Friday, March 23, 2012

Foster Parent Friday – Can I Take Their Picture?

Confidentiality is a big deal in foster care.  As a foster parent you may be most concerned about the need to please the system and not break the rules.  If so, you need to make sure their picture isn’t taken unless authorized appropriately and for certain that it isn’t shared in the media, including social media.

As with most rules, though, the spirit of the law in this case should be much more important than the letter.  Yes, the rules (in our state) say that we cannot authorize photographs of the children except for that which will be used in documentation (i.e, if there is an injury) or that which will be used for personal/family use (i.e., refrigerator picture).  These two rules allow for pretty much all kinds of photographs that a foster parent might wish to take in normal circumstances.  Regardless of what the rules say it’s more important to understand what the rules were intended to protect and any good foster parent should be more concerned about that than simply sticking to the rules.

So what are they designed to do?

As with most rules, photography rules (including videography, which is more stringent than photography even) were established to protect the children’s privacy and limit the state’s liability for not protecting that privacy.  Specifically, we’re concerned about these types of problems:
  • Identifying the child, in public, as a foster child.
  • Identifying the location of the child, specifically when they’re being protected from dangerous family and friends.
  • Child exploitation – using the child’s image as a way to make money for another individual or organization or worse yet, illicit activity.

Sometimes I also think to some degree we’re protecting the biological family too, though that shouldn’t be the primary goal.

As a foster parent you have to stay really vigilant in protecting the privacy of your children, especially when it comes to photography and videography.  Today my kids are having their class pictures taken at their preschool and even something as innocent as that can have bad consequences for our children.  Thankfully they have been posting it all over the school so parents remember picture day and remember to dress their kids nicely and all but there have been times where they’ve taken the children’s pictures without asking and we’ve had to get on them about that.  Usually the purpose is very innocent – the kids are doing something cute in class and they want to take the picture to put on the wall, etc., but without our control over those documents bad things can happen. 

In fact, as I wrote this post I got a call from the school.  Despite the fact I told them that they couldn’t take the kids pictures, apparently they did anyway for #10.  The teacher forgot or was unaware or something and let him be in the class picture.  Thankfully the director saw that he was in it and they called to ask mie if that was ok.  It is not.  They are retaking the picture without him in it.

Here’s the thing though – most non-foster parents might ask – what’s the harm?  Afterall, the other parents see him everyday at school and if they have a picture of him in their home then what’s the problem?  Let’s say they’re proud parents and put their kids’ class picture up in their office at work.  Let’s say they happen to work with the grandfather of our child (or, the grandfather’s neighbor, etc.).  As they have a meeting and lookup they see the picture with our kiddos in it and suddenly know where to find the kids.  That wouldn’t be good.  I had a CASA once who said she was innocently chatting about the case she had, without any names or anything, to someone at church and wouldn’t you know this person was related to the birth parents in that case.  It reminded her to never, ever share anything about a case to anyone not directly involved in it again.  Pictures can be just as dangerous as telling stories.

Here are a few other places/situations to be especially careful with:
  • Birthday parties – with that many people flashing cameras all over the place it’s easy for someone to accidentally capture a picture of your kids too, and they are most likely going to be discreet about sharing those pictures with people you do not know.
  • Kids’ sporting events – we had one of the kiddo’s grandparents last year who was a budding photographer – she was taking action shots of the baseball players and, you know, their siblings.  She then put them all up on the Facebook page for the team so the parents could see the kids.  That was a big no-no according to the rules and she isn’t the one who’d be getting in trouble…
  • Venues, theme parks, etc. – usually the ticket will say something like “upon entering you are granting permission to photograph the ticket holder and use the image at the discretion of the venue”…basically you’re granting permission to them to take pictures of you and your kids and use as they please.
  • Parks, recreation areas, etc. – same thing as with birthday parties. 
  • News & other media outlets – if you see a news crew doing a story – stay far away from them.  They could accidentally get you and your child in the shot and that shot may end up on the local news or front page of the paper.

If you’re vigilant this doesn’t have to be something that you have to be paranoid about.  Nevertheless, it is definitely something foster parents need to be aware of.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Working Mama Wednesday - Mistakes

I made a big mistake at work yesterday.  Unintentional, but a mistake nonetheless.  It was dramaticized big time by big people and that didn't make mie feel any better about the well-intentioned thing I'd done.

Upon learning of my mistake I cried - all the way to work this morning and now at nearly 11am I'm still on the verge of tears.  I hope this passes soon.

This is where empathy and sensitivity can be a problem.

Mistakes seems to be a theme in my life right now, especially over the last few days.  Just hours before I made this mistake at work I'd had to leave work for an hour or so to head over to city court to discuss a certain ticket I'd been given from a police officer - the first in 9 years and one earned completely by accident.  After attending my kids court hearing in January I traveled the 60ish miles to my work via a different route I normally take.  This meant I ended up driving streets I was familiar with (as in pass by all the time) but haven't actually driven before.  I ended up stopping at a red light behind a big box truck.  The driver turned right (on red) and I pulled up to the line, looking left at oncoming traffic to see what was coming.  They were slowing down and it was safe to make my right-hand turn so I did only to see an officer flagging mie down.  I've seen these officers there SO many times and wondered what they were looking for.  Turns out there are 2 no-right-turn-on-red signs posted.  I just couldn't see them because the box truck in front of mie had blocked them and then after he turned on red it didn't even cross my mind to look for those signs.

In any case I was guilty.  The truth is that whether or not I meant to make the mistake, whether an accident or not, I did the thing I wasn't supposed to do.  This is true in the work situation and with the traffic ticket and in most other situations in my life where I do something wrong since I very infrequently do something wrong intentionally with full-knowledge of what I'm doing.

I was fortunate in court yesterday.  My case was dismissed because the officer declined to testify against mie.  This is the second time I've had this happen (and only my 3rd ticket in my lifetime) so I am humbled to have received that grace.  It was just that - pure grace.  I was ready to accept the punishment I deserved but thankfully didn't have to endure the consequence, aside from living with the emotional impact of my decisions.

I'm yet to know the full consequence for my actions at work though I'm hoping for grace as well.  And I did get a little.  At least the damaged relationship was somewhat restored.

Last night I had a conversation with my son that made this (hopefully short) season relevant.  It's the second one of the kind I've had with him in as many days.  Yesterday it was spurred by my son almost running into the street to get the ball while a car was feet from hitting him.  Thankfully he did stop and so did the car, but nevertheless it was a close call where my husband had to raise his voice to get his attention.  My son cried.  He said several times that he doesn't like getting corrected.  He doesn't like it because it makes him feel stupid.

You see, my son is just like mie.  We don't like to be corrected.  It hurts us to our core.  It's part of being academically gifted - we perceive our worth to be tied up in doing the right thing and usually we're able to because we pick up on the right thing so easily.  We learn the first time - and usually that first time is when someone else makes the mistake and we watch it.  Better yet, we can learn from a mistake before it happens many times just by thinking through the consequences of our actions.

And yet we're not perfect.  We do make mistakes and when we do it hurts really, really badly.  It feels as if we're less valuable as people because we're not perfect.  We should have known better.  And, to make it worse (though it's a good quality to have), when we make a mistake we can easily feel the impact on other people, whether its their disappointment in us for making a poor decision or their pain caused by our actions.  We physically feel it.

What I tell my son is that mommy understands.  She doesn't like getting corrected either and she knows how it makes her feel stupid too.  Likewise I remind him that we love him, God loves him, and that we don't expect him to be right all the time.  I remind him that even after living for 30 years and learning a whole lot mommy makes mistakes too - she still doesn't know everything and is wrong sometimes and makes mistakes and when she does she feels really bad.  But finally I tell him that we correct him to help make him better because we love him.  Last night we didn't want him to get smashed by a car (and I told him the story of a real 5 year old I knew growing up who did exactly what he was going to do and got hit by the car and had permanent brain damage).  We love him and never want him to be harmed - we want him to grow in both wisdom and stature as he ages.

So to is it with mie.  My God loves mie and provides correction when I make mistakes.  It doesn't mean I'm less worth.  It doesn't mean I'm less loved.  It means He wants mie to be better.  Thankfully He doesn't always allow mie to feel the full wrath of the consequence I should get for being wrong, something I deserve whether the mistake was intentional or purposeful.  Instead He offers mie grace.

May I never cheapen grace and may I be more like Him as a parent - teaching and upholding justice and yet offering grace freely.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday's Tears - Desperate Housewives

Are you a fan of Desperate Housewives?

It is the one show I regularly watch.  FYI, we started watching it, by accident, with the first episode.  It came on after Extreme Home Makeover the sunday after we moved to the DFW area, away from our family and friends.  My hubby and I were in our temporary housing waiting for our home to be ready and we were enjoying some tv time that night watching the show we watched regularly.  We didn't change the channel quickly enough, I guess, and we witnessed the first few minutes of the new series and were hooked from there.

If you're not already aware, the series began, quite literally in the first few seconds, with someone committing suicide.  This someone has narrated the entire series since.  This must be the 7th season I guess because we've been here for 7 years now.

The series is coming to an end after 5 more episodes.

Yet this is not why I cried my eyes out this past Sunday.

The series is certainly a guilty pleasure and not at all wholesome - I wouldn't let my kids watch it or have it on in the background when they're awake - and yet that's not why I cried either.

I'm extremely empathetic.  I enjoy that quality in mie and yet it causes mie to do things like cry for 20 minutes - big, heaving sobs - in response to a dramatized television show.

In this case it was in response to the murder of one of the housewives' husbands.  That happened 2 episodes ago.  Sunday's episode followed the housewives as they prepared for and then attended his funeral.  As you can imagine, they remembered times when he positively affected their lives.  And the episode ended with his funeral service and burial (and then a brief moment when the housewives vowed to support their friend who just lost her husband - not the first husband to suffer tragically on that show, might I add).

It stirred something in mie that I'd buried.  Like most I don't often think about death unless confronted with it, even though my husband works in a dangerous job and even though one of his coworkers was very nearly killed (i.e., shot in the jaw) a few weeks ago in a spot my husband is in frequently - it very much could have been him.  I don't often think about what it would be like to have to go through that.  I'm fortunate enough to still have my parents around and though I do think about the fact that someday they won't be around I don't dwell on it.

And then there is the fact that my life too is not guaranteed.  I don't think about that often either but it is true that God may recall my life at any point in time.

My empathetic nature wouldn't let mie pass this opportunity to think about these things.  What would it be like if I got the call that a sibling, or my parent, or my husband had passed somehow.  How would that affect mie?  How would that affect my children?  And then of course - what would it be like if I were the one gone?

I couldn't ignore the fact that, like on the show, something like that could happen at any moment.  I sobbed as I saw a wife mourning her husband, a friend mourning a friend (something I've done somewhat recently), a son mourning a father, etc.

And I cried.  Hard.

I called my hubby in from the living room to comfort mie.  I really needed comforting.  Thankfully he didn't laugh at mie and I think to a degree he was moved to tears a bit as well.  I know he could tell it affected mie deeply.

And it did.

I've gone through periods of my life where I've had to put up a wall a bit to prevent myself from overwhelming emotion.  Psychological principles tell us we all do that from time to time.  Nevertheless, I'm extremely grateful for the times where I am allowed to feel deeply.   I'm reminded of the gift of life and all that is wrapped within.

Monday, March 19, 2012

And the winner is ...

Ms. Raina wins the Crazy Love book!

Congrats Raina!  I will send you a copy in the mail.  

For the rest of you who didn't win, visit this website for more information about the book.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Working Mama Wednesday - You Get What You Ask For...

Remember when I was whining about my career?

Well I'm no longer worrying about it.  In fact my situation has changed so much since I last talked about it I'm fairly sure God is teaching mie a lesson.  You know, something along the lines of..."You don't trust mie?  Here. Handle this."

Ok God.  I give in.

My workload has become a mountain to climb.  I'm responsible for some of the largest projects in my company.  Most of them I can't talk about at all.  They are all in their busiest season NOW.  Those that did have an extended time-frame (which were challenging in themselves) are now being demanded in half the time.  The projects I was supposed to get rid of when I took on these other projects never went away.  And they need mie too.

To top it all off, I'd promised myself that I was going to finish my Ph.D. this year and to do so meant I had to complete my competency exams and dissertation proposal over the next month or so.  That requires at least 2 weeks of "full-time" work during which they recommend that you take off from work.  That's not going to happen.

Actually it is, I do have a week of vacation coming up in all this so we can travel to see my dad for his 60th birthday.  I've already had to move it slightly due to the work situation so I can present at an executive committee meeting.  It was just moved by one day though - now we'll be leaving after the meeting instead of the day before.

Why is this all great?

I work well under pressure and I like this pace though admittedly I'd like to tackle this instead:

In case you can't tell, those are ribbons.  Lots and lots of ribbons, sorted out by color.  On  the middle right you can see three bags - a purple and blue and red/white/green - all full of ribbons rolled up to be used in the future.  I plan to use them to make hair bows for my girls, kind of like the ones below.  I may have gone overboard, seeing as how this constitutes only ONE of the two bags I bought yesterday at hobby lobby...
I may end up needing to sell some of these because with that much ribbon I'll have WAY too many for personal use.

And I'd like to have more time to finish my degree.  And I'd like to have more time to spend with my kids (though I'm not really sacrificing that time right now - I work after they go to bed).

So I could complain about the pace and the workload but I secretly love it.  It makes mie more efficient and productive, not only at work but at home as well.  Once I get into that pace of being busy I tend to stay that way and I get a lot more done.  Plus, the projects I'm working on completely validate my contributions to the organization I work for not only because of the nature of the projects and amount of trust they place in mie with these things but also because people asked for MIE to work on it and because I know, even if no one else does, that I'm doing great things that wouldn't have been done without mie, at least not right now.  (Lest I fail to mention it, I'm not the only one working on these things).  These projects also could potentially lead mie to different more senior roles in the not-so-distant future.  And, I'm being considered for a different promotion as we speak.

I'm not confident that will turn out but it doesn't matter - the point is that God has heard my concern and responded, albeit with more work, so that I'm reminded He hears mie and that He cares about mie.  In the end, that's all that really matters.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Moolah Monday - Shop Late (Or Really, Really Early)

Don't forget to enter to win a copy of Francis Chan's book "Crazy Love".
Here is a very, very practical moolah tip that I always take advantage of (at least in part because I'm not all that concerned with fashion...)

I mentioned that I'd postponed some clothes shopping for my kids in a previous post.  That included my son's school uniforms.  At the beginning of the school year we bought 7-10 pairs of shorts and 7-10 short-sleeved shirts.  When I bought them I saw the pants and long-sleeved shirts but figured I'd buy them later.

Later never came.  Well, it came for the pants but I never bought long-sleeved shrits.  To be fair the weather was fairly warm this year and he didn't need them, really.  On really cold days they wouldn't go outside and I always sent him with a warm coat so he was fine.  But his friends had long-sleeved shirts know...

I went to buy them once and found they were nearly $30 each.  Just so you know - I don't spend that much on my own clothes most of the time let alone something for a 5 year old.  (Is that bad?).  Anyway, I decided the jacket was a much better solution.

Fast forward to March and I believe we are out of the woods regarding the need for long-sleeved shirts.  That being said, he did need a few more pairs of pants because 2 pairs have dissapeared, 2 pairs have holes in the knees, and one pair has some sort of bleach stain.  That leaves one "good pair" and since his friends are still wearing pants and he doesn't have long-sleeved shirts to pair with shorts to keep him warmer on the early spring days, I decided to buy him more pants.  When I went shopping I was lucky to find the short-sleeved shirts on sale that day for $8 and I bought a couple, which were desperately needed to lack of stain management - or overwear.  The pants weren't on sale but I managed to find just a couple pairs to get us through to the end of the cooler weather when, no doubt, his friends will be wearing shorts again.

Anywho - I always browse the sales racks and guess what I found - long sleeve uniform shirts for $7.  That's right, $23 dollars off the regular price.  I also found a ton of jeans, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts for him that I could have purchased if I'd wanted to, and usually I do.  The other day I also picked up beanies for my girls for 23 cents.  They were new at Target.

That is my advice to you.  If you can, set aside some budget money for the next couple weeks and purchase what you can for NEXT winter.  Buy the next larger size than your child wears now if they're in a phase where they are growing relatively quickly.  If you're a foster parent and you don't know WHO you might have in your home come next winter weather season, go ahead and stock up for sizes you think you might need.  I've found that it's better to do that and take the risk that you won't need it than to wait until full-price next season.  The prices you can pay are usually so low that come next season you could sell it, probably for a profit, or you could simply give it away or keep it for future kids. 

In case you are wondering or are in need of decent quality uniform shirts (long-sleeved) - the prices I saw were at JCPenney this past weekend.  Get to it quickly though - they won't last long at that price.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Say What (?!?) Sunday - Avery is what?

Don't forget to enter to win a copy of Francis Chan's book "Crazy Love".

A few weeks ago we were driving in the car, on our way to Auntie K's house (about 1 mile away) and Logan and I had this strange conversation:

L: Mommy - Aurora (cousin) says I like Avery.
Mie: Who's Avery?
L: I don't know, but Aurora says I like her.

I'm trying to figure out how Aurora knows Avery and Logan doesn't know who she is...

Mie: Are you talking about Avery from school?  How does Aurora know her?
L: No, not that Avery.  I don't know what Aurora means.

I'm totally confused so I drop it and we move on with our day.  

Then Friday night Aurora came over to play and stay the night.  As we were out to dinner at our favorite local all-u-can-eat pizza buffet the saga magically continues:

Aurora: Avery is Logan's girlfriend.
Daddy: Mommy - did you hear that?
Mie: Logan - Avery from school?  What does it mean that she is your girlfriend?
L: She's my girlfriend (totally non-chalant)
Mie: Is Addie your girlfriend?
L: No.  Just Avery.
I then proceeded through all the girls I knew from his school - trying to figure out if she was just a friend that was a girl.
L: No mom, just Avery.
Mie: What about Cate?
L: No - that's Marcus' girlfriend.

Say what?  You and your best bud both have girlfriends?  Get out of town.

At this point Daddy is trying not to laugh and Mommy is trying to figure out how to handle this conversation in a way that helps him know he can talk about "this stuff" with his mom and dad but while also setting the standard that he doesn't need to be worrying about girlfriends right now.

Mie: Can you pay for her house?
L: Yes.  Well, no.  I have money but not enough.
Mie: Then you have no business having a girlfriend.
L: But mom, she doesn't NEED a house.
Mie: Until you can pay for her house you don't need to have a girlfriend, you need to work on learning and becoming a good man after God's heart.
Daddy:  Well, I don't give my girlfriends a house.
Mie: You shouldn't have any girlfriends.

As daddy and I are having this comical exchange, Logan reaches his head over to Aurora:

L: What are you trying to do, get me in trouble?

Dang - I didn't think I'd have to start these talks now.  How do I keep him from thinking about girls at 5?!?

Friday, March 09, 2012

Foster Parent Friday - Deciding on a Placement

Don't forget to enter to win a copy of "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan!

Q: How do you decide what placements do accept?

Thanks to a blog reader for reaching out and asking mie this question!  I thought I'd share a modified version of the response I sent to her here on the blog so you all can enjoy our though process :)

A: I would say that how you decide really might depend on "what you're doing" in foster care.  If you're doing foster care the process of deciding is much different (to me) than if you're only looking to adopt.  

When we started out we were looking to adopt and were only going to do foster care for a little while and only for legal-risk.  I was open for more but my husband wasn't really open to considering pure foster care.  So, when we went through the home study process and decided what we'd accept it was in light of who we'd be willing to adopt.  In our case, there were a couple factors:
  • Sibling group - not everyone can take in multiple children at a time and we knew we could manage that well.  Plus, if the placement turned into an adoptive placement at some point they'd qualify for adoption benefits.  We're not in this for the money but receiving those benefits would allow us to help even more children than we could if we didn't receive any subsidy.
  • Same age or younger than our son. The general licensing categories here were 0-6, 6-12, and 12-18.  We signed up for 0-6 because we knew that would provide us with a license for at least a few years for kiddos who were at the same age or younger than our son.
  • No male with a known or likely history of sexual abuse.  This was for a purely personal reason. Males who are sexually abused are far more likely to become perpetrators themselves and the shame in male sexual abuse is so much worse even than it is with females that it can often go unnoticed even by the most vigilant parents.  Some parents may not be worried about it but with my personal history and our need to protect our son it was just something that worried me too much.
  • Race - though we are happy to consider any race/ethnicity we wanted the state to be cognizant of the less-than multi-cultural area we live in and whether or not that would be best for the child, particularly a child who is black.  Children in foster care are already "different" and "out-of-place" by nature of being removed from their home and we didn't want them to feel even more outcast by being the only (or one of a small handful) black child in their school or in the neighborhood.  We grew up in LA and are totally accepting of colorful families - we just want the state to make sure our home would be the best available when it came to race before blindly throwing any child in our home. 
Those were the only real restrictions we placed on adoptive placements.  When our homestudy worker went through the list with all of the disorders and conditions and experiences children could come with we said it would really depend on the exact situation.  We didn't want to say no to a sibling group where one child had an ADD diagnosis where the other children had no diagnoses because maybe we could handle one child with ADD.  We didn't want to say no to blindness or deafness or anything else as a blanket rule because maybe we could handle that.  What we said was that if they brought us a sibling group of 5 and one was blind, one was deaf, one had cerebral palsy, one had RAD, and the last one was missing his feet then we might not be able to care for all of that at once and we would be realistic when we were asked about each placement to consider if we could handle it.

After our first placement and with the encouragement of a great circle of friends our criteria changed.  Now, here's the criteria we use:
  • Did CPS call us?
  • Do we have an opening on our license (0-6 years old, up to 5 children, if we have more than 1 under 18 months then we can only have 4 total)?
  • Is there a history (known or expected) of male sexual abuse?
If the answer to these two questions is yes, we will likely say yes.  Here are a few qualifying criteria that may influence our decision:
  • Language - if they can ONLY speak another language we may not accept the placement.  Though I speak fluent Spanish no one else in my house does and that could cause complication with a family of our size. Granted, we could work through it, so it's not an automatic no.
  • Expected case length - It takes 2 weeks to set up daycare.  If they expect to move the child within those two weeks or even within a month or so it causes a large drain on us financially and we may have to be realistic on how many cases we take when we know it will be short-term.  Equally so, if they expect the case to be a long-term foster situation (multiple years) waiting for a prison sentence to finish or something, we'd also have to consider that.  
  • What county do they originate from?  This isn't as much for us as it is the CPS caseworker who would have to transport the kids to visits if they live too far away...
  • Are there known siblings not going to be placed with them at this time.  We'd want to know why they aren't together, if the plan is going to have them be reunified or not, and whether they will have sibling visits.  Not only does this add to the amount of work we have to take on (and though the limit is high there is a limit to how much we can do) we also have to consider the long-term perspective.  We already have one child (Summer) who is permanently with us but who has 2 siblings permanently in two other homes.  Managing those relationships over time will be a challenge and we need to be realistic in how many  more of those types of situations we can manage successfully, and we strongly believe in maintaining family relationships wherever possible.

So basically we say yes to almost anything.

In hindsight after 2 years of doing this it is a great strategy for us.  Absolute worse case scenario if we say yes and a placement doesn't work out  we could have them moved.  Of course, that's not ideal and not what we're heading to but in foster care, especially if you're open to emergency placements, we've learned that we'd rather give it a shot when we can and let God sustain us than have a child go to a shelter or a bad foster home instead of our home.  We've never had to ask for children to be moved.  You also aren't making the commitment to adopt them at that point so it's not a forever decision (though we try to be open to that right away too).

With pre-adoptive placements I do think it's a bit different.  I would still lean toward saying yes, but I'd be a bit more selective, going back to our original list of cautions.  In addition, I now ask specifically where they are developmentally and if they suspect or have symptoms of behavioral disorders, specifically RAD.  As a foster parent I'm just preparing myself by asking.  As a pre-adoptive foster parent I'd reallly consider whether I think I can handle those behaviors with a large family and whether we'd be the best fit long-term.  

I'd also ask for a pre-placement visit, whenever possible so we could get a little sample of their behavior.

The last piece of advice I'd give is to try and keep an open mind.  What they tell you when they call to offer you a placement may not be the whole picture or completely accurate.  The situation could very likely be worse or better than you imagine.  When we had #7 & #8 they said the boy was being moved because the foster mom couldn't handle him anymore - he did things like turn the lights on and off all the time.  I thought - that's just normal 3 year old boy behavior!  Of course when I had him it became apparent that it was WAY worse than I thought it would be - he vomitted on command - whenever he didn't like something or want to do what you asked him to, he screamed, he lied, he stole, oh it was so frustrating.  When we had the call for our current placement they mentioned all sorts of crazy thigns - they ate lotion, they ate toothpaste, they were both obese, they were both significantly delayed developmentally and with speech, etc.  It was the most thorough placement call yet.  I was terrified to say yes.  I hesitated but my husband quickly said yes.  I asked for a pre-placement visit and it would have been difficult to make that work so I said nevermind and yes anyway.  As soon as they came to my home I fell in love with them and haven't had near the trouble with them that I expected based on the description we received.  

Plus, you never know how things will turn out.  When we accepted our 3rd placement it was for our second, singleton baby.  That meant we had two cases at the same time, both with infants (which meant no adoption subsidy potential, etc.).  From the time she arrived both my husband and I said there would be no way we would adopt that placement.  For 4 or 5 months we said that.  It just wasn't an option; she'd only be a foster placement.  Wouldn't you know 15 months later we adopted her - the only one of the 10 placements that we adopted.  My husband and I were talking about it this weekend - what if we didn't say yes to her - we would be devastated if we didn't have our little Summer and that certainly wasn't where we thought the case would go in the beginning.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Perspective (& Giveaway!)

I am so glad God has allowed mie to grow and gain a better perspective for life on Earth, what's important and what's not.  We miss out on so much because we get caught up in this world and the pleasure and pain we experience here.  In some ways I think our comfort, success, etc., is a driving force away from Christ and toward our own selfish desires (whether to experience pleasure or avoid pain).

Small Town Joy wrote a good piece on that here yesterday.  Go check it out.

Our small group at church has been reading through Francis Chan's "Crazy Love".  We are almost to the end and I have been very blessed by each chapter.  The core of the message is that there is nothing more important in this life than living 100% for the Almighty God who is both big enough to have created universe upon universe and yet intimately involved with His creation enough to care about each detail. With this in mind, nothing else will ever be as fulfilling or worthwhile, either here or in eternity.  If you haven't read this book- please do so.  If you don't have a copy - stay tuned for a giveaway.

One thing that has stuck out to mie as we've read through the chapters is how much this message has permeated my life over the years.  I didn't necessarily grow up in the church.  I've had plenty of people in my life that have exposed mie to bits and pieces of the true gospel, but even as late as high school I still hadn't had a true appreciation for how holistic God's plan is - He doesn't need mie to help design my own destiny.  In fact, I'm still learning that.  Nevertheless, over the years through trials and tribulations he has pulled mie to Him.  I can't say there has been a single moment that has been more significant than others, more impactful, or more valuable.  Instead I've experienced one thing after another that God has used to grow mie and correct mie and shape mie into what He desires of mie.

I'm a work in progress, I know.

In our recent small group discussion someone mentioned how they look up to mie (and others) as someone who provides an example in their Christian walk.  That is so amazingly humbling.  Who am I?  Just another person who has been granted the opportunity to receive undeserved grace and who is being transformed, little-by-little, to someone who cares more for Christ's mission than my own.

In that same discussion we answered the question - what do you want to be remembered for?  I want to be remembered for doing what Christ asked, and this not about me and how great my choices were (or were not) but that people would know without a doubt that the God I serve is real and worth anything we could ever sacrifice on Earth.

Interested in reading this book?  Well - here's a giveaway for you!

"Crazy Love" Giveaway
I will be giving away a copy of this book by Francis Chan through by drawing a winner from entry participants received by 3/16/12 (That's next Friday folks!).  Want to earn entries?  You have 3 options:

  1. Post a comment below with what the phrase "crazy love" means to you.
  2. Use my little handy, dandy buttons below to share this post on facebook, tweet on twitter, or create a blog entry about this post & the giveaway.  When you're done, leave a comment letting mie know what you've done.
  3. Blog about something (an event, a struggle, etc.) that has altered your perception for the better, then leave a comment with the blog link.

Ok - 3 opportunities to enter!  Get at it :)

I'll announce the winner on 3/19/2012.

*P.S. - This giveaway is 100% supplied by Mie and no one else.  Just so you know.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Working Mama Wednesday - Bonus Time!

I always look forward to this time of the year.  I know financially it becomes a bit tight during the first few months but I always have March-ish to look forward to because that is usually when I receive my work bonus and, historically, a tax refund.

This year it couldn't have come at a better time.  We're still trying to become better accustomed to life post-adoption where our finances are a bit tighter than they were before.  That means a lot of things that we would like to do have been pushed off for a better time, financially speaking.  Yay for spring!

Like I said, it couldn't have come at a better time.  I had this poor, pathetic conversation with my son last week:

L: Mom - when I play on the playground at school rocks get in my shoes.
Mie: Really?
L: Yes.  Do you know how they get in there?
Mie: No, how?
L: (Pointing to his shoes...)

L: That hole RIGHT THERE.

So sorry buddy.  I'd recently replaced all the other kids shoes for similar reasons but he wasn't interested that day in trying on any of the shoes I'd recommended so I figured I'd wait until the next time we went shopping to get him a new pair of tennis shoes.  I've had good luck with the Sketchers shoes; even though they are usually more expensive they have lasted longer, at least with Logan.  

So if you ever think I'm super mom - think again!  At least I did replace his shoes this past weekend...

Now for his uniform pants with holes in the knees...

Monday, March 05, 2012

Moolah Monday - Taxes Are Done (kind of...)

I had been postponing doing my taxes.  Partly out of fear of how much I'd owe.  Partly out of being overwhelmed.  Procrastination is best friends with fear and being overwhelmed - at least in my world.

I've seen what happens to people who procrastinate in doing their taxes.  It ain't pretty - so says a relative's 350K tax bill.  Yikes.

Plus I love my husband.

I took my taxes to Austin.

I didn't do my taxes in Austin.  At all.

I felt so relaxed and rejuvenated when I came home that I was super motivated to get them done that Friday night.  I'm not being sarcastic - I really was.  So, after the little kids went to bed I spread myself and my stuff out on the couch and began working through the numbers.

For your reference, I began using TurboTax last year and LOVE it.  Prior to that I'd always enjoyed using the little booklets and doing it all on paper.  I wish that was sarcasm but it's true.  Though professionally I tend to hang out in the "people" world, I can get my nerd on with spreadsheets and calculators just as easily.  (And sometimes it's nice to escape to the world of numbers...).  Good or bad our tax situation became much more complicated in 2010 because we moved forward into the world of real estate as a landlord and we began fostering and with all that I just wasn't confident in my ability to do things correctly.  So, I purchased TurboTax Home & Business and was happy with it in 2011.

Y'all - I'm really happy with it in 2012.

As it turns out I had nothing to worry about with our taxes.  If all goes smoothly we'll be getting A LOT back.  When I say A LOT, I mean about 6% of our combined income.  YIPPEE!

The extra amount on the return was largely driven by the additional $6K that we should get from claiming #7 & #8 - apparently it IS worth the effort to get those social security numbers.  The remainder is driven by deductions including mortgage interest deduction, real estate taxes, child-care deduction (Logan & Summer's school), and other charitable contributions (to our church & for foster care expenses on behalf of the state - only stuff not reimbursed by the state through our foster care payments).

Our return would have been double that with our rental property except apparently we're in the income bracket where you can't claim any loss on real estate.  That sucks.  It was so defeating when at first the number was really high (without entering in any of our other big deductions) and then when I entered in my income it quickly went down to 0.  : (

Another thing I learned by using Turbo Tax is that we CAN claim the adoption tax credit this year.  I didn't think we'd be able to because my work reimbursed our expenses, which they put in a special field on my W-2.  Apparently though if you claim the reimbursement amount as income (as it was in my case, who knew!) then you CAN claim the adoption tax credit.  Another $1800 - woot!

With TurboTax you can also purchase a service where if you get audited they help take care of it.  I invested in that.  Not sure if I'll need it but Just.In.Case.

So now we wait.  Unfortunately we had to mail in the tax return because of the adoption tax credit.  You have to send in the adoption decree WITH the county seal and you can't do that by scanning it in and emailing it.  I took it into the post office last Tuesday and mailed it off.

Unfortunately this means that the process this year will be longer than it needs to be.  The letter I have about the tax credit says that it usually takes at least 8 weeks to get a refund this way, if not 3 months.  I suppose I'm ok with waiting, it's not like I have a choice, but the challenge is that unlike last year when I submitted electronically, this year I won't know immediately if #7 & #8 have already been claimed by their parents.  If I'd submitted electronically I would have gotten an (almost) immediate response telling me my submission didn't go through because they'd already been claimed.  Now I have to wait for that all to be done through snail mail.  It could be weeks before I find out that they were claimed (let's hope not) and then at that point we'll get to start the process of fighting the IRS to accept us as the rightful claimants instead of the birth parents.

Who knows how long this will drag out.  I'll keep you posted.

In other news - if you're interested in learning more about the tax credit, there is a webinar coming up soon.  Find more information here.

Tag, Mie's It...

Hey, look at Mie!  MamaP tagged mie (first I might add, because that's important you know...) to play this fun game.  Here goes...

There are some rules:
1. Post these rules
2. You must post 11 random things about yourself
3. Answer the questions set for you in the post you were tagged in
4. Create 11 new questions for your tagees to answer
5. Tag them on Twitter, Facebook or your blog

11 Random Things about Mie:
  1. My name is Marie.  How do YOU pronounce that?  Yes, my given name is the normal name - Marie.  That being said, when I started 7th grade I changed it.  I started a new school and no one knew mie.  I wanted to correct the teacher.  So surely the logical conclusion was to change my name.  No one mispronounces Marie - so when my teacher called my name to ask if I was present, I corrected (him I believe) and said "It's Mah-ri"...kind of like Bill Maher, with an "E" at the end.  So, like Mar (spanish for sea) EE.  Or Mahree.  Get it?  Rhymes with Sorry.  Ha!  Finally figured out how to "say it" on a blog.  Anyway - I went by that name for 3 years until I started a new high school where once again no one knew mie.  I went back to regular old Marie then, but I will answer to either one.  And of course Auntie Mie.
  2. I am watching Horton Hears a Who right this moment.
  3. I once broke my pinky finger swimming.  In my defense I swam at an olympic training facility in LA and the divers moved the backstroke flags - while I was swimming.  I jammed my pinky into the wall and managed to break it.
  4. I also broke my big toe once when I dropped a CD on it.  Not the whole jewel case and all - just the CD.
  5. I was once hit by a boat.  The point of the bow rammed right into my calf and I now have a permanent dent in my calf that looks like I'm really buff.  It hurt really bad.  I was 15.
  6. Prior to the boat incident I swam backstroke, usually without breaking my finger (see #3).  After the boat incident I could no longer win swimming backstroke.  Lucky mie I managed to learn that I was a great butterfly swimmer and so I finished out my high school swimming career swimming the 100 butterfly.  And sprint freestyle.
  7. I absolutely despise putting away the dishes from the dishwasher.  It is definitely the chore I hate most.  I'd rather clean toilets than put away dishes.
  8. I was born blonde, like super blonde.  My mom is blonde.  I thought I was going to be blonde like her, though my hair became more "dirty blonde" as I got older.  My hair didn't turn brown until I had my son.  I instantaneously developed a lot of gray too - I was 25.  I'm now about 20-25% gray.  When I fill out forms I still will write blonde - I think of myself as blonde - it's hard to believe I'm actually brunette.
  9. I'm 30.  And 25% gray.  Doesn't that suck?
  10. My blue eyes run very strong in my dad's family.  It's like a trademark.  Over the summer we counted how many of my VERY large family did not get the blue eyes - out of the 60ish people we counted there were only abaout 6 who did not get the blue eyes.  My son is one of them.  Oddly enough almost all of my foster children have had very strikingly blue eyes.  Summer has them - I tell that story to everyone who comments on my kids' blue eyes.
  11. When we play Rockband on the Wii, I most often play the drums.  Occassionally I play the bass.  In real life I can sing.
How's that?  I'd love to hear your comments on my random things.

MamaP's 11 Questions for Mie:

Ok MamaP - these are hard questions!

1. What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you? Hmmm - I would probably let my kids sleep in my bed with mie every night.  That's not so bad right?
2. Paper bags, or plastic? Plastic.  We keep them all in a container in our pantry and we use them to wrap up poopy diapers.  We have a lot of poopy diapers in our house.  I'm running low right now.
3. When was the last time you tried something new and what was it? Thursday I tried a new routine with my kiddos.  My son had been whining suggesting that he get dressed first before the other kids (presumably so he could then cuddle in a blanket on the couch while I get the others ready).  BUT, he eats breakfast while I get the others ready.  SO, Thursday I tried getting him dressed first, then serving him breakfast and getting the kids ready while he ate.  He didn't like that idea.  It worked well for my schedule but I forgot some things because my routine was off.
4. What is your favorite scent? I can tell you I hate the smell of "vanilla".  Other than that I tend to like fruity scents but I don't know that I have a favorite.
5. If you had to teach something, what would you teach?  My professional background is in adult education and human performance improvement SO I've taught A LOT.  BUT, if I could choose anything to teach it would be something creative like oil painting, interior design, something like that.
6. What pair of shoes have you had the longest? Hold on - I'm going to go look...

Ok, I'm back.  I believe these win:

I've had these slippers since college, if not high school.  If those don't count as shoes, then these win:

I bought these New Balance walking shoes around 2003.  Now I use them mostly for gardening or muddy stuff so I can stick them in the washing machine and not worry about how they come out.

Truth be told I believe I also have the shoes from my wedding.  I also think I have a pair of "white" keds that I had friends sign in Junior High.  (Back when I was Mahri...).  I'm not sure where those are though.

7. If you could change your name, what would you change it to, if you even would?  See my random thoughts...  Actually though I probably wouldn't do it again - I didn't realize how it might hurt my parents feelings.  (They're over it now, but I think it offended them for a time).

8. What are three "NEVERS" in your life?   I will never drink (alcohol).  Never have, never will.  Never give up on finishing school...(courtesy of my husband).  Never give up on my faith.

9. What is one defining moment from childhood? I'm really bad at these types of questions.  Hmmm...when I didn't "pass" my first test to get into the gifted program in 1st grade.  They asked mie "If they found dinosaur's on the moon, how could they have gotten there".  I swear to this day I go tthat "wrong" and to this day I wish I knew what the "right" answer was.  Of course now I have graduate degree(s) in education and I know that was an IQ test and how they work, nevertheless I wish I knew what they were looking for.  I did "pass" the next year and entered the gifted program in 3rd grade.

10. Do you have manicured nails? If so, what color?  Yes, but only because I happened to have done them last night - I had a few minutes while watching a movie and I had just done my toes (red).  My fingernails are clear polish.
11. Name one new goal you can set this year to positively impact those around you.  Wake up earlier (5 or 5:30am) so that I don't transfer my stress in getting ready and out of the house "on-time" to everyone else I come in contact with during the day (especially my kids).

My 11 Questions for You
  1. What's your favorite post on my blog?
  2. What is your ideal bed time?  In comparison, what is your average bed time?
  3. What tests your patience the most?
  4. Do you prefer cubed or crushed ice from the refrigerator ice dispensor?
  5. What is your favorite summer snack?
  6. What is your dream vacation? 
  7. What makes you laugh?
  8. If you could live one day completely free of guilt, what would your day be like?
  9. What is your impression of Southern California?
  10. You can only keep two clothing items for the next year - what would they be?
  11. If you could wear a sign on your forehead to send a message quickly to everyone you see, what would the sign say? 
People I'm Tagging

Alright folks!  Have fun...

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Austin Ends Well

Austin was rough.  Mighty Rough.  I questioned my worth as a mom and wife for leaving my family without mie.  I questioned my worth in my career for a lot of reasons.

I tend to do these things when I'm alone.  Therefore, I don't let myself be alone often.  Thank you blog community for helping mie not to feel alone even when I'm technically alone sitting at my desk.

As it turns out, spending time away from your kiddos and normal family life on occasion can. be. wonderful.  Yes, I missed them, but despite my heavy concern God managed to take care of them better than I could while I was away.  He managed to help all the kids be good for daddy while I was gone, help daddy have lots of extra patience, and help keep all crazy accidents/incidents/troubles away from the family while I was gone so that things went really, really smoothly.  (And apparently Auntie K lets Logan go into his class "like a big boy" - I still have no idea what that means compared to how I do it but it totally lifted little man's spirits).

Hearing how well my kiddos were doing without mie around and how hubby was handling it all helped lift all the weight off my shoulders.  I was actually able to enjoy Mie Time sans family.  Tuesday morning I went down and spent nearly an hour at the water's edge, just mie and God.  (I have a picture but just imagine sunrise over a hill next to a lake where fish are occasionally jumping but otherwise there was complete serenity.  And an occasional sound of a boat which brought great memories).

I posted on facebook that I.  Was.  Refreshed.

(Good thing too because that day was a killer in terms of work.  That was when the career self-lashing began.)

In general, the work discussions were healthy and enjoyable.  We had LOTS of social time.  Adult social time. A 3 hour restaurant dinner with no children.  Lots of laughter.  (Lots of alcohol, by others, not mie, which made things interesting).  Lots of yummy food.  Lots of sleep.  Catching up on 2 weeks worth of Desperate Housewives.  And a run - yes, I even got to go on a run in the hills of the Lakeway (???) community where we were staying.  (During which I heard sirens - later I was told that the sirens were responding to an accidental emergency call to not only the police, but also the firefighters, and the ambulances, by my coworkers who were simply trying to adjust the "thermostat" because it was too warm inside.  Classic.)

But no taxes.

I didn't realize how refreshing the whole trip was until I arrived at home.  My hubby decided to let us go out as a family to our local all-you-can-eat pizza joint, a family tradition of sorts, so that we could reconnect and have fun celebrating mommy's return.  With 4 kids 1, 2, 3, and 5 this is often quite an exhausting task.  Managing the food and drink demands, restroom demands, "MOM can I go play the games NOW?" demands, and keeping everyone in their seat this trip is usually quite daunting.  Instead of being stressed I was completely relaxed and completely ready to meet the needs of all my kiddos and hubby willingly with a genuine smile on my face.  I was home with them. I'd missed them.  Now we were together again.

I also have had the opportunity to have lots of conversations with a few people about my career and although some of them were hard to have in the end it has been very helpful and God has redeemed that too.  I still don't know what's up His sleeve in this area, but I feel refreshed in the moment I'm in and that's all I needed for now.

So, as it turns out, maybe going away from the family for a bit is a good thing on occasion.  It had been probably 3 1/2 years since I'd spent time away from them for any longer than my workday, and maybe we all needed just a little bit of that.  It doesn't have to happen often, but maybe it's ok if I allow it occasionally.

And I did eventually get my taxes done.  I'll tell you about that on Monday (no promises).

By the way, I have my first contributor post up today at Foster2Forever.  Go check it out~!