Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Creepy Picture

Does this creep you out the way it creeps me out? First off, as an adoptee I have to say the words bother me quite a bit. For better or worse, my birth mother gave me a heck of a lot more than "a need for love". It's far, far more complicated than that. And my adoption is a simple one as these things go. When you're talking about adding the complexities that come with international adoption (which is what the picture illustrates, obviously), it doesn't even come close. And speaking of international adoption, is the picture itself racist, awful, something truly ... just blech?! I see the "inscrutable Asian" face on the birth mother, and the gloating smile on the white mother, and it makes me shudder. The wall on the left where the words are is otherwise blank, contrasted with the open window (opportunity! the world!) on the right. Oh how perfect it is to be adopted! Oh how completely lacking in emotional and ethical complexity! Yes, I know it's just a picture, but what a piece of propaganda.

How did I come across such tripe? Well, I was nosing around the internet down all kinds of rabbit trails and I found it on one of those over-the-top adoption blogs – y'all know the kind I mean, I think. One of those blogs where it can’t just be “God blessed us with the chance to step in where someone was needed and be an awesome Plan B for you, precious child”, but it has to be “God pre-destined you from before you were even conceived to be our child, so to hell with your birth mother – you’re much better off without her anyway.”

Ack. The world is broken by sin. Sometimes adoption can be a part of mending that brokenness. But whatever it is, whatever it can be, it isn't this picture.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Things That Pain Me to Tell You

I'm complaining, which I'm sure you all want to hear about. But there are a few things that have been peeving me mightily, and I'd like to get them off my metaphorical chest.

1. Parents at taekwondo who help their children get into and out of their sparring gear need to Get. A. Life. If my boys can do this themselves for three solid years, trust me, your child can, too. Because honestly, it really looks pathetic to have a 9 year old standing there idly while his mama pulls off his fighting gear. The word "wuss" comes to mind. I know it's not an earth-shattering problem I'm talking about, but give your kid some dignity and let him dress himself, okay?

2. Poverty tourism gets my goat just about more than anything. This could (and should) be a post unto itself; the same is true with #3 below. But since I'm not involved in anything remotely related to ministry I think I will just leave the real writing of it to the experts. But in my own opinion: pastors and the like flying off to get photo ops in third world garbage dumps should be forced to stay there for several weeks before flying home again. Maybe then they'd just donate the cost of their tickets, etc, to a long-term mission that actually does some good and be done with it.

3. And finally, if one more person tells me that Caylee Anthony was a late term abortion, and tries to use a dead two year old to justify their anti-abortion position, I might just scream so loud you can hear me in Idaho. Why? Well, first of all, let's remember that you, personally, were not on the jury, and that Casey Anthony was indeed acquitted of harming her child. Did she behave bizarrely in the extreme, lie like a dog, and do all sorts of other inappropriate things? Yes, she did. Did she act like you would have had your child died or gone missing? Probably not. But did a jury of her peers convict her of harming one hair on her daughter's head? No, they did not. And so your abortion analogy breaks down before it even leaves the driveway. Secondly, even if Casey Anthony was convicted, the whole statement is still a really crappy idea. Is abortion a sin? I'm quite sure. So is cheating on your husband and your taxes, failing to help widows, coveting your neighbor's riding lawnmower, and being rude to your mother. God will sort all those things out - as well as other, more serious infractions - in the great by and by. But those of us hanging out down here on Planet Earth should not run around spending all our time pointing out the sins of others and shouting "you're as bad as a child murderer!" I mean, if that's what you want Christians to be known for, I guess you should go ahead. Tell every woman who has had an abortion that it's as if she drowned her child in a swamp and left her there. What a good idea. While you're at it, tell every guy who cheats on his wife that he might as well have murdered her, he's such a piece of whaleshit. That will spread the love of Christ mighty well. That will let everyone know the Church is a hospital for sinners (instead of a room full of finger-pointing hypocrites) immediately. I'm sorry for the sarcasm, but can't we judge in our hearts without acting so judgemental? Can't we think to ourselves "I would never, ever do that!" and then let it go? Because while yes, an unborn baby is a person, so is a sinner. And if you give all the sinners in the world the middle finger instead of grace, I'm afraid you're going to be left on your mountain of self-righteousness quite alone.

Okay, I'm done now. Unless you want me to go on about the weather ...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Seven Links for Friday

A columnist in South Africa asks poignantly, what does it mean to be South African? What is national identity, and how can a country foster the good things that flow from it? How does a people get to a point that they can say "we have a set of shared values"? It's an interesting question, although one we frequently take for granted in the United States - even given our diverse heritage.

Would you buy Amazon's challenger to the iPad? Why or why not?

If you think you need a vacation but you don't see one on your schedule, go to Nina Camic's blog and browse through her photos from her recent trip to France and Spain. The pictures and quiet prose will lower your blood pressure by several points.

I've been enjoying looking through this food blog, D's Kitchen. I have yet to try any of the recipes, but the gazpacho is calling my name. I think it's on the menu for this weekend.

The Atlantic has a long but interesting piece on How to Land You Kids In Therapy. Since that's been my goal for years, I'm glad to have confirmation that it's working quite well, thank you. No, in all seriousness, the whole problem outlined by the article seems to come down to whether or not we let our kids fail. Well, not over-simplify things, but OF COURSE WE DO. Or we should, anyway. For a more interesting take on how that should happen, pick up a copy of The Blessings of a Skinned Knee, which has to be one of the best parenting books I've ever read. My fabdamntabulous maid of honor, Kelly, recommended it to me several years ago, and I love it. Kelly is, of course, much better known as the author of the meaning of pie than she is as my maid of honor, but she really was there for my four minute wedding, too. Honest.

Speaking of parenting, Tiff has a great post on the subject at her blog freeplaylife. In it she gives the simplest but best advice: "while our kids might have interests that we’re not interested in…that we may find silly or worthless…it’s not about what they are doing. It’s about getting involved in doing something with them, because the time we spend with our kids is what matters." In her case, she's writing about playing video games and eating ice cream with her kids - because that's what they wanted to do with mom. I think too often we take this advice when our kids are small and then discard it as they get older. Would we play Dora with our four year old for two hours because that's what she wanted to do? Probably. But would we play Halo with our 17 year old son, if that's what it took to still hang out with him? I'm not so sure a lot of parents (especially moms) would. And that's pretty much a shame.

Finally, because it's summer, I'm linking again to this invaluable article on how drowning in real life does not look like drowning in the movies. Read, read, read.

Have a great weekend, y'all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

P.G. Wodehouse wasn't necessarily known for his deep thoughts, especially on love. Remember the "Ickenham Method" that Uncle Fred always proposed? Grab the lady by the wrist, waggle her about a bit, say something pithy like "my mate", and shower her upturned face with kisses. You have to admit, it's a bit on the short side of romantic. But last night I'm reading along in the first of the Blandings Castle novels, Something Fresh, and there of all places is a description of falling in love that I decide I simply must share. Mostly I wanted to share it with One, who needs to start socking these things away for future reference. A good passage like this may come in handy one day, 10 years from now, when he's wondering to himself: "Self, is it this young woman who I really love? What, then, is love?" And all those other thoughts that my Can I Overthink This Some More child will likely have about such things.

Here's the set up: Ashe and Joan, impoverished writers and neighbors in London, are traveling to Blandings Castle as temporary servants, the goal of which employment is only fully explained by reading the whole dang book (something I highly recommend, by the way). They arrive on the cold, dark, windy train platform, and while waiting for the cart to take them and the luggage to the Castle, Ashe sees Joan smile and has an epiphany:

"He did not wish the station platform of Market Blandings to become suddenly congested with Red Indians, so that he might save Joan's life, and he did not wish to give up anything at all. But he was conscious, to the very depths of his being, that a future in which Joan did not figure would be so insupportable as not to bear considering, and in the immediate present, he very strongly favored the idea of clasping Joan in his arms and kissing her till further notice. Mingled with these feelings was an excited gratitude to her for coming to him with that electric smile on her face; a stunned realization that she was a thousand times prettier than he had ever imagined: and a humility which threatened to make him loose his clutch on the steamer truck and roll about at her feet, yapping like a dog."

Do you think that's a good place for One to start, 10 years hence? Me too.

Chicken Posole

A friend once gave me a recipe for this, but I've not only lost it, I've also managed to forget 75% of it. So tonight I made something else up instead. Here it is:

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken, cut into strips (I prefer chicken thighs, but tonight we had chicken breasts. Oh well.)
2 cans Rotel tomatoes, drained (mild or regular - depends on your audience)
2 cans white hominy, drained
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 bottle of beer - a light, summery one works nicely. Allow me to pause and plug my neighbor's summer brew. Yum.
1 1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper
olive oil
avocados
grated Monterey Jack cheese

Saute onions in olive oil until soft. Add garlic and continue to cook for a few minutes. Put aside on a plate. Add chicken and a bit more oil to the same pan and brown the chicken on both sides. Add the beer (Remember to drink the rest yourself. Don't you think you deserve it? I do.) and cook for 2 minutes or so. Add back in the onions/garlic mixture, as well as the chicken broth, cumin, salt and pepper. Simmer covered for 10-15 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate and cover. Add hominy and Rotel to the pan and cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes; you don't want to boil all the liquid away, just cook things a bit. Add the chicken back in, and serve topped with cheese, with avocado slices on the side.

It was over 100° today and this actually was not too painful to cook. That's saying a lot. Enjoy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dreams of Empire

The boys - and by that I mean all three human males living with me - have recently been very taken with Top Gear, the UK version, of course. Episodes stack up on the DVR, only to be devoured by the three of them in gales of laughter and screams of surprise. The show's characters are analyzed: do we like James better than Jeremy, who really has the worst hair of the three of them, and how short is Richard, really really? The cars are enjoyed as a secondary pleasure, at least as far as the younger two are concerned. The contests, the potty humor, the constant ragging on one another: this is what makes their Top Gear world go round.

And so One says, quite thoughtfully the other day: "When I run the world I think I'll keep the British around. They're quite funny, really."

Pause.

Oh dear. I mean, I'm glad he has a plan for adulthood and all that, but I really didn't think Middle School Megalomania would set in so quickly - before, in fact, middle school has begun at all.

It's going to be a long three years. I hope all those episodes of Top Gear will help distract him from world domination, at least until he starts to shave. ::sigh::

Summer Sundries: BBQ and Okra

I already confessed to developing a liking for pork barbecue, despite my deep and abiding love for All Things Texas. Since I've made the big confession, I might as well go all the way and share the sauce recipe I made up to go along with my new-found habit. Here it is:

Basic BBQ Sauce

1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup molasses
squirt yellow mustard
smaller squirt Chinese Rooster Sauce

Whisk together in a saucepan, heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, and you're done. It's just as good cold as it is warm.

I also found a fantastic okra recipe - one that does not involve either frying or tomatoes. I had to look long and hard for one that had neither, but I found this and then played a bit from there. Here you go:

Summer Okra

1 lb okra, stemmed and split in 1/2 long-ways
2 T butter
1 T bacon fat (you could just use more butter, but if you happen to have bacon fat, why not use it?)
2 small lemons (1 large one would work as well, wouldn't it?)
1/4 tsp ground fennel seed
3/4 tsp paprika (who cares what kind?)
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp turmeric
dash of cinnamon
dash red pepper flakes
Plain yogurt (optional)

Combine the spices and set aside. Take the zest from both lemons and add to the spices, then juice the lemons and put that to the side as well.

Cook the okra in the butter and bacon fat on fairly high heat. Keep stirring until lightly browned. Add the spices + lemon zest (and maybe another T of butter if things are looking dry), stir well and cook another minute or two. Throw the lemon juice on, give it 30 seconds more heat, turn off and serve. You can add a small dollop of yogurt to the top if you like - or not.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bedtime Snack

My love of s'mores is well documented, as is my love of sharing them with my nearest and dearest. Because I ask you: what more can boys want for dessert on a summer's evening, after all, then a melty, oozy, chocolatey s'more? Nothing, of course. But as much as I love sharing these favorite oojahs of mine, I like nothing more than stealing out to the fire when the coals have burned down low and making just one more, just for me, when no one else is watching. The boys are tucked safely in their beds, Husband is on the front porch with cigar, coffee, iPod and headphones, and I and my last s'more are left alone, disturbed only by the dogs, sniffing the air and wondering if there's anything in it for them.

No, nothing for you, sweet pups. Go back to sleep and leave mommy to her bedtime snack. G'night.

Sunday Supper

Husband tried something new in the smoker today: pork shoulder instead of brisket. As much as this Texas girl is loathe to admit it, I am in love. Yes, as soon as those glorious slices of pork hit my plate, and I dipped them in the cider-vinegary, molasses-y sauce I'd cooked up, I close to passed out cold, right at the table. So way back when, some of my unknown ancestors must have stopped on in North Carolina on their way to Somewhere Else; it can be explained no other way. No, this does not mean that I will stop eating Husband's brisket, or stop participating in pilgrimages to eat brisket at Smitty's, but it's kinda like when you have another child: there's a new place in your heart all of a sudden for the next little loved one.

Here are some pictures of my new sweet one and all of his side-dish friends:

A butt's best friend, the homemade sauce: (bless my adopted Texas heart, I said the "s" word - oh shame!)

Some homemade roasted red peppers, because everyone needs some condiments:

A new okra recipe - first a picture of One cooking it, and then finished with the spices added. I'll post the details soon:


Kelly's blue cheese cole slaw - perfection, as usual:

And the old summer stand-by, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Two is getting pretty good at preparing this for me start to finish. I like it.

The day could not be complete without my favorite summer dessert - yes, s'mores for the 10,000th time. I plan on eating them so much with the boys that they become one of our quintessential summer memories.



Happy eating, y'all.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fiction at Half Past Eleven

One continues to read more fiction than any one child should consume; when he's not reading a new book he's re-reading (and re-reading and re-reading) something like a Harry Potter or a Percy Jackson. Since my last post on his fiction habit, he has read:

The rest of the Hornblower series. We're thinking about buying him one of the Patrick O'Brien books to see if these are as much fun for him.

The Throne of Fire, the second of Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles. I've read the first one and I think they pale in comparison to the Percy Jackson books, but One likes these quite a bit.

The Green Glass Sea, about children growing up in WWII-era Los Alamos. I had to badger him to start this one for some reason, but once he started it he ate it up.

My Family and Other Animals and Birds, Beasts and Relatives, both by Gerald Durrell. One loved the first and liked the second. Both are set in Corfu, where 10 year old Durrell moved with his family from England in the 1930's.

Frontier Wolf, set in Britain at the end of the Roman Era, and The Shield Ring, set shortly after the Norman Conquest. Both by Rosemary Sutcliff, who we love.

Black Horses for the King, by Anne McCaffrey.

The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, and The Lantern Bearers. A trilogy by Rosemary Sutcliff about Roman Britain. One loved these, although we did miss the Eagle movie in the theater, unfortunately. We may have to catch it on DVD instead.

The Cabinet of Wonders and The Celestial Globe. A bit of a knock-off of Percy Jackson, but One enjoyed them all the same.

Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, about a 12 year old boy sent into space. Another one of those "I'll give you a dollar if you read this next" books that One then turns around and loves. When will he learn, I ask you?

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Yes, a book starring a girl - and he still liked it. I see nothing wrong with encouraging him to read about strong-minded, intelligent girls. He's going to like girls someday - might as well start getting him interested in the right ones early on. Or that's my theory, anyway. Anything to stop him from getting crushes on cheerleaders...

The Wild West, by Henry Brook. A collection of western stories.

The Shining Company, set during a Saxon invasion of Britain. Yes, you guessed it: Rosemary Sutcliff.

The Unnameables, by Ellen Booream. One is really liking fantasy books these days, so this was well-received.

School of Fear, by Gitty Daneshvari. One loved this - it's been re-read several times by now. Very funny and cleverly done.

Nick of Time, by Ted Bell. History, time travel, adventure. What's a boy to not like?

Al Capone Shines My Shoes. The second book about Moose Flanagan, a boy growing up on Alcatraz. For me a bit of a hat tip to my dad, who was a prison guard himself in a prior life. One approves.

Dormia, about a sleepwalking hero.

Ring of Fire: four kids, four cities. That's all I've managed to glean, but One liked it.

Summerland, by Michael Chabon. Magical places, heroes - the whole gumbo that makes One happy.

Number 11 of the 39 Clues series.

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. I've had this in mind since Melissa Wiley recommended it, but I waited for the paperback to come out (same thing with Calpunia Tate). A good read that pays homage to Madeleine L'Engle, my favorite children's book author by far.

Adam of the Road. A 1943 Newberry winner that's still a good bet.

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare. A Newberry winner about a young Jewish boy at the time of Christ.

The Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin. He likes to read the genealogies aloud to his dad. It's about as exciting as the "begats" in the Bible, but does that stop him? Nope.

Now do you see why I had to do a half-year post on this child? He's reading even more these days, which I didn't think was possible. And none of this list counts what he picks up at the school library and I never see, or his still-inexplicable love of The Warriors series and other similar books. If you look in the dictionary for the word "bibliophile", you'll see this picture:

Oy.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Pine Cove

For two separate weeks this month the boys have spent their time at three of Pine Cove's many summer camps. If you don't know Pine Cove already, you should. Established in 1968, it is now one of the largest and most well-respected Christian camps in Texas, if not farther afield. For us, it has been and continues to be one of the best discoveries Husband and I have made as parents.

What makes it so great? What makes the boys so happy? To start with, they never sleep. Well, almost never, or so it seems. The kids are up early, the days are full, and the nights go on, well, late into the night. The boys are busy with their new friends, and as a consequence they have very little time to think of anything else. During their two weeks at camp this summer they have climbed rock walls, flew down enormous water slides, shot BBs, 22s, and bows and arrows, played soccer, flag football, war ball, paintball and lasertag, learned to sail and kayak, flew down the zip line, swam every day, gone horseback riding and mountain bike riding, flown off the Blob, and played Medieval war games (yes, everyone had a sword and helmet for that last one).

And those were just the "activities". They also had daily Bible studies, evening "club" where they could sing and dance to praise songs and then cool down by listening to a talk on spiritual "stuff". Their nights were made even longer by "theme nights", where they dressed as pirates, had dance parties, wallowed in the mud at the Buffalo Hunt, crept through the woods in full camo, and so on and so forth. See what I mean? There was very little sleeping. Lots of fun, but not a lot of time to sit back on your bunk and think about how much you miss your home or dog or mom or...

All of this activity is still balanced, if not by 10 hours in the sack each night, but by a chance to get to know their cabinmates and counselors very, very well. Each cabin has 6 to 8 kids and a full-time counselor. The camp recruits at over 140 college campuses each year, and the counselors and staff they find are phenomenal. Even after only six days, each boy's counselor knew him and had insightful and affirming things to say about him and his character. For example, today we received One's "character certificate", which reads: "[One] is analytical, allowing him to understand difficult concepts. He is firm, grounded in his beliefs. [One] is forthright." Uh, yup: that would be One. And Two's counselor this past week (very, very beloved by him) wrote: "[Two] is a compassionate young man. He is generous and willing to help others regardless of the situation. He is expressive and readily shares his joy with those around him." Oh, praise God! It is enough most of the time that we can see these qualities peeking out amidst all the wildness that two boys embody. But that a counselor who knows your child for six days can see these things, say these things - not only is it affirming for your child, but wow, what a boost as a parent! Maybe sometimes we get things right, at least some of the time.

As I write this both boys are tucked up in their beds, finally clean. Yes, they do make them shower every day at camp, but that doesn't mean they actually used soap. They came home this afternoon remarkably filthy, covered in smiles, sporting Keen sandal tans, and really, really tired. They are thrilled to be back, and even happier to be full of memories that they will keep with them for the rest of their lives. Some of those memories are of conquering the zip line despite great fear, others are of laughing hysterically with friends while trying to push each other off one of the water inflatables. Still others are deeper still, and hopefully are things that pushed their faith in God deeper into them, cemented their love for Him a little more, and made them a little more confident about going out into the world to follow His narrow path. Whatever is inside those two precious, half-feral, incredibly amazing children after these two camp sessions, I like it. I like what I see when I see what Pine Cove brings out in them: it is their best, and parents we can't ask for more than that.

Thank you, Pine Cove.

Delilah

My husband is in love with this song:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Why I Live Here

Lileks sums it up:

"Let me put it this way: after three months of very hot weather, I don’t think one becomes overcome with a sense of emptiness and depression. Three months of cold that makes your lungs ache and your fingers go dead is like being beaten with a cloth-covered mallet once every hour. The despair of February is a hundred times worse than the inconvenience of the afternoon sun broiling the parking lot you’re crossing on your way to an air-conditioned place."

Or even the inconvenience of four months of crossing that broiling hot parking lot, if you must know. Hot weather makes you itchy, it makes you miss the cool breeze at sunset and the chill in the morning air when you go out to get in your car. But it never, ever matches the hopelessness you feel when the ice is so thick on the windshield at 6:30am that you break yet-another ice scraper, and you huddle in the dark in your cold car waiting for the defroster to do its job. Sweat and sunshine can get old, but they are always preferable to the defeat of yet another snowstorm, and it's April already.

Here's to 19 years in Texas. I'll be leaving shortly after Hell freezes over - or the Rio Grande, whichever comes first.