Homemade Baby Food

Yum yum yum!  That’s what my newly home six year old says when it’s time to eat, and it is in that spirit that I write to you today.  I was so excited for the opportunity of making baby food at home.  It might sound silly, but as a child-led weaning momma I feel like I got left out of one of the fun, crunchy pursuits of our day… homemade baby food.  It was actually one thing I was really looking forward to… until I learned about how babies don’t really need baby food in the first place, sigh.

But now I have a daughter who does need it, and I was thrilled to give it a whirl (and thanking the Dear Lord for my Vitamix!)  One of the first things I did when we got back from the hospital was Google “baby food recipes”, and I was seriously disappointed in finding nothing to spark inspiration.  Hope needs baby food with no (or little) fruit, no dairy and no grains or legumes.  Luckily our family completed a Whole 30 Challenge earlier in the year, and so I was accustomed to the ingredients I had to work with.

I found my inspiration from the homemade meals I know our family really enjoys, so I wanted to post a couple of my favorite recipes, some flavor combinations and other tips, in case crunchy mommas happen to come behind me and are looking for a little bit of a spark for their little one’s pureed diet or just aren’t sure where to start.  Although, remember, a great place to begin is always your own comfort foods!  If a flavor combination works on a plate, it will probably work in the blender too.

Things to Keep in Mind…

Before you start making baby or pureed foods, first take stock of what’s important to the person who will be eating it.  Babies are not the only ones who need pureed diets, often times older children and even adults with special needs require specialized diets like this, and I think it is important to protect the dignity of the person (or baby!) you are feeding by keeping their preferences in mind.  Are there certain textures they don’t seem to enjoy or can’t swallow as easily?  Be sure to avoid those.  Are there different flavor combinations they prefer?  Do they like spicy or mild, sour or sweet food?

I knew our daughter, coming from the orphanage setting, was used to two basic flavors: bland and sweet.  Lovingly spiced and aromatic foods are not to be seen in Ukranian laying rooms.   However, an abudnance of fruit and sweet formula, or oatmeal flavored with milk and sugar?  Yup, it’s cheap and easy, and children eat better if the food is sugary.  The first week we had Hope she didn’t really want anything we had to give her unless it was full of processed sugar or fruit, but we knew this was not a long term solution, and had to cut it off cold turkey once we realized it was causing her so much digestive trouble.

It’s safe to say that sticking to meat, vegetables and healthy fats is the way to go.  It is better for all of us!  (Especially babies and young children should stay away from grains and processed dairy until their digestive systems are more developed.)  Hope needed to learn to eat this way for her health, (as most of us probably do) and I wanted her to enjoy it, so I was determined to make those meat and veggies taste delicious.

Also note that our daughter is severely malnourished, she weighs 31 pounds now, at nine years old, and that is after having gained six pounds after we picked her up!  Needless to say, the girl needs to gain some weight, so my recipes are based on that.  They are heavy in good fats to boost calories.  If the person or child you are feeding does not need weight gain help, you will want to tone down the fats in the recipe a bit.  However, the recipes as written seem to be working great for someone who needs to gain!

One last aside before we get started, I’ve been using canned meat because it is less expensive and quick (something a mom with four little ones definitely needs!), but it’s certainly not ideal flavor or nutrition-wise.  Fresh would definitely be better and I hope to add more of that as we go, if you have extra from meals, or want to take the time to make fresh, and you’d like to substitute – that’s awesome!  Just use some basic math to convert the portions as needed.

The following two recipes are Whole 30 compliant.

Baby Food Recipe 1: Chicken & Tomato Basil

One of our families favorite meals is Tomato Basil Bisque with a side of shredded chicken.  It’s warm and inviting, and the flavors mesh perfectly.  I knew that chicken and tomatoes worked and that tomatoes and basil worked, so I made the final leap and it has been a smashing success, her favorite meal and umm… my toddler can’t stop himself from eating it either!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 Cup Chicken Stock
  • 1/3 Cup Coconut Milk
  • 2 Large Cans of Shredded Chicken (or fresh equivalent)
  • 1 Large Tomato
  • Other Veggies (Optional)
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • Several leaves of Fresh Basil (or app. 1 Tbs dried)
  • 2 Heaping Tbs Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

Directions

Pray that God would direct your hands and bless your work.  Add ingredients to your blender in the order they are listed.   Gradually increase blender speed to high (Variable 10 for a Vitamix) and puree until smooth.  I often add another vegetable that I have on hand (not too many different kinds, sometimes less is more!), cucumber adds a nice fresh element, carrot boosts the sweetness while offering some added starch and zucchini made pretty green polka dots!

Baby Food Recipe 2: Southern Inspired Tuna

Let me preface by saying, I am not a tuna fan… at all.  But our cupboards were overflowing with the stuff and Hope needed to eat… so reluctantly I took the plunge.  SO glad I did.  My first attempt was less than happy, but adding the avocado and lemon was just what it needed… inspiration from my guacamole-loving days.  I open the cans and can’t stand the smell of it, but by the time I’m done blending it’s actually quite pleasant.  Hope definitely seems to enjoy it more than her green beans ;)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 Cup Chicken Stock
  • 1/3 Cup Coconut Milk
  • 4 Cans of Tuna in Water (or fresh equivalent)
  • 2 Medium Tomatoes
  • 1 Avocado
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • Juice of One Lemon

Directions

Pray that God would direct your hands and bless your work.  Add ingredients to your blender in the order they are listed.   Gradually increase blender speed to high (Variable 10 for a Vitamix) and puree until smooth.  Feel free to add anything else you have on hand that seems appropriate, garlic might be great depending on the palette, but this is not as flexible as the chicken recipe, in my opinion.

Other Fun Combinations

Now these are just two of the many different courses I’ve made, and it is worthwhile to note that these are the “main” dishes.  I give her one serving (about half a cup) of one of those protein-filled dishes and two servings (about two cups) of a vegetable based puree.  I think vegetables are much easier to  figure out, and I follow about the same method with those, so below I’ll list some fun extra flavor combos I’ve used without the specific recipes.  I do add less liquid to the veggies, because vegetables naturally have more water/juice content than meat does.  So here are a few Hope has enjoyed so far and a few that I intend on trying in the near future:

  • photo (13)Zuchinni, Summer Squash and Okra (Pictured on the right)
  • Peas and Fresh Mint
  • Carrots and Sweet Potatoes
  • Green Beans, Tomatoes & Basil
  • Roast Beef, Sweet Potatoes, Onions & Carrots (Try the meat ratios for this one.)
  • Ham Apple and Carrots (Meat ratios again)
  • Butternut Squash and Tomatoes
  • Bacon Drippings with… Anything (Not as healthy as coconut oil… but definitely a delicious treat!)

Now it’s Your Turn!

Use some of the delicious ingredients below to make up your own healthy, taste bud-approved, pureed meals.  Have some great ideas?  Leave them in the comments so we can give them a try too!  There are obviously a lot more options for add-ins, but I have tried to include the highest quality, most nutrient dense ones here.  It’s obviously not an exhaustive list, just a jumping off point.  Tailor your meals to your loved one’s needs!

Liquids: Liquids are essential for processing pureed meals, but never use just plain water!  Make the most out of every ingredient by finding liquids that pack a nutritional and flavorful punch.  Remember, homemade stocks are always best!  And if you use coconut milk be sure to get the canned, full fat milk for good nutritional value.

  • Breastmilk
  • Beef Stock
  • Chicken Stock
  • Coconut Milk
  • Raw Milk
  • Vegetable Stock

Proteins: Protein is essential for a healthy diet and should be included in every meal.

  • Bacon
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Roast Beef
  • Salmon
  • Steak
  • Tilapia
  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Venison

High Carb Vegetables: Just eating meat and veggies doesn’t mean you’re on a low carb diet!  Include plenty of these, ideally a little at each meal, for little ones, pregnant and nursing mothers or anyone else who is in need of a healthy intake of carbohydrates.)

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Taro Root
  • Winter Squash

Other Vegetables: Getting a good variety of vegetables is not only great for the palette, but essential to a well-balanced diet.  Aim for two or three different colors of vegetables per day, as different colors provide different nutrients to your body.

  • Asparagus
  • Bell Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Green Beans
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Okra
  • Onion
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Tomato (Yes, yes, I know… it’s actually a fruit.)
  • Turnip
  • Zuchinni

Healthy Fats: Not only do good fats add good taste, they have great nutritional value as well.  Many vitamins are fat soluble, and so it’s good to have a little fat at every meal.  Not all fat is created equal, so try these delicious options for a healthier dose of good fat!

  • Avocado
  • Coconut (Butter, Flakes or Fresh)
  • Coconut Oil
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Flax Seed
  • Ghee
  • Grass-Fed Butter
  • Olives

Well, now that I’ve written a book about baby food and pureeing healthy meals, I am going to stop and go to bed!  I hope this is helpful to someone, or at least enjoyable to a few.  I warned you that I was feeling enthusiastic about this new crunchy territory I’ve entered!  Which is probably good, because it can be time consuming and has definitely taken over the kitchen, so I’m glad I’m enjoying the experiments!  If this has blessed you or if you have some recipes to bless us with, be sure to share in the comments.

15 Notes for 15 Weeks

photo (12)I am 15 weeks along in my pregnancy now (well, 15 and 3 days but who’s counting?) so to celebrate I am starting up a new series called Notes for Weeks!  For every week along that I am, for the rest of the pregnancy, I will blog the same number of little tidbits about our life.  I’m excited because it will give me a reason to do a baby bump picture every week and also give me the opportunity to blog about a lot of random little things I’ve been wanting to say, but that don’t really warrant their very own post.  Ok, ready?!  Here goes!

1. Thank YOU!  Yes this first note is for you, all of you lovely people (thousands and thousands) who have read my previous post “Adoption is Not Love” and who have shared it with other families.  My only goal in writing that was to maybe help a handful of people realize that they were not alone on this crazy ride, and their feelings are totally normal and expected.  I hoped that others who knew adoptive families would get a glimpse into what their friends and neighbors might be going through.  But ya’ll, it took off!  Never have any of my posts had so many views, and such an overwhelmingly positive response.  Thank you for sharing; it has reached so many more than I ever imagined it would, and I am honored that God used this little blog to touch other families who needed that bit of encouragement.  People have asked, and yes, please do share!

2. A Quick Request.  I assume we are all aware by now of the crisis facing Christian and Yazidi minorities in Iraq and Syria during this time.  The Islamic State (ISIS) has taken over a vast amount of geographical area and has massacred thousands upon thousands of men, women and children.  Some from the affected areas managed to escape to a nearby mountain, where they are dying of hunger and thirst in the scorching heat.  Parents are being forced to choose between watching their children die this slow, painful death, be captured by ISIS or throw them off of the mountain  themselves to avoid such evil ends.  Friends, we can do something.  We can do more.  Sending money is good, but this might even be better.  Please sign this petition to grant these refugees asylum in the United States, which has been refused at this point.  We need at least 150 signatures for the petition to be searchable and have a shot at reaching the White House.  It only takes ten seconds, really.  I beg you to add your voice to ours.  Click here to sign the petition.

3. Our Littlest Girl is Catching Up!  Hope is now a whopping 30lbs!  She has gained five pounds since we took her out of her orphanage, and her thighs and upper arms are definitely showing a little chub.  We are over-the-moon for this milestone and next we are going to work on getting her on the height/weight chart!  Just four more pounds to go and she will be at least on the chart and on her way to a healthy weight.

4. Baby Stuff!  I had my very first prenatal appointment with the midwife yesterday.  It went fabulously; she is a lovely lady and has 36 years of experience.  Not to mention she lives less than ten minutes from us, so hopefully we won’t have another unassisted birth like last time!  My official due date is February 7th.  Seven is my favorite number and also the day of the month I was born on, so I was pretty happy with that.   Evangeline came with me and we had a great little Mommy-Daughter date.

5. Nicknames for Mom.  I can never remember being called anything other than “Mommy”  (baby babbling not included).  But recently I seem to have developed all sorts of other nicknames from my littles.  The first new one was “Mama”, the Russian word for Mommy that Jacob calls me and the others picked up.  Then next, he started shortening it to “Mom”… and so did everyone else.  Jacob and Evie’s voices are practically indistinguishable shouting that from another room so I never know who it is!  Mom is probably the only one I don’t like so much.  It sounds too grown up for my little ones to say… and they usually say it when they’re, ya know, shouting from another room.

But, there are two names, in particular, that have stolen my heart: Momitchka and Momanee.  Momitchka is a name Jacob started calling me a few days ago.  I was so touched, because from my limited Russian I know that adding “itchka” to the end of a name is an endearing thing to call a person who is close to you; it’s intimate and reserved for family, someone in your very inner circle.  I knew we were truly beginning to bond when I heard him say that, almost brings tears to my eyes just thinking of it.  Momanee is something that Stephen came up with out of nowhere and has been saying for a few weeks.  He always does it in this loud, sing songy toddler way, with a huge smile on his face, and it totally melts my heart.

6. Her First Real Cry.  Our sweet Hope is such a strong kid, she is a survivor if I’ve ever met one.  Here’s the thing, she has a hard time crying, as in it doesn’t happen.  Before this week I had seen her cry once – one time.  We were in the hospital and her stomach was in knots after eating (before we figured out what to cut out of her diet).  She was in so much pain that she sobbed for fifteen minutes.  I called in the doctor because I knew that it was totally not normal for her.  Jake had seen her cry before too, but only from pain.  She couldn’t cry because she was stressed.  If she is stressed enough to need that release she literally has to hit herself (hard enough to probably break things) to initiate tears.  Until this week.

I was putting on her knee immobilizers for the first time since we had been home from the hospital.  She was terrified of them, probably because they are restraining and she remembered them every day at the hospital.  I was trying to comfort her and keep her legs straight enough, no easy task.  I was able to keep her from hitting herself though, and then the saddest and most amazing thing happen.  She burst into tears!  It’s always hard to see your babies crying, but I was so thankful that she actually had a real cry just from stress alone and didn’t need to hit herself to do it.  It was a short lived cry, but a much needed one.  Here is a picture after she settled in.  Her sister was very attentive to her the whole time she wore them and Hope was never short a toy to play with!

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7. So Tired.  That is pretty much where I’m at.  I’ve been trying to wake up around 5ish… sleeping in until six or seven instead.  And I am still totally exhausted.  Hoping some B Vitamins will help.  All four of my children have been sleeping through the night for the first time in years so why exactly am I having this problem?  Sigh… so frustrating.

8. Baby Food Time!  I know, I know… I am still working on that post, promise.  Planning on doing some veggies tonight and then I will be ready to finish the draft and post!  Can’t wait to share some recipes and tips for delicious, nutritious pureed food.  Every time I make any my two year old asks for tastes!  Craziness…

9. Double Baptism!  We said before that Jacob would be the only one needing a Baptism, but unfortunately we were never able to get Hope’s orphanage to bother to actually find any confirmation of her baptism.  So, being uncertain, we will simply baptize her here with Jacob.  The ceremony will be on Sunday morning the 31st and I am having so much fun planning it!

10. The Only Bad Thing About…  exclusively breastfeeding?  Your children never learn proper etiquette for feeding their baby dolls.  Propping bottles and all.  Oops, better teach them some bottle safety!

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11. Routines and Things.  Our routine is still going strong at about the same place we’ve been for two weeks.  Really hoping to add in more than just meals, nap and bedtime routine every day.  Although, trying to be grateful that we have that down.  Our next goal is Matins in the morning during the week.  It’s great church practice for the kiddos, as we get to do it in the sanctuary, and a lovely devotion for the start of each day.

12.  Hymnody and Love.  I am really beginning to believe that beautiful hymns are a love language.  Hope perks up every time we sing them.  Jesus Loves Me is her favorite, and she gets the hugest smile when I sing “Let’s His little Zhanna come in…”  She has the best smile ever.  Also, when she starts getting agitated, Evangeline will go to her and sing her the hymns she knows.  Her go-tos are: Lamb of God, Glory be to Jesus and Jesus Loves Me (of course).  The most beautiful thing in the world is a young child singing comfort into the life of another.

13.  Raw Milk Deliciousness.  So glad to be back home to our raw milk farmer friends!  It’s a half hour drive, totally worth every drop.  I cannot speak highly enough about raw milk and so glad to have it for the kids’ diets!  Not to mention this particular milk is the most delicious I’ve ever tasted, and I don’t have to feel bad about drinking a glass every day.  It’s the little things in life…

14.  Shout Out To… the best husband in the world.  Mine.  Why?  Just because.  He’s an amazing father, husband, pastor and friend.  I just don’t tell him enough how great he is so, I’ll say it now.  You are the best!  Can’t believe I get to love you for the next bazillion years. :)

15. Last but Not Least.  For all those who’ve helped bring our little ones home, please know that we are forever grateful.  Even though it might take that long for your thank  you to arrive in the mail… ahem.  We really are working on them with the little bits of time we have here and there.  Know that we have not forgotten you or the amazing love you have shown our family.  I could not imagine being more blessed by so many.

Adoption is Not Love

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Isn’t that a great picture?  Jacob took it of the two of us as we were sitting and enjoying each other yesterday, one of his first selfies!  I would love to just post the picture and skip the not-so-glamorous background… but that would be doing a disservice to you and everyone who reads this little blog.  You see, this picture symbolizes a great victory for us: my son and I cuddling and genuinely having fun together.  It is terribly simple, but it took a lot of tears and effort for us to come that far.

There is a dirty little secret the adoption community never likes talking about.  And I understand why, it’s a really tough subject.  It’s a hard pill for us to swallow as parents, let alone to share publicly with the world.  I mean, it’s totally confusing.  You see this adorable or heart wrenching or emotionally pulling picture of a small helpless child whose eyes are just crying to be loved.  Your heart immediately aches, you “fall in love”, you pray and talk with your spouse and pray some more and before you know it you’re shelling out all your savings and spending all your free time in piles of paperwork, and headaches and nights where you can’t sleep because “your baby” is alone somewhere, cold and hungry and totally clueless that anyone is coming to help them.

And then after what seems like absolutely forever, you get the word that it’s time to travel and meet this picture face to face and you can’t hardly stand the wait any longer.  You put your whole life on hold to jump head first into a sleep deprived marathon in a foreign country you’ve never been to before, running on pure adrenaline with the thought of meeting your child for the first time.  Then you get to the orphanage and see their face (just as cute as you thought they’d be) and “fall in love” all over again.  You visit and bring them cookies and toys and attention they’ve never had before.

They light up like a tree on Christmas, their personalities blossom before your eyes, they’re so sweet and lovely and they call you “Mama” and “Papa” and brag to everyone that they have a family and they’re going to America.  The day finally comes and you bust them out of the orphanage forever, you do a marathon of flights back home, exhausted, but so happy to be there… and after a week or two the dust settles and you start to come out of your fog to see your new life with this child you “loved” for so long from afar… only to realize you don’t love them at all.  In fact, you don’t even think you like them, and what on Earth have you done to your family?  And is there a way to undo this?

All the compliance and love you received back at the orphanage has turned into manipulation and tantrums and anger and confusion… so much confusion.  And then you become angry and frustrated and of course you’ve read all the books.  You know their behavior is from trauma and profound neglect and abandonment and fear; you know it is not their fault, and yet you still can’t help but despise the chaos they have brought into your home.  And you begin to wonder, do I still love this child?  Did I ever really love him at all?

Friends, I have a confession to make.  For months I shouted and shouted for Jacob and Hope.  I told you how much I loved them, how I loved Hope for years, how much we desperately wanted them home.  We swore we would go to the moon and back if we had to, and then we did. (Ok, ok… we went to Ukraine, but it felt as far as the moon and took about the same amount of time.)  We were told dozens and dozens of times how brave we were, how much love we had, how awesome what we were doing was, etc.  I saw adoption t-shirts being sold all year with the slogan “Adoption is Love” glistening on the front.  I believed it, I believed it with my whole heart.  But now I know better…

If you have ever been married you might understand this a little better.  When my husband and I were engaged, I told him I loved him every day and I *thought* I meant it.  In a way I was right, but not really.  Love isn’t that fluttery feeling you get in your stomach when your handsome, strong, doting new beau walks in the door.  It’s not writing little love notes in class instead of paying attention to a boring lecture or staying up for hours talking about what your babies will look like one day.  Sure those things feel great and we love to feel them, but those feelings are not love.

Many couples have told me, and I agree, that they didn’t love their spouse on their wedding day.  How could they?  The wedding is the moment you agree to love, that you make the decision to love, but the wedding isn’t love in and of itself.  Love is still giving your husband a kiss when he gets home every day, even when that fluttery feeling in your stomach hasn’t visited in months.  Love is listening and empathizing, giving your undivided attention when your mind wants to wander every other direction.  It’s making an effort to do things the way your spouse likes them, instead of always leaning toward your preferences.  It’s not saying anything when he takes the last cookie that was supposed to be yours.  Love is forgiving and asking forgiveness every single time you annoy each other, anger each other and hurt each other.  Love is serving that person, feeding, cleaning up after, holding, cherishing that person even when you don’t feel like doing any of it at all.  Especially when you don’t feel like doing any of it at all.

The adoption process can be long and grueling and hard and painful, but it isn’t really love.  Much like a wedding, adopting an orphan isn’t loving them, it’s just making the decision to start loving them.  Adoptive parents aren’t great because they made it through a home study, got on an airplane and signed a few papers.  They are great when, after months and years of hard stuff, they still choose to love this child they brought home.  We’re just like any parent really.  No one told me how awesome I was for making it through pregnancy and labor!  They mostly just said, been there done that :)  But as the child grows and blossoms… you start to see the effects of love take place and you think, what a great job they are doing with their kids.

So back to my confession, I won’t go into the gory details but… Jacob and I?  We’ve had a hard time bonding with one another.  Hope and I have struggled too, but she is a little more forgiving, she just loves everybody.  I brought these two treasures home and almost immediately began wondering what this terrible mistake was that we had made.  Scared and shaken by the reality check that I had two children I felt no good will toward, I turned to my dear friends and mentors in the adoption community.  And what did I hear?  I heard how common this is, how attachment is hard (even for parents!), that we shouldn’t expect to “feel” loving toward our new children right away.

I learned about how important newborn bonding is not just for the baby but for the mother, and how we need to be gentle with ourselves because we lost such an important stage of development in our relationship just as much as our child did.  I found out how many adoptive parents feel the exact same way, how depression is common, even typical, post adoption.  I stashed some new strategies up my sleeve and I resolved to fake loving my children until I really did love them…

But then someone led me to the Scripture, and what does it say about love? In His sermon on the mount, Jesus tells us: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Love our enemies?  Does that mean that we should like them or have warm fuzzy feelings around them or enjoy every second of our time together?  No… so what does love mean?  It means to pray and to serve and to put another’s needs before your own… especially when you don’t feel like doing any of it at all.

It means, feed them, rock them, hug them and dress them, help them and speak kindly to them… especially when you feel like recoiling instead.  It means read them a story when you’d rather shoo them away.  It means take two minutes and cool down so you can coach yourself on how to talk softly and not be harsh.  It means, dear adoptive parent, don’t panic when you get home and find that you don’t feel loving toward your child.  I don’t always feel loving toward my husband, but I choose to love him anyway, and when I fail I ask his forgiveness and most importantly… I never give up.  And never once have I said I didn’t love him just because the feeling vanished in that moment (or day or week or month…).

There have been many times in these first few weeks that I failed both of my newly adopted children, especially Jacob.  I didn’t feel like I loved him, and it showed.  But I repented and I tried again. I’m not perfect, but we’re doing so much better.  He’s finally beginning to attach, to seek me out, to trust me.  And I’m finding that I am beginning to feel that love for him again as well.  For me, adopting Jacob wasn’t the loving part… mothering him is the loving, and it is sometimes a battle minute to minute, fighting against all of my feelings and weaknesses.  But it is a battle that, with God’s help, I am persevering through.  We will make it through this difficult transition, because I made the choice to love this boy every day of the rest of my life, and that’s exactly what I am going to do.

Remember the picture I posted?  That was me and Jacob yesterday, with all the fun, happy, loving, mommy-and-son feelings you would expect us to have during a moment like that.  It was a great moment, and those moments are becoming more and more common.  But they are hard won moments, moments of joy breaking through days and weeks full of the loss, and confusion and heartache that is adoption.  Healing is a beautiful thing, but it is both bitter and sweet.  My prayer tonight is that we might all learn to take the bitterness and the sweetness together, with a thankful heart, as we seek to love all those whom God has placed in our path… especially when we don’t feel like it at all.

P.S. – If you are an adoptive parent who is feeling more of that loss and heartache right now and less of the love and joy you expected…  First, be gentle with yourself, and do reach out to someone you can trust.  I am no expert in attachment, but there are plenty of people who can help and resources where you can find the tools to fight this battle for your family and the child you have chosen to love.  Please don’t keep it hidden, because you are not alone, and there is hope and healing on this long and winding road.

A Time of Quiet

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As you can tell, I haven’t been updating as regularly.  I have lots of things to talk about, but the more fun we have the less time there is for blogging!  In many ways this feels to me like a season of quietness for me.  After so much being public for so long about our adoption process and our little ones I am feeling a desire to step back for a little while and be out of the spotlight for a time.  I absolutely have no intention of going away, there are so many of you who have helped to get us to this point and I will continue to share our family with all of you as the Lord provides the time and ability for me to do so.

With that being said, we have had a fairly good week.  The kids went to their first doctor’s visit here in town and saw our favorite chiropractor who is great with little ones and specializes in adjusting children with special needs.  She does an incredible amount with children who have autism and was able to give us some more insight on Hope’s stimming.  For example, the reason why she pokes her eyes is because it causes her to see spots and colors.  It’s a way of getting new visual stimulation when you never leave your crib.  Hope is not autistic, but she does have many behaviors similar to what you see with autism that are caused by the chronic neglect of an institutional life.

I have been noticing, bit by bit, her stimming is beginning to slow down.  At first she did it constantly, 24/7 when we were home, and most of her behaviors are self-injuring so I had to watch her like a hawk.  But sometimes now she will go 15-20 minutes at a time without even thinking of stimming.  Her dietary transitioning I am very pleased with.  She still does not handle grains, haven’t tried dairy yet, but she can do some fruit with no issue.  We did a little family birthday party for Stephen on his baptism birthday a few days ago.  Everyone else got cake and ice cream, so I gave her some banana baby food as a treat.  No trouble at all!

I have also switched from Crystal Light to coconut water.  Apparently I got the yuckiest flavor of Crystal Light in existence and no wonder I couldn’t get her to drink it!  I decided to switch to coconut water because it’s not fruit juice (I think that’s just too much for her system right now) and it is natural without a bunch of junk in it.  I was hoping it would be just sweet enough that she would be agreeable and she loves it!  Right now we’re using the one with added orange juice and gradually putting in less of the orange juice and more of the regular coconut water.  The goal is to eventually get her to drinking regular water, but that will probably take some time as she has never had water in her life and there isn’t much flavor to encourage her to drink it.

I am also moving from store bought baby food to all homemade.  Right now the vegetables are the only thing she’s getting from the store, and the meat portions I’ve been making taste better, are more filling and are way healthier.  I can add extra veggies and fats and season it a little.  I currently have a draft on homemade baby foods I’m working on.  So excited to share that when it’s done!

In other news, we did have a birthday party this week for my favorite two year old kid.  He missed out on a regular party due to the craziness of getting his new siblings home, but we celebrated on his baptism birthday two days ago and it was a great.  We had a gift, a cake, some balloons and all six of us together.  Here you can see the newly dubbed Big Brother helping Daddy put together his first bike.

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In other news the children are very much enjoying their baby dolls lately.  Getting their older brother/sister gears in order I suspect!  Today was a hoot.  I let them bring their babies outside and they were all trying to do everything with them.  Swing, ride bikes, go for a spin in the toy car… ya know, to go to the gas station for cheese sticks and baby food.  (Can you guess which little girl took her dollie there? Lol!)  Speaking of sweet girls, Evangeline is insistent that the baby is a girl and really wants to name her Allie, which also happens to be the name of her baby doll.  Her pleading is so irresistible I am almost considering the name… almost.

I snapped a couple shots of baby dolls on the swing set for ya’ll.  And guess what Stephen found out today?? My phone takes black and white photos!  And sepia!  How neat is that!?

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Mambo #5

One… Two… Three, Four, Five…

So for those of you who remember the song, I hope I got it stuck in your head for the day.  Everyone else, you really aren’t missing much of anything, I promise.

So, why am I dragging this old 90′s hit back up to the surface where it probably shouldn’t be?  Well, when we were in Ukraine our drivers almost always had the radio on.  There were a couple of stations that played English music, some newer American songs that were horribly covered by European artists, and a bunch of old originals that I hadn’t heard in a decade or two.  We enjoyed the trip down the good the bad and the ugly of the pop of yesteryear… mostly by laughing at them.

Mambo #5 was no exception.  It came up, we laughed about it and we moved on.  But it has become much more significant for us, and I’ll explain why.  During one such drive I wanted to drop a question to Jake about a certain new person in our family, but the driver spoke some English and we hadn’t exactly told anyone about this new unnamed person yet.  So instead of saying something conspicuous like “the baby” I said “You know… Mambo #5“.  He got it right away, as this is our fifth child… oh did I mention we are expecting our fifth child? :D

photo (6)Yes, we found out while we were in Ukraine, just after having accepted our new daughter’s referral.  Boy was that a whirlwind of a week, the emotions, the fears, the uncertainties.  But I’m getting off topic.  Anyway, so from there on out, whenever we wanted to talk about the baby we just called it Mambo.  Mambo, the fifth little number in this dance of our family’s life, fun right?!  I am enjoying it.  When I was pregnant with Evangeline we called her Little Bean.  Stephen was affectionately nicknamed Nini by his aunt and this one is Mambo.  I think we have ourselves a new family tradition.

So now everyone knows about little Mambo, we told friends and family, we told our congregation this morning and now I am telling all of you!  We are super excited about this surprise gift God nestled in the middle of our adoption and cannot wait to meet our miniature bundle of joy.  We are so grateful for how joyous everyone has been for us, we were a little concerned about negative reactions on God’s humorous timing.  But everyone has been truly wonderful and genuinely happy for us, which we couldn’t thank you more for!

Have a blessed Sabbath rest!

Boxes, Beds and Blessings

The last few days have been a whirlwind, but it also feels like they’re dragging by.  I have just been so exhausted the last week, but I added some b12 to my vitamin routine and think that’s helping a lot.  It’s so hard to keep a good attitude with four little ones when you just feel like passing out most of the day.  They all need so much extra love right now that I just haven’t had the energy to give.  It’s hard on them, and it’s frustrating for me.

Last night I felt like crying after two hours of one child deciding not to sleep, being so tired and knowing I had to to do the exact same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.  It’s overwhelming at times, but hoping that slump of a couple days is past us and things will start looking better now!  Other than the tiredness, though, things are still chugging on fairly smoothly.  And by fairly, I mean much better than I expected!

Yesterday it rained all day long.  I panicked when I woke up to pouring rain.  Four stir crazy kids cooped up in a house all day??  What was I going to do with them!?  TV only works for so long, especially with these ones.  Hope listens to the music for about one minute and then is bored (I don’t think she can actually see the screen; we really need to get her in to get her eyes checked.)  Stephen is like me, not much of a TV guy, he just runs around and causes problems for everyone else!  And my other two enjoy it, but only to a point.

So instead, I decided to introduce them to their Activity Boxes today.  This is an idea I’ve been saving in the back of my mind for a long time now, adapted from several different families’ approaches to occupying lots of littles at once when there are other things to be done.  I bought a little floor rug (the fun ones with the roads for little toy cars!) for each of the kiddos, and a box for their activities with their name on it.  I don’t have any toys in the boxes… except for the toy car that came with the rug… ahem.  But other than that, it’s just activities.  They have markers (washable!), crayons, coloring books, drawing paper, beads and threads, legos, alphabet cards, stickers, etc.

There are just two rules for their Activity Mats:

1. You may only use one activity at a time
2. You may not get off your mat.

If a child is not following the rules, the current activity they are using gets put in Mommy’s Box for the rest of the day.  Although, I have been pretty lenient about that so far until they get the gist of it.  We only do Activity Mats for about 15 minutes or so before moving on to something else.  The last thing I want is for them to be bored!  Yesterday we did it for a little longer; we spent about an hour and a half cleaning the house with these neat little boxes.  I would pick a room and a kiddo to help me clean it, the other two played on their Activity Mats until we finished.  Then we’d have a water/potty break and move on to the next room, taking turns on who got to help clean and who got to do activities.  It was a smashing success for our first go-round, and I cleaned three rooms with all four little ones awake and in the room with me!

Here are Jacob and Stephen enjoying their Activity Mats while Evangeline and I picked up the dining room:

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Hope does great sitting in her little chair and watching the others play while I clean.  I am trying to get her worked up to using the baby carrier more, but it’s just difficult.  She only tolerates it for a short time, and she is so so tall that in order to turn and look at something I have to physically lift my chin over her head.  That doesn’t make for very efficient cleaning or… anything.  So for now sitting up with some toys is our best option during chore time.

In other news, bedtime is going really well.  Some nights it’s totally frustrating that it takes at least an hour to get all four of them settled in and asleep.  But I think I might just have to readjust my expectations.  We did just double the amount of children we’re putting down at night, after all!  And we are truly blessed that all four of our children from 9 years down to 2 years have a nearly identical sleep cycle and that they all still nap during the day!  Yes, all of them.

This blog post is brought to you by nap time, the quietest and most relaxing part of your day.

So yes, we are doing well.  We are figuring out this new normal thing, repenting daily of all the many ways we’re failing as parents (opportunities for that have also instantly doubled… talk about a humbling experience), and getting up to do it all again the next day.  Some moments are harder than others, but I’m finding the happy moments are increasing and the hard moments are already getting smaller little by little.  We keep pressing on, making it through each day by God’s grace and usually a helping of chocolate (for me, not the kids).  Even in the hard moments, it’s obvious that we have been greatly blessed beyond what we deserve.

We’re Doing Great

Here are a few pictures to show you what we’ve been up to…

Sisters enjoying some cuddle time.  Yesterday Hope was reaching out for Evangeline and Daddy prompted her that maybe she wanted to cuddle.  Evie responded “But I don’t want to cuddle with her.”  Then Daddy explained how Hope never got to cuddle with anyone at her orphanage and she finally has a sister to cuddle with.  After that she graciously agreed, and has been looking for opportunities to cuddle ever since.  Here’s one I caught of them earlier today…

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My youngest and my oldest.  He never passes up an opportunity to help his sister with her bottle, and he takes that job very seriously, as you can see.  He loves to give her tickles and rock her in the stroller.  She enjoys his affection… most of the time.

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And of course, wouldn’t forget our great ball of energy.  He met his other grandpa this week, they got along terrifically, and he is starting to settle into our routine again.  Routine is so important for this kiddo, so I’m doing the best I can to get ours down!  We have also started Signing Time with him and Hope.   They love it.  I was translating the words into Russian for Jacob and he got a real kick out of that.  He told one of our translators at the hospital “I have a Mama and a Babushka and I’m teaching them Russian!”  He was telling me if I had the words right or not.  How very generous of him :)  He also has a new spontaneous English phrase “All gone!”  I almost didn’t realize he was speaking English the first time because I wasn’t expecting it!  This is loads of fun.  Just sayin.

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One Day at a Time

I was freaking out earlier today.  This is our first day that we have gone solo… just me, my hubby and four very little kiddos.  My house was not ready, I was not organized, I didn’t have everything scheduled out… I was a nervous wreck!  But all children have been fed, bathed, clothed, changed and given lots of play and rest in the last 48 hours so I think I can count that as successful.  Right?  My brain just keeps jumping forward to all the things they’re not learning or not doing or not seeing, so I’m trying to take some deep breaths and remind myself… One. Day. At. A. Time.

For Heaven’s sake Dalas just get with the program and focus on this one day and you will be such a happier, less stressed, more attentive and patient mother.  But other than my temporary oh-my-gosh-we-are-all-alone-and-is-this-actually-going-to-work nervous breakdown, the day went great.  The children all seem to be doing fabulously, and most of their stress and acting out is because I’m stressed and acting out.  Lol!  But I am feeling much better now, going to get a few goals set for tomorrow and start one-day-at-a-timing it.

In other news, Hope’s digestive system is working well (if you know what I mean).  Tomorrow she gets to her full calorie intake for the first time!  So excited!  She has been doing great with all this food, and she already seems a little stronger.  I guess when you actually have fuel coming in it helps your muscles to not fatigue so quickly!  Her thighs are noticeably chubbier already.  Going to weigh her in the morning and see where we’re at!

Jacob is doing well too.  We’re starting to see more red flags, attachment difficulties and flare ups.  But now that Daddy and I are both home, we have been able to work through a more consistent plan to help him and we have been able to catch each other’s blind spots.  So I think he is well on his way to working through all these things.  Physically and medically he’s got more going on than we thought.  That’s been difficult, just realizing how much hard work and pain are probably in his future as we fight to reverse the many years of non-treatment and neglect.  Pray for wisdom for us in this.

I will try to update more later this week!  I have so much I would love to talk about, but I am so exhausted and need some sleep!  Here is a little sample of how much fun we’re having finally being home.  And PS that is Stephen’s “Cheese!!” face.  Crazy kid :)

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Surprise!

We’re home.  All six of us.  We didn’t find out until yesterday that Hope might be discharged this morning.  She had just been doing so very well that the doctors felt comfortable letting us finish increasing her daily calories at home.  I haven’t had a chance to update since then; it’s been so crazy.  I wish I could say today went swimmingly, but we have some tired, clingy kiddos on our hands and also some traumatized and disoriented ones.  I will resurface with more updates and pictures soon, but forgive me if it takes a couple of days.  May you all have a blessed Sunday rest tomorrow.

Heavy Heart Today

I apologize in advance.  My heart just isn’t in this post, but I have several updates to make.  My writing is just going to be to the point, so bear with me.  After I let you know what’s going on with our family I will explain why I have such a heavy heart this morning.

First thing, I’ve had some questions, so I will just reiterate my answers here in case others have also been wondering.  Someone asked if I could share pictures.  I would love to, but I don’t have a camera here.  I asked my hubby to bring ours up today so I could document some of our hospital time in pictures.  To tide you over, here is what my other two littles have been doing at home while we are stuck here:

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Someone also was wondering why the hospital is not feeding her more if she’s hungry.  The reason why we are in the hospital is to prevent re-feeding syndrome. If you feed a child, who has been in starvation mode for an extended period of time, without going slowly and taking proper precautions, their bodies will reject the food. It can be serious and deadly. 

I doubt her body is in that malnourished of a state, but they are being careful so she can stay as healthy as possible as we slowly increase her calories.  It’s tough for her and for me, but it would be tougher if we fed her too much at once and her body started rejecting it.  Only a few more days and she should be up to a healthy calorie intake for the first time in her life.

I also had a question about her bowel movement situation.  Still nothing.  She went without one for eleven days after we picked her up and she’s going on day five now.  She isn’t in pain (nor was she before for this reason, I’ll explain in a second) or any discomfort and she isn’t constipated.  The doctors and I have come to the conclusion that there simply isn’t enough food going through her system yet to prompt regular stools.  Suppositories and Miralax will do her no good, nor does she need them.  We just have to wait till her body is ready.

There are also updates from yesterday I wanted to share.  First I will talk about her discomfort after eating, as we used to think that was due to constipation, but she’s not constipated.  Yesterday morning they gave her a big helping of yogurt and oatmeal for breakfast, she’s never had those two things together before, and she was writhing in pain.  She sobbed for about fifteen minutes, and I have never seen her cry.  Crying doesn’t come easy, so I knew she was suffering.

At lunchtime, after I wrote yesterday’s post, I had a light bulb go off.  She had meat and veggies for lunch and very little discomfort afterward.  I started thinking back to all her previous meals, which ones went well  and which ones didn’t?  The day before she had also had a meat and vegetable only meal and didn’t do too badly.  All her other meals have had either fruit or yogurt or oatmeal in them…. light bulb.  Her stomach is just not handling grains, dairy or fruit right now.

In country, fruit was just about all we could get her to eat, so that and yogurt made up the bulk of her diet.  No wonder the poor thing was in pain all the time!  I talked to the dietitian and requested her meals be changed to meat and vegetables only, with the exception of the pediasure, which she seems to be doing ok with.  We will continue that at home and try to slowly add back in the other food groups as she tolerates them.

Needless to say, dinner went fabulously.  Absolutely zero pain or discomfort.  In fact she was laughing while I burped her and thought the whole experience was hilarious.  She was in the best mood I have seen her in since we took her out of the orphanage.  So thankful we’re getting our happy girl back; I had forgotten how much fun she is when she’s not constantly afraid and hurting.

So that’s all for my family’s updates.  Now, for the reason I am not doing so well, even with Hope’s improvements.

Last night I learned that a dear friend of mine lost her son in a tragic accident yesterday.  I linked to her blog a little while back and so many of you were touched by their family’s story.  Here is her blog.  Susanna has been an amazing mentor to me in the last two years.  Recalling Tommy’s adoption journey, and her transparent writing about the hardship their family faced through all of it, gave me the strength and peace to consider Hope’s adoption.

As I look at my sweet girl now, I often have thought of Tommy after he came home, and I look forward to Hope one day blossoming and growing and learning just as Tommy did.  His story gave me such peace and comfort.  I was honored and privileged to watch his life truly begin with his new, loving family, even if just through pictures.  I am heartbroken for his Mommy.  I can not imagine the pain she is going through.  I feel like a piece of my own heart has left this Earth, such a precious boy, such a precious gift to so many.  It’s an overwhelming grief, not only for his family, but for so many people who love them.

Please pray for Susanna, her husband Joe and all of their children who are grieving their brother.  Susanna still has many little ones to care for and love on during this dark valley.  Please just add them to your long term prayer list, as they desperately need all they can get, and I know I have so many amazing prayer warrior readers here who can do just that.

Rest peacefully in the arms of Jesus sweet Tommy.  I cannot wait to meet you on that Glorious Day.

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