Christmas 2013: the big day

Everybody has holiday traditions, and we are no exception. For Christmas, there are a few certain ingredients that must be included:
On Christmas eve, we lay out carrots for the reindeer and cookies for Santa. There is also the requisite soy milk. This was cow milk when I was a kid, but now Santa drinks soy.

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The kids trundle off to bed early, and then restlessly toss around until they are cajoled by the bah humbug parents.

Meanwhile downstairs, there are games being played and festive drinks being drunk. Did I say that right?

Somewhere in the evening, my mother goes off to mass. Sometimes one of us goes with her… But this year we were all busy crafting.

In Jason’s family, kids always got to open one gift on Christmas eve. So the girls did this year. The girls got their spa kits from mommy. Superhit! Especially for $1.25.

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The morning of Christmas, the children are allowed to get up open their Santa gifts and their stockings, before the others are up. Of course, the adults always seem to be there with the camera. This year, the girls got mermaid tails from Santa Claus! How fabulous!

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Then after a light breakfast, (of cinnamon buns and fruit salad,) the gift opening begins! We don’t do big presents in our family… Just thoughtful ones. This year the hit gift with the girls was a thoughtful AND big present from their uncle: an entire community of elves and dragons. Pretty fun! Especially since my brother and his girlfriend hid the elves and dragons around the house for the girls to find.

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Strangely, or perhaps wonderfully, the girls second favorite gift was the luggage that daddy and I gave them. You can tell they are really looking forward to going to Ethiopia. Plus, we gave them matching stuffie neck pillows.

Then the cook slaves all day… And we have a feast in the late afternoon. This year though, we had some delicious cassoulet for lunch, went skating downtown in the afternoon, and had a later supper.

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For supper, my favorite: duck! Jason is always sad when we don’t have a turkey, but I preferred the smaller fowl instead. Plus, they take so much less time to cook.

And to top it all off… My favorite dessert in the world: Christmas pudding! I know most people don’t really like it, but I just love love love love love the dark richness of an authentic Christmas pudding. It was served flambé and with bourbon sauce, of course.

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The next day, we had an extra Christmas treat. Our old neighbors coming back for a visit. It was so nice to see them… We miss them so much.

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I hope you all had as delicious and cozy of a Christmas as we did. Merry Christmas! And to all a good, happy, ecstatic, wonderful new year!

Updating Lifebooks with an Open Adoption

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Yesterday, I took two hours and rewrote the girls’ story, pre-Canada.

The last time I wrote the lifebooks, I did it for three year olds. Then, I focused on the details that were meaningful at the time: what they ate in the orphanage, who their friends were, and the little that we knew about their family.

What a difference almost 5 years and several trips to Ethiopia does make. Of course now I’m writing it for almost 8-year-olds, but the level of detail is so much higher. I don’t think I could tell the girls as much as we do know, if we didn’t have an open adoption and I haven’t been to visit their family. The story is so much more complete… And make sense when you have multiple viewpoints. I’ve spoken to the orphanage, the adoption agency, their caregivers, their family, and even included little details from things I have learned while traveling.

If you’re not familiar with lifebooks, the point is to facilitate your child’s understanding of their life before they came to you. Lifebooks are not about the adoption process… There about the child’s life, and what is important to them. We all know how children forget details as they grow, and so the lifebook is a concrete reminder of where they came from. It also helps prevent magical thinking and filling in the gaps.

When people hear that I have a life book for the girls, they often ask about format. But the format is very simple. I just chose a pretty page layout, put a picture at the top of each page, and wrote little paragraphs of the story along the bottom. Some wonderful tips I got about lifebooks are:

  • Tell the story in the parent’s voice to the child directly. Use the second person.
  • Tell them what we don’t know, so that they don’t fill in the gaps,
  • Frame the story chronologically, and fill in details as they grow. It’s also important to include ages, but dates are not as important.
  • Include as many pictures as you can. But don’t put in people that aren’t the real people. They may fantasize that a random Ethiopian is indeed their mother/uncle/friend. So for pages that don’t have family members or real people, a drawing or a background picture is a better choice.
  • What I don’t do is include the official documents of their adoption. This is recommended for children who need concrete evidence of their adoption and their legitimacy in the family. However, my girls always remember through the process of stories. So for them, the more storybook approach is more relevant.

    To celebrate the new lifebook, we all laid on the bed last night and read through one of the copies. The girls were engaged and interested, and the language is easy enough that they could even read parts of it themselves. One of my daughters is very uncomfortable with feelings, so she pretty much jumped on the bed the whole time. But she said she enjoyed herself afterwards, and thanked me with a big hug. The other one craves for information and pictures, so she sat quietly, reading along with me. Funny how twins are so different, even if they share the same story.

    Oh, about the twin thing. I actually have exactly the same book for each of my twins. They really do have the same story… There are only a couple of details that are individual. So I just change the name on the cover. I do have a copy for each, printed and slid into plastic sleeves. That way, they can play with their own book, as much as they like, without worrying about damaging it. They each keep it in their “private” suitcase under the bed, and haul it out whenever they like. We also make a routine of dragging it out every few months, and reading it through. It’s a wonderful conversation starter.

    I would love to know how often people update their lifebooks. After all, their life pre-adoption doesn’t change… But sometimes, especially in open adoptions, our understanding does. And of course, there is a language development as they grow.

    Have any of you dear readers updated your lifebooks?

    Our 4 Family Days of Christmas: The Leadup

    The last few days have been a flurry of activity… I think I have barely left the kitchen. The only times have been to eat, do coffee ceremony, watch ice skating and take a walk. But I’ve been surrounded by some of my favourite people, and have enjoyed almost every minute of it. Even from the kitchen.

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    To kick off the Christmas season, we had a coffee ceremony for three of my girlfriends, my brother, his girlfriend and my parents. It was lovely… The kids played upstairs, periodically chased around by my brother, who always seems to have energy for chasing games. It was nice just to show my family what a coffee ceremony is like, and to chat and chat and chat the Ethiopian way.

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    The next day, we went out and got a Christmas tree. I know, I know, we were really late this year. But somehow we just didn’t get to it until then. But we piled into the cars, and went out to the tree farm directly up the hill.

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    The girls amused themselves by sledding down the hill through the half grown trees, while I sawed the tree under the careful supervision of my parents.

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    Unfortunately, Jason had to work. But some hot chocolate around the fire and a drive down the hill later, he joined us to decorate the tree.

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    We could probably call this the Crafting Christmas. My brother and his girlfriend did lots of crafts with the kids, and Spice crafted all Christmas Day, working on here pompom puppies. Meanwhile, I crafted in the kitchen. Some of our meal highlights: cinnamon buns, ancient grains pancakes with blueberry sauce, Scottish oats and fruit salad, cassoulet, borscht and biscuits, leek and mushroom quiche and spinach salad, and don’t forget desserts… Caramel pear crumble, home canned lavender cherries, cookies. And that wasn’t even including Christmas supper! More on that in Part B.

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    Anyway, the girls and I really enjoyed the house full of family. Right now, the little rugrats are asleep on the chaise in front of the Christmas tree, with the lights sparkling and one of them softly snoring.

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    Weekend in Seattle

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    This is the busiest time of the year for me, so when my mother-in-law offered to send us away for a few days as our Christmas present, we jumped a the chance.

    No iPads, no email. Just a couple of days of concentrating on the kids. We asked the girls what they wanted to do, and their top priority was staying in a hotel. Well, ok then. Easy enough.

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    Now Seattle isn’t really a city for kids. I was told several times that there are more dogs than kids in Seattle. But in a couple of jam packed days, we managed to stay busy. We ate at innumerable restaurants, including the requisite seafood chowder and Ethiopian places. We spent the better part of one day at the aquarium, and the other day wandering, eating and shopping. We hit two speciality pet shops (Scraps and This one, getting ideas for our boutique) as well as toy stores and Pike Place market. Our favourite places to eat were:

  • Lalibela Ethiopian restaurant, which was friendly, fast and pretty delicious
  • Molly Moons … Amazing ICECREAM! I had salted caramel and a honey/lavender to die for
  • Cupcake Royale, the first cupcake place I’ve been to that has cakes as good as my sister’s
  • But our kids’ favourite thing about the weekend? “Spending time with mommy and daddy, with all the attention.” Fair enough. That’s what I liked the best, too!

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