Friday, February 27, 2015

FF: Kielbasa & Potatoes w/ Homemade Mac 'n Cheese

 


We actually had this dinner, last night, and it was SO yum. The perfect comfort meal and it earned rave reviews from everyone but Ty...he related it to dirt. What a buster.

Kielbasa and Potatoes
I found this Mom Foodie recipe HERE. I know it doesn't look like much...but it's a must-try! SO GOOD. I took the suggestion at the bottom of the recipe and heated my potatoes in the microwave for six minutes before pan-frying them to save time. This dish was full of flavor!




I also served up this simple, Homemade Mac'n Cheese recipe from That Which Nourishes.

This recipe for homemade mac and cheese has been featured on several top mac and cheese lists. It is the perfect base recipe for classic mac and cheese.

Our fruit and veggie sides were very simple - jarred applesauce and broccoli. Our favorite way to eat broccoli is to lightly saute it in olive oil with Wildtree's Rancher Steak Rub. My boys (all four of them!) eat it in pounds.

Of all the new meals I've made in the last several weeks, this one was the BEST!



Monday, February 23, 2015

The File


I knew, nearly, ever word that I read. It wasn't that I wrote them; rather I am living them, every day. Yet, as I read through Sweet Boy's file for the first time, today, I choked back sobs.

There is a reason the agency does not allow foster parents too close. There is a reason they hold back beginning details that shape the children that come to care.

Only God could love through the injustice.

We live in the country, which wouldn't qualify, except that in subzero temperatures, we put off the walk to the mailbox for as many days a possible. I don't know how long these haunting words sat, preparing for our first meeting, but when I, carefully, opened the first page, I did it with quiet esteem.

I didn't let Ben in at first. There is something so private about reading your child's missed moments. As a woman - as his mother - it's a right to life I missed. I never felt him press in my womb or gasp for life. I missed four birthdays. I wasn't in the police car, he so, vividly, remembers. I missed his most terrifying moments.

The gap filler is a simple, neat file, written from a legal perspective. I remember the day I read LJ's. We didn't know him, love him, or even know what he looked like.

Reading Sweet Boy's file was much, MUCH, harder. He is already my son. The birthing pains that brought us to today, were more painful than this barren belly were prepared for.

His assessment summary was right on. Sweet Boy frequently "vomited without physical cause...was distant from his foster family and reported to have a flat affect...he had heightened anxiety most of the time...he stutters when nervous...struggles in his interactions with peers...sensitive to conflict...he will hit himself to self-discipline...he is not comfortable with physical affection...lacks all self-confidence...he has a diagnosis of adjustment disorder with anxiety and depressed mood."

Processing the summary was not difficult because the blood of Jesus dripped on every word and stamped REDEEMED over every lie of the enemy. Sweet Boy's therapist was in tears, this week, as we work through graduating him from therapy. She marveled at how secure he is.

His increased confidence, affection, and open heart are never lost on me. I know how far we've come.

It is a complete privilege to be a first-hand witness in God's victory.

Page 2.

My heart was not ready to read the next page. I'm not even sure how I will get through typing this.

Sweet Boy is three weeks old. CPS receives a complaint. X, Y, and Z is happening and Sweet Boy is crying most of the time. He is not being changed or fed.

I closed my eyes and allowed myself to mourn the baby that survived this without his mother. Thanking God for protecting him, but wishing it all to be different.

I took a deep breath before picking up where I left off.

My blurred vision made it impossible, but after confirming three times, I realized Sweet Boy dropped off the grid for three years due to several moves outside of Michigan. I, mentally, had to force myself to move past the horrors my mind conjured in the absence of information.

Several more CPS allegations were made. None of them were easy to read...but this was the hardest. Mom and Sweet Boy are moving from motel room to motel room, sleeping on the floor, and "there is no food for [Sweet Boy]."

Mom admitted to selling their food stamps for heroine and that Sweet Boy had not eaten in two days.

I can't stop crying.

I cried when I read it to Ben; I'm crying now.

I would cry over ANY child that was forced to go days without food....but this....this isn't any child. This is my precious boy. The son that God gifted to me. The son that kissed me for the first time a few weeks ago. The baby that would crawl in bed, next to me, because he had the same, reoccurring, nightmare for months in a row. The tender-heart that prays for his mom and Missy's dad - the same people responsible for his neglect. The same little guy that asks me at least six times before EVERY meal, what we're having.

For months, I've been annoyed by his questions. Telling him to stop asking after the first time.

I knew he was helping collect cans for food, but I never let my mind wander enough to what that meant for my one, two, three, and four year old son.

He probably always asked six times about what he was going to eat, hoping that one time the answer might mean something else.That his question might soften the hunger pains in his belly.

That is just too much for this mama heart.

I can't write more.










Friday, February 20, 2015

FF: Creamy Chicken and Asparagus



This week's recipe was delish. My kids live for pasta, but I am pretty picky when it comes to sauce - especially alfredo. I took the time to shovel a quick walkway to our grill (we're, currently, buried in snow), so that I could grill my chicken and remember summer. It was well worth the 15 minutes of subzero temps.

I always bake my bacon at 400 for 20ish minutes and pan-fry my asparagus in a little bit of olive oil and sea salt.


You can find the original Cooking Classy recipe for Creamy Chicken and Asparagus here


Creamy Chicken and Asparagus Pasta | Cooking Classy

I paired it with our very favorite Olive Garden knock-off salad (Recipe Here; mid-page) and fruit medley (apples, bananas, and clementines).

Sweet Boy is not quick to award a five-star, but I would say this was pretty darn close to a home-run. Sissy wouldn't eat the asparagus, but she DID manage to eat her body weight in alfredo and bacon!



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bravery

Sunday marked one year since bringing home our new lovies.

Even though we hit this same mark with LJ, I am still surprised at how significant it is. Something happens at one year that smooths the remaining wrinkles and fills your heart with much hope for the future.

We were reading our devotional for the night that focused on bravery and the importance of trying new things. When I asked each boy of a time when they had to be brave, Sweet Boy, was quick to share that he conquered his fear of riding his bike without training wheels, this summer. Tyrus piped in, "Mom, that's called being a risk-taker." (Earlier in the night, he looked at Ben and, referring to me, said, "Dad, doesn't she look cute with a ponytail?" I'm not sure if the age of his soul is 5 or 25 at this point.)

After each boy had a turn, Sweet Boy said, "I was brave when I had to ride in the police car to my middle house with my bag of stuff next to me." We have talked about this moment a hundred times over the last year, but it never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

"I know, honey. That was SUPER brave."

The conversation turned, quickly, to our upcoming court hearing where Sweet Boy will be given our name. I ordered all of us t-shirt jerseys that say "Team Pinchback". The boys are very excited to wear their own, as their names and numbers are on the back. We talked about how much fun the day will be, when someone asked if Little Miss would get her jersey that day.

The conversation was very organic and accepted with a level of maturity that surprised me. We talked about Little Miss and her parents. What could happen, as well as what most likely will happen. We talked about drugs and alcohol and how they cause people to make poor decisions.

"Mom, what is their mom's name, again?" Ty asked.

When I told him, his answer was so sweet and innocent, "But, mom....she doesn't sound bad?"

It was the perfect opportunity to explain how good people make bad decisions. As our conversation weaved in and out, Ty made a point of asking "So there are bugs in the drugs that start eating your brain that make you make poor choices?"

Their summary may not have been exactly on point...but their take-away was.

We talked a lot about the importance of good family and how all the parents represented by our kids (minus Miss Rebekah) didn't have that. When the firehouse of questions ended, mostly regarding Missy's dad, Sweet Boy said, "We should pray for him."

For a moment, time stood still and I marveled at his depth of love.

Over the year, we took as many steps forward as we did back. We had to push through forced feelings; learn how to process delicate memories; overcome nightmares, anxiety, loss; sledgehammer walls of lies and negative influence; and walk a careful line of expressing affection.

But, today...one year later...it was all worthwhile. He is one of us.

And I've never met someone so brave.



Friday, February 13, 2015

FF: Cheesy Ranch Chicken


I am excited to roll out my first ever Food Friday.

Cooking is something I've always enjoyed, but it's even more fulfilling with such a big brood to satisfy. I thought it would be fun to spend Fridays, sharing our kitchen with you.

One of my greatest mentors passed away, last year. She improved my life in a hundred different ways, but the single most important thing she ever taught me was over my first meatloaf lesson (which is amazing, by the way). She told me this - Do you want to know the secret to satisfying your husband? What keeps your kids home during adolescence?

Serve the best food.

I've never forgotten her advice and it has helped me shape my own philosophy on dinner:
  1. There has to be variety
  2. It has to taste good
  3. It can't take more than an hour
First you have to understand the dynamics of our family. I'm a working mama, so time is precious and planning is priority. Ben doesn't get home until six, so we are sitting down ready (with pjs on!) by the time he walks in the door. When it comes to the littles - Ty and Missy are picky pants, we liken LJ to a garbage disposal, and Sweet Boy is somewhere in-between. Because I am not an order-to-make restaurant, I've gotten into the practice of making four dishes (main, side, fruit, and veggie) every night to alleviate two of the children from going hungry...most nights.

Here are some rules that have helped us:
  1. Each kiddo has to try every dish - every time, but they can choose not to finish their plate.
  2. No one can request more of anything without finishing their other items first.
  3. Those that finish their plate get to pick a "treat" at the end of dinner. Not only does this help us eat down the candy bowl that tends to stale over the year, but it's also a pretty perfect solution to get the kids to power through their veggies. 
One more thing. We injected a level of excitement several weeks ago when we enacted a rating system for each brand new main dish (I do at least one a week). The boys are on a five-star system (1 = dirt; 5 = best meal ever). My mathematical husband disputed the scale, immediately, declaring need for more granularity, so the two of us rate meals from 1-10.


Now for the food!

Cheesy Ranch Chicken

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-cB4KUKHJpjs/UPxP30qjbNI/AAAAAAAABpU/VlPfLuq3Ro8/s1600/cheesyranchchicken.png

I found this Table for Seven recipe here.

I paired it with pan-fried asparagus, homemade applesauce (peel and place large chunks of apples in the crockpot with a little bit of cinnamon), and boxed mac 'n cheese (yeah, we do that).

So, YUM, and 4-5 stars from all the boys (a big feat!)












Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mess

I walked into the courthouse and the security guard smiled, warmly, and said, "You're dressed for success!"

If only it were that easy.

Dad didn't show up to our visit on Friday. He didn't show up in court, today.

No one that I tell is surprised, but I'm shocked.

I think it's because I believe in him - or want to - yet, I was relieved.

This love is complicated. Very complicated.

Something turned in my heart on Friday, when he didn't show. I was angry. Angry that he gave up, didn't care, or simply forgot.

I was up, this morning, at five. I soaked in the tub and for the first time begged God to let me keep my daughter. I know she belongs to Him, but she feels like mine. And I don't want her to leave.

When dad didn't show up, today, I felt indifferent.

Not only wasn't he there, but I heard a whole slew of activity that was news to me. He missed a drug test in January, resetting his "clean" clock to 30ish days; he is, routinely, disengaged during visitation; and has had multiple counts of disciplinary action in his rehabilitation program.

His attorney had very little to add and, simply, threw her hands in the air and said she hadn't heard from her client since our last hearing, three months ago. Our attorneys (Missy's and the agency's) requested another hearing in ninety days and wanted it on record that they plan on requesting a goal change at that time (from reunification back to termination).

I walked out with the attorneys (Missy's, agency's, mom's, and dad's). They share a dysfunctional camaraderie that will never make me comfortable in their presence. Their fight can switch on and off in seconds, but outside the courtroom they tend to be on the same team - which makes me wonder why we're required to do this ridiculous dance.

As one attorney pushed the door open, I overheard, "Well, we should all be out of this mess, by this time next year."

I wanted to throw up. I know the "mess" they referred to is only a small part of their day every few months...but it's my life.

There are people and feelings (so many feelings) and deep family bonds balled up in it.

This is what our mess looked like, this morning, at wake-up time.


Of all the things I experienced, today, learning that dad was disengaged at visits was the hardest. I am writing this of my own accord, with no spiritual revelations - my prayers have turned selfish. I still want dad to win. I want him to win the battle he's, currently, losing against the enemy. I want him to be clean and healthy and sober. And I want him to have contact with his daughter - under our supervision.

I am praying that he will have a change of heart and end this madness by signing over his rights, voluntarily. Right or wrong, it's what I'm praying, today.

I just want this to be over.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Other Side of the Door.

I cry most of the way home after every visit.

During the week, I'm a working mom with four kids. Our house is full of energy and, albeit exhausting, the reward is in every snuggle and slobbery kiss. My highlight each day is staring into the eyeballs of the five people I love most on this planet, while we all rate my food and stuff our faces (More to come on this tradition soon - watch for "Food Friday").

Friday mornings are different. While the rest of the family plays their usual role, I am called to action for a part I didn't request for a movie I don't like. I am just the foster mom to someone else's daughter on the other side of a partition.

As the weeks go on, the visits get harder.

Maybe if I left, I wouldn't be so emotional, but I can't bring myself to do it. I always want to be on the other side of the door, the minute it opens.

On his side, it's the easiest part of the week. They laugh and wrestle and play silly games that never wear out.

My side requires personal restraint and a committed exercise in humility.

A few weeks ago, mom tried buzzing into the agency lobby, but was denied entrance. I could see her tears through the glass door and she looked the most vulnerable I've ever seen her. Big eyes. Huge belly (due any day) and desperate for hope. I can hate the system, the ease in which the enemy devours his prey, and even the fact that we're in a predicament we didn't sign-up for, but I can't hate them.

Even though sometimes I want to.

It would be easier.

It's not possible. I, slowly, walked toward the door, let myself out and hugged Sweet Boy's and Little Missy's mom until she collapsed in my arms. She cried for a long time without saying anything.

In those moments, love is easy.

I guided her to a small bench, as she looked around, nervously, afraid the police would be there to escort her off the premises. I told her I wouldn't let that happen and that we could go sit in my car if we had to, in order to catch up. She let out a deep sigh and asked me every question a mother who's been separated from her kids would ask.

We never did our goodbye visit due to jail time and then a re-scheduled no-show. As I listened to her sob about why she couldn't make it, I decided I was a "giver" at heart. It's not a word that stands out if I were to describe my attributes, but when her piled up excuses didn't stand in the way of my desire to give, I knew the label fit.

We talked for a solid thirty minutes. Her words gave me a guided tour of the Alps. One minute she was grabbing my leg, begging me to adopt Sweet Boy - afraid her father would get custody and give him the same destructive foundation she got - the next she was, openly, telling me all of the plans she and birth dad have to raise Little Miss alongside her soon-to-be baby boy. Her cavalier responses point to self-service and make it clear she will never understand what I've done for her.

Even in those moments, love is easy.

I buzzed back into the agency and asked to speak to a supervisor. I pleaded mom's case and asked that they allow us to do an impromptu goodbye visit when dad was done. They wouldn't bend. I asked about a bag I had left for mom, should she come by. All of Missy's firsts and many mementos for Sweet Boy from my personal collection of treasures. Once the bag was found, I was able to get the agency to agree to allow us to stand outside the agency for a few minutes, so that mom could soak in the daughter she hadn't seen in, nearly, 12 months.

For a minute, I stood on the other side of both doors, wondering how on earth I ever came to be there.

When we walked outside, mom was a frenzy of activity, laughing - crying - hugging - questioning. Cramming a year's worth of wonder into fifteen minutes. As I stood to leave, Little Miss reached for me and said, "Momm-e!" Before I could pick her up, dad scooped her in his arms and placed her chubby hands on mom and said, "No, baby, THIS is your mommy."

I clenched my fist, bit my tongue, and begged God to take over.

I never want to walk away from love...even if it feels impossible.

What are we if we can't give love?