National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month and the 23rd of November is known as Adoption Day. Many families adopting from the foster-care system choose to adopt on this day and lots of courts do special things to celebrate this amazing day. I read this article yesterday that this year more than 4500 children from the system were adoption on Adoption Day.

Y’all know this is cause near and dear to my heart so I like to periodically shine a spotlight, if you will, on it in the hopes that I can reach maybe one family and talk them into considering this as an option for growing their family. So I’d like to share a few statistics with you:

* there are more than 100,000 children in the foster care system that are waiting for forever families

* nearly 25,000 children age out of the system every year – stop and think about this one a moment. That means that every year a quarter of the kids available for adoption become “too old” for state care and they literally become individuals without families. Meaning they have nowhere to go for the holidays, no one to call if they get married or get a great job and if they make it to college (which most don’t because of the lack of familial support), they have no one to invite to parent’s weekend. I’m sorry, but that just sucks!

* One statistic stated that of the children waiting for adoption, 40% are Caucasian, 28% are AFrican American and 22% are Hispanic.

Now I’d like to share some general info I’ve learned since being in the “system” (so to speak).

* special needs is a term that states use for a variety of scenarios, yes, it can mean that a child has learning disabilities or medical problems, but it also can mean that it’s a sibling group – like my girls were considered special needs, or that the child is a minority.

* there is a huge misconception that there are no young children in the foster-care system that are available for adoption. This is so wrong. Yes, in some cases (like ours) we had to foster for 6 months before we could adopt) but there are many ways in which you can adopt from the system and there are lots of littles available. That being said, don’t be fooled into thinking that if you go young that means you skip all the scary behavioral problems. We were presented with one group of kiddos where the three year old had been diagnosed with RAD (reactive-attachment disorder). Adoption is really not much different that having your own children, you really can’t ever know what you’re going to get with your kids.

* one of the cool things for our girls – frankly the only benefit they get from having been in in the foster-care system – is that they get benefits from the state. They have their medical insurance paid, they will have their college tuition paid (at a state university) and we get a monthly stipend to help pay for their schooling and extras. Furthermore, we didn’t have to pay for any of the adoption court costs. So the myth about adoption being too expensive – not relevant  to foster-care adoption. That being said, every state is different.

Check here for information about foster-care adoption.

The Convergence of Crazy

13542868I think every writer (maybe even every person), as a fair dose of crazy in them. I don’t know if it’s just part of the business or if writers must be more in touch with their crazy in order to write emotional books.

Of course, it’s also true that mothers are all a little crazy too. We’re stressed out. We work hard. Our kids constantly push our buttons. Sometimes, despite our better judgment, the crazy leaks out.

So on one hand, I have the writer crazy to contend with. On the other, I have the mothering crazy. Often these to things are separate, but every once in a while, they meet in the middle for some sort of crazy super storm, like the moment the Ghostbuster cross the streams on their proton packs.

For me, the crazy converges when I let the bad stuff get in my head. This is true of my mothering and my writing. With mothering, it’s the “Am I doing enough?” “Am I doing too much?” “Are they happy?” “Am I happy?” “How does anyone know they are really happy?” “If I’m not happy, should I fake it or does that just create the false impression that life is like a Target ad?” You can see where this is going. It’s a dark and twisted rabbit hole to go down.

For a long time, when I wrote only for Harlequin Desire, the writing part of my crazy was fairly compact. It was stuff like, “Is what I’m doing making the world better?” “Am I any good any good at it, or should I give it up to spend more time with my kids. (And the answer to that is pretty easy. No. I’ve done the 24 hours a day with my kids thing, and my patience wears thin. We drive each other crazy.) “Does my life’s work matter in the universe?”

Then, I started writing post apocalyptic YA. All of sudden the proton pack of mothering-crazy and the proton pack of writer-crazy were both unleashed at the same time. When I wrote The Lair, the second book in the series, the opening action of the book takes place at Base Camp, where the teenagers who are part of the rebellion are living. It’s winter. They’re in the mountains. And all of civilization has collapsed around them. I spent a lot of time worrying about how to feed these two hundred plus imaginary people. It’s a world without grocery stores! A world without fast food! A world without Costco or Chick-fil-a! Where is the food coming from?

The question doesn’t even take up that much of the book. It’s just something I thought about a lot. It got in my head—partly because I was worried about the plotting of this book, but mostly because I was worried about feeding my own kids in the unlikely event of the apocalypse.

I found myself creeping out of bed in the middle of the night to research how to stockpile food. Did you know you can have a year’s worth of food drop shipped to your house? Did you know you can make a candle out of a can of Crisco? Did you know it’s still possible to get scurvy if you don’t get enough vitamin C? This is the kind of information that can really mess with your head.

Then one day, I went to the grocery store and they were completely out of zucchini. I freaked out, sure this was a sign of the coming apocalypse. So … um, yeah. I sort of started stock piling food.

But here’s the thing about book-related insanity: it comes and goes. Now that my Lair-related crazy has passed, my brief foray into prepping has allowed me to make a generous donation to my local food bank. That’s a good thing, right?

Those big parenting questions really stay with me. I will always worry about whether or not I’m setting a good example for my kids. I will always question my parenting and will always try to do better.

I’ve moved on to other forms of writer-crazy, now. Like wondering whether evil monsters will ever invade our world from a parallel universe. And if they do, will grocery stores still operate?

What are your great fears as a parent?

Emily McKayEmily McKay loves to read, shop, and geek out about movies. When she’s not writing, she reads on-line gossip and bakes luscious deserts. She pretends that her weekly yoga practice balances out both of those things. She lives in central Texas with her family and her crazy pets.

 

The Can’t Win Holiday Conundrum

I love the holidays. I really do. From mid-October to January 1st my life is consumed with them. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I love it all. I like pumpkins on my porch and orange lights, and pine boughs and red bows. And I like Christmas music. I like Kenny G’s Christmas album, thank you very much. It soothes me. I’m practically radiant with good cheer. I’m sure you can see it, all the way over there.

But the thing is, I’m an adult now. Which means I bear a lot more responsibility around the holidays than I ever have before. And this has increased ten fold recently.

We bought a new house over a year ago, and before then, Holiday Central was my mother’s house. Not so anymore. We now have the biggest house, the biggest dining and living area and are now, by default, Holiday Central.

Last year was my first experience with this. Halloween is easy. That’s us and the kids. No stress. But Thanksgiving? Oh. My. Gosh. The stores may forget about Thanksgiving, but I do not. And neither does my family. Not only did my house need to be clean, but there was food that needed to be cooked. A lot of food. Thanksgiving morning consisted of me grousing at my husband about how I HAD TO DO ALL THE THINGS AND HE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND BECAUSE MEN HAVE TO DO JACK NOTHING BUT WATCH FOOTBALL ON THANKSGIVING.

So this year he’s offered to help. And I’m skeptical. And here is my can’t-win-holiday-conundrum. I blame my father for this, because as far back as I can remember, around the holidays he starts singing Fiddler on the Rood. TRADITION!! Tradition.

Yeah, we’re all about the tradition. And most of our traditions revolve around food. That means I’m very reluctant to allow other hands in my baking dishes, so to speak.

Now, I learned how to make all holiday meals from my mother, so of course SHE’S allowed. But anyone else? *side eye* I don’t know. They don’t know me. They don’t know how much broth I want in my dressing. THEY DON’T KNOW MY LIFE.

There have also been other offers made to me re: bringing food. And I’m of course hesitant to take the help.

This is the story of my life, not just my holidays. I think what it boils down to is that I’m a control freak (yeah, don’t laugh. I’m sure any of you who read this blog/follow me on twitter/know me IRL/work with me in a professional manner already know this, but I’m just figuring it out) and that makes it hard for me to ask for help, but easy for me to flail around whining about how stressed I am because I HAVE SO MUCH TO DO.

I’m not going to do that this year. I’m not. This is me making a resolution. Because it’s okay if the mashed potatoes don’t taste like I would make them. (hesitates even as I type this…) But it’s not okay for me to be growling at everyone on Thanksgiving because I’m marinating in my role as Grand Suffering Mother Doing All The Things (that I chose to do but whatever).

I’m releasing hold. And that’s hard. But I do love the holidays, and I want to keep on loving them. And that means pausing to remember what’s really important, and to enjoy the time with my family.

Except I’m still making the dressing. No one else is allowed to make that.

Kids and Weddings

It’s pretty much a guarantee that if kids don’t know the answer to something, they’ll make up their own answer. Such has been the case with Baby Galen and weddings. My sister was actually married in Ethiopia about two years ago, but she and her husband are finally both in the United States, and she wants to have her dream American wedding. Baby Galen is a flower girl.

It has been a slow process to help my now four-year-old understand why people have weddings and what weddings mean, especially when she’s already calling my brother-in-law Uncle Dessie. It makes things more complicated when the people getting married are already married.

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Anyway, she’s asked lots of questions and given me some of her own answers along the way. Her first question was whether or not Aunt Dani and Uncle Dessie would ride in a carriage, a la Cinderella. I said no, they would ride in a car. This clearly perplexed her and she must have thought I was mistaken because she asked me again and then said, why can’t they ride in a carriage? I told her they didn’t want to. She just laughed. “Oh, mommy, you’re just kidding!”

In her world, everyone wants to ride in a carriage.

Another day we happened to be driving past the hotel where the ceremony and reception will be held. I pointed it out, and she asked if she would be riding a bicycle down the aisle. I said, no. You’ll walk and gently toss your flower petals. “Will Aunt Dani ride a bicycle?”

“No.”

“Will Uncle Dessie ride a bicycle?”

“No. No bikes in the wedding.”

She was quiet for a moment. “Do I have to go to this wedding?”

Finally, I made her try on her dress one last time to be certain it still fit. She was unhappy that it was not blue, but she’s still a sucker for a pretty dress. Once she was done twirling around, she wanted to know where her veil was. I told her only brides wore the veils, and she said that she would borrow Aunt Dani’s. Ha! Aunt Dani’s veil isn’t cheap. I knew she wasn’t going to let a four-year-old anywhere near it.

Still, despite not having a carriage, any bicycles, or a veil, we all had a great time. And now my sister is doubly married!

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When Baby Girl Grows Up by Guest Priscilla A. Kissinger

We welcome Priscilla A Kissinger to the blog today!

As your children age, your role as a parent changes. The parenting tools you once skillfully used grow dull and you quickly try to master new ones.

The easily answered questions they once asked—“Mommy, why do I have to go to school?”—grow tougher—“Which college should I choose?”

The child who once crawled onto your lap to snuggle or cuddle, now gives you a quick wave on her way out the door to meet up with friends.

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The babies who depended on you to keep the household running smoothly, pack their bags and take the first step to independence and living on their own.

All three of my girls headed off to colleges that were multiple states and at least a two-day drive away from home. As children in a former military family Baby Girl 1 & 2 were used to moving; and while we stayed in one place for most of Baby Girl 3’s formative years we travel quite a bit, so she’s used to seeing new places.

When Baby Girl 1 headed off, it took me over two weeks to have the courage to walk into her room. And when I did, I laid down on her bed, imagined her there with me, and, teary-eyed, prayed that she was okay.

Baby Girl 2 headed off to the same school as 1, so I wasn’t as nervous about her being all alone so far from home. Yet, I caught myself poking my head into her room and reminiscing. Pretending she was merely out with friends and would be home soon.

Flash forward to Baby Girl 3’s departure. A single parent now, even though I was accustomed to this important rite of passage, all summer I found myself not thinking about that moment when I would drive away, leaving my baby behind. Rather, I talked about how exciting this opportunity would be for her. Frankly, I knew that focusing on what this rite of passage meant for her was probably the only way I’d get through it.

Parenting is tough. We want the best for our children. We want to protect them. Keep them safe. Ensure they’re happy and healthy.

Yet, our kids age and the time comes for us to trust that we’ve prepared them well to go out into this big, scary, and exciting world ready to make their positive mark on it.

The conversation changes from:

“Mommy, I have a boo-boo.”

“Come here, sweetie, and I’ll kiss it all better.”

to:

“Mom, I have a problem.”
“Okay then, sweetie, have you tried problem-solving for a positive solution?”

Then child who couldn’t wait to get out of Dodge and be on her own, calls you up teary and homesick. Stressed about class schedules, commitments, responsibilities, laundry issues, and life choices. While there’s that a part of you that wants to “make it all better”, you know that’s not what your baby needs.

She needs reassurance that she can handle this. A pep talk reminding her of what she’s accomplished and what she is capable of doing. Sometimes she needs a little tough love—“Adult life is hard, but you suck it up and stop whining.” And sometimes, you just get on a plane and fly half way across the country to give your Baby Girl a hug.

Because you’ll always be mommy. No matter what age they are. And couldn’t we all use a hug from a loved one more often than not?

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 Priscilla A Kissinger is a three-time Golden Heart finalist who writes contemporary romance with a Latino flavor. A single mom with three daughters, Priscilla recently earned an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. During the day she works as an administrator at a major university, and she spends her free time writing, reading, playing tennis, training for half marathons, watching sports and singing karaoke with her family.  You can find out more about her at www.prisakiss.com.

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The Sibling Bond

I have a brother. Only one. He just turned 25 this week. I myself am quickly approaching 28. But there’s something about spending time with him that reduces us both back to childhood. In fact, at his birthday party we recorded a video of us singing What Does the Fox Say. Because we just can’t handle ourselves when we’re together. We can also easily revert to name calling.

The sibling bond is one of my favorite things to write, and in my small town single title romances, sibling relationships are often the support beams propping up my hero or heroine…or they’re the relationship giving them problems!

With my own kids, it’s taken some time for them to establish that bond in the traditional sense. Both boys (Drama and Danger, online nicknames) had developmental delays, and Danger is autistic. That means getting him interested in interaction in the way we recognize it is hard. His older brother couldn’t really talk to him, and he didn’t seem interested in playing with him either.

Also, with Drama’s delays, and with how close in age they are, they didn’t seem to have a traditional younger/older brother relationship.

Enter our youngest child.

When we had Diva Baby things changed. Even Danger seemed to develop a bond with her, quickly. And when she started talking, Drama was pretty impressed. After all, he hadn’t observed typical development in his younger brother.

Now Drama is 7, Danger is 5, and Diva is 3 and we’re starting to see the sibling dynamic emerge in a much more traditional sense. Danger may have trouble with some social cues, but he knows that touching his sister will incite screams and chants of: HE’S TOUCHING ME. HE’S TOUCHING ME!!!!!!

Of course, you get the good. The playing, the fact that being with other kids all the time is, in its way, therapy for Danger 24/7.

Then you get the shenanigans. Those occur mostly with Diva and Drama. Oh, the power of the older sibling. I know it well. I have wielded it since the birth of my brother. But watching my oldest son grow into it has been…terrifying, awe-inspiring…he’s an evil genius basically.

Diva has been having bad dreams about bears. And at the breakfast table one morning she and Drama were eating cereal together.

Diva: I had a bad dream about bears.

Drama: Oh no, what happened?

Diva: A bear did come through my window and take me to the woods.

Drama: Oh, and were you lost?

Diva: YES!

Drama: And walking and walking and walking and walking in the woods?

Diva: YES

Drama: And then did the bear pop your head off?

Diva: YES O_O

Me: THANK YOU FOR THAT.

So now, of course, every morning I hear that she had a bad dream and a bear popped her head off. Older brothers at work. The older sister in me is proud, but the mom in me has angry eyebrows.

Ultimately though, it’s been a joy watching them grow together in that wonderful, weird relationship that is the sibling bond.

Long may they torment each other. With love. 😉

Things I’ve learned since becoming a mom

DSCN1388It’s been approximately 31 months since I became an overnight mother to my two girls, even less since that mother has been official (at least legally speaking.) I think becoming a parent is harder than anyone expects it to be. Here are a few lessons I’ve picked up along the way.

1. I’m not nearly as good at this as I thought I’d be. I was always the mother hen to all my friends. The one who everyone always said would be a great mom. It’s not that I thought I’d be a perfect mom, but before my own kiddos I had lots of experience with other kids. I’ve worked at daycares, been a nanny, the favorite aunt to my 3 nieces and nephew and the aunt-by-proxy to many of my friend’s kids. But y’all know, it’s different with your own kids, they never leave. 🙂

2. When people say marriage is hard, I think they actually mean marriage becomes hard when you add kids to the mix. It’s not that The Professor and I didn’t argue before kids, but things were so much easier when it was just the two of us. But parenting brings out the worst in your (and often the best) and you see things in your partner that you’ve never seen before and visa versa. It adds a whole nothing level of complicated to your marriage.

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3. My kids are prettier and smarter and funnier and sweeter than everyone else’s kids. This really needs no explanation and I wish I could show you pictures to prove my point. Ask Shana and Emily, they’ve met my girls and they’re ridiculously pretty and smart and funny and sweet.

4. It’s harder than I thought, but in ways I wasn’t expecting. I knew the day-to-day stuff would be challenging, exhausting even, but I didn’t expect to question myself so much (yes, I know, I was naive), I didn’t expect to be one of those women who loses herself, I didn’t expect to have post-partum (since I didn’t actually birth my children), and I didn’t expect it to be so freaking terrifying.

5. The love is bigger and greater and stronger and more permeating than I could ever have imagined. Those two little people have consumed my life, my thoughts, my conversation, my house and my heart and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In what ways has parenthood surprised you?

Who’s Afraid of the Homework Monster? by Guest Mom Gayle Cochrane

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Who’s afraid of the homework monster? Me! I know I am not alone in this, as I have heard other parents online and in the real world complaining about the amount and difficulty of their children’s homework. When my daughter, Alora, started bringing homework home in first grade, I was shocked by the sheer quantity.  It was supposed to only take 20 minutes per grade level but it never did. In the early grades I was afraid of the spelling monster. She would come home from school with spelling words that were harder than I expected them to be for her age. Yet, by fourth grade, I knew that the real homework monster was going to be math.

Math was not my favorite subject in grade school, but even then I suspected that I was missing out on something cool. People who loved math seemed to know its magic secret. I was surprised and thrilled when Alora proclaimed to everyone that would listen, that her favorite subject was math. She loved math and I was determined that no one was going to take that from her.

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In fifth grade our family ended up changing schools. The new school is a combination of homeschool and resource center classes. Since core subjects are primarily taught at home, the person who was going to be responsible for keeping the joy of math alive was. . . (gulp). . . me.

Fifth grade math was a lot harder than I remembered. So, I was thrilled when she was able to take math at the resource center. Math was indeed a monster. Yes, she had homework, but the teacher gave us an answer book so it wasn’t too bad. If she was really stuck, she could take it to school, and her teacher would help her. Whew! Math monster avoided.

Cue the dark foreboding music . . .dum, dum duuuum! This year the sixth grade math class was opposite the science lab class that she really wanted to take. So she is taking sixth grade math at home. She doesn’t think math is a monster, so my goal is to keep that joy alive.

What to do? Call the math monster busters? As luck would have it, there are many awesome online programs such as Brain Pop, Math Snacks, Discovery Education and my favorite online learning website Khan Academy. All of these great programs have been helpful in getting the math monster under control.

It has become my mom mission to introduce as many people as I can to Khan Academy.  This program is the best for busting the math monster. Whenever Alora starts a new subject such as polygons, absolute value, or coordinate planes, she can go on the Khan Academy’s website and watch a short tutorial video on the subject. After the video there is a quiz and when the student gets five answers correct in a row, then they move up a level in that subject. There are visual rewards such as badges, and a chart to show the areas that the student has mastered and where they still need to work on. Each section is fairly short, so it only takes a few minutes to watch the video and answer the questions.

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Khan Academy has this fabulous mission statement:

Learn almost anything for free.

Our mission is to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. All of our resources are completely free forever, regardless of whether you’re a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology.

My daughter loves Khan Academy and she can go further with math concepts, then she would have been able to with just me teaching it. I am so impressed with Khan Academy and their classes that I have been taking the math class as well as the computer programming classes. Perhaps math isn’t a monster after all.

Are you afraid of the homework monster?

Thanks for having me at peanut butter on the keyboard.

Do you feel the pressure?

I was totally inspired by Maisey’s post about easy meals the other day. I love easy meals!

Robyn will tell you otherwise. She’ll tell you that I love fussy complicated cooking. That I love anything that requires dicing and stirring and hours spent over the stove. And she’s right! I just also love easy meals. Let’s face it, I’m responsible for feeding people approximately twenty-one meals a week. I can’t fuss over every meal. I’d be crazy. I can’t even fuss over only the seven dinners.

So when I want a meal that’s no fuss and easy-breezey, I turn toward a kitchen tool that I know  will do the work for me. No, not the crock pot. The pressure cooker.

Pressure cookers have a bad reputation. Either you have no idea what it is or what it does … or you associate it with fussy foodie food … or, you remember your mother/grandmother/other elderly relative using it and having the damn thing nearly explode.

Okay, first off, they’re much easier to use than they used to be. They aren’t fussy. They don’t explode. They’re just fast. Which is good for fussy foodie-food, because you develop flavors quickly, but is also good for busy parents, because you can get a meal on the table faster than you can imagine. Almost anything you can do in the crock pot, you can easily do in the pressure cooker in about 20 minutes.

Here are my two favorite no-fuss, pressure cooker meals. (Hint, I think you could probably do them both in the crockpot on low for 4-6 hours)

7 Up Chicken

(this is a recipe I adapted from my friend Hatties Mae. You can kind her books here. She makes hers in the crock pot. I do mine in the pressure cooker)

  • 1 – 1.5 pounds chicken breasts
  • 1 package Lipton soup mix
  • 1 can Rotel
  • 1 can of lemon-lime soda (like 7-up)
  • 6 oz bag baby spinach

Directions: Mix everything but the spinach together in the pan. Cook under high pressure for 10 minutes.Release pressure and stir in spinach. Serve over egg noodles.

 

Here’s my other favorite quick pressure cooker meal:

Ham and veggies

  • 1/2 an onion – diced
  • potatoes — any kind will do, I like the small red ones. Cut into chunks about 1 1/2 inches big
  • 1 bag baby carrots
  • 1 bag frozen green beans
  • 1 ham steak (you can find them near the bacon usually)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth

Layer in the pan in the order listed above. Bring to pressure and cook for 6 minutes.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Why is she sharing these recipes? Almost no one has pressure cookers. What’s wrong wit her?”

I guess, I just love my pressure cooker so much, I think everyone should get one! Mine is so easy to use and I just love it! Dinner in less than 20 minutes. I love it! Besides, the holidays are coming up. Maybe you need something to add to your list. Besides books, I mean. 🙂

So, does anyone else out there use a pressure cooker? Do you have any fun easy recipes to share?

 

Emily McKay loves to read, shop, and geek out about movies. When she’s not writing, she reads on-line gossip and bakes Emily McKayluscious deserts. She pretends that her weekly yoga practice balances out both of those things. She lives in central Texas with her family and her crazy pets.