Surviving Middle School

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I've been a mom for 20+ years.  My little brother was born when I was 16 and I mom'd him (just ask him).  I took him to and from daycare, I held him at night when he cried... I witness his first 2 years of life before I moved out and began my own life.  We have a very complicated relationship as a result - I love him as a son more than as a brother in most ways. 

When my daughter came home I learned more about being a parent.  When she hurt, I hurt.  When Ashley M made her cry in kindergarten by saying she was stupid, I hurt.  When the girls in second grade pushed her, I hurt.  When Marco (or was it Paulo) pushed her into a wall trying to kiss her, I was infuriated. 
Then came middle school, I was not prepared for middle school.  I was not prepared for the hurt, pain and simple nastiness that comes in this age.  Yes I remember being in middle school but without the joys of social media, I don't remember it being that bad.  She has been called every name, she has been bullied, humiliated and had her spirit crushed.   I'd like to sit back and say that she is stronger for all of it and that I've successfully taught her that sticks and stones is the right mentality... the truth though, it all hurts and nope, I haven't taught her all the best coping skills.

I grew up in the world of "sticks & stones", walk away and ignore... ect.  I was not prepared for middle school as it is now.  I was not preparing my daughter for what middle school would and could do to her.  It will eat you up and spit you out if your not careful.  So my dear daughter, here are 5 things to remember in middle school.

1.  Social media & cell phones makes it easier than ever to ruin relationships and reputations.  Remember that everything you say is subject to interpretation and repeat, sometimes without your best interest in mind.

2.  Your friend group ... those who are around you, defines how others see you and how you will get through the hard times.  Keep good people around you... by good, I mean good at heart.

3.  OWN YOU!  Be you, your own unique and amazing self.  If your life is planned out, amazing... and if it's not AMAZING.  Just own your truth, don't be defined by your circumstances and be authentic.

4.  Ask for help.  Whether it's homework, friends or just a life question ask someone.  It doesn't have to be your parents, but find someone you trust and know will have your best interest at heart.

5.  When in doubt, don't!  If something you are doing, thinking of doing or may do just doesn't feel right... it probably is not.  If you are wondering if posting something on social media is ok, it probably is not.  If you think something MAY hurt someone else's feelings, think about whether or not it would hurt yours... most likely it's not a good idea.

I'm sure there are many more but these top 5 things will help your child get through middle school... as for you.  A glass of wine, or a bottle will help you.

Being a mother is hard work - Guest Post

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Not quantum physics “hard”, because motherhood isn’t rocket science. In fact, raising children is something that the average woman was born capable of doing. Yet, that doesn’t make it any less of a feat, and maybe we should all be nominated for a few Nobel prizes.

 

Motherhood is hard in the sense that it takes all of you, drains you emotionally, and leaves you feeling raw and vulnerable. It changes who you are. Being a mother requires us to put aside ourselves to love and care for another human, in a way that no other relationship could. When my son was born, I had this instant desire to do everything in my power to take care of him. There was (and is) no question to the lengths that I would go to protect him; God forbid anyone get in my way. I remember sitting in our hospital room on Brayden’s second day of life with one group after another of family and friends coming to visit. We were so happy to introduce our little man to our loved ones, but as soon as the last group left I felt so much relief. Ahhhh. Once again holding my new little one made me feel whole again; after all, I had carried him for 9 months so being close to was a necessity. All of sudden, “knock knock knock” on the door and comes someone else. When the practitioner asked to do his hearing screen I nearly lost my marbles. I needed to touch him. I couldn’t give him up so soon after just getting him back in my arms. Realizing how close I was to a breakdown, my husband asked the practitioner to come back later so that I could have baby snuggles for just a bit longer.

There have been so many moments when I’ve been away just a little too long at work or running errands, and I begin to feel this desperate need to get back to my baby. I am no longer just “me”, I am Brayden’s mom. My new role has consumed me and changed my identity. My son is the first thing I think of when I wake up, and the last one I pray for as I go to sleep. For months I battled nightmares that someone was going to take him away from me and would wake up sobbing. My job as his mother is non-stop and this role weighs heavy on me at times, even in my dreams. It is hard to love someone so much that your own happiness depends on his or her well-being.

I adore my husband and our relationship makes me a better person, but I was whole before I met him. We have grown together and our love has deepened through the ups and the downs of parenting. If something happened to him my heart would be in shambles, but his survival is not based on my actions. He can live without me and if I failed in him in some way, he would most likely live to tell the tale. The responsibility involved in raising a tiny human is so tremendous, as you realize that you have to keep them alive, and try your best to prevent the need for an abundance of therapy as adults.

 

While the pressures of motherhood build up, it is so important to give ourselves grace. We must forgive ourselves for our shortcomings, and learn from our mistakes because yes, we will make plenty of them. We are all doing our best to be great mothers and to rediscover who we are now that our lives revolve around tiny little humans. Let’s all just be honest and admit that being a mommy is the greatest! You created a tiny human, and you get to pour your life into them. That seems worth all of the ups and downs, if you ask me. So to all of you mothers out there, you are doing a wonderful job. God created you for this role and your baby(ies) are so lucky to have you. Your children won’t remember how tired or stressed out you were. They don’t remember that you haven’t showered in days and that you ate PB & J, again. They won’t remember the hardships that you do, but they will remember how much you loved them. They will remember how you rocked them to sleep and kissed their boo boos. All your children want is their mama, as you are, so keep on doing your best and showing up just like you do, each and every day!

 

 

Tara Marchok is an Atlanta based motherhood, lifestyle, and home decor blogger; whose goal is to be transparent about the ups and downs of motherhood and to encourage other mom’s in the process. Her heart belongs to a very bearded man, an energetic little boy, and two furry golden retrievers. Tara is obsessed with leggings, nap time and beautiful photos. Follow her journey on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram.

 

A version of this article first appeared on Tara’s Sass Mouthed Mama Blog.

By definition ...

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Identity: condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the qualities, beliefs, etc., that distinguish or identify a person or thing:

I am pretty put together.  I dress appropriately for situations.  I am a pageant girl.  I work in a business professional environment, always dressing the part.  I speak publicly, I can carry my own in a room.  My husband is higher ranking in the military and I've never questioned my place next to him.  I show up and volunteer at my children's school and am a fixture that they could be proud of.  I am college educated and articulate.  I post the most put together photos I can... most of the time.  To some, they have chosen to judge me or assume these things define me or that I find my identity in them..

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What people don't know is that underneath the clothes, the makeup and the perfectly placed hair is me.  Over the years I have lost my identity as a person and have replaced it by 'mom' and 'wife'.  I would MUCH rather wear my sweatpants and flip flops that my beautiful Badgley Mischka heels.  I am painfully shy and awkward, definitely more of an introvert than an extrovert.  I struggle with group settings as I never feel like I fit.  I am not the same person in the comfort of my safe home as I am in the public eye.  Prying eyes make me feel that I have to be 'on' instead of being myself.  Very few have been privy to my life behind closed doors.  The less than perfect persona, the woman that appreciates sweet tea over wine, that feels like pajamas should be considered socially acceptable, that would rather attend a dessert party that a wine night.  w, as a mother, I am not alone.  The day my daughter came home, my world changed along with my identity.  That is ok.  I don't feel bad or regret that moment, or the moment I became a wife, the moment my son came home... or the moment that each of our fosters has moved in/out further changing me.  With each just came a shift, I let myself slide down the list of priorities.  I'm not saying this as a bad thing, it simply was my thing

I say all of these things because I know, as a mother, I am not alone.  The day my daughter came home, my world changed along with my identity.  That is ok.  I don't feel bad or regret that moment, or the moment I became a wife, the moment my son came home... or the moment that each of our fosters has moved in/out further changing me.  With each just came a shift, I let myself slide down the list of priorities.  I'm not saying this as a bad thing, it simply was my thing.  

It's what we do with the internal information that we should really pay attention to.  I have suffered from levels of depression over the years, moments that getting out of bed, dressed or showered seemed like a task far to great.  Then other days that I am up at 5:30, giggling and drinking my coffee with the sunrise.  I love my children with every ounce of my heart.  I love being their mom, I love being a wife.  I love running in the streets, dancing in the aisle at Kroger just to make them laugh or snuggle up on the couch with a child on either side, a dog and a cat on us and my husband sitting on the other end watching a movie.  Yes, that is what I love in life.  I love my friends, I am loyal to a fault but there is something comforting in that.  What else though?  What else helps me be ME, what defines me.

I have found a love in educating others.  I love to stand in front of people and tell them about something that I am passionate about.  There is a realness in it.  I can be vulnerable and authentic, I can put myself out there (good and bad) as it pertains to the subject matter.  I don't have to be social in that setting, I still get to talk about my family but with my own identity.  I think it's important not to lose yourself in your family, nothing defines you but you.  There is no job, no family dynamic and no circumstance that defines you.  I am Shana, foster care educator, mom, wife, etc.  I need to remember to introduce by my NAME first before the other things...  

How do you define you?!

Guest Post: Why resistance training? By: Tara /  The Mama H

Lifting weights or using resistance bands, works your muscles, boosts your metabolism and helps you burn fat faster! It tones your body and believe it or not, helps you sleep and gives you more energy! This is so important if you have little ones running around and it feels like you have a million things to do.

In the past, I've heard numerous women say, "I don't want to lift weights because I'm afraid I'll look like a guy." The women who are afraid to get bulky go running instead, in hopes to lose weight and get toned.  Sure they may loose a few pounds, but they will not have that tiny waist and nice perky butt they were hoping for.

Just to ease your fear, the insanely muscular women that make up a tiny population, are extreme bodybuilders, and are most likely professional. To get those bigger muscles, you have to lift super heavy for years on end! Not only that, but you also have to eat A LOT, not to mention a lot of carbs!

More benefits

In a recent article, those with sarcopenia (the loss of muscle tissue as a natural part of the aging process) were at a higher risk for cancer. "Sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) was identified in 1,086 patients, or some 34 percent of the group. The rate of low muscle radiodensity was even greater, with 1,199 patients (37 percent) presenting those traits. The median follow-up time was six years. Over that time, 619 of the patients died. The patients who had sarcopenia showed a 41 percent greater mortality rate, according to the stats analysis by the scientists. Patients with the greatest amount of total adipose tissue (body fat) showed a higher death rate, at a 35 percent higher rate. Taken together, those with the muscle loss and high-fat composition fared the worst, with an 89 percent higher mortality. (BMI calculations did not significantly relate to overall mortality, however). Those with greater muscle mass had a lower risk of cancer. Those with higher fat content had a higher 35% rate and those with lower muscle."

My story

I started lifting weights in college about 15 years ago, when I decided to play a sport. Although I hated it at the time, it sparked a passion and created a new and healthy habit for me. It was nothing crazy, but it was something that I was happy to add into my daily routine. I had continuously lifted weights and ate healthy, but I had reached a plateau and wanted to challenge myself even more. So in 2014, I decided to do my first fitness competition. I wanted to do it the right way so I hired a coach who sent me custom weekly workout and nutrition plans. These would change based on my progression. I followed my personalized plan and did everything my coach told me. My workouts didn't change too much, but I was working out about 30 minutes longer and I was eating more, but more of the healthy foods.  I wasn't going out and eating pizza, ice cream or drinking alcohol. What I did was quite extreme, but there are ways to incorporate healthy eating and working out into your life. And no, you will not look bulky.

What to do

So if you decide to start lifting weights and want to lose weight, here are a few things to remember:

  • Start slow at 2-3 days a week, 30 minutes a day. Then either add a day or 30 minutes.
  • Start with light weights, resistance bands or even body weight (like air squats) if you're timid, then work your way up. Remember, this is a lifestyle change so don't try and rush it.
  • Fat is your friend, in small amounts. If you completely cut out fat, your body will literally think its starving and hold on to fat. Some healthy fats are avocado, olive oil, coconut oil and nuts.
  • Natural sugar, like fruit is OK, also in smaller amounts. I personally try not to eat fruit after lunch.
  • The right carbs are good and are definitely needed when lifting weights! You can't build that nice round booty without the right carbs. Chips and bread don't count. Eat sweet potatoes, brown rice and quinoa.
  • Try to stay away from processed foods, which is basically anything that comes in a package. If you're craving chips, trying making crunchy sweet potato fries.
  • After a few weeks of lifting weights, you will start to feel bloated or puffy. Stay calm. This is normal!  Your body is still learning to boost your metabolism to burn that extra fat while building muscle at the same time. Trust the process and continue on.

For the Moms

It is not easy to get to the gym. Let's face it, if you have little ones running around, you're probably too tired to do anything. And if you have the energy to do something, you may feel like you should do chores instead. I totally get it because I am right there. I am in it. I am deep in the vicious cycle. I've been too tired to go to the gym, which means I'm too tired to cook and prep my  meals, which means I eat like crap. Then after eating that sugary crap, I crash and get tired again. It's an ongoing cycle. And when you're not working out or eating the right foods, you won't be sleeping well. The good thing is that you can stop all of that. Yes, only you and yes that is a good thing. You have control. You have the power to make the right choices. Sit down with your husband, babysitter or caregiver and work out a schedule so you can either go prep your healthy foods or workout and stick to it! The accountability is key and will aid in your success long run. Not only will you have more energy to keep up with your little ones, but you will also look Ah-Mazing! It's so possible.

I would love to answer any of your questions about how to make this work for you. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email!

 

The Mama H was created as an outlet to share different ideas than those generally shared through mainstream. I am a wife and a mama, living in Southern California. I am currently working a full time job in the corporate world, but my real passion is to educate others on traditional nourishment, safe products free of harmful ingredients, staying fit and taking care of ourselves from the inside out.

Xoxo,

The Mama H

https://themamah.com/

Instagram.com/the.mama.h

Twitter.com/The_Mama_H

Facebook.com/TheMamaH/

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Over the past several years, living in the moment has made the plan harder to see.  When you are living it, how can you possible understand that there is a plan for your pain.  I am a big picture person, I don't just look at the specific moment but rather every single thing that moment can create through a ripple effect.  My brain is always overwhelmed at seeing every angle, that sometimes I forget the 'now' part.  

I know that living our life forward is what we are supposed to do and we shouldn't be looking backwards but it's in the looking backwards that we often see the pieces of His plan fitting together.  It's amazing when you look back at your life and see some of the WHY's you were so sure were a mistake but yet how they've been woven into some of the most wonderful moments yet there are still others you haven't quiet seen a reason for yet.  Right now we are in the midst of a great challenge, I cannot see the other side nor am I able to see the why in our pain.  I know that some day I may understand better, I may never learn the why but hopefully I can gain some understanding of the lesson in our pain.

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Have you looked back to see the beauty from your pain?  Can you possibly understand your current struggles now?

100 Days to Brave

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Over the years I've purchased and been given more devotionals than I care to count.  Sometimes I actually finish them, however more often than not they stay on my nightstand and collect dust with the hope that I actually read them.  Honestly the idea of a 1 year devotional commitment is more than my brain can handle most days.  A year is a long time.  So much can change, life can be altered and frankly I just can't digest that right now.  I have started them, get through a few weeks, something throws me off and I feel guilty or something and can't pick it back up.  I do have a devotional bible, I've used that to choose from at times as it's only 30 days per topic.  I have an amazing 365 Devotional that I was going to do... I had a plan, a journal and was going to make the time...well, I missed a morning, then 2, then started getting up and checking social media before and then I would run out of time.  That was MONTHS AGO.  

I've been struggling so much lately.  Struggling to understand things beyond my control.  Struggling as a wife, struggling as a mother and honestly struggling as a friend.  I have felt like a consumer in friendships lately more than an equal partner.  In my own defense we've had some major family things going on and my amazing friends have been there and understood.  My faith has been shaken somewhat.  I've had a bunch of WHY GOD but no a lot of answers and that is so hard at times.  

This past week our littles have moved on, our children are struggling and I feel like a total parental failure.  I know rationally that i am not however in these moments I feel like I have failed everyone around me and that is simply ok... why?  because it has to be.  I can't add anything else to my brain right now so I choose not to.  This brings me to my point... 100 Days to Brave.

I think and hope that I can mentally do 100 days right now, I can look forward that far and commit to this book.  I am going to bring you all along with me.  I actually started reading it on Sunday but because of my amazing guest blogger I am just going to post 2 blogs on Monday to catch me up. Here goes nothing... lets be brave!

"For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you."  Isaiah 41:13

This is the opening and let me tell you.  Where I am currently in my life, this meets me.  Annie Downs has never disappointment me when it comes to a devotional.  Todays challenge is to tell someone that you are taking this journey towards a better life.  Well... I am tell you all at once!  I've always been a bit of an overachiever I suppose.  Being brave means so many different things to me.  It means that I need to be strong for my family right now, it means that I need to be able to keep my emotions in check dealing with doctors, social workers, family and everyone else.  It means that I need to be able to advocate for my daughters care, and it means that I need to teach her about bravery and love in a different way.  I am not a perfect parent.  I am barely mediocre some times... I have learned that is ok too.  We all struggle in life, it's how we handle our struggles that really matter.  I need to learn to lean into my faith more, I need to learn that it is ok not to be ok all of the time.  I am looking forward to this next 100 days to help in that.  

WHY WASTE YOUR MONEY? STOP BUYING THESE USELESS BABY ITEMS

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When you share with the world that you are pregnant, everyone begins showering you with numerous baby items that you NEED in order to tackle motherhood. It becomes very overwhelming, very quick.

But no one ever talks about the baby items you DON’T need. That’s where I come in, because saving money is my jam!

 

Here is my personal list of baby items that I very seldom used, if ever. I feel it is my duty to share them with you all. If I can save at least a few of you from making the same mistakes I did, I will!

1. A BOTTLE STERILIZER

The only thing this product has done since I received it was collect dust and take up room on my kitchen counter. I remember I used it once to test it out, and then quickly realized, IT IS THE SAME THING AS MY DISHWASHER. You literally put the bottles in, and then it sterilizes them, which your dishwasher already does. It is so big and bulky, and ugly to boot. If you have a dishwasher in your home, go ahead and keep the $100+ dollars and buy some baby items that are useful, or better yet, treat YOURSELF to something nice instead.

2. WIPE WARMER

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My mom put up a good fight on this one (sorry, Mom!). She was insistent on the fact that the wipes needed to be warmed before we used them. Although I’m sure our little princess could get used to this, she never once fought us on regular wipes. These machines are very difficult to pack in your diaper bag because they are gigantic, so your little one will have to go without the luxury at least at some point in their existence. Save yourself the money and the hassle of a cranky baby, and just use the regular wipes!

3. BUMBO

This is another product that shows up on every “Essential Baby Items” list. I do not see why, or the point of this product. I get that it is supposed to help your little one learn how to sit, but pillows can do the same exact thing. In fact, after I had already received TWO of these bad boys from various people, I started finding articles that said it actually inhibits your child from building up the muscles they need in order to learn how to sit. You can read more on that here. If you want to waste your money, you can just send it to Braelynn instead. She clearly loves it (this should be fun when she’s a teenager).

 

4. BABY MITS

Although these can be quite adorable, they never stay on! It was more of a battle trying to get our little one to keep them over her hands then it was to actually file her nails down. In fact, we didn’t even have to do that often because most babies enjoy being swaddled the majority of the time, which limits the use of their hands. Save yourself the frustration!

5. BOPPY

I have heard great things about this product when it comes to breastfeeding. I, however, did not choose to breastfeed so I felt it had very little purpose for me. It would help from time to time with propping Braelynn up, but again, this could have been accomplished using a regular pillow instead. Save yourself $40 and just use the pillows you have.

WHAT ARE THE BABY ITEMS YOU NEVER ENDED UP USING? DROP THEM BELOW!

 

Josephine Anderson is a motherhood lifestyle blogger from the suburbs of Chicago. She is married to her high school sweetheart and is currently a stay-at-home-mom to their one year old daughter and fur babies. She blogs at Better As Us. Find her journey on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram.

A version of this article first appeared on Better As Us.

Revelations- Guest Blogger

By: Kayla Aspen Blog

Since I became a mom, holidays have been really meaningful to me. There’s something so special and nostalgic about the excitement in your child’s spirit each holiday.

 

Many people know I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason. I can actually say I’ve made every single “life” decision through my gut. Is that weird? Probably.

 

But let me explain. It’s the feeling you get when you’re about to make a huge choice and while you’re weighing the objectives and outcomes, you sense yourself being pulled specifically toward one of those directions.

 

That’s what I call my “gut” feeling, and I’ve consciously lived this way my entire life. Since I can remember, I believed if I always listened to that sense of knowing, I’d end up where I was supposed to be.

And so far, I’d say fate has always been extremely generous to me.

 

After my grand mom passed in December 2016, I think she started working with me to see life more clearly than I had before. I felt like I became a little wiser with certain things. I also felt a significant pull toward other’s feelings and my own faith.

 

With that being said, at the same time, my sister would continually encourage me to come to her church. As usual, my “gut” knew it was something I was supposed to pursue, but life kept getting in the way. And then one day, I woke up and knew I was ready to commit. Just like that.

 

And this is where my blog post comes in.

 

Do you ever get those revelations in life when you know something is about to change? That’s what happened.

 

I went into church with an open heart. In that moment, it started to make sense that my “gut” was actually God. If you listen closely, he’s speaking through your heart too.

 

We’re all created for our own purpose, and if you let go of your thoughts and listen to his voice through your heart and soul, you’ll find yourself achieving it and living your best life.

 


 

There is something so special and unexplainable about feeling God’s love throughout your soul.

 

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Kayla Aspen is a motherhood, lifestyle, wedding and home decor blogger from South Jersey. Follow her journey on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram.

 

A version of this article first appeared on Kayla Aspen Blog.

The Abyss of my kids rooms...

We currently have 5 kids... that's 4 rooms of complete chaos (and that's on a good day!)

With spring upon us I am transitioning their rooms (the best that Tennessee weather will allow!).  Here are some of my tips for decluttering & transitioning your kids rooms to Spring... and clean!

  1. Take their winter clothes out and pack them away.  We have plastic containers for each child, with their name & size on the outside to store.  **Sidenote, we are also foster parents so the size is extremely important for our next placements, and my ease in locating late at night when the calls come in.
  2. BINS BINS BINS!  The twins room is perfect for toddlers.  They have a stuffed animal bin and a toy bin.  Both they are perfectly happy to help dump AND clean up.  The playroom, same thing.  We have bins for ALL the toys and that makes cleanup faster and organization easier.  We prefer these bins for the rooms and these for the playroom.  For the twins room & the playroom I will only get soft sided items because I try to avoid injuries with clumsy toddlers.
  3. BOOKS - These will be the death of me most days.  Every child is at a different reading level, my daughter and son are TOTAL book hoarders and we often run out of space.  I usually go into their rooms, while they are at school, remove the books that they no longer read (but I am sure are not favorites), organize the area and donate the old books.  Some times, our son will pass his books down to our littles, like he currently is, but I cannot count on that.

What are your TOP 3 ways to declutter your kids rooms?

 

If you are looking for some additional decluttering ideas for the rest of your life check out some of my favorite blogs!

FOLLOW OUR BRIGADE!

Entirely Taylor

Rosegold Diary

 Fashion to Follow 

Azalee Maslow

Candidly Lindsey 

 

 

 

Thrift Camp 

This Beautiful Chaos

 

Feeling LOOPY

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 We are the Blogger Babe Brigade!  I absolutely love to blog... yes, it's true!  I recently got involved in an AWESOME blogger group that allows us to talk about fun, totally normal, seasonal stuff.  Check us out!  We will post a seasonal post, from our own wheelhouse and go from there.  Everything from family, fashion to lifestyle... season specific!  

A little intro about me: I'm a mom to 2 and foster mom to a few amazing little humans and the wife of my best friend.  I feels incredibly overwhelmed with gratitude every day.   I became a foster mother in 2006, as a single woman; little did I know that an old friend would become my husband a year later.  In 2008, Grant & I finalized the adoption of our first child, then in 2016, our second.  

In 2014 we relocated to beautiful Middle Tennessee and couldn't have been more excited about this adventure, moving while Grant was deployed to Afghanistan as a Military Policeman with the United States Army.   The Smiths firmly believe the motto: God, Country, Family which they make evident in their ever day life.  

I blog about life, family, foster care ... events & gala's!

Follow our Brigade!

Entirely Taylor

Rosegold Diary

 Fashion to Follow 

Azalee Maslow

Candidly Lindsey 

Thrift Camp 

This Beautiful Chaos

 

 

Friday Find

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I never wanted to be one of "those" moms that had random nonsense in her purse at all times.  I wanted to be that cool mom with the designer purse that only housed my lipstick, compact and wallet.  I wanted to be that put together mom that had the perfectly packed diaper bag, the clean and organized car and seemingly had it all together.  

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Well... reality is that I am 'THAT' mom.  yesterday I cleaned out my purse and found kids snacks, 10 lip glosses, 75 coupons, 2 mismatched socks, earrings and my Mrs. Tennessee sash (have sash, will travel!).  My diaper bag is pretty organized, mainly because it's rarely used and my car... well it looks like I have 5 kids, 18+ visits a month, work, pageant responsibilities, soccer and life.  I could worry, let it get to me or just live my life as officially THAT MOM.

So my Friday find is simple... I found my favorite earrings and my favorite lip gloss in my purse.  I honestly thought I lost them forever!  What the the thing you have recently FOUND?

In 1 County...

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Last night was a perfect night for this foster momma.  I attended the Raise Hope & Foster Dreams event, saw some wonderful foster family friends, spent some time with my sons sisters adoptive mom and met some wonderful new people that support foster families.

Up first Judge Sharon Guffee, Williamson County Juvenile Court Judge, spoke about the need of the foster care system in Williamson County.  Then afterwards we were able to hear from Lisa Brookover, the DCS Mid-Cumberland Regional Administrator and the numbers she provided were staggering.

In Williamson County ALONE:
We have 119 children in custody.
Their ages break down as follows:
0-5: 30
6-12: 39
13-17: 45

That makes 42% of children in custody being over 13 years old!

43% of these children are placed in DCS homes
30% are placed in provider homes (OmniVisions, Youth Villages, etc)

There are ONLY 77 foster homes in Williamson County
(7th WEALTHIEST County in the country)

31% of the DCS homes remain empty
36 % of provider homes are empty

That means that 26 homes or 34% of all foster homes in Williamson County remain empty.

WHY?
 

All too often people are 'scared' of bringing in the older children, they want the sweet little squishy babies, they don't want sibling sets, they don't want the 'issues' that come with certain children, teens are scary.  Ok, here's my momma breakdown.  

Babies are sweet, squishy and smell oh so delicious BUT an older child is able to have a conversation with you, they are able to bathe themselves, they are able to help you get to know them and understand their trauma.  Older children need love and homes, they need stability.  YES, an older child has most likely seen trauma... they have experiences in their young lives that no child should but they can talk about them.  My 13 year old is full of sass, it's not because she was adopted or in foster care, it's because she's a teenager.. it comes with the territory, she isn't a 'bad kid' she's just a teen.  Many of our teens in care don't know what a normal family looks like, they don't understand what stability, love, boundaries, or structure are so there is a learning curve to it.

I get that adding a sibling set is TERRIFYING!  I mean, honestly I've had my "OH MY GOSH WHAT DID WE DO" moments.  We went from 2 self sufficient children that got up, ate breakfast and dressed themselves to having 5 with 3 NOT being able to do any of those things.  We have had our home flipped upside-down with these new ones BUT we figure it out.  We have dance parties, we have family dinner and we have fun.  

I recently spoke to a foster momma friend of mine, Jennifer Sackett, and she said this:
"Sibling packs are one of the best ways we as foster parents can help keep some sense of normalcy and family for these guys. Our true goal as foster parents is to help reunite the family and teach the entire family how to be a and work as a - strong family unit. I hate to say that most people become foster parents with the end goal of adoption and not the correct reason for fostering in the first place. That is why, in my humble opinion, most licensed homes remain empty. Because the child/children in need are not the "type" of child the home wants to help. Which goes against everything you agree to while going through the foster care certification trainings. I think we as foster parents sometimes need a reminder of why we started this mission in the first place."

Before you think YOU know what is best for you - open your mind and your heart to the possibility that you may not be right.  We originally said NO sibling sets, emphatically.  I just knew that we (I) could not handle it ... yet that is all we've had in the past year and we have been blessed by it.  We have simply learned how to do it, we have been given the strength to get through the rough days.  

 

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Strengthening your Relationship

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As a mom, adoptive, foster, or biological, connecting with our kiddo's is so incredibly important.  With life flying by us, I just registered my BABY for HIGH SCHOOL, it's imperative that we take the moments with our children when we can.  I recently happened upon this article on Psychology Today about connecting with our children.  

1. Aim for 12 hugs (or physical connections) every day.

As family therapist Virginia Satir famously said, "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth." 

Snuggle your child first thing in the morning for a few minutes, and last thing at night. Hug when you say goodbye, when you're re-united, and often in between. Tousle hair, pat backs, rub shoulders. Make eye contact and smile, which is a different kind of touch. If your tween or teen rebuffs your advances when she first walks in the door, realize that with older kids you have to ease into the connection. Get her settled with a cool drink, and chat as you give a foot rub. (Seem like going above and beyond? It's a foolproof way to hear what happened in her life today. You'll find yourself glad, many times, if you prioritize that.)

2. Play.

Laughter and rough-housing keep you connected with your child by stimulating endorphins and oxytocin in both of you. Making laughter a daily habit also gives your child a chance to laugh out the anxieties and upsets that otherwise make him feel disconnected — and more likely to act out. And play helps kids want to cooperate. Which is likely to work better?: "Come eat your breakfast now!" or "Little Gorilla, it's time for breakfast — Look, you have bugs and bananas on your oatmeal!"

3. Turn off technology when you interact.

Your child will remember for the rest of her life that she was important enough to her parents that they turned off their phone to listen to her. Even turning off music in the car can be a powerful invitation to connect, because the lack of eye contact in a car takes the pressure off, so kids (and adults) are more likely to open up and share.

4. Connect before transitions. 

Kids have a hard time transitioning from one thing to another. If you look him in the eye, use his name, and connect with him, then get him giggling, you'll make sure he has the inner resources to manage himself through a transition.

5. Make time for one-on-one time.

Do whatever you need to do to schedule 15 minutes with each child, separately, every day. Alternate doing what your child wants and doing what you want during that time. On her days, just pour your love into her and let her direct. On your days resist the urge to structure the time with activities. Instead, try any physical activity or game that gets her laughing. (For game ideas, click here.)

6. Welcome emotion.

Sure, it's inconvenient. But your child needs to express his emotions or they'll drive his behavior. Besides, this is an opportunity to help your child heal those upsets, which will bring you closer. So summon up your compassion, don't let the anger trigger you, and welcome the tears and fears that always hide behind the anger. Remember that you're the one he trusts enough to cry with, and breathe your way through it. Just acknowledge all those feelings and offer understanding of the pain. Afterward, he'll feel more relaxed, cooperative, and closer to you. (Yes, this is really hard. Regulating our own emotions in the face of a child's upset is one of the hardest parts of parenting. But that doesn't mean we're excused from trying.)

7. Listen, and Empathize.

Connection starts with listening. Bite your tongue if you need to, except to say, "Wow!....I see....Really?...How was that for you?...Tell me more..." 

The habit of seeing things from your child's perspective will ensure that you treat her with respect and look for win/win solutions. It will help you see the reasons for behavior that would otherwise drive you crazy. And it will help you regulate your own emotions so when your buttons get pushed and you find yourself in "fight or flight," your child doesn't look so much like the enemy.

8. Slow down and savor the moment.

You aren't just rushing your child through the schedule so you can spend a few minutes with him before bed. Every interaction all day long is an opportunity to connect. Slow down and share the moment: Let him smell the strawberries before you put them in the smoothie. When you're helping him wash his hands, put yours in the running water with his, and share the cool rush of the water. Smell his hair. Listen to his laughter. Look him in the eyes and meet him heart to open heart, sharing that big love. Connect in the magnificence of the present moment — which is really the only way we can connect. (For most parents, this is also the secret to being able to tolerate playing that same game, yet again.) 

9. Bedtime snuggle and chat. 

Set your child's bedtime a wee bit earlier with the assumption that you'll spend some time visiting and snuggling in the dark. Those companionable, safe moments of connection invite whatever your child is currently grappling with to the surface, whether it's something that happened at school, the way you snapped at her this morning, or her worries about tomorrow's field trip. Do you have to resolve her problem right then? No. Just listen. Acknowledge feelings. Reassure your child that you hear her concern, and that you'll solve it together tomorrow. The next day, be sure to follow up. You'll be amazed how your relationship with your child deepens. And don't give this habit up as your child gets older. Late at night is often the only time teens will open up.

10. Show up.

Most of us go through life half-present. But your child has only about 900 weeks of childhood with you before he leaves your home. He'll be gone before you know it. Try this as a practice: When you're interacting with your child, show up 100 percent. Just be right here, right now, and let everything else go. You won't be able pull this off all the time. But if you make it a habit several times a day, you'll find yourself shifting into presence more and more often, because you'll find it creates those moments with your child that make your heart melt.

Numbers, the State Capital and Chris Tomlin?

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A few weeks ago I was approached by a friend, Kristen Allender the Child Welfare Specialist &
State Director for Tennessee Kids Belong, regarding an upcoming press conference.  As she explained it was all about promoting Chris Tomlin's upcoming Good Friday Concert at Bridgestone Arena.  He will be donating the proceeds of this concert to Tennessee Kids Belong to further their mission of finding forever homes for children in foster care.  This concert will also highlight Gov Haslam's TN Fosters Initiative.  She asked me if I would be able to attend - as you know America's Kids Belong has been the center of my platform and an organization I love beyond words.

To be perfectly transparent, I love the radio but rarely know who sings a song so when I was told that I was going to meet AMAZING Christian recording artist Chris Tomlin ... I had no clue who he was.   I did what I always do and called my husband to ask.  He was over the moon and then explained to me that Chris Tomlin is who sang Good Good Father, the song that was playing when my husband was baptized.  I instantly was excited to meet the man who's voice has infiltrated so many moments in our lives over the past few years.

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Yesterday as I sat in the audience, next to the DCS Commisioner Bonnie Hommrich, being recognized by Gov & Mrs. Haslam for our work within the foster care community, I realized how amazing out state really is when it comes to our kids.  I was so glad that I had the opportunity after the event to talk to her about fostering and our experiences.  We have fostered in California and in Tennessee so I was able to provide her with our viewpoint as to what each state does well and not so well.  We live in a state that is so extremely military friendly when it comes to fostering, other states (California included) were not as friendly.

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Mrs. Haslam spoke about the numbers; the numbers were AMAZING!  Through the  TN Fosters Initiative  and the I Belong Project through Tennessee Kids Belong 116 children found their forever families in Tennessee in 2017!  This is coupled with 1309 verified NEW FOSTER HOMES in our great state.  We have amazing faith leaders that work within their congregations to support families in foster care, engage and change the conversation... normalize what foster care is in conversations, take the stigma out and educate our communities on how phenomenal kids in foster care really are.

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Friday Favorite - QUOTES!

I love pinning quotes on Pinterest, sharing them on Instagram or Facebook.  Sometimes  they are ones that make me smile, laugh or just think.  They are not always well known people or religious, sometimes it's simply a random thing I saw that I just loved.  Here are my 5 favorite quotes, what are yours?

Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment. Mahatma Gandhi
 

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There will be a day ....

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I can’t imagine that there will come a day that I won’t be their “momma”, I won’t be the one cuddling them to sleep or laughing with them.  The knowledge that I may not be the one to teach them to ride a bike or take them to their first day of kindergarten always remains in the back of my head.  There may be a day that I take them to visit their mom for the last time because it will no longer be a visit, it will be forever.  There may be a day that I say good bye to our littles, these little people that have changed us all.

My heart breaks at these thoughts.  I have grown happily accustomed to the smiles and the laughter.  So often I am asked how we will be able to let them go, how are we not attached.  We are attached but we do so happily.  We are their safe place right now, we are able to provide them love and security and attachment; they deserve the attached family.  When they leave a piece of my heart will go too; I will cry and I am sure with every tiny sock that I randomly find or the thought of the wiggly toddlers being buckled into their car seats I may break a little bit more.  At the end of the day, our family is better for this experience.  We have grown, we have loved in a way I wasn't sure we could and I am excited to see what this journey holds for us.

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This weekend we hit the 12 week mark with out little's... that is 3 months of snuggles, laughter, love and 3 months that I've been the one taking care of colds and sickness, administering medication and laughter.  12 weeks as a family of 7.  We have settled into life at this point.  We have made it past the honeymoon period and moved into what it's like to have 5 kids.  This basically means that all the behaviors are full force, both good & bad, but they are authentic.  We have been working on parenting each child and their need individually, which is hard at times.  There are only 24 hours in the day, we are all out of the house for at least 8, sleep 9-12 (depending on your age), then add in homework and sports... I am reasonably overwhelmed but we are making it all work.   

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While I could spend every day dwelling on the future I chose not to - I choose to laugh, I am going to love and be grateful for every moment with them... every moment as a party of 7.  I will choose to hold close the middle of the snuggles, the scared 'momma help me' tears and the first bike ride in my heart for always.  Foster care is a collection of  memories and moments forever.

Music City Masquerade

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On February 10, I attended the Music City Masquerade benefiting Caring Hearts Mexico.  This event was an absolute blast.  Natalie Hennessey did an amazing job putting this event together; from the event location being an art studio to the DJ's, food and the silent auction.  This year's First Annual Music City Masquerade was held at the classy and unique Ed Nash Studio.  We were treated with music by Celebrity DJ Brandi Cyrus and AJ Thomas, and host, winner of "The Voice" Danielle Bradbery.   It was so much fun to get dressed up in my favorite blue gown, purchase the perfect mask and have a night of dancing.  Between enjoying craft cocktails by WithCo Cocktails, and hors d'oeuvres by local Nashville establishments, this girl was in absolute heaven.  The silent auction and exciting prizes helped bring in even more money for Caring Hearts Ministry, who takes care of those in need in Mexico through an orhphanage, soup kitchen, clean water, tutoring and more. Music City came together for a classy night of doing what we do best... celebrating, enjoying great music and doing good in the world!

Caring Hearts Mexico is an amazing organization - here is some additional information about them:

Our goal is to care for the needs of the people in San Luis, and to enable groups from the US to participate in building the community there. 

Our ministries in San Luis include:
- A Church
- Youth Group
- Bible Studies
- Oasis Boy's Home/Vocational School
- Soup Kitchen
- After-school Tutoring
- Shut-in Ministry
- Blind Center
- Prison Ministry
- Rehab Center
- Dump Ministry
- Medical Missions
- Construction
and many more! 

The Amethyst Affair

 With Katie Creighton, founder of   Erika’s Safe Place , a program that provides a safe environment for at-risk youth where they can meet and feel comfortable enough to discuss and work through any issues they may face. 

With Katie Creighton, founder of  Erika’s Safe Place, a program that provides a safe environment for at-risk youth where they can meet and feel comfortable enough to discuss and work through any issues they may face. 

 

On February 3 I was honored to be a featured speaker at the GFWC Spring Station Woman's Club annual Amethyst Affair.  I was still battling, pneumonia and bronchitis but the show must go on.  The 4th Amethyst Affair - Art, Auction, & Awareness fundraising gala will benefit area Domestic Violence Shelters and the numerous other community service projects undertaken by the nonprofit (501c3 IRS tax-exemption) GFWC Spring Station Woman's Club. The event includes dinner with beverages, live and silent auctions, wine pull, awareness activities, and musical presentations.

This event was so wonderful.  The individuals in charge of putting it together did a phenomenal job with everything from the silent auction to the music and the food.  I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it... and I left with come amazing rocks that you may see floating around Middle Tennessee through the #thepurplerockproject, The Center of Hope.

Speaking to a room full of people about the importance of paying attention to those around you is important.  All too often we go through life with our focus being on our phones, on social media or a myriad of other things that take the focus off of PEOPLE around us.  Some times simply asking someone how they can be infinitely life changing, it's important to just let others know you care.  When you are in the throws of an abusive relationship, one that you are constantly being told that no one cares, having someone simply ask "How are you today" can make a huge difference.

With the current status of our country, school shootings and violence, you never know what simply engaging each other can do instead of always looking down but that is a topic for another post.

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Military & Adoption

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After we adopted Krystina, Grant and I discussed fostering to adopt again so I reached out to our county Department of Children & Family Services in California.  I was told that, as a military family, we were less than desirable because we were not "stable"; That our lifestyle and his deployments didn't make us great candidates for parenting.  I was heartbroken and mad... honestly MAD.  How can you question our parenting ability based on my husbands potential to deploy; if we had a biological child you wouldn't take it away so what was the difference.  Well, I never figured it out but it changed so much in my heart at that point.  

We moved forward with infertility treatments, even though in my heart I knew it wasn't going to work.  I was meant to foster and adopt, I knew that in my heart.  I was frustrated beyond words that anyone would think that we weren't stable parents because of my husbands career.  I have always been there, we are a stable family regardless of where my husband is because we are STILL a family.  By the time we ventured back into the land of adoption we had gone down every road we needed to and were back whee we started...  adoption.  

Navigating adoption while also navigating military life can be tricky.  Some states view your life and unstable while others beg you to take children.

Here are some hints and tricks to navigation from a mommy who has been there!  Our family chose foster care adoption for both of our children.  While this is a more unsure option it was the one that worked best for our family.  We have been through a lot with our two little ones but to know that we are parents to these two beautiful souls means more to us than they will ever know.

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First things first!

What type of adoption are you looking into?  There are a few options:

Foster to Adopt:  Foster adoption or fost-adopt, is a form of adoption in which a child is placed into a home as a foster child, with the expectation that the child will become legally free and be adopted by the foster parents. Some children are not adopted by their foster parents.  Typically the cost of adopting through foster care is negligible and in many cases at NO COST to the adoptive parents.

Domestic Adoption: Domestic adoption (or private domestic) refers to the placement of U.S.-born infants for adoption by their birth parents, who legally consent to the adoption with an adoptive family of their choosing.

Adoptive Families Magazine surveyed 1,100 families who adopted a child in 2012-2013 and reported:

  • Average Total Cost: Adoption Agency – $39,966; Independent Adoption – $34,093
  • Agency Fees/Program Application: Adoption Agency – $16,962; Independent Adoption – $3,357
  • Legal Fees: Adoption Agency – $4,141; Independent Adoption – $12,693
  • Birth Mother Expenses: Adoption Agency – $3,233; Independent Adoption – $5,590
  • Advertising/Networking: Adoption Agency – $2,340; Independent Adoption – $3,978

International Adoption: International adoption (also referred to as intercountry adoption or transnational adoption) is a type of adoption in which an individual or couple becomes the legal and permanent parent(s) of a child who is a national of a different country.

Average Total Cost of International Adoption by Country 2010-2011/2012-2013

  • China: $31,801/$36,338
  • Ethiopia: $34,125/$45,960
  • South Korea: $46,688/$43,795
  • Ukraine: $42,035/$40,067

Finding your agency

Finding a reputable agency seems difficult but in all honesty it’s no different than finding any reputable company.  Go into it with the mind of a consumer.  Building Your Family has a great questionnaire to use when speaking to various agencies.  You can download it HERE.

Some questions you want to ask regardless of your adoption journey are:

  • What training does the adoption agency offer for various types of adoptions?
  • If you are adopting internationally, how will the agency prepare you for parenting children of a different racial and/or cultural background?
  • Are parents who are adopting children with special needs well prepared to do so? (This is essential!)
  • What other support services does the adoption agency provide?
  • What help is given to families experiencing post-placement difficulties?
  • If you are adopting an infant domestically, what counseling do the birth parents receive?
  • If you adopt from another state, will your local agency work with you to satisfy the requirements of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)?

NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK!  Adoptive parents and foster parents are a wealth of knowledge.  We all know what we would have done differently or wish was different in the process.  Knowing what to expect is beyond helpful.

Check your fee structures and itemized fees.  No one wants to be blindsided when it comes to money… adopting and parenting often feels like an ever flow of outgoing money.  Be sure you know ALL costs and fees before you sign anything.

REMEMBER:

Investigate agencies carefully. An adoption agency should be licensed, and the workers should be professional licensed social workers, preferably with master’s degrees in social work and experience in adoption!

 Find out how long the agency has operated and how many children it has placed in recent years.

Ask the agency about its professional affiliations; for example, is it a member of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services and/or the Council on Accreditation?

There is a wonderful Adoption Reimbursement Credit through the military. The U.S. Department of Defense has an adoption reimbursement program for qualified military families. These reimbursements can cover medical expenses and other fees related to adopting a child under 18 years of age, but do not include travel.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Call the Attorney General’s office and the Better Business Bureau in the state where the agency is licensed to check whether any complaints have been filed against the agency.

RESOURCES

Adopt US Kids

Military OneSource offers specialized consultations for military families. This is a confidential peer-to-peer support service where families can speak to someone who has experienced adopting from foster care first hand.