Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Hurry up...and wait...

Waiting is my least favorite thing to do. I know it comes as no surprise that patience is not a virtue I was blessed with in abundance. I am not an expert at waiting, but I know in that I'm not alone. Waiting isn't fun; waiting is hard. But waiting in foster care is especially rough, and complicated and gives life to the cliché expression "all the feels". 

I expected the waiting in the beginning. I knew it would take a while to go to all the classes, fill out all the paperwork, get all our clearances etc. etc. etc. etc. But once we were finally certified I thought the wait was more or less over. All through our training we heard about the number of kids in the system, the shortage of foster parents, the great and immediate need. We've heard of people getting certified and getting kids the same day. We've heard of middle of the night calls, and emergency pick-ups. 

And yet, nearly two months after being certified, we have no kids. 

We have received calls. In fact, in the last month (we officially opened our home up to receive placements after our vacation in mid-July) we've received nine referral calls. Two of these were for respite care (like babysitting for foster parents where they get a break for a couple days) that we said yes to. Two calls ended up being canceled- they didn't have a need after all, or it was settled before we got details. Four calls we had to say no to. And two calls we accepted but were not chosen. 
Since becoming certified, we've gotten at least two calls a week, with our longest stretch between them being eight days. 

So some of it is outright waiting; periods of silence where we wonder if there's anything going on. And some of it is back-and-forth waiting; saying yes, saying no, waiting for details to be coordinated. 

In some ways waiting for a placement is just like waiting for a baby. After all, we got into this because we wanted to care for more kids. We wanted another little one (or two) to join our family- even if for a short time. So we're excited, and anxious, and ready for that little love to show up. It's like the last stages of pregnancy, when you've done everything you can to prepare and are now just looking forward to that hazy finish line, wondering when you'll finally arrive...

But on the other hand I hesitate to be too eager about it all, because in order for someone to join our family, it means another family is being ripped apart. Every time that agency number shows up on my caller ID, it means there's a kid somewhere in crisis. 

So for me, the waiting encompasses two different sides of a very messy story. I want a baby, a son, daughter, a child. I want to be useful, I want to help. And I also don't. I want to live in a world where foster care isn't necessary. Where moms and dads are equipped and supported to take care of their families well. Where there is no brokenness. Where trauma and abuse don't exist. Where my phone never rings, because there is no need. 

But I know that's not the reality. So we sit in limbo. We get up every morning thinking "maybe today's the day. Maybe today's the day where everything changes". It's a constant state of "anything can happen". We say yes to plans and commitments, with the thought of "unless we have a placement" running through the back of our heads. We have daycare on standby, knowing we might have to snatch up one of their open spots. We have a room prepared, bins of different supplies and clothes at the ready. 

When people ask us about our journey through foster care the conversation always includes the phrase "not yet..." and typically leads to me explaining how the system works. How it's not as simple as just taking in a kid who needs a home. It involves multiple agencies, the county, matching up profiles, available beds, certification specifics...all with the goal of providing the most appropriate care for specific kids, and the particular situation. 

I thought saying no would break my heart. But so far it's been mercifully clear whether we were able to take each placement. We've talked extensively about the circumstances that we're prepared to deal with, and when things fall outside of our comfort zone (an extremely open and relative term, as none of this is actually in anyone's comfort zone) we consider the situation and decide if it's something we feel will be able to do well. When we say no, I don't feel like I'm letting anyone down. I feel like I'm making way for somebody else's better yes. It's actually our yeses that have been a little harder. With both of the referrals we accepted, I felt nervous but confident in how we should respond. When we found out that they would be going to other homes, I was disappointed, and hit with how much I really wanted it to be us. But again, I trust that those kids ended up exactly where they needed to be right now. I hope and pray that the families that take them in are the best fit for what they need. 

So… We continue to wait. I have my phone nearby constantly checking the screen for the "bat signal"... the sign that someone's in trouble. My cue to swoop in. The call that will end the waiting and transform all of this maybe, all of the someday, into a reality. 

I'm ready for our "yes and…" But I'm also trying to soak up the lessons to be found in the "yes...and wait." 

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ready for the ruckus...

On Monday we got a call that we've been waiting on for a long time...

We are certified foster parents!

We began this process back in September, taking classes and getting started on the (copious amount of) paperwork. We weren't able to get all the classes done in the first session (it was every Saturday for a few months) and there was a big break for the holidays, so the whole process dragged on a bit. We completed our homestudy back in March, completed our paperwork and from there we were told it was just a matter of the state approving it.

Well...we ran into some bureaucratic hiccups, that resulted in more paperwork, repeat fingerprints, some backup references, even more paperwork, and another interview to approve us as a "large family" (because our certification could enable us to have 5+ kids total).

So we jumped through the hoops- again, some more- somewhat impatiently, finally finishing everything up (we thought/hoped/prayed) last Friday. And then we waited...and were surprised to hear back from our agency the next (business) day- we were approved. We were certified. This whole thing is real, and finished...but also...about to start.
The clock. A visible metaphor...

This whole process is hard for about a million reasons (and we haven't even started the hard part) but the thing I struggle with most is that it doesn't feel real. During the training phase, it's all really theoretical. You know that at the end of this there is a kid (or kids, or a baby...or babies) but you don't know really anything else. There's no official timeline, there are no guarantees, there's no way to prep for a certain scenario because genuinely almost anything could happen. It's all very abstract. And for a planner/prepper like myself, that's tough. I can fill out forms all day, but printing multiple copies of my birth certificate doesn't exactly get me hyped. I wanted something to latch onto, to get excited about, to get ready for...

So, I planned a room.
I found the fun stuff, the stuff I can control, and poured my heart and energy there.

I joke that if having babies was all nursery-decorating and name choosing, I would have a MILLION babies. It's honestly just the most fun. I love to design a room, but with my kiddos it's about so much more than that. It's about making a space just for them. It's dreaming in 3 dimensions...imagining what they'll enjoy, what you'll do together, who they'll become...

So as we did the nitty-gritty work on the logistical side, and started wading into the heart-stretching work on the spiritual side, I got my hands dirty on the design side. (and, as always, made Dustin get his hands dirty too...we're in this together, after all, and mama needed some carpentry done!)

I won't bore you with every single detail of the room, buuuuuuuuuuuuuut...

I really do love how it turned out. There isn't really an exact theme, but it all has a bit of a mid-century vintage vibe, with a little bit of school-book stuff worked in there. Mix of primary colors + neutrals + gold. And really just anything I fall in love with.

One of my absolute favorite things is the very first thing I got for our future foster babe...An original poetry piece by my friend Amy Turn Sharp. Over two years ago...even before I had Miller...I saw one of her "basically it's like this" poems and knew I had to have it. The text says:

Basically it's like this
 I wish you would show up unannounced and cause a ruckus. 

That just spoke to me...Because that's what kids do. However planned, however anticipated, there is always a bit of wildness to their arrival, and they cause a ruckus in your heart, in the best and hardest ways. When I fell in love with those words, I didn't know that we would foster one day. And even now, I know I only barely grasp how true these words could prove to be as we open the literal and figurative door for our lives to be turned upside-down.

So as soon as we started down this wild path, I asked her to make a custom piece for me, using a page from an old Dick and Jane book. I've had it framed for months now...ready...waiting...just like we are...

(And in a funny little circular story...I bought the art from Amy to help fund her attendance at a creative conference, and Amy bought the queen bed we needed to sell to make room for the crib in this room. I love having tangible reminders and little hidden backstories worked into this space that remind me this whole thing is so much bigger than me...We're all inter-connected, and a part of a journey together). 

As much fun as redecorating if for me, I didn't want to (/couldn't) spend a ton of money on a bunch of new things, so we made it work almost entirely with pieces we already owned. (You'll recognize a lot from when this space was set up as a guest room, and a few things from Piper's nursery). The biggest purchase was a new (vintage) dresser, that I fell in love with online...and then fell in LOVE with after Dustin redid.

We were about two seconds away from painting it and I panicked, feeling like we owed it to the dresser to try refinishing it first. And I'm so thankful we did (ok...Dustin did all of it. But "we" were a part of the vision, which is basically 90% of any project). It's seriously stunning...and I haven't even gotten the thrill of filling it with teeny tiny clothes yet, so I know I'll fall even more in love with it.

He also made a desk to fill that awkward "nook", and created the prettiest striped-wood shelves to display my treasures. He's a good daddy (and husband, and woodworker, and human), that guy.

(One more quick backstory...we bought a "new" crib on craigslist...we already had one for the room, but we had to have two available in order to be certified for two kiddos. And when Dustin went to get it, he found out the people selling it were running a resale business to raise money for their adoption. I mean...does it get better than that?)

The rest of the room came together pretty easily, as we just rearranged, and swapped stuff, and swapped again, and rearranged again. Even after the main pieces were in place, I kept futzing...changing artwork, adding knick-knacks...But the foundation is there...ready for this "someday" to become "now"...

So speaking of now...what you're really here for, and wondering...

What now?

Well. We're certified. Which means we're legally allowed to take in foster placements. We get the same questions every time we talk about it, and they go a little something like this: 
How does it work? When will you get a kid? How old will they be? How many can you take? Where will they go during the day? Are you going to adopt them? What if you have to give them back? 
As you can imagine, the answers to some of these questions are simpler than others. But here's the gist: 

We're certified through a private agency. When the county (technically any county surrounding Central Ohio, but most likely will be Franklin) has to remove a child from a home, they call all the agencies in the area (there are many) and give the details they have to determine what homes might be available and a good fit. (depending on the circumstance they might know a lot about the child, or nearly nothing. They might have some advance notice that they're going to need a placement, or it can be a sudden emergency. The answer to most questions in foster care is: it varies.) Then each agency calls their families that have space, and meet the criteria for the particular case (open to that age/number of kids, particular need etc.). If they call us, we can accept or decline. If we accept, our agency goes back to the county with our information...as do all of the other agencies. Then the county chooses what they believe to be the best match. 

So- to boil it down- for us to receive a placement- we'd have to be contacted, say yes, and then be chosen. 

And even then, it could fall through, if the situation changes, family members are located, etc. etc. Again...we're already learning that this whole thing is a little....fluid

As a part of our paperwork, we were asked hundreds (seriously) of questions about the types of children we felt equipped to care for. This covered everything from age, to race, to behavioral information, to legal circumstances. 

Legally, we are certified for 1-2 kids, ages 0-5. We went with 2 so that we could take in sibling sets if needed. So we could be called about a newborn, or a preschooler...we just don't know. The plan is for any of our future kiddos to attend the same daycare/school our current kids do. That's obviously a little tricky logistically, so that may be one of the biggest hurdles in this whole thing (besides, you know...just everything which still feels a little/lot daunting). So if/when we get a call we'll have to evaluate if it's a good fit for our family at that time...and make our decision from there. That may mean we get a placement immediately, we may say yes (repeatedly) and not get selected, and we may have to wait, for our own reasons, or for others.
It's a whole lot of...we'll see...

The goal of foster care is first and foremost family reunification. It is designed to hopefully allow families the opportunity for healing, learning and development to allow them to create a safe and healthy environment to have their kids back in their home.

So we are prepared to love these kids...and also let them go. That's the way the system is designed, even if I worry that my heart might not be. It's our goal (and our fervent prayer, because we're going to need that...) to be supportive of the reunification process whenever possible, loving not only the child, but the whole biological family in any way we're called to and able.

But of course reunification isn't always possible, and in those circumstances, the case would likely transition to adoption. Our certification is for foster-to-adopt, meaning that if we had a child placed with us who became available for adoption, then we would be able to pursue that if we chose (no guarantees that they'd stay with us, but it's at least an option/possibility).

There are a thousand other FAQs...either that we are asked, or that we are constantly asking...And most of those get a lot tougher. Those are the ones that start out like:
Can they...How will you...What about...But what if...
And that is the messier, heart wrenching part of all of it because the answer to almost all of those is some variation of "I don't know." And sometimes the answer is just, "No one knows."

This is where the "ruckus" comes in. We're stepping out into the unknown. We have more questions than answers, more fears than facts, more doubts than...well, anything else. I don't know what this is going to look like...I honestly still don't know if this is going to look like anything. But I desperately hope it does. I hope that someone shows up, unannounced, and changes everything for us. I hope for my heart to be expanded, I want my faith to be tested, I need my perspective to be upended.

I want that ruckus to shake up my safe and comfortable life, and teach me how to give more, pray more, love more...than I ever thought I could. And that is a terrifying thing to want...because what if it happens?

On Monday, we got a call that we were certified. And on Tuesday, we got a call to see if we could take a child over the weekend (to help out another foster family). They ended up figuring out a solve for that situation before we even needed to consider it, but that was a reminder for me. At any moment, while I'm doing...whatever I'm doing...there are kids all around this city- families all around this world- going through crisis. One phone call like that may change everything for us...and for them.

We're ready...

Vintage: Suitcases, rollerskates, clock, scarves, blocks, dresser
Goodwill: Flash cards (in frame), desk chair, painting
Handmade/gifts: Poetry art, shelves, desk, quilt, crib skirt
Urban Outfitters: Rug, white frames, crib sheet
Target: Lamp, grey felt bins, drawer pulls, whale dish
Michael's: Faux wood frames
Ikea: storage bench
Homegoods: Curtains

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Date Day

Date night. Every married couple knows that should be a priority...but it's hard to make happen. (Work schedules, packed calendars, babysitter conflicts, etc. etc. etc.) And then even if you can get out for a bit, it's usually an hour or two in the evening, which may or may not be your best time to connect (soooooo tired). I'm always thankful for time alone with Dustin, but I don't necessarily love the options date night affords us. It feels like it always has to be squeezed into the two hours after the kids' bedtime (and before it gets crazy late for a sitter), or we go out earlier and I feel like we're over-burdening someone with the task of watching all three gila monsters during the witching hours. And never mind that the expense of a babysitter pretty much doubles the cost of whatever date activity we choose (which- tragically unoriginal alert- is usually just dinner). (OR we feel bad about taking advantage of free babysitting again from my family, even though they swear they don't mind).  Plus there's the guilt of missing time with the kiddos, when we're already away from them the bulk of most days. So yeah. Love a date night. Don't always manage to make it happen.

But we do try to squeeze in time here and there and take advantage of what we have, so during a (rare) impromptu lunch together the other day, we decided we should take a day off, randomly, just the two of us. We've got the time to spare at work, and with Piper back at daycare with the other kids for the Summer, we've got all-day care already lined up (and paid for!) So last Friday, we took advantage of the most expensive "free" babysitting we'll ever have, and had a Date Day. Just one day; just the two of us. No plans; no kids. (And no burden, no guilt.)

While a big-time date is pretty rare around here...documenting it is even more rare. I don't suspect many will care about the ins and outs of our simple day together...but I know I'll cherish being able to look back at the ordinary magic of our life in this season. So I'm making the time to date that man I love, and taking the time to record a little bit of why it's so special to me.


We wanted to make the most of our day together, so we got the kids up, fed, and off to daycare around our regular time in the morning. 8:30AM still seemed a little early to start a date, so I took advantage of some solo time while Dustin did drop off, and took a shower without anyone watching/tattletaling on someone/opening the shower door to have me "fix" Barbie's shoe. Similarly, Dustin enjoyed a quick trip to Home Depot, that was both actually quick and sans any sort of shrieking or injury. Date Day hadn't officially started, and it was already my favorite day.

Now on to the heart of the matter...

First up: Bikes!
Kidding. Never.
But a certain 3.95 year old I know is looking a little bit like a circus bear on her tricycle, so a new birthday bicycle gift was in order for Fin. We hit up Once Upon A Child (aka: my happy place) for a new-to-her gem. It has streamers, a carrier for a baby, and a bell. $25 well spent.
(and yes, I realize it's a little lame to spend date-day shopping for our kids, but we kept the trip short, and it was such a specialize mission it didn't feel like we were wasting our time together running routine errands).

So, the day was already a wild success, and it was only 10am. Yes!

The night before, I had done a last minute search for local Groupons, and found that the mini-golf place we planned to go to (because you know we were going to play some mini-golf) had a deal for buy-one-get-one free golf plus 10 rounds batting cage tokens. So though I haven't swung a bat in 10+ years (maybe 20+?) we gave it a shot. I stuck to softball and "slow baseball" (dang elementary school kids, hogging the "very slow" option), while Dustin handled "medium". We were in no danger of anyone scouting us, but it was fun change of pace to try something different together.

Next it was on to the main event...Mini-golf is hands down my favorite date activity, day or night. It's silly, competitive, and just super fun. The course was actually a little crowded (first day of Summer vacay for local kids) which worked out great...we got to enjoy some extra sunshine, and had time to talk (in between golf related trash-talk, of course). We chatted about all kinds of things, but ended up talking a lot about plans (and wild visions) we have for our family in the future. So thankful for a man I can play with a dream with, simultaneously.

Photographic evidence we were tied at the turn...I'm not sure who ended up winning. (except I'm totally sure, and I don't want to talk about it). 

It was barely lunch time (thanks for the early wakeup, kids!) but who's stopping us from finding a nearby spot for some pre-noon beers (and burgers)? No one, that's who. We hit up the new Northstar, and ate super slow, and didn't have to cut up, wipe up, or blow on anything. Glorious.
I'd be lying if I said we didn't talk about work...because actually I think we spent nearly the entire meal discussing that. But what a gift to have someone who understands the 9-5...This is the second time we've worked together, and I honestly cherish the shared perspective it gives us. (Plus there is no way he'd endure nearly as much of my complaining if he wasn't in similar trenches).

We headed home after that (mostly to change into looser pants...still not sorry about all the guac.) But on our way, I of course spotted a little curb-side gem we had to snag. Ain't no shame in my trash picking game (seriously...Dustin wishes there was any shame in it. But alas. There is none). Only issue? The shelf I spotted was far too big for our car (even if we didn't have a bike with us already...) So with no words, and a mercifully subtle eye-roll, Dustin hopped out, picked it up, and walked the two blocks home.

This guy is the muscle to my hustle all day every day. This is him requesting that I not document this shenanigans. But the world needs to know how much he loves me (and how much I love him for it).

And with our second second-hand score of the day in the bag, it was time for more golf...this time of the disc variety.

We made a quick stop at Play-It-Again Sports (it turns out the unofficial theme of the day is bargain fun!) for some cheap drivers and putters (chosen solely based on their ridiculous graphics), and then headed out for the course.

I pretty much haven't played since high school (I actually used to play pretty frequently back then...not because I was great at it, or tremendously passionate about the sport. But my friends were super into it, so I was happy enough to go along for the ride) and I think Dustin and I have only played once or twice together, if that.

We went to a course I've never tried before, and it was seriously magical. And not just in a sappy "I love my date" way...I mean the forest actually looked enchanted.

It was the most perfect weather ever, and we had a blast hiking around for an hour or so, trying our best to keep our new discs out of the water (and taking awkwardly balanced self-timer shots). At this point we honestly didn't really talk much...which is probably (ok, definitely) rare for me. But it's a special kind of comfortable to just enjoy each other...just being.
(side note: I feel a little hind-sight dorkiness about our semi-matching/semi-competing Ohio State and Eagles gear.)

He didn't let me win, but gave me credit where it was due, and I only ended up owing him two wager related backrubs for the day. Sooooo, could have been worse.

And since we were just a few minutes from my fave ice cream place, we had to make a stop at Sticky Fingers. (I didn't even have to ask for eyes. Love that).

By now it was late afternoon and we had our fill of sun and games. Typically I'd try to carve out time for a nap...either out of necessity, or just on principle, but maybe keeping up with three kids has upped my endurance, because at this point I still felt...pretty rested. (We did lounge for a few minutes and have the obligatory "what in the world did we do before we had kids?...But like, really?...Whatever we wanted?....Like, all day?..." conversation. It's only been a few years, but still, I can barely remember the rhythm of full days without children.) We had a little time before we needed to fetch the whippersnappers, so I set out to tackle an art project that had been looming/lagging in our garage for a few days (or weeks? hard to say...) Having some uninterrupted work time? Priceless.

And just like that...our Date Day drew to a close (and the typical manic merry-go-round of dinnertime/playtime/bathtime/bedtime resumed). One day wasn't enough (could never be enough) but it was still so much. It may need to become a regular occurrence. We may not be able to get a full day away very often, but early-out "Summer Fridays" could afford us a couple of hours alone each week...Don't mind if we do

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Monday, May 22, 2017

One Day of Seconds

As Piper's last day of preschool approaches (well- approached- it's today!) we're gearing up for a new season (both literally- yay summer!- and in the larger more figurative "seasons of life" sense). This Summer she'll be back at daycare with her siblings, so we'll once again have a new rhythm and routine to adjust to. But before we move towards the future, you know I have to pause for a second to appreciate the now. And by "a second"...I really mean, a compilation of seconds...

You see I knew I wanted to document what life looks like for us right now before we shift to something new, and I figured it'd be fun to anniversary a project from last year: a day in the life video of seconds from one of our days. So Friday, I cleared some storage on my phone, and went about capturing little snippets with the 1 Second Everyday app. I didn't come close to recording everything that goes into a day..but for me, the meaning of these tiny slices is bigger than the sum of their parts. So much of life- now, and maybe always- can seem like a string of mundane moments, it's so easy for me to see monotony. But when I take just a second to pause and really take everything in, I remember how extraordinary our ordinary really is.

Notable notes from Friday, May 19th, 2017:
(For some reason, as I made this round of video, I focused a lot on the sounds of our days...I take a lot of pictures- understatement?-, so much of our lives are visually documented, but I love that video allows me to preserve another sensory memory. There are so many little noises that have become woven into the routine of our day- and I love how hearing them can transport me back to that moment in time.) 
  • This was a "shower day". I have a pretty steady "shower every other day" thing going on over here...and while I feel mildly self-conscious about admitting that, it's just what works for me right now. (And by "works" I mean, allows me to sleep-in as much as humanly possible at least 3 days a week, which makes the morning routine grid feel somewhat bearable). Dustin, bless his morning-rising, exercise-loving, servant-leading heart, gets up early, works out, showers, and is still ready before the rest of us. Plus he makes us all breakfast. Never leave me, Dustin Bowden. I'll even shower an extra day here and there if you want me to. 
  • I get the job and privilege of getting Miller up each day. He's always awake before I get in there, but never complains. He's happy to play on his own, but also thrilled to see me. The best 2 minutes of every single one of my days is going into his room, chit chatting with him, and looking out the window together. (Note- he does not stay this happy all day...as evidenced by the frequency and magnitude of his crying at various points in this video- and in soooooo many moments not captured. That guy feels big, I'll tell you that.)
  • Fin would have been watching TV with Piper, but due to a truly epic fit the night before, she lost her screen time privileges. Taking away "shows" seems like some of our only motivational leverage these days, so we pull that lever probably more often than we should. 
  • This was a pretty decent example of us having our sh*t together in terms of lunch prep. Thankfully daycare takes care of lunch for the littles, but we have to pack for Piper, (and Dustin and me, unless we want Jimmy Johns...again). Her lunch is almost always done the night before, but Dustin and I are usually eating breakfast with one hand, while cobbling together some sort of salad or leftovers for ourselves with the other. (and wiping syrup off of every kid/surface in sight, with any other hands we have free). 
  • Dustin and I ride to work together about 3/4ths of the time (based on whatever's going on at work that day), but due to the schedule and childcare situation, Monday and Fridays (thank goooooodness) are the only days we have to take all three kids to their two different schools (and Friday is the only day we have to pick them all up). Days when we're all together, and have to make all the stops are easily the most hectic...the fact that Dustin and I both had to be in the same 9AM client meeting added to the chaos/pressure of it all. But we made it...pretty much...
  • Fin is basically a backseat DJ, shouting out endless, extremely repetitive requests. Our current rotation consists mostly of anything from Trolls or Moana, plus VBS songs, and Stitches (which she- for some reason- deems as my favorite song...it is catchy). 
  • I ate one of those donuts. But I only took half first, as a bit of a wishful thinking lie to myself, before nearly immediately devouring the other half.
  • Our office allows dogs, and I borrow any and all of them for desk-side snuggles when they let me.
  • Is there anything better than the sound of a mid-afternoon soda pour? I'm straight up Pavlovian when I hear a can open...
  • I'm physically incapable of dialing into a conference call correctly on the first try. I don't even try anymore. 
  • That gumball was totally for show. I don't ever get them, but having grown up with a gumball machine in our kitchen my whole life makes that noise another one of my happiness triggers. 
  • Ok, the kids greeting me after school with breathless yells of "MAMA" is pretty much the best sound ever. 
  • We had no plan for dinner (like many Fridays...) and would have gone out if not for the torrential downpour (ain't nobody got time for buckling three carseats in the rain). So- frozen pizza to the rescue. 
  • That fire alarm. Every. Time. At this point it's less of a fire alarm and more of a "you opened the oven" alarm. I'm a little nervous about how well the kids have learned to completely ignore it.
  • It was raining like the apocalypse all afternoon, but the minute it stopped, you better believe I shuffled everyone outside. They're all usually pretty wiped from a long day/week, but a little time and space to spread out and work off that post-dinner ice cream buzz does them all (and me) good. 
  • Bedtime read aloud is in the running for my favorite moment of each day. Give me a snuggle-ready, jammied-up kid and I'll read allllll the books. 
  • Post bedtime hustle...is real, and exhausting. Friday nights used to be time to party. Now they're just another (too)short kid-free window to either knock out some to-do's, or bail on everything and watch Netflix. Or usually- a little bit of both.
What. A. Day. 

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Mom-life Podcast

Last week I was a guest on Jen Hatzung's show: The Mom Life Podcast. I met Jen years ago, at my first blogging conference, and have kept up with her various projects since then. She started a mom-centered podcast earlier this year, talking with "moms who are leaning into finding their direction" and after checking out the first few episodes, I knew I wanted to get in on the fun!

I've done a podcast before, but just once, a few years ago, so I'm hardly a pro. But Jen is so easy to talk to, I kind of forgot wasn't just a chat with a friend. (Well, it was a chat with a friend. A chat that was recorded and then published on the internet).

To prep, Jen sent over some prompts to get me thinking...It was so helpful to start get my thoughts down on paper before we talked, and it was interesting to see how much my perspective has changed over the years. Sometimes (most times) I can't believe I've been a mom for over five years...or that I have three kids. I still vividly remember the early days with just one, where I felt like I seriously might not make it. There's no way I could have imagined the life I have now, or felt like I'd actually have wisdom to share with others! Now of course, I don't have all (or many), (or any?) of the answers to motherhood's mysteries and challenges, but I loved being able to look back on my experience thus far, and feel like the things I've learned along the way could help encourage someone else. I'll never feel like "I've made it" as a mom...but this was a little bit of validation that I'm come a long way as a mom, and a reminder that I can be used in big and small ways even while I'm still a work in progress.

A little peek into our chat: 

Differences between early motherhood and today:
Early motherhood was SO STINKING HARD. The first time around, my world was rocked, physically and emotionally, and there were about 8 weeks where I muddled through everything on a roller coaster of "this is the best thing that's every happened to me!" and "why do I feel so inadequate/broken and why can't I stop crying?"

AND THEN? I had another kid...which I thought was going to be SO easy (I mean...we're already doing all the things...how hard could it be to do it x2?) I was SO wrong. Going from 1 to 2 kids for me was like going from 1 to 100. I was outnumbered and exhausted, (and always sweaty! Summer baby and no A/C in our house? Mistake.)

Both times I eventually found my groove. But with kid number 3 it was BLISSFULLY different. I don't know if it was actually easier...I think it was a combo of a good baby, lower expectations, and a little bit of experience on my side. This time I knew it was going to be hard, and I braced myself differently. So I still had hard days (/minutes/hours/weeks) but it doesn't feel all consuming or hopeless like it had with the others.

Any of my "success" now, I attribute to revisions to (and lowering of) my expectations. When all three of them are wailing at the same time, I'm better able to let it ride, because OF COURSE they're all crying. What do you expect with 3 small kids? Things are a mess (figuratively and literally) with us a lot of the time, but I'm much more ok with that. I have less to prove, and my pride has been eroded over time. (in a good way...mostly...I think...) I figure a family of five, with two full-time-working parents is going to run somewhat on a wing and a prayer. So we are winging it and praying a whole lot of the time.

Your biggest motherhood challenge these days:
I struggle with the juggling act that our life currently requires. My husband and I are constantly switching off; he travels, I travel, he watches them while I go out, I cover so he can volunteer. Et cetera, et cetera, infinity. It seems like we're always handing off and coordinating. It gets exhausting to feel like everything has to be orchestrated so precisely...I miss spontaneity, and the ability to do things together (without figuring out a babysitter!)

What you would tell your new mama self about motherhood:
Oh girl. You are going to be bad at this.

I am hard-wired with a need for achievement and significance. So I've spent my whole life chasing both. Motherhood is nearly impossible to feel accomplished at, so it's been a struggle for me...to struggle. I still feel like I'm doing everything wrong at times, but I'm less surprised or rattled by my incompetence. It's been huge for me to not only learn how to mother, but to learn how to do something that will never be finished.

You can listen to my episode here, and if you get hooked- you can check out the whole show.
And if you can't get enough of audio-Courtney, feel free to listen to my episode of the Sarah R. Bagley Podcast, (or read my recap notes from that show).

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Black and White and Quilted All Over

Guess what IIIIIII maaaaaaaaaaaaade......
OK, that wasn't a hint, as much as it was the full, visible answer. BUT- if you said- ANOTHER QUILT! Then BINGO, you're right! 

A little while back I was feeling like I was a in a bit of a rut, creatively. Somehow I found out about Stash Builder Box- a subscription service for fabric, and I thought maybe getting fabric delivered every month would provide me with inspiration (and motivation) to start making things again. I had no real need for more fabric, and no real clue what I would want to make, but the collections they put together are so cute, I knew I'd figure something out without too much trouble. Plus, 20% of their proceeds go to making quilts for kids in need- I love the idea that my hobby could benefit others too! (I even signed up to be a Heart Builder, so soon I'll be making a quilt top for them!)

But...back to today's project...

My first box arrived in March, with three yards of Cotton + Steel Sleep Tight collection fabric. and I was giddy (side note: Does Cotton + Steel make anything I don't love? No, no they do not.) The prints were so cute...and bonus: it was my fav color palette, black/white/grey. I knew immediately I wanted to make a baby quilt (how could I not, with all those cute little woodland creatures/smiley faces/ice cream?) Only slight problem...I don't have a baby who needs a quilt. But that seems like a minor detail. After all, if you quilt it, they will come, right? (Dustin is starting to get nervous when the sewing machine comes out. It's bad enough that I hoard quilts, but we're getting really close to collecting humans to go with them.) 

So with no plan and no purpose, I set out to make something adorable just for the fun of it. It was new for me to not really have an end use in mind, but it felt right to break my quilting dry spell (I haven't made one since Miller's over a year and a half ago) with something just "for the love of the game". 
I had pinned a quilt idea a while ago, that I thought would be fun to try (where else, but the Cotton + Steel Blog?!) so I adapted that a bit to fit the fabrics I had on hand, and the size I was aiming for. (I was thinking somewhere in the 36"x48" range, so that it wouldn't take forever, or require a lot of extra yardage). 

Here's the big TA-DA and then I'll backtrack on the winding road it took to get there. 

I laid it out in Illustrator first, to make sure I liked it...I was originally planning on doing the 3-piece squares with white background, just like the inspiration quilt. But to mix it up a bit, I decided to add a little square to each group, so that there are 4 fabrics in each one of the squares ( I had 3 prints from my box, and a matching black dot print left over from the girls' quilts.) 

There was probably an easy way to do this, sewing long strips together in sets of 3 and just cropping to the length square I needed...but alas, I never make things simple, so I'm sure I ended up cutting and piecing things much more than probably necessary. But, what's done is done. I figure I learn something in the process of each quilt (ok...I actually learn about 90 things, but I'm lucky if I retain a lesson or two) so as inefficient as my process may be, I still get the job done. (Though I'm sure "real" quilters would cringe at some of the things I do- they probably know a standard way to make all these blocks that would save me time/money/fabric. If you are one such person, call me! Help me!)

Once I made all of my diagonal squares, I laid them out again to determine what background fabric I should use. I had a few other black/white prints in my stash, but it was looking pretty busy, so in the end I just picked up a solid grey to coordinate and calm the whole thing down a bit. 

From there I pretty much just kept winging it. The pattern I was loosely basing it all on had all of the finished squares just being sewn together, but I thought it would be fun to add a border between them. Plus it would allow me to feature more of my favorite fabrics. The pieces in the squares were pretty small, so long strips of fabric showed of the prints a bit more.  After that, the choices kind of snowballed from there. Once I had borders between the squares, I pretty much had to do a border on the outside too to make it feel balanced. It was definitely more work this way, but in the end, I really like how the layout worked. (It also extended the finished size of the quilt, so it's still great for a baby, but with a little more room for snuggling!)

Once the top was all assembled, I realized there were a few areas where my squares were (way) less than perfectly square, so there are some wonky spots where the borders don't quite line up right. But short of taking some rows apart, trimming them down, and reattaching them (which is even more work than it sounds like) there wasn't much I could do, so I decided not to let it bother me (too much). Again- I learn something each time I quilt, so perhaps the lesson on this guy was "close enough, probably" isn't the same as "actually square". I'll be more precise next time, but the good thing is, the consequences on quilts are pretty low. Yeah, I'll always be able to look at that part of the quilt and know I messed up, but there's also an argument to be made that it's part of the charm of a handmade project. Each quilt ends up being a bit of a time capsule of my skill level at the time, and a physical memento of my growth along the way.

For the back I kept it simple. It seems most people tend to just do one plain fabric on the back of quilts...but I've always preferred to have at least some interest on the reverse side. But this one already had so much going on, that I thought doing a whole lot on the back would be overkill. I had just enough of each of the fabrics left to do big horizontal stripes, so I whipped that up lickity-split.

When it came time to actually quilt it, I was a little hesitant. For some reason I have it in my head that quilting on a regular domestic machine is too hard, but if you believe Pinterest (which, really, you only sometimes should...) it appears people are quilting all kinds of things- even king size quilts!- on their home machines. I had done two other baby sized quilts on my machine though, so I figured I could do this one too...but I wasn't sure about what type of pattern to do. The only thing I really felt comfortable with were straight lines, but that felt like a bit of a cop out, since that's what I've done on all of my quilts (including the longarm version I did, and the ones I had sent to a professional!) Maybe I'm boring, maybe I'm scared of a risk, or maybe I just like what I like (and know what I'm capable of). In any case, I went simple again on this one- just doing diagonal lines in wide, regular intervals.

I thought I would dread the quilting part (I think the design phase is my favorite...or maybe just sewing the pre-cut pieces together) but it was actually kind of fun. I'm starting to look into more complicated techniques, and might even try free motion quilting at some point. Right now I pretty much rely on what I already know about sewing, and just apply it to the world of quilting, but I think I'm probably going to have to start putting some effort into learning more "professional" quilting techniques. There's nothing wrong with being self-taught, but right now I'm more "experimental" than taught, some YouTube tutorials couldn't hurt.

After that all I had left to do was bind it. So that might actually be my favorite part. There's something so satisfying about the last step in the process, knowing that when that's finished, you get to actually enjoy this thing you slaved over forever. Plus machine binding is quick and easy, so it's kind of a no-brainer task that is fun to cruise through. (and I adore the black and white striped binding I have- I bought a huge spool for the girl's quilts, and it's still going strong!)

Then I popped it in the laundry to fluff/crinkle up, and voila...another Bowden quilt is complete.

I still don't really have a plan for it, but that doesn't mean I don't love it. I assume we'll use it for any foster placements we may have. Or I may end up being able to part with it as a gift (Doubt it. I get pretty attached to these things...) But in the meantime, just the experience of making it was worth it for me.

Sweet Dreams, indeed.

P.s. Check out more Quilty fun on the blog, or instagram

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sister Act 2

It's been about a year and a half since we did a tour of the girls' room, and a whole lotta playing/sleeping/crying/giggling has gone down in there since then. I thought it would be fun to share some updated pics, to show what we've changed, what's still going strong, and what's a hot mess (we keep it real around here...even with our decorating).

The biggest change is that Fin is no longer in a crib. I honestly can't remember when we switched her to her "big girl bed" and I've already spent far too much time combing through my photo archives month by month to find evidence of the crib...but it was sometime around her third birthday. Piper crawled out of her crib when she was around 18 months old, so she was transitioned (in a hasty and hilarious- in hindsight- way) earlier than we expected, but Fin never had an issue with her crib. I figured as long as she's happy, I'm happy, so we didn't force a transition on her. But eventually she started to like the idea of sleeping in a bed like Piper, so we flipped the bed over and transformed it into a mini bunk bed for both girls.

Since the bed was designed to be a canopy bed or a bunk bed, it was an easy transition...Piper's mattress just moved to the top, and we got Fin a new mattress for the bottom. For a little while we had Piper using the ladder, but she was having a little trouble getting up and down in the dark (even though it's a really short bed) so we took the advice of a friend and got a storage system that doubles as a staircase. (That allowed us to rotate the bed around so that the ladder is against the wall, leaving the whole front/side of the bed open).

The storage has been awesome. It's so nice to have extra bins to store all their random junk treasured possessions. The first step is a little tall (it's more of a climb than a step) so we put a little step stool at the bottom to make it easier (and reduce the amount of jumping/thumping they do in the middle of the night.

And Fin loves her big kid bed (aka mattress on the floor), which also has rope lights installed. We found we were reading books a lot under there, so the extra light helps, but also...it just looks cool. The rope light plugs into the wall, and after some failed cord clips, we just zip tied it around the bed slats. (and fear not for her safety...these pictures were taken a while ago, and show the cords/outlets more accessible than they are now. We've since scooted the bed over so the frame is blocking both outlets. The girls know not to touch them anyway, but the new set up prevents it from even being an option.)

And after all those wins...now for the not-so-good update: the bed paint job. Turns out somebody *cough, rhymes with Shmiper, cough* likes to pick at the bed rails, so the top of her bed is now sporting a two toned effect. Ugh. (my only consolation is that she at least wasn't eating the paint...) We've taught her not to do it anymore (now her worst bedtime habit is using 87 tissues per night and leaving them all over her bed) but now we'll have to sand portions of it and repaint. Not exactly easy when the bed is always in use. So for now it just looks a little janky (and we look a little negligent).

In the corner where the crib used to be, we put a little storage bench we already owned, but once we got the "stairs"/bins we really didn't need it, so it was a short lived option.

It's a pretty big amount of space, so it was shame not to use it...and we really needed a better spot to read books as a family (it was getting a little crowded piling in Fin's bed) so we decided to set up a beanbag corner! The girls each got a beanbag chair for Christmas, and we've spent pretty much every night since then cuddled up there together reading 17 library books in a row. (I'm a sucker for "just one more...")

So that's about all the updates...we did swap out a lamp (our entire house is pretty much a constant game of "musical decorations" with things migrating from room to room depending on our need at the time) And of course we accessorize with only the most sophisticated pieces: Frozen tissue box, alllllllll the nightlights, and a handmade sticker chart to encourage a certain little weasel to STAY IN HER BED FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. You know...the essentials.

I love these sisters, and their pretty, messy, pretty-messy space. And despite some recent complaints that they "didn't want GREY walls...it's so bo-rrrrrrring, mama!", I hope they grow up with fond memories of time spent in here together.

Cubbies/stairs: Ikea Trofast storage system
Bed: Ikea Kura
Bedside pocket: Ikea Stickat
Rope light: Home Depot
Bean Bag Chairs: Target Pillowfort
Turtle Nightlight: Cloud B
All other sources are linked in the original tour.

P.s. Check out more home related posts, here or here.
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