Tag Archives: Home

Lighter Pho Fare with Mini Me

wpid-2015-01-28_18.46.00.jpgMidweek, me and mini me try something out of our comfort zone to break up the monotony of our staple recipes. Routine bores me.  The chill factor climbed for us this month and heavy comfort foods are not comforting for my thighs! Sacrificing flavor for tight jeans is not my style either, so I found  a way to take my Italian cravings to the far east.

With some organic pork and ginger, our love for meatballs met my love for Vietnamese Pho.  While this traditional noodle soup is filled with mixed meats and seafood, portions can be heavy and the flavors can sometimes overwhelm each other.

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Power in Permanency: Foster Children Need Family

Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.
Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.

Courts in New York State made a decision this week which has spurred some debate over foster children and the idea of family. A foster child, loved by two people who lived in two different homes was made adoptable by them both.Critics of this recent case argue that one parent in two homes was not an “ideal” FAMILY.

Foster children have no real concept of an ideal family, they simply need stability and safety. They create a family through a network of friends and temporary siblings who come and go. To them there is no Uncle or crazy cousins, loving grandparents, memories of watching siblings grow. They have lost that idea by being abused or neglected and placed with strangers, temporarily. They do not need what some people argue is ideal. They need to sleep under a warm roof, with no threat in the middle of night or their safety, they want to trust that they will not be abandoned, they need protection from the “family” who abused them, and they need to stay in one safe home as long as possible. One parent, a gay parent, a parent of a different race, is the best alternative to the street, or to pedophiles and abusers.

The negative feedback this case has received in certain circles astounds me. It came to me, at about 3 am this morning, that maybe the people fighting against “alternative” permanent placement, have no understanding of American foster children and their circumstances.
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A Lesson in Living

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2002–Me, pregnant with my mini me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As one of my favorite writers once said, when we rummage through our souls, we often find things we should have kept hidden. In my rummaging lately, nothing is more stirring than the first feeling of mini me’s hiccups in the womb. It was my first true biological connection to anyone, and it made me feel alive. Like I would have something that belonged to me. Like I finally mattered to something. Like the past was far, far behind. So, becoming a woman and creating this life..it was a lifeline. One I want again someday.

The smile on my face here is no mistake, I felt this miracle was an overdue payment from a higher power for early loss, fear, rejection and pain. I was taken from my mother at age 5, found abused and left in a basement, having been starved, unable to talk and obviously very isolated. I was placed in foster care and my sense of belonging to anything was gone. At first, I cried often for a sibling who was removed somewhere else. While I grew to develop relationships where I could, there was always something lurking and missing.

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Motherless Mothers

As children, we define the term mother or father with femaleness and manhood. We gather up this definition from our role models, good or bad. Some lose that image through death and hold on to that ideal or negative image as something to work toward or run away from for the rest of their adult life.

20131004-081342.jpgFor children who have no model, or a conglomeration of role models from strangers, this identification is daunting. My daughter is 10 years old. At her age my real mother had vanished after years of confusing court visits. I had an adoptive mother step in for a few years until she died before I entered 8th grade. After that, I observed the relationships, identities, tragedies, and triumphs of my foster sisters who I lived with until I left high school. I sometimes watched the movements of friends’ mothers, or strangers on the street, gathering up my idea of what a mother really might be.

I decided when I became a mother that motherhood must be the ideal image I saw in television shows; baking cupcakes, sitting at games, supportive, emotionally present, consistent. This is what I modeled my parenting style after and every minute of it has been the joy of my life. I have had years of birthday parties, years of scraped knees and hospital visits, crying , laughter, games, homework, dinners, baking, crafts, school projects, diaper changing, up all nights, cuddling all day, picnics in the park; all the things I missed out on as a child. Being a mother saved my heart.
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The Tracks–Home: Daily Prompt

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http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/prompt-our-house/

The train rushed past my house every 27 minutes or so bringing millions of strangers to and from one of the largest hubs in the world, Penn Station. The noise of the train rocked my street and at times, shattered its foundation. It trembled at odd hours and to me always seemed magical. When the temperatures dropped, you could see small blue flames light up the hot tracks. It seemed this beating heart was always present.

Nothing is more extravagant, noteworthy, historical, romantic, nostalgic, and more like a house with hidden stories, than New York’s railroad system. To me its pulse housed all the “home” I’ve known. It sheltered my hopes for love and life and mystery.

I spent countless hours as a child climbing over the platform to sit as close as possible to the track. Other times I would hide nearby and imagine stories about the businessman walking in a hurry, the Muslim woman carrying a child..the homeless man struggling for warmth on a train car. It was all fascinating to me. Where were they going? Were they happy? Were they at their last stop?

As I got older I would sometimes ride the train to Penn Station or any other stop just to feel the train beneath me. To see the magic of a new neighborhood, to roam the streets..to let the mighty car pull me away from my own lonely thoughts. Some of the greatest memories of my life happened on that train.

Riding with a lover, all dressed to venture the city’s music— to navigate our souls and bodies. ( I can still feel the sting of his facial hair against my skin as we huddled in the corner of the train car). I can see the sneering faces as we laughed over the noise of the rumbling engine. Young lovers can be so disruptive.

His body was as strong and as powerful as the MTA car it seemed.

I secretly wished that ride would never make it to its final destination. The train sheltered us from life’s blunders. From the realities of love and its inevitable losses.

Writing poems on the Metro North train while crossing the Hudson..watching the river beneath me almost crash through my skin from the dingy window. Bringing my daughter on her first subway ride, all bundled up as a wide eyed baby..just looking out in amazement at the world rushing past us.

Yes, that train was home to me. And it still is. When I go back and feel the familiar rocking below me, see the strangers altogether as a family for one short ride–I feel safe. I feel hidden.

I’ve often wandered if my very elusive idea of “home,” will ever find me. By this age, I pictured myself on a rounded porch, overlooking the landscape, huddled in the kitchen over a pot of sauce, writing by the window…watching the leaves and our lives change. Finding peace in my heart. The house smelling like garlic, the warmth of candles, the hissing of a heater, the low toil of family life, mini me stumbling in for meals.. the security of the same strong, handsome face coming down our long driveway.

They are delusions long buried under those tracks by now.

And while those daydreams are simply, well… childish fantasy, the tracks past my early home are very real. They are waiting for me to step on and feel that long lost feeling of hope and love and maybe magic just one more time.

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The Lighter Side

Many say they know how to do it, few actually know how to really make it happen. In the kitchen and otherwise, there are imposters running amok.  Nothing will wreak more havoc on an Italian woman’s soul than trickery extending to the kitchen. In American households, this treachery is everywhere and is very evident when many attempt the classic Italian American Chicken Parmigiana dish.

For the love of all things holy, please do not simply fry a chicken cutlet, pour on jarred sauce (which is hereby banned from your kitchen), and scatter some processed cheese ( full of fillers like wax), heat it up, and invite me over. It destroys every fiber of my being, well most anyway. While bikini season is basically over, I plan on hitting the shore this weekend, so me and my mini me made a light version to ensure I can fit into the tiny dress Id like to sport, if I feel like shaving my legs..we shall see.

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We used organic, farm raised, (no cage) chicken, and home-made breadcrumbs (simple! please do not use breadcrumbs that have a 3 year shelf life, some simple dried wheat crumbs, dried herbs, and spices are easy to put together..store them in the freezer in small ziploc bags), some fresh tomatoes, bright peppers, mozzarella, romana and fontina cheese. Light on the cheese, this is a light dish after all:)

All done...YUM!
All done…YUM!

I do not brown the chicken, I simply flour and bread it and put 5 cutlets (tenderized)  in the oven at 400, while I make my garnish of yellow peppers and tomatoes. We simply cook down 5-7 vine ripened tomatoes, olive oil, sea salt,  6-8 small yellow and orange sweet peppers ( I buy the organic bag of small peppers weekly and snack on them all week),  a cup of fresh spinach, with three cloves of garlic, 5-7 basil leaves in a dish next to the chicken in the oven for about ten minutes until they soften. You can also fire roast the peppers if you want.

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Mini me was busy making her school lunch skewers while I slaved away at our dinner, but she is always in the kitchen at my side! 🙂

Since this “garnish” is not truly a sauce, I usually add about one cup of fresh marinara that I  store in the  freezer (simple as well) just to keep the juices going. Once the chicken is done, and the peppers have softened, we add the mixture on top of the chicken. In a small bowl, we put 1/4 fontina, mozzarella, 2 tb olive oil, 3 basil leaves, sea salt, pepper, Romano, 1/4 ricotta salata and spread the mixture on top of the chicken. I reduce the heat to 300 and bake it for another 5-7 minutes. Easy, simple, light.

The spinach and pepper mixture brings out some bright flavors and is brimming with vitamins, antioxidants and cancer fighting agents. Phylicia (mini me) needs her pasta fix, and since I had none fresh and we were in a hurry, I used a dry garden variety. The colors were incredible, and  although they advertise a list of nutrients, you are far better off getting nutrient from actual fresh food rather than dried versions. Your body does not properly store or absorb much else. But, we used it anyway and were pleasantly surprised.  As you can see, mini me had her own agenda this week:)

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New Bill to Hit Kids– Get Help or Stay Away!

Nothing really shocks me anymore, or so I presumed. This week , news outlets are reporting a proposed bill that would again let teachers and child caregivers the right to hit children “until they leave a mark.” While I have always thought of politicians as little more than sharp dressed mongrels, I am astounded by the motivation of such a bill.

Me and my mini me.
Me and my mini me.

While I know Catholic Schools have been the bud of many jokes for using rulers as a method of discipline, and some states in America still do allow public school administrators the right to use corporal punishment, I just do not see the point in propagating any more hurt.  We already have plenty to go around.

News flash. If you have to hit children “until they have a mark,” to discipline them, then you are not modelling the proper behavior for them to emulate. You also lack self control. And you also should not be a teacher or child caregiver in any way, shape, or form.

For a lot of children, their only source of stability comes from the person in the front of the classroom. Many have no one at home to make them feel secure, many are already being abused at home, and many more have no one at home. School should be a refuge and the one place where children are motivated to be their best selves.

In the amount of time and money it takes to propose such a  preposterous “bill” we could actually make and enforce much-needed bills to protect children from parental abusers, sex offenders and predators. I am dismayed by the media’s attention to someone who should not have been elected into office.

Disciplining children is much like anything else. We first need, as parents, caregivers, to establish our own self control. If the only way we can maintain relationships with children or adults is by physical or emotional abuse, then we should refrain from relationships.  If consistently putting down children or adults in your life is your method of control, get help. Educating oneself, counseling, and sheer common sense can help us keep anger, disorder, confusions and emotions in the right place, and express them correctly.

Discipline is NOT about subjugating another individual, it is about modelling the kind of behavior you want the child to follow. In relationships, leading is not about control and arguing is not about unleashing rage.  It is about confronting differences and expressing emotion.

Know the difference, and if you do not, then either look into your soul and fix your shattered self, or move to a cabin underground. Do not work with kids.

When an adult hits children “until they have a mark,” it accomplishes nothing.  I know that I am an advocate for abused children in the system. My experience as a survivor of abuse and the system gives me a different insight than most. I am not equating spanking ( which I do not do) with child abuse. I was burnt, sexually assaulted, and beaten until I could not walk.  I later grew up  with foster siblings who were very aggressive and violent. Some are in jail as we speak, still working out their anger. I know and have been the recipient of a lot of violence and marks.

Even in my new foster home, I watch unhealthy relationships closely.  I saw how men treated women, I watched. All children watch. Luckily for me, through my life experiences I learned to separate healthy from unhealthy attachments as  result of that experience.  But it took time.  It took failing as a young woman. It took walking away from a whole life and reinventing myself.  It was not easy, it hurt, self-examination hurt, but I did the work so that I would not be a victim in my intimate relationships and so I could learn what healthy affection and  meant.

Me, a year after being taken from my mother and entering foster care, 1981.
Me, a year after being taken from my mother and entering foster care, 1981.

Before I decided to be a parent, I worked on myself to ensure that  I would be the best model for my beautiful girl. And I believe I am. I have worked with at-risk kids, teenagers who could test you until the brink, but disciplining those children takes a certain amount of self-worth in the heart of a mentor, teacher or caregiver.

When I feel emotion overcoming me, I deal with it like an adult, I do not hit mini me in the hopes that she will then respect me. I encourage stability, I find solutions in a safe way.  Anger is a natural part of life, we get mad, we get over it. but in the process, we need to make sure we aren’t damaging others.  We all feel anger, but hitting any child, especially until you leave a mark , is abusive. And it means something is wrong with the adult. Emotionally attacking them constantly is also abuse.

 Constructive criticism will help them, placing them below you so you feel better will not. The same goes for any adult relationship. However , with children you are shaping who they become…watch what you show them!

If you want to hit children, or wound people..Get help.

 

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Now..THAT is Amore! Italy’s Healthy Side!

Me and mini me strolling through Little Italy's food treasures!
Me and mini me strolling through Little Italy’s food treasures!

Unfortunately Italy is far from my current geographical stomping grounds. When I feel like bringing Tuscany and its colors, tastes, smells, sounds into my little haven… I retreat to the kitchen.

Me and mini me have had a long week. The weather has been frightful but fun, and we needed a few dishes that could keep us going strong. What better way than my version of Tuscan spring in a kale-sausage stew?

There is no other star brighter than the nutritional powerhouse of kale. It’s bright green hue showcases its might– low in calories, high in fiber, iron, vitamins A, C, E and K, an anti-inflammatory and digestive aid! What better base for my culinary trip back to Italia !

Me and mini me started by sautéing a basic base of four minced cloves of garlic and half of a red onion in olive oil. Then we put in 5-7 chopped ripe roma tomatoes. Once the garlic and onion were translucent I added sea salt and thyme. We added 6 links of a turkey sausage ( be mindful that some alternatives to pork sausage have a lot of salt..buy fresh if possible..we lucked out and went to a newly discovered local butcher).

Our Sausage-Kale Stew
Our Sausage-Kale Stew

Crumble the sausage in the pan and add vegetable stock. Keep the heat on low to medium and add a pound of tri-color tortellini and as much kale as you can handle! (Make sure to clean the kale well and chop it so it is palatable).

Add 5-7 fresh chopped basil leaves, pepper to taste and 1/2 cup of
Romano cheese. The colors and tastes are reminiscent of the spring greens of Italy’s countryside. Pair it with a nice glass of wine and forget…or remember…

whichever is more pleasant!

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All We Need Are Words..Sometimes

Even the strongest of us can get startled by a memory. A soldier remembers the dry wind of a desert, or a lover remembers a long-lost affair. Former foster children are sometimes haunted by past instability, violence, or abuse. These things work like a violent inertia bringing with it an inner calamity well into adulthood.

Irrational fears are born out of our past. Some of us feel wholly inadequate or not enough, and we project this into our personal life. We are always looking for the slightest problem to confirm our fears that we are not loved. We are used to abandonment so we re-create it and never let anyone in for good.

Me, 1982, a year after leaving my mother's home and entering foster care.
Me, 1982, a year after leaving my mother’s home and entering foster care.

For me, my irrational fears from my experience in foster care impacts my life and parenting still to this day. I know my fears are irrational, but still they persist. I ride out the fears with some sleepless nights. The morning almost always looks more clear.

Sometimes when mini me asks to stay at a friend’s house, my mind conjures up negative images, unrealistic ideas of how horrible the world is and how many bad things can happen in 24 hours to a young innocent child.

My experiences at her age still reappear to me. It is a tough balance, this precarious balancing of fear/protection/and security.

I remind myself that these fears are a deep-rooted sense of doom that is mainly in my heart and mind. I get past it and allow life to just happen, but it is not easy. Mini me knows me well enough to assure me that she will be fine, that she will let me know if she is afraid of anything.

Words do reassure sometimes. Anyone who knows me well knows of my huge heart and understands from time to time I just crave words.

Me and my mini me!
Me and my mini me!

While I pride myself on having a new life, a new identity from childhood pain, I am reminded often of my frailties. I have learned to ride these waves of fragile moments. They do not happen as frequently as they used to, and I channel my fears into positive things. I focus on mini me, goals, writing, cooking, running, and on keeping that strong sense of safety in my life. I crave security around every corner.

At moments of uncertainty, even just my own image in my mirror startles me. I resemble my biological mother quite a bit. Even though I was taken at her from a young age, my memory of her abuse is raw and impacts my life still, especially in times of emotional fear or loss.

For former foster children, this strange feeling of looking like your enemy, who you knew briefly, is haunting.

Her memory can be triggered by a feeling of impending doom personally or professionally.
These fears seem the highlight of my dreams at times, but not always!

Small success stories can come from the darkest places..even from physical or sexual abuse/homelessness/war/tragedy/pain…and if you re-celebrate those small successes time and again..you can dust off your feet again. The memory of failures can be eradicated with the memory of our successes!

Today, I need a dusting...reassurance..security. I’m going to cloak myself in remembering my moments of great glory..of smiles and laughter..of friends, of all the great treasures I’ve enjoyed…And I am going to spend the morning in the kitchen with mini me..and avoid the mirror until tomorrow.

The Best You Can Give

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This is me, a year after being taken from my mother’s home, 1981.

Respected psychologist Abraham Maslow says that as human beings we all have basic needs that must be met in order to maintain a psychological homeostasis. Feeling like we contribute to something, having a sense of belonging to something; these are all on the continuum of our human desire to be participants in the world. Some people find this connection through work, volunteering, church, friends or family members.

Last week, as I was watching “Home for the Holidays,” the Dave Thomas Foundation or Adoption’s annual special, I realized that it is this basic need which is vacant at a young age from every foster child’s life. These lack of connections during the most formative years of brain development, impede on the human ability to learn coping, trusting or intimacy skills. Further implications from this shuffling around, or the feeling of being thrown away, is the impact of child abuse, poverty and homelessness. Physically and emotionally it takes its toll.
Synapses in the brain that fire off connections to help humans deal with stressors are irretrievably broken in many foster children since most have suffered abuse. Sexual abuse especially during formative years creates a distorted self image, a distorted idea of intimacy. Child abuse and physical neglect imparts a severe fight or flight response in children, a type of PTSD which later can control intimate relationships.
Broken relationships between siblings can leave foster children feeling especially isolated. I remember a foster sister telling me when I first came to her home at age 5 I cried a lot for the brother I was found with in my mothers home. We were split apart; he was reunited with my mother and I stayed in foster care. Vacancies are abundant in foster children’s lives. Some are never repaired.
This holiday, if you are fortunate enough to have foster children in your care, make a commitment to start to understand the impact of early trauma and neglect. The best gift you can give is the gift of listening, understanding and commitment. Even if that foster child will only have a temporary stay in your home, see him or her through adulthood. Be a permanent member of that child’s life. It is the best Christmas gift you can give to a child.
There is nothing worse than being a child on Christmas and not belonging to anything or feeling discarded. Invite them to stay, at least in your heart.

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