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Foster Parenting Trauma

Back in July, on my drive home from youth camp, I was listening to an episode of The Takeaway, when I heard this segment with Farai Chideya about the traumatizing impact of being a foster parent.  Listening to the segment made me quite emotional.  First, it validated my own experience of being traumatized by the very broken foster care system.  And listening I realized that I still have unresolved trauma, despite having received therapy in response to what we experienced as foster parents.  Largely this trauma is papered over by the beautiful blessing of our son Sebastian who arrived by other serendipitous means.  But every once in a while, usually when someone else is asking about fostering, we open up and share our story and the wounds are made real again.  Writing about this will likely be the next major memoir project, but it is not a easy topic to explore.  

That afternoon I also read Chideya's essay which had prompted her appearance on The Takeaway.  I keep intending to write her and say thank you, as I've also been intending to blog all of this for some time.  


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As we were preparing this year's Lenten worship theme Kondo's show was all the rage, so we decided to draw on some aspects of it--tidying up, sparking joy, etc. I've read the book in preparation for Lenten worship and have found some handy tidbits to quote. And a few ideas to put into practice in my own life. But I can't see how this ultimately could work in a busy life, in a marriage with two people with very different attitudes toward stuff, and with a preschooler and dog. Plus, even if I found a place where everything belonged the husband, kid, dog, houseguest, or cleaning lady would move it.

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Revis

Revis  Daisy  & Michael
In all the long years my mother was a widow, I wondered what sort of man she might meet and marry.  I wanted someone who would make her happy, but worried about some man I might not get along with.

So, when my mother began seriously dating in 2001, I was nervous to meet Revis Stanford.

My nerves were quickly eased.  Revis was very kind and gentle and funny, even if his humor was corny.  It's then I learned what my mother most liked in men--those who made her laugh, as that is the trait Dad and Revis shared.

And I would soon learn many other things about Revis--he was generous, caring, athletic, smart, religious, and he liked his routines.

In 2004 he and Mom married, in a lovely little ceremony in her backyard with forty family and friends gathered for the occasion.  

In those years when I lived in Dallas, he and Mom would come to visit and bring their bicycles, and we would all bike along the trails from near my house at Royal and Greenville down to White Rock Lake and back.  We still talk with dreamy nostalgia of those days.

Mom was soon in the best shape of her adult life as she and Revis biked, fished, traveled, and had fun together.

In the summer of 2004, not long after their wedding, I came out to Mom and Revis.  I didn't know how the moment would go, and it is recounted in detail in my forthcoming memoir.  I especially didn't know what my new step-dad might say, but he reached out and held my hand and said, “Scott, why should that matter? I love you like my own son. This doesn’t change anything.” And so Revis Stanford became a hero in my story.

But he was a hero already.  Revis spent ten months in Vietnam from 1967-68 with the U. S. Marines 2nd Battalion.  He fought in seventeen battles, including Khe Sanh, the longest of the war.  He received four Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.  But in Vietnam he was also exposed to Agent Orange and experienced trauma, receiving a PTSD diagnosis forty years later.

Revis grew up in California surfing and listening to the local band, the Beach Boys, before they made it big.  He raised two children with his first wife.  He went into accounting and auditing and worked for the Phillips Petroleum company and later the U. S. Government as a Certified Fraud Examiner.  He worked for Housing and Urban Development when he and Mom met.

In 2005, when I accepted the call to serve as Pastor of the Cathedral of Hope in Oklahoma City, I put my Dallas house on the market and Mom offered me their guest bedroom in Oklahoma City until it sold.  Little did we know that it would be eight months, so at 32 I lived with my Mom and her new husband.  It was not ideal for any of us, but we survived.  It did give me and Revis a chance to grow closer together, while also learning each others strengths and weaknesses.

He and Mom retired in 2010 because his PTSD was worsening.  They built a big beautiful home looking out on a cove of Grand Lake O' the Cherokees with the intention of spending their retirement years peacefully enjoying the water, fishing, entertaining family, and traveling.  

They were able to do some of that, but less than a year into retirement, Revis was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.  Since 2011 the health episodes and diagnoses have come quickly--he had a brain aneurysm and struggled to recover from the brain damage, Parkinsons, a stroke, and finally he went blind this year.  By 2015 the Veterans Administration declared him 100% disabled, and he entered a nursing home only a few weeks after Sebastian was born.

Two weeks ago I drove to Oklahoma to spend my final days with my step-father.  His corny humor was still present.  We Facetimed with Sebastian, who sang him a song, and Revis, who delighted in grandkids, was so happy in that moment.  But his horrible diseases robbed his dignity.

He died today, only 72 years old.  


Poor People's Food

In the last post in this series, I wrote about beans and dumplings and how this originates as poor people's food that my family continued to eat even as they rose into the middle class.  

I e-mailed my mother asking her about favourite foods and family traditions and she echoed this theme when she wrote of her mother, "I’ll gross you out--a favorite of mom’s was pickled pig's feet. Once again poor people’s food."  I remember Mammoo eating her pickled pig's feet.  And it grossed me out as a kid.

Mammoo grew up in Arkansas, raised by her grandfather.  Her parents were divorced.  Her mother died in an institution around the age of thirty, and her father had run off and later died on the street in California.  Mammoo had been the cook for her grandfather and brother from childhood.

Besides the pinto beans with dumplings and cornbread, the other simple food I fondly remember from growing up was fried chicken gizzards.  Not gizzards served as an appetizer or side dish like you might get in a restaurant but gizzards as the main dish. 

These gizzards pictured here are ones I had last week when our family went to eat at Quick Bites Soul Food in Bellevue, Nebraska.

Gizzards

When Mom fried gizzards for supper she usually fixed potato salad as the side.  Mom's potato salad was mustard based and bright yellow. I love that potato salad and make it all the time in the summer. 

In ours the potatoes are smooth like mashed potatoes rather than chunky like in some.  And you add some mayonnaise, pickle juice, chopped pickles and scallions, and a dash of paprika.

But I love all sorts of potato salads, especially vinegar-based German ones that I first had growing up when we would go to Pittsburg, Kansas and eat at Chicken Annie's or Chicken Mary's.

Dad's favourite dinner was steak and potatoes.  What were the many ways we ate potatoes growing up?  I could sound a little like Bubba listing them: mashed, scalloped, fried, boiled, hashbrowns, etc.

My aunt Rhonda, whom I affectionately called K-K when I was kid (her middle name was Katherine), once made me some potato soup.  Forever after it was K-K soup.  Mom always complained that she had made the same soup for years but K-K made it once and forever after it was named for her.  BTW, I've got a great potato soup recipe I learned from a church member in Dallas when I served there.

In 2016 Mom, Kelli, and I traveled in the west of Ireland, where the remnants of the potato famine are still visible.  On our drive around the Dingle Peninsula we saw once cultivated fields that have lain unused since the famine, as the population of the area has never recovered.

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Fixing a Traditional Oklahoma Meal

This one time in college, Laura Picazo and I got to talking about culture and food and she asked me, "What's a traditional Oklahoma meal?"

Laura's ancestors were Basques and French who had emigrated to Mexico and eventually to Texas.  Laura taught me how to season my taco meat.

"Beans and cornbread," I said.  Soon we had scheduled an evening for me to come to her apartment and prepare what I considered the most traditional of meals from my cultural background, a meal my mother made all the time.

It is also a meal that reveals our socio-economic roots.  My parents both worked hard to rise within the middle class and both came from parents who were in that blessed American generation where millions rose from poverty or really hard rural life to enter the middle class.  Take my grandpa Nixon, Pappoo.  In the years of the Great Depression his family would go days eating beans for every meal.  Despite that, he still loved them with affection all of his life.  Pappoo fought in Africa and Italy in the Second World War, was permanently disabled during the landing on Anzio Beach, used his GI Bill to get vocational training, and went to work for the Post Office, eventually rising to become a Post Master.  When he retired he had a lake home, a boat, and you should have seen how excited he was when he bought a Cadillac.  The Great American Story.

My mother let her dried pinto beans simmer for hours with a ham hock, making the house smell good.  Then she did something that I've not encountered elsewhere (until I googled today looking for a picture to use and learned others do do it), she made these flour drop dumplings that went into the beans at the end of the cooking.  That day I cooked for Laura was the first time I attempted this and my dumplings didn't turn out quite right.  (Note: this picture is a random one from the internet and those dumplings only closely resemble my mother's).

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This too reveals the poor roots of this dish--simple ways to gain a few more calories with basic ingredients and a way to vary a dish people ate repeatedly.  

As a child I disliked beans, but I loved to eat those dumplings and the ham hock.  The dumplings had a magical rich flavor soaked up from the beans.

I e-mailed Mom some foodways questions, and she wrote about this dish: "The dish I remember the most and definitely a favor was brown beans with drop egg dumplings cooked in the beans. Cornbread was baked in a thin cookie sheet, so it was crisp. I think comfort food was probably a holdover from her childhood when she started cooking for her dad, grandpa, and Frank at age seven."

Her sister commented added:

Mammoo called them "depression noodles." She mixed only one egg with flour to get a sticky mess. She dropped them by spoonfuls in the boiling bean broth. Pappoo didn't like them, but since Mammoo did, he didn't mind. Mammoo said when she was a girl growing up, she had beans that way at a friend's house. She loved it that way ever since. She also made them just for herself in chicken broth. When I was sick, that was what I wanted her to make me. Boy, I miss her. Thanks for taking me home again!

When I fixed them for Laura, I also prepared cornbread and then served it all with a dill pickle spear and a whole green onion.  Laura said, "What are the pickle and the green onion for?"  And I answered, "I don't know, that's always what Mom served with the beans."

And, really, when you are cooking an old family dish, that's what matters.

The previous post in this series told about the changing role of rice in my food history.


First Cause?

When Sebastian entered the phase of asking Why? I was thrilled, as a philosopher.  And I told a friend that I was prepared to answer Sebastian's questions back to the First Cause and Unmoved Mover if need be. Well . . .

Last night I was changing him into his pajamas. He noted that it was getting darker outside and then asked, "Why?"
 
I explained that the earth is rotating on its axis and we were now pointing away from the sun.
 
Why?
 
I explained that this was the way the Solar System is constructed.
 
Why?
 
A brief explanation about gravity.
 
Why?  And now my excitement is building. We are getting close.
 
Then I told him about the Big Bang. He charmingly added sound effects. I went on to mention laws of nature, primary forces, and fundamental particles.
 
Then I waited, looking forward to the final question in the series. And . . .
 
. . . no question was forthcoming.
 
So I asked if the answer about the Big Bang was satisfactory, and he said 
 
Yes.

Trick-or-Treat

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Every year for Halloween in Omaha we go to friends in Field Club, were around a thousand kids will descend upon a few blocks for trick-or-treating.  A handful of church members live within a few blocks, and we often see other friends out-and-about.

Last year Sebastian could not yet crawl, but dressed as the Great Pumpkin, we carried him around to a few houses.  The rest of the evening he played on the Fortina's living room floor, attempting to crawl, which mesmerized the assembled adults.

This year he likes to run, of course.  So we wondered what he would make of his first real Halloween.  I wondered if he's be overwhelmed by all the kids, confused by being out in the dark, scared by costumes, or grabbing handfuls of candy impolitely.  But, none of those occurred.

We set out walking down the block and by the second house Sebastian seemed to figure out the routine--walk along the sidewalk, then up the walk to the front steps, get candy, and then come back down the sidewalk.  Before too long, he seemed to act as if he didn't need his fathers walking along trying to help.  

He walked slowly, often stopping to look at the kids and the costumes, but never seeming confused or startled.  More like a reserved, "Well, this is different" attitude.

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When he finally indicated that he was done and ready for some dinner, we returned to the Fortinas and set up his booster seat on the front porch so he could eat and watch the parade of kids.  He devoured his chili and was mesmerized by all the activity, kicking his feet back and forth--a sure sign of excitement.

When he was done eating he wanted to assist with handing out the candy.  He sat in Katie Lewis' lap and as each kid came up, Sebastian would look them directly in the eye and then hand them their candy. 

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It was after 8:30 and well past normal bedtime when we finally headed for home, and he was quite upset with us for bringing his fun to an end.


Ted Cich

Three
Michael’s grandpa Ted Cich died last weekend.  He was 91 years old.  He could still bicycle ten miles.  He died at home in his own bed during his sleep.  In other words, the way most of us would like to die.  He was a good man who lived a good life.

Ted and Marion raised a family of six rambunctious kids in the Minneapolis suburb of New Brighton.  They were hard working and devout Roman Catholics.  Two of their sons attended seminary, though neither ultimately became a priest.  They owned property on Blue Lake where, over many years, they built a cabin that was the site of many family vacations and to which they retired and lived until Marion’s illnesses drew them back to the city.

I met Ted and Marion in May 2009 one month before I married Michael.  They were gracious in their welcome of me into the family.  Their welcome stood in stark contrast to my own grandfather who reacted poorly to my coming out and even more poorly to my relationship with Michael.  Though my grandfather ultimately improved, with the Ciches there was no need for improvement; they were fully welcoming from the moment they met me.

Ted attended our wedding (Marion was unable to make the trip from Minneapolis to Oklahoma City, though she was always disappointed and little angry about that).  Not only did he attend, he insisted that every one of his children were to be present so that there could be no question where the Cich family stood.  My grandfather made a point of not attending and most of my extended family was not present.

Last year Ted came to Omaha for Sebastian’s baptism, hopefully some of you met him.  In May we traveled to Minneapolis to visit him and Michael’s extended family there.  Ted delighted in Sebastian, and we are grateful for the time they had together and the pictures we can share with Sebastian of him with his great-grandpa.

Ted and Marion Cich are evidence that being welcoming and inclusive are not generational traits.  They are traits of good people.

Peace,

Scott


With or Without You

As we drove up the Missouri River valley last night, U2's "With or Without You" came on the radio.  I, of course, began singing along.  Then I realized that Sebastian was singing as well.  Singing U2 with our son was a great way to end our long, hot family vacation, which Michael had dubbed the "Show Off Sebastian Tour."

Garden walk

After our time in Arkansas, we visited my Mom, the extreme heat limiting our ability to enjoy the outdoors, but we still toured Lindenwood Gardens and played at the local splash pad.  Sebastian loves gardens, particularly hunting for rocks.  Everywhere we go he now collects one or two rocks. 

A quick excursion to Miami one evening allowed us to see dear friends, and we stopped in Claremore to visit my step-dad who delights in his new grandson.

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In Oklahoma City we attended Cathedral of Hope, the church I pastored from 2005-2010.  Sebastian ventured up and down the aisles greeting people, many of whom were so delighted to meet our son.

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While seeing family and some friends (and struggling to survive the extreme heat) we took Sebastian to some places that meant a lot to us--the parks and streets of our old neighborhood, the spot where we were married, the restaurant where we had our first dinner and date.  Our final evening he played in the pool with his cousins.

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He seemed to grow up a lot during this trip.  He now gives high fives and has learned to shake hands, even venturing around restaurants to shake hands with strangers.  He gets out of bed on his own, even when they were a little too high for that.  He can slide without being held the whole way down.  And he understands more and more words.  Plus, he sings along to U2, which is really cool.