Thursday, January 29, 2009

In Case of Suffering...

Dearest Family and Friends (an open letter),

In case of suffering, please call me.

I don't want any of my family or friends to suffer silently in these hard economic times. I don't know how many of my local family and friends actually read my blog, but just in case, I want to say here and now that I offer the following:
  • Shared housing while you are trying to get back on your feet. G and I are having trouble keeping up with all our bills in this new year. It was tough before, but now I have received a salary cut and G is job hunting when jobs are scarce. Come stay with us for a bit if you need a place. Contribute what you can in rent, even if a small amount. It will help us while helping you. Or simply help us out with home repairs or pool maintenance, or car maintenance, or as of this spring, building small raised garden beds for our urban food garden.
  • Dinner. Sharing meals can help us all keep our spirits up and, done right, will ultimately be cheaper. Let's split some costs and enjoy one another's company. Your house or ours. Bring the ingrediants you can scrounge up and we'll bring what we can scrounge up at our house. Then we'll cook and eat together. The "new economy" will at best give us the vehicle to redefine the good American life. Hopefully we will all play more music together, break more bread together, and play more games together.
  • And another option for dinner. If you like vegetarian food, when we cook something, every-once-in-a-while, we can make a little extra for you to have fresh or put in your freezer. You can do the same for us when and if you are ever able, but no pressure. We can also get together to share in the task of baking and cooking from scratch, especially those items that can be frozen or stored well. The more we all have in our freezers, the less convienence food we will all buy and the less we will eat out. Also, a full freezer is cheaper to run than an empty one and a full oven is cheaper when on than one that only has one or two things in it.
  • Shared heating. If you are worried about your energy and heating bill this winter, let's talk. By turning down the heat (as low as it will go without bursting the pipes) and by keeping the lights out for just a couple of days (or even for a night), you can save money. Come over for a night or two, then catch us on the flipside.
  • Bulk memberships. If you need to stock up, let me know so we can schedule to shopping together. We have been given a wonderful gift of a membership to both BJs and Costco. I can tell you when we are headed out there next, and you would be most welcome to join me and share in our membership. I'd also be happy to split items when the cost of buying is cheaper in bulk but neither of us needs quite that much of something (pickles or whatever).
  • Gardening, with prep starting in early spring. G and I are entertaining ideas about how to eat locally and in season (redefining our entire diet) and grow more of our own food. Neither of us have a green thumb, nor do we have much space for gardening in our yard. However, if we can get together with folks who have more of a green thumb/more knowledge, as well as someone who has some space, we can offer some of the labor. There are no "community gardens" accessible to the public in our city currently as far as we can tell.
  • Clothes and toys for your kids. If you have a child under three, we might be able to help. We are not done having children so would like to keep our items, but if you are willing to keep track of anything with our name on it, we are happy to loan out clothes for little ones who have outgrown their wardrobes as well as toys for little ones who have reached a new developmental phase and need some new toys.
  • Women's clothing exchanges. Sizes change, tastes change. If you are needing or craving something new to wear and are around my size or a bit smaller, call me. I'd be happy for you to rummage through my pile of clothes I've sadly outgrown, etc. Maybe I'll have a thing or two of interest to you. (And if you have anything you think might interest me, let me know that too.)
  • Make cleaners in bulk with us. If we buy the supplies together in bulk, we can make cheap and healthier (than store bought...also more ecologically sound) household cleaners including laundry deteregent. By doing it together, we'll also have more fun. We'd have to learn how, but I'd also entertain making soaps and shampoos and other personal care goods together.
  • If it feels like your home is falling apart around you, but you can't afford the work and don't have the man-power to do it yourself, let's talk. We can come help you at your house for some number of hours if you come help us at ours. By sharing the work, we make it more likely that we can "do it ourselves" which will save money.
  • I'm open to other ideas to about how we can help each other out.
For those of you who are not local, I still am here offering to be a good listener and to hold you in loving prayers.

Please don't be prideful. Now is not the time. If you need help, reach out. We're all in this together.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why I am Not Anti-Adoption: Part Two

In "Part One" of this slowly-developing series (I will post now and then probably take a break on the series for a while before posting again), I addressed in several ways the common argument against adoption that the separation of mother and child is traumatic, hurtful or damaging, and often avoidable/unecessary. I hope you will go back and read that post if you have not already.

In summary, I can agree with anti-adoption advocates in that the above statement is true. As I said in "Part One," largely for this reason, I am an spirited advocate of adoption reform, and I will speak more to that later. Please do keep in mind that this is a series, and thus I am going to address issues one at a time.

Sticking to the issue at hand, however, I also outlined in "Part One" the distinction between the separation of mother & child and adoption. The former is necessary if the latter takes place, but the former takes place in many cases without the latter. There are a lot of children who age out of foster care (as in, kids who live in foster homes until they are old enough to be independent), as well as kids who live with adults (relative or non-relative) under informal arrangements or who live with adults (relative or non-relative) who have assumed some form of legal guardianship. The parents of these children may or may not retain some or all legal rights to their children, let alone relationships with their children.

Each case varies, and in this particular post, I'd like to speak to illustrate a few key points using just one particular case. Largely it is some background into one way in which I have come to the conclusions I have. This particular post is most useful in a conversation about American adoptions through the state, but aspects may apply to other forms of adoption. However, let me very clear at this time that by no means is my post meant to demonize or contribute to negative stereotypes about so-called "birth parents." What I say about the parents in this case apply to their case quite specifically.

Having foster parented for six years now, I have seen the issue of adoption from a number of different perspectives. The first child I foster parented was fifteen years old. His parents had seven children, and he was in the middle. Due to severe abuse and neglect that started in-utero, he was finally after five extremely torturous years that easily could have killed him, removed from his parents' home along with the rest of his siblings. He suffered through another six years of intense effort by the state to reunite his family. Though I cannot and will not share details, I hope my post is clear that I call it "suffering" in his particular case. I am not saying that reunification efforts automatically equal suffering. I am referring to the specific circumstances of this reunification period.

So during those six years he was bounced around from home to home while the process dragged on and on and on. His parents were offered an array of services to help them become healthy and re-establish themselves in their role as parents. They were also given frequent visitations with their children to which they often didn't show. Experiencing the excitement of preparing for visitations and then living through the betrayal of parents who didn't show was among many, many facets of our foster son's trauma. By the time he came to live with us at 15, we were his twenty-third home.

In the end, his parents simply did not have the ability, at least in the timeframe of our foster son's childhood, to parent without abusing their children...for whatever very tragic reason. When he was eleven years old, our foster son's parental rights were terminated. That legal event was but a footprint of a very, very profound loss that had been occurring for him for years. It can't be reasonably argued that our foster son, on many levels, had not already lost his parents. Clearly, he had.

That marker, that legal event, changed very little in the day-to-day life of the children, but it did have one positive effect for our foster son (who was, as I said, not yet with us). Rather than having parents in and out of his life (way more out than in), parents who I must remind you:
  • frequently and consistently made promises to him that they would do the work required to get him back, promises they must have known on some level they wouldn't keep
  • made it a regular practice to hand him their own dramas and place on him the burden of their adult issues, even berating and blaming him for the fact that not he and his siblings were taken into foster care
  • had a legal right to access him, to come in and out of his life at whim, and chose to do so only periodically and at their own convienence without once showing concern for the impact on him...

...he finally was able to be told that his parents weren't able to parent him, that they tried but couldn't learn how to parent, that they just didn't have the ability. He could be told the honest-to-goodness truth. And he had the opportunity to free himself-- as much as humanly possible (which is never entirely)-- from what proved to be the fantasy that somehow they would get it together and make it work and give him the life he dreamed of. In other words, finally, after years and years and years of living hell, he could begin trully and fully grieving his loss.

His parents had made themselves utterly unavailable, starting before their parental rights were terminated, but during our time with him, we tried to give him what information we could and sought as many more answers (and photos) as we could through connections that we did have. We encouraged him to put up the two pictures he had of his mother in the house, if he was willing. We were honest with him and compassionate toward his parents, who I have no doubt loved him despite their inability to gain the skills to parent safely and to engage in treatment.

At one point we went with him to his childhood town for a court hearing to review his case plan. We had lunch in town and he told us about what he could remember. We listened and were there for him to hear his grief. He cried hard afterward, on the way home, moaning for his mommy...telling us again and again how badly he wanted her. His pain wasn't from the termination of parental rights. His pain was there long before his parental rights had been terminated. He had cried like this during nearly every drive from a court hearing for ten years. He talked about crying himself to sleep for as long as he could remember.

His pain was from his mother not having the ability to parent him. His pain was from wanting her so badly and knowing that she would never make herself available to him because after all these years she hadn't. His pain was from the fact that for years he was in the foster care system, sometimes in abusive group homes, and no one-- not his parents of birth, not other biological family members, not adoptive parents-- came to get him the heck out of the system.

After a number of years observing the system up close and personal, it seems to me that termination of parental rights, in foster care at least, is often the humane thing to do in a tragic and sad situation. It is only very recently in history-- within the last decade or so-- that parents have not had the right to do nothing for their children for years on end without facing a termination of their rights.

Because G. and I started out as foster parents for older kids and teens who had lived in the system during a time when some parents never faced termination at all, we became intimately familiar with what occurs when termination doesn't happen for many years even when it is inevitable. That is: the ongoing, painful, constant "rejection" a child feels when his or her parents hang on tooth and nail to rights that they are only willing or able to access without commitment to the longterm. That is the parents have the right to visits, to major medical decisions about their child and even to say when a child can get a haircut, but can choose to show up or not when given the opportunity to be in relationship with their child. They can make the effort to be there, or not, and the child is given no closure even after a decade. All the while, somewhere inside the child thinks, "if they love me, they will show up."

And each time the parent doesn't show up, doesn't follow through with services offered to them, etc. etc., the child's sense of self is diminished. Sometimes biological connection doesn't empower a child to develop a sense of self. It can in fact wound their sense of self. Had I not been a therapeutic foster parent for children who, over the course of years of endless wounds, had been hurt in this way, I would have never realized the deep, deep damage that is done to a child's very spirit when parental rights are seen as necessarily in the best interest of the children without regard to anything else (that is, parental rights become the "holy grail" of ethics in foster cases).

When our first foster son was placed in our home, we made the agreement to be a permanent placement for him. The therapeutic foster care agency he was in at that time did not do adoption, though we asked and would have been open to it. We knew that our "permanent placement" commitment extended through his lifetime, and we accepted that he would need assisted living services and our constant support and advocacy even in adulthood.

We were a family. We bonded in our relationships. We cared for one another. We functioned in every way as a family does. No, we weren't his family of birth nor the parents who "raised" him for his first five years (if you want to give them credit for that period) or even for his first fifteen years in total, and never did we think of ourselves as replacements of his first parents. He called his first parents "mom" and "dad" and he also called us his "moms" (which was absolutely his choice...we had suggested he just call us by first name).

The human heart does not have a finite ability to love and experience family. Our foster son's concept of family included the parents who had given him life biologically and raised him (to the extent they were capable) for his first five years. He has much love for them, and a great sense of pride in many things he remembers about them. He bonded with them, even as they abused him, and they will always be two of the most important people in his life, if not the most important people. It also included us, who in any fundamental definition of the word, parented him.

Was it "picture perfect?" No! No family is picture perfect. He did share with us on numerous occassions that he craved an adoption, and because of how he talked about it, I am 100% confident it was not because foster children are "conditioned" to think of adoption as "the answer." Our foster son made it clear to us that having a family-- having parents-- is a very primal, human need. It is why children, including infants, can and often do attach to-- even through their grief-- any person who becomes their primary caregiver (assuming they don't develop an attachment disorder waiting for that person). That's not to say that the grief is not real and valid and significant in the lives of these children. Or that the secondary attachment inherently "fixes" the hurt of the first loss.

But it is to say that the experience of being parented in every sense of the word is important for every child. Several years ago, Mothering Magazine printed t-shirts that read, "Everybody Needs Mothering." It was a lovely play on words, but my first reaction was one of mixed-feelings because I know children who have fathers and no mothers, and they are well loved and cared for. After more reflection, however, I realized the truth behind the statement. Everybody does need mothering. Whether by our mothers, or even by a father, all of us need the care, guidance, and unconditional love that we conjure up when we consider the essence of the role of parents.

In our society, for good or bad, there is a legal aspect to being family, and even kids "get this." That legal commitment, that "sealing of the deal of forever" seemed important to our first foster son. I really don't think a legal guardianship would have satisfied his particular interest. Because it is not equivalent-- in terms of legal and social aspects-- to other families who happen to be birth families, whereas adoption is. Of course, there is always an emotional difference to being adopted vs. being raised in one's birth family (more on kinship placements in another post). But legal guardianship creates other differences for the child as well.

In any case, after almost a year of being with us, our foster son started to really attach to us. He became very stable. His behavior, which had at times been totally out of control, calmed down immeasurably. He was doing beautifully in school and actually enjoying himself. He was involved in extra curricular activities that he enjoyed, and found a community for himself in our neighborhood and church.

Stability is a very frightening thing to a child who has never had it. Our foster son was used to moving from family to family, never calling one his own for too long. He had several years when he moved multiple times during the year (remember, during just ten years in foster care, he moved from family to family twenty-three times).

So one day, he just decided he needed to move. I know in the intimate way that I came to bond with this child, that he was just scared of standing still and being loved by a family for too long. He told the director of the agency that he wanted to move, and the director came to the decision three weeks later that he needed to "have a voice" in the system and that this was the way to give him a voice. Nevermind that he was simply afraid. Nevermind that he was afraid because for the first time he knew the people who were parenting him were refusing to reject him. Nevermind also that he was severely developmentally delayed, with a developmental level ranging from three to eleven, depending on the area of development and his level of stress. (This is a philosophical stand that I'll take here: I don't think kids are developmentally capable of making this kind of decision at seven or eight. I think there are other developmentally appropriate ways to give kids a voice in the system.)

The main point of telling this part of the story is that because he was still "in the system," the arbitrary decisions of someone like this agency director determined whether or not he would ever have a shot at permanency in his family life. Unfortunately, the wrong decision was made.

This is one major reason we left that agency. Since that time, we have foster parented a number of other children on a temporary basis. I've learned how wonderful it can be for a child to live with their parents when it can be done safely...when services can be provided over the long-term (which takes a lot of state resources but is worth it in my opinion), and parents are willing and able to engage in those services. And I think those kids do have a right to be parented by their parents, if the parents are willing to actually parent. Even when there are incredible imperfections. Heck, even when the child might suffer some limitations as a result.

For instance, we parented one child on a very short term basis who loved her mother beyond words and whose mother loved her. Her mother was slightly developmentally delayed and had multiple mental health issues and did some damaging things that wouldn't warrant removal of the child from her care-- such as telling an entire room full of parents and students in her child's school class during back-to-school night that her daughter sometimes poops in her pants-- but that would certainly cause ill-effects because of their repitition over time. I've learned that when children successfully bond with their parents as babies, which they usually can do in spite of abuse (though they often don't do when there is neglect), that bond is lifelong. And even if their parents do horrible things to them, the children will love them fiercely because they have made that bond.

I have come to accept the paradox in my silmultaneous belief that adoption can be supportive of children but that it also represents a very real loss for children that we should do everything in our power to prevent.

If you respond, please do so specific to the topics addressed here. This is not a forum for general debate over adoption, as future posts will address other topics.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We Have a Date

I'm being vague, I know, but I think you all will know what I am talking about...and I am in my "superstitious mode" that always comes around these things, so I am not going to be more specific at this time.

We have a court date. It is more than a month away.

That is all!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

R.I.P. Chubby and Wubby

Well, there was a surge of excitement yesterday evening around our house when we went to pick up our first African Dwarf Frogs. They were promptly and affectionately named "Chubby" and "Wubby" by the kids.

We acclimated them to the tank, and although we discovered at that time that Wubby obviously had a crushed claw (poor thing...we're 98% certain it was pre-purchase), Chubby at least seemed in good spirits and eager to explore the tank. She was extremely cute! We sat and watched the two of them for a half hour or more as they acclimated, and after the kids went to bed, and the frogs were in the tank and swimming around, I went and watched them for another half hour or more. They were mesmorizing, and I worried about Wubby but had a good feeling that Chubby was going to do just fine. She was alert and active, but also seemed comfortable.

Besides, we'd done all the "right" things for the tank preparation. The tank water had received a dose of "de-chlorinator" and sat there for a week, which was plenty of time to get rid of the chlorine. The water temperature was set automatically by a thermostat. We'd covered the filter intake feed with a clean and rinsed old nylon sock so the frogs wouldn't get sucked in.

I decided to wait until the morning to feed them, as the pet store said they did feedings everyday, and I didn't want to overwhelm them in their first night. I went to bed feeling optimistic.

This morning G. informed me that she went to check the frogs and that they were not looking good. Neither was moving. Wubby was at the bottom of the tank on his back. Chubby was floating at the top (which African Dwarf Frogs often do, as it makes it easier for them to "come up for air," so I wasn't convinced yet). So G. went back in and poked Chubby, and she did not move but simply sunk. They were dead.

Poor, dear frogs. I am feeling pretty heartsick.

My research ahead of time had indicated these little guys are fragile and really put through the ringer prior to coming home. It is rather stressful for them, all the transitions, and they may be sick even before coming home. I had heard they often die in the first week or two (maybe even month), but after that, if they've lived that long, they typically do quite well. So I was prepared that we might have a death on our hands, but I had not thought it would be overnight. I feel awful.

We haven't decided what to tell the kids yet. I'm taking the frogs back tonight, but before we get the new ones I think I may need to clean out the tank and put in new water just in case there is no bacteria or fungus in there from these frogs. On the other hand, the frogs we would get tonight would be from the same batch that the first ones came from, so they'd likely have all the same issues anyway.

I don't know.

I never would consider lying to the kids about this except that our dog Blue's death was pretty hard on M., and he had mixed feelings about the frogs from the start because he was worried about them dying (K. on the other hand was thrilled out of her mind). I also know that they'll have to face frog deaths at some point, and I'm just not sure *how many* I want them to face in a row, given how quickly these deaths occurred. Ack! This is one of the toughest mama decisions for me in recent history.

Edited to add: I did end up telling the kids. M. asked me tonight if the frogs were out of their pet shop bag and in the tank yet (I think he had a feeling something was up), and I looked at him and didn't have the heart to lie. I told him that the frogs had died overnight. He asked where they were. I said they were stored in a container in a closet until I could bring them back to the pet shop (which was supposed to happen tonight, but now it will have to wait for first thing tomorrow because the kids took too long going to bed). He asked why and I told him that I had to take them back so we could get new ones. He wanted to know how the pet shop would bury the frogs. I told him I didn't know (which is true, though I didn't mention that they don't likely bury dead frogs). After that, on the surface he took it in stride. I hope this just means he didn't get too attached. K. also took it in stride, but I think that is partly because she has no clue as to what exactly death means. Not that M. really "gets" it, but he gets it enough to not want it to happen to his animals.

This experience does make me glad I discouraged M. from the names he most wanted for the frogs: Nikki and Blue. Those were/are the names of our dogs, Blue (rest his soul) and Nakara (who sleeps by me as I write this now). I would have felt very weird having perished frogs with the dogs' names. But I do wonder why M. wanted them to share the names, and if it had anything to do with his worry that the frogs would die and his feelings about Blue's death.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What to Do For the Inauguration?

Well, I missed the boat on the biggest community celebration at a local theatre here, which was free to the public. I called yesterday after I found out about it, but they had already closed for the day, and when I called again today (after a day-long workshop here at church), they were out of tickets. The party was starting at 11:00am, which would have worked out great for the kids to come along. I'm considering tossing around the idea tomorrow of some kind of family-friendly inauguration open house here at church on Tuesday, but I am not sure what the interest will be and how quickly I can throw something together like this. Good idea, though, no?

Edited for an Update: Another venue decided to open its doors for inauguration day overflow from the first venue. It too was free, so we took the kids and went. They gave the kids flags, and it was so cute to see K. waving hers around proudly every time people clapped or cheered. M. didn't as much wave his flag as he shook it wildly LOL. I wish I had had a camera, but alas, we'd misplaced it and didn't have time to look for it in our rush out the door. The crowd was pretty low-key. Mostly folks who work at the nearby courthouse or city hall and were on a lunch break. We left a bit early because the kids were getting fitfully tired and needed to get home to nap. On our way out, we got stopped by a reporter from our city's newspaper. We chatted with her for a minute, but with the kids running around us like complete nuts, I have my doubts as to whether we said anything coherent, let alone worthwhile.

For the most part, I'm pretty glad we went. And G. said looking at the crowd in D.C. left her feeling very good there was no feasible way for us to go. "There is no way I'd want to be there right now," she said. As I was freezing cold just walking a third of a mile to and from our car to attend the local event, I must say, I am glad we're not stuck out there in the cold either. Especially because while Obama's speech was solid, it won't go down in history as "the best ever inaugural speech."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Commitment and Frogs

I told my kids we could get a couple of African Dwarf Frogs after I save up a little money. They are super cheap, I have a fish tank to keep them in (they are fully aquatic), and they don't eat live food. I read online that they are the perfect novice frog owner frog. It seemed as harmless as getting a goldfish.

The sad thing is, it wasn't my kids who asked. They still think it is weird that frogs would be indoors, instead of out (OMG how I love them!). I agree with them, and I am not sure I want to support the companies that breed frogs and ship them in highly stressful conditions so they can go and be unhealthy in a pet shop and maybe have a shot at life in a small tank in someone's home. Especially because even though they are "dirt cheap," we've got to stretch to come up with the money.

What was I thinking?

I'm not really sure. I think I felt badly that our Montessori classroom didn't have any animals or something. And hey, frogs are cool enough. How strange I am.

I hesitated for a while because it was a matter of commitment. Apparently, African Dwarf Frogs which are very small often die in the first month home. But if they happen to live, they can live anywhere from 4-15 years. You only have to feed them every 3 days or so, but you still can't go on vacation for a week without arranging for their care. Do I really want to have a couple of frogs that I have to move the next time we move, even though such a move will likely be many years away?! Do I really want to have to buy frozen bloodworms every month for a couple little frogs. I mean, don't get me wrong, I am excited about them too. They are apparently very active during their waking hours (when they aren't hiding, which they also apparently do a lot of) and a lot of fun to watch. I can see myself falling "in love." Not to mention that I love the sound of a flowing fishtank. But more than anything, I guess I'm really not looking forward to them dying. If they get sick, there aren't too many options in terms of vet care, if any at all here. I cried the two times our beta fish died in one of our classrooms here at church. And why did I invite death into my kids' lives like that, so unecessarily?

But still, we spent a good portion of this morning setting up the fish tank and getting the filter working, and the kids are eager now to actually have frogs in there, so I'm not going to back out. Yet even as I write this I think, "am I teaching the kids something wrong by having a 'domestic' frog when they belong in the wild, tiny and as easily domesticated as they may be?"

I'm sure it will be fine. The tank is pretty big when you consider how very tiny these frogs are (less than a pinky finger in length if I recall), we put some cool plants in there for them to play in, and we're getting at least two because the frogs are social creatures who like to play together at the bottom of the I think they'll be as happy as they can be. I am pretty sure I can manage cleaning the tank every now and then and feeding the frogs every few days...even if it gets old after the first couple of months.

The thing with me is that (perhaps because I am Gemini???), I have a really mixed relationship with commitment. On one hand, I want everything to stay the same all the time. I am the last to agree to rearrangement of furniture in my house, I love holiday traditions and will do anything to keep a beloved tradition going, and though I am an adventurer who likes to try new things, once I find something I love to eat at a restaurant, I am the person who always orders the same thing. On the other hand, the real reason I think I jump into many big commitments is because I know I'll get cold feet if I don't.

Even though G. and I had been together for four years or something by the time we got married, and even though I had long before decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, I still can admit that I freaked out a bit before the wedding. During the planning (and of course, the planning was stressful, which was a big part of the whole thing), I nearly called it off er, a handful of times. G. knows this of course because she lived through it, poor thing. I am lucky she put up with me. I am completely indecisive about silly things like where to hang a picture on my wall and what color socks I want to wear or what I want to eat for dinner. If I get myself into trouble at work, it usually stems from being too wishy washy at some point in time, even though I tend to be opinionated and direct in my communication as a general rule.

Like I said, I am not simply allergic to commitment nor am I eager for commitment. It's as if I am both at the same time: eager and allergic.

And that's another one of my neurosis!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Making the Best...

So there has been a small flurry of online discussion about the big lead testing laws that are going into effect on February 10th. You may recall that I posted about this issue a little while ago (, and it seems appropriate now that the law has passed that we look honestly at [1] how we failed as citizens to create enough activism or discussion to even get a little bit of resistance to this legistlation from House or Senate (between the two, there were only four-- yes FOUR!!!-- votes against) and [2] where to go from here. Where to go now? That's my big question. There are good advocacy suggestions in the blog I link to in the post I've linked above, but I'd like to know what type of actions make the biggest difference after the fact.

Of primary concern in my mind are the small businesses and artisans. Even though some are still worried about resale businesses, those at least have some exemptions written into the law and so are the least of my concerns.

Meanwhile, I am seriously considering a dumpster diving adventure at toy and department stores around February 10th. Making the best, you know, out of a bad situation...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Oh F**k!

Sorry. I hate to just go around shouting like this, but I can't help but shout that right now because oh, f**k oh f**k oh f**k. A couple of oxygen sensors just blew on our car, along with some other crap that I don't even understand, and it will cost us about $1000 to fix it. Oh this is such a bad news. Alright, if I can negotiate a deal on our energy bill, extend our payments out even more, maybe we can come up with about half of what we need. I just don't know. I just don't know how we're going to pull this off.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My Latest Financial News

First, the good: The congregation will not be cutting any staff this year. I can keep my job.

There are a range of staff cuts being considered, however, ranging from 3% of income to 15%. The different levels have different implications. Some involve cuts in hours, others we are expected to simply "suck up" because hey, these are hard economic times and we've been saved from lay-offs.

Nothing is in stone yet. The finance committee still needs to make a recommendation to the board, the board needs to vote, and then the whole congregation needs to vote. But, I suspect I am personally looking at a 3-5% cut, hopefully around the 3% range.

The only thing that is saving me from despair (since as the board president here said to me, I am "already cutting awfully close to the bone" in my personal finances anyway), is that they will allow me to take my cut in professional expenses (my training and development budget). Luckily, this budget line is able to absorb a 3-5% cut, though it will mean my professional activities will be on hold for the year. However, it won't take additional cuts, so let's hope the economy turns around and fast!

The (hopefully minor) bad news is that one of my proposals for a potential budget cut, I think, varied significantly from how the senior minister here views our work as a congregation...and I am just hoping she is gracious about it. I am still learning here when I can push for innovation, and when that is problematic for my working relationships in a congregation where folks have served for almost entire careers.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why is My Horoscope Always So Darn Accurate?!

Here is the monthly horoscope page from I'm gemini. Already my January horoscope is describing my January experiences to a "T." What the heck?!

My weekly horscope (weekly horscopes are here: is also pretty interesting, and close to my experience so far this week.

How does yours look?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ghost Towns

Something I would really like to do in my life is to "visit" at least ten to twenty distinct ghost towns.

I don't know when my fascination with ghost towns developed, and it is an ironic fascination in many ways because I am definitely not a "small town girl" in any sense. I think it has something to do with some gut level feeling that we all have some "ghost towns" inside of us: places we dwell at one time, but never visit again for any number of reasons. I find the idea really interesting, and somehow visiting ghost towns seems an appealing way to explore that. Maybe someday I'll spend a sabatical that way, in a road trip to multiple ghost towns.

My Son's Teacher's House Burned

On the first day of the new year, my son's teacher's house caught on fire when a freak thing occurred in her very clean chimney...a spark flew through a small crack in a brick and lit their wall on fire.

She and her husband woke their children and got out of the house, but a portion of their house (their living room, dining room, and kitchen) was burned beyond repair. There is also an awful lot of smoke and water damage throughout the entire house. Half their house will need to be gutted and rebuilt. Many of their personal items will need to be replaced, from furniture to quite possibly their clothing. Even all their Christmas presents were destroyed. They will be living in a mobile home on their property for a few months while their lives are recovered.

Thank goodness they are safe. Thank goodness. Thank goodness. Thank goodness.
Thank goodness their home owner's insurance company has been wonderful to them so far.
Thank goodness that the many, many hours she spent preparing the new classroom she is opening in her own home were not for nothing, as those items were miraculously spared.
Thank goodness friends and family have rallied around her and she is feeling very supported.

I pray that they can begin to heal from the tremendous emotional trauma that this was. I pray that their property is quickly rebuilt and that they can truly return home soon. I pray that they will grow ever stronger and closer as a family through this. I pray that they continue to feel the loving kindness around them.

Tomorrow I break the news to M. because this means he can't go back to school for a while. We don't know when his teacher will be up for teaching again. She's still sorting through a lot of wreckage, trying to find her bearings in all this and get a clear picture of what the coming months will be like.

This will be a very big blow to M. One of the best things I think I can do for him is to help him see that we can be part of the community that cares for his teacher and her family. We'll be cooking some meals for them...or something. And I will invite M. to take part in whatever it is we do.

As for his schooling, I don't know what this will mean. I have offered our house as an alternative location, but some folks won't be able to make the drive into our city. I also don't know, like I said, if his teacher will be up for teaching. In fact, she's not even sure yet if she'll be ready by the time the second trimester of the spring rolls around, when K. is scheduled to start. This may be a push for me to do something here at the house. Both the kids really appreciate their school time with the other kids in addition to homeschooling. I'm going to just let the chips fall where they may for the next couple of weeks, and hopefully by then we'll be able to make a gameplan with M's teacher.

This is hard to get out of my head. What a crazy, crazy thing!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Family Planning

The other day was our every-60-day mandatory reminder that K. is still in foster, uh, I mean our every-other-monthly homevisit from the social worker monitoring our home (in our old state, by the way, the visits were monthly).

In between these visits, we live in a sort of bubble. K. no longer has visits with her birthfamily, we have moved all the way across the country with her, and we keep in touch with M.'s birthfamily, but the state won't permit contact with K's birthfamily because of the risks they present to her safety. We rarely need to consult with or ask permission from the social worker for anything anymore because at this point, for all intents and purposes, she is our daughter.

This social worker who comes to visit our house now, I have a kind of mixed relationship with her. G. calls it "a weird tension." She is nice and all, but very hard to read. We needed her approval to manage our case in order to complete the interstate agreement that allowed us to move, and through the homestudy process she gave us no feedback at all. This left us wondering until I finally heard from our old state that the approval had come through. Because she is so "flat" in her interactions, she makes me nervous.

She also gives no indication that she remembers that we are long-time foster parents (not only that, but former therapeutic foster parents). She treats us like novices, which is subtle, but undermining. You have to understand, of course, that G. and I come from a county in which we felt like "star foster parents." Almost the whole staff at the county offices knew us and always treated us like we were the best of the best. We frequently got calls for placements, they asked our opinion about things that mattered, I participated on the foster parent advisory board, and we never worked with a social worker who didn't come to trust our expertise (about the kids we work with) implicitly. I think we are very good foster parents. It was treatment not undeserved.
It is so different now to have this woman come into our home every couple of months who never seems to drop her skeptisism or her lectures about "how it is done" (which result after we learn some different procedure between the two states, not from a fundamental ignorance).

Now that K.'s case is wrapping up, we have the question of whether we will get foster licensed out here or whether we'll seek another adoptive homestudy. Apparently, the homestudy we had done was for K's case and the interstate agreement alone. G. and I have been foster and adoptive homestudied numerous times over the last six or seven years. We've had at least five homestudies...switching agencies, updating expired homestudies, expanding previous homestudies to include adoption, etc. There are truly few homes as well monitored as ours. Our homestudy here in our new state was completed just under a year ago, so I asked the worker who has been visiting our home whether it would take a lot to get a new homestudy if we chose to keep our home open.

She told me we'd basically have to do everything over again! "The only thing that won't change is your childhood information from your homestudy interview." She said we'd have to do all of the other massive paperwork again, including but not limited to new letters of reference (five required), a financial background check, new letters from all the doctors our family has seen since our last homestudy, a letter of good-standing from my employer, and so forth. She'd also have to come over and complete another hour-long interview, do an inspection of this house even though she's been here visiting every 60 days, and...the list goes on. Oh, also, we have to take the foster/adopt training program because she won't consider transferring credit from our old state for their foster/adopt training program. Which is no big deal (other than finding a babysitter for 30 total hours of training time), but irritating because before we moved here I inquired with the foster licensor at the county office (this worker is, alternatively, from the agency that was contracted in our case) and she said they'd definitely be willing to at least take a look at the training we've done. Again, we used to be therapeutic foster parents, so it is worth noting that we've done some pretty intensive training along the way.

I almost took the worker's reaction as trying to discourage us from moving forward, but at the same time, she also actually told us about a three-sibling set for which she was seeking an adoptive family (almost as if she was "feeling us out" about it) and she was eager to give us the dates of the upcoming foster/adopt training. Also, she discouraged us from doing foster care (which couldn't be done through her agency) and encouraged us to stick with her own adoption program. She said, "we have access to all the same kids as the state does." I think that is misleading because most kids are going to have a state-- rather than agency-- social worker, and though a social worker who is looking to place a child might seek the contracted agency's help, if they know of a waiting foster or adoptive parent through their own program, wouldn't they go ahead and place there first?

These are questions to which we are currently seeking answers. I have a call into the state adoption office, I've chatted with the foster care office (there is no foster-adopt program here in the formal sense, so the departments are separate), and I am going to call the state licensor for our section of town as well.

We're not quite ready for another. We are hoping K. will be out of diapers, that the kids will be just a wee bit more independent, and that we can hammer out our financial life a bit more before another placement. But K. is almost three, and homestudies in our experience take a very long time, if nothing else because of the time it takes to get the paperwork done. It does seem time to at least start working slowly toward being ready. The conversation with the social worker who visits our home was in a word: discouraging. I am hoping the conversations I will be having with others over the next couple of weeks will be the opposite.

Cute Kid Story

The other day M. found an old "mom and baby" yoga video and asked to watch it on the computer. I put it on for him, figuring he'd soon lose interest, and K. joined him. It occurred to me then that they could probably do the yoga, so I fetched them each their respective baby dolls. So super sweet! M. watched intently and did the yoga with his "baby" uninterrupted for five minutes before deciding he was done. K. too was done in five minutes, and didn't "do" much of the video, but did stand there holding her "baby," smiling and mesmerized.

Also, I have to write this down somewhere or I am going to forget forever: I discovered that M. calls chapstick "lip chap." I know its just because I am his mom, but I find that so endearing!