Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The good stuff

When I was about 9 or 10, our Primary (the children's organization at church) had a weekly spotlight on an individual child. I don't remember when I was spotlighted, but I remember a spotlight on a particular child, Charlotte, age 4. I babysat her and her siblings for a short time while her mother taught piano lessons in the front room, but that's not why I remember her.

Charlotte was what I have now learned to call a "spirited child." She spent a good portion of her time pretending to a canine identity, so that she became known as "Charlotte the sheepdog." Once, when her mother was busy trying to shepherd her three other children out of our elementary school after Campfire Girls (too bad the sheepdog was out of character at the moment) Charlotte was running so fast down the hallway that her pants fell down - a moment I was privileged to view from behind and still rank as the funniest of my fifth-grade year.

When Charlotte was the child of the week in Primary, one of the spotlight questions was, "What is your favorite food?" Charlotte's answer: "White bread."

Frankly, I wished I had thought of it. Hey, we were Mormon kids in the 1980s. Our moms were grinding wheat in loud electric grinders in the garage and making their own bread because they knew they were supposed to. And we were eating it. Wonder Bread was like birthday cake to us.

Fast forward to today. I got some white bread by accident (it's a long story) and used some to make K's lunchtime PB&J (with safe, non-salmonellaed peanut butter, I promise).

His response: "Why did you give me toilet paper on my sandwich?"

My, how times have changed. Do I feel a little proud that my kid doesn't recognize white bread? OK, yes. That is kind of cool. But I am shocked, I tell you, that it was not a big treat. I guess I am going to have to step it up.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good news and bad news

In the grand tradition of people keeping their chins up, first the good news.

As of today our adoption home study is finally approved. Now we are just waiting for a court date. We are going to par-TAY when Z and K are officially ours! Watch for deets!

We got Healthy Families coverage for our older two kids. This is California's CHIP program. We will have basically the same coverage for them that we had when I was working, and it will only cost us $14/month plus copays, etc. This is vital. This is make-or-break news on the make side of things. Paying for S's medication was going to kick our behinds if we had to do it all ourselves for the next few months. I was shocked and overjoyed that this coverage was approved so quickly, and I am grateful that as far as we know we will only need it for a few months.

We have amazing family and church members helping us out while Dr. G-to-be puts the final touches on his dissertation and I focus on the kiddoes. I mean, super amazing. Thank you so much, all you awesome people.

Speaking of which, G's advisor wants him to schedule his defense for March. That's a date, folks! Also known as a light at the end of the five-year tunnel!

Now for the slightly less exciting (ok, bad) news:

There is a Church-wide hiring freeze right now and so our alma mater, home of the Cougs, cannot hire Dr. G-to-be this year. They said they're "interested" but we shouldn't wait around for them. Duh, like we could! So it really looks like we are not moving to Utah this year. The next three favorite contenders are Anchorage, Eau Claire and Portland. Start praying for your favorite (or if you would rather not be around us, the one furthest from you!)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We're with you

This morning when I woke at 6:40 a.m. Pacific time, something was already different. Instead of the business news I usually hear on NPR as I wake up, I heard crowds, excitement, anticipation.

After getting the big boys to school, I packed up my littles to head for the gym. No TV reception at home, so I watched the inauguration ceremonies from a treadmill. I think it's the first time I've ever cried during my workout (Oh, Aretha!) and the first time I've said "amen" from the gym floor (in that heartfelt and delightful benediction).

As I watched President Obama (how good it feels to write those two words together!) deliver his inaugural address, an idea occurred to me: I would like to speak those words. I would like to hear the voices of a lot of people speaking those words.

I'm going to read the speech aloud and record it. I'll edit it into an MP3 and post it here.

I want to make it a project - a bloggy community work of art. I want a lot of people to do the same thing. You can use any digital voice recorder, a fancy studio, or a $10 computer microphone. You could read the whole speech or just your favorite part. If there are parts you disagree with, just read a part that struck a chord with you. Do it your way - sing it, add applause, shout it from a rooftop. Get the quality as good and clear as you can. Send it to me in .WAV or .MP3 format and I will edit it all together. It's a way we can say to President Obama and to each other, "We are with you." It's a way we can seal into our own souls the urgency of the work that needs to be done and the changes we individually will make in response to the way America is changing.

Will you do it? Tell me if you plan to participate.

Image slightly modified from the New York Times' Facebook page.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hot tamale

It would have been good to have a "hot" theme for the whole month of January. I could alternate between complaining about 45-degree highs and gloating over 68-degree highs. Too bad I didn't think of it earlier. Truly I am sorry for all of you who are suffering through snow days and cold temps right now. If it makes you feel any better, I sort of think next January I will probably be suffering with you. I am loath to leave California but kind of excited to move. True confession: I am stockpiling boxes in the garage. I should probably start looking at parkas on clearance.

So here is what I was really going to write about.

If you ever come visit me here, come on a Saturday of a holiday weekend. We will go to the Food4Less parking lot and find the tamale lady. She trolls the lot with a borrowed cart stocked with a big, blue cooler full of tamales. Four varieties now: chicken, pork (the traditional and best), chili verde (burns your guts out but soooooooo good) and sweet (I haven't tried this one). You get 12 for $10. Such a bargain! She takes checks.

We'll bring a couple dozen tamales back to my house, take them out of their fold-over sandwich bags, pop them in the oven on a cookie sheet covered with foil, make up a big green salad, pour a bowl of chips and make some guac, and gab all night. It's perfect party food.

Sounds fun, right? You are totally invited.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hot and sour soup

Yesterday I got a crazy craving for Chinese food. I don't know if I caught a whiff driving by Panda Express, or what. I was feeling like I could easily sit down and enjoy a couple orders of something deep fried in a gooey sweet sauce. You know what I'm talking about. It's evil.

Instead, I did this. I modified it a bit from a recipe. The changes I made occurred because Dr. G-to-be does not eat mushrooms, which is one of the real sorrows of my life, and I had a lot of chicken and bok choy to use up. We also don't like our soups thickened with cornstarch, so I didn't do that.

It ended up a very flavorful and nutritious recipe with almost no fat or carbs. I felt so virtuous and stuff. Hurray for small victories!

Protein-packed Hot and Sour Soup
8 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. low sodium soy sauce
1 c. white meat chicken, shredded or diced
1 tbsp. hot sauce (we keep Sriracha around so I used that) - adjust amount to achieve your preferred level of heat
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1/2 c. white vinegar
4-6 heads mei qing choy or other baby bok choy, washed and sliced. Separate stalks and leaves.
1 lb. firm tofu, cut in 1/4" dice
1 egg, beaten well

Simmer broth in a soup pot. Add soy sauce, chicken, and hot sauce. Simmer 5 minutes.

Add white pepper, vinegar, bok choy stalks and tofu. Simmer 5 minutes.

Increase heat to a medium boil. Pour beaten egg slowly into soup in a fine stream. Stir several times.

Add bok choy leaves (doing this last to keep the beautiful green color!). Cook just until tender. Serve hot.

Optional: garnish with sliced green onions and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Sometimes Facebook shows me really cool stuff. This, for instance: Service Nation.

As Mormons, we have service drilled into us all the time. So, I think, do active members of other faiths. But I hope we - Christians, believers, whatever we call ourselves - don't expect to be the only people out to do good in the world.

I hope you sign up. Do a lot of little stuff, do a big thing, do whatever, but do something.

As for me, I know I will keep parenting the kids I have (foster parenting is a BIG thing, but these kids are just my kids now in my heart and soon will be by law, too, so it's kind of stopped being a public service) and keep teaching my darling 7 year olds in Primary. I'm hoping to head down to the stake vineyard to help finish the winter cleanup sometime in the next couple of weeks - we grow grapes for raisins. There are donations I will continue to make, although on a reduced scale since I am no longer the earning powerhouse in the family and for a few more months no one else is, either.

But that stuff is just kind of the way I live. Nothing new, nothing to enable me to say I am doing more now than I was last year to make the world a better place. I am looking for something else to commit to in conjunction with Obama's inauguration and the Service Nation pledge. I gotta figure out the right thing. Anybody got a project they need help with, or a great idea to share?

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Is there a book you've been meaning to read for, oh, forever? Read it. Seriously. Last year I did this with "To Kill a Mockingbird" (how I managed to make it through a very lit-heavy high school program and a college English major without this book is anybody's guess) and it was one of my favorite books ever.

This past week I finally got to "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" by Anne Fadiman, about Hmong refugees in my adopted hometown of the last five and half years. My mom in Salt Lake actually read it first, for a class at the University of Utah, then sent me her copy.

I thought I knew the story of these people - I had interviewed a couple of Hmong students for my job - but I truly had no idea. I say hi to the Hmong families at K's Head Start program now with a whole different feeling in my heart.

The history of the Hmong is stunning in every respect - thousands of years of persecution and attempted assimilation by other cultures brought them, uncowed in the end, to Laos, where they fought the Communist Pathet Lao on behalf of the United States. (I previously thought they were involved in the Vietnam War, but Laos was actually a whole different theater where our country essentially used Hmong soldiers - ages 13 and up - as cheap, expendable fighters in a losing conflict.) When we pulled out, we left all but the officers behind. The rest of the families went on foot to Thailand, through landmines and under fire, to refugee camps where they endured disease, overcrowding and food insecurity, not to mention cultural prejudice from administrators who persisted in seeing them as dirty and ignorant. When they arrived here they had already been through the pits of hell.

I also thought previously that there must have been some government program settling Hmong immigrants in pockets. I've become somewhat familiar with a few of them - the Twin Cities in Minnesota, the Milwaukee area, and now the Central Valley of California. I thought somebody must have decided those would be good areas for the Hmong and put them there/here on purpose. Not so. Originally they were settled one family to a city - isolated from their clan-based culture - in hopes that they would blend in quickly. After reading their history I have to say that seems pretty ironic. Of their own volition they came together, and when this book was written my town had the highest percentage of Hmong residents in the nation. A major leader had visited here in April, found it a paradise, and spread the word. (Must've been a dry year - in my experience April can also be very cold and soggy!)

I am taking a long time to come to the main point of the book. The story on which all this history is hung is the story of a little girl with epilepsy and how her immigrant parents struggled to work with the American medical system, and how the system struggled to work with them, ultimately failing despite best attempts to interface properly to preserve her quality of life. It's a tragedy, though with some bright spots as people do their very best. It crossed my interests as the foster care system became very problematically involved; as a hyperactive child tore a medical setting apart; as the author's translator - or "cultural broker" as she described her - asserted her Mormonism in seemingly problem-free conjunction with her family's plans to sacrifice a cow in a Hmong ritual.

Can you start to see what was so fascinating about it? I read only a few non-fiction books a year, but this one was one I would not skip if I were you. Even if you don't live near refugees, even if you don't have a child with medical issues, even if you're not a doctor or nurse or social worker, it's a gripping story with a lot to learn. But if any of those things apply to you, this book will change your view immensely and for the better.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


We are not vegetarians. In the interest of helping my 4 year old understand where his food comes from, I embarked this evening on the following conversation:

K: I like this meat.
A: That's pork. It comes from a pig.
K [suspicious]: Is it the pig's poop?
A: No, it's the pig's muscles.
K: I don't like a pig's muscles! I'm just going to drive away to a hotel! Or Grandma's house!

He ate the rest of the pork and then conked out before he could find his license and keys.

Friday, January 02, 2009

How is it done?

Yesterday we had this great day. We made everybody work all morning and got the house all clean. In the afternoon we napped and played but still generally kept it together. In the evening I made people get off the screens and we played Hullabaloo (which is so worth it if you have littles; it's like Twister for preschoolers) and I sat and played baby dolls with Z and Matchbox cars with Z, and we got everybody to bed by 8:30 and it was bliss, and I was thinking maybe 2009 was going to be the year I got it together and was Organized Mom with Clean House and Well-behaved Children.

Today we went up to the snow. We borrowed a couple of sleds from my friend Jenne and proceeded up past her house to a place that is apparently called either Little Sweden or Swedish Hill, up Highway 108 above Sonora just before the pass is closed off. It's a pretty good sledding spot and very crowded.

In my five and a half years in California I had not yet encountered Sierra Nevada snow until today. It is not snow as I knew it in Utah or Alaska. It is really dense and really wet. If a bit gets into your shoe there is no grace period for you to get it out. You are wet immediately and wet through.

Also, because we have spent five and a half years in California, completed numerous closet purges and added two members to our family, we no longer have adequate snow gear. We were really Mickey-Mouse sledders. Note the ill-fitting, mismatched gloves. I have dug out some leftover fleece and I have a project to undertake!

It was still fun. K said to me, "I never sawed snow!" And I realized that he probably never has. So that was worthwhile, to take a four-year-old for his first experience with the white stuff.

(Can you believe this picture, with the eyelash yarn hat and the eyelashes on Z!!?)

But it wore us out. After dinner tonight we bathed the kids and then G zonked out on the bed and I got carried away in a new novel. (Who, me?) Suddenly it was 9:15. S was on the computer playing Roblox. A had gotten Z and K into their pajamas (my second son is a saint) and they were watching Night at the Museum. The movie ended and there was mass chaos getting everybody into bed.

I will say, I am grateful they weren't out stealing blow-up Santa Clauses on motorcycles, which I know they covet, from our neighbors' lawns. This wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. But I could definitely see a contrast from the night before.

So how do people be the Organized Mom and the Fun Mom and the Clean House Mom and the Well-behaved Children Mom for more than one day in a row? I really would like to know, and I think I'm asking in the right place, because there are a certain few of you out there whom I suspect of having it all together like this. Sometimes I think I need to do a mommy internship with some of you people. But I might flunk. I am not sure I have it in me.

Actually probably if I had not stayed up until 2 a.m. watching Wayne's World and folding laundry and eating peanut M&Ms with G I would feel a little better and more focused and capable today. Ya think?

Thursday, January 01, 2009


HNY. That's for Happy New Year, 2009, in which we hope to goof off just as much as we did in the old one, or possibly more. It's not a good time for anyone to stray from their core business.

Thanks to my dad for the mustaches. He knows us well. Santa brought the Dora the Explorer bandanna for Z. So far only Daddy has worn it. Z, like her mother (me), has little patience for stuff on her head or face.

In spite of all the goofing off (which we have done with aplomb for the last two whole weeks) this year for real we are going to finalize two adoptions and get a Ph.D., a grownup job and a house. I'll keep saying all that at the beginning of every year until it all really happens.

Seriously, as of yesterday, Dr. G-to-be has a complete draft of his dissertation. I don't know how he does it and still helps me so much. Simply the best. And I hope you are thinking about Tina Turner now.