Sunday, January 29, 2012

Teddy Treats

Teddy and I gave these treats away as Christmas presents to our four-legged friends

Teddy loves everyone he meets.  Almost.  Mysteriously, whenever he is spooked by someone, it is almost always a man wearing a hat.  For example, as I sit down to write this post, he is barking quietly at at the TV because Leonardo DiCaprio is wearing a pilot's hat in Catch Me If You Can.  That, or he's upset that Leo didn't get an Oscar nomination for J. Edgar.  Me too, Ted.  Me, too.

Just as confusing for us as Teddy's fear of hatted men, some people are downright terrified of Teddy.  I know, he looks kind of like a black bear, which can be scary.  But, true to his breed, he has an incredibly sweet disposition and never meets a stranger (unless he's wearing a hat).  Admittedly, I take advantage of his intimidating appearance.  I feel comfortable walking in dark alleys in Chicago late at night with him by my side, and I'm happy that he acts - in appearance alone - like a built-in security system for our car and home.

What would-be burglars don't realize is that, if they just gave Teddy the most modest of dog biscuits, he'd probably unlock the door for them.  And if they gave him these homemade treats, well, Teddy would help them hot-wire our car or carry our television out the front door.

I love these treats, too, because the main ingredients are extra nutritious for dogs according to this article.  Plus, they're so easy to make and cheaper than store-bought alternatives.  

Teddy Treats
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 Tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix ingredients together.  Scoop in 1/4 teaspoons onto cookie sheet.  Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden around the edges.
Let cool and serve to your pup!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Adoptee's Reflection on a Successful Adoption

When I read my parents my last blog post, we all got verklempt.  And like all good re-tellings of family history, I learned something about my adoption that I didn’t know before.  My dad told me that, in the fateful first visit between my parents and my baby-self at the foster home, a birth mother accompanied them there.  She had given up her baby for adoption and, as part of her healing process, wanted to see the interaction between an adoptive family and a foster baby.  Seeing me smile in the arms of my soon-to-be adoptive father made her feel better about her decision.  And that story warmed my heart.  

As Ian and I have been inching closer and closer to joining the Parenting Club ourselves, over the past few years I’ve been pondering what has made my adoption successful.  I really have no idea - I’d most like to give credit to the Big Guy upstairs.  What I do know is that there are some behaviors that, as an adoptee, I have always appreciated, and some that I have not.  

So here’s a little list of things to consider that I’ve valued throughout my life as an adoptee.  And I’m not even going to include the really obvious no-no’s like asking how much a child cost or asking prospective adopters if they’ve “picked one out yet” (true story from my parents).   Most all, embrace the mantra of Normal.  Treat adoptees normally by being normal parents, normal aunts/uncles, cousins, friends, etc.  Whatever normal means.  


Never keep adoption secret.  One of the most common questions people ask me when they find out I’m adopted is “When did you find out?”  Never.  I’ve always known that I was adopted because my parents made my adoption part of my life story. From sharing pictures of my dad holding me for the first time to showing me the fluffy pink dress I wore home from the foster home, we celebrated my adoption through the telling of our family’s history.  I even remember my parents once pointing out their adoption lawyer’s office when we drove by.  Similarly...

Reinforce adoption as a blessing, not an alternative.  I know I was Plan B, both for my birth mom and my parents.  But my parents always made me feel like their Plan B was really Plan A in disguise:  

  • Once in college, I called my mom in tears after learning about a drug that may have caused her infertility.  She never really talked with me about her struggles getting pregnant, after all.  Though my sobs on the phone, she said “Annie, I realize that people think of it as a bad thing, but I learned a long time ago that my infertility was a blessing.”  
  • On a car ride to visit my dad’s family out east when I was still in elementary school, my dad and I started talking about the idea of guardian angels.  His throat tightening with emotion, he told me that he thought this his mom, who passed away when he was very young, was his guardian angel because she had led him to me.
  • Once in high school, I had a tragic realization: “I am the product of someone’s mistake.”  When I told my dad this, he immediately corrected me saying, “No, Annie, you were the product of someone’s moment of passion!”

Let the child bring up adoption questions:  Beyond discussing my life story, I cannot remember a time that my parents ever brought up my status as an adopted child - with me or with anyone.  Unless I pointedly asked them, I do not remember my parents ever discussing their previous struggles with infertility, the legal process of adopting, and they never ever ever pointed out any observable genetic or ethnic differences between me and them.  Adoption just faded into the background of our family history rather than being a defining characteristic of it, and we just went on living our lives.

Make sure the rest of the family doesn’t talk about it either.  Never have my aunts, uncles, grandparents or cousins singled me out because I’m adopted. Not even casually. Never.  

Love, love, and love some more.  I’m lucky because I think my parents are awesome.  My dad played Barbies with me in kindergarten and set my hair in hot rollers in junior high.  My mom taped every episode of Full House for me and saved my voicemail messages on their answering machine during college so that they could get a dose of Annie “sunshine” (their words, not mine) when I was at school.  My parents are the best kind of weird, and they still spoil me rotten.  I’ve read that overall happiness declines once a couple has children.  My parents both deny this, and their behavior certainly matches their belief.  Maybe when you wait so long for your children to come into your life, happiness takes a fresh perspective.  


Defend Nurture over Nature.  Whenever someone says “It all comes down to genes,” I feel a little pang of insult because, as an adoptee, that means you think that my parents had 0% of a role in who I am today.  I respectfully disagree. I grew up calling oranges “oye-inges” because - and only because - my mom is from New Joisy.  On the contrary, I love it when people...

Point out would-be genetic similarities.  When I was getting ready for my cousin’s bridal shower, I realized that my skirt was a wee bit short and the back of my legs a wee bit dimpled.  Lamenting the cellulite on my upper thighs, my aunt looked at me and said “You must have gotten your legs from your mother!”  I’m sure that didn’t make my mom feel good, but it made me smile. I love it when people say I look like my parents, and I never correct them by saying I’m adopted.  I like to entertain the possibility that our environments influence our looks in the same way they influence our mannerisms.  

Be careful with the words “real parents.”  “Real parents” should only refer to the adoptive parents.  The other terms you’re looking for are “biological parents” or “birth mother/birth father.”

Celebrate Adoption!  For every emotional birthparent search that you see you on TV and every time you hear someone joke about a black sheep of the family being adopted, remember that there are many, many happy families created by adoption.  It is not a source of embarrassment or shame for my family, but a source of pride.  While I don’t want people to see me only through the lens of adoption I love it when people ask me about it.  I enjoy having the opportunity to discuss it with people and to help others realize what a blessing adoption can be.

For an adoptive parent’s perspective on the do’s and do-not’s of adoption, check out Single Dad Laughing’s article.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Beautiful Adoption

Guilty pleasures confession: I like the MTV Reality Show Teen Mom.  I like it so much that last night, when perusing the Huffington Post, I clicked to read an opinion piece about it.  And then I scrolled down to read the comments section, and here’s what one commenter had to say about a teen couple that gave their baby up for adoption:

Caitlyn and Tyler do wrong by encouragin­g other parents to give up their children. As I and many birth mothers will attest, losing a child to adoption is painful no matter how open the adoption is and the pain can last a lifetime. Experts … all agree that the best option for children is to be raised in their biological family if at all possible. For many children, being adopted by an older, more affluent couple is no compensati­on for losing their natural family.

I realize that adoption is an emotional and contentious subject matter, and that adoption experiences are as intensely personal as birthing experiences.  Yet, as an adopted child, I can’t help but feel offended by the above comment.  I pray that my own birth mother does not share such a perspective, and that she knows in her heart that I got the happy ending she always wanted for me - and that she got hers, too.  So I started writing...

I could write a book on my beautiful and blessed experience as an adopted child, but I’m not going to. Nope.  I’m only going to write a few posts about it this week - and that's it - because adoption is not who I am.  You see, “adopted child” isn’t one of my primary identities, just like “biological child” isn’t one of yours.  I am simply my parents' daughter.

I’m also not going to write much about it because I don’t want you to see me only through the lens of adoption.  Even though I know better, I realize that some people see it as a painful hiccup in one’s life story - like adoptees are orphans-lite.  Excluding Daddy Warbucks and Annie, adoption seems to get a bum deal in most of its popular representations, focusing on identity crises and emotional searches for birth parents.  Even Moses abandoned his adoptive Egyptian family in the Old Testament - and then brought pestilence and plague upon their kingdom!  Certainly, many adoptees and birth parents rightfully struggle with issues of identity, loss and abandonment, but some of us do not.  I am so lucky to have gotten the happy family that my birth mother wanted for me and to be able to fade into the public background while the rest of the world watches Find My Family on TV.

So let these musings serve as a voice for the comfortably adopted.  Maybe, in their own little way, they will help correct some common misconceptions about adoption.  Maybe by telling my side of the story, I can dissipate some of the fear surrounding adoption and encourage more people to consider it.  Because I know the beautiful truth about adoption, and I celebrate it in my heart every day.

First, my story:

My parents grew up on the East Coast, met at college in the Midwest, and moved to Indiana where my grandfather lived and had connections to help my dad find a job.  In following with their young and liberal ways, my parents decided to abstain from parenthood to curb overpopulation.  ‘Twas the 1970s after all.  But then something happened: one of their close friends had a baby, and they realized that being parents might be fun.  Thus began Operation: Get Pregnant.  

It failed.  Badly, actually.  Following a slew of hormone injections and fertility treatments, an ectopic pregnancy landed my mom in the hospital and ended their pregnancy hopes.

Enter my sister and me. My parents adopted my sister when she was four years-old.  A few years later, when they were ready to expand their family again, a social worker that lived in their neighborhood matched them with a baby girl being fostered in the Indianapolis area.

That was me.

When my parents came to meet me for the first time at the foster home - so the story (and the photo) goes - I smiled when my dad first held me.  I came home with my parents a few weeks later, just two months after being born.  Our adoption was a traditional closed adoption, so I have never known my birth parents.

27 years later, I have framed in my living room that photo of my father holding me for the first time.  It sits in tribute to my adoption, which catalyzed my life and started the blessed chain of happy things that have come from it.  

I have always been - and still am - fiercely proud of being adopted.  But my understanding of adoption - specifically how people view me as an adoptee - changed in my early twenties following a conversation with a good friend in college.  During a casual discussion about my adoption story, she asked me if I felt distant from my parents because they weren’t my “real parents.”  That was the first moment I realized that not everyone views adoption as a blessing.  That people may perceive my relationship with my parents as less-fulfilling because we are not biologically related.  

On the contrary, my parents and I feel that our relationship is uniquely special, and that adoption is a tear-jerking, heartstring-tugging, thanks giving blessing from God.  And I’m not even religious!  Yet, if ever something strengthened my belief in a higher power and in destiny, it’s my own adoption story.  For most people, they wouldn’t have their families if their parents hadn't met and, well... you know.  For me, it’s much more complicated. If my birth mother hadn’t had a romantic interlude with my biological father, then I would have never been conceived; and if she’d chosen to abort me instead of making the courageous and unimaginably difficult decision to place me up for adoption, then I would have never found my way into foster care in Indianapolis; and if my social worker didn’t live in the same neighborhood as my parents, then my parents may not have heard about me; and if my Grandpa had never moved to Indiana, then my parents wouldn't have moved here either; and if my mother’s uterus had formed correctly instead of developing a flap inside of it, then our family would have never come into being.  It all could have turned out so differently.

Through luck or grace, I found my family and they found me.  We may not share the same genetic makeup, but we share everything else (including the same rare blood type).  While a loving young woman courageously suffered through emotional and physical pain to bring me into this world over a quarter-century ago, my parents gave birth to me in the most sacred of places: their hearts.  And that’s the beautiful truth.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chocolate-Dipped Flourless Vegan Cookie Dough

In the enduring battle between chocolate chip cookies and chocolate chip cookie dough, I’m on Team Dough all the way.  Brown sugar is, hands down, my favorite baking ingredient, and no baked good truly expresses the rich sweetness of brown sugar as well as the chocolate chip cookie - especially the dough.  

Last night Ian looked incredulously at me when I declared my intention to make a healthy, salmonella-risk-free version of one of my favorite treats:  “Prepare to have your mind blown by what I’m about to make: cookie dough WITHOUT eggs, butter, or even flour.”

An hour later, I was hanging my head in defeat, convinced my over-enthusiasm had jinxed the entire project.  The cookie dough tasted like garbanzo beans and was much too thin.  Slumping my shoulders, I glopped my too-runny dough onto wax paper and let it sit in the fridge over night, hoping it would be better by morning.

Oh sweet, sweet morning. Ten hours after my self-imposed defeat, my cookie dough globs had hardened up and the bean flavor had evaporated.  Now I’m about to evaporate them.

So, prepare to have your mind blown ten hours after when you make these.  The original recipe is from Chocolate Covered Katie, but this is my adaptation:

Chocolate-Dipped Cookie Dough:

1 can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas, drained, rinsed and dried with a paper towel
1 cup of brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1/4 - 1 cup rolled oats (or more to thicken)
1/2 cup of chocolate chips (or more if you want!)

In a food processor, combine beans, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, vanilla extract, oil, and oats.  Add more oats if the texture is too runny; add a bit of non-dairy milk if the texture is too thick.  Unplug food processor and mix in the chocolate chips manually.

Roll dough into balls and place on wax paper (or just scoop spoonfuls onto wax paper).  Refrigerate for one hour until hardened.

Now you can either enjoy the cookie dough by itself OR you can dip the cookie dough into melted chocolate like I did and re-refrigerate.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Memory Journal: Atonement

I found myself back in Chicago last week.  Returning from (a tasty Chipotle) lunch with friends downtown, I rode the El back to Lincoln Park.  Sitting on the scratchy blue fabric chair and pondering the spelling of the graffiti etched on the window across from me, I reminisced about my travels on another big city’s public train system.  As colorful billboards flashed by in front of the Chicago cityscape behind them, and as Brown Line trains across the track flashed by in a torrent of noise, a vivid image flashed in front of my eyes: a memory of the time I saw a young woman sobbing on the London Tube.

I don’t know how I ended up sitting where I did that evening.  As I had already learned by mid-semester of studying abroad, open seats on the Tube are usually a precious commodity in old London Town.  With a long commute ahead of me, I must have made a B-Line for the first patch of bare fabric I saw on that train.  I guess I didn’t realize that the seat was empty for a reason.

But it’s my seat now, and it should be comfortable.  It’s well-cushioned in a well-lit car of very well-funded public transportation system.  Yet, I feel like I’ve boarded the Discomfort Express because seated on my right, her hip touching mine, a young woman - probably my age - is holding her head in her scarf, trying to hide her sobs from the rest of the commuters that evening.

But she can’t hide them.  That undeniable sniffling and sharp inhaling of true heartbreak seems to echo down the corridors of this long train car, interrupted only by the passing of a train heading towards the place we left.  I sit still, paralyzed by her sadness.  Bundled in my green peacoat and black gloves for winter, I grip the sides of my oh-so-American North Face backpack on my lap and stare at its zipper, whilst my mind stares at the crying girl beside me.  I don’t even think to wonder why she’s upset, especially in such a public place.  Her sadness blinds my thoughts, covering every nook in my mind with a warm blanket of concern.  No one deserves to be so sad.

I want someone to say something to her.  Someone less shy than I am.  A mother or a father perhaps could comfort her in kind British accent with just the right words to assuage her ambiguous sorrows.  So, angling my eyes up gently away from my lap, I search the faces of my fellow commuters.  But all I see are winter caps and red noses tucked into New York Times bestsellers.  

No one seems to care, but I’m sure everyone who hears her does.  True sadness pulls at even the stiffest of heartstrings, but our tongues are tied with doubt about what to say and twisted by the defacto No-Talking Rule of the London Tube.  Indeed, in London, even your mind is flooded with concern, the British respect for privacy will lock your jaw shut.

I’m not British, though.  I’d love to have the charming accent, but I’m very happy with my American sensitivities.  So, as the train slows down and quiets into the next station and warns the passengers to “mind the gap” ahead, I straighten up my back and turn my shoulders toward the girl on my right hiding her face.  As my fellow commuters see me shifting in my seat, they peer out from behind their books and newspapers.  I place my hand towards her knee in a gesture of comfort to let her know that not everyone on this train is indifferent to her sorrow.  And I untangle my tongue from the prickly thorns of doubt to say some kind words:

“It’ll get better.”

The crying girl peeks out from her whispy purple scarf.  I see her bloodshot eyes, her tear-stained cheek, and the little upturn of the corners of her mouth as she gives me a little smile of thanks.

Except I never saw her eyes that night.  Nor her cheeks, nor her mouth.  She never smiled at me.  She kept her face behind her purple scarf because I never leaned over with words of kindness or a hand of comfort.  I kept my eyes locked on the zipper of my backpack on my lap, blending into the polite British public and trying to ignore her sobs by focusing on the dull white noise of the rumbling train.  As we pulled into my station I minded the gap and walked off the train, leaving her behind me with an empty seat of cold bare fabric next to her.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Call Me By My Nickname

I’ve been harboring a little regret for awhile now.  For 20 years actually - ever since my first day of elementary school.  On a hot summer morning in August of 1991, dressed pretty for my first day of school, sitting in my little blue metal chair, enjoying the cool surface of my stubby wooden desk, my shy self said something that has impacted me every day since then.  It happened during my very first roll call.  When the nice teacher took attendance, as all teachers do, she asked us if we preferred to be called by a different name.  Maybe “TJ” instead of Thomas or “Katie” instead of Katherine.  When she called my name, I stayed silent.

I wish I would have said, “Everyone calls me Annie.”

Everyone did call me Annie back then, along with the intermittent “AnnaBanana” and “Annabelle,” and of course “Sweetheart” and “Sweetie” from my parents.  My Mom and Dad even sang the Michael Jackson song to me when I wasn't feeling well: "Annie are you okay, are you okay, Annie?" They still do sometimes.

But I didn’t tell my teacher about my nickname on the first day of school.  So everyone in my elementary school knew me as Anne (with an “e” of course), and then everyone in junior high, and then high school...  And now I’m in my mid-twenties and the only people who call me Annie are the same ones that did when I was five, along with the random customer service representative who doesn’t know that the “e” is silent at the end of Anne.  

But even when the annoying telemarketer on the phone greets me with, “Hello, Miss Ann-ee...” my heart skips a beat and I’m secretly really happy that he mispronounced my name.  I even felt a pang of heartbreak a few years ago when my Uncle asked me, “I know we’ve always called you Annie, but you prefer being called Anne, right?”

Why am I so attached to my nickname?  

Thanks to my odd curiosity about the science of love and romance, I happen to know the answer.  As Leil Lowndes explains in her book How To Make Anyone Fall In Love With You  (Don’t judge - it’s actually a really interesting book.) nicknames evoke feelings of intimacy and bonding:

Many of us, when we were kids, had nicknames. Lots of today's Roberts were once called Bobby.
Many Elizabeths were once little Betsy. Many Johns were Johnny, and Sues were Suzie. Did you
have a kid name? I did. My mother and all the other kids called me "Leilie." That remained my official designation until I decided it wasn't respectable-sounding enough for the young professional I aspired to be. So, along with my intended personality change, came a name change. I insisted everyone call me Leil.

I have one friend from my childhood days, Rick, who resisted the change and to this day calls me Leilie. Whenever I hear a voice on the phone asking to speak to Leilie, my heart thumps with childhood memories. The emotions that I feel upon hearing Leilie get transferred to Rick, and I'm sure the fact that Rick (I call him Ricky) calls me Leilie is one factor in our friendship lasting so long. 
Childhood experiences and childhood names have a strong subliminal effect. Like any weapon, however, this one could backfire. If your Quarry had an unhappy childhood, hearing an old nickname might invoke horrible memories.... 
However, if your Quarry had a happy childhood, using a pet name deepens intimacy, and it shoots a little PEA (love chemical) through his or her veins every time you say that name.

So if you’re courting someone for a relationship or a friendship, try calling him/her by a nickname.  And if you have a little kid, make sure they speak up on the first day of school.  It may lead to a lifetime of deeper friendships.

Then again, if everyone called me by my nickname, maybe it wouldn’t feel so special. Of course, for the most important people in my life, we have our very own nicknames, and it'd be weird if you called me "sweetie" or "baby." But if you call me Annie, I can't help but smile.