Good Morning from the Sunshine State

07/08/2013

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I had planned to schedule a bunch of posts for this week but with Jason and Buzz sick last week and the holiday, time just got away from me. So know you get to know: Jason and I are in Florida this week. Since before Buzz arrived (at the beginning of May) we had been planning a getaway to celebrate our 10th Anniversary. We’re not big on celebrating milestones with “stuff” like cards or gifts but we always set aside some time for a dinner date. We did that this year too and it was painfully clear that 2 hours away from the toddlers was not enough time to catch up, and definitely not enough time to rest and relax.

A kid-less vacation was what we needed. Four days into our vacation and we already feel like its been SO refreshing! We had dinner at the Columbia in Sarasota, spent the weekend in Naples, Fl (our favorite) and this morning we’re heading to Key West – somewhere new to us.

My mama always told me that the best gift you can give your kids is to love your spouse well.


Guilt-Free Waiting

11/14/2013

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It was on October 29th when we got our first call. Based on past experience, I expected the calls to continue coming every other day at least, until we got a “yes” call. But the phone hasn’t rung again. I was relieved. More time to rest. More time to prepare. More time to enjoy life as a family of three. But then the guilt started creeping in. I have a slew of foster mama friends (through social media) and many of them are in the trenches right now, doing the hard work of foster care. I started feeling guilty about all the sunshine and rainbows over here and wondering if some kid across town is suffering, waiting for a foster home to open up. On Friday, due to that guilt, I sent our FSW (family service worker) an email to make sure we are indeed on the call list and that the first call wasn’t a fluke.

On Tuesday morning, I opened up my Jesus Calling devotional to November 12. Once again, God used that little book to speak directly into my situation. In case you can’t read it in the picture above, here’s the first half:

 This is a time of abundance in your life. Your cup runneth over with blessings. After plodding uphill for many weeks, you are now traipsing through lush meadows drenched in warm sunshine. I want you to enjoy to the full this time of ease and refreshment. I delight in providing it for you. Sometimes My children hesitate to receive My good gifts with open hands. Feelings of false guilt creep in, telling them they don’t deserve to be so richly blessed. This is nonsense-thinking, because no one deserves anything from Me.

If that wasn’t enough to relieve my guilt, our FSW wrote back on Tuesday afternoon to confirm that we are on the list. We’ve done nothing wrong but calls have slowed down drastically as they’ve changed the way they do removals. I suspected this already because I read this news article. In short, they’re waiting until they hold a hearing before taking kids out of their homes. I think this is mostly good. I’m not at all in favor of the government being able to come and take away a child without a valid, proven reason. On the other hand, I’m concerned about kids languishing in rotten situations longer than necessary. Calls have slowed way down. Where are all the kids? Are there that many cases that don’t justify a removal? Or are there kids who are being left in abusive situations due to lack of evidence? Not much I can do in that situation but pray.

I’m doing my best to move forward into this time of ease and refreshment guilt-free. Thankfully, God has been speaking a lot lately (or is it that I’ve been listening better?) and He keeps assuring me that He knows what He’s doing, who He is bringing to our family next and when.

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Phone Photo Friday

07/19/2013

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This little ray of sunshine is going to be TWO YEARS OLD tomorrow!! I’m super excited to celebrate my sweet daughter all weekend. Longer post about Ali at age 2 is coming next week.

Most of my Phone Photo Friday pictures are from my Instagram feed. Follow me @mahlbrandt if you’d like!


A Decade of Matrimony

06/20/2013

10 Years is a BIG deal.

When Jason and I announced our plans to get married at 18 and 20 years old, we had a lot of skeptics. I’m quite thankful they kept their concerns to themselves, or at least didn’t tell us until much later. We were very young, no question about that. But we were sure. One of my bridesmaids, Chrissy, sent me an encouraging message on our anniversary and told me how impressed she was that I was calm and cool as I got ready on my wedding day. She had expected me to be nervous the way brides are portrayed in the movies.

When I was 14 years old, I had grown apart from my best friend emotionally and I was lonely. I prayed and asked God for a new best friend—someone I could trust, share my dreams with, hang out with at youth group and on the weekends, someone I could pray with and grow spiritually alongside. I was shy and dorky (middle school, hello!) and wasn’t imagining a boyfriend. Across town a 16 year old Jason was fed up with not being treated well by girls. He took relationships seriously and the girls he dated were flippant with his sensitive heart. He prayed and told God that he didn’t want to date anyone else unless she was going to be his future wife. When Jason and I met and quickly fell in love, we both realized that God had answered our different prayers by bringing us together. I am incredibly grateful that we met and fell in love so young and were spared from much of the heartache and regret that comes along with dating different people over high school and college years.

Chrissy also reminded me of the funny way Jason and I entered our wedding reception as our arrival was announced to the room of waiting guests. It  took everyone by surprise and we really hadn’t put that much thought into it. We were waiting in the hallway as the DJ announced the wedding party and I just thought, hey, wouldn’t it be funny if you carried me in on your back? It’s best described with this visual:

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That’s pretty much the way we entered into our marriage. We knew we wanted to be together and we just went for it, wholeheartedly, jumping in with both feet, full of joy and energy.

Here’s a little recap of the past 10 years:

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• Got married on June 14, 2003 and were endlessly teased about not being legally old enough for a champagne toast

• Spent our first year living in a poorly climate controlled upstairs of an old house in Erie, PA. I was in college and working part time. Jason was working part time and teaching guitar lessons at two different music stores and leading a band. We did laundry at my parents’ house once a week. I have no recollection of how we managed all of that with 1 car.

• After nearly freezing to death in our drafty apartment we decided that there is no reason to wait until after college to move somewhere warmer. I applied to Watkins College of Art & Design in Nashville and got accepted.

• Much like our wedding a year earlier, we headed for the hills with excitement, hope and no reservations. At 20 and 21 years old, I don’t remember having any fear about leaving behind all we had known and starting a new life in Music City.

• I graduated from college in December 2006 with a BFA in graphic design. Two months later, we sold our starter home of 2 years and purchased our beloved mid-century modern ranch in East Nashville. The same month as I started my first full time job at Salem Publishing, where I still work as an art director designing magazines.

• Jason had been working part-full time at Starbucks while building his music career, working on his band, traveling and playing, networking and making friends, playing lots of different kinds of music gigs. In 2009, he was able to quit his part time job and focus completely on his growing music career. A year later, he had more than made up for his retail income  by doing only what he loves—music. He has an amazing testimony of working hard, chasing dreams and reaching goals. He inspires me!

• In 2011 we decided to become foster parents. We had been thinking about having kids for a year or so and had talked about adopting some day. God planted the idea of foster care into our minds through some adoption research I was doing randomly one night combined with a home related comment on this here blog from K (and then I got sucked into their story of foster parenthood.) Jason and I realized that we really didn’t feel the need to have biological kids first (or at all) and that we had the room, resources and love to become foster parents at that point.

• In July 2011 we became parents for the first time to 16 month old Ladybug. She was with us for 5 weeks. On September 21, 2011 our home was blessed with the arrival of our little Alianna, our second placement. She was 2 months and 1 day old and the most content baby I had ever known. In November we were granted custody of her so we could pursue a private adoption. (Long story.)

• The same month, we put our cool little ranch up for sale and bought a property less than a mile away and started to plan the construction of our dream house with an architect. We knew that we wanted to have more bedrooms so we could continue to foster children. In 2012 we sold our house, started construction of our new home, celebrated Ali’s first birthday in Outer Banks with my family, finalized her adoption in August and moved into our dream house in December—just in time to get settled and host a Christmas family gathering.

• In March 2013 we reopened our home as foster parents. We did a weekend of respite for 11 year old Sunshine in April. At the beginning of May, 2.5 year old Buzz was placed with us.

• This past Monday night we went out for a dinner date to celebrate our anniversary (and sort of my birthday and father’s day too since they’re all in a 5 day period). Jason bought me a new dress as an early bday gift so I could wear it to dinner. He always picks the most lovely things for me! We stuffed our bellies at J. Alexanders and brought home a giant piece of carrot cake because it’s a must-have, even when we’re too full. We picked up the kids at their respective babysitters and put them to bed. Then we finally made time to sit down and plan our 10th Anniversary Child-free Vacation! We set the dates aside months ago but still hadn’t found time to sit down and book anything. Two hours alone for dinner was not enough time to catch up from all of the craziness of life lately. We are so looking forward to getting away together next month. I love this man.

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Phew! It’s been quite an adventure so far. Not able to be captured in these bullet points are the wonderful friendships we’ve developed over the past 9 years that we’ve been in Nashville. I have loved to watch my husband grow, mature and adapt through roller coasters in the music industry, challenges in relationships and struggles with the foster care system. Jason is creative, keen, perceptive, wise beyond his years, loyal, humble, passionate, talented, fun, patient, consistant, generous, hard-working, loving, playful and strong. He takes his job seriously as a godly leader of our household—he prays for us, takes care of us, gently corrects and guides. I recently told a friend just before he got married that I think the greatest gift you can give your spouse is accountability. Jason and I have learned this hard lesson through the years—it’s not fun to be caught in the wrong by your best friend, especially when your actions are hurting the one you love. But, we’ve found that it’s actually a blessing and gift to keep each other in check—to not let each other get away with crap. No one cares more about your success as a person than your spouse. I tell Jason often that I appreciate how he keeps me centered when I start getting worried, selfish, angry or lazy. He’s truly my best friend and our relationship has only grown richer over the past 10 years.

I wonder what the next 6 decades of our marriage will hold!


June

06/19/2013

Why I Love June:

warmth
longer days of sunshine
fireflies
swimming
our anniversary (10 this year!)
father’s day
my birthday (29 today!)
popsicles
eating outside
flip flops
painted toenails
watermelon
strawberries
sweet tea
being outside
sundresses


Ali Mae at 22 Months

05/21/2013

 

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Oh, Ali Mae! You are now 22 months old. This past couple of weeks since Buzz arrived have come at you like a knuckleball. I’m sorry for how difficult and unpredictable it has been for you but I also believe that you are learning and growing so much. You are a sweet little girl but you are not afraid to assert yourself. You are easy going but you have a strong voice. You are a lover but also a fighter. God knew exactly what He was doing when He created You. He knew you would eventually end up in our family and that one day you would become “a foster sister” to other kids in our home.

Don’t lose your joy, precious little girl. Your place in our family, in our home, in our hearts is established forever. You will never be replaced. You will never be removed from us. I pray that God fills us all with so much love for each other that we have more than enough to give out to others. Thank you for sharing with Buzz… Sharing your home, your toys, your parents. It’s a lot of ask of an almost two year old and I know you’re doing the best you can. We’ve all had to make a lot of sacrifices but I want you to know that the job you have in all of this is so vital. You are an amazing sister to Buzz. You lead the way and show him the ropes around our home and our family. Your confidence, contentedness and joy are helpful for him to witness.

Your Daddy and I have noticed that your words have been exploding lately and we suspect it comes from an increased need and desire to have your voice heard. We hear you, sweetheart. We hear you say “Ali’s drink, ” “Cereal please,” “Can I have more?” “Mommy’s Day” “Ali’s Day” “Ali’s Daddy” “Apple juice” “Bubbles?” “Show? George?” (Curious George is your new favorite show.) And when we do miss your words, Honey, thank you for being patient with us. We’re all tired and little on edge lately. You are still an encouraging, radiant ball of sunshine in our home. Everyday I can’t help but marvel at your ever increasing beauty!

You are doing great with your swimming lessons. I’m so proud of your attitude and your bravery. This last Saturday, you hopped in off the side and I let you go under for a few second before lifting you up. You’ve been practicing blowing bubbles and not sucking in water. When I pulled you out of the water you wiped your eyes and said “Good job, Ali!” I’m glad you’re feeling proud of yourself. We’re going to have so much fun in Grandma and Grandpa’s pool this summer. Thank you for being you, Ali. I love you so much!

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Phone Photo Friday

05/17/2013

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Two baby birds in a nest in front of my house. Coincidence?

There were four eggs. It appears only two are now living in the nest.

Ladybug. Precious. Sunshine. Buzz.

Most of my Phone Photo Friday pictures are from my Instagram feed. Follow me @mahlbrandt if you’d like!


Foster Care Round 2 Timeline:

05/01/2013

2/28/13 Home visit/inspection for reopening (exactly 1 year after we closed our home from Round 1)

3/22/13 Get approval letter in the mail, dated 3/7/13. We’re officially open

4/23/13 Call to case worker about some documents and mention we haven’t received any placement calls. Three hours later we get a Call #1 for a 2.5 year old boy. We say yes. Less than an hour later placement worker calls back to say they found a family member.

4/26/13 Call #2 for a 17 year old boy. I say no (due to age and circumstance).

4/26/13 – 4/28/13 Respite for Sunshine, an 11 year old girl (arranged directly with her foster mom, who is an acquaintance)


Weekend Recap: Calls #1 and #2 and Respite

04/29/2013

I’m not quite sure if I’ll be able to get back to regular blogging this week but I’m gonna try. I’m still between computers so I don’t have any photos to post yet. Last weekend turned out to be quite interesting. Here are the bullet points:

• Friday afternoon we got our second placement call…for a 17 year old boy. I said no. (Our age cut off is 12 years old for now.) Our first placement call came on Tuesday evening for a 2.5 year old boy. We said yes to him but less than an hour later the placement worker called back to say they were able to locate a family member to take him. Based on what I was told about his situation I am happy for him—sounds like it would most likely be very short term and I’m glad he can stay connected with people he knows. Also, I was a bit relieved because that’s so close to Ali’s age!

• After that phone call, I left work early Friday afternoon to pick up an 11 year old girl from her middle school after school program. I’m gonna call her “Sunshine” on here. She’s been living with another foster mom we know for most of a year and we had offered to do respite for the weekend since we’ve had a bedroom just sitting empty.

• We got back to our house and gave her a tour. The girls watched Curious George for a few minutes (Ali’s new favorite) until the notary from a title company came over so we could close the loan on our new house. We had been in a construction loan since June and finally got it converted into a permanent loan (regular mortgage). We’ve closed many loans in our 8 years as home owners but that was the first time someone had ever met us at our house on a Friday night. How awesome is that!

• After that we went out for pizza, kind of late, so it was bedtime when we got back home. Sunshine helped me give Ali a bath and then took a shower and while I read Ali books and put her to bed. We let Sunshine stay up a little later and watch one episode of Storage Wars with us since she could sleep in the next day.

• Saturday morning I woke Ali up at the crack of dawn for our second swimming class. We had massive downpours all weekend. Saturday was the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, which happened to go up and down the streets on either side of the community center where our class is. We had to park a block away and walk through the monsoon to get there so that was fun. Class was great though. Ali is so brave and is learning a lot. That deserves it’s own blog post. I’ll get around to it.

• We got home just as Jason and Sunshine were waking up. She helped me make chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. Jason gave her a lesson on flipping them with the spatula since she was having trouble. It was sweet. She loves to cook and do anything  helpful in general. We finished the game of Sorry we had started the night before—she won. Our plans for the zoo were thwarted by the rain so instead we went to the mall.

• Bass Pro Shop turned out to be a zoo. Sunshine enthusiastically pushed Ali around in her stroller from display to display. We saw a bobcat, geese, ducks, raccoons, a skunk, turkeys, boars, a fox and lots of deer—all dead and stuffed, of course. They had some kids activities going on outside and Sunshine was excited to learn how to cast a fishing pole and shoot arrows at a giant target. We walked around inside the mall for a while and gave in to a Carousel ride that was expensive and kind of lame but I think both girls enjoyed it.

• While Ali was taking her afternoon nap Jason went to the grocery store to get supplies for the spaghetti and garlic bread dinner Sunshine wanted to make for us. While he was out, she and I watched the most bizarre Pinocchio movie. After dinner, the girls and I played with barbies and baby dolls for a while. After we put Ali to bed, we had a movie night with popcorn and root beer floats and some 1960s Godzilla movie. Sunshine was really into it but Jason and I kept kicking each other to keep from falling asleep.

• Sunday was church and we had to be there early since Jason was playing in the worship band. I felt bad waking up both tired girls so early but they both kept good attitudes. Thankfully, it seems that everyone at our church remembered that we’re foster parents and no one asked any intrusive questions. I didn’t need to explain much. I just introduced Sunshine as a friend that was staying with us for the weekend and she was only asked about her age and grade. She’s very polite and always finds something to compliment someone on immediately after meeting them.

• We had lunch at home and Sunshine chilled in front of the TV watching Dumbo while Jason milled around outside and Ali napped. I really wanted to be outside since the rain had finally let up and I’m not used to watching so much TV but I could tell Sunshine wanted to be near us. At one point Jason and I were outside looking up at our chimney (trying to analyze why water was coming into the living room side after our torrential rainstorms) and she came outside and said, “What are you doing? I want to be involved!” That pretty much sums up the whole weekend. She asked a lot of questions about everything and wanted to help do whatever we were doing…or watch TV, which I’m pretty sure was a treat for her. If she were going to be with us longer than 2 days, we’d definitely have to put some caps on the TV time and junk food but since it was just a weekend we didn’t fuss too much.

• Sunday evening we went out to dinner at Logan’s Steakhouse to celebrate my mom’s birthday. It was much enjoyed by all. We went back to our house for presents and cake and then Sunshine’s foster mom arrived to pick her up.

I feel like I have so much more to process about this weekend and I may end up writing more about it—or not. It was definitely a good learning experience for us. I hope it was a fun getaway for her and a restful weekend for her foster mom. Ali did really well sharing our parental attention and seems to enjoy having another kid around. After a few short months as foster parents and then a really long break, one weekend was a big adjustment. I had a few “What the heck are we doing? Is this our life?” moments. We also had some good discussions—me and Sunshine, me and Jason, Jason and Sunshine. Spending time with an 11 year old cemented my decision to cut off our fostering at age 12 for now. I just don’t feel like I’m ready to jump into parenting a kid any older than that yet as a 20-something who only has experience parenting toddlers.

I mentioned that we got our first call on Tuesday evening. I didn’t mention, though, that it was just a few hours after I had talked to our case worker about some documents and mentioned that I was surprised we hadn’t gotten any calls in almost 2 months since we’d been approved. She said they’ve been getting mostly large sibling groups and older kids but I can’t help suspecting that after we got off the phone she said “Oh crap! Are they on the list?” Getting our first call a few hours later just seems too coincidental to me. And then getting Call #2 three days later. I guess we’ll see where it goes from here. It might be another interesting week!


Soaking It In

01/30/2013

I disciplined myself to rest from sundown Saturday until sundown Sunday. I’m trying a new thing this year inspired by the way the Jewish people observe the Sabbath (only I’m doing it the following day). I had spent every minute of Ali’s naptime and every evening after she’s asleep for several days nesting–organizing, unpacking the last few things, hanging shelves, curtains, etc. Either that or I was finished up some wedding invitations I designed for my sister’s friend. Jason was in Florida on tour and I had been busy. It was really difficult to rest, especially on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. Once Ali was asleep, I decided to sit outside in the sunshine for at least 20 minutes to get my daily dose of Vitamin D.

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Our courtyard offered the perfect spot, in direct sunlight just for an hour or two in the afternoon. Lucy joined me outside while I planned our meals for the week and sent some emails I’d been trying to find time for.

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Once I came back inside, I spent sometime reading and started a book that I’ve read several times before, The Power of the Praying Wife. After a few hours of forced rest, I had a list of things I was ready to do as soon as the sun went down, which was just about the time Ali was waking up from her nap. It’s hard to explain but I felt really truly refreshed: full of energy and joy. Ali and I ate dinner, went grocery shopping, I gave her a bath and put her to bed and then I cleaned the house. Wow! I felt ready to start the week and to welcome my man home on Monday after 5 days in a tour bus. Home to a clean house with a full fridge, meals planned for the week, and two happy girls waiting for him.