Sunday, June 11, 2017

Foster care 101

You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can't make her stop teaching!

(...I have edited this post and agonized over it so many times...I have prayed over it and shortened it and added to it and thought of deleting it...I have wanted to write something like it for so long though, so I finally decided to publish it!  As it is!  I won't re-write it again!  I just wanted to make sure you know that I don't pretend to be perfect or know all the answers...but since I/we have some experience in foster care, I thought it might be useful to share some of it.)

A while ago, I posted in my various social media accounts that I was taking questions about foster care and adoption.  Any kinds of questions!  So many people come up to us and say that they've thought about doing it, but...OR they say they want to talk to us about it and they're curious but for whatever reason it doesn't happen.  Sometimes it's hard to find time in our schedules or people are intimidated or maybe they are afraid to ask questions...?  Don't worry, it takes a lot to offend me!!  One thing I have learned from talking to people about foster care (and from my own personal background), is that there are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation floating around out there.  I thought I would take this opportunity to write up a primer, of sorts, for foster care and adoption, for those of you who are too chicken to talk to me!  KIDDING!!  In all seriousness, though, please let me know if you have more questions or if I missed something.  Now there's a couple of things we should get out of the way before I address some of the comments/questions I received...

The first thing I need to point out here is that I am not an expert.  I am doing my best to provide info but also to share some real life experiences.  I am a current foster mom, an adoptive mom, and a REAL MOM.  But I do have to give this disclaimer - our experiences are just that - OUR experiences.  You might know someone who had a different experience.  That's ok.  You might know someone who lives in a different state, where the rules are different.  That's ok.  You might find your experiences to be different that ours.  That's ok.  We have so far only done foster care through the public system, in our county and through the state.  We have so far only adopted through our state's public system (WI).  I may not have info on private agencies, but I would be THRILLED if you asked and I could help you!  Please know that most of the data, facts, info etc I have included in this post is based off the the WI public system of foster care.  Alright, now that we've got that straight...let's get to it!

Next - some practical info.  If you are interested in foster care, you probably wonder where to start.  A really great resource can be found here - the WI Department of Children and Family Services website.  If you are looking for specific county by county info, you can find each county's foster care coordinator's contact info here.  Keep in mind that Milwaukee County is separate/different from all the others.  You can find more info about Milw Co. by visiting this site - BE A KID HERO!  There are various private agencies and I apologize that I don't know much about them.  (I've seen ads in the newspaper, so I know they are out there.)  If you or someone you know is interested in foster care but do not live in WI, I can still help you find that info - just let me know.  (Side note, I am not focusing much on adoption in this post, so I'll save those links for another time, but please know that I have tons of both private and public adoption contacts if you are interested!)  Most people start their foster care journey by either making a phone call to the foster care coordinator or they see a poster about an informational meeting and decide to attend.  Once you've made your intentions known to the Dept. of Family Services (or whatever your local agency is called), you will receive a fat packet of paperwork to fill out!  Don't be scared...there's background checks, a list of the regulations, medical forms, etc.  Nothing too serious.  After you turn your packet in, you will be contacted to set up an interview, where they will ask you questions about why you want to do foster care or about your childhood.  I remember being really nervous, but honestly, it's no big deal!  There is also a home study, where a worker will walk through your house and check that things are legal.  (Medications are locked up, there's a railing on the stairs, etc...)  We fretted so much that our house was clean and super safe but padded bumpers on coffee tables are not necessary!!  If something is found to be out of order, you are given a chance to fix it =)  After a bit of back and forth, if everything is set, you will receive your license and your home will be considered 'open'!  Then the fun begins!  You will receive calls about kids and after hearing some details, you can say yes or no to the placement of the child/ren in your home.  Most likely the kids will arrive with a file, which you will stay up reading the first night.  Chances are you'll need to make a run to the big box store to get some things or pull a few things out of storage.  Some people ask friends if they can borrow some things until they can get what they need too.  There's so much I could say about this stage, but there are lots of other things to talk about too, so let's move on.

Often people ask how we came to the decision to do foster care...so I should probably start there.  When I was small, I loved kids!  I couldn't wait to grow up and babysit!!  Sometime in the middle of grade school, I read the book Cheaper by the Dozen.  In no time at all, I made it a life goal to have 12 kids, no 13!  Depending on when you asked me, it was either 12 or 13.  Fast forward to college, when I met a guy who didn't flinch when I told him my life goal of having a large family.  We married and bam - infertility.  I'll spare the details...we had a biological child but UGH.  It was hard.  My pregnancy was difficult, it took so much to get pregnant, and I was sick of being a science experiment.  So many nights crying, yelling at God, asking why He would give me this HUGE desire for a HUGE family but then basically a point 1 percent chance of getting pregnant...!!!  Yep, I was exhausted, probably suffering from post-partum and just generally over dramatic.  My husband had brought up foster care/adoption before we had a bio kid and when he asked again - I freaked out a little.  OVER MY DEAD BODY would I ever give a kid back...once they're mine, they're mine and I would NEVER EVER EVER do that!  (Side note - I have a lot to say about spouses not being in agreement on this topic, but that feels like a whole 'nother post.  I think that both halves of the couple should independently talk to people who are already foster parents separately.  I think they should both do their own 'research'...maybe attend a training or Q&A session...this is just my opinion.  A lot depends on why one person is not on the same page as the other.  Feel free to contact me to talk if you want more suggestions or ideas!  Maybe I'll write a future post...)  So anyway - adoption crossed my mind but that seemed really hard too - I mean, some people go broke trying to do that!  I just couldn't see it.  It was nuts that he even brought it up.  BUT - he made me promise that we'd look into it.  Then....I'm not really sure what happened.  One night I was crying again....and it hit me.  The whole point of foster care wasn't to build/grow MY family - it was to care for a child for a while, so that another family could be built up and restored!  I almost fell out of bed, it was like God hit me w/a 2x4!!  If you knew you could make your community a better place by helping families grow and flourish, wouldn't you try to help?  I love going places and seeing families at the park, at festivals, or other events around town!  Some families need extra time and help to better themselves, and we could be a part of that process.  We didn't jump in right away...but we continued to collect information...we went to an informational meeting on adoption, hosted by a private agency and all I could think of was the ever changing rules, regulations and financial component.  Then we went to an informational meeting for foster care and adoption through the state and I'm not going to lie, the comparison was DRASTIC.  There are so many kids waiting in 'the system', it really tugged at my heart strings....so I was back to the thought of filling my house w/foster kids.  =)  Long story short (or medium?), we fostered a handful of kids before being approached about adopting a child through the state.  Our first adoption was relatively quick, considering everything we have learned since then, and we went back to fostering for a while.  At the moment we are in the process of adopting siblings through the state again, but we are most likely not going back to fostering.  So that's a bit of our back story (I obviously shortened it!) and it should bring you up to speed as to where we are in the process now.

Frequently we hear, "Oh I could never do that (foster care)....!"  To be honest, that WAS me.  The thought of saying goodbye to kids was SCARY and grief is a huge part of foster care, for both the foster parents and the kids in care.  Think of this though - they are taken from the only family/house they know (often by a police officer and series of strangers/social workers) and brought to a new home, filled with strangers.  They truly grieve this and often have no idea how to process these changes.  I tell you this not to scare you away, but to be honest.  My grief of saying goodbye when it's all over, said and done, is nothing compared to what I presume they are feeling when they first come to my home.  I am an adult, I can process my grief, I have an established support system and skills to deal with it.  If I feel it is too overwhelming, I know where to go to get help.  (Side note - call me if you don't.  I know people =)  I can hook you up w/some amazing resources!)  Anyway - yes, saying goodbye is hard. We have had placements come for a weekend, and others that were in our home for two years!!  We made awesome memories, made photo albums for them...we loved and cherished our time together!!  We were sad when they went home but absolutely thrilled that a family was put back together and doing well!!!  That's the real joy of foster care, the hope that can blanket over your grief!!  You get to share the joys of raising a kid!!  One thing I'd like to point out is the fact that Moses was already born when we started.  Which means, he, too, was going through all of this.  He bonded w/our first placement, a boy about 2 years younger than him - we bought matching shirts!  They were so adorable!!!  We told him that we would be A's family for a while and that we would treat him as our son, brother and friend.  We explained that at the end of A's time w/us, we would say goodbye but that he would always be considered family in our hearts.  We talked about families helping families and that to us, that's what makes a strong community.  Honestly, Moses didn't think twice about it.  Obviously there were sibling 'spats' and the usual amount of sibling jealousy, but I don't think Moses ever thought that we were anything but a 'normal' family.  Now Moses is almost 12 and loving 'extra' people comes quite naturally to him.  In my opinion, we don't give our kids enough credit.  First of all, they have no reason NOT to love someone.  They don't ever seem to notice physical differences or care about a person's housing situation or how many items of clothing they have, etc.  They follow our lead, they love easily and are far more generous and gracious than we tend to be.  Yes, we all shed tears when we said goodbyes, yes we all spent time remembering and processing together.  My job as his parent, is to help him do that.  I'm not saying every kid can find it as easy as he does, but you know your kids.  You are the best person for them to take their cues from and you can give them the tools they need to handle the changing shape and size of a foster home.  (Again, I'm not an expert or psychologist, these are my opinions, but I think other foster parents would tell you the same.)

(Remember - if you want to chat more about any topic, if you want to talk further about something I have moved on from, please comment, email, call or ask me in person.  I'm trying to keep this from being the world's longest blog post!!)

Another comment we hear from people is that they are 'too old' to do foster care.  Have you ever had a car that was so old or junky, but you still drove it b/c it was better than no car at all?  (Oh dear, did I just compare more experienced humans who have been on this earth longer than me to a junky car?  That is NOT how I feel about you, but I need this analogy to work, so bear w/me!)  For a child, having no parent is worse than having a loving parent who might not be able to run fast or sit on the floor or do 'new math'.  It really doesn't matter if you can do those things - can you love someone?  Can you give them guidance, feed them, provide them a place to sleep, play games w/them, hug them, laugh w/them, hold their hand when they go to the doctor, tell them stories about how the world works, protect them, pray for them, pick them up from school, cheer them on at their activities, etc?  There are so many things you can do AT ANY AGE that would be beneficial for a child.  I know people who were in their 50s or 60s who have adopted young children just beginning school.  Having a strong community/village around you is a tremendous help!  But it's still possible!!  Now I completely understand if that's just not your thing...but maybe you could be a respite provider?  Respite is the word for short term care.  For instance, when we would go on vacations, there were times the kids were not allowed to come w/us.  In those cases, we set up respite care for the kids.  They spent the weekend w/a family who was fully certified in foster care and were willing to love on 'our' kids for a short time.  There are a lot of people of all ages that do this - they love the short term nature!  They are able to help kids and foster families, supporting them and filling a real need.  Many people enjoy this b/c they don't need all kinds of baby stuff in storage (most foster families send along everything the child would need) or supplies for every age.  They just open their home for a short time (from a few hours to a week, for example) and then go back to their daily lives.  This is a valuable resource for foster families!!!  There is a HUGE NEED for respite providers around here...

...which is a nice segue into another topic.  Lots of people don't feel led to foster or adopt.  There are still many ways you can be supportive or be actively involved!  Besides respite, you could do things like donate suitcases or duffel bags to your local department of child protective services.  Many times when a child is removed from the home, their clothes or personal items (if there are any) are shoved into a trash bag.  Every child, w/the exception of 1, who has entered my home, came this way.  There are great organizations like Sweet Cases (I'm sure there are others!) who give you duffel bags to decorate and then get them in the hands of kids going into care.  I've seen lots of lists of what you could do for families, ranging from things like pray for them to pay for their family vacation!  That doesn't seem too practical for most people, but here are a few ideas that might be right up your alley...
- Ask to redecorate the 'visit room' - where birth parents and their children have supervised visits in the local department of health and human services (or whatever they call it where you are from).  Many times these rooms have a tired old couch/furniture and some outdated toys in them.  Kids go there once or more a week and see the same toys...I know a few of mine frequently complained that they didn't have anything new to do!  Like all kids, they wanted something fresh!  You could stock the room w/new crayons and coloring books, a few new or gently used toys, books or games or even ask if they would be open to craft projects the kids could do w/their parents!
- Bring the families a meal.  Lots of people bring new moms and dads a meal when they have a baby, but not many people think of it for foster parents.  When we get new kids, it's a little chaotic!  A meal would be nice - those having a baby had 9 months to prepare, sometimes all we get is 30 minutes and we are adding a new person (or even more than one person!) to our family.
- Buy them a case of toilet paper (or any common household supplies).  Ok, that sounds weird now that I typed it out, but seriously!  When you add new people to your family, you suddenly start using more toilet paper (or baby wipes).  This is something that sometimes gets left off the list when we make a late night run to the store...And well, we all use it!  It's a gift you don't have to worry about someone returning!
- Get certified to be a babysitter or respite care provider.  Different states/agencies have differing regulations, so check w/the foster parents.
- Ask to 'sponsor' a foster child's participation in an activity - maybe you could supply the child w/soccer shoes and shin guards, or pay an entrance fee to a camp or summer program.
- Offer to go along clothes shopping!  Many times it's overwhelming to take a child whom you have just received into care to the store since you don't know their sizes.  It involves a lot of trying things on and sometimes the kids get bored.  You could help organize the clothes and keep a parent company.
- Offer your photography services.  Only once did we pay for pictures to be taken w/kids in our care.  It's expensive and if kids are coming and going, it's hard to justify the cost.  I wish we had done it w/all of them!!  It didn't need to be professional, but having the advice or services of someone w/photography skills greater than mine (which is not much at all) would have been helpful.
- Use your hobby or interest (besides photography) to help a foster child. For example, if you're mechanically inclined, you might find good, used bicycles and repair and donate them to a foster care agency or a foster family you know.  If you are good at mending clothes, you could help patch the knees of pants (I could really use you right now!!).
- Throw special occasion parties for foster and adoptive children in your area. Help celebrate birthdays or adoption days!
- Truly, just checking in and listening is helpful.  Many times foster families feel isolated and like they don't 'fit in'.  They don't get as much time to practice 'self care' and something as simple as chatting for a few minutes can make them feel welcomed and relaxed.
That's about all I've got off the top of my head...but this list of 101 things is quite extensive.  The needs of a foster family change from time to time, so the best advice I could give is to ask a foster family if they need anything.  They might be to shy or humble to tell you anything, but at least you tried!

Alright, I think this is the world record for longest post...I had better stop here!!!  If you are curious about the length of placements we have had, you can check the 'Our Family' tab for a list of children (aliases used) who have been placed in our home and the dates when they were with us.  As I said before, our experiences may be different than that of others' you know, but it's a good way to quickly show what has happened on our foster care journey.  Thanks for reading all of this!  Thank you to those who have waited patiently - I had at least 3 people tell me they I needed to hurry and finish writing it already!!

One final note - we have found a great network or community of foster care families and we have benefitted greatly from the friendships formed.  We'd like to think that we have contributed in some small way to the growth of that community in our area.  In writing this post, I only hope to encourage and support others who are interested in both joining and building this community further.  If that person is you, dear reader, I would be overjoyed!!  I said it before, but it bears repeating - if we can help in any way along your journey, please ask!  But for now - class dismissed!!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Fill in the blanks

I posted this on another social media page, but in case you want to participate too...

"I've always thought about doing that..." or "I'd like to talk to you sometime about foster care and adoption..." I feel like people are timid when wanting to as me questions or actually set up a time to talk about these topics. How about this? In honor of May being Foster Care Awareness month, feel free to ask me just about anything. You can comment here, private message me on social media or email me. You can call too! I'd answer you individually, but if you'll allow me to, I'd also like to answer you in a future blog post. (I wouldn't use your name, but I'd ask your permission to use your question.) Please share this post w/anyone you think might have a question/concern/wonder aloud. Thanks! If I don't know the answer, I'll try to find it! I won't be pushy or preachy, but I'll attempt to answer w/facts and personal experience. I am not an expert, but I do know a few things. We've had infants, teens and a few in between! We have only done public foster care/adoption, but I know people who have gone the private route and would be willing to help answer questions too. I'd like to think that dialoguing about this will help educate people and put a stop to false impressions about the nature of foster care and adoption, so thanks for participating!


Monday, February 13, 2017

The thing of the month

In about a month, the TPR (termination of parental rights) trial will start for Bert and Ernie's bio parents.  That is, of course, unless it is re-scheduled like last time.  We never hold our breath - I'm sure I have said that here before...but we are looking forward to the trial beginning.  And ending!!
It's been 13 months since the boys have come to live w/us.  So much has happened in that amount of time!!  This past month to 6 weeks has reminded us that for as many steps as we take forward, we take a few back every now and then too.
Ernie is still a happy go lucky kid who keeps his emotions just under the surface.  He's our little mayor, making friends and leading a charge to do the next best thing.  He is quick to do kind things for others and enjoys the attention of his classmates and family.  Bert has dropped a lot of his insecurities, is starting to really read, and is flying through the swimming classes!  This kid taught himself to ride a bike, do back flips and just the other day he was working on teaching himself to skate like a hockey player.  His awareness of body mechanics and movement is a fun thing to watch - I'm pretty sure he'll excel at most sports if he can get the rules/'the plays' down.
Life has been busy for the rest of the family too.  We're in the thick of the gymnastics season for Moses, which means bleacher butt is a real thing we complain about.  =)  I have a very small part in a play with a faction of the same group I acted with in the past.  It's good to be around 'my people' again - no one gets an ESFP like other performers...!  I've been attempting to cook a few new recipes.  No one has died yet, so they've turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself!  I wanted to write all these big 2017 goals and I'm still not ready.  My head is filled w/things I need to get better at - but the rest of me is still in the mode of putting one foot in front of the other.  Baby steps.  The past 13 months have been pretty intense and although that intensity has decreased, I am being kind to my aging self and taking the 're-entry' process slow.  I've volunteered at the kids' school a few times, I've taken some naps, I've tackled a few house projects, I'm going to attend a 2 day conference, etc...things I couldn't do most of this past year.
I've seen some others post -read, do, be- lists...or something like this...and I've decided to try it this time!  It seems like a quick way to put down some short term goals.
Do: Fix the shelf in my room.  Go through the winter wardrobe and consign clothes.  Better organize the alcove area and get the boxes out of the front hallway.  Get more pictures on the wall!
Read: I'm slogging through some child development/discipline/parenting books right now.  I'm also trying to finish Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker.  My reading of that book has been interrupted many times - snort!  I'd really like to pick one 'for fun' book to read and of course, establish a better Bible reading time/routine.
Learn:  I'm challenging myself to memorize 5 Bible verses.  I have one down.  Four to go!  I hope to accomplish this before spring break.
Be:  Calm.  This is so hard for me!!  I'm always loud, boisterous and making a fuss about something!  My goal is to bring it down a notch and help my kids in the mornings.  I've been learning so much about regulation and hello - it's pretty hard to model something I probably would benefit from myself.  Last week 5 days went by (I was pretty calm each day) and I gave myself a B+.  I'll take it but I'd like to see that more consistent and sustained over a longer period of time.
One more thing I'd like to 'document' about these days...we've lived on the outskirts of this tiny town for 2 years now and even though I haven't really made any close friends from here, I finally feel like this is home.  I was thinking the other day about the kids growing up as 'country kids'.  It didn't seem like they really were - I mean, c'mon, we run into 'town' a good 4 times a week for activities and therapies, but it feels more real now.  We drink well water and think nothing's 'wrong' w/it, the kids prefer walks in the woods or time at the beach in all seasons over boring city parks, soon they'll be riding bikes to friends' houses which are not really that close, they might get their first job on a neighbor's farm, they'll tell their friends about their house in the woods when they leave 'the nest'...I don't know.  It all feels a lot more like home now.  I still hope we make more connections but we love our church and the friends there, we love the space we have and the wonder of God's creation all around us.  I'm so grateful that we've all found each other and a place to call our own!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Crush vs. mush

My goals for 2016 were totally random.  In the past, I have made goals based on 3 categories - Spiritual, Personal and Physical.  Last year we added to our family in January and I just couldn't.  The chaos around me caused me to flake out on a lot of stuff.  I knew I needed to make goals.  I didn't think I would meet any of them, but for me, if I don't have anything to shoot for, I'm lost.  One year later and I'm still in a bit of a fog.  However, when I looked back at last year's goals for myself, I felt a little lift!  I actually did meet some!  I hope to make 2017 goals soon, but for now, I'm content to review the old ones.

Goals I crushed in 2016
-Getting Bert and Ernie into counseling - BEST BEST BEST thing EVER!!!  If I failed all the other goals, this was the one to fight for tooth and nail.
-Compost pile - I have my hot hubby to thank for this!!  He was willing to use some pallets and build a 2 sided bin so I could turn it over.  It's pretty full from leaves right now but that usually drops down a lot in winter.  Our trash can thanks us - all the food waste goes out there now.  I'm guessing the creatures in the woods thank us too!
-Get rid of some baby/toddler clothes.  This might be 50/50 but I'm calling it a win b/c nothing new came in.  That counts, right?!
-Date nights - SUPER SUCCESSFUL!  We have such a nice babysitter and we have been going very regularly.  THANK YOU JESUS!  It is such a blessing to have even just 2 hours to talk to DW w/o little people or the mess of the house around us.
-Trails in the woods are not made by just me, but I helped.  We have a bridge system to the 1st ridge and now that it's winter we have been hiking a lot, all the way back, even over the frozen parts.  We have better ideas where the lot line in and there's talk of a going w/the neighbor to map out the easement.  Fun stuff - can't wait to do more!
-The house has more decoration than before, slightly random, but it's there!

Goals that went to mush in 2016
-Working out, even once a week, just didn't happen, save for maybe 2 days.  Literally.
-Go through bin of school papers.  Well, I sort of want to count this one halfway.  I kept up w/the current papers so as not to create an even bigger back log.  But the bin is still in the exact same spot.  Never opened, not once.  This goal will go back on the 2017 list b/c I MUST get that bin out of here!!
-Covered feeding station and dust bath area for chickens.  Chickens made their own dust bath area.  I'd love to shore that up or make a better one.  I also want to add to this one - a better water station.
-Hang up a Pippa the chicken picture on the coop.
-I had a garden, but it didn't do well.  We were gone (A LOT) and deer and other woodland creatures had fun in the big part.  The little part was close to the house and we ate beans, cilantro and kale from it.  In the future I would love to have a bigger area fenced in...ah, don't get me started.  I could garden dream for days!
-Camping w/family/friends.  Sad.  Didn't happen.  We did tons of camping, just not w/anyone.  Ok, I stand corrected.  Once.  And it was too short!  So much fun but way too short!
-Bible study in person - I tried.  I cannot keep a regular schedule these days!!  And you would think day time is better, but it's not.  I'll keep trying but I may go back to the online version w/strangers.  I'm not going to make new friends in town that way, but which is more important?  Bible study or friends?  Don't answer that, I think it's too messy.
-Food prep is happening little by little.  No major progress, but holding the line.
-Decent family photos did not happen.  Too much advance planning.  That and I was busy living life, photo taking was not always first on my mind unless we were on trips.

I tend to be hard on myself so this time I'm going to celebrate the little things that went well =)  I'm looking into a new short term goal system for 2017.  My next goal is to implement a new set of goals...it sounds funny, but that's how I operate!  We'll see if trying something new helps kick start this year!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016!!

I can't believe it's been almost a whole year since we became a family of 6!  This year has had it's share of difficulties, as well as plenty of happy memories.  Some of you may already know, but for those of you that don't, when you add 2 new people to your family at the same time, life gets busier and some of the usual things you do get set aside so you can bond and keep up w/all the new responsibilities.  We didn't just add 2 new people, we added 2 people who have survived significant trauma.  Needless to say, a lot of things got set aside and we entered survival mode.  This is not a complaint or a plea for pity, it's our reality.  However, that being said, we have still been able to be 'us' - just in smaller and simpler ways.  When I write Christmas blog posts, I always like to celebrate what makes us 'us' and all the ways we did that in the past year.  This year, w/5 out of the 6 of us being in school (4 as students, 1 as a teacher), I thought a yearbook theme would be fitting!  And there is audience participation at the end, so if you make it to the end, we'd love to hear from you!

(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...)


2016 Yearbook
(Yes, it's a made up name!  It's MY Christmas letter, I can do that.)



This year 2 of the kids participated in a summer strawberry shortcake eating contest!  I have some big eaters and trust me when I say, it was no surprise that the smallest member of our family won by a landslide!  I have 2 very pink Strawberry Fest T-shirts that my boys can grow into now =)  This year also marks the first year that we have purchased an all access pass to the local school sporting events.  At first I hesitated, but then I realized it would only take 3 trips to a football game for it to pay for itself!  We enjoyed a bunch of football games so far and hope to get to a basketball game soon.  We also took the opportunity to attend our college alma mater's Homecoming festivities, including the football game.  There was free food, mascots, carnival games and plenty of reminders how Momma has aged...(The campus has changed a lot/my dorm is gone, 'kids these days', head shaking and co-eds telling their friends to watch their language around the kids.)
Speaking of school spirit and being old.....This was also the year I (Mel) and Dave had a high school class reunion of a round, significant number.  While Dave did not attend his, I did attend mine.  There was a school tour (that place has also changed dramatically!), dinner and a photo booth.  It was so good to see 'old' friends and chat w/many new ones!  To me, that is one of the best parts about going to an event like this.  I can socialize w/people I never spent much time w/in HS and we have more in common now than we seemed to have back then.  New connections are made, old ones are strengthened and many hugs were given.  One thing that really struck me was the amazing example of some ladies from my class who served others in an insanely huge way.  They coordinated, planned, called, set up, served, cleaned and even found time to socialize w/us along the way!!  They probably did a bunch of other stuff we never knew about behind the scenes, too.  If you get a chance to attend a class reunion, I highly recommend it.  Thank the people who put it together for you and please know that no one cares what you look like, what your job is, or where you live.  Just go.  If you are the only one from your 'clique' in HS who is going and you think it'll be awkward, kick those thoughts to the curb.  Hold your head high and just go.  Call me if you need encouragement and then call me after to tell me how it went =)


Here at Bent Anchor we don't just watch sports, we also participate in them!  Once again Moses was a member of the boys' gymnastics team and this year he participated in a meet at a private club.  *insert low slow whistle*  That place was fancy!!  He had a lot of fun and there are 4 meets this season coming up in 2017!   There was also basketball camp for the oldest 2 boys this year and lots of sports happening in the yard!!  All the kids had gymnastics and swimming classes at the Y this past year and will continue to do so this session.



Lest you think all we do around here is sports, it should be noted that there are plenty of academic endeavors here!  This year we made it a mission to build bridges across the swampy areas of our 10 acres to make the ridges that run along the lake more accessible.  We are planning to make various trails around the property and continue to explore the woods.  Everyone loves being outside and jumping out of trees!  We've also taken the opportunity to help Dave's mom w/some trees and clearing out some of the area behind her house.  A day spent working outside is the best kind of day!  When the weather is bad, we know we can always go to the Y and use the racquetball courts.  When we go camping, you can usually find the kids swimming as soon as the pool opens!  We found some really nice campgrounds this summer.  In this collage of photos, there is a very special one on the top right hand corner.  The first week the boys came to live w/us, we made a family masterpiece.  Every one of us took a section of the paper and painted it to make a joint piece of art.  Although I was nervous (lots of little hands, paint, carpet under the table which I always hated but am living w/until we can financially replace!), it is one of the best memories I have.  Ever.  That piece of art looks messy and some people might wonder why it hangs on our wall.  It represents 6 people, only 3 of which share DNA, coming together as 1 family.  That, my friends, is worth hanging on the wall.  Every day I am reminded that God knit us together and all the legal documents in the world will only match what this painting says.  We are a family.

Oh my goodness - as I reviewed the photos from this past year, I loved seeing the projects and field trips my kids have done at their school!  Everyone is excited about learning and making great gains.  Moses has really been enjoying math and social studies, Colleen loves learning about planets, animals, robots and all things science.  Bert is reading!!  He's just in the beginning stages, so no chapter books yet, but there are lots of classics we are digging into.  He is great at money math!  Ernie is reading 'snap words' too, working on building relationships and making it through a full day of kindergarten.  All good stuff.


You know it wouldn't be a full year w/o some 'class trips'!!  We wander a lot, and this year was no exception.  As always, we try to find a good deal for spring break.  It was a little hard to wrap my brain around the thought of packing up 6 people and we wondered how the boys would do, especially since it was only 3 months since they had been w/us.  We are blessed beyond words to have family in FL and after a few quick messages and some phone calls, it was decided that we'd take the leap and try it!  Looking back, we must have been crazy...maybe we still are!!  As it turned out, the boys did GREAT on the flight, they took to my family (who doesn't?), and we ALL LOVED the warm weather!  We swam in the gulf, a hotel pool, and a community water park!  We're ready to do it again!

For us, summer means camping and there was plenty of that this year.  We started just across the border in IL.  If you like camping and exploring natural features, you should really check out Starved Rock State Park!  There were tons of water falls, lots of canyons, and hiking.  We put on our suits, our water shoes and went for it!  I have so many amazing photos, I could fill up a whole post about this place!!  Another one of our favorite spots is in TN, where some good friends live.  Nothing beats eating w/them, seeing some sweet rides at Cars and Coffee, swimming in their pool, going to their church and just BEING around them.  We did some exploring too - for all the times we have been there, we hadn't been to the Parthenon yet!  We checked it out this time - it was sort of funny though, b/c it was right when that whole Pokemon craze started.  There were all these people wandering around the park, looking down at their phone...it seemed sort of surreal, like seeing zombies or something!  We had a few good laughs, watching people walk into each other or stationary objects.  It was hard to leave our friends in TN - can't wait to go back in 2017!!  

Our 3rd big 'class trip' was out to the Black Hills, the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore!  Our family has been there a few times before, but the little boys hadn't!  It was fun climbing around w/them, hearing them shout out whenever they saw 'the presidents' and enjoying all the fun of camping!  The momma bear worried how the littles would sleep, how everyone would adjust to sharing the small space for a while, how we could fit all we were packing into the camper and such, but again - we were blessed w/no breakdowns, no illnesses or injuries and some sweet inexpensive fun!  It was hot and sweaty but we found plenty of swimming holes and rocks to climb!  Also, it was the first time we drove through the area w/a sunroof - a whole new way to look at the world!  (Yeah, it's the little things...)


We would share individual school pictures but not everyone has one!  Most of you know what we look like, anyway.  Since I can't resist another year book themed section, though, pretend this is the part where you see each one of our faces.
---Freshman class---
ERNIE - Voted most likely to become mayor, lawyer or judge.  "I meant what I said and I said what I meant." -- Dr. Seuss
BERT - Voted most likely to do back flips off of high platforms or use one of those stand up desks at work.  "Life requires movement." -- Aristotle
---Sophomore class---
COLLEEN - Voted most likely to build a robot that does her homework.  "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." -- Albert Einstein
---Junior class---
MOSES - Voted most likely to do something on a stage, maybe in a band, telling jokes, dancing or just performing in some way.  "All the world's a stage..." -- Shakespeare
---Senior class---
DAVE - Voted most likely to skip work to go boating.  "You're gonna need a bigger boat." -- from the movie Jaws
MELISSA - Voted most likely to be found in the woods, or daydreaming about her big ideas.  "The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep." -- Robert Frost

What yearbook would be complete w/o a few blank pages in the back for your friends to sign and leave a message?  If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave us a comment =)  Sign our yearbook!  This year had it's ups and downs...through all of it, we felt the presence of the Lord in our lives.  We continue to press on, following the example He has laid out for us.  In 2017, we purpose to love our neighbors (and classmates and siblings, etc) as we've been loved, serving when and where we can, while we continue learning what it takes to make this family of 6 operate smoothly.  We pray your 2016 yearbook is filled w/many happy memories like ours!  Here's to an adventurous and healthy 2017!

Merry Christmas 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!)...here's a few:
1) Save postage. We love you, but we're cheap!
2) Save paper. You just recycle those cards after you read them...you 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...)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Life is like a wild ride on Friday

I have this cat.
Her name is Peyton.
She really doesn't hang around home much.  She usually comes running from somewhere else when it's dinner time.  She does not hang around home, waiting for people to come outside or return from somewhere, waiting to greet them.  That's her sister, Homer.  Homer is a perfect name for her b/c she rarely leaves home base.  Homer follows you anywhere and everywhere, a faithful kitty to the end.  Not that Peyton isn't, it's just that she is literally going places and doesn't care if you are there or not.  She's adventurous and that's cool too.
But Peyton, oh Peyton, she got the ride of her life today.  A whole new adventure that just might make her more of a Homer.  (It would for me, but maybe not.  Maybe Peyton is just so much of a tough girl that this won't matter.)
Peyton.  This cat.  Can you tell where she is?
Oh yeah, she's on the truck.  Not that.  She sleeps on the hood of my truck a lot.  When the kitties were little they used to sit on top of the tires, in the wheel wells.  Being on top of the truck is not that big of a deal.  The better question is WHERE IS THE TRUCK?  Yes, we have a flagpole at our house, but no that is not OUR flagpole.  Think of buildings in your community that have a flagpole and think of where a stay-at-home momma and her 4 kids would go at 8 in the morning....yeah?  You got it now?


YES.  That is my crazy cat, on top of my truck, at my kids' school.  That is 2.6 miles away from my house.  To which, I drive 40-50 mph for part of the way.  This cat.  You guys, I am so not a cat person.  They are cute and funny and have killed mice and chippies and kept the woodpeckers off the house and I am so grateful for that but - THIS CAT.


So I pull into a parking spot at school and get out of my truck...and I hear this LOUD MEWING.  There is a lot of noise in the school parking lot, not to mention my 4 kids clamoring and arguing about who gets out first or who gets a quarter for candy canes or whatever.  This loud mewing rises about the rest of the stuff and I have a moment - is that a cat?  Is that a cat under/in my truck?  Oh crap - where's Peyton?!  I start to walk around, thinking I'm going to look under the truck and nope.  There she is, hunkered down under the spoiler.  Side note - is that thing there to make us feel like we are cool and we might race this big bus, or does it actually serve a purpose?  Like, will I roll my truck if I don't have one holding me down?  Don't answer that, I promise I won't remove it.  Back to the cat.  She is starting to stand up and making so much noise people are noticing.  Yep.  This is me.  This is my life.  "Is that your cat?"  My 8am snarky self wants to respond, "No, I'm Samantha Stevens, one of my kids was grumpy this morning and I just turned them into a cat.  And made them ride on the roof."  But my 'be-nice, these-people-are-normal-and-Dutch' self just smiled and nodded.  Yes.  That's my cat.


I kissed my kids and promised them to get Peyton down, told them to tell all their teachers about their crazy cat and their crazy mom.  They didn't want to leave.  I told them I'd turn them into cats.  Go to school!  We all had a good laugh.  And then I turned them into cats.  KIDDING.  It's Friday, ok, I am trying to laugh at all this!!!  I reached for Peyton, worried she would be pissed at me, but I was wearing gloves and figured I probably deserved her wrath anyway.  She didn't want to come down, but I grabbed her and tucked her under my arm.  This cat.  She just went for the ride of her life, but I wasn't going to let her repeat that.  I brought her in and set her on the passenger seat.  She wanted in my lap, but listen people, I am not going to have a cat on my lap while I drive!  I am not a crazy cat lady!  I may be crazy, I may be a cat lady, but I am not a crazy cat lady.  I moved her back and she decided to go check out the rest of the vehicle, letting me know her displeasure.  So I drove home w/a cat talking to me, praying to God that she didn't get crazy and freak out, jumping on my face or something while I drove.  I pulled over to take the next picture of her, remembering to fully document this event for her kitty baby book.  Nope.  But I did want to take a picture for me to remember.  I have a terrible memory, relying on photos to remind me of stuff all time.  I just don't do well w/details, so when the kids ask me about a vacation we took, or where did we eat that cool TX shaped waffle, I look back at the photos to remember.  Of course the waffle was in TX!!  I remembered that, it was a joke.  But seriously, photos help my memory.  Anyway - here is the queen in her carriage, headed for home.  She's probably checking on her loyal subjects.  Making sure none of them have a cat on their roof.


You know me, I'm always trying to glean some life lesson from stupid things that happen to me.  The obvious one here is to check the roof for cats before leaving.  I laugh at my life sometimes!  Never thought I'd be doing 90% of the stuff I am doing!!  But I really don't like obvious stuff.  I like the weird and quirky stuff - which is why I like my life.  I am choosing to look at this situation a little differently.  Sometimes, your life is like a wild ride on a Friday - hanging on to the roof spoiler of a big white SUV.  And gosh, it's dangerous and not recommended and you never want to do that again!  But when it's over - it's over.  You're safe.  Sometimes the adventure serves as a reminder that we do hard things.  Life can't all be sleeping, treats, playing in the long grass in the sun...it really makes no sense to worry about the possibility of hard things.  If you choose to sleep on the truck, you might find yourself at school.  But if you don't sleep on the truck, you might never feel that warm engine mixed w/the slanting morning sun.  So many times people ask why would do foster care, why we would choose to enter into a relationship that we might not be able to continue forever.  People have asked why we would subject 'our kids' to other kids' possible issues or behaviors.  They want to know why we take risks when life is good, why don't we shield and protect ourselves from hurt or loss.  Oh we do.  We just make sure to sleep on the truck every once in a while.  B/c if we don't, we miss out on things.  We miss out on the chance to love a kid, even if it's for just a little while.  If you knew a kid needed a lunch, wouldn't you share yours?  Or would you eat it, while they watched?  I bet every single one of you would share or give up your lunch.  It's like that w/love.  Once you know a kid needs it, you can't NOT give it to them.  Lately some kids in my house are going through some stuff.  I am just going to blame growing pains.  They need me.  I feel drained and like I don't have much left to give.  But get this - I am digging deep inside myself and putting 50millionthousandpercent into loving them.  I am not a stay calm person.  I have my own self and my own growing pains I'm working on.  Seriously - I drove to school w/a cat on my roof.  BUT - I love these little people so much I have been working so hard to stay calm.  They need it.  They need me.  I'm not perfect but I'm doing it.  The other day, I calmly handled a situation and a kid melted in my arms.  Sleeping on the truck/taking a risk on this little person = worth it.  It's a wild ride.  But it's Friday.  And sometimes you look back on that ride and think about how funny it was and the thrill becomes a happy memory.

Monday, November 21, 2016

And the beat goes on

I know that in the past, I have posted about my daughter's progress w/her feeding tube and there was a celebratory post when she had her 'button' removed...I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but as a baby (before she came to us) she had heart surgery.  This means we have yearly (or more often!) trips to the nearby children's hospital for heart check ups.  Recently her blood pressure was really elevated, to the point that we had MANY appointments in a short amount of time.  Anyway - today was another one, mostly to check to see if the meds are working.  I almost always try to schedule appointments like this in the AM, just in case they run long or add some other procedure to our day, so we can get back before dark.  The days get long and especially in the winter, I really hate driving in the dark!  At the last appointment, they informed me that the doctor would only be in a few days during the month of November, making scheduling an important appointment difficult.  They came back to tell me he had one appointment left!  It wasn't until 1pm, but it's not like I can say, "Nah, skip it!" or whatever!  I mean it's just her heart, right?  That's not too important...(<---sarcastic font="" p="">So today we went and as always she is weighed before going into the room.  I've been hoping she would break the 50 lb mark soon - she's seem to have stalled out at 48!  The nurse today said she was 51 point something something and I just danced!!!  I called her beefcake and got a wry sneaky smile out of her.  Then in the room, the nurse took her blood pressure (just in her arm this time, lately they've been doing a lot of arm and leg combos) and she said it was only 107 over something!  WAY LOWER than in the past!!!  I didn't even bother listening to the last number - maybe I'm a terrible mom or whatever, but they give you the printout anyways...In less than a half hour we got 2 pieces of good news!!!  The doc came in, pleased as punch that the #s looked good and he sent us on our way!  I had planned to pick up somethings I had ordered online at a nearby mall, so we headed over there w/time to kill.
It's pretty rare that this girl enjoys spending much time w/me - we do spend a lot together due to these types of appointments and just b/c I'm the primary person home, but she is just not that into me.  Part of it is due to her history w/her birthmom and well, let's be honest, how many mother daughter combos do you know that are all sunshines and rainbows?  Knowing this, I figured she would not be into window shopping for Christmas presents...that and she usually wants to get back to school for science, her favorite.  Apparently knowing we weren't getting back in time for anything, or maybe it was just the right mood or day or who knows?! meant that she was more than happy to be there w/me.  She held my hand and laughed at my jokes and didn't once beg me to buy her something or obsess over a certain object or toy.  I offered her crazy corn (my mom used to buy us that from Buddy Squirrel at the mall!) but she wasn't hungry.  We hit up the Lego store, the anchor stores, and even went to all 3 floors of the Boston Store.  We looked for a birthday present for Daddy (found an expensive one!!  I might look for it online...) and tried to find books for cousins.  At one point my phone rang and it was about some foster care stuff that really aggravated me.  There was a problem and I had to make a bunch of phone calls to clear some things up.  Other people made a mistake and I was stuck in the middle, far away from all of them to work it out.  I felt drained and mad.  I hung up from one of the calls and she was sweetly holding a blanket?napkin?placemat? made of fur at Pottery Barn.  She gave me this big smile and asked if we could decorate our whole house in it!  HA!  I instantly forgot all about the issue and we carried on w/our day.  It was a good day - one I wanted to be sure to remember =)