Saturday, May 21, 2016

Adoption is...

Adoption is like going fishing.

(Betcha didn't see that one coming, did you?)

Fishing: You check the weather, gather your equipment and supplies, get in the boat or stand on the banks of a body of water, cast, and wait.

Adoption: You find a time that is right for your family, do the paperwork and go to classes, get a call/maybe see photos or meet the child, receive a placement and wait.

Fishing: The fishing hole/lake/pond/river is huge.  There's a lot of other stuff in the water.  The chances of catching a fish are not guaranteed.

Adoption: There are so many kids waiting...there are many possible obstacles.  (Keeping it real!)  Also in the interests of honesty, nothing is guaranteed until a judge declares the adoption legal and official.

Fishing: You have to keep quiet or you might scare the fish away.

Adoption: You can't blab much about the case, confidentiality rules apply.

Fishing: You need patience.  Boat loads!

Adoption: You need patience.  Boat loads!

Fishing: This hobby can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be.  You can buy a boat, fancy lures and poles, go out on a chartered excursion or you could get a used pole and look for worms in your back yard.

Adoption: Private adoptions can be expensive.  Adoption through the state programs can be free.

Fishing: Worth it.  I'd be willing to bet that even when they don't catch anything, just about any fisherman will tell you they enjoy their time spent fishing.

Adoption: Worth it.  I'd be willing to be that just about any person whose life has been touched by adoption will tell you all about it!

(My daughter Colleen is adopted through the state foster care system.  We are also in the process of adopting two brothers.  Please know that the topic of adoption is very near and dear to my heart!  I may sound like I'm being silly by comparing adoption to fishing, but the issue of adoption is a huge one and I can't possibly explain EVERYTHING it is to me.  It brought me my daughter...adoption made it possible for me to love someone as my own even though we share quite possibly no DNA whatsoever...adoption was hard, it is beautiful, it is a tragedy that created a victory...and so much more!  When I find myself unable to fully express myself, like in this case, I often crack jokes and use humor to make a point.  That's sort of what I'm doing this fishing analogy is part joke but also part serious.  I hope that makes sense!!  As always, please feel free to email me or talk to me in person if you want to know more about adoption.  I'm always willing to talk about one of my favorite topics!)


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tips for traveling with foster children

We just got back from vacation - it wasn't the first time we took our foster children along.  Many people have asked if that's even possible and others have asked if it's advisable.  All I know is from my own experiences, which I'm happy to share.  I'm not an expert nor do I know everything, but we have taken many trips and I've learned a few things along the way.  Keep in mind that our experiences are all with the county/state public system, so your experiences might be different than ours.  Many of our children have or have had special needs, so our traveling advice is sort of focused in that direction, which might also be new for you.  Feel free to use some of our 10 basic ideas or add your own in the comments!
1) First of all, yes, it is possible to take foster children on vacation with you.  Begin by telling the caseworkers of your travel plans and of course ask if you can take the child/ren along.  It helps if you provide very specific details.  The goal is for the CW to present this to the bio parents and have them sign permission, but in every case so far, our CWs have told us they would go over their heads if need be and get a judge to sign.  A few parents signed yes, a few didn't care and the judge signed.  No one so far has put up much objection, to my knowledge.  The kids might miss visits but those hours can be made up before you leave or when you get back.
2) You really have to evaluate your family and the foster children's case to see if it's advisable.  When we were first approached about Colleen joining our family, we felt awful because we had a trip planned for that week and didn't want her going to respite for her first week home from the hospital.  The CWs made it possible for her to come along, if we wanted.  Of course we did!!  Now looking back on it, we were a little 'leap before you look'-ish because we didn't know the full extent of her medical needs.  It worked out fine though...we did visit an ER in Delaware for her feeding tube, but hey, it was a learning experience for all of us!  This time around, Bert and Ernie don't have medical needs, but they do have many emotional needs.  We prayed about it, talked about it and decided to give it a try.  We stayed with family, so that made it easier in a lot of ways.  We had help!  If the trip was solely us in a hotel, I'm not sure we'd have been ready to take them along.  Either way, keep in mind that time on vacation is great bonding between you and your foster child/ren.   That being said, there have been a number of times we have gone somewhere and found respite for our foster children.  We had plans before we knew about the kids and could not include them, we needed some self-care time, our activities would not be possible with a child of that age, etc.  There is nothing wrong with getting respite if you need it!
3) If your child has special needs and you are flying, be sure to tell the airline.  It helps tremendously!!  If you are just camping or something, like we have done in the past, make sure you take in account things like the noise of a campground or hotel.  Bring a noise machine from home to help them settle in at bedtime or bring extra blankets to make the camper/tent/hotel room darker if needed.  Consider the routine you have at home and find a way to duplicate it on vacation.  We have a rocking lawn chair and I'm totally planning to put that in the camper this summer.  We rock at home and I know how much my kids would miss it when we are on a camping vacation!
4) Hydrate and have lots of snacks.  This is huge!!!  Little people need to fuel up often and if your kids are like mine, food can often spell love and security.  The snacks they have in another state might not be the same you have at home, so your foster children might find great comfort in the fact that you packed their favorite granola bar or brand of cracker.
5) Don't plan any super expensive all day stuff until your family is ready.  Again, what works for you might be different than what works for us, but we have found that the best laid plans are easily disrupted.  If your foster child is overwhelmed, tired or feeling triggered, a whole day's worth of entrance fees to something can be lost.  If you have a membership to a local zoo, museum or garden, check to see if there are reciprocal venues that would allow you free or reduced membership.  We have done this many times!!  We have a science museum membership, a garden membership and at times a kids' museum or zoo membership and over the years it has saved us tons of money in different states!!  That way, if we need to cut our day short, we don't feel like we lost money.  Often times, though, we will just stick to low key or free things and the children are just as happy.  On the most recent vacation, we went to a free spray ground/splash pad and the kids had a blast!  Other examples would be things like Storybook Gardens in South Dakota or local county and state parks, small amusement parks like Bay Beach in Green Bay, or even local libraries!  My kids love spending the afternoon scoping out books in a new community!  You could also go geo-caching or just visit a school playground.
6) Be prepared to do a little extra advance planning or research.  If you have a foster child who is known to run off, you might want to see how many entrances or exits there are to a place.  Do your best to consider any triggers or uncomfortable situations ahead of time.  I think I'm preaching to the choir on this one, but sometimes in the hustle of getting everything ready, this can get overlooked.
7) Take a ton of pictures.  (I'm guessing a lot of us already do this!)  PRINT THEM.  I am totally guilty of letting vacation photos languish in a drive on the computer....I need to take my own advice on this one!!  I'm planning to print a bunch from our latest vacation to hang on the walls, tape to the kids' door and just put in one of those inexpensive photo books.  They love flipping through those =)
8) Bring lots of activities.  For my sensory kids, I brought these squishy dolls (like stress balls) that were a life saver!  I brought a few other things I didn't use much, but that was the best idea.  I also brought colored pencils (not crayons or markers which are known to wreck seats and windows and walls and oh just about anything) and big pads of paper.  I made sure everyone had lots of things to do with their hands - you could also bring lacing cards, matchbox cars, curly shoe laces, ribbon balls knotted up, a bag full of beads or beans, tangles, etc...
9) Designate a spot on your person that when waiting or walking together, the child/ren will be able to put their hand.  (Sounds weird but stay with me here...)  I have always told my 4 kids that if I don't have a hand left for them to hold or if my hands are full, they should stick their fingers in my pocket.  If I have no pockets, they should snag a corner of my shirt and hang on gently.  This has worked wonders for me!!  When we were in a hurry in the airport and I had a lot to carry, Bert stuck 2 fingers in my back pocket and we cruised along.  (That stinker told me a week later that he pilfered my grocery list from that pocket!!  Which explains why I thought I had lost it when we got to the grocery store that first night...oh well - at least he told me!)  When we are waiting, it's helpful for my kids to put a hand on my waist or belt and it gives them a physical thing to hang on to instead of drifting off.  I have found that it's hard for little people to stay close without a specific spot to focus on!  This is also great for in parking lots.  I know a friend who posted something about a magnet the shape of mom's hand.  If you are busy getting other littles out of your vehicle, you can tell the older ones to keep their hand on the mom magnet until you are all ready to go.  When I tried that trick, it rocked my world =)
10) Get books from the library about airports, camping or whatever kind of trip you are taking.  It's possible that your foster children have never flown before.  For us, it was really helpful to show pictures of the security check in, the baggage Xray process and the inside of the plane.  I knew that at least one of my kids would have anxiety with all the unknown, new stuff.  There are some really great books out there to help with this!  Also, get some books about the area you are going to be in, if possible.  If the weather will be different from where you live, maybe talk about that.  Talk about the different kinds of plants you will see, if there are going to be mountains or beaches, or what some of the tourist attractions might be.  Any advance info you can give the kids will be helpful.  On some trips we have had to tell the kids what to do if they saw a bear!  On another trip we told the kids about snakes and on another we made sure everyone could identify poison sumac.  Good times!!  All of these adventures are special treasured memories and I am so glad we have them!!
As I'm typing this, I realize a lot of it could be applied to people who go on vacations with their birth children...which is true, in part.  In general, there are many similiarites, but depending on the foster child/ren, your trip might look very different than you expected.  When we got ready to take our first vacation with a foster child, I remember feeling very overwhelmed!  I felt like a pioneer - the first person to walk through an airport with a medical pole and other assorted supplies!!  But then I got there and looked around...REALITY CHECK - there were lots of passengers of various abilities and needs that did not let their limitations get in the way of a vacation or disrupt their travel plans in any way.  On this last trip, we were traveling with 3 kids who have a collection of needs like sensory processing issues, attachment issues, ADD and ADD/HD, feeding issues and anger issues (to name a few!).  I will admit to feeling like it wasn't going to work, thus letting it all overwhelm me.  Then I was reminded that if we were going to be together (we were) and if I didn't just stop being their mom (I wasn't) then it didn't have to be any different than being at home.
A few final comments on trips or vacations...please know that for some, even going to grandma's house an hour away can be a vacation or special trip, equally adventurous and difficult, depending on the child/ren.  All of these tips could apply to trips like that too!!!  No matter how big or small, trips with foster children are special and worth it.  Remember to do something special or out of the ordinary to celebrate on longer trips - pass out temporary tattoos, eat ice cream for dinner one night, let the kids stay up late catching lightning bugs, go to that local festival with fireworks, etc....!!  The one we do the most is eating ice cream for dinner after a full day of food and fun!  We've found some really unique ice cream places on our trips and we look forward to this tradition each time!
Have you traveled with foster children?  Do you have any tips to share?  Thank you - I am always open to new ideas!


Monday, February 8, 2016

Random goals!

In case you haven't heard...there are more kids in our house.  Which is a pretty crazy way to start the new year, if you ask me!  Usually I make some goals for the new year, nothing too serious, and this year is a little different.  For various reasons, I am not really focused this year and I'm also exhausted!  My 'go to' way to 'get it together' is to make lists.  I really wanted to make these fancy goals this year, but I'll have to settle for a random list.
- Get back to working out.  Even just once a week!
- Get Bert and Ernie into some counseling, maybe even family counseling.  We've said that for almost every foster kid that has come into our house.  All of them have needed some form of it, but none more than Bert and Ernie.  In the past, it just didn't work out - either they were unable to attend due to their visitation schedule or they were too young to benefit much.  In our situation, there will be no excuses made.
- Go through the bin of school papers from past years.  I hope to weed out a would be nice to have a binder for each year.  That would be an improvement on my current filing system (aka dump it in the bin and deal w/it later)!
- Make a covered feeding station and dust bath corner for the chickens.
- Get a compost pile going again.
- Hang up the pic of Pippa and make a name plate for the coop.
- Grow stuff - we live in the woods, so there is tons of shade, but maybe people will trade veggies w/me?  I can grow plenty of things well, like greens and such, but between the shade and the deer, I'm not sure how successful I will be at growing a variety.  Either way, I need tend to growing stuff to feel happy =)
- Plan ahead some camping for the summer.  Schedule a camping date w/my aunt and uncle, who have a fancy new trailer, as well as with some willing friends!
- Give away the baby/little toddler clothes.  Seriously.  I have given a lot away and weeded a lot out, but the youngest is 4 and it will be at least 2 years before any new kids can come into our home.  I need to unload a lot of clothes.  I have some prospects - the crisis pregnancy center, a place that gives them away to young moms, a mission in Haiti, etc...but there are memories tied up in the clothes and it's so hard!  Baby steps, right?  Like I said, I've made a huge dent in it, but I can do better.
- Get back to Bible study of some kind.  It's been too long.  I used to do it online and I just haven't lately.  I was all set to join the one at church, but now I am no longer kid-less for the times they meet and childcare is not an option.  I have made it work before, I've seen the benefits in my life, but I'm just not there right now.
- Date nights need to happen.  I miss them a lot.  Another area where I make excuses.  I'm not ready to leave everyone w/someone yet.  Maybe if it was a duo of young people, like sisters or a brother sister team or something?  I don't know.  I've got ideas but still trying to find time to talk to people.
- Keep prepping food.  I have been impressing myself a bit lately by cooking a boatload of chicken breasts and then building various meals off of them.  I had my hubby pop popcorn and kept it in an ice cream bucket for quick, fairly healthy snacks.  I made a double batch of chili.  Who is this person?  Again, I'm not good at cooking and this is not really a huge deal to most of you, but I was pretty proud of myself.  I even invented taquitos!  Yeah, I know, I didn't invent them, I just made them from an idea out of my mind.  We've never had them b/c I was too scared they were hard to make.  They're not.  But you already knew that!
- Make a trail in the woods.  Or trails.  There are ridges that we could build forts on, but between the ridges it is boggy.  We'll need to build bridges.  We can't wait!  We should build tree forts, both on the ground and in a tree too.  We hope to put up swings of some kind...Oh man, I could stretch this goal out for a whole post on it's own!
- Get some decent family photos done.  I have a lot of friends who are photographers, but again I need to set it up.  I will try not to stress about what people will wear...I hate the monochrome, matchy matchy kind of thing...I have some ideas in my head of doing something different - it seems everyone around here does the beach thing.  I like that, but I'd love to do something in the woods!
- Decorate.  The kids' posters for their rooms have languished in a box for over a year!  I have gotten a few photos on the walls of the living room, but I plan to do more.  Some of that will happen after a major fix on the house, which will hopefully lead to some new furniture.  We would love to do a renovation too, but not sure that's in the budget.  It would be good to just start by decorating.
I'm sure this isn't it for my random goals....but my boy's practice is almost over, which means my relatively quiet free time is too.  I'm grateful for the chance to write more often!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Complex questions, simple answers? or vice versa!

Every time we have received a new placement into our home, it's common for people to see us and ask how it's going.  It's a simple question, really...most of the time we say 'fine' or 'good' and move on.  People who 'get it', though, they know.  
How's it going?
(Do they want the truth?)  "I mean, yeah, overall it's going well...there have been moments...I mean it's hard...but we're all in transition...but it's been pretty easy, I mean...once you've parented a kid, what's a few more, right?"  I find myself stammering around trying to figure out if the people want the long answer or the short one!  
So in an effort to answer the question (mostly for myself to remember!), I thought I'd write a blog post about it.  Then, I can think it through and answer as honestly as possible...
First things first.  I have found a blog name for the 2 boys - Bert and Ernie!  Bert is the older one; he is much more shy and quiet.  Ernie doesn't know the meaning of the word quiet =)  He has no fear, compared to Bert, who at times can be anxious about things, like the kiddie pool.  Bert watches and learns, is quick to give his food, his toy, his anything! really to help his brother's perceived sense of injustice.  Ernie is bold, vocal and strong!  He doesn't let his age, size or circumstances limit him.  They seem so different, yet at the end of the day, both just want to be held and loved.  
So - it is going well.  It's been 9 days since they have arrived and there has been a high level of activity in those days.  They started school!  Bert is in the 1st grade, while Ernie is doing half days of junior kindergarten 4 days a week.  Every day ( Ernie cries when we drop the others off at school...but one of the days we went open gymnastics family time and wow, did we have fun!  Both boys are great sleepers - but we've made sure there is lots of physical activity in our days, lots of gross motor stuff so that helps.  It's nice we can all go for big hikes in the woods, go to the Y or just spread out in our house.  We are 'remembering' what it's like to have kids younger than our own though - as parents, we have to kind of go through a re-entry - this is how we make potty pit stops to avoid accidents, this is how we provide snacks between meals so no one gets hangry and aggressive, this is how we look for signs of exhaustion (rubbing eyes, falling asleep on Moses 1 minute into Bible time, etc)...oh the things we re-learn now that there are 'littles' in the house again!  There are plenty of sibling spats, of course, but there are some really amazing things happening too.  I have to brag on my big kids - one day we had a particularly long time in the truck.  Ernie was just 'done' and 'over it', getting a little stir crazy.  At one of the pit stops, Moses moved up a row next to Ernie and was working on comforting him.  We were all relieved and grateful it worked!!  The next night, Bert really did not want to leave the Y - he was quite grumpy and for the first time we saw real tears from him.  (They were quiet tears, but they were there!)  After tucking the littles into bed, Dave texted me to say that on the ride home, Ernie started singing and comforting his big brother Bert.  "Jesus loves me this I know..."  Dave said he had tears rolling down his face!  I made sure to let Moses know that his action of comforting someone was not only noticed, but followed!!  The littles want so badly to be like the bigs, not just in the fun or silly ways, but in the way they treat others too!!  It was a powerful moment to see my 10yo realize this and make the connection.  He has been so helpful to buckle people in or tie their shoes...Sometimes sharing things like toys or your parents can be hard, but Colleen is constantly sharing her stuff.  Her and Ernie are often playing My Little Pony together and she is quick to make sure everyone has a car or something so that no one is left out.  When Ernie got a free lanyard from the Y for his ID card, Colleen started to bemoan the fact that she did not get one when she was 'new'.  "Here, you can have it!"  Ernie put it around her neck and this momma danced for joy!  I reminded everyone that this 'makes my heart big' to see and hear them loving on each other this way!  Colleen shares her things and the others have taken note and do the same!
Please don't think it's all roses and rainbows...there have been episodes of yelling and shoving and such, but honestly?  Those are short lived and each day that passes has seen these behaviors fall away.  We are figuring out what works and what doesn't.  We've made what feels like a million trips to the box store to be sure everyone has what they need (car seats? check!  socks? check!  a million boxes of cereal? check!) and the logistics of who goes where on what day is coming easier.  Some things we still need to figure out - 1) Date nights.  Dave and I did really good w/this a few years back, once a week we went out after bed time.  GOD BLESS OUR BABYSITTER WHO LEFT US TO BE A MARINE!!!  He was awesome.  Then he left and his sister came a few times - she's awesome too!  But then life got busy and we just sort of forgot to keep that going.  Since we moved, we've gone out maybe 3 times, thanks to our pastor's daughter.  She's a girl we hope to see more of!  I'm not sure in this season of transition we are ready to do that again, yet we desperately need to carve out a few minutes w/o kids.  All the trauma mamas and foster/adopt peoples are nodding their heads in agreement right now!  2) Going to just about any event where there is a crowd.  So far we've been to 2 small events, a gymnastics meet and a small party at church.  Both were acceptable to attend given that they had only one entrance/exit and we could see the kids at all times.  I know we have time to figure this out, but despite having 4 hands and 4 kids, large crowds are just not do-able yet.  Even going to grandma and grandpa's house would take a lot of advance planning and prayer at this point!  We're enjoying the 'cocooning' time and just being us together at home, but spring break is coming!  My teacher hubby is itching to get out of here and go someplace fun!  3) Car rides seem to end in a shout fest.  Dinners go well b/c everyone takes turns telling mom about their day.  In the car, there is always someone who wants music, someone who doesn't, someone who is convinced the other is breathing on them, someone who wants everyone to look out the window at that 'thing' they can't describe...AHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHHHHH!!!  So far, everyone seems to like the country music station.  I've tried the Disney station, general kid tunes, pop radio, etc...BUT!  Long trips (and by long, I mean more than 20 mins!) are unavoidable at times, given our situation, so we do need to figure this out.  Once, I managed to convince everyone to air drum, air guitar and air sing through 2 Led Zeppelin songs and hey, what do you know?  It worked!  (Ok, maybe it came out sounding like a demand, but when we were all laughing, no one seemed to care!  Just being real here!)  
How's it going?  Is that more than you wanted to know?  A lot of people (mostly casual acquaintances) hear me say it's going well and follow up by saying that we're doing something so good and nice...and then I stop them.  It's me/us who are blessed.  Our hearts are full and we are always growing and learning from our kids.  The grace they give me and each other is something truly special.  This road we have chosen to travel has bumps and very few road signs, but we are enjoying the journey and continue to press on toward the goal.
Oh blah, there was so much more I wanted to write about!  But's it's after 8 and due to football and a new improved staggered bedtime for all, I forgot to eat dinner.  We ate a late lunch and I wasn't hungry...but now I am...
All this to say, if you have been praying for us, keep it up!  We have had a lot of answered prayers (which is a whole different post!) but we can always use more =)  Thank you - it's going well...that's the short answer!  

Monday, January 11, 2016

Party of six

Our newest family 'photo'! The new additions to the family (2 boys, they still need blog names) will be coming HOME TO STAY this Friday!!! The adoption process has started but they are technically foster kids, so until adoption becomes official, we cannot post photos of them. The stick figure family will have to do for now! Sorry to our Facebook friends who have already seen this...but I wanted to be sure it was shared here too!!  I can't share much, as most of you know, but I promise that when I can, I will!!  The boys were here this past weekend for a sleep over and it went so so so well!!  It was practically impossible to say goodbye when we dropped them that point we hadn't said much to them about it except that they may be coming to live w/us.  We hadn't talked to the case worker yet (it was Sunday, after all) and we just didn't want to say anything ahead of time.  I can't wait to hug those boys again and have them here finally!!  Like I have said before, please pray for all of us as we transition.  There's school registration to navigate, doctor/medical/counseling appointments to set up, and groceries to buy!  =)  If you would have told me that I would be doing all this in the New Year, I'm not sure I would have believed you!  But I am beyond grateful to be doing all of it...

Sunday, January 10, 2016

How did we get here?

This month I am participating in an adoption talk link up.  A bunch of bloggers write on the same topic and the posts are linked up in one place.  The topic this month is Getting to Know You...we're tasked w/telling about ourselves or our family's story.  I feel like I've already done some of that here (a 10 things list!) maybe it's time for something new?  I thought I'd use this space to publicly thank some people who have positively influenced me/us on our journey through foster care and adoption.  I hope it might also serve to fill in a little of our back story and then if you want to read some current stuff, you can find it here...

First and foremost, thank you Heavenly Father for my love of children.  From babysitting, to working at the university's daycare, then to teaching and raising my own children, I have always had a deep love of kids!  I have been blessed w/many opportunities to be around kids who make me laugh, cry and feel young again =)  Also, thanks for the clunk on the head when I was stubborn and didn't want to do foster care.  All I could think about was 'my' kids leaving 'my' house and not being a part of 'my' life after they went back home...thanks for the reminder that none of it is mine, but it's all Yours Lord!  It's been a blessing to call the kids 'mine' for a while, all the while knowing that putting their family back together could mean a victory for the community.  No, it doesn't always end like that, but there are times when it does.  Thank you Lord for helping me see the many gains for all when we simply serve others.

Thank you to Mark (and his wife!) who grew up w/my dad in the same neighborhood...thanks for staying in touch w/my dad.  Your family, made up of birth children and adoptive children of all different colors, abilities and ages, was/is an inspiration to me.  When I was real small, your family came to visit us once.  I decided I wanted to be just like you when I grew up.  Every year you write these notes to my parents at Christmas and I dig through the basket of cards to find yours.  If we were of the same generation, I'd want to be your neighbor and BFF.  Scratch that first part, can we be neighbors and BFFs anyway?

Thank you to that curly haired blue eyed boy who didn't flinch when I said I wanted 13 kids.

Thank you to the pastor's family who has 28 (!!!I think that's right, the # may have changed by now) adopted children, again, of all different ethnic make-ups, abilities and ages.  We have learned much from you and your children...

Thank you to the DV family - we asked you so many foster/adopt questions and filed the stories of your experiences away for future reference.  You constantly reminded us to take care of ourselves and our marriage when we had foster kids!  It's so hard and so so so so important!!  This is something we continue to learn and now remind others about.

And this thank you is embarrassingly late.  Like 6 years late!  To Dawn YH, thank you for bringing a gift over when we received our first foster child.  You celebrated w/me like one should celebrate a new family member!  At the time, I didn't see how huge this was.  Just the other day I woke up crying thinking about you sharing our joy!  You were a living example of Romans 12:15.  A lot of people who don't do foster care or adopt, don't readily understand how much we need gestures like that!  Even though we don't build our family in the 'normal' way, it's still nice to have someone recognize what's happening and treat us 'normally'.

Thank you to Tracy and her family!  On adoption day, we rounded the corner on our block.  We saw a bunch of colorful decorations and thought someone was having a party.  As we got closer, we saw strings of balloons stretched between the trees and OUR house!!!  Thank you so much for getting your feet wet in the snow and taking time in the cold to do that for us!!  We left it up for the rest of the winter and we were 'that house' - every time we looked out the window, we couldn't help but smile!  People would drive by and honk!  This is only a slice of the encouragement and support you have given us over the years.  The tears, the books, the hugs, the food issues/trauma solidarity...and also thank you for speaking truth and life to us about God's plan for our children.  We know it but sometimes we don't KNOW it!  We love you guys so much and are blessed by you in many ways.

Thank you to our respite providers...I hope you know we'd do much of the same for you if ever you need it.

Thank you FB group...I know I can instantly put up ?s of any kind and get rapid responses.  Insurance problem?  Check the group.  Oh wow, the gov system is down for the day!  No wonder it got rejected!  Thanks for the 1800# to clear that up...Have a tax question?  You guys rocked it.  Found the form easily and didn't freak out when we were 'checked'.  And double checked.  Ideas on how to handle certain behaviors?  Book suggestions, webpages and personal anecdotes.  Love it.  Not to mention the way you all 'get it' and are quick to encourage, defend and protect people you will never meet.  You have no idea how much I value the 'village' you are to me.

Thank you thank you a hundred times thank you to our family and extended families!  You pull out extra toys when we come to visit, set extra chairs at the table and buy extra presents for under the tree.  You pray for us.  Some of you yourselves have adopted and we don't talk enough.  I personally am so grateful for the love shown in my family.  Many families say it and of course I'm biased but mine really does show it in a big way.  Countless times my family and extended family have been there for us, from teary phone calls to giving us furniture to feeding my crew.  I don't thank them enough!

Finally, thank you to the kids who have allowed us to parent them, for however long.  I doubt any more than 1 or 2 of them are ever going to read this, but know this: YOU ARE LOVED and MISSED.  You have changed us, molded us and left an imprint on our heart.

As I wrap this up, I realize that I haven't said much about me.  Maybe I shouldn't have joined this link up?  But then I thought about it, and I realized that if you really want to know me, you should really get to know the people 'behind the scenes'...the people who hold us up when we feel like we can't do it anymore, the people who cheer us on, the people who inspired us on this journey!  I wouldn't be ME if it wasn't for these people =)


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

(Once again, we are not sending Christmas cards out in the traditional way - see the end of this post for more on that...We hope you enjoy this online version! If you regularly read my blog or see my Facebook posts, some of these stories will sound familiar...)

I thought I was busy this year, but when I went back to see previous Christmas posts, I don't think I wrote one in 2014!!  Now I feel pretty smug about getting this one done, even if it is later than I would like.  Normally, I would come up with some sort of special theme for our Christmas letter, but this year my brain feels too old and tired to think of something unique!  So this is an ordinary top ten list, which doesn't mean there were the only 10 important things that happened, just 10 that I'd like to highlight here...remember that you can click on any of the photos to see them larger =)
TOP TEN of 2015
(in chronological order)
1) Team Chran wedding - 
In February, I was a bridesmaid in the wedding of a good friend.  It was a beautiful day and the wedding was so much fun!  More importantly, two God loving people were united in marriage and they began a journey together that will never end.

2) Moses' gymnastics season - 
This year Moses was able to participate in the State Gymnastics meet for boys!  It was held in Sheboygan and it was a great way to end the season.  Since then, a new season has begun and Mo was very excited in February when he won his first medal!  Slowly his strength and flexibility are improving and he is beginning to make the connection between all the practices and the results at the meets.  We are looking forward to his first boys only meet in January of 2016!

3) Spring Break in TN w/good friends - 
There is absolutely nothing like going to see some of your best friends and using their location as a vacation destination!  In fact, we've done it for quite a few spring breaks in the past!  This time we parked our camper close to our friends' home and shared conversations, meals and even tears.  We miss them so much!!  (Side note - we need to take more pics when we get together!)

4) Colleen's dance recital - 
This past year Colleen chose to try dance instead of gymnastics.  She was very excited to get a new leo and some ballet shoes =)  Her recital was a new experience for all of us!  How my tiny ballerina shined!  The focus it took to complete the dance steps was a challenge and she rose to it.  Afterwards she was adorned with a medal and the hugest smile appeared on her face.  She smiled for pictures with us and didn't shy away from being the star of the show.  If you know her (or any child who suffers from attachment issues), you know that this is RARE.  I just kept hugging her but I made sure to take thousands of photos too!!  I want that moment to live in my brain, front and center, so I can just bask in it when there are difficult days.

5) We CLOSED on the sale of our previous home - 
In 2014 we packed up our lives and in the first week of Dec we moved into a new home.  In spring of 2015, we were finally ready to put our previous home up for sale.  We started the process with prayer - we were warned that a 4 bedroom house could be either a blessing or a curse - many people desire it but cannot afford it...we felt some pressure to lower the price we wanted but in the end, I think the realtor helped us choose just the right asking price.  Within the first week, there were many showings and much interest!  In a short time, an offer was made and accepted.  And just like that - the SOLD sign was up and we were free of the 2nd mortgage!  We truly believe this is a miracle - God did this, not us.  The 'stats' and 'trends' predicted we would be sitting on the house for a while...but when God shows up, the stats and trends are thrown to the wind!  It was a bittersweet time for us, one we will never forget.

6) Ninja mud run - 
In July, Moses participated in a Dirty Ninja Mud Run!  It was right up his alley - obstacles, mud and showing off his skills!  I was that crazed parent trying to keep up and run alongside the course, getting photos and videos but trying to stay dry and clean =)  It was so much fun to watch and Moses had a blast!  It's on our calendar for next year - if you know of a kid who likes that kind of stuff and wants to join - let us know!

7) Building a chicken coop - 
One of the biggest summer projects we decided to undertake was to build a predator proof chicken coop.  We lost a chicken to a raccoon in our old coop, but that was definitely not predator proof.  Then a friend loaned us some live traps and we caught many (over 10!) over the course of a month or 2.  It was clear that it was time to build a serious structure.  My handy husband made a plan and we looked at the materials we had available in our collection.  Together we worked (but mostly he did) in the backyard and driveway.  There was nail gun use, hammer use, ladder use and even painting!  I am very proud of Dave for designing and building a structure that is predator proof and will withstand time and elements of nature!

8) Losing Pippa -
One of the first chickens Dave ever hatched (back when he was a 4K teacher and hatched eggs in his classroom), was Pippa.  She was so unique!  She had a mohawk, was more than one color and was amazingly friendly.  She was the tiniest chicken we have had to date, but she was always the #1 in the pecking order.  Her tiny self kept all the others in line!  This December, we put a light in the new coop to see if we could get the new chickens back on track, laying eggs again.  Within days, Pippa started to look not well.  She hasn't laid eggs in a while and we don't expect her to since she is of 'advanced age'.  However, the light seemed to trigger something in her body and she began to stand like a penguin.  Her head was back, her tail was pointed down and she often stood in the middle of the fray, looking asleep.  She moved slow and appeared to be in pain.  After reading about her penguin stance, we decided she was probably egg bound (not with a real egg, but a liquid one or maybe elements of a shell had broken inside...).  Either way, we gave her a nice warm bath to make her feel more comfortable and then Dave ended her misery.  We sent her to chicken heaven....I feel like I am writing more about this than any other part of our year!!
But you have to understand two things...1) Pippa grew up alongside Moses and Colleen, almost literally since as a chick she was in a box inside our house.  Then she often was at our sides outside in the yard and became like any other pet - much loved.  That being said...2) In our family, we love our pets but they are still pets.  Not people.  We would rather spend time, money and energy on nursing sick or hurt people than on pets.  We loved Pippa but not enough to take her to a vet.  Our love for our animals has limits and boundaries.  We consider the chickens friends, but they are still farm animals.  The whole situation was a wonderful opportunity for our kids to express their emotion and yet learn about the difference between caring for people and caring for animals.  We have since decided to name the new chicken coop after our sweet Pippa - we're planning to make a sign!

9) Meeting one of Colleen's birth sisters - 
We added a special chapter to our personal 'book of adoption' this year.  We have never kept the fact that she has a birth family from Colleen - we've told her their names, their approximate ages and what they look like (to the best of our knowledge).  Colleen is the 7th born to her birth mother (all girls!).  When we were going through the adoption process, we found out that the 5th born was also adopted.  The interesting part (to us!) was the fact that her birth sister's adopted family was a friend of one of our we agreed to exchange info, make contact and maybe meet.  It's been 5 years and for various reasons we have only sent messages but never met.  This December, Colleen's birth sister and her (adoptive) mom were in a nearby town and we took the opportunity to get together.  It was new and maybe awkward at first, but I think it went well!  We hope to stay in contact of course and maybe meet again sooner rather than later.  

10) Adoption profiles - 
Can I pack a little more adoption news in this post?  YES I can!  So in case you didn't already know, we are on the adoption wait list.  We receive child(ren) descriptions, decide if we want to send our home study and be considered for a match.  If the child(ren)'s case worker thinks we are a match, she/he would then 'present' the child(ren) to us and at that point, we would officially say yes or no.  Over time we have seen a number of profiles, sent our home study in to a bunch and had 4-5 child presentations.  The latest one was last week.  When we started this chapter of our adoption journey, we said we are interested in both siblings and 'singletons'.  The latest child presentation was for 2 brothers =)  Please pray for us as we go forward in the process and meet the boys!  More importantly, pray for the children, regardless of what the outcome is.  It's no secret that children waiting in the state adoption system have most likely lived through their fair share of grief and pain.  Recently I saw a graphic called the trauma tree - I think it accurately shows how children like Colleen and those who are adopted can be affected by trauma at any age, even in the womb.  We are grateful for the struggles we have experienced because it means we are a unique family, bonded through love and grace even if we don't share DNA.  The joy we have overflows and that is part of the reason we'd love to adopt again!

As this year comes to a close, we've been enjoying looking at photos and talking about our plans for 2016.  In this past year, we have settled into a new community, a new church, and for Colleen a new school...we've had some highs and some lows adjusting.  In almost everything though, we are reminded that we are blessed.  Just today some new friends and neighbors came by with some Christmas cookies!  So many people have stepped up and made us feel welcome and loved.  It's our prayer for you, dear reader, that those feelings are present in your life too!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from our family to yours!

We hope you enjoyed this green version of our Christmas card! (If you still wish to receive a paper copy, leave a comment.) There are lots of reasons we decided to do things differently this year (again!)'s a few:
1) Save postage. We love you, but we're cheap!
2) Save paper. You just recycle those cards after you read do recycle them eventually, don't you??
3) Save printing costs. See reason #1!
4) Save stress. Nothing to print, sign, stuff, address...
5) Expand our options! Now you can see a practically limitless amount of photos.
6) Our greeting to you is saved in cyber-space for posterity! Yes, we can be that vain sometimes!
7) It went so well the past years...we heard a lot of positive responses, and even some people who said they'd try it themselves. Welcome to the dark (green) side! (Sorry that was a goofy Star Wars joke...)