Sunday, March 31, 2013

Math Salad



I wanted to share one of our favorite family meals. This meal was made up for and by our little math wizard, who happens to be more enthusiastic about numbers than vegetables.  His eyes light up when he sees Math Salad hits the table, though. 



Math Salad

Ingredients:

Post-it notes
Pencils
Lettuce
Tomatoes
Bell Peppers
Cheeses
Nuts
Apple chunks
Avocado
Carrots
Chicken nugget pieces
Sliced turkey
Craisins
Dressing
OR whatever you have on hand!

Directions:
Set out salad fixings in bowls. Add a point-value to each bowl on a post-it note. As each family member creates his or her salad, tally up the points in the salad and total them. Eat up!

You can make it competitive, or not. You can assign the more "exotic" ingredients higher point value, or not. You can prepare it yourself, or let the kids choose the numbers. You can bust out your calculator, or not. However you work it, enjoy!



Sharing over at:

No-Sew Carseat Canopy Tutorial




What do you get a newborn for Christmas?  Especially a newborn with 2 older siblings?  A carseat canopy to keep the wind/rain/snow/light out!  Rather than pay $49.99 on Etsy, I turned to Pinterest to find a pattern and came up with calico's carseat blanket pattern.  My sewing machine was in the shop, however, so I came up with a no-sew version that I thought I would share here.

Materials:

polar fleece 50" by 42"
2 snaps or buttons
scissors or pinking shears

Directions:

1) Fold the polar fleece in half the "long way" and cut the polar fleece to the dimensions shown.  You can use pinking shears if you want a decorative edge, but plain old scissors will do.  Polar fleece will not unravel, so you can leave the edges raw.  Just eyeball the curves- it doesn't have to be exact.


2) At the narrowest part, cut four vertical slits to form the straps, and then snip horizontally across each one.  


3) Add snaps (or a button and buttonhole) to each strap.


4) Secure to the carseat with the blanket under the handle for easy carrying.  Enjoy!



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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter



Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.  ~Martin Luther

Friday, March 29, 2013

Saying Goodbye


The first question that everyone asks when they find out you are fostering a child is always, "but won't it be hard to say goodbye?"  I have had people go so far as to say that they would NEVER foster a child for this reason.  In defense of foster parents, let me say that we are not a heartless bunch that can send kids out the door with no emotion.  On the contrary, we let them go because we love them, and because that is part of our job.

The best place for a child is always with a loving, stable relative who wants him, if that is possible.  When it is not possible, that is another story.  Luckily, in our case, it was.  We got very attached to Little Man, and were sad to see him go, but it was not depressing or traumatic for us.  He was only with us for a month, and we were able to have a relationship with his mother during his stay with us.  We determined early on that the best place for him would be with his aunt, who had him as a baby.  So when it came time to say goodbye, we felt that he was going to a place where he would be loved and well cared for.  We loved him up as much as we could while he was here, but we knew all along that he was not ours to have forever.

I'm sure there will be children who we will have to send home to situations we don't feel good about, and that will be much harder.  But this time around, the kids and I drove him back to his family, hugged him a happy goodbye, and will continue to think about him and pray for him.  We have a picture of him up on our wall, and we made matching picture books of his time with us- one for him, and one for us.  To be cliche, our work here is done.  

I will say, I see how fostering children can be addictive.  We are already looking ahead, wondering who will come to us next.  Boy?  Girl?  Baby?  Big kid?  And going back to just our three kids suddenly makes life seem easier.  Only three?!  Piece of cake...why did this used to seem hard?  I remember that feeling after adding each of our children as well...it is all what you get used to.

One other thing I want to note is that we have been careful to emphasize to our three kids that we will NEVER send them to another mommy, and that they are with us forever.  They have gotten a lot of extra snuggles and reassurance, and they seem to be handling it fine so far.  They mention Little Man now and then- like when we see a Mickey Mouse (his favorite) or when Daddy comes home from work (he would run across the whole house to get his hug).  I think that is good- we certainly don't want to forgot the kids that come through our home!

Read the other posts I have written about our experience with hosting children through Safe Families:
Our DecisionApplication and HomestudyHe's Here




Linking to Inspire Me Monday1Epic Mom

Room Renovations


Back in January, we decided that we should swap the kids' rooms around to give the two girls who share a room the biggest room, and to make room to host children from Safe Families.  Well, little did we know that we would begin hosting our first child in the middle of the process, or that things would be delayed (which we should always just assume, I suppose), but the rooms are finally done.  Or done enough.  So here are the before and after shots (note how Little Bee seems to sneak into pictures!):

BEFORE:


 AFTER:
Lego curtains, lots of room for Lego building!

Very studious looking desk (which is already covered in...you guessed it...Legos)




BEFORE:


 AFTER:
New-to-us bunk beds (thank you!!) with lots of storage.

Check out our finished Closet Treehouse here!

Dress-up corner hidden away behind the bed.

We have a few more things to finish up and hang on the wall (and the office floor to find), but we are thrilled with the new rooms and happy to get back to "normal" after all the chaos.  Phew!  Now are ready to host our first child (oh wait, we've had him for two weeks...glad we didn't let the madness stop us!)

Family Closet



We have been doing a bit of house reorganization lately. Recently I wrote about living in a smallish house and how every space has to work for us.  We had identified a few things that were not working as well as we would like in our current house:

1) We wanted more space in the bedrooms for the kids to play, and to house our foster children from the Safe Families Program.  (See how we turned one empty closet into a Closet Treehouse)

2) Laundry was a challenge- getting it collected from all over the house, washed, dried, folded and then the trickiest part...put away.  It seemed like someone was always asleep in one of the rooms I needed to get into, so baskets of clothes got left out, attacked by the baby and generally forgotten.

3) I either had to carry cloth diapers around the house to rinse them and keep them until it was time to wash them, or they ended up sitting for a few days and becoming harder to clean.  And the bedrooms didn't always smell so fresh...

So we came up with a new solution.  It is admittedly a little odd, but so far it is working really well for us.  We made a "family closet."  I first got this idea from the Duggar family (and NO, I have no intention of having 19 children...at least not simultaneously), and it seemed like it would simplify things for us.


We moved all the kids' dressers into our laundry/mud room, as well as the changing table.  We laid down a piece of carpet that we had, hung a tension rod to hang dresses, and put out a basket for kid shoes.  


Here is a picture of the other half of the room.  You see the washer and drier, utility sink and the clothes hamper.  I like to keep pretty pictures the kids have made for me in the laundry room to remind me how much I love them while I clean their stinky socks.  You can also see the rather "comprehensive" fuse, internet, cable, and other unidentifiable wire box that the previous owners installed.  Hubby took one look at it and knew this was the house for us!

I cannot tell you how much the family closet has streamlined things for us.  Dirty clothes go right into the hamper in the laundry room.  Socks and shoes are kept in the same room...right by the door we use to come in and out.  I can rinse the diapers in the utility sink right away, which makes the diaper laundry so much easier.  I can also treat stains right away.  I fold the laundry on the changing table and put it immediately into the correct drawers.  When I go to pack clothes, all three of my children's dressers are right there.  Outgrown clothes can go immediately out the door to the correct bin in the garage.

Hubby and I still keep our clothes in our nice walk-in closet, but for the kids, this is working great.  Eventually I assume they will stop wanting to change clothes in the laundry room and will choose to lay out their clothes the night before, or collect them and change in their rooms.  But for now, they seem pretty happy with it...and I certainly am as well!

What crazy creative organizing have you done at your house?

Linking up:

From House to Home
Thriving on Thursday

Our First Safe Families Child is Here!

And then there were four!

As you may have guessed by my absence here, this week we started hosting our first child through the Safe Families for Children program.  If you missed my first post on Safe Families, it is here. So far it has been quite a ride, but mostly in a good way.

Our house is in the middle of a painting-carpeting event, that includes highlights like exposed tack strips, bed frames in the living room and carpet on back-order.  Fun times.  If you know me, you can imagine how crazy this makes me.  In fact, in the spirit of honesty, let me give you a peek at my house this week:
One bedroom completely out of commission until the carpet comes in (but do you like the new curtains?!)

The living room is not fit for much living in
But the piece-de-resistance is really the office.  Yikes.
So when Safe Families called on Wednesday, hours after I was telling a friend that we were in NO way ready to take a child, of course we said YES!  Because really, what else do you say when there is a homeless child who needs a place to stay in February.  Inconvenient does not equal impossible.

I won't share any specific information about our little guy, other than he is two and a half, and cuter than a dickens.  It is a shame I can't share pictures, because I promise you his dimples would melt your heart.  He is settling in, finding his place in the pecking order (precariously placed between a one and a half year old, and a three and a half year old), and endearing himself to all five of us.

Obviously this is early days yet, and we have SO much to learn, but here are a few thoughts for the moment:

1) Sleepytime is hard.  As you'd expect, when naptime and bedtime roll around, our little guy starts missing his mama and expressing his grief over everything that is happening.  We have spent hours rocking, snuggling, laying on the floor next to and just holding him while he cries himself to sleep.  Bedtime is a two-person job- one to attend to our kids, and one to attend to him.  I tried solo naptime yesterday, and it was not exactly a success.  But hey- there are worse things that giving out cuddles.  And we are making progress.  Each night we have cut the bedtime upset down by about half...tonight it was only 45 minutes.

2) Adding an extra child adds one extra meal, one extra set of dishes, one extra pair of boots, one extra carseat to buckle...but five extra relationships.  Each of us is reacting in a different way.  Our other children are in need of extra love and reassurance from us right now.  Their grandparents have been super awesome...showering them with extra attention while we are busy.  Little Bee is in a mine-mine-mine screaming stage, and is used to her brother and sister giving in to her.  Our new little guy is less inclined to do that...which makes for a lot of refereeing on my part.  Note to self...clip the fingernails of both kiddos.

3) Advocating.  In two days I've already had several nice conversations with his mother, our local pharmacist, his pediatrician, insurance company, social worker, and our SFFC coach.  This is not hard, and I am more than happy to track down what our guy needs, but it takes time- both face time and phone time- which can be hard to come by with four kids running around.

4) We have been really proud of our kids...they have showed a lot of patience and compassion to the new child.  Lego came with me to pick him up and was awesome...he brought some toy cars to share, introduced himself to the child and his mother, and broke the ice for everyone.  He rubbed Little Man's back when he was crying on the way home, and picked up his cup for him about twelve times.  They have been very patient with the crying (and they are ALL sleeping in a room together at the moment, so they have heard all of it), they have snuggled him, shared toys and overlooked some hitting/pushing/toy stealing.  He is a very sweet, well-behaved child, but he is still a two year old after all.

5) People are awesome.  A million thanks to all our family and friends who are supporting us- we totally feel the love.  Offers of diapers, clothes, car seats, playdates, babysitting, hair-care advice...all so kind (and we are totally taking you up on it!)  They say that God doesn't call the equipped, he equips the called...and you have all been equipping us with what we need.  Thanks!!

So...that's the story so far.  I'm sure we will look back on this post some day and laugh.

linking up:

SFFC- Application and Homestudy Process


As promised, I am going to write a bit about the process of applying to become a Safe Family at SFFC. If you missed it, here is the link to the first post I wrote about our decision to become a host family.

Summary: it is very easy.  In fact, it almost feels too easy.  We are so used to living in culture of litigation and mistrust, that a process that relies on trust and common sense feels strange.  Nice, but strange.

The application process for Safe Families starts with an online application that requests information about your family.  There are questions about your home, number and size of bedrooms, safety of the home (do you have firearms, unprotected pools or ponds, etc), and information about your family.  There are a few "essay" questions that pertain to your family background, and they are especially interested in how you were disciplined growing up, and how you discipline your children, if you have any.  Because the backgrounds of the children in the program are so varied, they feel very strongly that corporal punishment could be very damaging for these kids (duh).

Safe Families is a church-affiliated program, so they ask that you get a recommendation from your pastor, as well as recommendations from two friends who can speak a bit about you.

The next step is to watch the training videos- which are each between 2 and 20 minutes long, and there are about 12 of them.  They cover the who, what, when, where and why of SFFC- including talks on biblical hospitality, working with the SFFC families, home safety, child development, what to expect when a child enters your home, and the logistics of the program.  We really liked the segments by David Anderson, the founder of the program...we felt that he said everything in a way that was smart and respectful to us and to the parents in the program.  He discussed many of the reasons that someone might end up in the program, and some of the issues that might arise.  He let common sense dictate his advice and he didn't patronize.  There were also a few segments from a pastor/psychologist who spoke about some of the faith issues involved in choosing to host a child and working with families in crisis.  We didn't learn much that we didn't already know, but it was a good refresher and did introduce us to some of the specifics of the program.  Not painful at all!

The final step was the homestudy visit.  I promised there was a bit of a story behind this one, so I will set the scene.  On Wednesday night we had a closing for our home refinance.  Murphy's Law held out and hours after writing a check for that, our water heater decided to give up the ghost.  We had to turn the water off to the house in order to stop the flood.  We spent much of the night up dealing with a screaming baby who could not be consoled.  Thankfully Hubby had already planned to work from home on Thursday for our homestudy, so he and I tag-teamed in the shower-less morning...he went to obtain a permit for a new water heater and arrange that, and I took the kiddos to the walk-in-sick clinic.  Little Bee ended up needing a nebulizer breathing treatment and meds for an ear infection.  I did the preschool-pharmacy-preschool-McDonald's run while Hubby did the Village Hall-ATM-Village Hall-Home Depot dance.  Good times.  Fast forward to an hour before J was to arrive to do our homestudy...the door to our utility closet has been removed.  There is a water heater sitting in our hallway.  The plumber is welding pipes...which has filled the house with smoke.  The smoke alarm is screaming...as is Bee, who is having another breathing treatment.  The Village inspector arrives to check out our new water heater and tracks mud everywhere.  The McDonald's bags are still on the table, above the sticky floor from where Lego tried to pour himself a glass of apple cider from a heavy gallon jug and dropped it.  Nothing says "quality home for children" like our house in this moment!

Mercifully, J was running a few minutes late and we were able to pull things together by the time she arrived.

The actual homestudy meeting consisted mostly of chatting.  She explained the program, discussed some issues that pertain to our specific county, asked us questions about ourselves, our kids and why we wanted to be a host family.  She took a quick look around the house (there was no deep inspection, measuring or formal assessment...which is good since my house was sporting the "lived in" look).  She answered questions we had.  Our biggest concern was whether or not we could fit another child in our house.  We were not sure what the space and bedroom requirement were for the program.  She assured us that our house would be fine.  If we were being licensed through the state, there would be very specific requirement for where a child could sleep, who could share rooms, etc.  Safe Families, as a voluntary program, is more relaxed about this...again, letting common sense guide policy (can you tell we appreciate this mindset?!).  Where we put a host child will depend on the age and gender.  Right now our girls share a room and our son has his own room.  We are looking to swap their rooms around soon so that the sharers get the more spacious room (again, stay tuned for more on the "making room effort").  We figure we can pull out the Pack n Play or put up bunkbeds or our extra toddler bed as needed.  I suppose that being packed like sardines into a safe and loving home is still a better situation than most of the children are coming from.  But if anyone wants to build an extra room onto our house, give us a call!!

We ended our session by being fingerprinted (which she kindly did right there, rather than us having to go have it done at the police station).  Now we wait 6-8 weeks for the fingerprints and background checks to be processes. Then we should have the green light to host our first child.  When SFFC gets a child, they post it on the message board, including details about the child's age, gender, reason for placement, estimated length of stay and any special needs or issues.  When we see a child that we feel we could host, we let them know.  We get to choose our placements, and are never forced to take a child that we do not wish to host.  It is a bit heartbreaking reading the posts (we are on the mailing list, but still awaiting our final okay to host).  I predict some hard conversations about which children we can realistically host, and some difficulty in having to say no.  But we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

As of now...a bit more waiting and a bit of space-making!
We just need a bit of this...

And a bit of this.

Our New Adventure: Safe Families for Children


Things here at home have leveled off lately.  We no longer have a *baby* in the house...she is toddling her way into being a walking, talking, sleeping through the nighter.  We are getting the hang of this homeschooling gig.  We are well settled in our house.  Life is pretty sweet right now (knock on wood!).  So it is time to shake things up a bit, don't you think?

Our new adventure: becoming a host family for Safe Families for Children.  In a nutshell, it is much like being a foster family, but rather than being licensed through the state to care for children that have been removed from their parents, we voluntarily take children that parents voluntarily place with us during a time of crisis.  Kids come into the program for any numer of reasons; homelessness, loss of job, addiction, domestic violence, hospitalization of parent, referral by DCFS...the list is very long.  The kids range in age from newborn to parenting teen, though we will be taking children in roughly the age range of our kids.  The length of their stay can range from 2 days to a year or more, with the average being a couple of months.  Safe Families works to find a safe home for every child they are asked to take, whatever the reason.

What we think is particularly neat about this program is that Safe Families, and we as a host family, get to work with the parents as they work through their situation.  This means that we can help the children talk to, visit and stay in contact with their parents.  We can offer some mentorship, help them find resources, and just provide a listening ear and sense of community.  These are families who have no one else to turn to.  We were touched by this question in our training: "if you were to lose everything you had, how long would it take you to secure a meal?  housing for the night?  housing for a month?"  For us, the answer would be the length of one phone call, one facebook status, or walk to the house next door.  We are so blessed.  But the reality is that for some people, they have nobody to turn to.  What a privilege to get to be that person for someone.

Now, we are not totally naive (delusional).  We know this will be hard.  We know that we cannot change the whole world.  We expect that this will open our eyes to needs that we had never even considered, and we expect to be humbled by our limitations in helping meet those needs.  But if we can change the trajectory of one family by just a few degrees, or provide some early love and bonding for a little one, we would be honored.

I want to write about bits and pieces of our experience here because I have not been able to find much writing on the experience of host families, even though there are 90 host families in our county alone.  Obviously I will be sensitive in what I share, but I hope that maybe a few of you out there might like to take this journey with us and learn about things that we never knew we never knew. So here we go!

My next Safe Families related post will be applying to SFFC and the homestudy process. It is kind of a funny story.

Other SFFC Posts:
Our First SFFC Child Is Here!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Welcome!

Hello!  Welcome to my new blog.  I found that I wanted to share more about our life and our everyday adventures, and especially more about hosting children through the Safe Families Program, but I also wanted to be a little more anonymous to protect the kids we host and our own family.  I'm glad that you found us, and hope that you'll continue to follow the blog.  I will be adding some post from the old blog over time.  We don't have a lot of earth shattering events, but we have a lot of little moments that are interesting or poignant, or most often- funny in a glad-I'm-not-her kind of way.  Happy reading!