Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Autumn Nostalgia

Far and away my favorite thing about pregnancy is the heightened sense of smell. Walking my daughter to the park yesterday, I was a like a wolf, sniffing the cool breeze, I moved my head from side to side catching different scents on different plains of air. Over here I can smell the perfume of that woman a hundred yards away and tell what she fed her child for snack and if he liked it or not. On this breeze I can smell the cologne and fabric softener mingling as that young couple on the bench over there talk with their heads close together and whether she is sad or angry.

I feel like an animal stalking through the woods, identifying every element of my surroundings. I don’t know if it’s the sense of smell or the invigoratingly cool autumn weather we’ve been having but I feel awake, my senses sharp lately. There’s something about summer that is dulling and lazy; cool air wakes me up like a splash of cold water to the face, it’s oddly pleasant.

There are certain memories throughout my life that are instantly triggered by the smell and feel of chilly fresh autumn air; usually fall is a nostalgic time for me but this week in Minneapolis it is so oddly brisk, these memories are being triggered prematurely.

Bus exhaust and the rumbling of diesel engines fill the chilly morning air. I can see my breath even though it is still early in September. My Dad waits with me on the corner for my bus to come: pink bus route 37. Other kids on the bus stop look tired too but the older ones are relaxed, talking to each other, laughing at the occasional joke. The younger ones are spread out, not daring even to look at each other. We are all in brand new clothes, one little girl still has the translucent sticker running the length of her jeans announcing Large, Large, Large, Large. Some people’s first-day-of-school-clothes are too cool for the weather today but, no matter, they are new and cool and they must be worn. Inside my new cloth backpack, my pencil box rattles, filled with new colored pencils, erasers, scotch tape, a glue stick, a ruler, and crayons. I can feel the spirals of my four new notebooks poking my back through the thin jacket I am wearing. Looking up momentarily, my dad winks at my and loudly sips his coffee. A rumble breaks the silence and seven small heads jerk up to see pink bus route 37 pulling to a stop. With an encouraging smile and chuck on the arm my dad ushers me up the steps and away from home. The smell of green vinyl-plastic bus seats fill my nose and the sounds of nervous excitement fill the bus, the occasional toy flies through the air, my feet stutter step to find solid footing on the ridged plastic runner as the bus lurches forward. I search out a seat on a bus crowded with strangers.

Honey Rock camp is where I first learned some of my favorite songs, where I learned that a sleeping bag in a cabin bunk can be a total respite from the world, where the smell of wood-burnings permeate the crisp wooded air, the place where I first passed a swimming test, realized I love the sound of rain beating down on the roof, and where I learned to love grape juice and sloppy joes. At Honey Rock camp, I never stopped running. The fresh, clean, unpolluted air of the woods, of the rustic and damp cabins and moist pine needles served as a system boost and I never felt sluggish or lazy; I ran tirelessly. On the cool scent of autumn air, I can still hear the loud clanging of the cafeteria bell, calling us forth from the “web” an old parachute tied from wall to wall, providing us with hours if simple thrills, from the cold lake, from the crafts cabin, from the dark warmth of our sleeping bags in the still coolness of early morning.

The cool air of September was such welcome relief from the hot and oppressive August humidity. I was eight and a half months pregnant and tired. How many more days would I carry around this added weight? September was resoundingly silent. The noisy chaos, the palpable energy of senior year had led into an even wilder and crazier summer of parties, pot smoking, beer drinking, loud music, and dancing, laughing, screaming, sweating, singing, constant action; the momentum of senior year wouldn’t stop for anyone. Pregnant and crabby, I let the party go by without me. I tried to participate as much as I could but my heart wasn’t in it. I spent the summer, napping, eating, visiting my midwife and looking for a couple to adopt my baby. Now it was September and the parties were over, my fellow graduates were off to college and more parties, a year that would feel much to them like an extension of the summer after senior year. And for me, it was September and real life was about to begin.

By late September, the days are so short. As I walk the eight blocks to the elementary school where I student teach, it is pitch black at five thirty in the morning. No crest of sunlight hints that dawn will be breaking soon; it may as well be midnight. By five thirty in the evening when I walk home, tired and spent, laden with text books to learn and plan from and papers to correct, the sun is already setting. Even though it is not yet October, many of the neighborhood families have their yards decorated for Halloween. In the evening it looks quaint, but in the pitch darkness of early morning, I look over my shoulder over and over again at the masked figure holding stalk-still with a large sickle in his hand, and I rush past the house with half-bodies poking out of the dirt, like the torsos of the dead struggling to free themselves from the grave; chills run up and down my neck. Even at that early hour, I dream of the end of the day when my body will relax from stooping over small desks for the first time all day, and my voice will finally be quiet and my arm will stop pointing and my ears will stop ringing from the constant noise of the halls, and I will enjoy my singular glass of cabernet from the box as I grade hastily completed assignments.

Early October always seems warmer and nicer than all of September. The fall that I had my daughter was gorgeous and warm all the way into mid-November. I spent the early mornings after sneaking from the bed to leave Ryan and Twila sleeping soundly, sipping earl grey and jasmine green tea in front of the computer, typing the first inklings of my memoir about teen-pregnancy. I loved this time of day, my quiet, my peaceful mornings watching the sun break through the cloudy sky. If Twila woke during these morning typing sessions, I held her, cradled in my left arm nursing, while I typed with my right hand. On warm October mornings I cracked the window and let the cool air in, streaming to my nose and waking up my senses. As the sun arose and the sky brightened, as Twila nursed, I listened to the sounds of the diesel engines rumbling by and smelled the faint bus exhaust on the morning autumn air, feeling nostalgic for those first days of school.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Weekend Edition: Have Your Health and Crave it Too!

Chilaquiles Verdes

This is a great Mexican dish for the summer and it’s fast and easy too. Add chicken, beef or shrimp to boost the protein and canned chilies or jalapenos to spice it up!

1. 1 28 oz can green chili enchilada sauce
2. 12 6” corn tortillas, sliced into thin strips
3. 3 cups olive oil
4. Big handful of chopped fresh cilantro
5. 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet
2. Fry half the tortilla in the oil until it is crisp and slightly brown
3. Remove with a slotted spoon and fry the other half
4. Meanwhile, boil the enchilada sauce with the garlic and cilantro until the garlic is tender and the sauce is fragrant
5. Stir in the fried tortilla and reduce heat to simmer
6. Simmer uncovered for five minutes
7. Let rest for two minutes off heat

Top with sour cream, serve with shredded cheese, sliced avacado and a variety of salsas

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Waters of Peace

This is the summer in which things are slipping. I feel elements of my life slipping away like something heavy I am struggling to pull back from the edge of a cliff. Is it summer that makes me feel like life is speeding by at the speed of light? Each summer seems to go faster than the last; the hot and hectic days propel us forward into night then hurl us back into hot, bright day again.

But there is something more this summer; an intangible weight, a pressure that makes me feel like everything I am working towards could just disappear. I wonder: if I had known—more than three years ago when I started writing—that it would take this long to publish my book, would I have even started it?

Lately I feel that the process of trying to publish has become an obligation instead of a passion. When I started writing, I got up in the earliest hours of the morning while my infant daughter and husband slept just to have a few minutes to write; I loved writing, it was my water, it refreshed me and kept me going through the long and difficult days. Writing brought peace.

But at some point it started to feel like an obligation; this summer everything feels like an obligation, it all blurs together: selling our house, packing, renting our duplex, washing the clothes, researching publishers, finishing my book, calling friends, cooking, it all feels like what I “have to do” today. When did the things I love stop bringing me peace and start feeling like work that I drag myself through?

I used to love cooking, hosting parties, making plans with my friends, writing, writing was my purpose in life, it made everything else make sense, it brought me calm and joy, writing made me feel refreshed and alive, like I could see through the veil of unreality in life. I could see through the lie that said that life is mundane; writing abolished that fear I always had when I was younger that life might in fact be boring if I committed to something and started working at it.

So why do I feel wrestles this summer, fearful, like I’m clinging to those things that used to fall into my hands, effortlessly like abundant gifts? Writing felt like it was a part of me and not something I had to pursue. Writing brought peace; now my efforts distract and agitate me.

Peace is like a river that runs parallel to the path that I am relentlessly forcing myself along, the rocky dirt road that runs along the hottest part of the path when just a few feet away is a grassy shady cool path along the banks of the river. I could just as easily walk along that path but am afraid I might enjoy myself too much and not be as productive. Can we not be productive AND enjoy what we produce?

Peace is like a river constantly flowing in my life. It is not a question of whether or not it is there, it is a question of whether or not I will pause in my tiresome journey to pull my hot and dirty clothes off and jump into the cool, streaming waters of peace.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Intangible Value of Being Around

In Minneapolis today it is hot and drippy and humid as the rainforest. This is not my favorite weather.

At three months pregnant I am hot all the time and severely out of breath constantly, puffing and panting from trying to stand upright and talk at the same time. Truly I do not remember such severe symptoms from either of my past two pregnancies.

I often shake my head at how easy pregnancy and childbirth were at eighteen. If only our biology, our physical selves matched up with societal standards. But they don’t.

Socially it is unacceptable to get pregnant at eighteen, seems even somewhat frowned upon in early twenties. Is this true or am I just paranoid? When I tell working women that I am a stay-at-home-mom in my mid-twenties, I feel the slight chill of judgment (maybe my own self-criticism?) that I am producing children before developing a career; or I hear, “how great that you are able to do that” like I am unusually privileged or something.

The look I tend to get from mothers who work is a mixture of pity and confusion, a measuring look trying to figure out if I’m spoiled or if I just don’t have goals because I want to stay with my kids all day. One working mom’s response put words to the look, “That’s nice that you enjoy your kid so much; honestly I just don’t find my two-year-old that stimulating.”

I know that many women would like to stay home and don’t have the choice; either because they are the breadwinners of the family or because they are single, but when you’re a teacher like me or have a career that makes less than 80 K a year, at some point it simply doesn’t make sense to NOT stay home, daycare is so astronomically expensive these days.

But really that’s not why I do it, I guess I do it because my mom did it and I was always so grateful as a kid to be able to come home from school to the smells of dinner cooking—it is that sense memory that marked the day-to-day of my childhood past: the smell of some slow-cooking meat and the sound of A Chorus Line playing on the record player—to have her around to talk to when I had a hard day, to call her when I was sick at school, or to have help getting a snack when I got home.

There is an intangible value to having a parent keeping the house running while everyone is gone, keeping the figurative home fires burning. What is the actual value of a stay-at-home parent? Is it worth more than an 80K dollar a year career? Is it worth more than expensive family vacations, an expensive home or nice cars? I don’t know.

I know that I wouldn’t trade the conversations I’ve had and the memories I have with my daughter for anything.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Flame-Grilled Chili and Mozzarella Salad

This festive summer salad or appetizer will be perfect for July 4th Barbeques!

1. One container of fresh (buffalo) mozzarella balls (12-15)
2. 1 fresh red chili for every mozzarella ball
3. One big handful Fresh Purple Basil
4. Olive oil
5. Balsamic vinegar
6. Sea salt
7. Fresh black pepper

1. Pierce chilies with the tip of a sharp knife
2. Place the chilies directly on the flame of a gas stove or on the highest setting of your gas or charcoal barbeque.
3. Blacken on all sides
4. Remove and cover with plastic wrap for five minutes to steam the peel
5. While steaming, tear up the mozzarella and lay out on a plate
6. De-skin and de-seed the peppers, slice thinly
7. Scatter the chilies over the mozzarella
8. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
9. Splash on some olive oil and just a dash of balsamic vinegar

Thursday, June 18, 2009

If Love Can Grow

The air is cool this morning, the sun warm and bright. It feels like a true Minnesota June today. I got up before six this morning and stepped outside. I thought I smelled smoke on the morning air and worried that someone’s house was on fire. But when I went out to investigate, I discovered that the smoke was from a a controlled brush fire in the alley behind our house. I am pregnant and my sense of smell is wolfish, my thoughts a touch paranoid.

It is such a gorgeous feeling to be harmonious. When everything is falling into place, when relationships are copasetic, when you feel both needed and supported in friendships, when a home is comfortable and safe, like a respite from the busy world, life feels not just manageable, but beautiful.

I feel like things are working in my life now. Maybe this has to do with the fact that I am finally approaching the end of the first trimester. I have been slowly spreading the news of my new baby coming, but moving and trying to sell our house has been commanding more attention than this my third pregnancy.

Several good friends of mine have commented that the second pregnancy was depressing because people don’t make the kind of big deal that they made over the first. Their husbands didn’t pamper them the way he had with their first child, friends didn't come over or call the way they used to: every day just to check in, in laws don’t by gifts, no one throws showers.

It is this very fact, the fact that the second pregnancy is just no big deal to anyone, which makes this pregnancy, delightful to me.

When I was pregnant at eighteen, there was simply far too much to think about, worry about, and plan for to really enjoy pregnancy. And during my last pregnancy I suffered through at least six months of overwhelming anxiety about becoming a mother, holding my marriage together and managing the overwhelming joy and enthusiasm of my in-laws whose acceptance and embracement of me seemed totally novel and out of place.

The first trimester has always been awful and emotional for me. This time it’s been better simply because I finally know what to expect. This time when I was struck to the ground by the overpowering notion that my husband doesn’t actually know me–I mean really know me—at all and that his parenting sense is nothing short of criminal, I just took a deep breath, walked away and thought: I’ll take this thought seriously if I still feel it next month.

I am coming to the end of the first trimester and everything seems to make sense again. I can see outside the cloud of my hormones and the stress and chaos of cleaning and selling our house and finding renters for our duplex.

Once again, I am starting to see the beauty of life and I’m slowing down enough to enjoy it, I can remember why I married my husband and can see what a great dad he is and all the things I love about him. I can feel peaceful again which, for the last couple of months, has felt impossible.

There is just one last factor that still weighs in the back of my mind. My birthdaughter had a very long adjustment period to my being pregnant with Twila and, in all fairness, our relationship has really never been the same. It just couldn’t be the same after having a daughter of my own. Sandy has always been her mother, unquestionably, and I was her dedicated and doting birthmom. But when I became a real mom, my devotion shifted and was shared. It couldn’t be any other way. Our relationship rebounded beautifully and what we have found, over these past three years is wonderful and perhaps even healthier for all of us. But what change will this new child bring?

Will my love and attention split again? Will it get thinner for each child or will I somehow grow more love, richer love? Is it possible that I will find a healthy balance yet again and what we all discover will be even healthier and more authentic for each child? I have to believe this is true. I have to believe that my brother, though he was fourth born, did not feel any less loved because of his birth order and that my eldest sister didn’t feel any less loved for his addition.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Adept at Worrying

Twila had her first day of preschool today, an historical moment. So it’s just two days of summer camp, two hours each. But it is still a momentous occasion. I was bursting with pride as we walked in to the school that my siblings and I attended some quarter of a century ago. This St. Paul preschool is special to my family. Even Twila’s birth-sister Nicole went there for preschool and kindergarten. The teachers are warm and loving, the environment cozy and appealing.

When we arrived, and I assured Twila for the third time that I would stay with her the whole time (she is not yet three so I have to remain on the premises) we decided to play with the barnyard scene. Twila tentatively moved a few cattle around, she distractedly surveyed the open gym space, the more confident kids whirling around the circle on tricycles, the girls and boys drawing, taping; some energetic children were climbing monkey bars.

“Hey Look!” I enthused, “they had this rooster when I was a kid; I can still remember playing with it!”
“Mom, are you going to stay with me?”
“Hello Twila,” came Mrs. Vann’s cheery voice, “would you like to come play with me? I have some paper cutting for your mom to do up in the office.”

At this point Twila buried her face in my khakis and didn’t reemerge until Mrs. Vann was at a safe distance. All over the room kids joyfully waved goodbye to their parents, barely giving them a second look as they trotted off to play with the other kids and I wondered: have I ruined her?

When Twila was a baby, it was literally, physically painful for me to let her out of my sight. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let even my most loved and trusted friends and family take her away—even for the briefest of moments. Even now, after nearly three years, we have not been separated for more than a handful of nights. I sometimes feel like the only mother in this century to not want to get away from my child once in a while; sometimes I feel abnormal. And I’m okay with that. This is just who I am as a mother, or anyway, it’s who I am right now. Maybe because of placing my birthdaughter, maybe because of my own unique personality, the way I was raised? Who knows! Who cares—right?

But then this morning when I saw her tear up every time I mentioned that I might perhaps go help some of the other mothers with paper cutting, I thought: maybe I haven’t done what’s best for her. How can I know if her fear of separation has anything to do with my fear of separation or if it just her nature? How can we ever know that about the way our children turn out?

I suppose we can’t and it doesn’t help anything to wonder, worry or feel guilty; yet I am so adept at wondering, worrying and feeling guilty.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Weekend Edition: Have your Health and Crave it Too!

Creamy Potato Leek Soup
These cool June evenings have been making me crave spring and fallish dinners like this creamy potato leek soup which I adapted from a new food blog I just discovered and love called “Pinch My Salt
I know what you’re thinking: “aren’t these recipes supposed to be healthy? What’s that cup of cream doing in there?”
Well I recommend that you buy organic, grass fed un-homogenized cream and read what Licensed nutritionist Jenette Turner has to say about the importance of full animal fat in moderation.

But before you do that, try this delicious recipe with some crusty ciabata bread and relax and enjoy it!

1. 3 tablespoons butter
2. 2 large leeks, thinly sliced
3. 1 medium or large onion, chopped
4. 6 - 8 redskin potatoes, thinly sliced
5. 3 1/2 cups chicken broth (or enough to barely cover potatoes)
6. 1 cup heavy cream
7. salt and white pepper

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat then add onions and leeks. Cook, stirring, until onions are limp and just slightly brown.
2. Add sliced potatoes to saucepan then pour in enough chicken broth to just barely cover the potatoes. Continue cooking over medium heat until potatoes are tender. Using a potato masher, mash and stir potatoes until desired consistency is reached. As you mash the potatoes and the soup thickens, turn down heat and stir frequently with a large spoon to prevent scorching on the bottom.
3. Add one cup of heavy cream (or more if you desire) and salt and black pepper to taste.
4. Cook 15 minutes more over low heat, stirring frequently, then remove from heat and serve.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Do you agree to accept and raise this child as your natural child, as though he was born to you?"

After my piece on Open Adoption was published on Adoption Under One Roof (ouradopt.com) last week, several readers made some fascinating criticisms about my sunny view of open adoption. It’s no secret that I’m an optimist by nature. I do prefer to see the good over the bad, the light over the dark, the positive over the negative, the success over the failure. But its never occurred to me that this view might be offensive to people who have adopted with less overall success than I have been lucky enough to experience.

After several rounds with one particular reader, John, I felt like I had gained an incredibly valuable insight about a side of the adoption triad that I have not experienced firsthand. One issue my eyes were opened to is that of older child adoption. John explained that his sons were all adopted from foster care and therefore older and had experienced biological families and their shortcomings firsthand.

John’s willingness to speak up opened my eyes to the perspective of children who don’t want to see their birth-families. And as I am always excited to have my views challenged, it ended up being a very lively exchange, which I will share with you here.

John: In your first paragraph you give the reasons you wanted open adoption. Question, what would you have done if one or more of those items wasn't where you thought it should be? Once the adoption is final, it’s final. What would your recourse have been? Was your intent to 'influence' conduct you didn't care for, if it occurred? That would be co-parenting. As you know, parenting is a tough job, kibitzers don't help, no matter how well intended.
If you start out by assuming that open adoption is beneficial to all three parts of the adoption, you are very likely going to prove it, right or wrong. Why not talk to adoptive families that chose to do semi-open or closed adoption? Families who did open adoption and had large problems? Then form your conclusions about the appropriateness and benefit to the adoptive parents. That is the part of the triad you aren't.

Me: As Lisa mentioned, this piece is part I in a three part series. Many of the questions you asked are addressed in parts II and III. Part I deals with the benefits of open adoption for me, the birthmother. Part II discusses the benefits I have witnessed for adoptive mothers and fathers.
As John astutely pointed out, I am not an adoptive mother. However, in the process of researching my book, I have interviewed and listened to the stories of dozens of adoptive mothers and fathers. In fact my own birthdaughter’s adoptive mother, while having had a wonderful experience with our open adoption, has had major problems with her son’s birthmother. As a result, she has largely cut his birthmother out of their lives, a decision I fully support. I do not pretend to speak for all members of the adoption triad, nor do I pretend to speak for all birthmothers. Certainly no one can speak for a whole group of people.
The issue of open adoption, I have always maintained, is very subjective. The success of open adoption is dependent on countless factors, on personality traits and individual choices within each open adoption. In other words, there are too many factors for anyone (including myself) to guarantee that an open adoption will be successful. All I can do, all any of us can do, is to tell the truth about my experience, what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard.
John to answer your question, in the ten years of our open adoption I have witnessed nuances of parenting that would differ from my own style. Yes, they have made choices that I would not have made; and no, I have never nor would I ever criticize their family or interfere with their parenting choices. As I assert, that is not the role of a birthmother in open adoption.
Is open adoption perfect? Is any relationship worth having ever perfect?
But I do believe in the benefits of open adoption and I will continue to write about the success that is present in open adoption, because I believe it’s a relationship worth fighting for.

John: Your writing style is no-nonsense, something I appreciate. Thank you for answering the comments from the first post. Indeed, none of us represent everyone in our group. Your comments about respecting the parenting choices of the adoptive parents is refreshing, and reassuring. It is very hard to stand by and watch someone else head in a parenting direction that seems unwise and keep quiet.
Let me put out something that doesn't fit, and yet it is applicable. Five of my sons came home from foster care. No that is not infant adoption, but it is adoption. All five dislike confusion and being different. They all want very little contact with the extended birth family. I am referring to grandparents, aunts and uncles, people who were appropriate and the there for them. They have a period of discombobulation after visits, no matter how well the visit goes. It is not something the family member does. I would prefer them to have contact with these people. Pushing the issue leads to fireworks. The best answer I can get from them is that it is backing them up and putting them on the other side of an imaginary wall. Apparently scary and very uncomfortable.
Here in CA, at finalization, the parent is asked "Do you agree to accept and raise this child as your natural child, as though he was born to you?" My youngest has reminded me of that several times. His point is that this is home, this is HIS family and no one should ever try to put him back where he was. He seems to see contact with the birth family as indeed putting him back. Interesting, the judge’s question is the definition of a "Fresh Start".

Me: Hi John, I certainly agree with you that adoption of older children is very different from adopting infants. Children seem to have the remarkable capacity to adapt to anything if it is what they’ve known their whole life. Older children who have experienced being let down by their first families are likely to have issues with trust and intimacy and I can see the difficulty in having contact with the biological families—especially if the children do not want it. I think children in adoption must be listened to and their wishes respected.
As a birthmother I have seen contact with my birthdaughter as a privilege, one that I accept with deepest gratitude. I show my birthdaughter’s mom my gratitude by always respecting their family unit as THE family unit. You are right, children have a right to know that their family is their real and true and life-long family. I want my birthdaughter to have the same sense of security with her mom that my daughter has with me.
Thank you again John, for taking the time to bring up your thoughts. I truly appreciate the perspective of other people in the adoption triad.
Melissa Nilsen

Monday, June 8, 2009

"Is Nicole My Sister?"

I went to see my birthdaughter in her first major role in a school production. When Twila and I arrived we saw cars stacked from corner to corner and a mad rush of parents and friends streaming into the gym. We rushed in to find Sandy, Tom and one of Nicole’s younger brothers holding down seats and waving their arms at us. We hurried to grab our chairs and just as we did Sandy was waving wildly again and my mom and my grandmother and younger sister Heidi were scooting in behind us. We squeezed-in with the smaller two on our laps.

Many parents stood in crowds at the back and side, where there was standing room only, and snapped photos of the stage and set and the teachers in their strait skits and Sunday slacks taking the stage to announce the beginning of the show. Just as a young thin teacher stepped up to the microphone looking slightly stiff and uncomfortable in her evening wear, Twila caught the sound of kids filing quietly in the back and whirled around in my lap.

In an instant she was out of my lap and down our row of chairs, muttering something about seeing Nicole. She streaked down the aisle and just as the teacher was opening her mouth to welcome the crowd, the silence was split by Twila’s shrill voice: “Hi Nicole!”

The teacher froze and the whole crowd laughed and turned to see Twila pelting towards Nicole now kneeling down in a very adult looking pose ready to receive her in her arms. As Twila leaped forward, Nicole wrapped her in her arms and stood in one fluid motion and held her there to her chest. And the two of them rocked back and forth holding each other for whole minutes.

After a long chorus of “Awwwwwwww” parents turned their cameras to the back of the gymnasium and photos clicked and flashed of the two girls holding each other and grinning from ear to ear.

In the car after the performance Twila asked me, “Is Nicole my sister like Heidi is your sister?”
I answered her that Nicole is a kind of sister to her. Just like Twila she grew in my body and was born from me.
“But I’m not her mom like I am your mom.”
“Oh, why?”
“Because Sandy is her mom.”
“Oh…but why?”
“When Nicole grew in my tummy, I wasn’t ready to be a mom, yet. And Sandy really wanted to be a mom but she couldn’t have a baby in her tummy. So Sandy and I met and talked and decided that she would be Nicole’s mom forever, just like I am your mom forever. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah, but…Nicole is still my sister.”
“Right, she’s your birth sister because you both grew in my body.”
“Yeah, she’s my birth sister.”

Friday, June 5, 2009

Weekend Edition: Have Your Health and Crave it Too!

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

I made this recipe last night for my daughter, parents and siblings—it was gone in a flash!

1. 2 cups frozen corn kernels
2. 1/2 cup canned black beans, rinsed
3. 2 tablespoons olive oil
4. 2 tablespoons diced red pepper
5. 1 garlic clove, minced
6. 1 can diced chilies or jalapenos (jalapenos for a spicier salsa)
7. 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice*
8. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
9. 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
10. Salt
11. freshly ground black pepper

1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl
2. Serve with tortilla chips

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

And On We Go

Our realtor open house was yesterday. I cannot describe in words the amount of effort we put into that singular day. Every square inch of our house was polished, dusted, shined, organized and tweaked. We hauled half our worldly possessions to storage and rearranged, laundered and cleaned all that was left. We tiled floors, painted walls, and carpeted stairways. We shampooed rugs, painted ceilings, edged the lawn, mulched, and added trim to the gardens. I am not including at least half of the projects we tackled.

As I backed out of my house yesterday morning, my three cats in a carrier and my two-year-old in my right arm, sweeping and dusting our path away as we exited, I took one last look at our showroom quality house, breathed in the sweet smell of lemon pledge and gardenia candles, and smiled at the soft sound of Vivaldi playing upstairs.

If any house is going to sell in a day, it’s going to be ours, I thought. My dad helped us to pack into the car, to buckle Twila’s seat into the back and to strap the cat carrier into the front seat. We spent the morning at my parents’ house, chatting, playing in my father’s Secret-Garden-style back yard, pulling weeds and chewing mint leaves out of the grass.

I have been so supported through this process. Ryan’s parents have helped us clean and organize; my family has helped with projects and helped with babysitting, transportation, and watching the cats. My birthdaughter’s family, the Bensons, have been over to offer suggestions for staging, lend furniture and take Twila to the park. We couldn’t have made it through these past weeks without our family.

As I lay in the grass of my father’s yard, looking up at the wispy clouds grow, stretch, dissipate and reform, like giant puffs of cotton candy being pulled from the cone in little tufts, I thought, “this is it, the hard work is behind us. The realtors are pouring through the house now and one of them will bring the buyer who is perfect for our house.” I also thought, “when the house sells (in record time) I will throw a big celebratory dinner for all the people who have helped us. I will toast each of them and thank them for their individual efforts.”

All this, I envisioned as I relaxed in St. Paul, waiting to go back home. So you can imagine my surprise when we got home at the end of the day and discovered that only two realtors visited our open house.

But life keeps trouping on.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Into the Woods

You may have noticed that I didn’t post a recipe on Friday. Usually posting my recipes is my favorite part of blogging. But this weekend, things just got too busy around the house. We’ve decided to move. We have the unexpected opportunity to move to a house outside the city with a big yard and quiet skies.

I’ve never lived outside the city. When my parents moved to the Twin Cities from California when I was just two-years-old, they moved into the heart of St. Paul, very near Central High School. And in that general area we stayed. After I graduated from high school I moved to Minneapolis.

I moved to Uptown and then with my boyfriend to Downtown Minneapolis a couple of years later. When we got married we moved into a house in South Minneapolis. Our neighborhood is great. We have wonderful neighbors who watch our house when we’re out of town, whose kids like to play with our daughter and with whom we have happy hours and barbeques on the deck nearly every night in the warm spring and summer months.

It’s a wonderful neighborhood to be sure, with beautiful old trees lining the streets and everything in walking distance; it is a quintessential urban community. We’ve loved every minute of city living.

But there is another side of our personalities. As much as I have thrived in the city, Ryan and I have also craved the solitude of the woods. We spent seven days in The Quetico (Canadian) side of The Boundary Waters on our honeymoon. We didn’t see another human for four days and it was heavenly.

As social as we are, throwing parties and hosting impromptu barbeques, we are also somewhat reclusive…or I am and over the years Ryan has met me in the middle; as I have with his gregariousness.

We enjoy the quiet of the mornings when we camp. We have often said on extended camping trips (real camping—like hiking into the woods without a car or cooler) that we feel the most in-touch spiritually when we are in the seclusion of nature.

And lately we have been craving more seclusion. We are feeling pulled out of the city, away from the noise of traffic, the speeding cars on Chicago Ave, the roaring planes overhead and the highly visible property of our Urban Dwelling.

As a city girl, I have no idea how this is going to go for me. I’ve never lived in the wide open spaces of rural Minnesota. But I have the strangest suspicion that I am going to love it.