Battle of the Books

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Yesterday, Julian competed with Duke School participants in the Battle of the Books.  They did a great job and placed 3rd!  Here is an excerpt from America’s Battle of the Book’s website:

America’s Battle of the Books is a reading incentive program for students in grades 3rd-12th. Students read books and come together to demonstrate their abilities and test their knowledge of the books they have read. The competitions are similar in style to the TV series Family Feud or Whiz Kids styles of competition, however, the structure and format of the competitions may vary depending on the needs, resources, and personal preferences at various school sites or at county/state competitions.

Yet another reason to be proud of our book lovin’ Julian.  We love you, Jules!

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The Middle Mom

It has been about nine months since we had our last foster children in our home.  Since then, there is not a day that goes by that I do not think of the seven kids that have come through our home and left to be with their forever families.  I think of fostering again and I am met with an extreme mix of emotions.

Fostering children is a messy endeavor.  Even with very open hearts, we have been stretched and depleted in ways we didn’t think possible.  In the same breath, we have been grown and strengthened by the little ones that have taught us more about love and selflessness than we could have ever dreamed.  Our children, as well as Scott and I, have grown in compassion and understanding.  Don’t think this was easy to come by though.  Dealing with the effects of trauma, physical wounds, undesirable behavior, attachment issues, night feedings, screaming, hyperactivity, not to mention all the people that become a part of your lives… all the social workers, therapists, doctors, biological parents and specialists and juggling all of life’s activities and schedules…. can take its toll on anybody.  But, we learn from these experiences, inconveniences, and challenges.  They make us better people.

I have been praying for the chance to be a foster mom again.  We have recently been finishing the process of being relicensed, which is required every two years in our state.  It is not an enormous inconvenience, but it does take work.  Enough work to think, is this really something I (we) want to do again?  The answer is a resounding yes.  Scott and I have been talking to our four kids about opening our home up again to foster.  We think it is very important to stay open with our own kids about where we are in this journey and listen to them express their ideas and feelings about it as well.

I started reading this book The Middle Mom by Christie Erwin a few days ago and I am already done reading it.  It is a memoir of Erwin’s experiences fostering over forty children during the past fifteen years.  Her family decided to start fostering through a private agency.  Their particular fostering story started with taking on baby placements for 10 days at a time.  They would pick up the babies from the hospital, sometimes even naming them.  Then, the baby’s forever family would meet them at the agency ten days later.  Then, after several years, the Erwin’s decided to work within their state’s foster care system.  This proved to be a truly different and challenging experience.  The placements were much longer.  I enjoyed reading through case after case that Erwin and her family worked with.   The Erwin’s ended up adopting two kids from the foster care system and continue to foster and be active members of their county adoption coalition and Pulaski County Heart Gallery.

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I have found her writing to be extremely encouraging and interesting.  There are so many feelings and experiences she shares within this book that I can relate to.  I have been pleased that Erwin doesn’t just share the golden moments of fostering, but the true pain, loss and hardship it brings.  She tells many stories from her journey that show the whole scope of emotions and the give and take that are involved in this ministry.

Fostering is truly a ministry, although I have never put those words to it.  It is a chosen work that causes us to put others before ourselves.  This isn’t comfortable or easy.  To walk into what one knows will be a challenge is daunting to say the least.  As we foster, it is our mission to serve these kids and live our belief that they deserve to be known, valued and loved unconditionally.  They deserve a voice.  They deserve a family that will cradle them and pour transforming love and grace over them.  Erwin writes, “They deserve to be loved with everything I have as a parent: the sold out, no-holds- barred love, without the presumption of receiving something in return, without condition, regardless of their behavior, attitude or actions.”  Not only are we ministering to needy kids, we are serving their parents.  We are working alongside the birth parents to ensure that these kids are cared for in the best possible way until there is reunification or other arrangements for permanency have been made.

In our experience, God takes all of our willingness, inadequacies and flaws and works through us to transform foster children through His love.  I still anticipate the next phone call from DSS (Department of Social Services) asking us if we will give a child or two a home.  The most unnerving thing is that “the call” never comes when you have a clean house, you are starting a three day weekend, your pantry is fully stocked or your kids are all bathed and in perfect health and brimming with great attitudes.  I have been asked if I am ready for the next placement.  My answer is that I do not think anyone is ever fully ready.  There is so much unknown wrapped up in a placement, we can never be truly prepared.  I feel that we can only be waiting with an openness and readiness for service in the midst of our daily this and that.  I know that if the Lord blesses us with the opportunity to foster again, I will be high and low, I will be pouring out and praying a lot.  If He wants to use us, He will give us (our entire family) what we need in order to care for foster children.  Does this mean I will make myself vulnerable?  Yes.  Vulnerable to make mistakes, to doubt, to fear and at times lose hope.  This vulnerability also means putting my trust in God, putting my hope in Him that He will do amazing things in the lives of very needy children and work through this imperfect, often disorganized, simple minded and naive woman … a middle mom.

Character Day

Our school had our annual literary festival last week.  On friday, our kids and staff were able to dress up as a character from a book.

Brayden chose Jack from the Magic Tree House series.
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Kalen chose Peter from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  My mom had made this knight costume years ago for Julian and it worked great!

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I chose the Tree from The Giving Tree.  I already had stitched a tree on one of my t-shirts and just decided to add the leaves and apple for our character day.  DSC01686

Drawing, Cooking and Other Creative Stuff

 

 

This week we have been cleaning, playing, swimming and having lots of playdates.  Hooray for summer break!  At home, the kids have gotten quite creative.  These drawings are by Kalen.  He would ask for permission to use my iPad and look up images for how to draw an eye and many other things.  I love his interest in drawing.

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Give your kids a bunch of tiny dixie cups and it will entertain them for hours.  Really.DSC00163

 

 

Madelyn has made two batches of homemade granola this week.  We were inspired by a recipe in a book I checked out in the library called You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan.  Yum!DSC00166

Revisiting Fostering Journey

Tonight we were able to speak to a group of folks at our church about our fostering story.  What a privilege it was to speak so candidly about the good, bad, and sometimes ugly parts of what we know fostering to be.

We were able to reflect and share about how we came about the choice to open our home to kids in need through fostering.  We spoke of all four placements, seven children, that we have fostered.  There were many ups and downs that we were able to speak about.  We shared pamphlets that DSS was kind enough to let us give to those interested.  I showed the group several books that I have read that have encouraged me and inspired me related to fostering.

Click here to see previous posts centered around our fostering experience.

I must say, it was refreshing to be in a room with folks that wanted to listen and were open to the topic of fostering children.  Not that the topic is foreign at our church.  We have had several families that have fostered in the past.  It was encouraging today to sit across from people who have this type of giving on their hearts.

I did not post about our last placement.  In April we had the unique opportunity of fostering two sisters for almost two weeks.  Because I was working full-time and our own kids still were heavily involved with soccer, I did not take the time to write about the girls.  However, they were totally worthy of post after post.  These precious girls were two- and four-years-old.  Beautiful and smart, these two came to us and won our hearts.  The case went to court and the grandmother was able to work it out to care for them, so they left us.  It is amazing how quickly attachments can develop.

We continue to get calls.  The need for foster parents is ongoing.  Two days ago we got a call about a 16-year-old girl and her 5-year-old brother that needed to be placed.  I have learned how to say no and not feel terrible about it.  My heart does get heavy in that instant though.  It is evident that there are kids in need in our community, but to know of a specific kid and situation is harder to gulp.

For now, we are taking a rest from fostering.  We will continue to reevaluate our family’s availability.  I don’t think our fostering story is over.

The books that I shared with tonight’s group:

*Another Place at the Table by Kathy Harrison

One Small Boat by Kathy Harrison

Damaged by Cathy Glass

Happy Kids by Cathy Glass

Parenting the Hurt Child by Gregory Keck & Regina Kupecky

*Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

(* favorites)

 

The Happiness Project

I am currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  I would love to say that I was recommended this book or read about it somewhere and wanted to check it out.  Nope, I saw it in an Anthropologie store and picked it up.  It looked so bright and, yes, happy on the shelf.  I thumbed through it and thought it would be a fun and productive read (plus it would be super cute on my coffee table).  I texted a photo of it to Scott and he surprised me with it later.  Sweet, eh?

Rubin seeks to provide insight into the topic of happiness.  She shows you how day by day, chapter by chapter, how you can be happier.  Through being transparent with her own journey of seeking happiness (her own happiness project), she gives examples of starting small, setting goals and using attainable strategies to be happier.   This novel shares her insights to help readers do their own happiness project.

From The Happiness Project blog:

One rainy afternoon, while riding a city bus, Gretchen Rubin asked herself, “What do I want from life, anyway?” She answered, “I want to be happy”—yet she spent no time thinking about her happiness. In a flash, she decided to dedicate a year to a happiness project. The result? One of the most thoughtful and engaging works on happiness to have emerged from the recent explosion of interest in the subject.

The Happiness Project synthesizes the wisdom of the ages with current scientific research, as Rubin brings readers along on her year to greater happiness.

In the beginning of the book, something really spoke to me about happiness being strongly related to growth.  Rubin quotes William Butler Yeats, a 1900s poet and writer, on the subject of happiness:

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing or that, but simply growth.  We are happy when we are growing.”

I love that.  That concept totally resonates with me.  Gretchen Rubin adds,

“It isn’t goal attainment, but the process of striving after goals, that is, growth that brings happiness.”

As I catch little opportunities to sneak and read from this delightful book, I feel challenged to live my life in an atmosphere of growth (one of Rubin’s sayings).  I think I can relate to Rubin’s pursuit of more happiness.  I think exploring, acknowledging and confronting areas of my life that hinder and can also promote happiness— is a worthy quest.

Hopefully after finishing the book, I can report more take aways from my readings.  If you have not read it, I do recommend it.  If you have read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Vegan Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Kalen and I made some tasty vegan Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies yesterday.  We figured it would be a nice way to rev up for Valentine’s Day.  I found the recipe in the Vegan Bake Sale cookbook by Carla Kelly.  Here’s the recipe:

Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/3 cup smooth natural peanut butter

1/4 cup vegan shortening ( I used Earth Balance)

1 tablespoon ground flax seeds

1/2 cup almond milk (I used soy milk)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

optional: 1/4 cup roughly chopped peanuts and/or 1/2 cup chocolate chips.

How to:

1.  Preheat your oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2.  In a large bowl, cream together the brown sugar, peanut butter, shortening, and flax seeds until well combined, thick and smooth.  This will not get light and fluffy.

3.  Add the milk and extracts.  Mix well to combine.  It may look a bit curdled at this point, which is okay; just continue.

4.  Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the chopped nuts and mix everything together until a soft, yet dense dough is formed.

5.  With dampened hands, scoop the dough into tablespoon-size balls, flatten between your hands to form disks 2 inches in diameter, and place 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets, then using the tines of a fork, gently press a crosshatch (crisscross) pattern into the top of each cookie.

6.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the undersides are just lightly browned and the cookies are puffy.

7.  Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then let cool completely on a wire rack.