinkles by their eyes or the way a young child's face morphs into a big kid face when they get their top grown-up teeth in. It will be a sudden change. All of you who know me know that I am not great with change.

And as I look at my daughter, I know that her cleft is the reason she is my daughter. My husband and I specifically joined the Waiting Child program because we knew we could handle a few extra medical quirks along the way. Had Veronica not had this small difference, she would not have been our child. That makes it even a little harder to let go of this visible difference of what helped make us a family.

Let me reiterate and be perfectly clear: I am glad we are able to provide the surgery for her. I know I will fall in love with her changed face. But it will be bittersweet, too.

Am I the only one who has felt this way?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Benefits of Sleep Deprivation

I've always been a "glass is half full" kind of girl. Actually, I usually think that if you squint your eyes a little and tilt your head, the glass is usually 3/4 full.

But, lack of sleep has been testing this die-hard optimist. So I decided to challenge myself. I am going to think of the upside of sleep deprivation.

1. Bonding time with Veronica - It seems that every hard thing about adoption is portrayed as a great chance for bonding. I am still hoping I can have more daytime bonding and less nighttime bonding.

2. I get to see more sunrises and sunsets - in the same day.

3. Its easier to hear the storm sirens go off if Ben or I are already awake. That happened last night shortly after we finally got Veronica to sleep.

4. My pace on the treadmill has increased. - I get up earlier than the rest of the family so I can exercise in the basement before the busyness of the day takes all my time. When I hear a whimper on the baby monitor, I know it is just a short matter of time before there is full fledged screaming and I better pick up my pace before she fully wakes up.

5. Lots of time to think over tomorrow's to-do list, mentally redecorate my house, plan the weekly menu, plot my next novel...

6. I have gotten very good at walking through my house in the dark. Maybe it can be my superhero power.

7. My mom gives great pity. - I can always count on her to give me "you poor thing" sympathy and this definitely earns it.

8. I get the chance to appreciate and love my husband more when he volunteers to help Veronica in the middle of the night.

9. What is the point of having a baby monitor if you aren't going to use it? I feel like I am getting my money's worth out of this one.

10. Sometimes I need a good reminder that I don't have the strength to do everything on my own. At 4:00 AM, after a couple hours of comforting my child, I have no choice but to lean on God to get me through it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Its good to be back in Minnesota!

We traveled a lot of miles in the past couple of weeks. We had 7 flights, several train, shuttle, and car rides and walked a lot of miles. We were in numerous cities - Minneapolis/St. Paul, Denver, LA, Beijing, Nanning, Hepu, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Chicago and back home. Our luggage managed to get to even more cities than we did.

Our baggage (again) wasn't on our plane. This time neither checked luggage made it on the plane on the way home. Fortunately we have it now. But, really, United Airlines. We had two flights with you (albeit with connecting flights). We checked two bags with you two times. We only got one bag when and where we needed it. That's 25% competency.

But now, we are home. Finally and truly home.

When we arrived to our house we were greeted by grandparents and four irrepressibly giddy children. They were all shouting, "Veronica's Home! Can we see her? Yeah!". She was the rock star and I was the roadie hauling all her stuff. Eventually they acknowledged that Ben and I were back, too. Then went back to admiring their new sister.

It was absolutely joyful.

I wasn't sure how Veronica would react to having bigger kids around, but she is taking it all in stride. I have to remind the other kids that sometimes she needs space and that they don't have to follow her around, wave their hands two inches from her face, and repeat, "Hi Veronica!" for hours. Veronica seems to love everyone at the house except for the cats. She is pretty afraid of the cats.

The biggest hurdle we have to face right now is jet lag. I've had jet lag before, but never with an additional jet lagged child and four children who are most definitely NOT jet lagged. Getting enough sleep has been a struggle for both Ben and I and Veronica.

Our daughter had been sleeping quite well in China. But, now her schedule is all off and she has been waking up in the middle of the night and staying awake for hours. Of course she doesn't want to be awake alone, so I am exhausted by the time the other kids need to get up and Veronica has fallen back to sleep.

I had heard that the first couple of months home are similar sleep-wise to having a newborn. I would politely disagree. Yes, with my newborns, I had to get up several times a night. But I knew what to expect. I would change them, nurse them, and within 20-30 minutes be back in my bed.

With Veronica, I don't know how long each night time waking will last now. She might be back asleep in 10 minutes, or she could need me for more than two hours. I am finding the unpredictability is more difficult.

But in the bleary-eyed times when our whole family is awake, family life is nothing short of wonderful.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What I've Learned in China

When you travel, you expect to learn things about the area you're visiting. You take pictures of the scenery and get out of your comfort zone by trying new things. You convince yourself that you are learning about the world, but I really believe that synthesizing this information mainly teaches you more about yourself.

This trip has been a great chance for introspection. Here are some of the things that I have learned (in no particular order):

* I much prefer bathroom scales that measure in kilograms instead of pounds. I must try to find one for my house.

* I could happily eat dumplings every day of my life.

* A biological connection to a child is absolutely not necessary for a mother's love.

* Two weeks is entirely too long to be away from my family. I have much more respect for others who have to be away from home for such long lengths of time.

* My math skills are not great. I am sick of asking Ben to compute how much things cost in "real money".

* I can handle people staring at our family. I understand that a person doesn't see an un-repaired cleft lip/palate every day. And, some of the places we have been, we are clearly the only non-Chinese family, so an intercultural family is also unusual. What does get my Momma Bear instincts kicked up is the pointing at my sweet girl, the pointing at their own lip and the rapid conversations about my child that I cannot understand.

* God placed me in Minnesota and Wisconsin for a reason. He did not intend for me to survive constant high temperatures and humidity. Give me a snow shovel and a pair of boots and I will be happy.

* Everywhere you go, most people are kind and truly want to help.

* Shockingly, I can survive two weeks without Diet Dr. Pepper.

* I still don't understand why I needed to fill out half of the adoption paperwork I completed. Sigh. One of the great mysteries of the universe.

* I can eat octopus on a stick, but I don't think I will intentionally seek it out to eat it again.

* I need to stop complaining about all the laundry I usually have to do. It has been much more difficult to wash it in the room and hang it to dry when it takes several days to dry due to the humidity.

* I will never be able to buy shoes in China. Cute styles abound, but I don't think they have ever seen a size 11 foot here.

* Eating out is fun, but I miss cooking meals at home.

* A mother's love (or foster mother's love) is the same around the world. It may be expressed differently, but the love is the same.

* I miss seat belts and car seats.

* The daily afternoon nap I have been indulging in is a habit I wish would continue. I will be sad to see it go.

* I am a girl who needs some quiet and green space. After experiencing being in big cities non-stop for weeks, I am extra grateful for my yard, garden and quiet street.

* I am not good at communicating with crazy hand gestures and words that non-English speakers can't understand.

* Some restaurants are worth walking up five flights of stairs to get to.

* Traffic signs and laws are treated merely as suggestions in China. I have learned to follow the old people when they cross the street.

* I am incredibly blessed to live in a country that doesn't restrict my family size. I am so grateful for medical insurance to care for my children and family and friends who have been sch a great support and blessing.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I'm Ready To Go

I am ready to go home now. Even typing those words feels incredibly ungrateful. Here I have been given this terrific chance to spend a significant time in my daughter's birth country. I can soak up culture, eat food and experience so much to share with her as she gets older. I am in a place now that so many other adoptive parents are waiting with extreme anticipation to be. But, I am ready to go home.

Other than a few glitches early in the trip, everything has been going so well. I love to travel. So why do I want to leave this "working vacation"? I'll give you four reasons - Bridget, Riley, Connor and Sawyer.

I knew leaving them for such a long time would be difficult. Prior to this, the longest I had left any of my children was for five days. We are on Day #10. And I was right. It is tough.

Some families take all their kids on adoption trips and it works out great. But the shear quantity of my kids, their ages, their activity levels, the heat, and the great fear of diarrhea times five kids, made Ben and I decide to leave them at home. We thought it was also good to have some time just to bond with Veronica, similar to the time I had with the children in the hospital when they were born.

And, lets face it. The extra approximately $10K for air fair and few thousand for extra necessary hotel fees sealed the deal.

But, that doesn't make it easy.

I miss hearing Sawyer emphatically deny that he is not , in fact, Sawyer and instead insist that he is "Batman". I miss Connor reaching his arms up at bed time asking for a "big mommy hug". I miss Riley telling his jokes and explaining the punchline in great detail. I miss seeing what creative craft Bridget will come up with next.

The days that are busy with adoption related appointments and activities aren't as tough. I feel like we are making progress towards a goal. But today and tomorrow are days dedicated to waiting for paperwork to be completed by the government. I'm not so great at waiting.

I haven't yet met an adoptive parent who has admitted that the trip was just a little long and that they were more than ready to go home. I hear about how great a time everyone has in country. I feel slightly like an adoptive parent loser by admitting to watching the clock instead of wholeheartedly seizing every available opportunity. Of course there are still wonderful moments, but I feel like I could have more wonderful moments at home right now.

I know this is part of the process. Just like pregnancy and childbirth, you can't just skip over the parts of it that you are tired of. But, I am ready for the adopting process to be done. Just like I was always more than ready for the pregnancy, childbirth and recovery to be done.

Let me tell you what I am ready for instead.

I am ready for the family part. I am ready for the part where my whole family is on the same continent. Half the fun when you have more than one child is watching how they interact with each other. I want to see how Veronica mixes in with the bunch and how the family dynamics will change.

I am ready to get back to "regular" life instead of hotels, eating out and big cities. I want to be the one telling people what my kids are up to instead of people telling me about the cute things they did and said. And trust me, my kids are cute. I'll be sure to tell you all about them when I get home.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Traveler's Food Confession

So I finally succumbed. I became one of "those" travelers. While in a country with amazing food on ever corner and several places in-between, I caved to the lure of Subway.

On the few occasions that Ben and I get to leave the country, we make it a practice to eat local food as much as possible. "I'm not going to eat at McDonald's! I can do that any other time I want." We would say. But still I stood in that Subway line feeling very guilty and like the stereotypical American tourist.

To his credit, Ben did not judge me out loud, but I must note he did not partake in any of the foot-long that I ordered. Instead he wandered around for some more interesting street food, like we had been eating in Nanning.

I claimed that I would share with Veronica. I convinced myself it would be a fun new cultural experience for her. But, somehow, she ended up in the hotel play area with Ben while I scarfed that whole thing down by myself. And I washed it down with Diet Coke. Then, the glorious finale - smuggled in Skittles for dessert. I felt guilt, but oh so much joy, too. Bad, bad tourist.

Don't worry. I fed my little girl with some of the food we already had in our room.

I promise to happily get back on the Chinese Food wagon for the next meal.