October 29, 2015

Pinterest Cooking: Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Soup

When it was pouring down rain last weekend, I started browsing Pinterest for some soup recipes and found this one so I decided to try it out.  Monday night our friends Lucas and Yali came over for dinner.  We hadn't seen them in a while, so it was nice to catch up.  I started this soup in the crock pot before I left for work and it was ready to go by the time I got home--I just had to shred the chicken and dinner was ready!  Lucas and Yali brought some homemade dumplings, so we had dumplings and enchilada soup for dinner and it was delicious.

I have several different taco soup recipes and I really like all of them.  This one was nice because the chicken cooked with the soup so I didn't have to do anything ahead of time.  And it isn't spicy at all--I did leave out the green chiles, so I'm sure that's why-- but the non-spiciness is a huge plus for me.  Even when I strongly limit the spices I use, I feel like the soups still end up spicy, so I was glad this one wasn't.

This soup was so easy to make!  I will definitely be making it again as the days get colder!

October 28, 2015

Getting Ready for Foster Kids: The Rest of the House

Because we don't know the specific ages of the kids who will be living with us, we've tried to buy things that would work well for all ages.  One thing I've been searching for is a little table and chairs for kids to eat at or do crafts/color at.  I figured this table could work well for lots of ages.  I searched Craigs List and other sites for the past few months and couldn't find anything I liked, so we finally decided to buy something new.

I bought this table and these chairs from IKEA.  We rearranged our dining room a little to put the kids' table closer to our living room which also helped open up the space between the dining room and living room.

We have steered away from buying many toys right now since we don't know what will work for the kids we have.  I've bought a few puzzles and blocks at garage sales, and we've stocked up on books, but we planned to wait and buy other things once we had a better idea of what would work for our kids.

Through the generosity of our friends though, we actually have accumulated a lot of fun stuff!
 A few weeks ago an old co-worker of mine posted a picture of this play table and toys asking if anyone wanted it.  So I jumped at the chance and Erin went to help me pick it all up and get it settled at our house.  I love all of the Little People toys and she gave us a house and a city with roads from that.  We also got Rapunzel's tower from my friend Amy!
And my co-worker Jill had asked if we wanted this play kitchen (with lots of play food) that her kids have outgrown.  She bought it for her youngest son a few years ago, but he doesn't play with it much now, so she asked him if he minded giving it to some kids who don't have any toys of their own.  And he happily obliged :)  We've got it set up in the kids' room right now, but might move it around depending on how much use it gets!
In addition to the books we've been stocking up on, we also have been stocking up on kids movies and music.  We already had several Disney movies, so we moved them to one of the bottom shelves of our entertainment center so the kids have easy access to the movies they are allowed to watch.  And we've added some Veggie Tales movies (I found a great deal on a box set on Groupon) as well as some Christmas movies from Half Price Books since we'll likely get our first placement in the middle of holiday season.

 And I've been having lots of fun trying out different crafty things as we get ready for kids.  I loved making the signs for their bedroom and I've been keeping my eye out for other projects.  Through Pinterest, I found this blog that has a ton of patterns for hooded towels.  The blogger made a basic hooded towels but has also made several characters and animals (owls, puppy dogs, super heros, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, sharks, monsters, etc.) and shares the patterns and directions for all of them.  I decided to try my hand at a Minion Towel for a friend, but David liked it so much he wanted to keep it for our kids, so I made 2--1 to keep and 1 to share.  I was so happy with how it turned out and it was pretty easy to put together.  I'm looking forward to some more sewing projects very soon!
Our sweet friend Laura bought this sign for us as part of our shower gift and I love it so much.  It's a good reminder for us as we enter into the craziness of the coming months (and years).  I decided to hang it in our living room, next to our entertainment center, so then I needed something for the other side to make it all symmetrical.

I searched online and found several quotes and David picked this one for me to make into a sign:

I love the way it turned out and love having it up in our living room!  

So those are the last of the changes we've made to our house so far.  It's fun having a few things set up and we know we will probably end up with some of this stuff in storage for different times, but it's nice to have some things to get started with in the next few months!

October 27, 2015

Getting Ready for Foster Kids: The Kids' Room

This is the most fun part of getting ready for kids--getting a kid room ready!
 Over Labor Day weekend, I decided to paint our empty bedroom to get it ready.  We needed something that would work well for a boy or a girl and I wanted something that was bright and fun.  I tend to just pick a color and go with it instead of trying out different paint samples and spending a lot of time deliberating.  So we looked at several paint chips, picked a color and bought a gallon of paint.

 I spent the Sunday before Labor Day painting the room and knocked it out in one afternoon.  Once I was done, it was much brighter than I was expecting, but I really like the way it turned out.  And with furniture in the room it's not quite so bright!
This is a view of both of our beds.  We will be licensed to take 2 kids ages birth-5, so it's pretty hard to prepare for that.  We decided to start out with a twin bed and crib that converts into a toddler bed. as well as a pack and play, since those will most likely cover most of our bases at least temporarily--and then if we need to run out and buy another crib or another twin bed, we will do that.
David's parents generously bought us a crib and we picked out this white one.  We spent a few evenings putting it all together and love the way it turned out!
 The twin bed took a little longer to assemble, but still came together fairly quickly.  We bought some plain bedding from IKEA and then will add additional blankets that fit our kids' preferences and personalities once we know them.

 I made these signs for the wall between the beds and I was very happy with how they turned out!

 We found this dresser on Craig's List and bought a changing pad for it.  It has a hutch that goes with it, but we decided to start with just the bottom part and then add the hutch later if we want to.

 We've also been stocking up on lots of books.  We've hit up Half Price Books a few times and I went to their big sale downtown where all books are $2 or less and bought several children's books.  I've also ordered a few books on Amazon that are recommended for Children in foster care.  I printed out this sign with a Dr Seuss Quote to add to our bookshelf.

I'm very happy with how the room turned out!  It's crazy to think that very soon there will be kids sleeping in these beds!

October 26, 2015

Getting Ready for Foster Kids: Meeting Minimum Standards

Included in our training manual are 167 pages of Minimum Standards for Foster Homes that are licensed by the State of Texas.  There is a lot of information and luckily our agency helps give us the rundown of what all we need to do to get our house up to par with the standards.  So here are a few of the things we were required to do to our house to meet these standards.

In order to pass our fire inspection, we had to install some additional smoke detectors.  Our room and the kids' room already had working smoke detectors, but we installed 2 more in our office and in the hallway leading to the bedrooms.
We also have to have a fire extinguisher mounted to our wall in the kitchen.  We found the fire extinguisher at Home Depot, but had a hard time finding a mount for it--luckily I found one on Amazon and my mom ordered it with her Prime Account so we didn't have to pay for shipping (since the shipping on this particular mount costs more than the mount itself!)

 If you have any children under the age of 8 in your home, you are required to have all outlets covered.  So we went to work covering the outlets and I bought us a few power strip covers for the power strips we keep in our bedroom and office.
 We also have to keep all chemicals out of reach.  Luckily we have high cabinets above our washer and dryer where we can store most of our cleaning products.  I put the ones we use most often and the dish detergent on top of our fridge.

There are a lot of rules about medication storage for foster homes.  We had an hour of training on medication storage.  All medications (prescriptions, over the counter, vitamins) have to be locked up.  And some medications require that they be behind 2 locks, so we have to have a lock box inside our medicine cabinet.  You also have to keep medicines for external use in a separate container that is clearly marked.  You can't use a regular child lock--it has to be something with a lock and key--but luckily they allow the magnetic child proof locks since the magnet counts as the key.  So we turned the upper cabinet in our in-kitchen pantry into our medicine cabinet.  I installed the magnetic lock on there and it is ready to go.  We've got a few more magnetic locks we can put on other cabinets as we figure out which ones need to be off limits, but for now our medication is locked up so we can pass our inspections.

The other thing there are a lot of rules about?  The Pool.

 We are incredibly fortunate that our pool already had a fence around it when we moved in.  If not, we would have had to add one.  Our agency said whenever they have a prospective foster family who says they have a pool they always panic a little since there is so much added cost.  So we are grateful we didn't have to add that.  We did had to add a lock to our pool fence...

 ...and we have to have 2 life saving devices.  We have this ring that we got from one of my mom's friends who has been a foster parent and no longer needs it.  And we also bought a hook that we have hanging on our fence.  There are also a lot of rules about adult to child ratios when swimming with children in foster care, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out next summer!
 There is also a requirement that there be a lock that a child under 10 years of age cannot reach on the door leading from the house into the yard with the pool.  Believe it or not, this lock was the most difficult thing we had to add to our home.  We went through 3 locks before finding one that would work.

First we tried a flip lock that had to be installed onto the door jamb.  But then the door wouldn't close because the lock took up too much room on the jamb.  Then we tried a sliding lock--but the door and the jamb aren't as flush as they need to be, so that wouldn't work either.  We finally settled on a chain lock and it works perfectly :)

In addition to these changes, I also added furniture straps to our entertainment center to keep it from tipping over.  We also have our China Cabinet bolted to the wall.  

One of the first things I did was change out all of our interior doorknobs.  Stated in the fire inspection checklist is: No foster home may have any interior door used in a path of escape that can be locked.  All of our bedroom and bathroom doorknobs had the turn locks and we tried unlocking them from the outside but it wouldn't work for us, so I figured it was easier just to change out the doorknobs.  So we bought 6 new doorknobs with no locks and I changed them all out.  When he came out, the fire inspector told us that we didn't actually have to do that on any but the bathroom, but oh well--I'm glad that's taken care of!

A lot of these things are safety things that we would have done no matter how kids were coming into our home and family.  But I've had several friends laugh when I tell them what all we've done saying that they've never even thought about most of those things with their kids.  But being a licensed foster home means being held to a higher standard and we're definitely okay with the added safety measures!

October 25, 2015

Getting Ready for Foster Kids: The Process

We've been pretty busy over the past 4 months or so getting our house and ourselves ready for foster care.  I thought I'd share a little bit about our process so far.  It'll take a few days to share everything, but thought it might be good to hear what all we've had to do and how it's all gone so far.  

I mentioned in my first post that we are working with Presbyterian Children's Home and Services or PCHAS for our licensing.  The first big step for us was figuring out which agency to work with.  I've worked with a lot of agencies during my time at ECI, so I had a lot of preconceived notions going into this and didn't have one agency I was set on.  I first learned about PCHAS through a friend at church.  They have a church engagement program where they come and talk about foster care and adoption to help raise awareness and Woodcreek was in the process of setting something up with them about the time David and I started looking for an agency.  I did a lot of research on them and everything I read seemed really solid.  We met a few of the staff at an Expo David and I went to at the end of April and we really loved them.  So we decided to start the process with them.

On their website they lay out the process for Foster Care Licensing as below.

Steps in the Process:
  1. Fill out the online inquiry form and once received PCHAS (Presbyterian Children’s Homes & Services) staff will contact you for further information.
  2. The second step is to complete the application (pdf). Once you have completely filled out the application, please submit to PCHAS Home Development Staff.
  3. Once the application is reviewed, PCHAS will contact you to begin the process of additional paperwork and background checks/FBI fingerprinting. PCHAS will also schedule a home visit at this time.
  4. RSVP and attend ALL required trainings. Please see our training calendar.
  5. Complete and turn in ALL required documentation provided by PCHAS.
  6. Once all required documentation is completed and received by PCHAS, participate in the home study process.
  7. Once your file is complete and your home study approved, your home will be licensed to accept children.
We are through step #6 and are just waiting on approval!  We began the first steps in June when one of the staff--Ashley who has been wonderful-- came out and met us and did a first walk through of our home.  She talked a little more about the process with us and talked about some things we needed to do to our home to get ready.

After we finished the application, we both went out to Carrollton to have our fingerprints taken for the FBI background check.  And we started working to gather the paperwork on our checklist that Ashley had given us.  There was a lot of information to turn in so we started copying and scanning in things like our College Diplomas, Lily's Shot Records, Paycheck Stubs, Proof of Insurance, Our birth certificates and marriage certificate, and lots of other odds and ends that they needed for our file.

We started training the last week of July.  PCHAS has it set up where they do all of the training over 2 weeks.  32 hours of training in 2 weeks is very intense, but it's nice to get it done quickly and move through the process.  Training included classes about The Basics of Foster Care, CPR & First Aid, Child Development, Paperwork that has to be completed, Medication Storage, TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention, which was one of the most beneficial classes we did and has lots of practical applications), and Crisis Prevention.  We went through training with some fun couples, including some friends that go to church with us.  It's definitely been nice to go through the process with them and have them to ask questions to and talk through this crazy process.

We walked into our first night of training and received this binder full of all of our training materials along with DFPS minimum standards for foster families.  We also received a copy of The Connected Child which we were required to read as part of our training.  It is a very good book and we learned a lot from it, but it was a little crazy looking at all we had ahead of us that first night at the end of July!

 During our first night of training we talked about who all is involved in the lives of foster children.  There are a lot of people involved.  I snapped this picture to send to a few friends from work when we got to the section on ECI.  I am definitely grateful for my 8 years in ECI that has given me a lot of background as we head into this next stage.

Our training came with a lot of homework to complete.  So this is what our evenings looked like a lot those few weeks as we answered questions and read more information.

After training, we got to work reading our book and getting our house ready.  Since we finished training we've both had physicals and TB tests, our home has had fire and health inspections along with an inspection of our gas heater, and we've added a lot required safety items to our home--I'll blog more about some of those required things we've added tomorrow.  

Last Sunday we had our home study.  It consisted of 3 and a half hours of interviews--both as a couple and individually-- about everything under the sun.  Our home study writer will now type up a report and submit that to our agency by the beginning of November, then we'll hear from PCHAS about our license.  So now we're just in the final waiting stages.

In all honesty, this process has gone a lot more quickly than I expected.  I know so many people whose processes get held up at one point or another, and that could still happen to us, but so far things have gone pretty smoothly and we are almost done!

Today was all the boring details as we get started--stay tuned for more posts about all of the things we've added to our home--including some of the required (and some seem kind of crazy) elements as well as the fun kids' things we've got set up!

October 24, 2015

Pinterest Cooking: DIY Mixes

One of then pins I found on Pinterest recently was a link to a blog that has tons of recipes to "make your own mixes."  I'd tucked it away for later and have looked at it a few times since then to try to find things I'm interested in making.

I've already posted a few times about my new favorite homemade pizza sauce recipe from Jen Hatmaker.  I've made it twice (it makes about 4-5 pizza's worth) and we just recently used the last jar from our freezer, so a few weeks ago I bought the ingredients to make another batch.

I was able to come home a little early from work yesterday, so I decided to spend the evening making our new batch of pizza sauce.  Our friends that we had over for homemade pizza a few months ago are having a baby next week, so I decided to make an extra batch to help stock their freezer for easy meals in the next few months.

While the sauce was simmering, I decided to try out the recipe from the Homemade Mixes blog for Freezer Friendly Homemade Pizza Dough.  The recipe makes enough for 2 crusts and can be frozen and then baked later.  I made 2 crusts for our freezer and 2 to give to our friends.  I haven't baked them yet so I can't give much of a report on how they taste, but the dough seemed to come together better than either of the other crusts I've made, so I'm excited to try it the next time we want pizza.

Today I have been home listening to and watching the crazy rain, so I decided to also try out the Freezer Friendly Cookie Dough Recipe.  The dough was very tasty and I'm excited to have some ready to go to the next time we want to make cookies!

I am a big fan of prepping meals for our freezer and I will probably be experimenting with a few more soon to try to stock our freezer before we get kids placed with us so we've got some go-to dinners already ready.  I was grateful for these 2 recipes to get started and am looking forward to trying out more of her mix recipes.

October 23, 2015

Foster Care Fridays: The Parents

David and I talked this morning about what I was going to post about today.  There are a whole lot of topics rolling around in my head and in my heart and even in my blog post drafts.  But I felt like one of the very first posts I wrote needed to be about the biological parents of the kiddos who will be coming to live with us.  Because I feel like there's a lot of misconception about foster care, about biological parents, about adoption, about reunification, about all of it.

Here's the deal.  The kids who will be living with us will have experienced some form of abuse or neglect.  And almost every case of that abuse or neglect will come at the hands of their parents.  The ones they are supposed to be able to trust unconditionally.  It is tragic.  And there is no excuse for that.  Absolutely none.  Let me start there.  But do you know what that truth means about those parents?  It means they are Someone in need of grace.  It means they are Someone in need of help.  Often times that parent is someone who was abused him or herself.  A lot of kids are in "the system" because of neglect and not abuse--because their parents don't have the means to take care of them.  And I think it's a slippery slope when I start to think that I am so much better than their parents.  When I start to think that I have all of the answers and can do such a better job than they could so I deserve to have these kids.  During training one of our agency staff made a comment about how it's only by the grace of God that we are not in those parents' shoes.  And I completely and wholeheartedly agree with that.  Because it's really easy for me to look at things that are done and say that I would never do that.  But I also have had 29 years of stability.  I've 29 years of family and love and having every single need that ever came up being provided for.  And I've been saved by a God who turned my life around and rescued me from the sins I so easily run to.  And that same God is calling those parents and loves them fiercely.  I wrote last week about how these kids are worth it.  They are worth every ounce of me that I can give.  They are worth it because they have worth in God's eyes.  But I never want to forget that their parents have worth in God's eyes too.  

Most parents who have their kids removed want to fight for them.  They want to do what's best for them.  They want to be able to take care of them.  Some of them will never get their lives together enough to be able to do that.  But some of them will.  Some of them, with the support of CPS and parenting classes will be able to build health relationships and meet their kids needs.  

It's why the adoption part of this whole process is tricky.  That is hands down the most common question we are asked when we tell people we are becoming foster parents--do we want to adopt?  And it's not really a clear cut answer for us.  I love the idea of adoption.  I love the idea of providing a forever home and family for a child that wouldn't have it otherwise.  But us adopting out of this means that their parents were not able to be reunified with their kids.  It means that there will always be a huge loss in these kids' lives because they were not able to be with their birth family.  That's why the goal of foster care is always reunification.  Because it is usually better for kids to be with their families.  Unfortunately that's not always possible or safe, so in those cases there is a huge need for families that are willing to take them in.  But we're not starting this process so that we can adopt a child or children.  We're doing this to provide a home for a child that needs one--whether that's for a week, a month, a year, or forever.  And we're doing it to hopefully provide support to their parents while they work to get things back in order so that they can parent their babies.  We want them to know that they have worth and that we are rooting for them.  That we hope they will be able to meet all of their goals to be reunified with their kids--even though that will bring us pain as we say goodbye, we know it's what we're signing up for.

One of the blog posts I've read this year about this topic is called We're not trying to steal someone else's kids.  It's a good read about the goals of foster care and the heart behind wanting our kids' parents to succeed.

Let me also just say that I have been involved in this world long enough to know that it's not always this easy.  There are times when kids are returned to their parents and it really is not in their best interest.  Times when they are returned to their parents only to be abused again.  There are times when they are moved from a stable foster home where they have made connections to a home of a relative they have never met.  It's an extremely flawed system.  Trust me, I know.  I know that as we dive deeper into this I will want to fight fiercely for the kids in my home and I will be very protective of them.  There will probably be times that I disagree with the decisions being made for them.  But it doesn't change the fact that every single person involved in this system is deserving of grace and a chance to turn around.  The parents of these kids are not the enemy.  CPS is not the enemy.  I am not the biological parents' enemy.

I want to start with that mindset.  And I want to be reminded of that when things get hard and frustrating. When I hear the stories that break my heart.  I want to remember that God protects that weak and the helpless and that I am a piece of that protection and extending that grace to the broken children and their broken parents.

October 16, 2015

Foster Care Fridays: They're Worth It

I saw this video from the Dropping Anchors Blog this past Saturday morning and immediately shared it with David and with a friend who is walking alongside this with us.  The statistics in this video are all things I've heard, they are all things we've read about and learned about over this past year of preparing for foster care.  And a lot of them are heartbreaking.  Which is one of the reasons I want to try to bring awareness of some of these statistics to people.  But I had never heard the song in this video before and to me it is beautiful and it is haunting.  I've since bought the song from iTunes and I've listened to it a lot this week--and every time it brings me to tears.  It wasn't written for foster care (although the story behind this song is beautiful) but I feel like it fits this journey well.

As I listen to the chorus, it echos so much of what my heart is saying as we enter into this crazy journey.  Because I am well aware that this is going to be really really hard.  It's going to break my heart in ways I've never imagined possible.  It's going to put me face to face with a lot of evil, a lot of pain, a lot frustration.  The kids who come into our home and family are going to be hurting in ways that I can't even fathom in my almost 30 years of life.  And they're going to act out and be difficult and have a hard time adjusting.  But oh my word they are so worth it.  They are worth every tear I'm going to cry in this frustrating process.  They are worth me facing every fear that this is bringing  me--fear that we won't be enough, fear that they will completely turn our world upside down, fear that it'll take a long time for them to heal, fear that we and they will get attached only for them to leave us.  They are worth all I can give them.  And I also know that all I can give them really may not be enough.  Because they are broken and I am broken.  The truth of it all is that I am not enough to save them from this pain and this hurt.  There's only One who is and I'm grateful I know Him and will have an opportunity to teach them about Him.  And I know that there's a chance that us loving them and providing them with stability will not be enough to heal the hurts in their lives, but doing nothing to help them definitely won't.  So we're jumping in.  To the pain and the fear and the joy.  And trusting that if we bring their hurts and our hurts to the Healer that He will make something beautiful out of this craziness.  Because as this video states, the bottom line is that Children belong in families.  So we want to offer up our family for children who need one--whether that's temporary or permanent.

I wanted to share the lyrics for the whole song here as well.  I focused on the chorus, but every part of this song speaks to me as we enter this next stage, so I wanted to share it in it's entirety.  

All of Me by Matt Hammitt
 Afraid to love
Something that could break
Could I move on 
If you were torn away
And I'm so close 
To what I can't control
I can't give you half my heart
And pray He makes you whole

You're gonna have all of me
You're gonna have all of me
'Cause you're worth every falling tear
You're worth facing any fear
You're gonna know all my love
Even if it's not enough
Enough to mend our broken hearts
But giving you all of me 
Is where I'll start

I won't let sadness 
Steal you from my arms
I won't let pain keep you from my heart
I'll trade the fear of all that I could lose 
For every moment I'll share with you

You're gonna have all of me
You're gonna have all of me
'Cause you're worth every falling tear
You're worth facing any fear
You're gonna know all my love
Even if it's not enough
Enough to mend our broken hearts
But giving you all of me 
Is where I'll start

Heaven brought you to this moment
It's too wonderful to speak
You're worth all of me 
You're worth all of me
So let me recklessly love you
Even if I bleed
You're worth all of me 
You're worth all of me

October 13, 2015

Pinterest Cooking: Taco Lime Grilled Shrimp

I've had this recipe on my Pinterest board for a while and it's actually been on my weekly meal plan the last few weeks, but one thing or another has come up and I just got around to making it yesterday.   
I do a lot of meal planning and not very much sticking to my meal plan.  So I had told David over the weekend that I had dinners planned every night this week so he could help me stay accountable for cooking them and not just deciding we wanted to go get something else. 

So I got home from work yesterday and seasoned and marinated the shrimp.  I heated up my grill pan.  And then I searched high and low for my bamboo skewers to use for grilling the shrimp and they were nowhere to be found.  Fail for me not getting everything together ahead of time, but they've been sitting in the same cabinet for a year and now suddenly I can't find them.  I have no idea what happened to them.  We have some metal skewers and I tried those, but they were too long for the grill pan so the shrimp wouldn't grill right.

Since I already had the shrimp all ready I figured I'd try a different method.  So I cooked them like I did the Italian Shrimp (350 degrees for 15 minutes) and they cooked perfectly!  So grateful my shrimp were saved... and honestly it was a lot easier than grilling it so I may just stick to this method any time I make it!  It was a great weeknight dinner.  David had Shrimp tacos and I ate them by themselves.  

October 9, 2015

Foster Care: An Introduction

So we're at the beginning of a pretty crazy journey with our family, and thought it was a good time to start sharing some of that.  At the beginning of this year, David and I started seriously talking and praying about becoming foster parents.  It is something that has been close to my heart for years--and something that I mentioned to David when we were dating-- and we felt like it might be time to take some sort of action.  So we started praying through it, reading and learning about it, going to conferences, talking with friends, and talking with each other.  
Over the summer, we decided to start the application process.  We are working with Presbyterian Children's Home and Services to get licensed with the state of Texas to be foster parents.  Since the end of July, we've been through 32 hours of on site training as well as some online training and a book study.  We've added lots of safety features to our house--pool, shed and cabinet locks, a fire extinguisher, outlet covers, furniture mounting straps, and indoor doorknobs without locks.  We've had a fire inspection and a health inspection; Physicals and TB tests; even Lily had to show proof of being vaccinated.  And we are now down to our final step in the process--a Home Study.  We are on track to be licensed by the beginning of next month, but we also know that there can always be glitches in the process, so we aren't holding too tightly to any one date.  But we figured it was a good time to start sharing with everyone our plans.  
Through our months of praying, reading and preparing, I've come across a lot of really good books and articles and quotes that explain more about foster care.  I have saved a lot of things.  I know in our conversations with friends and family and sometimes strangers, people have a lot of questions about the whole foster care thing.  So I plan to start sharing a little more about the foster care world in general here.  I've seen a lot of this world through my job, but I know it's going to be a whole different thing on the foster parent side.  
One of my very favorite websites about foster care is The Forgotten Initiative.  They post blogs at least a few times a week and I've found most of them to be very enlightening.  Today they posted a blog called "What is Foster Care?" where a foster parent wrote up answers to some of the common questions she gets.  I decided to go ahead and share those questions and answers here as well as our answer to the questions--Why do you want to be foster parents?  I've shared our answer first and then the Q&A from TFI's blog.  Today's post is pretty long, I promise they shouldn't all be like this--I just thought this was a good starting place!  So read it if you have time, and I'll be back with more info about foster care next week!
Q: Why do you want to be foster parents?
A: We believe that God has given some clear commandments in the Bible (i.e. James 1:27) about looking out for the needs of orphans, and we believe that the term “orphans” includes all children who need a home (whether temporary or permanent).  His unique calling on our lives has brought us through months of prayer and seeking God’s will about how we can be involved in the ministry of orphan care in a practical way.  We believe that this is something that is important to God and, therefore, it should also be important to us.  We know that there will be sacrifices along this journey and that sometimes life will be really hard and uncomfortable.  However, that is not an excuse for us to say no to this opportunity to make a difference in the life of someone in need.

Here’s a couple excerpts from books on foster parenting that explain this concept better than our own words can.

“God had fostered in my heart a willingness to make sacrifices for the benefit of an orphaned child.  I am willing to sacrifice my comfort, agenda, and wealth for the benefit of a child even when I know I have a good chance that I will suffer some kind of pain.”

Your life is probably crazy busy. But you are far more brave than you realize to say yes despite all the reasons you have to say no, and you are capable of handling far more than you could ever possibly imagine - even if it doesn't feel like it right now. … He doesn't expect you to understand it all now; He's simply asking you to trust Him with the next step, and then the next, then the next … Your "no" is a lot more difficult on them [kids in crisis] than your "yes" will ever be on you. Perhaps these kids need your family as much as your family needs these kids. One is given comfort and security for likely the first time in their life while the other is freed from comfort and security, and as a result, actually finds life. Jesus Himself said, "Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:25) In perhaps one of the most counterintuitive and countercultural statements He ever made, we find what life is all about - losing ourselves for the sake of someone else's gain. Hard? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely. What you stand to lose pales in comparison to what everyone, including yourself, stands to gain. There's never really a perfect time to foster or adopt; just a lot of opportunities to say yes to losing yourself despite the many reasons you have to say no.”

When we read things like that, the deepest parts of our hearts say “amen” and that’s how we have known and felt this is a calling on our lives.  We want to be foster parents because we want to say “yes” to God despite our own fears and doubts, and we want to watch him do amazing things in the lives of children, in our marriage, and in our relationship with God.


The following is from http://www.theforgotteninitiative.org/blog/2015/10/forgotten-friday-what-is-foster-care/#sthash.K0oGivRl.dpuf
“Why are kids put in foster care?”
There are a variety of reasons about why a child enters the foster care system. The most common reasons are because of neglect, abuse, or parental drug use, followed by the less common reasons of abandonment or death of both parents. And let me be clear about one thing – no child who enters the foster care system does so because of his or her own choices. These children are placed into the system because their basic needs were not being met and they could not safely remain in their home or in the home of a family member. Their parents have their own demons and can’t safely deal with them while caring for their children. The state only removes children in the most extreme cases and does everything it possibly can to keep children with their birth families or with extended family or friends before resorting to placement in a foster home.
“Why don’t their parents want them?”
There are actually very, very few cases that I’ve heard of where parents just “don’t want” their kids. In my personal opinion the things these parents are up against are just too strong for them. Addiction is a very real thing. Fighting against the cycle of abuse and neglect is a very difficult thing. Being a parent is not an easy task and when you’re dealing with your own inner battles, sometimes selfish desire wins. This is why the state becomes involved. They remove children so that they can get the parents onto a case plan to work towards bettering themselves so they can safely have their children returned to their care.
“What do the parents have to do to get their kids back?”
Each parent’s case plan is set up to target the exact issues that caused the children to come into care. This plan usually includes counseling, parenting classes, Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, random drug testing, stable housing, stable job and attending regular visitation with the child that is in care. Things are added and taken away based on the particular needs of the parent who is working the plan.
“How long are kids in foster care?”
Again, this varies heavily case to case, and state to state. Federal law says that a child can only be in foster care for 12 months before permanency is to be decided. But each state varies on how many extensions can be given to parents who are working their case plan and how many “extenuating circumstances” arise in the duration of the case. In the United States the average child is in foster care for almost three years (31 months) before being reunited with family or adopted—and over 20% of those children are in the system for over five years. More than 20,000 foster youth age out of the system every year. Aging out means that they were not reunited with family members or adopted before turning 18. Most children who age out literally grew up in the system, bouncing between various foster and group homes, and are unprepared for life on their own as an adult without family support.
“Why don’t you just adopt them?”
Foster care was put into place to not only to protect kids, but to maintain the parent/child relationship. When a case starts the goal is always, always, always going to be parental reunification. Everyone (including foster parents) must be on board with helping parents acquire the life skills needed to regain custody of their children. The process of proving stability takes several months. Getting a person’s life back on track isn’t a quick process. Adoption is always a last resort in foster care. Adoption is only laid on the table when the parents and family members of a child are not willing or able to provide a safe and stable environment for that child. Do not become a foster parent if the only thing you want out of it is to adopt a child. There are several children waiting in the system to be adopted by an awesome family. Please, look into adopting a waiting child if that’s all you’re wanting out of foster care. As foster parents your first priority is the child’s safety, but you must be willing to love, support, and walk beside these hurting families when it can be safely done.
“I couldn’t do it. I would get too attached.”
This is a whole other post on its own, but I just couldn’t leave out this comment. If you ask any foster parent what the most common statement said to them is, it would be that one. Most foster parents understand that it’s supposed to be a compliment. It’s supposed to make us feel like we are some type of super hero, or something. But what we are doing on the inside is screaming “Good! You should become to attached! That’s what every child needs! They need someone to get ‘to0 attached.’ They need someone to show them that they are worth it—that they are worthy of love no matter the cost!” Why? Because just as a child can’t make the choice to be born into a life of privilege, a child doesn’t choose to be born into a dysfunctional mess.

October 8, 2015

Pinterest Cooking: Steaks

So it's maybe cheating to call this a recipe, because there's not a whole lot to it. But I found this post through one of my favorite cooking bloggers and tucked it away for the next time we had steak.

She shares their method for cooking filets and it was really easy and really delicious. We had some steaks from an Omaha Steaks order that David placed, so I decided to cook them this week. Neither of us really love bleu cheese, so we just used regular butter. But otherwise I followed the other seasonings and the recipe to a T and they turned out so well. I used our grill pan on the stove for the first part and then baked them in the oven. 

We were both big fans of this one and it will definitely be something we make again- probably soon! 

October 1, 2015

Pinterest Cooking: Pot Roast & Chicken

Last night we had our monthly Community Group Dinner.  Our group meets every week and we've decided, for right now, to have dinner together on the last week of each month.  For September that was at our house, and since we were hosting right at the beginning of the start to Fall, I decided to try to find a "fall" dish to make.

I decided a Pot Roast would be a good dish that would serve our group and set out to find a good recipe.  I pinned several on Pinterest and when I pinned this one for Mississippi Roast, I had a friend from work comment on it to say that it is the best of all the pot roast recipes she's made and her husband requests it all the time.  I was so excited to have a recommendation of something I'd pinned on Pinterest and decided to go with this recipe.  I thought it turned out really well and it was delicious.  I doubled the recipe since we were serving a big group and for the liquid, I used half water and half juice from the jar of peppers per my friend's recommendation.  This will definitely be one I make again--probably several times this fall.  It was SO easy and tasty.

I also decided to make a chicken dish, so I decided on this Crockpot Chicken with Apple and Sweet Potato for a Fall dish.  I love sweet potatoes, so I've been wanting to make this for a while.  It smelled delicious while it was cooking.  The flavor was okay, but not my favorite chicken--I may have to experiment more with it to get it just right.

One of the best things about this dinner was that they cooked all day and were pretty much ready to go when I got home. 

  I started both meals in the crockpot before I left for work yesterday morning (yes 6:06 a.m. is when I left for work!).  Luckily, David worked from home yesterday to be here for an installation that we had, so he was able to switch the smaller crockpot from Low to Warm after 8 hours.  I only have one crockpot with a timer and that held the Pot Roast, so I was glad he could keep an eye on the other one for me.

 When I got home, I moved them to serving dishes and shredded the pot roast.  Our friends all brought side dishes and we had a great dinner together. 

 So fun gathering around the table together to share food and life.  Love this community of friends the Lord has gifted us with!