A little present for myself, from myself

Sue from Apostrophe Suz shared this link with me, for the Pioneer Woman 2008 calendar.

There are several reasons why I love this calendar: Ree’s photos remind me of our time on the ranch; she refers to her 4 kids as “punks” without apology; and she makes taking picures of livestock and little-ones look easy, which are feats I have yet to accomplish. And better yet, each purchase earns $1 toward the Special Olympics, a cause close to Ree’s heart, and to mine, too.

Did I mention she’s a fantastic photographer? To see more, go here.

Thankful for…

Pam of Rhett’s Journey tagged me while ago, and it took me some time (this happens a lot!) to figure out what I mean to say.

I’m thankful everyday for everything: I never imagined I could have a husband like Tom, or that I’d be the mother to 3 such terrific little people. My family is large (I have an expanded definition of family and you all are included!) and diverse and amazing and inspiring. And I have all the important things to be grateful for: a warm house in winter, a cool one in summer. Food for all of us. Clothes to cover our bodies, shoes and coats and mittens when we need them. Good health. Good work.

All-in-all, good times.

But these things aren’t what I mean to write about, even though I am deeply, profoundly grateful for them. What I want to write about is something that came to me as a bit of a surprise.

Just 4 years ago, when the twins were in the NICU and Avery was diagnosed with Down syndrome and everything, even the expiration date on the yogurt container, seemed full of portent, full of doom, it hurt to hope. It hurt to think that maybe my life might one day feel comfortable to me again; that I might wake to the sun streaming through the windows and think, What’s in store? with a happy sense of expectation. It all seemed like a distant memory–or, in my worst moments, like a cruel illusion.

But I want to say that the thing I am most thankful for is this: the return of hope. In the 4 years since the babies were born, we worked, we worried, we laughed. The babies grew to boys; Carter, to a big-boy. And now, it’s started: I’m dreaming again, wishing for things and imagining the possibilities. It’s always the beginning, for all of us, as long as we have hope.

Instead of tagging someone, I’ll just ask: What are you most thankful for?

The Daring Book for Girls

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Dishes, Dresses, Boxes, Beaches, Days, Bikes, Wishes, Things, Names, Children. Ten spelling words Cherrisa was supposed to learn for her new school. Her homework was to memorize the words, but she couldn’t yet read. She was 8 years old and repeating the first grade for the second time. Her sister, DeAndra, was 4. They’d been in foster care for 6 months, 4 different homes, moved 5 times. These were the numbers involved, but they were only the beginning of the story.

DeAndra was a violent, angry child. She hit, bit, broke things, and held her breath until she hyperventilated. Cherissa over-compensated for her sister. She was nice beyond reason: too considerate, too polite.

The girls came to live with Tom and me when we were on the ranch, before I was mom to Carter, before we had the twins. It was just after Christmas, and they arrived with plastic bags of mismatched clothes and a truckload of toys in various states of disrepair—babies missing a leg or an arm, a light-up vanity with dead batteries, little pink ponies with ratty manes. I called the social worker and asked about the sackfuls of belongings: The girls were just supposed to stay for the weekend. Why did we have all their stuff?

Their three-day stay turned into an extended placement. I enrolled DeAndra in daycare and Cherissa in school. I tried to help them fit in, but they were different, and they knew it. In addition to being in foster care, their mother was from Guatemala and the girls favored her. They had coffee-colored skin that turned ashy in the dry Montana air, and hair that was thick and black.

DeAndra found two crickets and asked if she could keep them, her first pets. She named them “Horses” and “Sally.” She and I spent hours in the rocking chair–sometimes she sobbed quietly, other times she howled, as if in pain. Tom and I didn’t know what to do for her, so I called the social worker, who called a psychiatrist. The answer–hold her and let her cry.

In the quiet moments after bath time or while I was brushing hair, they told me their stories. Abuse, neglect, broken trust. Childhood wasn’t supposed to be like that. I frequently felt overwhelmed, and just when I’d hit bottom, a day would come, out of the blue, when everyone was happy. A Saturday morning building castles out of cardboard boxes, Cherrisa wearing her Snow White costume and DeAndra dressed as a lion. Or a pizza party with the kids from neighboring ranches; Disney movies and popcorn on Friday nights.

But at best it felt hollow: They were not ours and we were not theirs. We all knew that someday, they would be leaving. That was the goal—reunion with their father, who had sole custody.

My time with these little girls happened more than 10 years ago; now I’m the mother of 3 sons. I’m happy with my boys, but every now and then, I catch a glimpse in the corner of my mind of a dream daughter, a girl I might have mothered. She is, in part, a way of honoring the girls I did mother, if only for a short while.

Reading The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz calls these experiences to my mind. As I looked at sections like “Stand up for Yourself–Or Someone Else” or “Boys,” I wished I’d had a chance to talk to the girls about these things. Sections like “Princesses Today” and “How to Negotiate a Salary” made me hope that they’ve learned all this on their own.

I think about the last days the girls were with us. In the midst of the sadness, a warm chinook wind blew across the ranch, melting the snow off the peaks, greening the grass in the meadows. There was so much that they needed that I couldn’t give them.

The Daring Book for Girls encapsulates the very best things about being female: We are smart, we are strong, we are playful, we are kind. It’s all the things I’d want to teach my daughters. I wish I could have given this book to them; it would have been a good thing to hold on to, when I was no longer there to show them the way.

To see what other moms are writing about The Daring Book for Girls, visit MotherTalk. And I have one copy of the book to share: If you’d like it, leave your name in the comments and I’ll draw a winner at random.

More soup!

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Gypsy Soup

3 T olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup peeled and diced sweet potato
1 cup peeled and diced squash, such as butternut or acorn or turkish hat
1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
3/4 cup chopped sweet peppers (red, green or yellow) or substitute a handful of chopped kale or a handful of chopped fresh spinach
1 can garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas), drained
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. tumeric
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 T tamari soy sauce

In a large pot, saute onions, garlic, potatoes and squash in the olive oil. Add all seasonings (except stock and tamari). Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, to bring out the flavors of the spices. Add remaining ingredients, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender.

This soup serves 4, and it’s even better the next day!

Drawing the line

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One of the things I find myself doing often, as Avery’s mom, is trying to sort out where to draw the line on things. Ordinary, everyday experiences take on a new complexity: Is this because of Down syndrome? Is this a regular, run-of-the-mill parenting experience? Is this simply my problem, or is it a real issue?

As you might guess, I have more to say. I write about it in this week’s “A Little More” post at ParentDish.

It’s a chili day!

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Black Bean Chili

3/4 lb. ground beef, ground turkey, or a combination of both
3/4 cup chopped green onion
1 small green or red sweet pepper, chopped
1/3 cup coarsely shredded carrot
1 can whole tomatoes, with juice
1 can black beans, rinsed
2 cans tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1 T chili powder
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. dried basil
shredded cheddar cheese
fresh basil
avocado slices, if you have them

In a large pot, cook ground meat, onion, sweet pepper and carrot, until meat is brown. Drain fat. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Ladle into bowls and top with shredded cheese, or fresh basil leaves, or avocado, or extra hot sauce. Serves 4.

What I’ve been up to…living in the past!

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The final pages came back to me for my book (they’re acually called “first pass pages” but I don’t know why, they’re last) and I’ve been proofreading, and fretting. Mostly fretting. I’ve begun having little panic attacks that manifest themselves in strange ways, like this morning, when we didn’t have any bread left for the peanut butter toast and I started crying; or last night, when I was convinced that we had a mouse scritching about the house (we don’t, it was just the wind blowing the tree branches against the window.)

Oh, heaven help me. I’m almost finished and I just need to keep it together a little bit longer! And I need to remember what my terrific editor, Tracy, has begun telling me, “It’s okay…just breathe…”