Wednesday 31 December 2008

Episode 63: In which Claudia does some sharing

Well, it's New Year's Eve. This year it's on a wednesday (for those of you who are either unable to read a calendar, or reading this so far in the future that you've forgotten when NYE 2008 fell) which coincides with our church's regular wednesday night bible studies. Sooooo, tonight we're combining the regular wednesday night thing with a NYE dessert party (and I can hear all of you who are shaking your heads and saying 'this is why I don't go to church' - on this occasion, I totally know where you're coming from). Unfortunately, because it's NYE, it's going to incorporate a time of sharing about the year that's gone and our challenges for the new year.

Well. This year certainly has been an eventful one. And the year ahead is certainly likely to have its fair share of challenges. But we've been sticking to our 'no general sharing about the adoption until we've actually been approved' rule, and now isn't the time to break that, with only a week to go until the panel makes their decision. Also, to be honest, I am not really in the sharingest of moods, especially after all the stress of Christmas. Probably I'll do what I've been doing this whole year and just talk about work. Work has been pretty intense this year, but it's also been a convenient excuse for my sky-high levels of stress. If I was being honest, I think I would say that in 2008 I:

  • started a blog
  • lost a stone, and thus freed myself from the tyranny of constantly needing to wear high heels
  • applied to adopt a baby
  • thought things would get easier from there
  • found that they didn't
  • learned to doubt every good thing about myself
  • tried to remember that actually, it's very rarely about me
  • walked out of a church service for the first and hopefully only time in my life
  • realised that, no matter how hard the road, Romans 8:28-31 is always true
  • spent most saturdays in the second half of the year meeting with a social worker
  • was forced to admit to myself that not all social workers are ogres, and that actually we quite like ours
  • grieved a lot
  • despised myself for grieving so much
  • got promoted
  • found myself re-assessing my life in light of where my baby is going to come from
  • swore to change
  • felt like a hypocrite for still enjoying shopping
  • remembered how to knit
  • got a cat
  • found that trouble doesn't always make you stronger
  • was not the same person at the end as I was at the beginning.
Hmmmm. Think I'll stick to talking about work. Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Christmas 2008

Is finally over.

And that is the best thing I can say about Christmas 2008.

Monday 22 December 2008

All I Want for Christmas Is..... Milk

A few weeks ago, we had a really worrying email from a woman on the (wonderful) yah.oo email list for UK Ethiopia adopters. The foster home that most of us here work with is rapidly running out of infant milk for the babies.

Oh no! Well, obviously we'll get together and donate some money so she can buy some. Except that... there isn't any to buy.

Is anybody travelling in the next few weeks? No. Right, so nobody can take any.

Okay, then, we'll SEND it. Buy it here, send it by DHL, sorted.

No, Ethiopia won't accept any milk imports from the UK (even if the milk was manufactured elsewhere).

Alright, we'll send it from somewhere else. A very resourceful PAP found out that Ethiopia is in the region controlled by Nestle Egypt.

Who, it seems, can't really help us.

At this point, my head really starts to spin. It suddenly comes home to me that this is where my baby is going to be living, at some point, and there isn't enough food. This is the point at which my head and my heart start having a fistfight:

heart - These poor babies. I can't believe this is happening.
head - but you KNOW there are food shortages in Ethiopia.
heart- yes.
head- you KNOW there is grinding poverty.
heart - yes.
head - you KNOW that lots of people can't afford to buy food.
heart - yes.
head - you must know that these sort of circumstances are the context, and possibly part of the reason for your own adoption. Why are you so surprised all of a sudden?
heart - I didn't know it was the kind of food shortages that meant babies could go hungry!
head - excuse me while i roll my eyes at your stupidity.
**heart runs out of the room, crying**
head - I swear, she causes me nothing but trouble.

I think part of what is difficult in this situation is that we, in the West, are used to being able to fix things. No food in my house? Go to the supermarket! No food in another country? Donate a whole heap of money! The only limit to our fixing power is the amount of our money. Even think of (fantastic) organisations like charity: water - the whole premise is that we, in the West, have the *power* to change other peoples lives by giving money. (I think a lot of charities are very adept at this kind of marketing, and a lot of them seem to do it very consciously). Obviously these organisations DO need our money, and we SHOULD donate where we can, but we should also be aware of the power buzz we get by doing it.

I think a lot of us are getting pretty good at being generous, but a situation like this reminds me that we (okay I) are not very good at being impotent. I have the will to change this situation, and I even have the money to change this situation, but I don't have the power to change this situation. And that really stinks.

With this kind of context, you can probably all imagine exactly how much I'm looking forward to Christmas. I think I'm currently in the running for some kind of 'worst person imaginable' award, based on my attitude towards the festive season. The feasting upsets me, because we all basically feast every day so I'm not quite sure what the point is. The emphasis on family togetherness upsets me, because I keep on seeing an empty space where I want Hypothetical Future Baby to be. Also, I keep remembering that HFB is probably spending this Christmas inside their first mother, and for our family to come together another will have to be separated. The consumer waste and unwanted presents really really upset me. The fact that everyone (with one noble exception, thank you mum and dad) seems to have ignored my request for Kiva loans or something similar, rather than yet more consumer goods, upsets me, because it makes me feel like nobody is even interested in acknowledging the fact that we're going to be forever linked to a part of the world that doesn't share our plenty. The way that Christmas feels like yet another milestone upsets me, when my life feels completely up in the air. Here's the clincher, though - even watching the wide eyed wonder of small children opening their presents irritates me, because I'm thinking that if Christmas celebrations are mainly for children, as so many people seem to think, it shouldn't just be about well fed white children getting YET MORE STUFF.

So I'll have my award now, please.

I guess you want to know how the milk story ends, and here it is: Someone managed to find some formula, at EXTORTIONATE prices, somewhere insanely decadent like the Sheraton, and we (the group of UK adopters) bought it. All of it, I think. So yay, westerners, we did manage to throw enough money at the problem to make it go away, at least temporarily. And while I'm really, really glad that 'our' babies have milk, I'm consumed with guilt that lots of other babies still don't. And I keep wondering how I'll feel about all this festive madness in a year's time, if HFB is home by then. (I think I have a pretty good guess about how I'll feel if he / she is NOT home). Will these feelings of cultural resentment fade? Should they fade? I don't even know. Whatever happens, I don't want to slip so deeply into a loved-up family coocoon that I refuse to remember a time when these things were piercingly clear.

Three Quick Points

There are three things I should probably have said in my last post.
1) I know that not everybody shares my pro-life views, or my faith.
2) The article I linked to was published a few months ago - the reason this was back in the news was because the woman involved is due to give birth next week. I linked to this article because it was just a bit less sensational and tabloidy than those published this week (worst headline: 'A cancer-free baby for Christmas'. WHAT???)
3) There is brand-spanking-new treatment available that tests eggs rather than embryos, and is therefore 100% ethical, which we would probably have wanted to consider. But it's not available in the UK now, and probably won't be in my reproductive lifetime.
4) I do realise that it is just as possible to make unethical decisions when adopting as when pursuing fertility treatment. I need to remind myself daily of this - deciding to adopt does not give me the moral high ground!
5) I do not want to minimise the struggles of those going through reproductive interventions in order to conceive. I've read enough infertility / IVF blogs to have some idea of how hard it is, and I totally understand the intense desire to do things this way. I know adoption isn't a magic bullet, and I don't want to be implying that.

Okay, enough there Claudia! Three has already become five! How do you spell o-v-e-r-t-h-i-n-k-i-n-g?????

Saturday 20 December 2008

Mini-me vs Hypothetical Future Baby

I know a lot of people in adoption-land have faced infertility. I will spare you all the medical details, but I've christened what I've got malfertility (mal = bad, as in malignant, maladjusted, malodorous, malapropism, maleficent, malign). It's not the same experience as infertility, but I think the grief-loss-pain cycle is pretty similar, judging by what I've experienced and observed. And this was all stirred up again yesterday, when I came home from work, switched on the radio, and heard this news story. The genetic issues are a long way from identical, but basically this is what my husband and I decided not to do.

Although 'decided' is totally the wrong word here. Perhaps I should say - this is what we never considered, although we knew it was scientifically possible. J and I both believe that life begins at conception, and we don't have the right either to discard embryos or abort a foetus because its DNA isn't arranged the way we would want it to be. I am utterly convinced of this. But. There are some days, when the adoption road seems long and hard, and I've read too many books on attachment disorder, and the social worker is coming to visit again, when we have to write another cheque, and I have to listen to yet more pregnancy stories that I know I'll never be able to add to....when I wobble a bit. I read what these people say about how they decided to undergo these processes because they can't face the thought of their child inheriting whatever genetic condition it is that they carry, and part of me despises them for taking the 'easy' way around this, part of me burns with sympathy and part of me... is envious. Maybe we could do that - it's not such a big deal! It's just a few cells! And then we could just have kids the normal way and it would all be so much easier. And I could have a little mini-me! And a mini-J!

And then I remind myself no, not an ethical option. I wish I could say I never feel conflicted about this but that wouldn't be true. And these thoughts are a real reminder to me to re-examine my own motives - why do I want to be a mother, anyway? And why do I keep on automatically thinking that things would somehow be better - my life would be better, our family would be better - if I could magically cure myself, forget adopting and just give birth? I hate this sort of adoption-is-second-best thinking in other people - why am I prone to falling into it myself?

Too often, I can confuse the unspeakable awfulness of the process of adopting with the outcome. Yes, it would probably be more fun to be buying maternity clothes than attachment books. And it would certainly be nice to have a due date. But the children? Mini-me vs Hypothetical Future Baby?

We are surrounded by a world with an evolutionary, secular humanist perspective on parenting. This tells me that parenting is the necessary after-effect of reproduction. Reproduction happens so that my genes will be propagated, and I have the urge to nurture because that gives my genes the best chance of surviving to adulthood and doing some reproduction of their own,. A healthy child is worth any ethical price. I must do everything I can to become a parent through pregnancy, since my child has worth because they are made in the image of me.

A Christian perspective is that my child has worth because they made in the image of God.

As a hopeful adoptive parent, I find this immensely freeing, when I remember to remember it. Birth children would not be better, more worthwhile, than adopted children. Not my hair, not my eyes, not important. Ultimately, morally, it just doesn't matter whether we parent by adoption or birth. Whether we are good parents will matter. Whether we make ethical compromises to become parents will matter. Whether our children share our DNA will not.

My final thought is that, if my parents had had this screening, they would have discarded not just the embryos directly affected with a genetic disorder, but also the carriers. They would have discarded:


Tuesday 16 December 2008

I'm not really anxious about adoption today

Because I'm anxious about work. Thinking about the amount of work I have to get done in the next few work weeks makes me feel pretty dizzy. Suffice to say, there's a lot to be done. Aren't we supposed to be winding down for Christmas about now? Instead, it's nearly seven pm and I'm still here (no, am not wasting valuable time blogging, am waiting for software update. And blogging. Completely different).

I was sitting in a meeting this morning, feeling my life force slowly drain away and trying to keep a list of all the new tasks I was agreeing to do before the next meeting on 20 January, when it suddenly struck me - that's after my panel date! Wow! If all goes well at panel, I'll be out of the adoption closet by then. And people at work will actually know what's going on in my life, which will actually be pretty weird after having kept it quiet for so long. That feels really strange.

Anyway, in the meantime, please excuse me while I find a paper bag to go and hyperventilate into...

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Enough with the knitting, already.... an update (of sorts)

  • Yesterday, we got our official invitation to Adoption Approval Panel on January 7. This is good and scary in equal measure. Good, because it's nice to see the date in writing, but scary because... well, it's a panel of 12 people sitting around our table and deciding our fate. Do I need to explain why that's scary?

  • Last Saturday, we went to an Ethiop.ian fell.owship group at a ch.urch nearby. We'd been given a starting time and a contact phone number, but the starting time was wrong (by two hours) and we later found out that the person at the other end of the contact phone number was actually out of the country for a month, so we weren't able to warn anyone we were hoping to attend. And it seemed really important to attend - making links with local Ethiopian, especially other Christians, is super-high on our list of things we really want to do. But, wow. You know that article lots of people have bee talking about lately? About how in a transracial adoption, the parents need to be the ones who are willing to be uncomfortable? Well, lets just say that we earned a LOT of uncomfortableness points that day. Really, a LOT. We had NO idea of what to expect, except that it would be a) long and b) all in Amharic. We'd hoped to sit at the back and be as inconspicuous as possible, but in the end there were only about 15 people there so fading into the background wasn't an option at all. It was an extremely strange experience. The people there were extremely nice to us, but clearly thought we were MAD for turning up. And maybe they were right. What can I say? Potential adopters often make the point that it can be difficult to make 'links' with people from ex-pat communities, because the desire for contact is one-way. We would love to get to know these people, and would happily drive for quite a distance to be their friends, but they don't really have any motivation to feel the same way about us. They already know loads of English people through work and all the other aspects of their everyday lives - why ON EARTH would they particularly want to be our friends? This felt uncomfortably apparent to me on that day. While people were very kind to us, and one woman in particular went out of he way to translate for us, I rather felt that we were detracting from their togetherness rather than adding anything. We'd decided to come clean about why we were there, if asked (insert hollow laugh - why would they NOT ask what two non-amharic-speaking ferenjes were doing there?) One particularly awful moment was when someone asked 'so why do you want to adopt from Ethiopia in particular?' My very honest answer about the rich culture and beautiful country only elicited a gently raised eyebrow and a long silence. I wanted to die of awkwardness. I'm still not sure what would have been a better answer. Did I put my foot in it? And of course, I have no idea whether the people I was speaking to have the first idea about adoption - possibly not, and the idea of wanting to support a child's search for identity through positive interactions with and messages about his / her birth country and culture might seem like so much hot air. I'm still really glad we went, and we are hoping to go again (but not every week!) We met one man who is responsible for a partnership between that church and a local church in Ethiopia for sponsoring children through school, and that is something we really want to get involved in. And again, the people were extremely kind to us. But it certainly wasn't easy. It made me realise, more than ever, how much I would like our child to learn Amharic if at all possible. I don't want him or her to feel as awkward around their countrymen as we did that day.

  • I have a cold, and I feel like someone has poured concrete into my head.

  • (Okay, this one is about knitting) I have knitted 9 of the required 58 squares for my blanket. I chose the pattern because it was all garter stitch (ie knitting for morons) and am a trifle bored already.

  • (This one is about knitting too) Due to abovementioned boredom, I took a blanket break and decided to knit a little cat. I looked everywhere to find some wool that was the same colour as my cat, so this could be a mini-kevin. Here he is: Now he's almost finished (I haven't put the whiskers on yet because i need some cream wool) I'm not quite sure what to do with him. You'd think it wouldn't be hard - after all, who DOESN'T need a squarish knitted cat with no legs? I'm not sure whether it is for hypothetical future baby or not - it's possibly not robust enough to stand very much dribbling.

  • It's nearly Christmas. I haven't really done any Christmas shopping. I have NO IDEA what to get for J. I wonder if he wants a knitted cat....?

Thursday 4 December 2008

The Votes Are In

I don't know if I've ever said exactly what it is that I do at work - probably not, because it's not that interesting. But anyway, here it is: I work in University Planning. There, I've said it. I'm a Planner. I like to plan. And sometimes I think that the reason that all this fertility stuff is hard for me is not actually because I would be such a wonderful mother, and isn't it a shame, but just because it's a situation that I can't control or plan for. Note my completely subconscious and unintended moan about family planning two posts down. Yes, I cry at baby knitting books (see below) but sometimes I fear it is tears of pure rage at not getting my own way rather than overflowing maternal hormones. This is a hard thing to learn about myself, although it's probably blindingly obvious to everyone who knows me.

I guess at some time or other we've all noticed that it seems God touches and challenges us just exactly where we don't want to be touched or challenged, and this is definitely one of those times for me. I've always had trouble with the 'be anxious for nothing' stuff, but have (sort of) managed it by trying to just be really, really in control of everything so I wouldn't need to be anxious because I've planned it all out and everything is under control. And of course that's never actually possible, but sometimes it's possible to fool myself that it is. Except for now, when it's really really clear that when it comes to this adoption, I am not going to be able to sort things out just by getting my ducks in a row. Frankly, I don't even know where the ducks are. Some days I'm not sure I was allocated any ducks.

This doesn't stop me trying to retain the shreds of control that I have. There are pretty strong warnings about complacency in the bible (James 4:13-16, anyone?) but sometimes I think I transmute this principle all the way over into what's basically superstition. By which I mean - it's probably pretty sensible that we haven't gone out and bought a crib yet. We're not even approved. But I find myself acting as if saying or doing anything that implies I actually believe this whole thing is one day going to happen is somehow going to jinx it. So I try to help it to happen by acting like it won't. This is where the whole blanket thing comes in. "Arrrghhh, I can't knit this! It's presumption! What if we aren't approved! What if our foster home shuts down! What if our plane is hijacked! It will be my fault!" and so on.

This is stupid of me on several levels. It's logically stupid - obviously. I mean, did that last paragraph even make sense? It's theologically stupid - I'm pretty sure that's not how God works. ('Well, the whole thing was going pretty well, but I think I just heard her say she was considering knitting a blanket. No baby for her"). It's egomaniacally stupid - I am not actually powerful enough to magically stop this adoption with my thoughts. It's also psychologically stupid. I've been having awful, terrible agonies over whether to allow myself enough hope to knit a blanket? Do I somehow think that, if this all goes horribly awry, I won't care because 'oh well, at least I never knitted that blanket, so I didn't have very much emotional investment, you know?' I don't think so.

So I decided to knit it.

It's harder than I thought. Not just the knitting, although I'm even less talented in that direction than I remembered. But the letting myself hope, even when I can't control. It's not coming easily. But I'm working on it.

Friday 28 November 2008

Am I A Genius?

Or is this the worst idea I've ever had?

Let me explain. We were babysitting for friends on Tuesday night (yes! The same friends from last episode!) and I was torturing myself by reading their baby knitting patterns book. I haven't really knitted since I was a teenager, but for some reason I can't walk past a knitting pattern book without picking it up. So anyway, I was looking at pictures of tiny hats and booties and feeling a bit depressed (quelle surprise) and wishing that I had a real baby rather than a Hypothetical Future Baby. (I'm not going to re-hash all the reasons for that because you've all already heard me say it once this week, and have been startlingly kind and sympathetic in your responses, for which I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Number one on my thanksgiving list, if I had one, would be the internet, as it has connected me to all of YOU, helped me lose nearly a stone by tracking weightwatchers points and enabled me to find my cat. Thank you internet, and thank you wonderful bloggers. But I digress).

So anyway, I was getting a bit teary over the baby clothes and thinking 'waaaah, there's no point me knitting anything for a newborn because I'm never going to have one' when I came across a section on baby blankets. Surely these are the ultimate one-size-fits-all baby accessory? Whether our baby is teeeny tiny or hulkingly huge, they will still need a blanket, right? Add to this the fact that a blanket could easily be transported to the foster centre when we travel out and left with there with HFB until we get through court? And then it could take on the role of familiar item when we get home, as recommended by attachment experts? This is the stage at which I thought 'I'm a genius! Finally, something constructive I can do while I wait, rather than complaining on my blog, that will produce a treasured item in future years!' Of course, I then realised:

1) It might not be a great idea to start knitting before we actually get through panel, but this is going to be the biggest block of time I would have to do it (and it's NOW that i'm really struggling with the the whole grief thing, which I'm hoping this might take my mind off);

2) Baby knitting books make me cry (see above);

3) I'm not actually very good at knitting.

I'm also a bit worried that Hypothetical Future Baby is going to be thinking 'I've lost my birth mother, and I've already been moved from orphanage to foster centre - and now some woman is trying to make it up to me by giving me a BLANKET? I don't think so, crazy lady. Excuse me while I vomit up some formula on it. Oh, you made it out of cashmere and it can't be washed? Moron'. If I do make this, it's going to have to be out of something that can literally be boiled in a big pot to sterilise it.

So give me your opinions. Is this going to be a constructive, useful way to use this frustrating time of waiting for approval, or is a book full of chubby tots really not going to help my peace of mind? Help me out here. Has anyone done anything similar?

Monday 24 November 2008


So, yesterday we had lunch with friends and found out that she is 16 weeks pregnant with baby #2. Each time this happens, I tell myself 'this time, this time it's not going to upset me. I'm going to congratulate them sensibly, and NOT go home and cry'. One day I hope to actually be able to follow this resolution through.

I can't dress it up as anything else - my problem here is envy, plain and simple. I'm not envious of their boring white baby, but I'm envious of the fact that they didn't have to ask anybody's permission to have it, and nobody came and sat at their house for ten visits and made them write a stupid essay about their personality. I'm envious about the fact that they get to keep their family planning private, but we can't because we needed them to be referees. I'm envious of the fact that this baby was conceived AFTER we applied, but will be almost six months along by the time we're even approved - oh yeah, IF we're approved - and will probably be in college by the time we actually bring a baby home. And while we're on THAT topic, I'm envious - hugely, ridiculously so - of their due date, which means they know, at least to within a few weeks, when they will be parents again. Oh, and I'm envious of the fact that they know what age the darn baby will be when they get it home. And envious of the fact that the baby won't need to learn to be attached to them, but will already know its mothers smell and voice. Most of all, I'm envious, so much that I can hardly see straight, that all they had to do to get that baby in there was have sex.

I am so sick of this. I'm sick of having no control over what should be the most adult decision of our lives. I'm sick of hating myself for the way I react to things, and I'm sick of crying about this while I'm at work. I'm sick of whining about it.I'm sick of being reminded that I need to learn to rejoice with those who rejoice, when all I want to do is slap them. I'm sick of dreading Christmas. I'm sick of doubting myself, and wondering if I can ever be a good parent to an adopted child when the adoption process makes me SO ANGRY. It hasn't been a very good day.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Things that Rock Thursday - blend it, baby

I know, I know - some people would say that it is not actually Thursday today. Who knows - those people may be right. But the last few weeks have been spent in a dizzying, nausea-inducing, day-of-the-week-forgetting whirlwind of work, and I figure I've spent enough time at the office in the last few days to claim that, whatever everyone else says, I'm up to next Thursday already. The only thing that gets me through the spreadsheety melee is a daily visit to the university's smoothie shop, where I can buy an enormous jugful of pureed fruit for a very reasonable price and consume a week's worth of vitamins in about five minutes. This time of year is always like this, so it's the only time I allow myself to break my 'one smoothie a week' rule and just go fruit crazy.

In fact, I'm so much in the smoothie zone that when I went into Aldi earlier to get milk I noticed they had pineapples for 69p, as well as ridiculously out-of-season raspberries and decided that even though I'm not at work, today would be a smoothie day as well.

Cold as it is, dont' you just want to drink this (#8: mango, apple and orange)?

This is not a photo of me, by the way (how weird would THAT be, if it turned out I was actually a man? Let me assure you I am not) but rather my cooperative friend from work, C, who also enjoys the occasional trip down smoothie lane.

Before I go to blend myself into a pineapple and raspberry frenzy, I'm going to switch gear and link you to two posts I read this week that really made me think (okay, they made me cry). Here is Misty (Journeying Sojourners) on the whole adoption / pregnancy thing, and Anna (Team Stager) on waiting. Highly recommended!

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Now that I've finally got over myself

Lately, I've been finding myself thinking, all the time, about my baby's birth mother. I'm suddenly very aware that there is a woman, somewhere in Ethiopia, who is probably pregnant with my future baby right now. What is her life like? What is she like? How much is she suffering? Is she angry that she's pregnant? Frightened? Thrilled? Is she already making a plan about what to do? Or is she looking forward to this baby, and doesn't know what's going to happen between now and then that mean she won't be able to care for it? Does she already have children? Is she still a child herself? Does she have enough to eat? Does she have HIV? Is she unmarried, and are her family angry? Would she absolutely despise me if she knew how much money I had just spent on a handbag? And who is the father? Is he involved in her life? Will he help her through this?
So many questions, and I suppose I'll never know any of the answers.
Except for the handbag one, that's probably a 'yes'.

Friday 14 November 2008

It's been a long time coming

So it turns out my firm-mother-voice is WAY less effective than I thought, as my gleaming stainless steel baby still hasn't arrived.

But strangely, I find myself not caring. Well, caring - but not *too* much. I haven't even really composed many options for sarcastic ebay feedback in my head. Instead, what's this unfamiliar emotion I'm feeling? My lips - they keep twitching upwards. And my brain - it doesn't feel all foggy. And my uncoordinated feet keep on tip-tip-tapping out an involuntary dance under my desk. Could it be? Gosh golly, I think it is - I feel certifiably happy.

To borrow a phrase from Courtney - I too have been in a bit of a funk recently. Lots of bitterness and self-doubt. Lots of fears about falling short, and somekind of inescapable inadequacy. While I'm being honest here, lots of anger about some bits of our situation and depression about others. In short, lots of bad stuff going on in my head (which might be why, as I draft this in gmail, google's smart ads are offering me the options of hypnosis or an MRI. I should have written this weeks ago). All the while, I keep realising how far short I fall of what I should be like - I should be seeking out contentment in any and every circumstance, rather than seeking changed circumstances to make me content.

But, in God's grace, our circumstances are changing- for which I am very thankful! The trial I thought would never pass is nearly over, and we have our final meeting with our social worker on Saturday (tomorrow!!) It feels exactly like coming to the end of a set of gruelling exams - euphoria, but tinged with worry about what the outcome might be. I need to pray for a lot of patience in the month and a half remaining before we have our final assessment panel. In addition to the end of the SW visits, not so long ago, I posted this:

and I finally have an answer: *today*. Today there is good news. We've just had confirmation that there is a foster home in Addis that will be willing to help us identify a suitable child when we are paper-ready. Especially with all the changes that have happened lately, this is a BIG RELIEF. I couldn't be more thankful.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

The brown stuff

I'm not going to wax lyrical in praise of coffee - I'm way too embarrassed, after reading that coffee is the number one thing white people like - but we do start the day with good coffee, every day, and along with my bowl of cereal it helps to make the world feel like a slightly more stable place. As my life spirals out of control, I really value at least having a predictable breakfast. But in amongst all the fun and rainbows of the last few weeks has come the sad and growing certainty that our espresso machine is dying. It's losing pressure, and the last month or so has seen increasingly watery and insipid coffee staring up at me from my favourite blue cup.

What to do?

Obviously, we need to get a new one. Even more obviously, I'm never going to find one that is anywhere near as much of a bargain as the incumbent. It was marked down, and down, and down and in the end it cost me so little that I'm embarrassed to even say. Okay, about £20. Which is insane, for a good espresso machine. Problem is, J now thinks this is how much they normally cost and was unwilling to authorise spending any more to buy a replacement. Pleading didn't work. Offering to spend my birthday money (how old am I, twelve??) partially worked, but in the end the magic words were:

"I will buy it from Ebay".

J and I love Ebay. For example: Our fridge is from ebay. Our washing machine is from ebay. Our garden shed is from ebay. Even the bricks for our garden path were from ebay. (We spent a Saturday evening driving to Oxford to load our car with bricks, and then drove back and unloaded them all. Who says romance is dead, hey?)

We don't buy stuff there very often, but when we do, we do it wholeheartedly. None of this buy-it-now nonsense. You want cheap home appliances? You have to bid. So anyway, I went, I saw, I bid, I purchased. Someone who clearly has richer relatives than me was willing to sell an unwanted (and more importantly unused) wedding present of a Gaggia Baby Class for a mere fraction of its RRP.
Ahhhhh. So lovely.

So I bought this on Friday and paid for it immediately (of course!) But now! Now I'm having all kinds of trouble with the transaction. I'm certain the guy isn't a fraudster, but he is completely incompetent and isn't able to claim my paypal payment. I've had to pay and cancel twice now, to different email addresses. And because he hasn't got the money, he hasn't sent the machine. I'm getting fed up, but got a really good price so not willing to cancel the transaction. All weekend was fantasising about having coffeemaker that actually works, so I'm disappointed that it's being held up. This is why people buy stuff from shops, I guess.
In the end I called him to discuss payment. He suggested a postal order, which would be great, if it was still 1972. Also if I was able to get to a post office during the day. Eventually he agreed to another hi-tech form of money transfer - the cheque. All was fine, until he said 'so I'll wait until I've received your cheque, deposited it, and then it's cleared, and then I'll send the item'.
I guess he expected me to be happy with that. But then, this is a man who a) owns a super-cool espresso machine and b) doesn't appreciate it enough to even keep it, so you can guess how much I value his opinion. In the end, I thought about all the discipline books I had been reading and pretended he was a toddler. Kind but firm. 'NO. I will send a cheque immediately, and you will post it immediately. I've already paid twice. You know the money is in my account. This is not my problem. The only problems are between you and paypal. SEND ME MY MACHINE NOW!!!!!' To which he agreed, surprisingly quickly. I'm going to be such a great mother.
Perhaps I overreacted a little. But all I'm asking him to do is put an expensive item in the post without any positive proof of payment. Is that really so much to ask?
No, I don't think so either. I can smell the coffee already.
On a completely different note, happy Armistice Day, everybody. 90 years today. I'm generally not patriotic about my home country at all - I don't even particularly like barbeques, or kangaroos (although barbequed kangaroo is delicious) but Australia's contribution to WWI makes me feel both very proud and very sad. (WWII, too, obviously, but that war actually had something to do with us so it was fractionally less criminally wasteful). Australia, apparently, lost a higher proportion of its population in WWI than any other country. I really miss celebrating ANZAC day each year - strangely. If you want to make an Australian cry, just say - Gallipoli! Anzac Cove! British incompetence! The beaches! The cliffs! Mel Gibson! So many young lives! Make sure you've got tissues, though, or you'll regret it.
Some of you know much better than I do how much conflict still rages around the world. I think today is a good day to pray for all those caught up in it, everywhere, and for peace.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Things that Rock Thursday - short and sweet

Well, according to our social worker's health and safety inspection on Tuesday, our house is both healthy and safe.

Amazing. That definitely rocks.

Fortunately she didn't check any closets.

Actually, she was really reasonable about it all. The form says that we are supposed to have stairgates, and so on, and a crib, and she just rolled her eyes and said that no, we didnt' need to actually have any of that stuff until we actually had a baby in the house. Which was a huge relief to me, because I really don't want to do that kind of shopping until we've got a reason to. Anyway, this reminded me how fortunate we are to have such a nice social worker. And while (let's be honest) I hugely resent her presence in my life, I actually like her, personally, very much. And I really didn't expect that. That really rocks too.

I know I've been a bit quiet lately, but I've been trying to put that 'if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all' stuff into practice and curb my tendency to just whine endlessly. I have been thinking, though (did I hear someone say overthinking? Okay, well, you might be right) and I'm sure some of those thoughts are going to spill over soon. Errr, very soon. And I've decided that I'm definitely going to do this - I think you all should too.

Thursday 30 October 2008

Things that Rock Thursday - we have the technology

Tomorrow, I've got someone coming to stay for the weekend (yes, my parents were just here for over two weeks until last Thursday, now that you mention it, and yes, my aunt and uncle were here pretty darn recently too, and yep, that was J's brother who came last weekend so yes, we certainly aren't lonely at the moment). And I haven't shopped properly for groceries since BEFORE we went to Italy - possibly about two weeks before we went to Italy.

Things have got so bad that we actually out of pasta. Since we buy pasta at least 4kg at a time, and eat pasta-with-quick-home-made-tomato-sauce at least three times a week, as I've already said, this something of a chez-fascinating-life emergency situation. And the week has been a total writeoff, timewise, and today I needed to meet someone for coffee straight after work, then be at home for exactly half an hour to take a pone call from tomorrow's guest to arrange stuff, then go out again to see someone else who isn't well, and J has the car so I couldn't even get to the shops if I had the time. But never fear, because the thing that rocks my world this thursday is ONLINE GROCERY SHOPPING. I've got to ask - what did we EVER do without it? I've just ordered, and now while I'm writing this, someone else is bagging my stuff. What's not to love about that? Some people don't do it because of hte delivery charge, but I know that I save at LEAST that much money in stuff that I don't need which I would buy if I saw it. Not being at the shops, means not seeing it, means totally justifying the delivery charge. Means just that one tiny drop less trauma when it's really not needed. Means it totally rocks.

I should interject here and say that the person coming tomorrow is someone that I love very much, and cant' wait to see. But it would be easier if she would agree that she didn't need to eat anything while she was here. Or need clean sheets, come to think of it. Hmmm.

While I'm here, can I say thanks very much to those of you who have said nice and supportive things to me over the last difficult week or so? I don't like to exaggerate, but I feel like the last few weeks have been the most difficult in the entire history of the world. (Errr... joke. I seem to have forgotten how to make them). I have this book sitting on top of a pile, waiting to be shelved, and I've had to turn it face down because I keep feeling like it's mocking me: Cos this is how I keep on feeling. (It's not that great a book, by the way. Don't all rush to buy it. I liked the first two in the series an awful lot more). I keep being tempted by two of the devil's worst lies - either God is good, but has no power over the world and my life, or he has power but isn't good. I need to keep remembering that the entire history of the world is not, actually, about me, and maybe God has other purposes in mind other than making sure I'm happy all the time, or that I always get what I want, even when what I want seems to be a good thing. I could list the last month or so and outline what has gone wrong each day, but I'm sure you've all had similar periods in your lives and I doubt you want to live vicariously through mine too. Last night I read these verses and they hit me harder than they ever have before, maybe because we're also reading books on discipline:

(HEBREWS 12) 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? .............11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

12Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

And you know? I think all this ... this mess that my life feels like definitely does count as hardship. God is a good, powerful God. He could make our way easy, if that was what He thought best. Obviously, he doesn't - not right now, anyway. He made the stars - he could easily coordinate work schedules so there wasn't so much pressure there. But He hasn't, not now. And so on.

There are two imperatives in that bunch of verses - endure and strengthen. And I don't want to endure. I want a quick, easy way out. And I don't really want to strengthen, because growing in strength means training, and struggling, and exercising. (Apparently. I can hardly lift a can of beans, either physically or in any more metaphorical way at the moment). This feels like more than I can do at the moment. I'm so glad it's not all up to me. I'm so glad I believe that Philippians 1:6 is true.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Well Finally

I'm not depressed any more! That's right, folks. Unfortunately, it's because I'm too busy being mad. Today, in a monumental error of 'I can't believe that actually happened' proportions, I found out that our adoption approval body completely ignored my requests for confidentiality and sent an employee reference request straight to my workplace.

A while ago, I mentioned that J and I were limiting who we told about this whole adoption process until we had a positive outcome at a UK approval panel. This means that, apart from one very close friend and my boss (who needed to know, to provide the reference that has caused all the trouble) nobody at my work knows what's going on. Mostly, I think this has been the right decision. The downside is that when I come in emotionally shaken up after a difficult SW visit, nobody cuts me any slack. The upside, though, is that when I come in emotionally shaken up after a difficult SW meeting, I don't have to talk about it. And I don't have explain myself, or our decisions, to anybody, and by the time we tell them what's going on it will be something that IS happening, not something we are considering.

So, when we had a conversation with our SW a few weeks ago about employers' references, I was really, really careful to specify that, actually, I'm keeping this quiet at work at the moment and please don't send the reference request to the employment address on my application form. I'll spare you the details, but it felt a little like my conversation with the doctor's receptionist a few months ago. I said, repeatedly, that I work deep within central administration at a university where everyone knows everyone else. And I've never, ever met a worse bunch of gossips. And our adoption is my personal information, and I really want to control when to share this. Don't send it to human resources, because I know people in human resources. Don't send it to finance, because I know people in finance. Don't send it to me at work, because people are extremely nosy about each others' mail, and I don't want to have to explain it. And totally, certainly, absolutely do NOT send it to my boss's direct address, because he is far too senior to do anything as menial as open his own post and his team of assistants are all people with whom I work really closely. Please only, only send this to my home address. I can give it to him by hand. I reiterated and reiterated this, and was 100% sure I had made it crystal clear.

You can probably guess where this story is going. Actually, I guess I already told you in the first paragraph.

So anyway, I had one of my regular meetings with my boss this morning, and at one point he casually mentioned that he had received and filled in my reference form. Which is obviously not what I expected, as it had not yet arrived at my house, but at the time I had to ignore the flashing red sirens and 'ding ding ding' alarm bells that were going off deep in my brain so that I could concentrate on thinking about the 1.8 million pounds of funding we seem to have lost in the last week. And we finished our meeting and I went back to my desk.

About five minutes later the sirens suddenly reached a pitch where I could no longer ignore them, millions of pounds or no millions of pounds, and I found myself stomping back down the stairs into his office to talk to his PA. I hauled her into a vacant room and asked whether she had, errrr, needed to open a letter to R that was, errrr, actually about me. And yes, she had, and she said she felt really bad about it because she knew that she wasn't supposed to know, and she hadn't wanted to tell me that she knew because she felt really bad. And of course I'm not mad at her - she's a good friend, and obviously it's not her fault, and she was in an impossible position. The agency, on the other hand - a different story. I was really looking forward to telling this friend that we were adopting, and now I'm not even going to get to do that. I'm certainly going to let the agency know that I don't want this happening again, but I did think it was clear the first time - what will it change if I shout at someone? I wish I could, though. These things are really personal, and how many more times do I have to have my privacy unexpectedly invaded before this process is over?

In the meantime..... ummm..... I promised something cheerful, so please enjoy this delightful picture of a cat.

more animals

Friday 24 October 2008

Speaking of Rocks

Okay, mountains rather than rocks (v2):

Psalm 46
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A song.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Today I'm very glad that I know this Psalm is true, because to be honest I don't feel it. I can't say too much more than I did yesterday, because things still seem to be in flux, and obviously I can't speak for either the Ethiopian govt or the community of UK adopters. I hope it was okay to say as much as I did. The only further thing I can probably say is that, given the choice, we would love, love, love to be able to use an agency. But the agencies are only licensed to do adoptions for US citizens (or Spanish citizens, or Belgian, or whatever, depending on the agency), so we can't sign up with them. Previously, we've been able to give someone Power of Attorney to start the process off for us, but due to the changes, this won't be an option any longer. We're all still very unclear about how the process of identifying a child will actually happen - I'm still having nightmare visions of a baby lineup, although we're hoping very much this won't ever become a reality.

I'd like to say that, despite the difficulties, I have an overwhelming sense of peace about all this. But I don't. The last three weeks have felt incredibly difficult, and yes, I know I was on holiday last week but quite a lot of the time that I wasn't eating pecorino was spent in tears, for all the usual reasons as well as some of these new ones. At that stage we knew that some things were changing, although we didn't realise quite how much at the time. The last few weeks have felt like being in some kind of emotional boxing match, but with our hands tied behind our backs so we can't punch back. Every day feels like it brings new difficulties. Each blow makes me reel and I keep thinking well, I'll just recover from this one and then, then, we'll get a break and we can regroup and start thinking about how to move forward again. But then wham - it's something else and I'm back on the floor.

Something more cheerful next time, I promise.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Things that Rock Thursday

The whole idea of this day-of-the-week thing was to choose something deliberately positive. But today? Sorry, no can do.

Some bits of news have been dripping through for the last week that some of the rules for UK adoptions were changing. Just before we left for our holiday, we found out that our trip to Ethiopia was going to have to be about a month long in order for us to be present at the court hearing and complete three separate sets of of paperwork. And obviously we're also going to need time at home as a family before J goes back to work, so... this is not trivial. But now. We've just found out (a few hours ago) that, due to some rule changes, all UK adoptions now need to be totally independent. They were always semi-independent, which was stinky enough, frankly, but now we feel like we're in total limbo. The worst part is that we're now going to have to make two trips to Ethiopia, with the first being a trip to identify a child. I just can't tell you how much I don't want to do that. How are we supposed to pick our future son or daughter? What possible criteria can there be? The child who is cutest? The youngest? The one with the best hair? The one you feel most sorry for?

I can't really wrap my head around this.

This week has also been pretty awful for other reasons that are too boring to go into (although if you thought birth announcements, pregnancy announcements, travel for work and unexpected new urgent work projects, as well as houseguests galore, you wouldn't be too far out). Today I don't think anything rocks. Sorry.

Monday 20 October 2008

A Tag and a Thud

Well, here I am again, back to earth with a resounding thud. More on the week away later, I think, when I'm not feeling so immediately depressed about being at work in the rain rather than in the garden of an old farmhouse in the sun. Eating proscuttio crudo. And pecorino. And cantucci. And maybe later, some gelati. And then some pesto. And astonishingly good grapes.

I'm really not helping myself here, am I?
The region we were in (and that is in that photo, although that wasn't the exact place we stayed) was the Crete Senese - the hills just south of Siena. Which is surely some of the loveliest scenery on earth - not dramatic, but it's a landscape I don't think I'd ever tire of (not that I'm ever likely to find out).

Anyway, while I was away I was tagged twice, by Lori and Tiffany. Rather than doing 14 things, I've listed 7 random things about me, and 7 random things I wish I had known before I went away.

7 random things about me

1. I have a PhD in metallurgy.

2. My family lived in Kenya for two years when I was a child.

3. I'm banned from ever donating blood, because I had malaria when I was six and my blood still has antibodies (see #2). I even got a letter about it from the blood service - it said ' if we want your blood, we will contact you. Please do not ever contact us again'. Nice.

4. I'm really frightened of driving. I have a license, but almost never hop in the drivers' side of the car. We live in the centre of our town, so I get around everywhere by bus and walking. As far as phobias go, I think it is a pretty logical one - I'd much rather face a spider than get in a car. I know this is pathetic.

5. I subscribe to Vogue.

6. Despite all the inspiration in #5, I'm not the world's snappiest dresser. My resolution for the next year is 'dress less like a librarian'. Sorry to any librarians.

7. I grew up in Australia, and apart from the 2 years in Kenya, spent my whole life there until I moved to England to study (see #1). All my family still live there.

7 random things I wish I had known before I went away:

1. Just because you can work out what 'reservazione' 'stazione' and 'caffe' mean, it doesn't actually mean you can speak Italian. Don't get cocky.

2. If there's no menu, and the waiter just suggests things to eat, your meal could be quite expensive.

3. Don't take my mother on at Cluedo, because you will lose.

4. Don't pin all your hopes of a happy return on seeing the cat, because he will be mad that you left in the first place. If you ignore his obviously bristling fur and pick him up, hoping for nose kisses, you'd better be within scream earshot so someone can rescue you from having his angry claws buried in your face.

5. If you decide to change the cat's litter tray immediately on returning home, check that you have spare litter before doing so. Otherwise you may have to then lock the cat outside until you can go to the supermarket, exacerbating his foul mood.

6. Think long and hard before inviting your parents in law over to spend the whole day with you and your parents immediately after you return from holiday.

7. If you have a social worker's visit on the monday immediately after going away, do email a colleague to remind work of this fact. Do not email the one colleague who happens to be away sick.

Hmmm... who needs to be tagged? I tag filoli , anna, courtney, misty, steve & jen, brenda, and lucy. Some of you may have already been tagged, but if you haven't actually posted yet... that's good enough for me.
Here are the rules.
I can't really read them, but I think they basically say: Tell us 7 random things about you. Tag 7 people. Let them know by commenting. Link to the person who tagged you. Send them your bank details, so that you can receive the $1,000,000 owing to you from the estate of a Nigerian oil baron. Okay, maybe not that last one. Worth a try, though, huh? (Lucy, obviously you won't be linking to me, or you'll be in all kinds of trouble!!)

Saturday 11 October 2008

So the 11th is TODAY, huh?

And that would be the day that J and I go on holiday with my parents for a week. How did this sneak up on me so darn fast? In all the stress of getting stuff done before the holiday (two social worker visits in one week, plus lots of stinkin' overtime at work) I seem to have forgotten about the actual holiday. Ooops. Better go pack. Leaving on a train at 3. And it's 2. Hopefully all the running around will be worth it, and by the end of the day we'll be here:

If my roaming works properly, I will still be stalking all your blogs! But I'll be doing it from my phone so won't be able to comment. We've got to do our eco maps, write a personal statement and fill in our pet survey while we're away, so we definitely will still have our heads in adoption-space. Have a great week!

Thursday 9 October 2008

ThingsThatRock Thursday

So, how did it get to be Thursday again already? I guess time just flies because life is busy. Too often, J and I find that we are rushing around past each other, with different commitments on different days (today, for example - he's fixing someone's plumbing and I'm working late with some stuff to finish before I go on holiday on Saturday. But that's another story). And too often, we find ourselves grabbing something quick to eat which is probably the same quick thing to eat we had at least twice already that week. (In our house, that's spaghetti with quick homemade tomato sauce. Nice, but three times a week is probably enough). So a while back, we instituted a tradition of making sure that once a week, at least, we had something delicious for dinner - preferably a new recipe that hadn't been tried before, or something really nice we hadn't had in a while. Normally, this ended up being some kind of pie (who doesn't love pie!) so it got christened 'thursday night pie night'.

But then along came weight watchers, which is why I'm talking about this tradition in the past tense. Feeling a bit chubby? Well, sorry, no pie for you. At least, not the kind of pie I loved to make - a pie bursting with creamy deliciousness, preferably from Sophie Conran's Pies (an absolute jewel of a book) guaranteed to make your waistband tighter with just one slice. For a few weeks, I mourned the loss of the pie, until I discovered my new best friend, and this Thursday's Thing That Rocks: Filo Pastry. Until recently, I'd never cooked with it, but on reading a Weight Watcher's cookbook I discovered that a sheet of this wonder ingredient was only half a point. Suddenly, in my house, it is all filo, all the time.

Here is Sunday lunch from a week ago:

which is the original WW recipe which caught my eye (Roasted tomato tart, made with a filo crust and a filling that is basically quark beaten with herbs and two eggs then baked in the oven. Super simple, super tasty, only three points!) I've also been promised a butternut squash and lentil strudel recipe by a colleague, which will apparently change my whole outlook on life. I can't wait. So far, I've managed to stop myself making any baklava, despite the obvious temptation, or layering it up with butter and feta, all of which would rather defeat the WW point of the whole thing.

So anyway, sorry for two food posts in such quick succession, but filo is definitely something that rocks. Bake with some today!

Wednesday 8 October 2008

I'm not really feeling the love

I have something to admit, blogosphere - I finished Twlight, and I didn't love it. Not that I hated it or anything, I was just... undecided. Kinda good, and I've got nothing against a good melodrama, but unfortunately both Edward and Bella irritated me beyond measure. All the 'oh, you don't realise how amazing you are', 'No, YOU don't realise how amazing YOU are' began to wear pretty thin, and not much else happened during a good chunk of the book. It was terrifyingly authentic in one way - it felt just like having to sit in and listen on two dating seventeen year olds (and I've helped lead youth groups and teenage camps, so I know what I'm talking about here). And really, spare me the descriptions of Edward's tautly muscled alabaster chest. Honestly - that's grossing me out a bit. So all of that I didn't love. But then it got quite exciting towards the end, and it didn't really finish - it was more like the end of an episode than the end of a story, and now I want to know what happens next. Harrumph. Is there less anatomical description and more plot in the next books?

On the adoption front, J and I managed to make it through yesterday's appointment without embarrassing ourselves too badly, I think. But I really have no idea what the social worker learned in those 2 1/2 hours. It's extremely hard to answer really detailed questions on discipline techniques in any kind of a useful way at this stage. I just felt like I was parroting. And it's pretty easy to talk about what kind of parent you would like to be. But it felt about as real as saying 'well, I'm about five foot eleven, blonde hair, enormous blue eyes, and people are always commenting on my long, long legs'. As in: saying it doesn't make it true.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

A Cold Remedy (for a cold day)

Well, last week's cold / lurgy seems to be turning into this week's chest infection. As a result, my brain is pretty much on standby - NOT great timing for another visit from the social worker this evening to discuss our childcare experience, attitude to discipline and ability to adapt our parenting skills to individual children's needs. I've been dreading this particular visit for a while so perhaps it's as well that I'll float through it in a haze of drugs. Completely legal drugs, I hasten to add.
It's been one of those weeks I've just been gritting my teeth and trying to survive through rather than anything more interesting or noble. After a few days off work, I was finally back yesterday and sat at my desk infecting all those around me, which I am sure they were thrilled about. At the end of the day, I was overtaken by the desire for a bowl of something nourishing, spicy, sour, headclearing, healthy and comforting.
Basically I wanted chili ramen soup from wagamama, but I wasn't going to get it, as it was sheeting rain and not really a going-out-for-soup kind of night. Short of bribing someone to go and get some for me, I was running out of options. I dredged through my recipe memories and eventually came up with this, which I present with apologies to Nigel Slater, whose once-glorious recipe (which no doubt included lots of virtuous things eg. vegetables) has been massacred due to my greed, need for instant gratification, and unwillingness to detour past the library to re-borrow a book. It probably bears little relation to his written recipe (which was in Real Food, if memory serves) but I'm sure the star anise, at least, were in the original.
A spicy, clear, sinus-clearing soup

For two people:
Get some water simmering. To the pot, add:
a big knob of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
two cloves of garlic, ditto
a splash of fish sauce (go easy at first, you can always add more later)
some vegetable stock (from a cube / bottle / tub, obviously)
a lime, cut into quarters
a chili, sliced
two whole star anise, if you've got them (otherwise a pinch of chinese five-spice)
plus anything else you think might help - dried japanese mushrooms are great, apparently, but i've never been able to find any where I live, or maybe some spring onions (scallions?)
Simmer for as long as it takes to sort out the rest of the meal. Taste as you go and adjust flavours if needed, obviously.

Now heat up your griddle pan. Slash two chicken breasts and marinate them in whatever appropriate flavours you have in your cupboard. Last night, I used a splash of soy sauce, a splash of sesame oil, and the juice of a lime. I also used a splash of japanese rice vinegar, but that was only because i was so surprised to find it when rooting through the pantry - I have no recollection at all of buying it, and it was still sealed. It probably helped a bit but I can't really imagine it did anything that the lime juice didn't do equally well. Rub the marinade into the chicken so that it is well coated and is soaking into the slashes. Obviously it would be nice if you could marinate the chicken overnight, but if you're well enough to be thinking about tomorrow's dinner already, you're probably not sick enough to need the soup.

When your husband gets home from work, or whatever your own personal final signal is to get dinner finished, get a second pot of water boiling and griddle the chicken for about four minutes per side, or however long it takes to cook them. The marinating and griddling should give you deeply savoury stripes.

With about three minutes to go, boil about 100g of noodles according to the directions on your noodle packet. (I like the noodles that come in individual portion cakes, because they tend to be a bit less messy. Any kind of noodle will work here, by the way. My favourite are Ho Fun (flat thai rice noodles) but they're hard to find here so I tend to use egg).

Take the chicken breasts off the griddle and cut into diagonal slices that are small enough to grab with chopsticks.

To eat:
Strain the broth into the biggest bowls you've got, leaving all the bits from the pot behind. Add the noodles, and top with the sliced chicken breasts. The chili and lime really clear the head, so make sure you have a box of tissues to hand!

This won't actually cure a cold, but I guarantee it will make you feel better for a little while. Especially if someone else does the washing up.

I didn't take a picture last night when it looked rather fine, but here are the lunchtime leftovers.
Excuse me now while I go eat this.

Friday 3 October 2008

ThingsThatRock Thursday... kinda

Well, I've been feeling kind of left out because I don't have any kind of a regular blog feature. Othe people have haikus, regular photo days and all kinds of other cool stuff, and I've been vaguely musing about doing something like this for a while. What tipped me right over the blog-envy edge was Filoli's new Wino Wednesday - why didn't I think of that!!??!! (Oh, yeah, cos I know nothing about wine. Nevermind). I think the rules of a regular feature are:

1) one of the words has to be a day of the week
2) it has to be alliterative
3) there are no other rules.

I decided thursday was going to be my day, and that it was going to be something positive because I already do more than enough whining. I'm probably retrospectively crediting this thought process with more logic than it really had, since it falls into my huge group of 'things I decided while on the bus'. But after briefly considering (and VERY quickly rejecting) 'thankful thursday' - that would have got pretty ugly pretty fast - I decided on ThingsThatRock Thursday. (Like I said, I was on the bus. This was as good as it was going to get).

Of course, I've hit the small snag that it is not actually thursday today. And while there is such a thing as a time difference between here and most other parts of the world, I don't think anybody is going to believe it is still thursday here. Reason is - I did plan to post this yesterday, and got halfway through writing stuff on Wedndesday, but was then out cold with the lurgy yesterday and unable to raise my poor head from my pillow of suffering, so... here it is today instead. I'm sure my legions of fans will cope.

No prizes for guessing what the first thing that rocks is. I could never start a series like this with anything other than my cat. [Just had a thought - should it maybe be my husband? Or my church? Nah, gotta be honest - it's the cat]. I had wanted a cat for ages, but resigned myself to never having one as J wasn't all that keen. But this year, for my birthday, he said 'it's time to get a cat - I'm doing this for your mental health because I think it will be cheaper than therapy'. Yay! We agreed we wanted to get a cat rather than a kitten, to avoid the 'cute kitten becomes totally mental cat' pitfall, and after a few twists and turns (which would be a post all in themselves) we met this beauty. Here is his referral picture:

Because we got him at EXACTLY the same time as we were formally initiating the adoption process (the night before our first 'counselling' interview) , we keep seeing parallels between bringing him home and the journey we hope to make with hypothetical future baby. (A few times I've had to remind J not to refer to the cat's former home as 'the orphanage' in public). He was nearly three when we brought him home. I've only ever had kittens before this and it made such a difference that he was older. I think, as we prepare to adopt, it was genuinely useful to see how scared he was, and how much time he took to trust us (this doesn't seem to apply to kittens as they are only interested in playing and don't really mind who does that). My heart was full to bursting with love for him but that just didn't matter - he couldn't communicate with me and didn't know he could trust me and why should he want to sit on my lap straight away? (He's still only done that once). Occasionally, when he does something particularly unfathomable, J and I look at each other with worried faces and ask 'do you think he would have done that if he was our birth cat?' but mostly, it's been great watching him settle in and go from 'fraidy cat to king of the house.

Fraidy Cat, too scared to leave the box he was brought home in (he stayed in here for DAYS. Do. Not. Ask. about the toileting situation).

King of the House, not moving off the comfy rug for anyone

His proper name is Kevin, but I nearly always call him Kitten. This is pretty stupid because a) it's about as specific as calling me 'human' and b) he's a great chunky beastie, and definitely NOT a kitten.He a cream colourpoint British Shorthair, so as well as fabulously fluffy cheeks, he has blue eyes and really unusual pale apricot colours coming through his fur. He looks like the kind of cat I imagine would be purchased by a Russian oligarch.

He's unbelieveably vain. He loves to stare at himself in the mirror and languidly lick himself. I honestly cannot blame him for this - if I was that good looking I'd probably do the same.

He is a retired stud cat. Sometimes we tease him about this. He pretends not to care.

He's astonishingly intelligent:
Most of the time.....

He has a range of special songs, made up just for him, ranging from the jaunty 'you've already had your breakfast, kitten' to the mellower 'bedtime for kittens' and 'kitten so fine'.

There are no pictures of me singing to him.

His tail makes an awesome bookmark:

As well as 'kitten', his other nickname is 'ferenje cat' (for obvious reasons).

Sometimes I worry that I won't love our baby as much as I love this furball. Then I realise that if that is my biggest worry at the moment, I'm pretty lucky.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

So I finally did something sensible

Last night, when we went around to our friends' place to babysit, I finally got over myself enough to say 'hey, do you mind if I try putting that nappy on her?' I figured it would be the best chance I'd get - baby had just come from the bath, so it was clean child, clean nappy - a rare combination. It was fine, of course, and now I can say I've done it so that's all good. Afterwards, J said 'I'm so proud of you for doing that' and i gave him the furrowed forehead, diagonal eyebrows look to say 'watch yourself, smart guy' and asked why, exactly, he was proud of me for doing such a simple thing. He quickly realised he was skating on thin ice and said 'no, no! I meant I was proud of you for ASKING to do it - I'm sure that wasn't easy'. So I said thanks, and then we hugged - it was a beautiful moment.

No more SW appointments for a week. Hurrah! I know that next time, we're going to explore discipline (now rebranded as 'parenting capacity', apparently). We plan on saying that children flourish best when allowed to explore their own potential, emotions and environment without hindrance from adults. Errr... okay, maybe not. Actually we mostly plan on just saying 'firm consistent loving boundaries' a lot, and hope to get away with that. But it made me wonder - if anyone has good books to recommend on this kind of topic, especially (but not necessarily exclusively) regarding adopted kids, I'd be glad to hear of them!

Tuesday 30 September 2008

Please may I sit on your baby?

Like a boy scout, I really, really, really like being prepared. For everything. And part of this whole homestudy process is supposed to be about preparing us to become parents. So I should be going along with it, right? And doing all the recommended stuff? Well, yeah, if I was sensible I would just do it all, learn from the good bits and swallow the bad bits. And I know I need to jump through the hoops. Unfortunately, however, one of the hoops we have to jump through is gaining childcare experience - showing that we've spent enough time caring for pre-school children to prove that we aren't going to, I don't know, drop them or poison them or something. This is one of the things that brings waves of resentment so strong that occasionally they totally knock me off balance.

Don't worry, I know I'm an idiot. I think it's just that this reinforces my feeling that even the people facilitiating (ha) our adoption believe that we're somehow deficient because we haven't spawned, and need serious remedial help. Of course, it probably would do me good to change a few nappies, to make sure I can do it without skewering a baby on the nappy pins. And honestly, if someone else near me had adopted a baby, and was willing, I'd be around to their house asking for nappy-changing-time so fast you would only see dust. Or if my sister didn't live in Australia, this wouldn't be an issue because I would have already done so much aunty-time (no, really, L, I would). But neither are really an option, and so what's the alternative, if I really wanted to learn?

I know I probably should be asking my truckload of fertile friends if I can practise on their babies, but I. Just. Cannot. Do. It. Sometimes, it's hard enough just being in the same room as these people - it feels like being the only person at a table for one in a fancy restaurant on Valentines Day*. And yes, I know this is stupid - whatever I may feel like, my friends did not have children just to make my life difficult and I should just get over myself already. We're all in our late twenties and early thirties - it's normal for them to have kids. And it's nice that they enjoy those kids. Sure, it would also be nice if I felt like we had anything in common any more, or if they had anything to say to me that didn't start with 'when you have kids' or stop at 'so... Claudia.... how's.... umm..... work?' but like it or not, they are the ones with the normal lives and I have to get used to it because normal ain't changing anytime soon. But asking to borrow their babyfor a 'let's pretend I'm a mother' session just feels too much like going up to someone in that fancy restaurant and saying 'hey, when you go to the bathroom, do you mind if I sit in your seat for a while? Just to see how it feels?'

So instead we've just volunteered to do some common-or-garden-variety babysitting. Tonight, we're babysitting for some friends, who know about our homestudy and know that we need to do our hours (and they've got a concert that they want to go to - symbiosis at its most beautiful). And while I've just had a big moan about some of my friends, these are two of the only people I know who really haven't changed since they became parents. Or, if they have, they've been kind enough to keep the 'I've-only-really-become-a-whole-person-since-I-became-a-parent' rhapsodising away from me. Which I really appreciate. And I'm hoping that tonight will be another tick in the box for us, and that will all be great, and so on and so on and so on.

But I still resent it. I resent it because it's compulsory, and also because this kind of babysitting teaches me nothing - NOTHING - about childcare. It teaches me to sit in someone's lounge, drink their tea and watch their DVDs. While these are all essential life skills, they're really not going to help me become a better parent.

I guess we had a choice of 'swallow pride and learn something useful' or 'retain some shreds of dignity and waste time'. Looks like we went for the latter. What do you think are the chances they'll have series 4 of House??

* I have never actually done this. I am just making assumptions.

By the way - check out Emily's blog for a great adoption cartoon that made me bwah-ha-ha out loud.