Saturday, June 28, 2014

Six Tips for Meeting Your Birth Family for the First Time

Last weekend we took a quick trip to Seattle and Portland for my cousin's daughter's baptism. It was a great weekend crammed with doing lots of fantastic things and seeing lots of fantastic people. I'll do a post about that trip later, but this post is about meeting one person in particular - my birth father :)

Last weekend I met my birth father for the first time. I've been waiting for this for as long as I can remember (I could do an entire separate post about my search). Our meeting was so many things: awkward, surreal, weird, fantastic...there were a lot of things running through my mind. It ended up being a really, really positive experience, one I'm so glad I had. So, having come off my first meeting I wanted to share the tips I felt made it a success.

#1) Don't idealize them
I think it's very easy as a child to idealize a parent who isn't there. They haven't been around to show all their perfectly human flaws and so it can be easy to forget they will have them. It's important to go into a first meeting with the same expectations you would have for any other human being, expect them to be polite, but don't expect to be sitting down with a perfect person. Don't expect any more than you would from a pleasant stranger. Every one of us has personality flaws that can make us unpleasant at one time or another, birth families are no different. It can be disappointing to have even an unrealistic expectation shattered.

#2) Don't vilify them either
While it's easy to idealize someone you don't know, it can be just as easy to vilify them. When you have so little information to go on the smallest sliver of negative information can easily take over and become your entire image of this person you don't really know. Everyone screws up, everyone is guilty of treating someone poorly, what is important is where they are in their life now. Give them the opportunity to show you where they are as a person now. Give them, and yourself the opportunity to clear up any negative impressions you may have about what you've heard (or just told yourself).

#3) Have specific questions prepared
I knew I would be a mess of stressed nerves so I prepared ahead of time. I thought about all I had ever wanted to know and tried to articulate it into a few key questions. These were the main bullet points I kept in my mind, the things I knew I would regret leaving that meeting without an answer to. Think about what sticks in your mind when wondering about your birth family. Is it something small like "hey, do you have this (insert odd feature) too?" or something heavier like "why didn't I know you growing up?"  Do you want to know your medical history? Whatever it is, know what is important to you before meeting your birth family. Preparing ahead of time will help you leave meeting them hopefully feeling more peaceful, more complete. What was previously a blank line in your mind will now be full of text.

#4) Keep it short and sweet
Meeting your birth family can be so stressful on both sides. Think of this kind of like a first date; you want time to get to know each other, but a super long time together can get very overwhelming.

#5) Remember that you're strangers, get to know each other
My birth father and I have been in contact sporadically for a little over 7 years now. Even so, we didn't really know each other. Aside from both the heavier and more trivial things I wanted to know, I just wanted to know him. I wanted to know who I came from. I wanted to see if I could see parts of me in his appearance, his mannerisms. While it's important to learn the things you've always wondered about, it can be just as healing to simply soak the person in and learn about even the most banal aspects of their daily life.

#6) Understand that other birth family members may not be involved
It's important to understand that birth parents often don't tell other family members about a child they don't parent. There may not be a single person beyond your birth parents who even knows you exist. Any other family involvement is really up to birth parents and then the family members they choose to tell. Some extended family members may choose not to meet you or be involved because it's simply too much to handle at the time. Be understanding and don't take it personally. I went into our meeting not knowing if any of my three half-siblings knew about my existence (one of my questions), and prepared that if they did know about me they may not want to know me personally.

Bonus: ask yourself "why"
Try to understand your reasons for wanting to meet them at all, and why now. Do you simply want to see where you came from? Are you looking for closure? An explanation? An apology? What is driving your desire to meet them? Trying to understand the why of wanting to meet them can help temper expectations and strengthen your resolve to make the meeting happen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Daniel had a business trip to Atlanta last month, and since his work was already sending him out there we decided to get plane tickets for Aurelia and I and go visit family. Daniel had to work a good amount while we were there but we still had time for Zoo Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium and some local playing and exploring.

No checked bags (or carseat) for us.

Stretching out to sleep while Daddy works on the plane, more sleeping, being a goof in Daniel's hat :)

We had a layover in Denver with a delayed second flight and got into Atlanta at about 1:30am. Even though it was late it was kind of cool to walk through an empty airport and out into empty streets. As soon as we stepped out the doors of the airport the air was warm, humid and heavily perfumed with honeysuckle and other blooms. It was perfect and I was in love. 

Exploring grandma and grandpa's backyard, playing at an AMAZING park near their home.

Zoo Atlanta

Feeding giraffes!
Coziest. snuggle. ever.

I keep trying to convince Daniel we should get a goat :)

He kept dozing and wobbling until..."I'm so...sleepy...I...*thud*" 

Someone REALLY loves her cousin, Jude :-) Who wouldn't? He is one of the most thoughtful, compassionate, caring, loving little boys out there.  We adore him :-)


Someday we'll have a goat and "Hey Daddy, take my picture in this bamboo!"

One of my favorite pictures. This sums Aurelia up: Curls, Twirls, Tutus.

Loving the slide at Zoo Atlanta, static and all :)

Georgia Aquarium

I thought we had more pictures of the aquarium so I'm pretty sure they're on our camera that's MIA. That's alright, the whale shark was the best part :)

Home again, home again...

Friday, June 6, 2014

Packing His Things

Noah has been gone a little over four months (still not even as long as he was here with us) and today we're just now feeling okay enough to start putting his clothes and things into storage. That's how Daniel and I spent our evening last night. I'm glad we didn't try to rush through our grief and do this right away.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Jess Learns to Cook: #1 - Tomatillos, Buttermilk and Pork Butt

Welcome to my new blog series I'm calling "Jess Learns to Cook"! First, the story of what inspired the series. My friend Ally is pretty fantastic at all things domestic, and makes it seem so effortless. Enter heavenly cinnamon rolls. "The recipe is SO easy," she said. "Hmm..." I thought, "Ally's a liar. Either that or she's way too confident in my baking abilities. There's no way these are easy to make." Time passed and Ally and her husband decided to move all the way to Omaha where I can no longer relish in her baking skills.

One day when I could no longer handle the cinnamon roll famine I decided to look up the recipe, and of course I was right. The recipe was hard. During a park play date with my friend Meggan and her kids I was lamenting about the amazing cinnamon rolls and how the recipe had all these ingredients and techniques I had never ever used before. With a look of incredulity Meggan asked "Like what kind of ingredients?" I could see the wheels turning in her head as she reviewed the basics of cinnamon rolls, trying to figure out what about them could possibly have me stymied.

J: "Like...evaporated milk, and something else, and then I was supposed to burn something or something, I don't know, it was crazy!"

M: "Wait, you've never used evaporated milk?"

J: "What?! No! I don't even know what it looks like!" Meggan tried unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh.

J: "And "packets" of yeast! It said something about 2 packets of yeast! How much is in a packet?! That's not a standard measurement! I have a BAG of yeast!"

M: "A packet is something like 2 1/4 teaspoons I think." .....why does she know that?! Am I the only person who doesn't know that??

Anyway, from our conversation I became determined to figure out what all the fuss was about evaporated milk and whatever other apparently basic cooking things I've been unfamiliar with.

Really though, I do know how to cook, and I'm actually kind of great at it, but I cook with the same familiar ingredients and same few methods. So this is the beginning of my efforts to learn and branch out. This isn't going to be some pretentious, random, expensive ingredients kind of cooking series. I'm going to cook with "normal" things that I just don't have experience with, probably make a lot of ridiculous mistakes, and hopefully help the other secretly (or perhaps unaware) inexperienced cooks.

So for my first attempt at trying new things I decided to make sweet pork salad a la Costa Vida. The cinnamon rolls still have me pretty intimidated so maybe another time. Daniel LOVES Costa Vida. Well, he loves the OTHER Costa-Vida-like restaurant but there is some bad blood between that restaurant and I, so like the great husband he is he indulges my stubborn insistence that we not give them our way too frequent business. Anyway...

Pork Butt
I found a recipe I liked for the sweet pulled pork and the first thing it said was "1 pork butt". I chuckled to myself because sometimes I have the humor of a third grader I thought it was a joke. A pork butt? That's not a thing. She must be trying to be funny. I may have never cooked any kind of pork (aside from bacon), but surely this cut of meat had a more technical name.

Anyway, off to the store I went with my shopping list with "Pork 'Butt'" written at the top. I got to the meat section and looked for anything that would mean the back end of a pig. I thought it's got to be called a "rump" or "flank" or something like that, right? Nope, it literally is called "Pork Butt". So I picked out my 3.5lb pork butt and added it to the cart. My other new ingredients were tomatillos and buttermilk for the tomatillo dressing. 

So we get home, I get my pork butt out of the packaging, into the crock pot and I've got this...

I look back at the recipe...I look back at the butt...I look back at the recipe looking for the word "string"...."net" maybe?....nothing? Really? My pork butt is wrapped in string and there's no mention of what to do about it? Well if there's no mention of it then I should just leave it, right? I immediately remember a writing exercise from middle school where the teacher had each of us write out how to make a PB&J, then in front of the class she followed each set of instructions exactly, making no assumptions of previous sandwich making procedures. It was a hilarious mess and a great object lesson about details in writing. Anyway, no mention of what to do about the string. 

Growing up I remember the string from the roast was coveted. When the roast was done everyone loved chewing the string...okay that actually sounds pretty gross but I promise it was tasty. So after thinking it all through I freed the pork butt from it's netted prison.

I found all the other recipes (cilantro lime rice, pico, tomatillo ranch dressing) HERE. The Tomatillo Ranch Dressing is so good, so I was really excited to learn to make our own. Having never used buttermilk in anything before I thought I should give it a taste (try everything once, right?). It tastes almost exactly like it's name, but with sour cream mixed in. Butter + milk + sour cream = pretty gross. I was using this in the dressing so there wasn't any cooking or anything other than mixing a bunch of things together, not much room for error.

I came really close to using tomatillos last summer because our friend/neighbor Tess let us have a bunch from her garden. For some reason though I didn't get around to it, so this was my first time. Now we're growing them in our own garden and they're doing pretty well so far. 

I always thought tomatillos were just a green tomato that came in a husk, but they kind of seem like an apple, tomato hybrid. All I had to do was take the husk off, then chop and blend the whole thing (plus other ingredients) in a blender, easy peasey.

I make salsa pretty frequently so making the pico was a piece of cake. It's really straight-forward, just chop and combine. My one tip is to make it the night before so everything can sit and soak together. I always make our salsa and let it sit in the fridge over night, the flavor is much better than eating it right after it's made.

I don't have a picture of the end result, too preoccupied with finally eating it I guess :) It looked just like the restaurant except we didn't have the strip tortilla chips. The end result was fantastic but my final verdict is...worth it to try once, probably won't do the whole thing again. I'll probably make the dressing and pico quite a bit this summer, I'll for sure make pulled pork again, but making the whole thing takes too much time and cost to make it worth it. I'd rather just let Costa Vida keep making my sweet pork salad :)

So there it is :) My first efforts in trying brand new things went pretty well and, other than the pork, nothing had me too stressed out :)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kids' Calendar

Every day Aurelia was asking the same questions, "does daddy go to work today?" "Is today my swimming class?" "Is today my tumbling class?" So when my friend Heather wrote a post on her blog, The Coterie Blog, about this cute calendar she made I knew Aurelia would love it.

Monday through Friday there is a little train picture to let her know those are the days Daniel goes to work (on the train). It has the three front "triangle" lights she spots when we watch for the train to come in. Then we've got pictures for tumbling, swimming, church and play dates with friends, and we use a cute little flower hair clip to let her know which day we're on. She helped pick colors and shapes and glued the lights on the trains. I thought this was a great idea, Aurelia loves it and now she knows when we're doing each of her activities :)

The only things I wish I'd have done differently when making our calendar is use that blue putty stuff to stick the pictures to the calendar (I used velcro), and I would've (and will for future pictures) used something thicker like card stock or...I don't know, just something thicker than construction paper for the pictures.

You can see more of Heather's fantastic ideas and her beautiful family on Instagram @heathmild.