The big rambling beach house stands in the second row from the beach. Its tall ceilings and huge rooms are the perfect place to relax. We are staying here for a few days to get away from the Ohio cold. It’s lovely and has been such a nice retreat as we recharge. On one side are two giant sun porches…one on the 1st floor and another on the 2nd floor. Both have several sets of double doors leading inside the house. Both are connected to each other by a tight white metal spiral staircase in the corner. I love spiral staircases. They are unique, fun and more adventurous than regular old stairs. They are also another thing to worry about with young children!
Our two year old is very adverturous. Normally, she is up for anything and runs full speed into anything interesting. She jumps first and thinks later. She is quite a handful and keeps all 8 of her siblings busy keeping tabs on her. But this staircase, she has not been so adventurous about. We have been here for several days and she will walk up to the stairs and peek up through the spirals. She might climb a stair or two before cautiously backing down again. Strangely, we have not had to blockade the stairs or be super vigilant. She has been more than careful.
This morning, she found me sitting in the upper sun porch reading. She sat with me for a minute listening to a book and sipping my flavored water. But before the book was over, she was up walking toward the stairs in corner.
“Do you want to go down there Julia? Do you want me to help you?” I moved over to the stairs hoping to get there before her. She can get places so fast. As we stood at the top of the stairs, I held her hand and tried to lead her down and hold her hand as she stepped forward in front of me as I followed. She pulled back and took a few steps away clearly not quite ready. So we switched places and I faced her and backed down the stairs in front of her while holding her hand. So step by step we went down the stairs. She held my hand with one of hers and the railing with the other. And as we made a slow descent, she looked me in the face and was completely happy to go down one step at a time. There was no fear.
And as she looked at me, I thought of my heavenly Father who does this for me. He goes before me and leads the way through situations that feel uncertain or fearful. If I keep my eyes on Him, there is no reason to be afraid. He is right there and I peacefully do what He asks me to do and know that He will keep me safe.
Isaiah 26: 3 – You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
Deuteronomy 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
Several months ago, I made a “contract” with my teenage foster daughter. After she had been here about a month, it became apparent that there were some serious issues that nearly caused a placement disruption. We were dealing with issues common to kids in foster care like stealing, lying and deception. Initially I handled the situation badly but after using emergency respite for the weekend for she and I to cool off, I asked a social worker to come to our home so we could talk over one possible way I would agree to talk about a way the placement might work. The tool we plan to use is called a “contract.” This is nothing new of course; we all use these in our daily lives. But for kids coming into a new home, they can be an important tool to keep everyone on the same page. Every home operates differently and has different expectations. Kids coming from disfunctional homes may find that any kind of structure feels oppressive and overwhelming. In order to help them feel in control and help the foster parents feel sane, a contract can be used to spell out the expectations and consequences (positive and negative) of abiding by or breaking the contract. I did quick search on Google trying to find a template for such a contract because I’d rather not recreate the wheel, but was unable to find one so I wrote our own. Below is a description of the four parts of our contract, a sample of our contract, and the template I came up with.
Part 1: Basic Information
The first part of the contract is simply a basic outline of who the contract participants are, what the nature is of the relationship, and the length of the contract.
Part 2: The Agreement
The second part of the contract is the terms of your agreement.
In our case, first I chose to outline state required rules of foster parents that were of specific importance to our foster daughter in order to build trust. I didn’t feel the need to outline all of them because that is a lot of rules and we are already obligated to do/not do those things by virtue of our contracts with Children’s Services. What I was trying to do was demonstrate to the child that we are REQUIRED to do certain things that the adults in her life did not do or did only occasionally. I used this as a tool between us and our foster daughter but also with the social worker and counselor. I asked these other adults to act as 3rd party to make sure we are all keeping our part of the deal. This may seem like a lot of extra work, but were hoping to build trust and teach her about boundaries in healthy relationships.
Next I outlined the house rules and specific expectations that pertained to this foster child. I don’t think a blanket contract would work for every foster child as every one of them will have special issues that they need help and confidence to overcome. I think some parts of the contract can be the same for every child but some definitely need to be customized
Part 3: How They Get Their Wants Met
Third, is our agreement on how to meet the specific needs of this foster child. For example, some kids to participate in extracurricular activites. Others want to talk on the phone or be able to make the choice to buy new clothes over second hand. Some kids want to have their own money to spend or have a chance to go participate in some special activity. With my own bio and adopted kids, I verbally tell them how they can have the opportunity to do the things they want or earn money, but in this case, it is being written down to be a reminder and to build trust between the child, foster parents, social worker and counselor.
Part 4: Consequences of Breaking the Contract
Lastly, our agreement spelled out consequences of either party not keeping their part of the bargain. In this category, we kept the consequences general because we wanted to have the freedom to adjust easily. However, wanted the child to know that she was not being held here against her will. If we weren’t treating her with respect and keeping our word, we want her to know that she could talk to the worker or counselor to help mediate or in a worst case scenario, ask to go to another house. Kids in foster care often feel powerless. Giving them the opportunity to feel a part of the process can help them feel more stable and learn healthy relationship skills.
Below I’ve copied the contract we chose to use. In the end, we did review it with her in the presence of the social worker so that she could verify that we were in fact obligated to do certain things for her and we would do so knowing that we would be held accountable. We did not end up signing it. In the past 5 months, we’ve never needed to review it…not once. Most of the issues we were having disappeared when we put in place this contract so that she knew she had a way to have her needs met and that they would not be rejected.
This contract is entered into between (foster parents/first party) and (foster child/second party).
The term of this Agreement will become effective on (today’s date) and will continue until (foster child) leaves foster care in the (foster family) home. (specific date or time frame)
The Specific Terms of this Agreement are as follows:
1. Foster Parent Requirements – As licensed foster parents, (names of foster parents) are required to do many things. Their first priority is your safety. In addition to that, they are required to make sure that you have food (3 meals a day and snacks), a bed to sleep in, and enough clothing (see the checklist), toiletries and school supplies. On top of this, they must make arrangements for doctor, dental and eye doctor appointments and provide transportation. When needed, they must arrange counseling as well.
2. House Rules & Special Rules for that Child –We do require that everyone be respectful (in how they speak and how they act toward others), be kind and be pleasant. In keeping with those rules, ask before taking or borrowing items. If you need or want something, please say so. If we do something that offends you, please say so.
3. How Needs and Wants are Met– Children’s Services give (foster parents) money every month to meet the needs of the child. Foster parents have a lot of discretion in how that money is used to meet those needs, but $60 every month is allocated toward meeting your clothing needs (see checklist). We agree that whatever money is left at the end of the month after meeting your required needs will be given to you to spend on extra things you might want. (snacks, makeup, etc). When possible, we will give you the choice to buy the required clothing new or second hand so that you can maximize the amount you have left at the end of the month if you choose.
If you have items that you want to buy that go beyond your current budget, the proper step is to ask (foster parents). If the item is permissible, some steps to obtain it may be to do a job to earn it or save money available after clothing purchases.
If there are activities you want to participate in, please ask. Foster parents cannot read minds but do try to help you achieve your own personal goals.
**This part of the contract really only addressed the areas where we were having an issue. Therefore we did not address meeting needs like food or shelter because those were not areas we were having problems with.This could easily be customized per kid.
4. Consequences of Either Party Not Maintaining the Contract – Being in foster care can be tough. Many decisions are made for you that you may not agree with or get to participate in making. However, in this home, if (foster parents) do not keep the agreement, the following steps should be taken: (foster child) should talk to (foster parents) – somethings things are overlooked accidentally or not done correctly and they would like the opportunity to fix the problem. If that does not resolve the problem, talk to your social worker and counselor. They both have copies of this agreement and have agreed to mediate disagreements. Lastly, if no agreement can be reached and the problem cannot be resolved, (foster child) may ask her social worker to find her a new home.
If (foster child) does not keep her part of this agreement, (foster parents) will talk to (foster child) about the problem. If the problem is not resolved, they will talk to her counselor and social worker. If it cannot be resolved, they may ask (foster child) to leave and go to another home.
In consideration of the agreement detailed above, the (foster parents) agree that they shall provide the agreed upon care and will respond as described in resolving problems.
In consideration of the agreement detailed above, (foster child) agrees that she shall understands the foster parent’s responsibilities and the behavior expected of her as well as her options in resolving problems.
This contract can be modified in writing if the need arises.
It is agreed. By signing below, the Parties agree to be bound by the terms of this Agreement.
Signature of (foster mom)
Signature of (foster dad)
Signature of (foster child)
Date: _______________, 20__
A Final Note: We are not legal experts and if you are concerned about that should consult with your local Children’s Services. They might want you to amend what you include or how you offer it to the child. Our foster daughter’s next option was a group home and she knew it so they were fine with us giving this a shot. Like I said, we didn’t end up signing anything but verbally going over it was a huge stride in the right direction.
When you have a large family and limited budget, you have a variety of options for keeping your wallet intact. Most of them involve shopping at discount grocery stores and/or using coupons. But when you live near Ohio’s Amish, you definitely want to consider the discount options available there especially if you like to cook from scratch and are willing to buy in bulk.
For us a typical day of visiting Amish Country is all about the food. I don’t really enjoy most shopping and prefer to buy online to limit trips to the store. But I do love my trips to Amish Country. If you live in the area, you know that there are several larger towns in Holmes County. Our family is part of a dairy herdshare in Holmes County. (This is the legal way to obtain raw milk in Ohio). It is our turn to pick up the milk about every 6 weeks, so that is about how often we go to Amish Country.
My friends frequently ask where I shop down there and I tend to groan. (I know…I’m nice.) The problem is, things aren’t on neatly marked streets. GPS doesn’t work down there sometimes and cellphone reception can be sketchy…although it does seem to be improving. Explaining where to find things often involves more general directions like: Go through the 2nd stop sign past the 3rd pine tree and turn left at the second entrance of the white house with the curve around driveway. Great right! It’s not really that bad but its hard to explain in quick conversation. So, I tried to take pictures of my favorite stops because some of these stops don’t have great signage or your might pass them if you don’t know what you are looking for.
Anyway, my visits to Amish Country start in Kidron Ohio on Kidron Rd. The following are my favorite stops. Most are food related, but some I just like!
Growing up, my mom was a hardcore thrift store shopper, and I had a love/hate relationship with the whole experience. Some thrift stores are dirty or the merchandise is poorly displayed. Some thrift stores have piles of donations/garbage out by the dumpster making you question what exactly they warrant keeping and if your donations are ending up on the trash heap too. What I love about this shop first is that it is neat and tidy inside. Carpetted floors make it quieter inside and the display racks are neatly organized. Most items are fairly priced although like everything, prices tend to creep up here too. In addition to clothes, they have tons of books, magazines organized by title, homeschool curriculum, household goods, craft and sewing supplies, and more. I know that when I give things like curriculum
craft supplies, it will be appreciated by someone else and not thrown into a hodge podge box of random items. I also like that when you buy games and puzzles here, they actually take the time to see if pieces are missing and clearly mark the box to indicate if anything is missing.
Lehman’s Hardware is a favorite stop for that perfect step back in time right alongside modern amenities. Whether you want to find quality tools and seeds for your garden, cooking supplies galore, classic children’s games and toys, nostalgique old time candies and beautiful woodstoves, this place is worth the stop just to browse. If I don’t have my kids with me, I could spend hours in here. With kids, it is more challenging as they want to touch and explore all the cool things in this place. Definitely stop here if you have never been.
A number of years ago, our family decided to start raising chickens for eggs. It was a big endeavor for us non-farmers, but we wanted to try it. One of the things we quickly learned is that chicken feed can be expensive!! In our area, a 50lb bag is nearly $20 but at L.E. Sommer’s, the price for 100lb usually ranges between $16 and $20. Their feed is not organic, although they may sell that. They do have feed for all kinds of animals, so if you have farm animals or pets, definitely check this place out.
Cash, check or credit accepted. Discount for paying with cash or check.
Kidron Road Greenhouse
Kidron Road Greenhouse is a small family owned operation that is open year round selling produce and flowers. My favorite time of year to stop here in the spring for flats of flowers and veggies. Their prices are usually much better than nurseries local to us and they usually sell things like onion and sweet potato starts which are less common at other nurseries.
7478 Kidron Road
Apple Creek OH 44606-8807
Cash or check accepted
Country Salvage Scratch and Dent
9420 Kidron Road, Applecreek, Ohio 44606
cash or check accepted
I’m going to need to get a better picture of their sign for you. The day I took this, I was driving alone and had my arm hanging out of the car snapping random pictures hoping something would work! This stop is awesome…wonderful…a must stop if you have never been. Scratch and dent grocery stores are in various parts of Amish country and exist in other places as well, but this is one of the closest for us. These stores buy bulk goods from suppliers that have damaged packaging or are outdated on their “best buy” date. Most of the time they are very recently expired but not always. Every time you go, the selection is different, so if you find something good for a price you can’t beat, buy it all! Prices are usually 50-90% off retail. Things you might find inside are canned goods, juices, cereals, crackers, cookies, candy, rices and grains, coffee, tea and any number of other things from a grocery store. Often there are organic or gluten free items as well. I would caution that if you are unsure of something and are planning to buy a lot, open one to taste and buy there in the store. If it is “off” then you will have saved yourself from purchasing a lot of something unsalvageable. There are no returns, so there is a slight learning curve to buying groceries this way. I’ve been shopping here for years and have only had a few things over that time that were unsuitable but I am more careful now. My personal tip is that canola oil does seem to taste rancid after the sell by date, so I tend to avoid that as an ingredient if possible.
The Ashery Country Store is a bulk food store. I remember stopping here when I was a kid and loving the bulk candy selection as soon as you come in the store. From chocolates to gummies and jelly beans, there is something here for every sweet tooth. But the reason I come here is for the healthy bulk stuff, much to my children’s chagrin. They have a fantastic selection of spices at great prices, bulk grains and flours (I usually buy in 50lb bags for a 20% discount), nut butters, cheeses, crackers, cookies, ice cream, honey and maple syrup and all kinds of baked goods. As with anything, not everything here is a great deal, but I do have my regular items that work well for our family. Of course, this is a fun place to stop for all the samples too. If you come to here and Heini’s you’ll probably need to hold off on lunch for awhile!
If you are looking for the best place to buy organic grains and cereals, Stutzman Farms is the place you need to stop. Much of their grain is grown right here on the farm and they specialize in organic and non GMO. I recommend trying their honey sweetened puffed corn or spelt…it is amazing! Often they have fresh baked bread available too.!
Heini’s Cheese Chalet is an alpine treasure filled with amazing cheeses of all different kinds. Made right here in the same building from Amish sourced milk, they sell all different flavors of cheese and fudge. The best part is all the samples of cheese, fudge and dips! They also have an amazing selection of cookie cutters and sprinkles galore in every shape, color and texture imaginable. When you are leaving, if you drive around the back of the building to exit, you’ll see all the milk cans used for transporting the milk from the Amish farmers.
6005 County Highway 77, Millersburg, OH 44654, (800) 253-6636
cash, check and credit accepted
Troyer’s Country Market – visit their website here
Troyer’s Country Market is a blend between a traditional grocery store with bulk foods as well. They have a bunch of samples to try too! They sell Troyer’s pies with are delicious and have a little cafe area inside.
5201 County Road 77, Millersburg, OH 44654, (330) 893-3786
If you love to sew, be sure to stop at Zinck’s Fabric Outlet. This huge warehouse is filled with fabric, notions and sewing delights galore. You can find some super deals on fabric here. Some of their fabrics have misprints or damage on the bolts so be sure to look over your precut lengths or bolts carefully to make their any flaws won’t make the piece unuseable. My mom regularly goes here if she needs to make a bunch of table cloths, curtains, or pjs for grandkids!
One of our favorite stops in the fall is Sunny Slope Orchard for a huge selection of apples. They also sell pumpkins, squash and depending on the season…sweet corn, peaches, concord grapes and various other produce. Open year round, they sell Florida citrus in the winter and baked goods year round. Their cider is delicious too! The best deal here is their 1/2 bushel bags of seconds. The apples might be small or have some bruises, but most of them are fine. They are usually around $6 for a huge half bushel bag. Last year they had seconds even in February so it is worth checking even past the fall.
Well, I hope this was helpful. I have a few more stops that I need to add into this loop of favorites, but in the mean time, I encourage you to visit these places if you get a chance to visit the Kidron/Berlin area. Let me know if there are any must visit food stops I should add in!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!)
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
Step 2: Fill with water AND one color of food coloring.
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!)
Step 5: Send your kiddo outside to spray paint the snow.
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!
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.
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.