Monday, February 28, 2011

Moolah Monday - Not Too Proud To Beg

Freebies are the best.  I'll take almost anything that's free.  One of my favorite activities is to drive the neighborhoods on bulk trash pickup day...I have picked up 3 pieces of wood furniture to restore, 1 spiderman bicycle, a Step 2 slide, a toddler princess bed frame, and a few more things I'm sure.  Recently I picked up this load:

Don't worry, I didn't get these out of the trash - but they were to be thrown away.  At work this past week we had a national conference that I helped facilitate.  One of the presentations involved a need for rotten bananas.  In the absence of rotten bananas, we used perfectly good bananas, put them in the refrigerator for a while, then scratched the peels up and squished them a bit so they didn't look a-peel-ing (I couldn't resist).  At the end of the day we had about 100 bananas left over plus a basket full of other fruit.  Most of the people were in DFW from out of town and since the bananas were in the condition they were in they were going to be thrown away.

Not with me around!  I rescued these bananas for future use.  I filled my refrigerator fruit drawer with oranges, apples, and pears.  I gave away a ton of bananas to people I knew were going use them for baking.  Then, I came home with the ones above.  I did end up throwing the worst of the worst away.  Then I made 4 mini loafs and 1 full loaf of banana bread.  Then I bagged them in freezer bags perfect for 2 loaves of banana bread and stuck them in the freezer.  I used 4 bags - good enough for 8 loaves - which means 80 bananas. 

And to my brother-in-laws pleasure, I will use them all.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Say What !?! Sunday - It's a no...

I was going to skip this week's Say What !?! but my son just gave me another gem as he was finishing his homework (at 10:30 at night...I know). 

I asked him to write his name at the top of the paper. 

"Mom - I accidentally wrote a d.  Can I just leave it there?"

he looked at me, but before I could even answer he said -

"It's a no.  I know, it's a no."

I probably would have said yes.  Too funny.

Foster Parent Friday - How do they know if you follow the rules?

Today's question is closely related to these close cousins:
  • Do you really have to follow the rules? Who would know anyway?
  • Don't you have to have a ton of people in your home all the time?
  • How often do they check on the kiddos? 
And of course it's a follow-up to last week's question.

This is all pretty timely in our home in that in the span of the last 2 weeks we've had 3 home visits and I expect at least 2 more in the next week.  And that's with only 1 case - remember for the last 8 months we've managed 2 cases (which worked out to be 2 kiddos).  Typically though, this schedule is not quite as busy, though if I said there weren't a lot of in-home appointment I'd be lying. 

Remember that in any given case there are a series of "regular players" as follows that would visit your home at some point:
  • Child's Caseworker - typically would visit in home 1x per month (though I've never had this happen that frequently).
  • CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) - depending on the county, this visit should happen
    1-2x per month.  Not all cases have a CASA, but I will say that in the ones we've had a CASA they have been good at coming 1x month for the most part.
  • Ad Litem (Child's Attorney) - Usually I've only had the ad-litem visit at the time of placement (within the 1st week) and the week before a court date (maybe every 2-3 months?).
  • ECI/Therapy - Generally, ECI will do an in-home assessment within the first 30 days or so that the child is with you.  This is usually about a 2 hour visit where they do a series of assessments and determine if a child is eligible for therapy (speech, developmental, physical, etc.).  Then (and I'm not sure whether this is agency specific) a visit is expected at least 1x per month, but this doesn't have to be at home it can be at daycare or, in some cases over the phone.
The above visits are child specific.  They are meant to check on the well-being of the child in the current placement.  There are also a set of visits considered to be for the licensed home.  These visits are highly dependent on the agency you are licensed through - you can be licensed through a private agency or in Texas you can be licensed straight through the state.  I'll get into the differences in another Foster Parent Friday.  We happen to be in a state-licensed home and with that typically comes less scrutiny (or at least less visits) than a private agency would bring:
  • FAD Worker - I believe the acronym stands for foster and adoptive development, but I don't know for sure.  State-licensed homes are assigned a social worker hired by the state to work with them to make sure the home is safe and the parents are doing what they need to do.  FAD workers visit 1x per quarter and spend about 45 minutes in the home. 
  • Random State Inspections - Oh my goodness - we just got our card pulled for one of these - it's an inspection by the regional child care licensing staff.  If your card gets pulled they send you a letter saying you might get a call - then if you get a call they schedule your appointment by the end of that month.  Yes, you might say that's not exactly random or surprise, which does mean you have time to prepare, but it also helps to make sure you are there with your kiddos when they visit.  We were lucky enough to have one of these special visits early this month and had two violations - a bottle of mouthwash in our guest bathroom and a bag of potatoes on the floor.  What are you going to do...
  • County Health Inspection - We've had 3 of these in the past year, but that's unusual.  Typically you have 1 when you are initially licensed and that lasts for 2 years.  We moved 2 months after we were licensed and with a new house comes a new inspection.  For reasons I won't get into we had to have our FAD worker do our first one, but that only lasted for 6 months.  We had to get the county inspector to come out - we finally had the pleasure of having her over in January.  So, that should make us good for 2 years.  Phew!
  • Fire Inspector - This works the same way the County Health Inspection works so we've had them out 2x, once at each house.  We didn't have the same issue with the Fire Inspector that we had with the health inspector that caused the extra visit.  So we should be good for another 18 months.
I think that's it!  I'm tired just writing it all out.  Actually it's not that bad, though it becomes exponentially more difficult when you have multiple cases.  Multiple kids from the same case don't have the same challenge, just multiple cases.  With 2 open spots it certainly makes you consider taking 2 more cases, though we'd take 2 more kiddos in a heartbeat.

Which leads to the next question - How long does it take to get kiddos once you have a spot open?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Working Mama Wednesday - Our Family's SAHM vs. Working Mama debate

Some people think I'm a career woman.  They make that assumption I suppose because I have a career and because I have kiddos and I work.  I guess in the most basic sense of the phrase I am indeed a woman with a career but that doesn't exactly make me a career woman.  I sometimes have to reassure women who are struggling with their decision (or 'necesity') to work because they are surprised I have struggles with that decision myself.

In reality I'm a homemaker trapped in a working mama's body.  If I could do anything all day I'd be taking care of my kiddos, taking them to the park, taking them to the museum, playing with them inside and outside, cooking meals, cleaning the house (really!  I swear!), going to the library reading event during the day, gardening, scrapbooking, and pretty much anything else crafty.  I would LOVE to be a stay at home mom.

Unfortunately, that's not exactly how we've setup our life.  If you've been to our home you know our lifestyle could afford to be toned down, but I'm not really even talking about our financial situation though I am and always have been the breadwinner by far.  I guess that's part of it - I started working at 18 I was working full-time and continued to do that until age 20, when I graduated with my Bachelors.  During that time I held 1 primary job and sometimes a 2nd or 3rd as the opportunity came up.  And, if you haven't done the math, I earned a Bachelors in 3 years.  My intention isn't to brag - most people think I'm nuts and to some degree I am - I just have this knack for working at super speed and doing "everything I can" in my lifetime.  2 weeks after I graduated with my Bachelors I began working for my current employer - almost 9 years later I still work here, nearly tripled my income and in the world's eyes have a "successful career".

I don't really care about what the world thinks.  What I do care about is what God thinks and what my family thinks.  That's it.  And that's where my decision is made to be a working mama.

What does God tell me? (paraphrasing)
  • In everything I do I should do it as I would for him, and for His glory (trying to do this, though not perfect, has led to 9 promotions in 9 years - mucho favor)
  • A Godly woman works very hard (see Proverbs 31)

    So, I know as a Godly woman I need to work very hard, in everything I do I need to do it as I would directly for God, for his glory not mine.  Let me be clear to say that I think this does not exclusively speak to a Working Mom or a Stay at Home Mom - I think it allows for both equally as long as you are earnestly seeking the plan He has for your life.  I think the role of a mother is so important and a wife equally so if not more so and this is something I always need to take into consideration - God first, husband second, children 3rd, others afterward. 
What does my family tell me?
  • My son is incredibly intelligent and very social - though I think I could (and may in the future) decide to homeschool him effectively, so far it has been very beneficial to have him in preschool and, next year in Kindergarten.  So, if I quit my job today I wouldn't be able to stay home with him all day anyway (this may have been different in years passed). 
  • My husband works as a public servant and has a very limited income opportunity.  I'm very thankful that my husband loves his job but isn't a work-a-holic.  Though I think he'd be more than able and I'd be willing to give up our current lifestyle for something dramatically different, the pressure of having to provide for all of our family's needs is something that really weighs heavily on him and together we believe that wouldn't be the best thing for the health of our marriage and family, particularly in that we'd have to give up nearly 2/3s of our income that we've grown accustomed to and that would compound the stress seriously.
In addition, when we bought this new house we prayed earnestly for guidance in that we'd be either able to stay where we were and have me stay at home or move into the new house (which would set me to working for sure).  God closed the doors for us to stay at our old home and blew open the doors for us to buy the new home and, therefore, work. 

So, I am a stay-at-home mama in a working mama's body.  The good news is that I am extremely blessed in that I have a great job which provides me to do the best of both worlds - help ease my husbands concern without sacrificing all of our family time.  I get to take plenty of time off, I get to participate heavily as a very active foster parent, go to school with my son and visit his teacher and participate in special events.  I get to help our family save and spend a lot of time teaching my children and growing them to be who they will become. 

It's not always easy, but for now I'm trying to do the best I can to be the person God created me to be - whether that's a working mama or something else.

Tuesday's Tears - Termination of Parental Rights

With everything that happens in the foster care system there are a lot of tears to shed.  Hopefully the most obvious to you is the stories we hear about the children and what they've been through.  Then there are the stories of the foster families who give up so much of their hearts caring for children only to see them go back to the families that once abused or neglected them bad enough to get them removed from the home, which in my experience so far takes a lot.  But there are other tears to cry that may not be so obvious.

We have no qualms about sharing that when we intended to get into foster care we did so in the hopes that we'd quickly find a sibling group to adopt and after that happened we'd stop.  My husband used to say "We'll do that 2-3 times and if it doesn't work out we'll go toward straight adoption".  I've mentioned before that once again God surprised us in His plans for us in that we really love the foster care part too - it has changed from something that we once did just to get through to adoption to something we've been called to do, at least for this season of our life.

Termination of parental rights is the step in the foster-adopt process where a biological parent loses all rights.  They no longer become the parent in the eyes of the law.  This sometimes happens by way of mutual decision (parents "sign over" rights) or sometimes biological parents fight the process tooth and nail.  Regardless, when termination occurs the decision is final (pending appeal of course) and permanent.  The next step for a child is to find a permanent home through adoption or other type of permanent custodial situation.  You'd think if one of our cases were to go to the point of termination (meaning, in most cases, we'd get the first chance to adopt the child) we'd be celebrating, particularly in light of why we got into this ministry. 

The truth is termination makes my heart break.  Don't get me wrong - I think it is absolutely necesary in certain cases and certainly something I look forward to when we get our "forever kids" in our home.  But the weight of that decision weighs heavily on me.  Not that it's mine to make, but being a part of it still makes my heart grieve.  Of course I grieve for the lost purpose - the intended design for parents to provide Christ-like parenting to each of their biological children.  Sure, I grieve for the child, who has had to experience this challenge in their life and who will have to someday wrestle with the idea that their biological parents "didn't want them", "at least not enough to do what it takes".  But in these cases I know that a) Christ is a redeemer and can be trusted with the children's future and b) Christ can be trusted to provide good alternative parents to them.

What I struggle with the most at that point is the broken heart of a mother.  I grieve for the parents who've lost their children forever.  Sure they may deserve it - this isn't the type of grief that makes me feel guilty for the termination or feel like it's so sad so we should give them their children back - but it's a permanent thing that can't be reversed, ever.  My mother's heart chooses to believe that for these parents, especially the mothers, they love their children and for that reason alone this may be an unrecoverable blow.  If I lost my biological son for some reason, though I know God would have his hand in my life, I feel like my heart would die.  If I could never see him again, or if he could never see me again, this is unfathomable. 

We've had a few cases head toward termination.  In one case the child stopped having visits with the parents only a little while after he/she came into care (joined our home).  I remember the day I got the call from the caseworker vividly - when she told me this child's visits were being canceled because the parents weren't showing up, rather than being elated that this indeed maybe headed toward termination and perhaps adoption for us, I was devastated.  This child may never see the parents again, ever.  These parents may never see this child again, ever.

And I shed a few tears.  Months later there indeed has been 1 more visit.  And now for every visit we may have in the future I'm reminded that indeed that one may be the very last time.  And my heart breaks for the child.  And my heart breaks for the parents, even if it is the right thing to do.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Moolah Monday - 3 Things I'll do TODAY to save money

Sometimes saving money techniques you hear out there seem unrealistic or involve change that seems like taking too big of a bite out of the elephant.  That is the biggest inhibitor to folks starting a frugal lifestyle - it's just too hard! 

To help you get some quick wins in the frugal department - here are 3 practical thing I'm doing today to save money.

1.  Making My Own Breakfast & Coffee  - I'm actually not a coffee drinker but for the last year I've had an almost daily Starbucks habit - a grande non-fat chai tea latte.  This costs me $3.79 per day if I buy it from Starbucks, which also takes me an additional 20-30 minutes in my morning commute.  Instead, I buy the mix at Costco - a package of 3 boxes lasts me 3-4 weeks and costs $7ish.  Add up the savings - $85 vs $10 (milk included) - $75 per month right there.  I also started making my own parfaits - get a 32 oz tub of vanilla yogurt (mine is Dannon's Light & Fit), fresh blueberries, and a box of Kashi crisp - 4-5 spoon fulls of yogurt & a handful of blueberries & a handfull of Kashi = yummy + full.  It takes me maybe 5 minutes to make all of this in the morning.

2.  Walk to the Park - We are fortunate to have several parks within walking distance.  Now that the days are getting a little bit longer and a bit warmer I can get out the jogging stroller/bike trailer and take a trip to the park with the kiddos after work.  This saves so many ways:
  • Free exercise - no need for a gym membership or babysitter while I work out.
  • Free kids play time - no need for expensive play equipment or toys (not that we don't have that...)
  • Cheap Dinner - the kids love having a picnic of ham sandwiches, oranges, and capri sun roaring waters.  This means we're using our evenings for fun instead of eating out, our otherwise normal M.O.
*Bonus* - the walks to the park provide lots of time (maybe 20 minutes roundtrip) for me to have conversations with my son about the important things in life.  We talk about the nature we see, how good God is, His plan for our life, or whatever else is on our mind.  Total mom/son bonding time. (The little one is still a bit small for that though she does chime in with her voice).

3.  Do My Own Taxes - Unless you have a really tough tax situation, most families can do their own taxes successfully for pretty cheap.  I've always done my own taxes from the time I had my first job when I was 15 - each year they became progressively harder and it gives me a challenge.  I usually just use the tax booklets, but this year our tax situation has become much more complex now that we have the foster children and their expenses and the rental property.  So, I've purchased Intuit's Turbo Tax for Home and Business, which really helps make everything easier to sort out.  I paid about $60 for it at Costco with the coupon, but this is the most expensive version and most families can either get away without it or for the more simple cheaper versions they offer.  Of course, if you are really not good with numbers or the whole tax thing scares you, you may want to get professional services - mistakes or misses can cost you big with taxes.  Nevertheless I think most families can win big if they do this together.

So, there you have it.  Leave me a comment on what you plan to do this week to save a little Moolah.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Say What ?!? Sunday - Boogers and Poop

I've had a hard time finding a precious quote this week.  Not because there weren't enough to choose from but quite the opposite - which one of the adorable things could I share.  To my wonder, as I was considreing this tonight, my son blessed us all with this charming gem.

L: Mom - have you ever tasted a booger?  Do you know what it tastes like?
M: I mostly gave him a puzzled look. No Logie - I don't eat my boogers.
L: Well - have you ever gone to the bathroom?
M: Really curious now, as he knows without a doubt I have.
L: Yeah, have you ever gone to the bathroom and got it on your hands?  Got poop on your hands?  Well, that's what boogers taste like, getting poop on your hands.

He had just gone to the bathroom and gotten some on his hands.  I didn't push for more information on his simile. 

M: Logie did you wash your hands with soap and water before you were done?

He did.  Thankfully.  And we'll never know why poop on your hands tastes like boogers.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Foster Parent Friday - Don't you have crazy rules to follow?

I've heard a variety of these questions:
  • Don't you have crazy rules to follow?
  • I've heard you have to lock up your shampoo and stuff?
One question I haven't heard but wish more people asked:
  • You mean you have to double lock every medication in 3 different containers depending on medication type and so if you have to apply a cream 4 times a day you have to get into the double locked containers, unlock them, get the meds out, put the meds back, lock it and repeat 4 times a day? 
In general, the rules licensed homes have to follow aren't that bad once you get used to them, but yes, for sure, they definitely exist.  In Texas they are called "minimum standards" but there is nothing minimum about the size of the binder we have to hold them.  Minimum standards spell out everything from how you store medications and chemicals in your home to how often you feed the children in your home by age.  Most of the rules make perfect sense and should be recommended for every parent or home with children, standards like keeping weapons locked up and guns and ammunition locked up separately.  Other items can be a bit more nit picky - one that surprises some folks is that a licensed home cannot have a trampoline - other more strange things include the prohibition of johnny jump ups and the need to have a 1-1 ration when swimming with kids, who, by the way must wear a life jacket in more than 2 feet of water before they're 6 unless they're good swimmers.  (As a former life-guard and swim instructor I know it is nearly impossible to teach a child to become a good swimmer while they are wearing a life jacket, but I digress...).

Here are a few more minimum standards - summarized:
  • Medication Logs - you must complete a form that captures every medication you give the child, the dose, the day and time, the medication name, the strength, and who prescribed it each month and that must be submitted to the child's caseworker by the 10th day of the month and maintained in their records for 30 days.  Each dose given to the child needs to be recorded with the initials of the person who gave the medication.  This also applies to over-the-counter medication like tylenol or ibuprofen - which you must follow the dosing instructions on the package exactly - you can only stray if you have a prescription from the doctor.  Did I mention foster children tend to come into care ill?
  • You may not homeschool or put the children in private school.  Upon being of school age they must be enrolled in public school.
  • If a piece of baby gear is being used and it has a strap system of some sort, you must use it.  This makes sense for things like car seats but also applies to strollers (as the children age too), high chairs, and anything else with a safety harness system.
So yes, there are definitely rules to follow - they are so second nature to us now only 1 year in that it really isn't a problem.  The thing that we remind ourselves of is that every rule that is in there is there because it is needed - something happened that made them add each and every law, which is pretty scary if you think about it.

So, how do they know if you violate a minimum standard on a regular basis?  Sounds like a question for another Friday. 

And with that, I still made this in on Friday - with 18 minutes to spare.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Working Mama Wednesday - Work Schedule

One of the things that make being a working mama work for our family is the schedule I've been able to manage at work.  Though this has been earned through hard work and consistent high performance, it is something I've come to rely on as a work perk that I can't give up - I get hives just thinkng about losing that benefit.  If I have to work, I have a pretty sweet deal. 

I typically work only 7 1/2 hours a day in the office - that looks something like 9 - 4:30.  This allows me to manage getting myself and my kids ready in the morning, dropping them off at their separate daycares, and do the drive in to work.  This semester I have one day a week I leave work at 3:30 and on those days I try to work from home.  I have no problem taking my kids to visits, staying home for sick kiddos or home visits from the state, or any of the other things that come our way.  My work is completely flexible with me on my schedule and it's extremely helpful.  Of course, I work at nights after the kids go to bed and I try everyday to get to work as early as possible (this morning I arrived at work in the 7am hour) - I certainly don't want to take advantage and bottom line, I get paid to get certain results.  I currently manage 9 people with a several million dollar annual budget - in entrusting me with all of that I owe my organization a good job.

I get contacted 1-2 times a month from recruiters trying to get me to move to fill the position their looking for - this has happened for the last few years.  The good news is it bolsters my self-esteem a bit and that I have a good-sized network.  As a working mama though, I usually start out the conversation by laying out my expectations regarding scheduling and work/life balance.  If I were to seriously consider another role I wouldn't expect the exact same arrangement, but I would (and do) insist on having an organization that is willing to consider allowing me to manage my schedule as necessary.  This limits my "career potential", but despite my occupation and career I've developed I'm not particularly a career person.  I'll get to that in another post sometime - bottom line I feel a responsibility to give my best to anything God has placed in my path but I don't necesarily have a life-goal to make it to a certain position.

I am very grateful for the arrangement I have and the rarity of my situation isn't lost on me.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Moolah Monday - Cheap Dates & Club Stores

What do club stores have to do with cheap dates?

My husband and I have been memebers of Costco for the entire time we've been married.  I'm not sure if we were given a gift membership or if we used leftover money from our wedding to buy our first membership (which we shared with my sister who lived 2 doors down), but I know that in my first membership card picture I still had the braids I got on my honeymoon, so it was really early on.

Since then we've taken a weekly trip to Costco.  We love club store shopping - as long as you make sure that you are purchasing things you need and watch the premium brand pricing you save a bundle.  As an example - I usually get 2 loaves of bread for about $4.50 at Costco - the same bread is about $4 per loaf at a regular store so I save a ton.  Of course, that's assuming I'm not normally buying the 99cent loaf of white bread, which I can assure you I'm not. (though I have on occasion so no guilt tripping here).  On the other hand, I almost never buy meat at Costco because they offer the super good quality meat for a higher price per lb than I can get on the "going out of code" section at the grocery store.  I know we save a ton of money shopping in bulk when we're careful how we do it.

But there's a side benefit.  If you're frugal like me - your local club store can turn into a weekly date.  I know, I know, it's cheesy and really "cheap" not in a good way, but we've turned it into a family tradition that has lasted 6 1/2 years. 

Believe it or not, when we first moved here we were broke.  We didn't have kids so the time to go on dates was pretty much endless, but we didn't have the money to do much either.  So, every Sunday after church we'd stop at Costco on the way home.  We'd pick up anything we needed (and could afford) which usually amounted to a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, or a package of bananas.  We'd spend $5-$10 at the most each week.  But we took our time walking the aisles, chatting, dreaming of things we might want to buy in the future - and sampling the various foods they offered.  Even though we went in to buy 1-2 items and could have gotten out quickly (Costco in TX isn't nearly as busy as Costco in LA), we usually would spend an hour shopping.  Then, we topped it off with lunch - 2 slices of pizza and 2 drinks which you can get for about $6. 

Fast forward more than 6 years.  We still go shopping after church.  We still take our time getting samples and seeing what's out there.  Our big kiddo now knows this tradition and makes plans around the Costco trip.  Our order has changed - now we get 2 slices of pizza and 3 drinks - for an extra 55 cents we don't have to share with our 4 year old - and depending on how many kids we have at the time we might add a hot dog (which comes with a drink, by the way).  We usually spend 10x more than we used to each week.  But our family has grown and so have our resources.

And we have a good time as a family. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Say What !?! Sunday - It could be, really.

Don't you just love it when random strangers share their (ahem - interesting) opinions so freely? 

After experiencing the most crazy May/June you could ever imagine, we needed a break.  What we really needed was a sabbatical, but that wasn't offered.  Instead, we took a morning to head to the Heard Museum in McKinney, Texas.  We looked forward to observing some nature and heard about a butterfly exhibit so we thought this would be a great place to go - it helped that we had a free membership as a result of our membership to the Museum of Nature & Science.  In hindsight, this may not have been the best place to go since you can't really bring strollers, we had a 25 lb baby who didn't walk yet, it was JULY in Dallas, and I was still in the half-leg brace thing for my ankle.  Nevertheless it turned out to be a fun trip.

As we entered, a Southern-bred woman in her mid-late 40s was walking in the opposite direction.  While walking past we had the following conversation:

She - That doesn't look like fun
Mie - not really having much time to say anything about it - No, not much fun, but it's getting better.
She - almost behind me now It could be worse, you could be pregnant!

In early times of our infertility this may have sent me into an emotional fit and I probably would have ranted about how inconsiderate this woman was.  Instead I just smiled and nodded and moved forward.  Afterall, I suppose for a woman who was getting past her childbearing years, seeing me push a 10 month old in a biking/jogging stroller with a 3 year old in tow and a broken ankle in the middle of summer,  I suppose being pregnant would make things a bit more challenging.  There was no way for her to know that we struggled with infertility, or what we had just gone through.  And I'm fairly confident if she was made aware of our situation she would have felt really, really stupid for saying what she did - maybe she would have stopped to count her blessings.  At the time I could think of a whole lot more worse things than being pregnant - like losing your best friend, or watching your dad recover from a massive brain injury - it was one of those moments where I was reminded that we are all given what we can handle - no more and I hope no less. 

If given the choice, when I'm about the same age that woman was, I would much rather be the person who sees pregnancy and children as a blessing, a positive, than the worst thing out there.  Because really, there are a whole lot worse things out there than being pregnant.  I promise.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's been SNOW fun around here

I had originally meant to post this last Saturday.  My intention was to call it "Why we missed this week's Foster Parent Friday".  Of course then the sickies hit our house and now it's a week later.  I guess I kinda missed out on that one.  But I'm going to post it anyway for your enjoyment.

For those of you not in the DFW area - we have been hit with two weeks of winter weather in a row.  The first week you may have been aware of - that was the week before the superbowl and all eyes were on Dallas.  Tuesday hit us with 4-6 inches of snow and ice, which stayed through Thursday.  Friday added on an additional 6 inches of snow - the pure powdery kind.  It made for cabin fever everywhere and spoiled our going home celebration plans for Connor during the day, but we made up for it by trekking out to Target and hitting the pool toy section.  So instead of our planned trip to the bounce house place and the trip to Chuck-E-Cheese, we spent the afternoon doing this instead:

We had such a blast.  Hope we get the opportunity to do it again - but we can wait till next year :)

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Out Sick - Be Back Soon

The flu (or fleu as my dear husband spells it) has hit our home.  Thankfully, the kids had the flu shot or flu mist this year, but we chose not to participate in these particular vaccinations.  Avoiding the flu shot is normal for us and typically it works out.  However, this year it caught us.  J brought it home from work and, due to the weather incarceration last week it spread.  Even though the kiddos didn't get the flu they got a strange 36 hour bug (big kid avoided it too!).  I thought I avoided that bug...Thought daddy caught it but would get over it.  Monday started with vomiting (him) and ickiness (me) - doctor confirmed the flu.  So, we're out of commission for a few days.  Hopefully I'll be back to explain why we missed the last Foster Parent Friday and share a new one this week.  Maybe more.  We'll see how quickly we catch up on our normal life after being out for a week.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Say What (?!?) Sunday - Who our kids look like

Little Logan spent the night this week at his auntie K's house.  It was a rare weekday opportunity since all kiddos were out for the snow/ice days.  She texted mie this conversation:

Auntie K - Logan who do you look like?
L - A little bit like my mommy, a little like my daddy, and a little bit like Jesus.  We all look a little like Jesus.

*I'm such a proud mommy - we talked this week about how he was made in God's image*

Apparently they were amused by his display of wisdom.  I'm guessing they were smiling a bit - probably asking him to repeat it.

L - I'm not going to say it anymore.  It's someone else's job to talk about Jesus now.

He does get embarrassed easy.

How awesome is that?  I did reassure her that as super cool as my kiddo seems, he also tells me frequently that I'm a "boring bully" - so it all evens out.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Thankful Thursday - Gratitude for Today

Eek - Today is proving to be challenging.  I have a sick baby running a high fever, work (need to catch up for the past few days), a test due for school, and last night the pipes burst in our rental property, flooding the downstairs.  The plumber just made it over, the pipes are now frozen, and he can't do anything until we dismantle the kitchen.  Talk about things to not be thankful about.  But given what I have today - here's what I'm thankful for:
  • A rental property!  And a great tenent.  And great neighbors at that property who dropped what they were doing last night to help us clean up.  And that it's so close.
  • Friends & Family who are willing and able to help tear apart the kitchen for the plumber.
  • Daycare for the non-sick baby
  • Solid pipes at our home, which has a great heater
  • 4 family members who aren't sick
  • Understanding work
  • Working internet!
  • Naptime
  • A brain that works quickly to understand Structural Equation Modeling
  • A husband who plays tetris with me to reduce stress late at night and wakes up in the morning and cleans the kitchen
  • A son who is always making us smile
There are a lot of things to be grateful for today.  Hopefully I can remain grateful and optimistic today and enjoy the time with my family.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Working Mama Wednesday - Batch Cooking

Taking the lead from my girl Brit, my previous posts on how bad we're doing eating out, and the frigid temparatures in the DFW area that prevented me from going out to eat on Tuesday night, I spent some time cooking several meals that my family can eat without much trouble over the next few weeks.  This was so much fun and as a working mama will do wonders for my sanity (not to mention my pocket book and family's nutrition).  From 5:30 - 9:30ish I made enough food for at least 10 meals, plus leftovers.  Of course, during that time I also made and served a separate dinner, gave the kiddos a bath, put them to bed, and did plenty of rounding up, cuddling, and correcting - normal stuff for a mom with 3 kiddos literally running around - so the actual time I spent on all this with clean-up was about 2 hours.  Super duper.  Essentially it took me as long to prepare for and clean up from 11 meals as it usually does to do 1.  I'll take that. 

Here's what I ended up with:

From the Betty Crocker's Fix-It-Fast: Family Favorites Cookbook:
  • Super-Easy Chicken Manicotti
  • Gingered Apricot Chicken Breasts
  • Almond-Stuffed Pork Chops (1 recipe = 2 meals for us)
  • Rice and Onion Chicken Casserole
From the Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook:
  • Creamy Pork Chops
  • Spicy Pork Chops
Additionally, I prepared:
  • Generic pork chops - for broiling with seasoned salt, steak seasoning, salt & pepper
  • 2 meal/servings of cut chicken breast - for all those recipes that call for "canned chicken breast" that my frugalness & natural tendency gets freaked out about.
  • Pancakes - the green tub has an extra batch I made at breakfast time for my hubby to eat in the mornings if he so chooses.

My kitchen during the cooking - Yikes!

With all of this food, it will probably take us a good 3 weeks to get through the 10 meals.  I plan to supplement these pre-prepped meals with easy-to-cook standards like spaghetti, chicken nuggets, and burritos.  Additionally, I already had a meal of chicken spaghetti in the freezer and am in the process of making baked potato soup (with extra to freeze).  This should limit our eating out to 1-2 times per week instead of 4-5.  Love it!

This really was super easy, but I learned a few things:
  1. I need to organize my freezer and pantry - they have become way out-of-hand and we got the call from the "random" licensing inspector (took care of the pantry today!).  As you can see, the freezer space is limited.
  2. My freezer doesn't hold a 13 x 9 inch pan.  Note the top shelf of the freezer - not sure that's safe but I'm planning to use on Friday, which meant thaw on Thursday night so we should be ok.
  3. I had way too much fundraiser cookie dough in the refrigerator!  You can see one shelf with two tubs and some more in the door.  This doesn't count the box I went through during the day when I made cookies for my husband to take to work to share with his buddies who had to go out in the cold. 

And here's the kitchen before I was done - remember I mentioned clean-up time was included in the total-time I spent cooking.  I had a paper to write before midnight so I had to leave it as it was here, but as you can see it wasn't too bad!  Now, if only I can be cool enough to keep this up.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Tuesday's Tears - 2010: The Valleys

Now I chuckle as I look back at how we perceived 2009  and how that influenced what we expected in 2010.  I think I thought the lessons from 2009 were over - but 2010 brought lessons of their own.  2009 was primarily characterized by our struggle with infertility - in 2010 we struggled with one difficult life event after another.  Today I can smile again, and I'm starting to feel like I'm catching up a bit on life.  But it was a very difficult time last year that, looking back, I'm frankly surprised we made it through.  Hopefully, as it is to me, this will turn out to be like the footprints poem.  With real-life examples. 
  • January - 2010 started out with promise.  Though I was slammed with work and we still had so many unanswered questions about our future, I felt good, like 2010 was going to be an upturn from 2009.  My grandmother died a few days before our homestudy, which coincidentally was only 1 week after the fallout related to this post.  January had a lot of turmoil, but we still felt pretty excited about things to come.
  • February - Proceeded as normal - School was rough, waiting for answers on kiddos and house purchase was on our mind, but for the most part things were good. 
  • March - GREAT!  Though we went back and forth several times on whether to buy our new house, we received our bonuses which provided us with a good sum of money, the same day we received word that our license went through, which was the same day we had planned a date to see the Black Eyed Peas.  It was a good celebration despite my husband's headache.  7 days later we had our first CPU call for our first foster kids - we welcomed Bobby & Lizzy into our home on 3/25.
  • April - Another great month - though we waivered a bit on weather or not to proceed with purchasing our new house, we made our final decision to go ahead with the purchase toward the end of the month.  The next day I was given a raise to cover the increased mortgage price.  A few days later (in May) we were introduced to our future tenents. 
  • May - And this is where things fell apart: 
    • First week of May - barely slept - school was hard to keep up with.  I was moved to lead a new team at work which was responsible for a major project.  No time for slacking.
    • Second week of May - Finished school and thought I was going to be spending time packing.  As it turns out, that wasn't the case.  Spent the week helping the husband fix the ductwork that had been torn to shreds by a stinky mother bird and her disgustingly stinky babies.
    • Third week of May - Closed on our new home - we were trying to get in ASAP so that our tenent could move into our old home - she was on a tight timeframe and so were we.  Apparently the sellers weren't - even though we closed at 3pm on Thursday they still weren't out at 8:30pm.  Thankfully the friends/family we had lined up to help us stayed that long and got everything packed and moved from one house to the other.  Spent all day Friday moving in as much as we could with my sister and my best friend while our kids ran around like crazy.  I didn't know it but that would be bittersweet.
    • Fourth week of May -
      • Monday - arranged to take the kids swimming (3 by myself?  I was crazy) but forgot the swim diapers.  Stopped at CVS to pick some up.  Thank God.  My best friend was there at the minute clinic with her son - that would be the last time I saw her alive. 
      • Friday - Worked from home in the morning - the kids' caseworker was supposed to come for a visit.  She never made it (went to the other house instead)...after waiting long enough I went upstairs to say goodbye to my hubby for the trip into the office.  Decided to take an empty box downstairs to be helpful.  Didn't realize there were two steps there - completely broke my ankle and tore apart all the tendons and ligaments.  Got put in a half-leg hard boot/brace that would stay with me for 9 weeks.
      • Saturday - Was a good day, though its hard to do much unpacking and organizing when you can't walk and you have a 1, 2, and 3 year old.
      • Sunday - Went to church as normal - was sharing with folks who saw my injury what happened.  We were serving in the nursery. Shortly after service started my husband got a bad call.  My best friend Stephanie - the 35 year old single mother of my son's best friend - was dead.  We immediately left church and had such wonderful support.  Dropped the kids off with my sister while we went to her apartment - waited with her family for the coroner to be done - went inside and kissed her goodbye - prayed with her family - kept her son out of sight while they took her away.  While we were waiting we received a call that my husbands grandfather had just passed away.  2 hours after my best friend.  J called in sick to work.  Thankfully we had friends already planned to bring a meal to us with the new house and broken foot.  It became all that much more helpful.
      • Monday - Memorial Day - how appropriate.  I think we went swimming.  J decided to try to go back to work.  Less than 10 minutes later he called me - our car had completely broken down - stopped working.  I remember going to Sonic to get him a drink - it was hot - but I don't remember how we got the car fixed to get home - hmm.
  • June - And the saga continues...
      • Tuesday - I decided to go back to work.  Was already cried out - or so I thought.  As I sat down at my desk I received a call from the kids case worker.  The kids were going home in 7 days - to their grandparents - who had given them up originally.  And the tears fell.
      • Wednesday - My mom came in for a regularly scheduled visit.  My husband flew out to California to go to his grandfathers funeral leaving me with the 3 kids.  And a destroyed ankle.
      • Thursday - The funeral services for my friend.  In her casket was a picture of our sons playing baseball together.  Had a good cry but was really unable to grieve her loss.  More about that later, but partly as you can imagine there was just too much at once.
      • Friday - Tuesday - Somewhat back to normal.  J came home one of the days.  I went back to work (which, by the way, was a mess - remember one of my biggest projects ever - new team)
      • Wednesday - Took the day off to have a going away party for our kiddos.  It was a great time.  As we got their stuff ready my son came to me and said "mommy, if I have to go now, I will" - so brave.  I let my mom handle the foster kids and took him aside.  Said goodbye and breathed a sigh of relief.
      • Thursday & Friday - Spent some time with the family.  Tried to catch up on work.  Missed the deadline to take a few classes over the summer.  Forgot to go online to pay the bill.
      • Saturday - Mom was going home.  Took her to the movies - saw The Karate Kid - the new one.  During the movie my dad kept calling my mom - he was on a motorcycle ride up the coast with his brother and had a good story to tell - I jokingly told her I couldn't handle any more bad news.  We ate, gathered up her things, and headed to the airport, my sister and I with our kiddos.  Our husbands were working.  I think.  We dropped mom off at the airport, said our goodbyes and left.  We had driven to the galleria, about half way home, when mom called.  Dad was in an accident.  Major head injuries.  Airlifted to the trauma center.  No more word.  She was headed on the first plane out - trying to get there - had to stop in Vegas.  Didn't go home.  Drove us to the airport - had my son and my purse - tried to get flights out - it was a struggle - the inlaws helped but it was a major struggle.  My sister and her family went home to pick up her husband and were headed out by car to California.  They were out of the DFW area before I was.  The hospital couldn't tell us anything without my mom's permission.  She was in the air.  They did let us know he was alive but couldn't say much more.
      • Spent the next 48 hours with no sleep - maybe 2 hours or so.  I was still in the boot.  Spent the next week in California until my dad healed enough to go home from the hospital.  Big fight.  Straw that broke the camels back for everyone.  Went home as planned - drove 24 hours straight with the hubby back home.  Where life was anything but normal.
  • July - December  Recovery.  Added two infants to our home.  Separately.  Wore the boot for 9 weeks total.  Dad went back to work after about 6 weeks.  Wore a modified boot for much longer.  Brother was in an accident and totaled the 69 camaro they'd been working on for 10+ years.  Weeks after he got it registered and insured.  Threats of kids going home.  Threats at work.  My own threats of quitting school with 1 semester to go. 
Back in context - the majority of what I wrote happened in the span of 2 weeks, starting with my ankle and ending with my dad's accident.