Art Critique

Here's Yordi telling me about the chalk art she did the other day. I think you'll find her English much improved since this day back in June.

Time for Art

Thanks to you all for your comments regarding my oven. I have successfully baked a few things since that fateful day, and they have come out fine. Maybe there were kitchen imps making trouble.

The kids have been producing copious amounts of art. They went through a 500 sheet pack of construction paper before I realized it. Then we had to have the talk about putting more than one little picture on each sheet, AND using the back. I tell ya, there are things related to children that I just do not expect, and assume that if I know about it, they will too. Turns out you have to TRAIN them, and TELL them, and SHOW them. Sheesh.... it's like they're CHILDREN or something. :)

I photographed some of my favorites for you...

We have been laughing about how Yordanos keeps saying "When the snowman comes..." to refer to winter. To us, it sounds like a Stephen King novel. "Lock your doors... when the snowman comes!" I think Yordi's drawing should be the cover... I'm not sure why she drew it this way... clearly this is a magical snowman who can levitate his broom.

We've been enjoying the Ed Emberley books. Anyone have a bunch we can borrow for a few years? Habtamu especially has enjoyed them. Here are some of his faces from the Face Book.

I LOVE that Yordanos does not go in for the traditional color choices. She a. doesn't know who Superman is, and b. doesn't seem concerned about skin color, in general. I'M not gonna tell her what colors things "should" be, when HER vision is so much more exciting.

This last week the children both began to draw "real life" situations. Here is Habtamu in his bed. The white square is the rug. I can see we'll have to work on perspective, but I love that he thought about it and drew it.


My Oven Hates Me Today

I use my oven nearly every day now that I have "people" here who want to "eat" and not "scrounge," like Lee and I were used to doing. I have burned myself several times. I have also had many foods overflow into the bottom of the hot oven, turning the oven into a smoke house, making all the food taste like meat, even if they're cookies. I have used the super-heated cleaning option on my stove 2 times now... that's 2 more than in the last 3 years since we bought it.

Today, as part 2 of an experiment, I baked an apple pie I had made and frozen... just wanted to see what happened. Here's what happened... probably NOT because the pie was recently thawed: I think 1/2 of everything from inside the pie oozed out of the sides and onto the bottom of the oven. I kind of heard dripping and splattering, while Habtamu and I were doing his reading lesson. The timer went off and I opened the oven. The kitchen FILLED with smoke. I quickly closed all the doors to the rest of the house and opened all the kitchen windows and both doors.

I scraped out the burnt offering... I had to do it right then because I had bread that had been rising and was ready to be baked. I couldn't really wait. I had kicked the kids out of the kitchen... no sense in all of us smelling like camp fire. Finally got the crud out and the bread in... whew.

The pie... well, my crusts are usually very good. This one looked like a perfectly shaped dome and it was dark brown and hard like cardboard. There was at least 2 inches of air between the crust and the filling. I tried a piece and... huh... smoky. BBQ pie anyone? I saved the filling and froze it in a baggie and pitched the crusts.

The bread... argh... I should have followed my gut. It looked ready at 30 minutes... 20 minutes shy of the bake time. I let it finish, and was rewarded with a 3/8" crust, AND the bottom crust stayed in the pan. I guess the crust being that thick is no longer an issue.

The kids' take on this... "Oven NO GOOD today." Amen.

Lee's comment was "Good thing your kitchen karma was good yesterday when you made 120 burritos for the Food Co-op." Amen, amen.


Life on the threshold between Family Circus and Perfect Strangers

The other day I had my guitar out and Yordi held up some music and demanded that I play that song for her. Never mind the fact that she had never actually heard the song before... what was important was that she found this treasure in my guitar case and therefore it needed to be played that instant.

So I start strumming and singing.

"God Bless America..."

"Wait Wait Wait!!!" Habtamu came rushing in, elbowing his sister out of the way. "America read where?" he said scanning the page. "You tell me" I said, "sound it out," and pointed to the first word. "Guh-haw-dih... guhawdih... GOD! Buh-leh-ee-ssssss... No Daddy I don't know!" "You got it! Buh-less! Bl-ess! Bless! You know that word." I reinforced. "Like 'Bless You' after a sneeze." I think expending all that effort and not getting to 'America' drove him away to less strenuous activities. It was either that or Yordanos who was now stomp-marching around the room singing, "GOD *BLESS YOU* AMERICA!!!" at the top of her lungs.


The kids and I have been having pre-dinner wrestling matches when I get home from work. We don't have a whole lot of room or rules, but it usually involves someone getting pinned and then tickled. Repeat, repeat, repeat until either mom calls us for dinner or someone gets a knee to the face. Anyway, H and I were in the midst of some variation on this theme that basically involved him trying to sit on the couch and me trying to keep him off. After two tries he finally got his keester on a cushion. He jumped up with his arms triumphantly in the air, "I am Strong!" he proclaimed. "Yes," I said, "You are very strong." He did a short victory strut, turned back to me and announced, "I AM QUEEN!!!" this time giving me the gun show. "Yes," I said nodding, "You are queen. Go tell your mother."


Tonight, Yordanos, while totally not focusing on the boardgame that she picked out, discovered that she could attach and support small objects in her braids. While I was trying to find the quickest legitimate path to ending the game, I heard, "Daddy look!" to my right. I looked up to see my daughter with a pink fuzzy cat ball dangling in front of her left eye. "That's great honey," I said, "Pick a card now." Habtamu just shook his head and waited. "More," she said tugging on her other undecorated braid, "Cat toy again." "We don't have another pink cat toy like that," I sighed, "Only a blue one. It's your turn." "Where blue one?" she asked, her eyes looking everywhere in the room except at the game board. "I don't know," I grumbled, "Ask a cat." My comment was totally lost on Yordi, as the front half of her body was already buried under the couch. Habtamu smiled and giggled. "Ask cat" he repeated.

I think that's the first time he's understood that kind of joke in English. We kid around a lot but it usually involves faux-miscommunication and/or physical humor. Like if he says a meal is, "Excellent, very good," then I might lean over and stick my fork in his food and say, "No like? Ok ok Daddy will help," with a big grin on my face. That passes for funny at the dinner table. But this time I was tired and frustrated so there was no vocal cues, nor did I point to a cat to reinforce the concept.

He got it anyway and he thought it was funny.

I like him.

What's Cookin'?

A bag of produce showed up on our front steps today. Thanks, Lisa! Yordanos wanted to cut up some of the little tomatoes. I gave her a very sharp serrated knife and showed her how to use it carefully. (I've got plenty of other examples of poor parenting, and I'll share those later!) Because it involved cutlery, Habtamu was immediately interested, so they took turns chopping some of the little tomatoes. They cut the tomatoes so small, they may have been splitting atoms at the end there.

I continued to make dinner, not hearing any screams or seeing any blood spurting. Suddenly, Yordanos presented the finished product, and it looked like salsa... and there was a lot of something green in it. I've showed the kids several times the things in the garden that they can eat: mint, rhubarb, oregano, chives, and sage. They've pointed them out to me, so I figured it was one of those. I tried a little bit of leaf and it didn't taste like any of those. (My only excuse for tasting it is that I was not in my right mind and harried from making dinner.) I asked her to show me which plant she used. She went directly to the rhubarb, and showed me the leaf she'd ripped off. Yes, the LEAF. I said, "Oh, good. That's poison." Then I had to interrogate the children to make sure THEY hadn't eaten any of it. I don't know how much it takes to make one sick... I'm assuming quite a lot. They hadn't eaten any and I feel fine.

Any day you don't have to call Poison Control is a good day.


Cat People

We have 3 cats, so we find this hilarious. This is not our cat, but it could be based on behavior. Thought you'd like a laugh... check here.

Law Enforcement-Free Sunday

Last week was the 1st week of regular Sunday School. I think Lee covered the SS kick-off week here. Anyway, last week, Habtamu didn't want to go. Huh. No kidding. We pushed him into the room with the other kids and told him to stay in there. We quickly got out of sight and went on to coffee hour. He sat on the floor by the garbage can until the very end of class, when he joined the prayer circle. He came out sullen and angry, but LESS sullen and angry than the week before.

I know, I know, we should attend adult Sunday School while the kids are in SS... but, frankly, we have not got the mental capacity right now. And it's been cool to meet other parents who just want to drink coffee and chat. We've had good conversations about kids and life and God, so it seems like that's where we need to be right now. I'm trying not to be defensive about our choice, because it feels like a big SHOULD to go to a class. And yet, and yet, I have so many SHOULDS on me right now, I REALLY just want to drink coffee and talk to adults! Our church has recognized this need this year and has designated a class room for this purpose. I think it was in response to us (and 2 other couples) who used to go to Starbuck's during SS every week last year. (We had 2 jobs then, and didn't have kids and could afford a million dollars for coffee.)

Anyway, THIS Sunday, we dropped Habtamu off in SS. (Yordanos was already in there, having gone with a friend ahead of us. Right there you can see the difference in personalities.) We left right away for yummy coffee. When we went to pick him up, he was sitting at the table! With other kids! Doing a craft! Apparently, he'd sat CLOSER to the table during class this time and joined them in prayer and for the craft. He was giddy with pride at sitting closer this week, and we praised him up and down for it. He left church HAPPY for the 1st time and wanted to go back to church tomorrow. We told him "there's church on Wednesday if you want to go." We weren't going to push TGIW and overload Habtamu, but he's very excited about going back. Awesome.

We all went home and I made lunch... then I had to go sing with a group from church at a new Methodist church that just got built. We stayed for the very long service and dedication after we sang. I was just glad to not have any demands placed on me for a couple of hours.

We all met up at Pizza Hut, which the kids loved. And they got to ride home in the Bruce & Dan Show bus, with Bruce driving. Since Lee and I had driven separately, neither of us could ride with them. We were explaining this to them, and Habtamu took my arm and gently pushed me off the bus saying "Ok, ok. Go." So, um, yeah, I guess they're adjusting. :)

ALSO, today was the first Sunday that Yordanos was NOT angry at me at church. I got smiles AND affection. I don't know what it was about church that made her mad at me, but I'd get the cold shoulder as soon as we pulled in the parking lot, with lots of glares and shrugs. She would make a point to not sit close enough to me for me to touch her, putting her Bible and crayons pointedly in between us. Today I tickled her neck and she giggled and smiled at me. Whoa. I don't know what happened, but I'm glad for whatever it was. Although, actually, she's been way more affectionate toward me in general. I ALWAYS get hugs and kisses at bedtime now (it used to be hit or miss.) And during the day, she doesn't rebuff me like she used to and will even initiate physical contact.

All in all, I'd have to say that things are coming along nicely. We're settling in as family instead of strangers. We have a deeper level of trust built. I hope I can assume that it will continue to improve... I mean, heck... we still don't know what we're doing as parents... not really... but we're getting better at those moments of clarity... or maybe just better at faking it.

It was a very good day. I guess we won't have much to write about from now on, since things are going so well. Ha ha. Just kidding. :)


Weather or Not

We had some cold days in September, and it rained for 3 days straight. After the rains, it got hot and muggy again. Yordanos started asking if we could go swimming, since the cold was finished. Um. She's made several other comments to the effect that it's warm again and she expects it to go on. Um.

We've tried to explain that It Will Get Colder and It Will Stay Cold for a Very Long Time until you are So Sick of It that You'll Start Wearing a Spring Jacket on March 22 By Golly even if it's Twenty Friggin' Degrees Out.

On the other hand, she seems to expect snow. She says "When the snowman comes" to refer to Winter. In short, there is no way they have any concept about what Winter will be like.

I'll be getting out my happy light soon. The loss of light really does me in. I think it'll be better this year since I'll be home and won't have to get up at stupid o'clock.



So about an hour after bedtime last night, I heard crying from upstairs. I get up there and see 2 sets of eyes open. The kids' rooms are across from each other and with their doors open, they can look at each other. Also, I can stand in the hall and see into both rooms. I ask Habtamu what was going on, and his mouth mumbled something, but his eyes were saying "I'm sleeping." I say "Go back to sleep." and I think he was out before I finished my sentence.

Yordanos was huddled up under her covers, sweating and crying. I asked what was wrong. She said, "Scaried." I asked "What are you scared of?" (as if I didn't know, Mr. "I'll just show a video of cheetahs mauling gazelles right before bed.") Her big brown eyes filled with tears and she sobbed, "Tigers!"

I told her to close her eyes, as there are no tigers here. I rubbed her forehead and wiped the sweat from her brow. She fell asleep quickly, and I went back downstairs.

I believe Lee will have to be in charge of damage control tonight, because she's afraid (scaried) to go upstairs during the day now... because of tigers.

Donut Recipe (that I would never intentionally keep from anyone)

Vegetable Oil (enough for 2-3 inches in whatever pan you're using.)

3 1/3 c. flour
1 c. sugar
3 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
2 T shortening
2 eggs
3/4 c. milk

Heat 2-3 inches oil to 375 F
Mix 1 1/2 c. flour (out of the 3 1/3 c.) and everything else on low speed for 30 seconds, med. speed for 2 min. (I use my wooden spoon to mix.) Stir in rest of flour, roll to 3/8" (on a well-floured board, but shake extra flour off before putting them in oil). Cut, slide into oil. Turn when they rise to the surface. Fry 1 - 1 1/2 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Of COURSE you can sprinkle with powdered sugar or roll them in cinnamon/sugar, but they are quite yummy alone and especially right out of the oil and warm. Mmmmmm....

Once they're cooled, 10 seconds in the microwave restores their former glory.

Please make them today and eat the whole batch, so that I'm not the only one with a muffin top. :)


The Practical Alphabet

Habti is still fascinated by driving. He's figured out the 'P,' the 'D,' and the 'R' that are next to the big stick, but today when we were coming home from the park he noticed that I never use the 'N.' "Uhh... N is for neutral. Not forward, not back," I stammered. "Stop?" he asked. "No... um... If you need to push the car, then N." Fortunately that clicked. "I understand," he said, "Daddy home N, Habtamu push." I wasn't going to argue, I'm for anything that productively uses his energy. So we got home and a stopped the car at the far end of the driveway. He jumped out, poked his head back in to make sure I had left it in neutral, and pushed the car the full length of the house all the way to the garage. He couldn't have been more proud of himself. When we got in the house I stopped him from blurting out his accomplishment and convinced him to draw a picture of the feat for Mommy instead. So now we have this great picture of a little person behind a car with the caption "HABTAMU PUSH MOMMY CAR." I helped him with 'push.' Oh, and 'car' would have been 'cat' (and far more amusing) if I hadn't intervened. So the next time you see an African boy pushing a white male in a Saturn, just wave. He's doing his part to save gas.

Not a Tiger.

So later in the evening, we were going through this Cat-themed Alphabet book and no sooner had I said "J is for Jaguar," Yordanos excitedly pointed to the page and said, "TIGER!" I admit it... I rolled my eyes. "J is for JAAAGUAAAAR" I said trying to be deliberate, not sarcastic. "Tiger?" she said, again pointing to the picture. "Jaguar. No stripes. No tiger honey," I sighed. "Tiger?" she said smiling, sensing my frustration. "K is for KITTEN," I said. And all was fine until we got to S is for Stretch which had a very distinct large cat silhouetted behind the text. "Tiger!" she pointed proudly. "Gah! Cheetah! CHEEETAAAH! It doesn't even have stripes! No Tiger!" I said and I could feel my eye twitch. "No Tiger?" She said as if I'm just making this stuff up. Then she started thumbing through the book for the J page again and I knew where this conversation was going. "When the book is finished, I'll show you a tiger," I said and pointed at the computer. That's when I completely lost the attention of both children.

So just to make a lesson out of it, I fired up old google images, typed in L-I-O-N, and then asked them what animal it was. "TIGER!" Yordi shouted, but Habti was more hesitant. "Lion?" he said sheepishly, as if he hasn't watched Lion King 8 flippin times last week. So we talked about the mane, and the color, and how lions don't have spots or stripes. Then we went to nationalgeographic.com, dialed up some tiger pictures, and talked about them the same way. We looked at bobcats and mountain lions then we ended the evening watching cheetah videos on youtube and quizzing on the other animal pictures. I was satisfied, but Chris thought that maybe images of big cats mauling gazelle wasn't the best bedtime material. Pfft... whatever.

But seriously, do you ever remember not knowing the difference between lions and tigers? It was really hard to show my children lion pictures without being condescending. I felt like I was showing corn to farmers.


Time to make the Donuts.

I wouldn't call myself the QUEEN of baked goods... I think my friend Katherine still holds that title... but I made donuts yesterday and today.

I'd like to think that the donut recipe I have was passed down for generations. I know at least it was passed from my mother to me. Where did you get that recipe, Mom? These aren't Krispy Kremes (which are too sweet for me - I know, blasphemy), but they are a nice sweet, cinnamon-y/nutmeg-y fall treat. Fried in oil. Is that why I feel greasy?

I had to make donuts today too, since I spent $6 for the veg oil, and I didn't want it to go to waste by only making one batch. Any idea how I can keep the oil so that it won't go bad?

I have to say that baking is simultaneously saving and increasing my heiny. I remember thinking that it was a waste of time for my Mom to have baked all our bread. Sorry! I was totally wrong about that... as I begin to understand the healing power of freshly baked goods. I've branched out into trying spelt flour, re-trying sour dough (I even made bagels - which you boil before baking. Huh.), and making donuts again. (I have made them before - maybe 2 times in 10 years of marriage.)

The kids helped me make the donuts today. I was leery of letting them BOTH help, but I laid down the law about "You Must Do Exactly What Mommy Says Or You Can't Help Anymore." (Yes, I spoke with the capital letters!) They did really well, but around the point of using the donut cutter, I saw that we'd have to pick up the pace to be finished in this millenia. I rolled out a bit a dough for each of them, then I did the rest. Below, by the way, is yesterday's haul. I made twice that much today.

We went to the apple orchard today. I'm a Loser for forgetting the camera. I had even meant to bring the GOOD camera because apples are so pretty, and the sky was bright blue. Dang it. I think we'll go back next week anyway, when the Honey Crisps come out. Today we picked Jona-Macs and Galas. Both delicious in their own way. There will be pie in the hiz-ouse tomorrow.... oh yes, THERE WILL BE PIE.

So now you know where to come for snacks. I'll even make coffee. We won't be able to actually TALK, of course, with the kids around, and my mind scattered to the four winds, but the food will be good. :)


Rules of Engagement: The Way of the Playground

Sometime over the summer, during one of our playground outings the kids spotted some older kids playing a game where one person had to touch the other people. My children were absolutely fascinated. They got the gist of the game, but these kids were playing a variation where the toucher had to fumble around with his eyes closed. Nowadays, H has decided that "No eyes" is his favorite playground game and Daddy has been trying to get him to call it TAG ever since.

The problem is, H hasn't exactly developed a "healthy spirit of competition" yet and he will generally only enter an engagement with the deck profoundly stacked in his favor. His sister bears the heaviest burden in this department as she watches all her good ideas morph into his good ideas. He's getting better about sharing attention with her, but things aren't exactly equitable yet. (As I've said before... you'd think they were children or something.)

Anyway, it's been so long since I've played tag, I forgot that there is a whole unwritten code of conduct to it. That is, until all those rules were systematically violated. But the problem is, when you're learning a new game and you'll only play with Daddy and your sister, and you don't like losing, then it's Daddy's job to take you to school.

For instance...

If you get tagged, you are it. It's the very foundation of the game and the one non-negotiable rule. So don't go getting tagged, laugh, run to the far end of the playground and look at me expectantly. Habti did that and I just pointed and said, "Um, YOU are IT." He shouted back, "YOU! YOU AGAIN!" in clear violation of the most basic of rules. He can get away with that crap when he plays with his sister, but Daddy ain't gonna be your tag monkey. And no other child (except his sister) is going to accept that either, so he might as well learn that lesson now. He spent quite a bit of time at the top of the slide wondering why I wasn't giving chase, but he eventually figured out that playing tag by yourself stinks, and would casually meander down, push both hands into his unsuspecting sister, and run back up.

If you are not it, run and/or hide. You will not be given any leniency in this department. You can assume that you will consistently become 'it' if you stand frozen and scream when you see Daddy charging full-speed toward you. You will also be 'it' if you DON'T see Daddy coming. Being genuinely surprised by the tagger does in no way negate the fact that you are now 'it.'

To tagback or not to tagback? That is the question. H didn't have a name for it, but he certainly exploited the lack of predetermined tagback rules. Tagbacks are great when you can outmaneuver your younger sister, but downright frustrating against Daddy who has longer arms. You can't have it both ways. H finally had an epiphany after getting tagged-back about 85 times in a row (I didn't start it btw...) He glared at me and said, "Stop! Wait! Count 10!" I responded, "You never counted to 10 for me." Hmm... funny how that never occurred to him.

If you are tagged, you are still it. Again, spare us all the drama. Nobody wants to hear about how you weren't ready, or how you are suddenly parched, or how you didn't get enough of a headstart. Yell. Fake an injury. Produce tears. Pout. Shake your fist at the injustice. Demand a redo. Call a retroactive time-out. Those of us who made it past the 4th grade have heard all the excuses already. Whatever, nobody cares. You are still it.

Take it like a little girl, son. After all, it is the playground.


Don't miss the excitement coming Sunday Sunday Sunday!

Well, in what is becoming a Gardner tradition, last Sunday was yet another emotionally charged day. The kids woke up happy which probably should have been the first indicator that things were only going to go down from there. We got to church and H was content for about 12 minutes before getting really squirrley. You know the routine... look over the 'placate-your-child-for-8-seconds' activity sheet, pour out crayons into the pew, rustle sheet, put all but one crayon back into plastic baggie, draw 2 circles on the sheet, get bored, put last crayon in bag and grab sister's pencil, scoot to the other side of Mommy away from sister, break pencil tip, sigh heavily, give broken pencil back to sister, open hymnal, close hymnal, put hymnal down, pick it up again only to realize why it was put down in the first place, fold activity sheet, crumple it into a ball, unfold and flatten when you remember it's the only toy you've got for the next hour and start the whole process over.

But enough about me... ;-)

Anyway, sometime mid-service H started picking fights. You may be asking yourself exactly how would a child, being lulled by the droning of someone speaking in a foreign language for 25 minutes, manage to get riled up. The quickest way is to ask questions where you know the answer is going to be "No." Such as, "Band aid, yes?" because, like where is Daddy going to get one of those? Or my personal favorite, "Today Game House, yes?" Dude, don't go trolling for wii time in the middle of church, that's just bad manners. And if Daddy's evil eye isn't enough to really set you off, just shimmy over to Mommy and ask exactly the same questions. Repeat until Daddy gives you what you want, which is to be anywhere other than here. Except today, Mommy and Daddy didn't play. The only one getting (visibly) frustrated was him. Church finally ended and H bolted out of the pew to the donut cart. Except someone apparently beat him to The One he wanted because he actually came back empty handed. When it rains, it pours, right? And while mommy and daddy were rudely talking to some other big people, he says to me, "Daddy, Car." I just looked at him and said, "No, no car, Childrens church," and you would have thought I had told him to kiss his sister. "No... car?" was all he could muster.

So I should probably say that this was the big Sunday school kick off week. Our church had games, crafts, food, and other activities all laid out Carnival style. It was really cool and we weren't going to just leave. Over the summer, both kids did well at Vacation Bible School, so one way or the other, our kids were going to experience this too. I slapped a nametag on Yordanos and pointed her in the general direction of other kids her age. Meanwhile her brother pouted and said, "No thank you" 400 times in 2 minutes. Chris made him go in the room where all the other kids were having fun. At one point he had shuffled out the door and I pointed back in and said, "Stay in the room." I didn't look up or make eye contact. No escalation, no reward. He did slink back inside. Otherwise Chris did most of the herding and was really getting frustrated, but there wasn't anything I could do. He feeds off of me. We know that, and so we have to deal with these situations by taking me out of the equasion. So he watched other kids play with slime and shoot baskets and eat snacks, for nearly an hour with the occasional extended "how could you possibly do this to me please see how angry I am" glare toward his parents.

Sunday school ended and I got a very rewarding snear from my daughter when she came out escorted by her teacher. In English it translates to, "Thanks for forgetting to pick me up when all the other parents came in to get their children, jackass. What is this, your first week?"

H went into buzzard mode. That's where he circles us from about 10 to 20 yards away, but always makes sure we know he's hovering with his "I'm ready to feast on your carcass" look. There's this kind of tense moment for about 30 seconds where the rest of us get in the car and wait for the vulture to swoop in. But he always does, and he puts on his seatbelt so we can all go home.

We pulled into the driveway and I went to open the door for him. We've got the safety locks on so if I don't open it from the outside, he has to crawl through the front. I didn't look down, I just grabbed the handle and met with resistance so I let go and the rest of us went inside. 20 minutes later he came in and stood in the kitchen snuffling back tears. Then he went up to his room and just let them go. I went on distract-the-other-child duty and kinda left it to Chris to decide when to intervene.

I'm ok with letting my children cry things out. I know some people have a really hard time listening to their children cry, but now that I can generally tell the difference between the real cry, the fake cry, and the pain cry it doesn't phase me. What did get to me though, was hearing my son wail, "PLEASE JESUS!!! PLEEEEEASE!!!!" over and over from his bedroom.

How do you respond to that? You don't just barge in and say, "Don't worry son, I'M here," when your child is calling for Jesus. I've heard him cry out for mommy, daddy, a glass of water, and the toilet, but never Jesus. Yordi is much more apt to drop the J-word, which is why Chevy's are also known as Jesus cars around here, due to the observation that they have all have a cross on the front. And who taught him that anyway? Not his Super Christian father. I don't think to say stuff like, "Talk to Jesus, honey" when my child is melting down. How could such an abstract religious concept possibly work through all the language and cultural barriers?

And yet there it was. No death glares. No restraining. No dragging upstairs. No screaming and drooling. No suppression. No intervention from local law enforcement.

Just "Please Jesus Please. Please Jesus Please," echoing through our house.

Chris eventually went upstairs and talked to him. She uses some great phrase like, "Do you know why you are upset?" The kids understand it and don't get flustered like they do when you stare at them and ask, "What's wrong?" He pointed to the picture of his birth parents and said his Ethiopia mommy's name. Nobody is going to take away his right to get upset about that, even if it probably wasn't the original cause. It wasn't too long after that that he came down and sat on my lap for about 5 minutes. Then it was lunchtime and all was forgiven and forgotten.

This marks the first time H used his bedroom for processing his emotions. And I didn't have to sit on him. It was a big day in the Gardner house, and as the kids like to say, "Thank you Jesus."


Labor Day Extravaganza pt II

So meanwhile, back on Labor Day weekend... (ok, so I'm just a little back logged)

We were all busy Monday cleaning house. Chris scrubbed down the bathrooms. Yordi swept while I cleaned out the garage. And Habtamu helped by hand inspecting everything I had thoughtlessly thrown in the garbage, carefully analyzing its intended function and whether it really belonged in the trash in the first place, deciding that pretty much everything was indeed salvageable, and then showing me what an uncreative and wasteful American I truly am.

H does have a fascination with junk, but Chris and I are of the "saving things you don't need doesn't save you money" mentality. To me garbage picking is a really annoying habit, but I know many folks who would love to have another pair of eyes helping them spot out forsaken treasures. So I try to temper his urges without snuffing out his natural MacGyver tendancies. The reality is that I can sometimes get out a "look don't touch!" before he starts digging. He hasn't learned any hard lessons about broken glass around garbage cans yet, but he did get his hand on the lid of a grease dumpster once before I could stop him. He looked back at me wondering what the big deal was and then he inhaled. But anyway, in this case, I couldn't really deny him the pleasure of sifting through our garage junk. As long as none of it ended up back in the garage, I didn't really care.

Well, I didn't think I cared. I think the first things he spotted were the 4 speakers I had replaced out of Chris's car. Three of them were blown, but really, they were shiny and magnetic and looked fine... who could resist? He asked if he could keep them in his room. I thought twice about it and came up with "No" both times. Turns out that was a good call because he had just as much fun smashing them with a hammer on the concrete steps. Then he found an extension cord which I told him specifically not to touch because it had been severed. Not knowing what 'severed' meant, but understanding 'no touch' just fine, he dove for the small water pump next to it, which we pulled out the fountain last year. Again, like the speakers, this could be a really cool science project if daddy wasn't so busy cleaning the flippin' garage. He walked off happy with his new treasure and I could see his gears churning trying to figure out exactly what it was supposed to do versus what he was actually going to do with it.

If you've ever been a parent, you know that when your kids go quiet you need to be on your guard. Well, my kids stayed noisey and even invited me over to see what they had been up to. Like I'm going to give any attention to that behavior, right? Stinkers. Besides, I had a garage to clean and was trying to stay on task. When I finally went in the backyard to see what was going on, my son beamed up at me as he had completely disassembled the pump with a screwdriver and was fingering the gears on the inside. That was fine. Well... it was fine until I realized that the back step was now covered in oil AND there were oily hand prints on the gate door AND oily footprints all over the deck to match. (Anybody out there know how to get oil stains out of wood? Anyone?) But the kicker was that he had gone back and plugged it in with the frayed extension cord. Only by the grace of God did we not have another 110 volt lesson that day. He was so proud and had worked so hard to get all the screws out, and now I had to go put on my game face and scold him for garbage picking and USING the forbidden extension cord and leaving permanent footprints on the deck. I showed him the tear in the cord and he promptly junked it, but he really didn't understand what was so serious about the "water" on the deck.

I couldn't explain it. I didn't really understand what a permanent stain meant until I became a homeowner. How could I expect a 10 year old to get it? And really, I still only really grasp it under specific contexts. I get really irritated when I notice new places on my car where the paint has chipped off, but could not care less about bent silverware, or whatever minutia weirds out my wife at the moment.

On a lighter note, H did later use his powers for good. I'd love to take credit for his stage presence and charisma, but at this point he hadn't seen me perform outside the dining room.

So I present to you... in his debut, and extremely exclusive, performance... H-Bomb G!

And the crowd goes wild! Note that he is singing into a hose handle, and has the LeapFrog radio propped on top of the raccoon cage which is connected to a spiral hose and a speaker cover. As far as I know, the partial balloon animal is completely decorative.

ABC to your MUTHA!

Sorry! I don't want to Risk the Aggravation.

I'm cracking myself up, here.

In short, I hate board games. Maybe I had too many bad experiences with these particular games, but I just about broke out in hives when someone gave us Sorry! and Aggravation. Risk would have completed the tri-fecta.

I know that winning is not important. Ha ha, but it stinks to lose. If winning is not important, then why are all the games about it? How do I show my kids that ha ha, isn't this game fun even when all your pieces just got sent to start... again.

Cards and dominoes are fine even if I lose. Maybe I think the board games are skill based and cards are more chance? I don't know what the difference is. Or maybe I just have fond memories of playing cards up at my Grandparents' cottage. While eating bags full of candy.

Speaking of candy... my sock drawer has renewed it's candy corn subscription... all is well. :)



Have we mentioned lately how awesome you all are? Your comments are inspiring, and it helps us to know that we're not in it alone.

Grace and peace to you, my friends! And thanks! :)

I am...

Lee told you about the gratuitous use of "I am..." around here.

The other day, Habtamu came out of the bathroom and proudly announced "I am poop."

Matter of Time

3 times with training wheels and then this:

This is Yordi's 90th time doing this. She did 60 yesterday, and 42 more today.


Usually Dough, but Sometimes Doh!

The kids can tell you the foods I've made that have flopped... they are, in order:

1. garbage cookies
2. garbage injera
3. garbage bread

Let's start with #1. I bought teff flour awhile ago, thinking that I'd make injera at home. Injera has about 57 steps to it and takes about 3 days to make. My 1st attempt was TERRIBLE. And not only that, but the teff flour is dark brown, and every injera I've seen (even in Ethiopia) has not been that dark. So anyway, I had this teff flour and there was a recipe on the back for peanut butter teff cookies. That sounds good, doesn't it? Ugh. They were dark brown and tasted like cardboard, with a slight peanut butter aftertaste.

#2 was my ill-conceived plan to make sour dough starter and add teff to make it sour enough. Darn the recipes and full speed ahead with nasty injera. It looked right, but tasted wrong, wrong, wrong.

#3 was sour dough "pretzels." The salt was good. I think I killed the yeast or something, because it did not rise properly, but I went ahead and fooled myself and baked it anyway. Hockey pucks, anyone?

Even though I've made lunch and dinner for 100 days, every time a baked good comes out yummy, the children express suprise and say something like "no garbage cookie." I did manage to make a sour dough bread the kids call "Ethiopia bread," so that went fast.

I've been making lots of sour dough things lately. I feel kind of pressured now that I've got the starter started.



I've been keeping a bag of candy corn in my sock drawer. I finished it tonight, but I can't promise that it'll be the last bag of something I keep in there. :)

What are the things YOU hide from your children?


Children... in the Wild!

Running on Empty

Remember those sappy Johnson & Johnson commercials: "A baby changes everything." The same could be said, and more so, to having older children suddenly after 10 years of marriage. If you imagine it's hard "jumping in to child rearing in the middle," you'd be right.

I was telling Lee last night, that by around lunch time, I am emotionally spent. I am in a battle all day, mostly with myself. Reining in anger, being just a little more patient, blocking out near constant chatter, making appropriate responses to continual questions. In short, trying to be a good example for my children... trying to show them how Jesus would act in all situations. I am just a human woman, however, and I fall short each and every day. My prayers consist of "please help me like my children today" and "please help me keep my tongue quiet, and let my anger dissipate quickly" and sometimes "please Jesus, please." So, yeah, it's hard.

That being said... there are so many good things here too. I mostly DO like the children, and more than that, I have found a well of love so deep and profound, that I still can only guess at its depth and breadth and height. I would lay my life down for either of them right now. I can only approximate the love that God has for us, his children. No, not even approximate, I can only understand the human part of it.

So, everyday I get a little more grown up. Everyday I gain new patience. Everyday I learn that my anger if let fly, does more harm than good. Everyday I let irritants go. Everyday I learn and grow and become more like Jesus. That's the good stuff.

I'm pretty sure that those of you with children are struggling with the same issues... trying to "civilize" small people who keep ACTING LIKE CHILDREN. And trying to "civilize" the beast within, that comes out ferociously when poked and prodded by little people with seemingly no logic.

I went away this morning by myself for several hours, and when I got back, Lee said he understood now what I was talking about last night. He was emotionally spent by 11 a.m. I said "I told you it was hard." He said "I never doubted it was, but it makes me want to give you breaks any time I can." Well, did I marry the right guy, or what? I laughed, and said "Good! I'm glad it didn't make you want to say 'This is too hard, I'll let Chris do it.' "


Food for Thought

When we picked up the children, we hadn't considered food and what they'd like and not like. At the transition center we knew they ate lots of pasta and rice dishes, so we thought we were safe. Not so! We ordered room service a lot in Addis Ababa, because the thought of taking the children we'd known for 48 hours to an all-you-can-eat buffet made us break out in hives. H always ordered ZilZil Tibs, and Y always ordered Doro Wat (chicken stew). After the 1st night, I started ordering extra injera, and they ate like linebackers.

We saved a couple of rolls of injera hoping we could get them on the plane. We did, and the kids ate those and a couple of rolls, and that's it. I think we mentioned before that plane food confounded them. Every little bit of food and utensil is packaged... even the salt and pepper are packaged within the napkin/spork package. Everything had to be opened (even the coffee creamer) and rigorously inspected, sniffed, and finally rejected. My advice to travelers with new children... take every thing off their tray, unwrap ONE thing you think they'd actually eat, and start with that. And bring some injera in your bag from the hotel. (They serve children 1st on Ethiopian Airlines, so you'll have room to move the tray around... especially if you're in row 977 like we were and never actually had a choice of meals... you'll get the fish if you sit in back... up front gets chicken and beef... but I'm not bitter.)

Back in the States, they wouldn't eat pasta at first. They claimed they never ate spaghetti at the Transition Center. (We got the disposable cameras we'd sent them processed, and, hmmm, what's every one eating at the T.C.? Is that a huge plate of spaghetti?)

Anyway, through trial, error, and bribery, we discovered some foods that they will eat every time. Maybe this will be useful to those folks looking to bring home older kids.

Here are some foods that your newly adopted older Ethiopian child may like... (your mileage may vary.)

1. Ground beef with taco seasoning. (Served with 2.)
2. Sour dough bread or pancakes. (I made sour dough bread last night and they both said "Yum. Ethiopian bread".)
3. Pasta with marinara. (Don't bother with the Mac&Cheese... my kids just put red sauce on anyway, and it's really disgusting.)
4. Corn on the cob. My kids had had it in Ethiopia.
5. Carrots. Raw. Not the baby carrots, but the big "real" carrots.
6. Potatoes. (Mine liked it with red sauce - of COURSE- but have branched out to like ground beef and cheese on them.)
7. Meat of any kind, IF you use the right terminology. I told you about the hot dog fiasco. ("Dog?!") I don't think I mentioned that one time I cut up the hot dogs and fried them with butter and onions and they loved it... called it Tibs. The lesson: call all meat Tibs. Except chicken, which you should call Doro. :)
8. Jello (after the 1st couple of weeks.) or chocolate pudding.
9. French toast.
10. Tea with honey.
11. Hard boiled eggs (they used to eat about 3 a day... stinky! Now it's rarely.)
12. Bananas (I had to limit them at first, now they'll eat 1 a day maybe.)
13. Raisins
14. Pizza... boy howdy do they love pizza. They have branched out into pepperoni and sausage now, but at first just cheese was enough.

3 months in and they pretty much eat anything. Especially H... growing boy, and all that. They love Mexican food: tacos, burritos, dang quesidillas. They still love pasta, but I can't stand the smell of red sauce anymore, so I only make that once or twice a week. We had pizza tonight, homemade with a yummy garlic crust. Most fruits they'll eat. Veggies, we're still restricted to corn (bocolo) and carrots and peas. The starchy ones. Oh wait, they like tomatoes too. Nothing green unfortunately. We'll keep working on that. Maybe if we grow our own next year.

Anyway, hope this helps a bit if you're soon to be travelling when the courts open again in Ethiopia. :)


I am English... GOOD NIGHT!

Reading Chris's post about Taking out the Garbage reminded me about the latest round of English outbursts around our house. H, more than Y, is starting to experiment with "I am," and "You are." It's really interesting and exciting to hear him utilize those after three months of speaking of everyone in third person, even if some of the attempts miss the mark. My personal favorite came the other day when we were preparing to head out somewhere and he clearly stated, "I AM READY!" while heading toward the door. I swelled with parental pride knowing that surely in the next couple days he would be spouting the likes of Shakespeare. He then passed his sister in the bathroom and shouted, "YOU ARE TOILET!" Honestly I can't remember if I corrected him or if I was laughing too hard to get anything out.

Yordi continues to enjoy replacing words. Not that I'm counting my unhatched chickens or anything, but we're borrowing a children's guitar and I've shown them a couple chords. So I've taught the kids that when they are finished they are to say, "Thank you Belvidere! GOOD NIGHT!" and then put the guitar away. Needless to say, this in itself is absolutely hilarious. Between the heavy, and generally chordless strumming and the broken English, it's comedy gold. (I know you're jealous, don't you judge me...) But Y likes to take it a step further and replace "good night" with whatever noun flies through her head at the moment. So the other day she was coloring and sing-songing to herself, "Tankis you Belbideer, CHAIR! Tankis you Bildadeer, SIBBIE! (that's the cat) Tankis you Delbadeer, WASHCLOTH!"

I don't know when she learned 'washcloth' but it was definitely impressive, and priceless.

Labor Day '08 - Best Birthday Ever

For those of you not around these here parts, we had an absolutely gorgeous weekend for Labor Day. I mean, it was so nice I even cleaned my garage, and that's saying a lot, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Friday night we dropped the kids off at Grandma and Grandpa's which meant Chris and I could go out together for my birthday. I met some friends for Open Mike night at our local cafe, and then we all trotted off to karaoke where we had too much fun and stayed up way too late... BUT since the kids were occupodo, we got to sleep in, which pretty much made it the best birthday ever.

Saturday we met my folks and the kids at my sister's house for brownies, cheddar brats, and ice cream cake. As a bonus my cousin Mike and his wife showed up which was almost as cool as getting to play with Uncle Paul's Wii. (What? Was it something I said?) Anyway, yes, the kids fought over it like thoroughbred Americans. Fortunately it did not end in a Wii remote clubbing, which pretty much made it the best birthday ever.

They also got one last dunk at the pool before the end of the swimming season. Habti learned one last important lesson about pool safety:
Long story short, he imitated the pictograph perfectly, but did not; however, pay much attention to the English around it. He came up fast, crying, and holding the top of his head, all of which are good indicators that he was going to survive. Amazingly, the sign made more sense to him now than it did when I showed it to him before he conked his head. Maybe he'll pick up calculus the next time he bangs his noggin. :-)

Anyway, we went all summer without swimming in a community pool, (other than one trip to the water park) so I didn't really think about how loose we were with the poolside discipline. I figured we were doing good just getting them to jump in this pool without a run up. Watch the movie for variations on that theme before the 'feet first' rule. Apologies in advance for the craptacular-camera-in-the-bright-sun quality...

Yordi did about 35 of these 'dives' but I'm hoping she got them out of her system and won't take it out on our beds later. Surprisingly enough, the kids slept in the car on the way home and went straight to bed without books, kisses, oral hygiene, or any kind of hassle which pretty much made it the best birthday ever.

And the weekend was only half over... stay tuned for more!

Taking out the Garbage

For the past 3 months, we've been trying to figure out how to get the kids to stop calling themselves "Garbage." When something goes wrong or someone gets slightly more praise than the other, they resort to "Habtamu excellent? Yordanos garbage?" Saying "No, Yordanos excellent!" only makes things worse.

Today I remembered my Sunday School lessons. Yordi said "Yordanos garbage?" I said "God garbage? God doesn't make garbage, so YOU are not garbage."

Later today, I heard the kids correcting each other "Noooo... God no garbage, you no garbage."

Boo Yah!

Latebreaking A to Latebreaking Q

Sean asks:
Do they understand things like Thanksgiving and/or Christmas???
Forget about THOSE holidays... how the heck do we explain Halloween? Well, since candy is involved, I'm sure they'll be OK with the costumes. :)

They DO have some concept of Christmas. They know it's in Winter, but what their concept of Winter is, I do not know. They know it's in December, but what kid ever truly understood that time dilation that occurs when Christmas seems like it will NEVER come? But, I can't imagine they have any concept of even a "modest" American Christmas.

Do they still talk/ask about the adoption village they used to be at???
They do talk about Ethiopia. As they learn more English, more stories are coming out about their time with their parents and the time after in the orphanage and at the transition center. We encourage these stories and ask questions to make sure they know that it is absolutely ok to talk about those things. We've had good conversations out of these stories and I think they know that it is ok to love people and things in Ethiopia and in America. That's our goal anyway.


A's: Thanks for the Q's.

Katie R. asks: Long term plans for schooling? Are you going to stick with homeschooling, or do you intend to just "catch them up" & then use a different venue? :) just curious!

Heh heh. I'm curious too! :) Currently, we think the best plan for us is homeschooling. Our school district didn't have too much to offer other than full immersion. We felt that 6 hours of English shebela-shaying and then homework would be too stressful for all of us. We're not opposed to public school later, we just don't know when "later" is at this point. We're not opposed to homeschool either, and it's been really fun working with them every day. And, heck... all day is school for them still. Their English is growing exponentially, and they are able to better share stories and ask questions about things.

Nikki and family ask: If there was one thing you could share from your experiences with families adopting older children, what would it be?

Chris: I gotta tell ya, Nikki, Lee and I both were hoping the other would answer this question. We have about a million things we could say. We may have to write a whole post on the subject.

My short answer is to keep your sense of humor, and look for ways to bring out your new children's senses of humor. Also, cut yourself and the children some slack. I had to remind myself everyday that all 4 of us are just floundering around trying to make a family out of strangers.

See, and now later tonight, I'll think "Dang it! I should have said x, y, or z."

Lee: Our blog. :-)

Boil it down to one thing? Gah... that would involve brevity which is not exactly my gift. Anyway, um, I would say keep some kind of journal or blog or something, as I see you are doing. Everything changes so quickly as the kids figure out their new life style, it's easy to forget the landmarks. Also, it's a way to let folks know what's going on when you're cocooning. And lastly, your blog will serve as your personal outlet when you just need to shout in either agony or jubilation.

Amy C asks: We are adopting from Ethiopia (requesting age 4), and are wondering what you would do differently and what you would do the same. Thanks!

Hmmm... woulda, coulda, shoulda... :) One thing we figured out after a couple of days in Ethiopia with the children was that all the extra activities with the group was just too much for our kids. We ended up staying close to the hotel and not doing some of the group things... we swam at the pool and ordered room service. I think the people with babies had a different experience.

Also, and this may sound bad, but I'll put it out there... we would have dosed at least one of the kids (and I think you know who) with Benadryl on the plane ride.

As far as what we'd do the same... I think we did a decent job keeping their world small, at least in the 1st few weeks. We kept their rooms pretty bare, and gradually introduced toys and games. They wanted everything right away, of course, and yet they didn't have the schema to make choices.