Spicy Meat and Rice

1 lb. ground turkey
1 T olive oil
2 onions
1 T crushed garlic
1 t. black pepper
1 t. red pepper flakes
2 t. cumin
2 t. coriander
1 t. salt
2 t. ginger
1 t. chicken base in 1 c. water
1 can (14.6 oz.) crushed or diced tomatoes
 Brown rice, cooked OR whole-wheat pasta, cooked.

Brown meat and set aside. Brown onions and garlic in olive oil. Add spices (substitute spices based on what you have in your cupboard), meat, chicken base w. water and tomatoes.  Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.  Put 1 cup meat mixture over 1/2 cup pasta or rice.


I flew half way around the world for this?

YoYo - yelling in the hallway: UGH! Where's my stupid necklace?

Lee - yelling from the bathroom: Which one?

YoYo: The stupid one!

Lee: Ah, I see. I was just asking because you have like 600 necklaces.

YoYo - stomping around: ARGH! You know, the one mommy gave me! I can't find it anywhere!

Lee - being oh so helpful: Well, where did you last see it?


Lee: ...

Lee: You're going to have to keep looking because it's not there now.

Aaaaand CURTAIN!


Ethiopian Gothic

March 2008 - This photo was in the first set of pictures we were sent from Ethiopia.
It's the one where we decided that this 'sibling set' would no longer be 'those poor children' but become 'our kids.' We analyzed it over and over again. We tried to read their true personalities through their eyes. And like most parents, we loved them before they knew we existed.

February 2010 I took this after a recent indoor soccer game. I still often get questioned about whether the kids are adjusting to America or not. One of these days I'm going to answer, "No, you know, they're really fighting it." The evidence; however, points to the contrary. And note how all the hard work Habtamu has put into his "totally unimpressed" look is finally paying off! (and yes, that's a deliberate pose on his part.)


Say What?

It's funny and scary and embarrassing to hear my children use phrases I've said and they've heard from other sources. Now I've started shaking my fist in the air and saying, "Don't you use my own words back at me, young man/little lady!" Here are some recent examples.

Last Sunday we went ice skating with Lee's sister. Yordanos called to me from the side of the rink as I was going by. And, I, being a "rule follower" had to keep going around in the orderly counter-clockwise direction until I came around again. She had lost patience by that time and called, "You're just wasting my time!" Lee's sister looked at me with a cocked head and I grinned sheepishly, because I KNEW that came from me, except I usually say, "You're just wasting your own time." So, hey, her grasp of English is getting good enough to extrapolate what to say in ANY situation.

The kids were playing house soccer with a small nerfy sort of ball and I heard Yordanos say, "Whew! I need a breather!" I don't remember EVER saying that in my life, but since she's in soccer, etc... it's probably come up.

Whenever we see teenagers with baggy pants, smoking, pierced, or in any other way acting thuggy, the kids say, "They're just trying to be cool, right?"

The other night at dinner Habtamu asked if he could do something (I don't remember what) and I answered no, because (I don't remember why.) Great story so far, huh? Anyway, his ultimate response was, "Dammit!"

Now, I'm positive he didn't get this from me. Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer.

So I said, "Well, the good news is that you used that word correctly. The bad news is that it's not a good word to say. We don't use that word."

And from the kitchen, Yordanos yells, "Habtamu, did you say 'damn'?! You're not supposed to say 'damn'!"

And we all busted up, laughing, because really, isn't that what makes families fun?


Plagiarism - Now for HomeSchoolers, too.

Sometimes I think my kids must think I'm dumb as a box of rocks. To illustrate:

"It wasn't me."

"I SAW you."

"Oh, well, I was only trying to... (insert lame-o excuse here)"

Take, for example, my son's new found desire to be cool by not wearing his shin guards to soccer practice... just like the other pre-teen boys. I made sure he had his shin guards with him for practice last night, but like the old saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but cannot make him drink." Lee took the kids to practice, and the 1st thing I hear when I get home is from the narc, AKA: little sister.

"Habtamu forgot his shin guards."

"No he didn't, he had them with him... they're not here."

"No, he LEFT them at practice."

At which point I turn on my son, who is already raining down brimstone on his own head, and I ask calmly (No, really! I did!) "Why were you not wearing them?"

"I KNOW, I KNOW, I'm stupid and I don't listen well!" This, as you may well know, is a classic defense mechanism. It's short hand for I-messed-up-everyone-hates-me-now.

So, this morning I was checking Habtamu's journal entry. I have them write a story for me every day with a picture. It can be about anything, but has to be their own story. I pick up Habtamu's. He's got a story that sounds really familiar. I ask, "Did you copy this out of a book?" He says, "No. I used the book to know how to spell the names." I say, "Where is that book?" All the time knowing full well which book and which story he copied. He got defensive and slammed out of the room to shower. Later, after he had calmed down, I talked to him about the shin guards and the copying, and told him I would love him forever and that NOTHING he could do would change that. Then I tickled his side and all was suddenly right in his world.

We're making progress. One of the biggest lessons for ME was not to yell. No matter what. Yelling has exacerbated a problem every. single. time. If I feel yelling coming on, I leave the room and say something like, "I need a time out." The kids don't ever like to feel like I'm angry at them and will act out accordingly (ie: worse) if they see that I am. However, I DO get angry at some of the things they do, and walking away is the best option if I feel I cannot speak rationally at that moment. Ah, for supreme patience to be mine. I've prayed for patience before and gotten lots of practice time. It stinks, but when I think how much MORE patient I am than I was, I'm glad I asked for it.


The Cinema pt II: No No, the OTHER Avatar

Clan Gardner is a big fan of Avatar: The last Airbender, more commonly known as 'That Nickelodeon Avatar.' The kids have watched through all 3 seasons about 400 times. Habtamu and I had already had a conversation about how the Avatar movie that everyone is talking about is not about Avatar the Airbender. It's about blue people (NO! NOT AIRBENDERS,) it's PG-13, it's too expensive, and he's never going to see it. He was fine with that because, after all, it was the wrong Avatar. It's probably worth noting that the kids had no idea that movies show at the theater first and then come to video. So, it was easier to tell H that he would never see the Blue Avatar than it was to explain the whole movie distribution cycle, guess at the DVD release schedule, etc...
One of the joys of being an American child these days is that you don't have to wait for sequels as long as your super uncool parents don't ever let you watch anything new. And until this weekend, they hadn't.
So I closed the door on Avatar and then predictably came back around to it. I figured, you know, what better first movie than a 3D, surreal, action-packed, winter blockbuster that your Dad told you you'd never ever see? Empire Strikes Back probably wasn't my first movie, but it's the first one I remember. We were running late and came in just as the TaunTaun was getting split open. Like I said, whatever movies I saw before that were over-written in my memory that day.
So here's me trying to convince my son that he wants to see this movie even if I'm there. "Ok, well, I think we're going to see Avatar on Monday."
"What do you mean why? It's a movie."
"It's the wrong one.""Well, I know it's not the Avatar you know, but I think you'll like this one too."
"Well, it's supposed to be very exciting."
"It's almost 3 hours long."
"3 hours? Ooo..." (The kids still equate quantity with quality programming, but regardless, now I've got his attention.)
"Look, it's should be good."
"You've seen it?"
"Urk! No I haven't seen it. It's at the theater." (temperature rising...)
"Then how do you know it's good?" (This is all coming from a boy who has never met a TV show or a sofa cushion he didn't like.)
"Ack! Gah! Listen. Uncle Paul saw it and said it was really really good. Ok?"
"Oh. Ok."
Note to self: if Uncle Paul says it's ok, it must be ok.

Ok, ok, it looks cool...

Monday afternoon comes and we're running late. I wanted to catch the matinee showing, so we ate McDonald's in the car and screeched into the parking lot. The previews were already running when we got in, but Habtamu still found time to poop and drool over the same IronMan 2 poster his sister saw before the movie started. Sorry, I just think it's funny that both kids specifically informed me of their intended bowel movements before settling in for their first movie.
The movie started and after a barrage of initial questions, he did a good job of keeping up with it. No spoilers here, but there's a scene early on where the main character gets chased through the jungle by a large cat-like animal. It was pretty intense, and made my son snuggled into me. That was my favorite part. Habtamu later said that he liked everything after that 'the best.'
As we left, he gave me a big smile and said he couldn't wait to go home and get Avatar2 on DVD. I had to tell him that there wasn't an Avatar2 yet.
"But I want to know what happens next!" he pleaded.
"I know honey, boy do I know. What do you think happens next?"
"How am I supposed to know if I haven't seen it?"
"Well, you might have to use your imagination. I don't know if there will be another movie, but I bet there will be books or something. You might have to read about what happens next."
"Ugh! I don't want to read! I just want to watch it!"
And thus another media junkie is forged. Start saving your money kiddo, them action figures ain't cheap.
Side note: Both kids, independently chose the back row center as the ideal movie watching location. In Yordi's case, it was right next to the only other people in the theater. That was fine for her, a little awkward for Daddy. H said it was because he didn't want anyone else's head in his way, (because you that showing was *packed,* being a school-day matinee and all) but I think there's some subconscious 'back of the bus' coolness factor going on.


The Cinema pt I: Build your own Princess

With full-time employment pending, really wanted to get some Daddy time in with the kids. I talked to Chris about it and we decided that now was as good a time as any for me to take them to the movie theater. Now, the kids are no strangers to movies, DVD's, VHS, and anything else that comes through the TV set, but they've only seen a theater from the outside.

When I told Yordi that I was going to take her to see 'The Princess and the Frog' she told me she wasn't interested and that she had already seen it. "Really?" I asked, "Where?" "At Meagan's. I saw Part 1 and Part 2," she replied. "Um, that one is different," I said. "Hm," she said, unconvinced. So on Saturday, we hit the theater. We got there a full half hour early which gave her plenty of time to get the lay of the land, ogle the IronMan2 poster, poop, watch all the previews, and then send me out for popcorn 8 seconds into the actual movie. Chris and I were a little concerned that she wouldn't be able to follow it, but once the movie got rolling she was fine. (She doesn't do well with any kind of ellipsis; she wants to see it all.) She laughed at the right times and was fine during the scary parts. When it was all over, she pieced together that each room in the theater was showing a different movie. I was pleasantly surprised that she figured that out by asking questions and reading signs, and not by poking her head into each room.

When we got home I looked up the movie on IMDB and found this picture of the main voice actress:
Trying to be clever, I called Chris over and asked her if she thought they found the actress first and then drew the character to look exactly like her, or vice versa. She just looked at it and said, "You realize that's your daughter in couple years, right?"

Sigh... she's totally right.


The Realities of the American Dream

So you may have noticed that things have been quiet on the blog front lately. That's not because life here has slowed down at all, but because I decided what has been going on was best left out of the public forum. It's not anything with the kids. They are fine, on-track, adjusting, etc... it's me. 3 months ago I was RIF'ed at work, and that my last day would be Dec. 31st. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, RIF stands for 'Reduction in Force' and it's a polite way of saying, "It's not you, or the work you are doing, it's the position."

Ugh. Talk about one of the rites of passage that you want to avoid... All the frustration and fear. All the humiliation and feelings of worthlessness. The rollercoaster of hope and despair that follows. There are lots of stories that won't be told because I don't want to relive them, but I can tell you that I have a whole new respect and sympathy for the unemployed. Roughly 700,000 people in Illinois are unemployed, and in my area, it hit 16% this last month. That means more than 3 people out of every 20 who want a job don't have one (and that doesn't even count people who have completely given up, I found out.)

Suffice it to say, the odds are stacked against you. So what do you do?

Well, I figured out a couple things early on:
1) Lashing out at my former employer wasn't going to have any kind of positive net result, especially since I was still on the payroll for the next 2 months. (No severance package per se, but I got a 2 month warning...)
2) I needed to be deliberate about diet, excersize, and keeping in touch with friends if I wanted to avoid depression and look and feel my best at interviews.
3) Make lists and do them. Boredom => depression.

So that was the plan. Keep my mouth shut, healthy routine, keep busy, and pray something worked out quickly.

Turns out, keeping busy wasn't a problem. I picked up some short term contract work almost immediately so we were able to pay the mortgage and break even in December and January. It took 21 days for the state to process (and deny) my first unemployment claim. Granted I was denied because I was working, but the point is, if we were really depending on that money, it is a long time to wait.

Every unemployment story I've heard is different. Mine had a happy ending and what makes my story unique in this era is that I found a job 5 weeks after losing my previous one (although it was really 3 months of job hunting.) We are extremely fortunate that a lot of factors 'just happened to work out' in our favor the past couple months.

There are people out there who believe that everything they have, they earned. The implication is that you could have the same if you worked as hard as they did. It also implies that the guy that works three jobs to make ends meet doesn't work 'as hard' as they do. I'm of the 'everything I have is a gift' mentality. My new job is a mile from my house, the work will be nice and challenging, and I somehow retain my previous retirement plan.

I have a hard time believing I did much of anything to earn that.