Friday, April 29, 2011

new blog: Heritage Hard Core

Here is my newest blog entry on

      We adopted our oldest daughter when she was 14 years old. She had previously been adopted by another American family when she was 13 years old but they disrupted their adoption a year later. During that first year in America, life was very hard on her. She didn’t know any other adopted children. Her first adoptive family had very little interest in maintaining her cultural heritage. She felt isolated, frightened and alone. We had heard about her situation and began visiting her. After a few meetings with her, my husband and I brought her home to stay the weekend at our house so she could get to know our two sons. Our sons were older child adoptions as well. They immediately began bombarding her with questions: “What was your orphanage like?” “Was it weird at first, coming to America? It was weird for us.” “Did you speak English before you came? We didn’t” “We didn’t like some American food- what about you? Were there American foods you didn’t like?” Even though our boys were from Kazakhstan it was clear they all had a lot in common. You could see the look on her face, a mixture of surprise and relief. Until meeting our sons, she felt she was the only child in the world going through what she had been through. She was amazed at how openly they talked about their adoptions, coming to America and their feelings about all of it. She was also amazed to see how happy they were. Suddenly, she wasn’t so alone in her experiences. It wasn’t long after that, that we adopted her and she permanently joined our family.

In addition to much needed therapy after all that she had been through in her young life, we also began the journey of becoming a Vietnamese/American family. We know many adoptive families, including many of our own extended families. Again, she was amazed. We introduced her to other families that had adopted children from Viet Nam.  I also spent a lot of time researching Vietnamese culture, traditions, and holidays. We ate at Vietnamese restaurants and I ordered a Vietnamese cookbook online. My daughter and I looked through the cookbook together and we began making Vietnamese dishes at home. We found a wonderful Vietnamese market not too far from where we lived. I searched for an Ao Dai (A traditional Vietnamese dress) but could only find a pattern to make one. I enlisted a good friend of mine for the task (my sewing skills leave a lot to be desired!) It turned out beautifully! We celebrated the Autumn Moon Festival and found Vietnamese mooncakes (slightly different from the Chinese version) at an Asian Market in the next town. We had so much fun sharing our family’s cultures.

During that time she also learned a lot about Kazakhstan, where our boys are from, as we shared those holidays, dishes, etc together as a family. I had been doing some research on the Lunar New Year, called Tet, celebrations in Viet Nam. I read about the traditional New Year dish called Banh Chung. I read about how generations of women get together days before the New Year festivals to prepare this dish. The ingredients are relatively simple but the preparation is not! It was very intimidating. I watched youtube videos, read articles, blogs and recipes to make sure I knew what I was doing. I mentioned that I was planning to make Banh Chung to a Vietnamese woman and she responded by saying something like, “Making it is pretty Hard Core, I order mine from a place out of state.” Hard Core. That’s what she said. It only made me more determined to do this with my daughter. My daughter was so excited when I told her we’d be making it.
It took almost three days to prepare this dish and then 7 hours to boil it. The result is a lovely rice cake with a pork center, wrapped in a banana leaf. My daughter has Vietnamese friends from school, children that immigrated to the US with their Vietnamese families- not adopted. She bragged to them that she and her mother were making Banh Chung. One of her friends couldn’t believe it, he hadn’t had it since moving to America. The moment of truth arrived. The Banh Chung had been removed from the water and had spent several hours cooling off. It was time to unwrap them and see if they turned out. My daughter unwrapped the first one. As she peeled back the layers of banana leaf she began to cry. When it was open, there was our perfect rice cake! She cried and I cried and we hugged and cried together. It was so much more than a traditional holiday dish. It represented everything she had been through. She hugged me and said, “Mom, I feel like I’m still in Viet Nam!” She excitedly shared some of it with her friends at school. It was, of course the main dish of our big family Tet feast. The change in her over the two years that she’s been in our family is amazing. She is a happy 16 year old girl. She tells us that she’s happy that she gets to be Vietnamese again. After her experience with her first adoptive family, she thought she had to give up everything about who she was. In spite of our different nationalities she feels that she “belongs” in our family. Recently we celebrated Nauryz, the New Year celebration from Kazakhstan. As we prepared Besh Barmak, the national dish of Kaz, my daughter laughed and said, “Today we’re all from Kazakhstan.” We continued to laugh as we talked about how fun it is to be in an international family. These experiences remind me that I didn’t just adopt a daughter from Viet Nam, I adopted a Vietnamese daughter. It is not just where she is from, it is a part of who she is. Her heritage- to the core.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Great article on eating veggies:-)

This morning I read a great article on I thought I'd share it.

It’s as if every parent knows one cardinal rule: eat your veggies! Spinach, broccoli, carrots – you name it, you should be eating it. But to play the role of the questionable adolescent, I ask why? What’s the point? Can’t we just take supplements, or better yet, just eat the tasty ones?
Almost everyone needs to eat more veggies, and there’s no doubt about that. With the spike in obesity rates, exacerbation of poor lifestyle choices, and growing propensity for Americans to have some kind of preventable disease, it’s clear that the quick, easy, and greasy foods are winning a battle they should not – and the prize is the nation’s health.
However, simply saying fast food is bad and vegetables are good is a bit simplistic, even if it gets the point across quick.

Health Benefits

At their core, vegetables are made up of the stuff our bodies need. Vitamins, minerals, and fiber – the stuff that has let excellence spread so prolifically across the spectrum of species.
According to, eating a diet rich in vegetables helps  defend against many cancers, type II diabetes, coronary heart disease, the development of kidney stones, bone loss, and high blood pressure. The possible side effects are, well, not much. You’ll feel better, have a healthier body, and be able to have the energy to go out and engage with the world. Vegetables aren’t some over-the-counter drug; they are the cure mother nature gave us.

So what about organic produce?

When talking about organic vegetables, the picture becomes fuzzy depending on which politically charged study you choose to follow, but there still are some agreeable conclusions. For one, organic produce has far less exposure to synthetic pesticides. Most of the time, the pesticides found on organic produce are the result of the breeze carrying them from the neighboring farm.
In addition to that, organic veggies are grown only as nature intended – that means no GMO. While the science is still out on this one, many health foodists and even FDA scientists are wary of the implications. Part of the problem is something just mentioned – the science is still out on this.
Nevertheless, if you can’t get your hands on organic (or if you can’t grow your own), picking up vegetables – GMO or not – will be better than not picking up vegetables at all.

Makin’ em Tasty

One challenge, perhaps, is that fact that fast food just tastes so darn good. Sweet, salty, crunchy, soft – all wrapped up it one. A carrot, is well, a carrot. So how do we make them tasty? I have three suggestions:


Be sure to present the vegetables in a way that isn’t overwhelming. No child – or person, for that matter- wants to feel burdened with eating. It’s a very unnatural feeling and what I think leads to some of the stigma against veggies.


When serving vegetables, keep in mind the taste and consistency and try to compliment it with foods that bring out the veggie’s best qualities. For example, if you’re having something mushy – say, mac and cheese – use a vegetable that contrasts with the consistency – say, crunchy asparagus, but not steamed zucchini. Make an appealing choice available to the eater, and the eater will be more inclined to eat those veggies.


Careful with how the vegetables are prepared. Some veggies just get too mushy when boiled or steamed. Others are so delicate that you have to take special care when preparing them. Get a good vegetable cook book or check out some Organic Soul recipes for tips on the best ways to prepare your vegetables. For me, special dishes like eggplant lightly pan fried in olive oil, with a dash of salt and pepper, can’t be beat by any chip and dip out there.

Considering a Vegetarian Diet

Liking what you hear? You may want to consider a vegetarian – or even vegan – diet. Here are a quick few reasons why to go vegetarian:

  • Most restaurants accommodate vegetarian diets, so it’s easy to make the switch.
  • You’ll help prevent many of the disease mentioned above, and you’ll feel great doing it
  • It’s easy to make up for the protein and other nutrients you usually get from meats
  • It helps reduce the need for cattle, an industry known to be riddled with unsustainability
  • Most often, it is accompanied by other healthy lifestyle changes like more exercise

Monday, April 11, 2011

guest blogger- hope for the hopeless

I was surprised recently when I was invited to be a be a guest blogger for I thought a lot about what I wanted my first blog over there to be about- what did I have to say that would help the most. I decided to talk about some of the struggles that we went through and how Neuro Reorg helped us find the healing we needed. I know we are not the only family to have struggled the way we did. I know there are many out there that are currently struggling. So if there is some small way that I can help, then I truly am happy. There is help. There is healing. Here's my blog post for

Hopeless. That’s how it felt. Nothing we did made a big enough difference. My dream of becoming a mother was fading fast. We spent so many years preparing to be parents. Then it took two years to finalize our adoption. Our son was nearly 10 years old when we adopted him from Kazakhstan. The “honeymoon” didn’t last very long. The rages lasted for hours. The violence was unbelievable. I still have scars on my legs from when he would attack me like a wild animal. Ceiling fixtures torn out. Computer monitors thrown. Walls kicked in. Chairs smashed. The destruction was, well…expensive. He would torture our animals. Every little thing set him off. I would get spit on regularly. He would even urinate on me. He knew that especially upset me, so it happened on several occasions. There’s nothing like having a 13 year-old boy pull down his pants to pee on you as you approach him. He would sneak things and hide them in his room. He lied so often, I started counting how many times he lied to me during the course of a day and it averaged 24 times. He had learning difficulties. For three years he was stuck at a first grade reading level. He seemed to have trouble with his short-term memory. I’d teach him something and he’d seem to get it. Then ten minutes later it was like it never happened. He had difficulty recalling words. Most conversations with him were maddening. He’d say things like, “Um uh, the stuff um by the um thing back there uh so okay?” And when I didn’t understand him the screaming and violence would start. Then there was the self-mutilation. Every day- so much blood. He tore up his left arm from his fingers to his elbow using nothing but his own fingernails. He’d claw his face. He’d tear out chunks of hair from his head. The wounds would never heal because he wouldn’t stop picking and clawing them. We tried everything. We’d have to take him to the doctor for infections while the doctor eyed us suspiciously, wondering if we were the ones that did that to him. His mutilating got so bad sometimes we didn’t dare leave our house. I remember one point he looked so horrifying, to look at him you would’ve thought he had been thrown from a moving car. I dreaded getting him up in morning because of what I’d find- the new wounds made during the night. We studied. We researched. We did bonding after bonding exercise. Tried trauma therapy. He went into speech therapy. Nothing was helping. More diagnosis started coming: Fetal alcohol effects (FAE), sensory processing disorder (SPD), auditory processing disorder (APD), ADHD, Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) and the ever present RAD (reactive attachment disorder.) RAD= adoption’s dirty word. Institutionalization was recommended again and again. People outside of our home always told us what a charming boy he was. They told us that we were too strict- why didn’t we let him join scouts, clubs, sports, etc? People from our church criticized us for not attending our church meetings often enough. When we tried to explain we were dismissed as “first time parents.” Or my favorite “Oh, I have boys, I know what they are like, we get that too.” Three years passed and while some things improved, most did not.  Some things continued to get worse. His self-mutilation for example reached new levels of horror. We were so desperate I feared nothing could be done. In reading attachment forums and doing research I kept hearing about Neurological Reorganization Therapy. I looked into but it sounded like a lot of hocus pocus to me. It kept coming up in my research. Finally we decided to make a few phone calls. I was amazed. I spoke to a NR practitioner named Nina Jonio. She described trauma’s effects on the brain. I began doing more research on that topic. It all made sense. We drove across several states to meet her at her clinic in Oregon. She evaluated our son and came up with a daily NR program for him. I remember describing our issues with our son and she told me that it would get better. I smiled and said okay but I must’ve looked as disbelieving as I felt because she looked me square in the eyes, patted my arm and repeated, “It will get better.” I tried not to cry. I don’t think that I had much hope left. We began his NR program immediately. Nina warned us that some people experience temporary regressions when starting a new program. Oh was she right! If you could believe it, my son’s behavior got even worse. But something else happened, something that made us press forward with real hope for the first time since adopting him. Not long after starting his NR program, in spite of his worse behavior, he had stopped mutilating! For the first time in three years his wounds were closing. Scratches were fading. Hair was growing back. Something very real was happening to my son. A few weeks after that my son joined us at the breakfast table with a thoughtful look on his face. He said, “I bet it would be interesting to be a zoologist because you’d get to study the habits of different animals.” For a boy that could barely make a clear sentence, who struggled with learning difficulties his entire life, we could only stare with our jaws dropped open. Who was this kid?! Over the next few weeks he continued to amaze us with his knowledge. Where was it all coming from? Nina said it was like losing a file on your computer- it was always there, it just couldn’t always be found. The rages stopped. The violence stopped. That first year doing NR he jumped from a first grade reading level to a fifth grade level. Something else happened that first year, something that changed our lives forever. I remember explaining to him, after he had hurt someone’s feelings, why that was wrong. It was a conversation that we must’ve had a thousand times. But this time I saw something on his face that I had never seen before. Guilt. Remorse. EMPATHY! Everything changed then. Everything. Cause and Effect- we take it for granted but I now know that it is a function of the Corpus Callosum, something that his NR therapy had been working on, but for us, it was nothing short of a miracle. His APD- gone. SPD-gone. And let’s not forget RAD- GONE. Our son is nearly 16 years old now. He attends regular high school. He has friends. He has a funny personality. He loves to read science fiction and fantasy books. He is torn between studying to be a history teacher in college or going to culinary school. People have often asked us if we would do it all over again. Actually, we have:-) We now have four children. All of them were older child adoptions. And you guessed it; all have done, or are doing, NR therapy. My only regret was that we waited so long before trying it. While it has changed the lives of my children it has done something for me as well, it has allowed me to be what I’ve always wanted- a mother.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Actions speak louder than words- a reminder

Our youngest daughter reminded  me of something powerful this morning. Yesterday we were out as a family when something reminded C of a frightening experience that she had in the orphanage. It is funny how the brain and memory works. The smallest things can "take us back in time" to a memory that we had forgotten. However when your oldest memories are all painful these sudden "flashbacks" can also be very painful. C and I had a long talk about her memory and I did my best to comfort her. After we got home I put her to bed and all seemed well. However, when she woke up this morning I could tell that she still wasn't doing well. She was moody and it wasn't long before she began to cry again. Kevin and I talked to her as I held her and wiped her tears. She talked about things that she has never talked about before. Disturbing things that she had suddenly remembered. After explaining things to her and helping her see how different things were now she cheered up and was herself again. The last few months we have been trying to get her to talk about her feelings more, to help her learn how to express herself. After she felt better we wanted to show her how talking about it helped. So as she got off of my lap Kevin asked, "Are you feeling better now C?" To which she replied that yes she was. So he asked her, "Do you know what made you feel better?" And she answered saying, "Yes, Mom hugged me until I felt better." We were both surprised by her answer but she was right. We hugged her and kissed her and wiped away her tears. We held her hand and rocked her. And yes, we talked to her too. But it wasn't the talking that made her feel safe and loved. It was our actions that spoke louder than our words. It was a powerful reminder to me how much our actions mean.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Viktor Frankl quote

 Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. - Viktor Frankl

A very empowering quote, especially for those of us that deal with difficult behaviors from our children. Due to PTSD my children can't always choose how they respond to certain things, but *I CAN* choose how *I* respond to them.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring has sprung:-)

Happy April! I have Spring fever bad!:-) My awesome hard working teenage boys really out did themselves last week. Our front yard is divided in two by a sidewalk/walkway that leads to our front door. J and R took out ALL of the grass from the east half of our front lawn. They did it ALL last Friday! We're going to use that grass as sod for a back corner of our backyard that needs it. But that's not why we did it. We are expanding our garden this year! Whoo hoo! Our front yard is pretty small. It seems silly to me to spend so much time watering and mowing a patch of grass that we don't even use. We love the grass in our backyard. We have family summertime picnics on the grass. The kids and the dogs love to play on the grass. We love our backyard grass. But the front yard... it is a complete waste! So we're fixing that:-) We will be expanding some of our flower garden but most of that area will be used for vegetables. Now you're asking, "Vegetables in the FRONT yard?!" YES! Vegetables in the front yard! Why not? Who said vegetable gardens can't be planted in the front yard? I think they are beautiful. And if I'm going to be watering and weeding etc, then why not have it be for a reason that actually benefits my family? Plus some vegetables are beautiful plants. Have you ever looked at an eggplant for example? With its purple stems and purple and green leaves- they are gorgeous!! Now I have to try to be patient for the next month while we wait for planting season to begin. My Forsythia bush is in bloom which means it is time to prune! I've pruned my roses. I love my Iceberg roses. We have a hedge of them dividing our house from one of our neighbors. They are shrub roses, so they are hardier than other roses. They bloom from May to October and I love all of those white blossoms:-) Shrub roses aren't as fussy as their more delicate counter parts and they make lovely hedges. I've been growing iceberg roses for almost ten years. I was surprised and very sad to see that for some reason three of them didn't do so well this past winter. I had to cut them completely back. Hopefully they will bounce back. On a brighter note though my Lovage (herb) has started growing and it looks fantastic! For those of you that aren't familiar with Lovage, it is a very large herb that has a celery taste to it. Both the leaves and the young new stems can be eaten. It is great in soup. Our chives are also sprouting. Our chives are usually the first thing in our garden that we get to harvest. We have a funny tradition every Spring, once the chives have gotten full, of having a chive feast. It is ready to be harvested so early, before most of our garden can even be planted. So to kick off the gardening season we have a night of chive everything LOL! Vegetable soup or veg spaghetti with plenty of chives, salad greens with plenty of chives, we've even made a chive butter for homemade bread. Did you know that you can eat Chive blossoms? We love to let a few stems go to bloom then add the purple/pink heads to salads. It looks lovely. Judging by its growth it looks like we'll be having our chive feast in the next couple of weeks. I love Spring!
We are also looking forward to the summer. T will most likely be taking a course at the Technical Institute for dental assisting. She can get duel credit for High School and the Tech school. The plan is that by the time she graduates from High School she will also be a certified Dental Assistant. How great is that? She is really excited about it! The Tech School also offers a certified nurse assistant program that she could also get duel credit for. She's thinking of doing that as well. It would make her summers busy, but she is super excited. She has the drive and determination to do it too. So we'll see what comes of all of that. R and J have both expressed the desire to go to culinary school after graduation. We just found out that the tech school also offers culinary classes. R is really excited about it. He's not in High School yet, so he's too young to attend. But he hopes to go when he's old enough. Last night he and J were talking about how great it would be if they opened a restaurant together. J wants it to be a sort of ethnic restaurant that serves dishes from the countries of our family: Kazakhstan, Vietnam, China, etc. What a fun idea. Who knows, maybe some day they'll do it:-)
We'll be starting C on NR therapy next month. We are excited to see what that will do for her. I've also told C that she and I will be canning our own pickles this summer. She hasn't forgotten and reminds me constantly:-) Whenever C sees pickles, especially sliced pickles in a jar at the store, she is convinced that it is snake! She tells us that they sold canned snake in China and apparently it looks just like sliced pickles. She is horrified every time she sees them. I've told her many times that pickles are actually just cucumbers. Once Kevin bought a jar just so she could try them and see that it wasn't snake. It took her a long time before she finally consented to taste them. After eating the sliced pickle she declared that "America snake tastes good!" hahaha! Well after explaining again that it wasn't snake, that it was made from cucumber, I told her that this summer we'd make our own pickles and she could help me, that way she'd see for herself. She is sooo looking forward to the two of us canning pickles:-) It'll be my first time canning pickles so it'll be an adventure for both of us:-)
Anyway, hurray for Springtime! Tonight we're doing a cute craft project of making paper tulips:-)