Blog · Get Real Life

Get Real Friday…Scary Laundry!

Have you ever seen those pictures of the perfect laundry rooms?  Maybe your facebook friend remodeled or maybe you are just flipping through the latest home and garden magazine for inspiration. Well, I’m here to let you know that has never been my reality. In fact, very little of my life is pinterest perfect. Actually none really, if I’m telling the truth! So here is an honest peak into my house. I didn’t pick up before snapping my messy house pictures. These are for real! Welcome to my messy life!

My very real, very unpolished laundry room
My very real, very unpolished laundry room

In our last house, we actually had a separate laundry room. Well sort of… It was a room in the basement with no door that had a toilet in the corner, with a shower spigot next to it and the washer and dryer next to that. It was classy. You know…brick walls, no door. If you wanted to leisurely read on the toilet, you could do so while keeping the laundry running. Multi tasking at its best. We did upgrade the room eventually. We added tile floors and painted the walls white so they were no longer dingy and stained, but that room never became Pinterest perfect or achieved facebook bragging rights.

After living in that 750 square foot house for 5 years, we upgraded to a bigger house on 3 acres. The main floor needed a complete remodel. We borrowed and penny pinched our way through $50,000 in renovations, but unfortunately, we never touched the basement. Yet again, my laundry room is in the basement. Only now, we have 8 children instead of 2.

Here is a fun fact about having lots of children. You would think it would cost a fortune to clothe them. But, it doesn’t, because once you have a bunch of kiddos, you are the target of every generous heart out there willing to give you second hand (and new) clothes. The dillema is, they come in trash bags…often multiple bags at a time. The Lord has been good and usually there are some great items in those bags. I take what I need and then probably a few more (because little boys think clothes are disposable and manage to destroy good clothes on a regular basis). So back to my dilemma…there are bags of clothes leftover. Clearly I need to improve my method for passing along these items because they end up sitting in my basement for a couple of months before I send them to the thrift store. This is of course on top of the mountain of clothes we have that we are keeping.

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Some people wonder how we keep our clothes organized. Years ago, I decided that dressers were a bad idea. Little kids like to pull out the drawers and dump them or change their outfits 5 times a day. I’m not a terrible housekeeper but I’m not great either and who has time to constantly refill drawers or do the sniff test to sort out the clean from dirty on the bedroom floor. Not me! So, I decided to defer to the method of using a family laundry closet. It is brilliant after all…you don’t haul laundry baskets up stairs only to have them dumped all over. You don’t have unsorted baskets left in the livingroom to become dress up clothes for the little kids. If they are unsorted, they stay out of sight and keep the rest of the house from looking like a wreck. Clearly I had a problem getting laundry folded in the past, because that really was part of my thinking. Fast forward to today having lived in this house for 9 years. Somehow, we have never remodeled that basement.

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We have cubby type shelves lining one wall with a long rod above it to hand shirts on. Seems like it should work. As it turns out though, even this method has it’s challenges. The first problem is that kids still go in that room and pull clothes out that end up on the floor. Only now, they are spread on the yucky basement floor instead of a bedroom floor. If they spend much time on that floor they smell musty and need rewashed anyway. The second problem is related to having everyone’s clothes in the same area. Gonna take a shower and need to grab clothes…better check them twice or you might get underwear that are too small or pants that are too long if your sister put them away on the wrong shelf. Clothes get mixed up and put away wrong and as it turns out, cubbies don’t hold clothes in place the way a drawer does. I still prefer this method to a dressers in the bedroom but full disclosure…it isn’t perfect.

On the day this was taken, most of the laundry was done and most of it folded, but it still looks messy. Maybe someday I’ll have a tidy laundry room…probably when my kids are grown…but until then, get real!

Adoption · Blog · Fostering

Our Double Adoption Story – Idealism Meets Reality-Part 2

Continued from Part 1 of When God Whispers – Our Adoption Story

Idealism Meets Reality – The part where fostering is so much harder than we could have imagined.

We said “yes”…and they came. The social worker arrived first followed shortly by Sadie and Abel with their grandparents, and aunt. The social worker, Dawn, explained the logistics of what this placement looked like. We were not licensed foster parents yet. We had only completed classes but not gone through the rest of the licensing process. Because we knew their family, they could stay with us as a kinship placement. Normally that is reserved for family members, but it can also be used by friends or acquaintances who take children in.  When you foster children, there are requirements about how many kids can be in a room, the ages and genders of kids that can share a room and endless number of other requirement.  At the time, four of our kids slept in one bedroom. Elliott (the baby) slept in our room and the only other room was used as a playroom. It did not meet the requirements for foster care. It had an unfinished bathroom, with no door and exposed wiring (don’t worry…it was on the ceiling). It was halfway done but definitely unfinished.  Now, with kinship care, the rules aren’t quite as strict as regular foster care, but we did not have any way to arrange the bedrooms at that time to accommodate the gender requirements. Sadie had spent a great deal of time off and on with our neighbors through the years. They were her second family, and she loved them dearly. In the end, they agreed to have Sadie come live with them, and Abel would stay with us. The courts agreed to “separate” these two kids only because they would live next door to each other. Normally, the courts prefer to keep siblings together.

Continue reading “Our Double Adoption Story – Idealism Meets Reality-Part 2”
Adoption · Blog · Fostering

Our Double Adoption Story – When God Whispers – Part 1

Like many stories, ours does not have a concrete beginning. I think I have wanted to adopt since I was a child. But, this adoption…the one where we add two blessings to our family, began in early 2006. By God’s grace, we had found a buyer for our  small bungalow house right before the market crashed. Even better, the house I had always dreamed of buying was empty. Its owners were in a retirement home.  My brother was a house-flipper and title agent at the time, so he negotiated with the family for us to buy this new house. In so many ways, it was an answer to prayer because at the time, it was really more than we could afford. The mortgage was fine but the $50,000 in improvements was a bit out of our range. But bit by bit, even that worked itself out.

Continue reading “Our Double Adoption Story – When God Whispers – Part 1”
Homeschooling

The Importance of Your Learning Style

A number of years ago, our family jumped into homeschooling with limited success. Sometimes our oldest son would understand the materials and sometimes our lessons would end in a fit of tears. He cried a lot over school. I had no frame of reference. I assumed the crying was just a stage. He would get over it.

After homeschooling for a couple of years, I attended a homeschool support group meeting one evening. There, the leader passed around some resources designed to help parents or other adults figure out a child’s learning style. It turns out, this was a huge breakthrough for us. By this time, our second was beginning to learn to read and if there was any other noise in the room, he would quickly get overwhelmed and start crying and covering his ears. It was by examing resources like this one that I realized my kids had ways they learned best. We actually used several different assessments, but the results were surprisingly helpful. It turns out my oldest son learns very visually. Having me tell him things verbally is overwhelming. He prefers to have things written down and is quite good at using a planner. My second son is very auditory. He loves audio books and learning by talking and hearing as well as doing. This has transformed how we homeschool. If a books comes on audio, I’ll get it for my 2nd son over making him read. He reads very slowly but enjoys listening to audio books while he does other things. My auditory son also gets overwhelmed by too much sound…his brain can’t process all that input which is why he used to scream when it was noisy (our house is almost noisy with 8 kids) and he was trying to focus. Thankfully that delightful habit has diminished significantly.

In addition to these two sons, the rest of my kids clearly fall into prefered learning styles which makes is a bit easier to tailor their learning so they can retain the most possible. Having focused on my kids learning styles, a year or two ago I started paying attention to how I learn. I did relatively well in school but I remember very little of what I learned. On the other hand, my husband struggled in school but remembers so much more. Moving forward, I want to do better…to obtain and retain learning in a style that suits me best. So I started thinking back to different contexts growing up in which learning occurred for me. Here are a few examples and what I observed about me:

1. Welcome to School – I did well in school but my form of learning looked something like this. I would take verbatum notes in class…you got it…every word. Then when the test came, I would reread my notes over and over and then spit that info back out on the test. I aced the essays. The teachers and professors probably didn’t realize I was giving their words back to them nearly word for word. If it was another kind of test like spelling, I either wrote them over and over or read them over and over for practice. Again…very good grades. Even so, my retention was relatively poor unless there was a hands on project involved. To this day, those assignments that involved meaningful or fun projects are what I remember and retained.

2. Welcome to Church – I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about this one because other than Sunday School with the flannel graphs, I remember very little of what I heard there. I’m sure I’ll share about my crisis of faith another time but as part of looking at my time in church, I realized it was a highly auditory experience. In our church, they handed out bulletins with outlines on them and blanks to fill in. So I actually wrote very little…and remembered almost nothing. On the other hand, we did do service projects and go on mission trips. That hands on serving and learning has provided part of the framework for how I view the world. It definitely made a huge impression.

3. Welcome to my Room – Growing up I had a bookshelf in my room. My dad made it and it was a prized possesion…partly because he made it and partly because it held my favorite thing ever….books. One Christmas, all I received was books…17 of them, which included a new Bible. By the end of the week, I had read them all cover to cover (except my Bible…I didn’t read it all in one week). I loved books and if I ever wanted to learn something, I would get a book to learn it. However, many times I did not recall what I read because I did not do anything with it. Novels that I enjoyed, I would keep on the shelf and reread every few months because I didn’t remember it well enough to make it boring the 2nd, 3rd or 4th time around.

4. Welcome to my Craft Table (yes I know it looked like a diningroom table but I assure you, that 10 foot beauty was better put to use for all my crafty goodness.) After learning how to do something (usually by reading or watching), I would do it…make it..sew it…or occasionally cook it. I loved crafting. I think my mom was secretly relieved when I moved out because she could have her table back.

After doing the assessment for myself and observing myself in daily life, I realized that I am a very visual/kinesthetic learner. I can’t process voices very well and have been known to be rather awkward in conversation.  I find myself easily frustrated when more than one person is talking to me. I process auditory slowly and will often have a large delay answering a question because it takes awhile for me to process. As an adult, if I want to learn something, I either read or watch videos. But in general I prefer reading because I can follow the steps at my own pace and write in the books if I want. If its is something truly meaningful, I then take than information and do something with it. For me that looks like trying a new cooking method or herbal remedies. It might look like writing a book review or memorizing a Bible passage. If I don’t do something with it, I probably won’t retain much of it.

The reason I feel this topic is valuable for mom’s and dad’s is that when we have little kids, many times our own enjoyment or “me time” gets pushed aside. We are busy working, doing activities with the kids and running a house. My knowing how I learn best (which is also how I enjoy entertainment /relaxation best) narrows down the potential activities I will pick from when I do have some time alone. For example, because I am visual/kinestetic, some things I really enjoy are reading, watching movies, learning how to do a new thing. Some things I do not enjoy are music concerts, listening to speakers or in many cases…eating in noisy restaurants. I rarely participate in noisy entertainment because I don’t enjoy it, and can’t process it well. This may not sound like an amazing discovery but by the time a  break arrives, I am usually numb and can’t even remember what I like so I feel depressed and don’t do anything. (nice right).

So, my encouragement to you is…figure out your learning style. Most people have a dominant and minor learning style. One you do that, make a list of potential activities/entertainment you are interested and use that learning style to help you screen your list. For me it helps me narrow down my options considerably. Additionally, I encourage you to never stop learning. Looking at your learning style and pick something new to learn that will help you accomplish a dream or benefit you and your family.

Fostering

Foster Care “Bounce” In and Out Again

Foster Bounce

My husband and I have been foster parents for 4 years now but the first 3 years were just fostering our 2 children that we adopted. It turns out…that isn’t the norm. Recently though, we experienced a heartbreaking “bounceback” with a more recent foster son…we’ll call him Clint (not his real name). Clint, age 5, lived with our family for 2 months. He had been in foster care for over a year and a half  but had been staying with us for just 2 of those months after a move from his previous placement. He was a tough little boy….cute…but really tough. If he didn’t get his way, he would drop to the floor in a ball, scream a piercing scream or on a truly delightful day…go pee on another child’s bed or toy. He was in rough shape despite our best attempts and despite a weekly visit with a counselor. We knew that with his impending move home, there was nothing we could really do to stabalize him.   We were thrilled when the phone call came…Clint was going home with his mom, her new husband and his siblings. Things were looking up for this little boy!

After Clint went home. We fell into an easier routine. I would think of him often hoping he was happy.

Fast forward 2 months.

The phone rings Friday evening (it’s always a Friday evening with us…no idea why). The worker on the end of the line is someone I know from way back. She knew my parents when I was in middle school. An upbeat lady, I immediately start chatting…until she cuts in and lets me know this is not a social call. “I’m calling about your foster son.” My eyes immediately glance over at the sweet little blonde 2 year old cherub living with us right now. I expect this call is to tell me that he is finally moving in with a family member. “Remember Clint” I’m jolted back as a sickening sensation hits my stomach. I know what she is going to say. ” He needs a place to stay this weekend. His mom decided she couldn’t do this and she is placing all the kids (5 of them) back in care. We are calling all their previous placements to see if they can stay for the weekend until we figure out what to do next week.”

My eyes locked with our adopted daughter. She was listening to my half of the phone call. Her eyes grew wide as she figured out that Clint was coming back under such heart breaking circumstances. I knew this would bring up painful memories of when she too arrived home from school to find police and social workers on the scene that would soon lead her to a new home. Part of me wanted to tell this worker “no” he couldn’t come. He had been a particularly difficult placement and my husband wasn’t home so I could run it by him. Also, when Children’s Services says “Can they come for the weekend,” you know it will be longer. It takes several days at least to get things in order and that is if they move fast. Sometimes it takes weeks or months.  But of course, I couldn’t say no…not to this little boy.  He was the first foster child we had to “catch and release.” At the time I thought that meant he would stay and go home. But now he was coming back and we needed to “catch” him again.

When the worker pulled in, it was after 9pm. Clint was in the back of a minivan clutching the strap of his seat belt. The worker tried to coax him out. I tried to talk to him and then he started wailing. “I don’t want to be here. I want to go home….” We coaxed. He cried. Eventually we had to carry him in the house together. The exhausted social worker brought in his small bag of belongings and left. Clint stood and moved rather mechanically.  He hadn’t eaten since lunch so he had some leftovers from dinner warmed up. He seemed like he was in a bit of a daze so we got him ready for bed and I tucked him in and said his prayers.

Feeling exhausted, I sank into the couch. Only a few minutes passed before the small little boy came walking out, dragging his blanket with tears streaming down his face. He climbed up on the couch next to me and just cried.

He did only stay with us a few days until he could be placed with a sibling in his old school district.  I felt a sense of loss when he left but even more a sense of the long road ahead of him. These kids…the ones that land in the system, are often such transient little people expected to move at a moments notice. I pray that the little things we do will let them know they are loved even while their world stands on its head.

 

Fostering · Fostering in Ohio

Easy 10 Step – Homeschooling Portfolio Review in Ohio

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If you have been homeschooling in Ohio, you are required to have your student’s work assessed to verify that you did indeed educate your little darling(s) in the previous school year.

The first option is to have Junior tested using a standardized test at the completion of your school year and give a copy of the results to your school district.The second option, and the one we have used for our 7 years of homeschooling, is to have a licensed teacher review a portfolio of your school materials to assess that they worked according to their ability this past year. The third option is to have your school superintendent agree to some alternative form of testing/assessment if your situation requires something more creative than the first two options.

It is September 13…and I just had my children’s work assessed by a teacher  a couple of days ago…for the 2013-2014 year!  Yes, it should have been turned in already and yes I’m running behind. Summer slipped between my fingers like some illusive dream and now here we are…almost fall, back to school…time to get it together.

When we first started homeschooling, I had no idea what one of these reviews should include…did I need several 3″ binders filled with coloring pages, handwriting worksheets and craft projects. Did I need actual projects…you know that volcano we made or leaves sandwiched between wax paper? What did I need exactly. Well I’m not super organized. I think I lose brain cells by the end of spring…I’m SO READY to be done with school. So my 1st…2nd..3rd…. portfolios were pretty much the same. I would throw all their half-finished notebooks, textbooks, folders etc into a tote and haul it off to the library or wherever I was meeting our teacher to “assess” our portfolio. All the while, I was saying a little prayer that they would find our pile of papers acceptable and “pass” us! Now thankfully, the teacher’s that have reviewed our portfolios have all been homeschool moms themselves..so they get it. They get the mess, disorganization, the whole learning curve that never ends with homeschooling.

That said, we have been having our “portfolio” reviewed for 6 years or so and here are a few tips for putting one together that you can feel confident showing your teacher and not break your back hauling every scrap of their work. I myself am going to refer back to my own list as I tend to start pitching things before I really think about whether I might need to show it to someone for our review.

Ten Tips for a Successful Homeschool Portfolio Review

  1. Make a list of every subject your child did for the year.
  2. Under each subject, list your textbooks or other books you used.
  3. Write down any field trips, museum and zoo visits and travel or vacations you took.
  4. Write down a list of literature or enjoyment books your student read or listened to.(This does not have to be a complete list and gives an idea your child’s reading level and interests)One of my sons loves audio books and listens to many so we include those too. (scroll down to find an example of what I wrote out for my son’s portfolio)**
  5. Add activities your child participated in: music lesson, co-op classes, sports, online classes….pretty much any learning experience not covered by the previous lists.
  6. Add a few notes about your child’s hobbies or current interests. (I’m always so blessed when someone takes the time to ask my kids about their interests and by adding these things in, it both keeps a memory for me and gives the reviewer something to jumpstart friendly conversation).
  7. Set aside your math workbook or a few pages of math done. We don’t test but you could add math tests or whatever you like here. (Our teacher was looking to see if they completed pages or if they skipped a lot etc)
  8.  Pull out a writing sample or two. (I had thrown away a lot of my kids things from last year before this review so I went ahead and had one or two of them do a page of copywork to include).
  9. Bring a book your child knows so your reviewer can hear them read aloud.
  10. Lastly but most important…DON’T STRESS! It’s really not worth it. You did your best. If it wasn’t a great year, let it go. If it was, enjoy your moment. Having an organized portfolio helps me feel less stressed since I have so many to get done but I’ve literally thrown each kids stuff in their own old milk crates and let the teachers flip through that too.

 

When you meet with your reviewing teacher, separate each child’s work and you are ready to go. At the completion of your review, he/she will give you a signed form to turn to your school. In case you need to bring a copy (because not all teachers are familiar with this), you can find a copy HERE.

 

**Below is a sample of the sheet I used to put together our basic portfolio for each child. I added their writing sample, math workbook and  reading book to this sheet and had a manageable overview of what we had done for each child for the year.

 Ian's Work 2013-2014 001

 

 

 

Faith

Boxes of Bananas – God’s Provision.

I’ll admit I’m a fan of stories…the ones where God uses unfortunate situations to bless other people. A few days ago, my dad walked in my house holding a 40 pound box of GREEN bananas…yummy!  He set them down and I noticed that there were a few very YELLOW bananas in the green ones. It was odd as they were clearly ready to be eaten and the others were no where near ripe.

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I had to know the story…because we don’t get deliveries of 40 pounds of bananas walking through our door often! Our friend Tim at Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard runs a food pantry. He just had a truck come in that had 5000 pounds of these green bananas. But that was only part of the original load of 120,000 pounds. A shipment had arrived in New York and been completely rejected because these bananas were ripening very unevenly. Can you imagine…all those bananas rejected because a few were riper than the others.

What I love is that rather than waste the whole lot, they were donated to a food ministry in Pennsylvania called Blessings of Hope. From there these green (now turning yellow) bananas made there way to various smaller food ministries where they will bless many families. Having been around food bank organizations for several years now, I will tell you that produce is gold. Most donations are canned or boxed dry goods. Quality fruits and vegetables have a much shorter shelf life so they are in more limited supply.

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Yesterday my husband stopped by the Cupboard to load up our van with bananas. Today and tomorrow we will be handing them off to several families. Hopefully these will bless them and their freezers. I am thankful on many levels. I’m thankful for the company that donated and for laws that make it beneficial to do so. I’m thankful for the good people at these ministries who work long hours with limited resources, and I’m ultimately thankful to God from whom all blessing flow.

Blog · Cheap Fun · Preschool Activities

Snow Painting – Cheap Winter Fun!

If you are anything like me, the snowy winter days can last F-O-R-E-V-E-R! The winter of 2014 was one of the coldest in the last 100 years and one of the snowiest in the past few years. While my older kids know how to entertain themselves pretty well, the younger ones get bored easily and run from one activity to another. No I mean it…THEY RUN…back and forth stampeding across the wood floors (who thought wood over carpet was a good idea anyway!)

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Ok…moving on. I actually had a moment of clarity which was rare. I spent too many days in a fog this year. But when my 5 year old son Bennett grabbed a spray bottle to do who knows what (probably something dangerous or destructive) I remembered my stash of food dye sequestered to the back of the cupboard since we gave up food dyes. And what happened next was magical. He proceeded to be entertained for at least a half hour…maybe more. If you have little boys, you know that is magic!

So here is what we did that was SO MUCH FUN!

Step 1: Find an empty spray bottle

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Step 2: Fill with water AND one color of food coloring.

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Step 3: Recap the bottle and shake gently to mix the dye

Step 4: Hand it over to your child. (Yes, I did go out and do this some myself because it is really fun!)

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Step 5: Send your kiddo outside to spray paint the snow.

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As you can see, mine had a blast. We did this several times and changed the food coloring each time. Of course it would be even better to have separate bottles for each color all at once but my little boys would have used that to start a water fight and dye would end up all over. I love this activity because it uses things I have on hand all the time and the kids love it too. Next year, I think I’ll save up bottles so we can do this in a grander fashion next year!

 

Blog · Fostering

Foster Care: It’s Not a Grocery Store

 

The phone rang. A quick glance at the caller ID said Children’s Services was calling. Not thinking it was one of  THOSE calls…where they ask you to step in on behalf of a child….I answered.

 

Phone

The worker on the other end told me a story of a boy who needed to be moved out of a home where his siblings would continue staying. Age 4. Trouble listening. Wets the bed. Poor speech. In Therapy and Counseling.  I asked a few questions trying to root out if this was a situation we could handle. And then the call was over. But in a house like ours, there are lots of ears. So the conversation wasn’t really over. There were lots of questions. “What’s his name?” ” Is he black or white?” “No, not a boy! Can’t we GET a girl?”  There were more questions but during the course of the conversation, I was hearing my kids say – “Why can’t we pick what we want about the next kid who might live here?” My response: “Foster Care is not a Grocery Store – You can’t pick.”

Don’t get me wrong, we filled out an enormous checklist for our license. It asked what kind of child our family would be willing to consider. It factored in age, gender, race, physical or learning disabilities, history of abuse or abusing. You name it, the survey covered it. But when the phone rings and a child needs a home for awhile, there aren’t choices. In that moment, you can’t pick like you do at the store with 10 brands of pasta sauce or fifty kinds of cereal. Each case must be accepted or passed over as is–and that is hard.

Like the conversation with the worker, my mind easily dwells on the worst “what ifs.” Can I handle this if we do this? Will I be able to sleep at night? My immediate concerns are usually for the safety or well being of my own kids and my own stress level. Initially I have trouble seeing the potential redemption. It is easy to get weighed down, become frozen with fear and do nothing.

But our family has been down this path before and Redemption is the most beautiful part of the equation. God can take the broken pieces of a troubled life and put them back together in a way that is surprising and truly beautiful.